Category Archives: Religion

It’s Not Fair

Dear Folks,We have all been told that life is not fair. This phrase has been used in various ways. Some say it to say they don’t care that your rights and your dignity are getting violated. It can alsobe an acceptance of the complexity of life. There are many factors that affect our lives that we did not choose, and it seems that sometimes we get handed the dirty end of the stick. Other people seem to have it easier, and we see people giving them slack like they don’t seem to give us. Ever had that feeling?Our Gospel today (Matthew 20:1-16a) deals with the issue of envy, and people who seem to be handed a better deal. This is a common problem in life, and in the early Christian community there was the issue of pagans who became Christian. Some of the Jewish Christians were perhaps thinking, “We have been doing the hard work of trying to follow God’s commandments for generations while these people have been worshipping false gods and practicing drunken, perverted debauchery all this time, and now in the Church they are equal to us? What gives?” You know how we human beings get. St. Paul was dealing with that question in Romans, and he said, “But who indeed are you, ahuman being to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, ‘Why have you created me so?’ Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the samelump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one (Romans 9:20-21)?” St. Paul is remembering the text “Yet, Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you ourpotter: we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:7).”
But how we perceive things doesn’t give the whole picture. I think life is like running an obstacle course with a backpack. We can feel how heavy our own backpack is, but we don’tknow how heavy everyone else’s is. We can perhaps make an educated guess by how they look, but we might be horribly wrong. At the end of the course we get to see how heavyeveryone’s backpack is, and there could be some surprises. We might find out that some people we thought weren’t trying very hard were actually carrying a much heavier load, andwere actually working harder than we were, even though they did not get as far as fast. Perhaps some people we envied for their situation were carrying a much heavier load thanwe thought. We might have thought that ours was one of the heaviest but find out that many had heavier. On the other hand, we might find that ours was heavier than a great manypeople’s, and we accomplished greater things than we thought.We know that sometimes it is a journey to accept that, and that can mean asking the very questions of God why He is doing what seems so wrong. Intellectually, we know He isright (always), but parts of our minds have not yet accepted that. We turn to the great school of prayer, the Psalms. We see “I will say to God, my rock: ‘Why do you forget me? Why must I go about mourning with the enemy oppressing me?’(Psalm 42:10).”Of course, the journey is to go from there to recognizing and rejoicing in God’s wisdom andprovidence. I suggest a meditation on Psalm 73 to follow that journey.The goal is to move more and more to embrace the situation we are given, and from here to do what we can to make things better, to be as faithful to God’s call as possible. The morewe are focused on that, the less and less we will worry about how our situation compares with others’ situations. That will save us time and energy. Growing in faith means realizing more and more that God knows what He is doing.Blessings,Fr. Jim

Rocky Truth

Dear Folks,
Today we read a Gospel about which there is much disagreement. Jesus says, “You are rock, and on this rock I will build my church (Matt 16:18).” Catholics tend to see this as Jesus giving Peter and his successors a unique role in the Church. Others view it differently, and there has been much conversation about that in the last 500 years.
I want to broaden the frame of the question a bit.
The context is first about God’s truth vs. popular opinion. Jesus starts the conversation with “Who do people say the Son of Man is? (Mat 16:13).” Lots of people had opinions, and
these opinions were wrong. Peter comes up with the right answer, and it came from God the Father (v. 17).
We tend to go by our experience, but our experience can lead us astray.
Holding to the truth has been a problem from the beginning. We see St. Paul, “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by the grace of Christ for a
different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach
to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-8).”
From the beginning, it was held that Christianity is not only good and beautiful but true, in fact, the fullness of truth about God, and there was no new, improved truth coming later.
Throughout history, holding to the truth was a constant battle. In the early Church, there were voices claiming that Jesus is not God, but more like a super angel (Arians), while
others claimed the Jesus is divine, but never really became human (Docetists). In case that doesn’t get your head spinning, there was a group that said Christ is God and Jesus is human, but they are two different people, and the Christ came into Jesus at baptism and left before the agony in the garden (Nestorians). Each of these groups had arguments for their positions, and could point to different Scripture texts that they were sure supported that position. Each of these positions would have weakened the message of God’s love beyond our imagining, by which He came and paid the ultimate price for our salvation, with nothing to gain for Himself. This makes Christianity unique, but it is hard to swallow that God would be so loving and give such a gift, for it calls for a unique level of gratitude and challenges us to a unique standard of loving God and neighbor (think about it; it is mindstretching).
This has often lead to standing against what was accepted in society. In the 18th century, the Catholic Church forbade dueling, like the kind where Alexander Hamilton was shot. People said the teaching was ridiculous and unrealistic because a man had to defend his honor. In the early twentieth century, there was a push for eugenics, and the Catholic Church’s vocal opposition was called against science and destructive to the good of the human race. Fashions of thought come and go, but the truth remains.
We humans tend to start from our experience and our perceptions. The trouble is our thinking falls way, way short of God’s thinking. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways – oracle of the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah
55:8-9).”
Another problem is that we humans tend to believe that our point of view is obvious to those who would only look. This can lead to underestimating what it takes to teach the faith in a compelling way. Then people reject the truths of the faith because they find them unreasonable, when in fact, there is much more reason behind them, but they did not learn enough of it. As a result, many who call themselves Catholics will often give more weight to what society believes than to the Catholic faith.
This is why I’m such a fanatic for encouraging Catholics to learn more about their faith. It is such a wonderful treasure, and there are so many resources to help.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Into the Breach: a Call to Catholic Men

This is a call “Into the Breach.”

This is a call to all Catholic men.  Our families need you. Our Church needs you.  Our country needs you. This is a call to accept and exercise our manhood in the fullest and best sense.  This is a call to the rising up of men for all that is dear to us, for this is a time of crisis.

The phrase “into the breach” is from Shakespeare, but first I want to mention a very important man who “stood in the breach” and saved a nation.

“They forgot the God who was their savior, who had done such great things in Egypt, such wonders in the land of Ham, such awesome deeds at the Red Sea. For this he said he would destroy them, but Moses, the man he had chosen, stood in the breach before him, to turn back his anger from destruction (Psalm 106:21-23).” See Exodus 32:11-14

And now, Shakespeare:

“King Henry: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood…” Henry the Fifth Act 3, scene 1.

This is a call to battle, and we are being called to battle, but we must understand we are not now talking about guns or bombs.

“For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh bet are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses.  We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ… (2Corinthian 10:3-6).”

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).”

These are calls to battle, but not with physical weapons. There might be times we would have to use physical force to defend against unjust aggressors, but that is not how the big battle will be won.   These short videos are about what it means to be a Catholic man, the kind of man that our loved ones need to go into the breach.

https://www.kofc.org/en/campaigns/into-the-breach.html

 

I challenge you to watch these, think about them.  Think of one new thought they made you think. If you can, think of one new action they inspire you to do. Now share that with five other men?

Will you accept that challenge?

 

Wisdom to Find the Treasure

treasure

Dear Folks,
The Biblical notion of wisdom has a rich history. The idea started in the ancient world. Wisdom was considered a skill, like the ability to play an instrument, work with metal, or navigate a ship. Then they developed the idea that having wisdom was how to live well. They developed wisdom schools, and future leaders studied there. The Israelites would have encountered them in Egypt and Babylon. The Israelites understood that wisdom was an attribute of God and a gift of God. Traditionally, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom and Sirach are classified as wisdom books, and they have some powerful things to say on the subject. Proverbs 9 presents wisdom and folly as two competing dinner invitations. Isaiah 11:2 teaches that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
We see that wisdom involves the ability to discern what is valuable and what is worthless. Psalm 4 says,” How long will you love what is futile and seek what is false?” Psalm 24 says “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? … The clean of hand and pure of heart whose soul is not set on vain things …” How much human suffering comes from seeing something worthless, even harmful, and thinking it is valuable? Heroin and pornography are extreme examples, but can we think of times we have pursued something we desired strongly, only to find out it was worthless, or worse? Wisdom helps us discern the great treasure, the pearl of great price.
St. Paul talks about how Jesus flips human wisdom upside down with the power of the cross. All truth revolves around the Pascal mystery. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of
God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside [Isaiah 29:14}.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than the human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).” We find ourselves by giving ourselves away.
James tells of the connection between love and wisdom, the flipside of the modern proverb, “Sin makes you stupid.” “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthy, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace (James 1:13-18).” See also Philippians 1:9-11 and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13. One last point: Jesus tells us that wisdom can be found in both the new and the old. I’ve met some people who were sure that the current generation is much smarter than all previous generations, and so they have nothing to teach us (That is scary!). There are others that think the current generation has had no good insights, and we just need to get back to the way things used to be. “Do not say: ‘How is it that former times were better than these?’ For it is not out of wisdom that you ask about this (Ecclesiastes 7:10).” Nostalgia can help us forget some of the things that were really wrong back then. Jesus clearly loved the Old Testament (He quoted it so much and built on it so much there is no room for doubt), but He most certainly brought some things that were very new.
We have much to learn, much, much, much.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

All Sorts of Folks

wheat and tares

Dear Folks,
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” One of the biggest challenges in Christianity is dealing with the inconsistency between the ideals of Jesus and the behavior of fellow Church members, which varies from saintly to horrific. Church history tells us that this has always been the case.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) this Sunday and the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) next Sunday make the same point. The Church has good and bad people in it, and we have to deal with it until the Last Judgment, and then God will separate them. This has a number of consequences.
We’re going to meet people in church who are not very nice. This is not a sign that the church is a fraud or that it is failing, but that it is working the way Jesus said it would.
Dealing with such folks is not preventing us from living the Christian life and being Church, but it is a part of living the Christian life and being Church, and will be until the
end of time.
We don’t get to throw people out for not being good enough. Excommunication is an extreme measure that is medicinal in purpose for the individual (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and
possibly 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). When people are approaching the sacraments improperly and they will do harm and not good, it can, under the right circumstances, be an act of charity to warn them. Postponing the celebrating of a sacrament until it can be done right can be a necessary, if painful task.
We don’t get to decide who is real and who is not. The best of us do bad things and the worst of us do good things. God knows what is in our hearts. We might decide who we are going trust, and for what. I hope you would trust me to teach the Catholic faith. I hope you would not trust me to do surgery, fix your car, or even cut your hair. We can say that some behaviors are right and some behaviors are wrong. We don’t know where people stand with God. At the end all will be made clear (See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
Just because we are in the Church does not automatically make us the good guys. We are not called to fear. We are called to confidence in God’s mercy and grace being able to transform us. We do not get to be complacent or relax our efforts (1 Corinthians 9:27).
There is no escaping the last judgment. We will then know everybody’s stuff and everybody will know our stuff. Does thinking about that make us want to make different decisions?
Part of being a member of the Church is dealing with each other as flawed human beings. It is in dealing with these flaws that we often grow, stretch and become more virtuous. This,
by the way, does not mean we can be lackadaisical in our struggle for virtue, so that we can be training for others. Jesus was quite fierce about that (Matthew 18:6-9; Luke 17:1-3. See
also Romans 3:8).
This means we have the challenge of striving mightily for sainthood with high standards of behavior, while reconciling ourselves to the fact that we are going to be dealing with fellow
Christians who are less than inspiring. This is part of how we give the gift of ourselves, part of how we live the Pascal Mystery. To pull this off we are going to need lots and lots of grace. For this we pray hard.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Benedict (not the eggs)

St. Benedict

St. Benedict was born about 1500 years ago, just after the fall of the Roman Empire. Bishop Robert Barron recently streamed the story of St. Benedict in his “Pivotal Players” series and calls him “the most pivotal of all the pivotal players.” We remember St. Anthony of the Desert as the one who pioneered desert spirituality.  St. Benedict made monasticism a workable system so that it would be strong enough to hold together civilization when civilization was literally collapsed around them.  He wrote a rule that is still in use today, and that enabled monasteries to be great centers of learning, evangelization and service for centuries to come.

There were some characteristics of the rule that I think made it so successful:

Prayer: most important thing they did and nothing interfered

Work: not just a practical necessity, but a way of glorifying God Colossians 1:23 “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others…”

Hospitality: kept them from becoming self-absorbed

Learning: preserved books, non-Christian and Christian

Stability: temptation always to be looking for something preferable, and whenever things get uncomfortable, run away.

Practical: though dedicated to eternal realities, must not neglect day to day issues.  Though they dedicated themselves to eternal realities, they had to deal with practical problems.

While civilization fell down around them, they kept it going, and enabled human knowledge that would be preserved in the midst of the upheaval. They copied books that would otherwise be lost. They became innovators in agriculture, health care, and other areas. I would recommend “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” for a fuller description of their contributions.  This would not happen without the work of St. Benedict.

He is often portrayed with a cup that has a demon in it, and a raven with bread in his beak.  This is from two stories about him. Once, monks who didn’t like his discipline put poison in his wine, but when he said the blessing, the cup shattered, and the Holy Spirit made him know what happened. Another time a wicked priest gave him some poisoned bread. He realized it, so he commanded his pet raven to take the bread and put it where no one would find it (sort of an inverse of 1 Kings 17:6). Whether these stories are true or not, they convey that he had to deal, not only with barbarians outside, but dysfunction in the Church inside.

As we look at the challenges we face today, outside and within the Church, I think we can draw some inspiration from St. Benedict.

We celebrate his feast day July 11.

 

 

 

Jesus teaching: be phronimos

 

Phronimos

There is a teaching of Jesus that does not get talked about much, but I think it’s important (full disclosure: I think everything Jesus taught is important).  I’m going to break one of the rules they taught me in theology and mention a Greek word: phronimos (wise, shrew, prudent, clever, cunning, crafty).

I first encountered the word in the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16:1-8.  The parable is about a steward who is going to be fired, so he crafts for himself a retirement plan by calling in those in debt to his master and reducing the amount of their debts. This way they owed him a favor, and when he got canned, they would take him into their homes as a guest. “And the master commended that steward for being phronimos (v. 8).” Then Jesus says, “For the children of this world are more phronimos in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ public teaching begins with the Sermon on the Mount and ends with three parables about the last judgment.  The Sermon on the Mount ends with the admonition that a man who is phronimos will build a house on rock rather than sand (Matt 7:24-27). The first of the parables about the judgement tell us that a bridesmaid who is phronimos will bring extra oil for her oil lamp (although nowadays she would bring extra batteries for her smart phone) (Matt 25:4).

Jesus also has some sayings that don’t use the word, but seem to be teaching something similar: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? (See Luke 14:25-33).”

What really got my attention was “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (phronimos) as serpents and simple as doves (Matt 10:16).”  What makes that even more interesting (at least to me) is that if you look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was popular at Jesus’ time (the Septuagint), in Genesis chapter we meet the serpent in the garden and learn that “the serpent was the most cunning (phronimos) of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made (Genesis 3:1).” I think Matthew’s readers would have immediately made the connection.

Why am I going through all this?  I’m glad you asked.  There is a lot of energy being expended in public discourse today that I don’t think is moving us forward. I want to move forward. Consider, for an internal combustion engine to move us forward, there have to be explosions (rapid burn of fuel).  But that isn’t enough. The explosions have to be contained, first so that they are not destructive, and second so that energy can be channeled in a useful direction. There will always be some energy dissipated because of friction between the parts, but engineers who design the engines try to keep that to a minimum so that as much of the energy as possible may be channeled toward getting the work done.

It’s one thing to want something to happen (that is motivation). It’s another to be willing to do something about it. It is yet another thing for that something to be effective in moving us toward where we want to go.  I suggest that being phronimos is about giving our efforts the best chance of moving forward.

More on this later.

Body and Blood of Christ

Disputation.jpg[1]

Dear Folks,
We celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. The hard part of writing this is there is so much to say, so very much, and I must select.
The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gives Himself to us completely and invites us and enables us to give ourselves to Him in return, that we may know the fullness of love and joy forever. The Lord, with nothing to gain for Himself, became one of us, like us in all things but sin, so that He could pay the ultimate price for our salvation. The story of salvation, indeed the whole human story, pivots around Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He gave Himself in love’s perfect act on the cross, and we encounter that gift in a uniquely intimate way in the Eucharist. That is the center of what we do. Learning more about it over the years, and especially recently, has been especially rewarding. It is a well that never dries up.
We learn that God was working to prepare us for it from the beginning. We learn how the teachings and practices of the Old Testament lay a foundation for Jesus and His saving work. The Passover, the Bread of Presence in the Tabernacle, the teachings of the prophets and countless other elements form pieces of the puzzle.
Understanding that helps prepare us to see the connections between the Eucharist and our daily existence. It is one thing to learn the words: the Eucharistic liturgy is the source and summit of our lives as Christians (as the Second Vatican Council taught); it is something else entirely to see it at work in what we do, to recognize and appreciate that reality deep down to the core of our beings. Can we see ourselves bringing our life throughout the week to the Mass on Sunday, place it on the altar as the priest places the bread and wine, and ask Jesus to consecrate them? Can we look to the Eucharist to transform us? Can we see ourselves being sent forth from Mass to live according to that transformation, bringing the presence of Christ to all we meet?
If we want a stronger Church, let us develop a greater appreciation for the Eucharist. If we seek to be a holier people, let us grow in appreciation for the Eucharist. I know it has been a challenge that people have been separated from the Mass, but when we have special challenges is often when God does His best work. A good number of people have been working to deal with the details of the gradual process of opening up, and the hope is that we will be able to do more and more. Everything we are about is meant to bring us closer to Jesus and help others come closer to Jesus (If it doesn’t help do that, we shouldn’t be doing it). Jesus gave us unique ways of encountering Him, worshiping Him, being transformed by Him. He did it at the most pivotal time in His earthly life. He used the strongest language imaginable when talking
about this. Sharing this teaching cost Him most of His followers (John 6:48-71). What else could He have done to get us to realize this is important?
How we respond is critical (see 1 Corinthians 10 and 11). How can we respond more fully to Jesus?
St. John Vianney said, “If we could truly understand the Eucharist, we would die of joy.”
What a way to go.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Trinity: Why Do We Care?

trinity

Dear Folks,
Imagine, if you will, buying a car, but what they delivered was several crates with the
individual components and no instructions about how they fit together. I’m guessing you
would be less than thrilled. In the Great Adventure Bible Series, Jeff Cavins talks about
some people coming out of their religious education having a “heap of Catholicism.” They
know tidbits but have no idea why they matter.
One of the biggest occasions of this is the doctrine of the Trinity. Many people fought to
defend this doctrine for centuries. Basic Catholic religious education teaches this truth, and
we recite it in the creed on Sundays. But how many Catholics can explain why it matters?
How does this affect living the Christian life?
When we say “God is love” we are not just saying that God is loving, but that love is His
essence. The Father is eternally giving Himself in love to the Son, who is eternally
receiving and returning that love to the Father, and that love is so great it is Himself a
person, the Holy Spirit. Without creating anything, God is already the perfect community of
love, and has no need for anything, but love is fruitful, love is creative, so God created us
out of love. This defines for us the fullness of life: to receive love and give ourselves in
love. It also defines love: to give oneself. Jesus said there is no greater love than to give
one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In everyday practical terms it is to will the good of
another. The pursuit of holiness is both a personal and communal effort, and following
Jesus involves connecting to the community. To lose oneself in love is to become more
fully oneself.
Christianity is not only the greatest love story that has ever been told, but the only love
story that could ever be told. The Lord Himself, with nothing to gain, paid the ultimate
price for us, and we didn’t deserve it. If Jesus is not God, that that means God sent
someone else to do His dirty work, and then Christianity is just another religion. If Jesus
didn’t really become human, that means He didn’t really pay the ultimate price, but just
pretended to.
Different starting points make everything different. The materialists believe that we are just
a collection of chemical reactions in a temporarily self-sustaining system. Personhood,
consciousness, and love are just byproducts of chemical reactions. Love will then often be
defined as a feeling that can come and go, rather than a decision. That is going to affect
how we view the value of individual lives and how we respond when we are disappointed
by other people. That will affect how we view the concept of life fully lived. If love served
pleasure, it might be seen as a good thing but if one were disappointed too often, it could be
discarded as a value. I read one Hindu thinker that said the Absolute reality was not
personal, and that personhood is a result of a lapse from the Absolute. To achieve perfect
oneness, one needs to lose one’s individuality. Those who believed in many gods
envisioned them fighting amongst each other. In such religions, being good is not necessary
so long as you keep your god happy and your god happens to be winning.
All these truths fit together into the ultimate story, and no doctrine is expendable. Whenever
people teach something contrary, it will always result in something less. No one will ever
come up with a story as good as the one God weaves. The Catholic faith is the greatest gift
we can give. Knowing how it all fits together and why it is so good, so beautiful and so true
is part of being ready to share it with the rest of the world. And the rest of the world needs a
lot of God’s call to love.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Living Stones

livingstones

In our Gospel today, Jesus begins His farewell discourse, His last talk to the disciples
before he goes to be crucified. This will take chapters 14-16, and then there will be the
Great Priestly Prayer of chapter 17, in which He consecrates His Church. He starts with
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” and then says something strange. It is so familiar that I
didn’t think until recently how strange it is. When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there
are many dwelling places…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again
and take you to myself, so that here I am you also may be (See John 14:1-3).” It leads to the
question, “Prepare how? Does heaven need work? What does He have to prepare?” Of
course, He will be preparing us. There is something else going on. Brant Pitre, in his book,
Jesus the Bridegroom, points out that this is what a bridegroom does. He gets betrothed,
then he goes and prepares a home for them (usually on his father’s estate), and then comes
and takes the bride to live there.
In the Gospel of John, we see John the Baptist introducing Jesus, and he uses two images to
describe Him: the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom, and there will be subtle references to
these roles throughout the Gospel. John the Evangelist will bring these two together at the
end of the Book of Revelation in the Wedding of the Bride (the Church) and the Lamb.
Between the time when Jesus Ascends into heaven and the time when He comes back to get
us, to bring the relationship to its fullness, we are being prepared. That brings us to our
second reading, where St. Peter talks about us being living stones being built into a spiritual
house. The more familiar image is members of the Church being members of the Body of
Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12 and Ephesians 4), so we can take this opportunity to
linger over St. Peter’s image. “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but
chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into
a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God
through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).”
In the course of doing church work, I’ve learned that some bricks are stronger and more
durable than others, and if you are unfortunate enough to have a church with low quality
bricks they will crumble relatively easily. I do believe that some stones are stronger than
others, and sandstone is not nearly as durable as granite. If we want our Church to be
durable, the first step is to be stronger stones, and that happens by deepening our
relationship with Christ. Any time we want to make a better world, the first step is always
to fall more deeply in love with Jesus. We can get so focused on things that need to be
done around us that we can forget that part, and we can become like sandstone that takes
itself for granite. We also remember that each stone is a small part of the building, so it is
less about us than about the purpose of the building.
This building is not just to sit there, but “offer spiritual sacrifices” and we are called to be a
“holy priesthood.” It is worth looking at this alongside a text from St. Paul: “I urge you
therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy
and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be
transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).” According to our baptismal
priesthood we are called to offer sacrifice. Since there is only one sacrifice, the sacrifice of
Jesus on the cross that occurred once in history but whose power is eternal, our sacrifices
must be a participation in that action. This is done in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the
sacrifice of our lives, as we give ourselves to service.
We see the call to service in the first reading from Acts 6, and call of the first deacons (the
word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant”). This house becomes more of
what it is meant to be when no one in need is neglected, and when everyone’s gifts are fully
brought to service. Sometimes we do this better than others, but it is what we are always
seeking.
Much to do to prepare for the final celebration.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim