Category Archives: Religion

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

Getting Things Sheep Shape

shepherd

Dear Folks,
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we have cause to feel sheepish.
In John 10, Jesus tells us He is the good shepherd. This chapter is well worth reading
completely. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Some have pointed to this
text and suggested that priests should not be participating in the lockdown, but facing the
danger. It would be a different thing if we were just putting ourselves in danger, but if we
kept visiting people, we could be unknowingly infecting others. That is the truly dangerous
factor, how long we can be asymptomatic and contagious. There can (and will) be a lot of
conversation about where to draw that line, but it is not simple. Let us reflect on shepherds:
We all know Psalm 23, the great psalm about the Lord our shepherd. Reflecting on that
short text can give us a sense of what Jesus was talking about, what He does for us.
Isaiah 40:11 Tells of the shepherd’s tender care for the sheep as an image of God’s tender
care for His people (just what you would expect from Isaiah): “Like a shepherd he feeds his
flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with
care.”
Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 3:15; 23:4; 50:6 talk about bad leaders of the Israelites who were
like bad shepherds, but the big example of that is in Ezekiel 34. It is worth reading in
entirety. If you only look up one of my references besides John 10, this would be the one to
read. In the Office of Readings (of the Liturgy of the Hours) there is a section in the fall
where we go for days with a chunk of this chapter as the first reading, and a message from
St. Augustine developing the concept further. Neither one pulls any punches. It usually
comes up pretty close to when we have the priests’ conference for the diocese (I think God
did that on purpose). It is a challenge for anyone in a leadership position.
One can also read: Luke 15:1-7 Parable of the lost sheep; John 21:15-19 Mandate to Peter:
if you love me, feed my lambs tend my sheep; Acts 20:25-35: St. Paul talking to the priests
of the church of Ephesus.
The image of the Lord as shepherd goes deep in the scriptures, and it is very apt. In ancient
Israel, shepherds were very common, and everyone was familiar with the concept.
Shepherds lead the sheep to food, water and shelter, and protect them from predators. The
sheep, left to themselves would tend to wander off and get in trouble.
We may pride ourselves on our independence and our common sense, but we need help and
we do tend to wander from what is good for us. In our better moments, we all know this to
be true.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “A thief comes only to steal and laughter and destroy; I came so
that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Those who seek to lead us into sin
(and that includes the voice of temptation within us) regularly tell us that to obey God is to
accept a diminished life, and sin will give us a fuller life. This is one of the most horrible
lies in the history of lies, and yet, it is so easy to believe. We tend to wander from the very
things that will make us the happiest. Sin leaves us with a life so much less than what it
could be and in the cruelest of prisons. That is what gives us cause to feel sheepish. Jesus
leads us to the fullest, most abundant life. We will see this image taken up again most
powerfully in Revelation 7:9-15.
Jesus said the sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and that He will lead them and
they will find pasture. We can get to know His voice better by reading the Scriptures, by
spending time in His presence (including time spent with the Blessed Sacrament), and by
seeking His face in those in need.
We need a shepherd. Let us take some time to listen to His voice.
Blessings,
Fr Jim

Know by the Fruits

fruitsof the Spirit

We are coming up on Pentecost, one of the three biggest celebrations of our liturgical year.

We are told there is an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, but for now we have been given the Holy Spirit as a “first installment” (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5: 1-5). So what does it mean that we have been given the Holy Spirit?

I want to emphasize that the answer must not be primarily about feelings. I have heard many people who talk about “feeling close to God” as their primary test for their practice of the faith. This is dangerous.  I would suggest our Scribe and Pharisee friends in the Gospels got into trouble when they confused feeling holy with being holy. Daniel Mattson in his book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay shares a lesson his father taught him: “In the planetarium where he worked, I would often sit next to him as he gave presentations to visiting school children.  My favorite part of every program was the moment when he made the star projector spin speedily, round and round, making it feel as if all of us in the auditorium were spinning. The dome of the planetarium filled our vision, and though we knew we were seated firmly in our chairs, it felt as if we were dizzily careening through space. As the gathered children enjoyed the experience, my father would use the moment to teach them about Nicolas Copernicus’ revolutionary discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, as most men had believed throughout history. ‘Feeling are important,’ he would say, ‘but they don’t always tell us the truth.’”

What should we look for as a sign that the Spirit is working in our lives?  It is always a good thing to start with Jesus, who said, “So by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:20; see Luke 6:43-46).”

What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit? St. Paul teaches they are “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, and memorizing that list would not be a bad thing).”  If the Holy Spirit is at work in us and if we are cooperating with that work, we should demonstrate an increase in those qualities.  We all fall short, but we can be headed in the right direction.

However, it would be a grievous error to focus our faith life only on our personal development. I suggest that what Jesus said about fruit and harvesting has more to do with gathering people to Him as He has commanded us to do.  If we read the following texts from that lens I think they will make the most sense: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborer are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Matthew 9:36-37).’” “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest in abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:1-3).’” We see in John 4:35-36 Jesus talks about seeing the fields ripe for the harvest and that “one sows and another reaps.” In John 15: 1-17 He talks about us being branches on the vine and remaining on Him in order to bear fruit that will remain.

Acts of the Apostles has been called “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  We see the work of the Spirit most memorably in the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar was the feast of first fruits. That will wait for a future article.

Walking with Jesus

Jesus breaking bread

Dear Folks,
Today we look at the story of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.
This is a wonderfully rich story, and it is worth taking some time with it.
Two of Jesus’ followers are walking along. One of the great images of the Christian life is a journey. We are not people who have arrived, but are called to be moving forward toward our goal, “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” They are talking about their experiences of the weekend. Jesus starts walking along with them, but they don’t recognize Him. This seems common in encounters with the resurrected Jesus, but it is also true for us. Jesus is always with us, but we don’t always recognize Him. He says, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Jesus is very good at asking the right question. Their response is wonderfully ironic: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” This is great, because He is the only one who really does know. The Gospels often do fun things like that. Jesus doesn’t let on. He says, “What things?” He, of course doesn’t ask because He needs to know, but to get them to tell their story. We shall see a lot of this in Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Most Catholics have not had practice in telling their story. If you needed to tell your faith story, what would you say? Then Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them, and explains what these events really mean. Notice that Jesus asked them to bring forward what they had, but it is He who teaches. This dynamic is familiar. In the accounts of the multiplying of loaves and fishes, Jesus asks the disciples to bring forward what they have, but it is He who feeds. We see this again in a resurrection encounter in John 21:10-13, also with bread and fish. For now, however, Jesus is opening the Scriptures for them. They knew the stories in the Scriptures, but it is only in the light of the risen Jesus that people can see the full significance of what they mean. I would also suggest that the events of our lives can only be fully understood in the light of the story of salvation. Jesus acted like He was going further, but they urged him to stay, showing hospitality. Hospitality is tough during this lockdown, but it is something for Christians to be pondering. “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).” We see them entertaining not only angels but Jesus Himself. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).” We are not only called to be hospitable to Jesus by welcoming other people, but welcome Jesus directly with our prayer and attentiveness to Him, His teaching and His presence in our lives, and our willingness to examine and change our lives in His Light. Pope Benedict was fond of encouraging people to take the time to let Jesus be “our best friend.”
Breaking of the Bread “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).” The taking, blessing, breaking and giving was, in Jewish practice, how the meal was begun. I haven’t seen any commentary on this, but it seems to me that that action would be the proper function of the host, and Jesus was a guest. When something doesn’t quite fit I want to know why. I suggest this is a larger truth: when we invite Jesus in, He is in charge, He is the Host, and He is the one who feeds. Christians would associate Jesus’ actions with the celebration of the Eucharist, and of course when we gather for the Eucharist, we are not the hosts; Jesus is the host. This would remind us we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. After He vanishes, they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures for to us (Luke 24:32).” Once again, we don’t often recognize Jesus at work in our lives until we reflect back afterwards, and then it becomes clear.
Then they shared the story with others and got it confirmed, and they learned they were not alone. We remember the Visitation, in which Mary went to Elizabeth, and her experience was affirmed. This is one of the (many) reasons we need Christian community.
Jesus is still walking with us.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Peter Reconciled

peterdoyoulove

Dear Folks,

As we continue to celebrate Easter, we look at the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. This Sunday we look at the Gospel of John, and Jesus appearing to His disciples. As we join the story (John 20:19-31), Peter and the beloved disciple (generally believed to be John) had seen the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus had a very nice chit chat with Mary Magdalen. The disciples are in a locked room, cowering in fear, but He appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.” Clearly, no lock-down can keep Jesus out now.  His greeting of peace is important for several reasons. Since they didn’t do such a hot job on Good Friday, they would naturally wonder if Jesus was going to be mad at them, and perhaps give them a serious smiting.  Jesus is here to bring peace. This seems very much like what He would do, but we need to consider something He had said earlier, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household (Matthew 10:34-36).”  So what are we to make of that?

I would suggest that real peace comes from facing division and healing it, rather than covering it over.  That sometimes means that an absence of visible conflict may just mean that there is a problem, but it is kept hidden and not acknowledged. In the Gospels, refusal to recognize one’s sinfulness is a very serious thing.  We remember at the end of the story of the man born blind: “Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely, we are not also blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.’ (John 9:40-41).” We also remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee did lots of good stuff, but because of that, he didn’t see a need to change, or even acknowledge his sinfulness. The tax collector had probably committed a lot more sins, but recognized his sinfulness and was repenting an on the road to doing better.  He came out justified but the Pharisee did not.  It’s okay to be where we are, but it’s not okay to stay where we are.

Looking at John 21, we see Jesus and Peter having an important conversation. They have had breakfast, and are sitting by a charcoal fire.  This reminds us that on Good Friday, Peter was standing next to a charcoal fire to keep warm when he denied Jesus (John 18:18 and 18:25) We are taught that the sense of smell is the most powerful sense for evoking emotional memories, so imagine Peter, his mind right back there to his moment of failure.  Jesus asks three times, “Do you love me?” and counterpoint to Peter’s threefold denial.  We notice Jesus didn’t need to rub his face in it (“Gee, Peter, remember when you said you would lay down your life for me and I told you…”). Peter knows, and Jesus knows he knows.  Jesus is not looking to prolong the hurt, but to bring reconciliation.  He had to recognize where he was, but didn’t need to spend time wallowing in guilt. He would need that energy for doing the work that Jesus was giving him to do.  That was where his focus needed to be.  A surgeon must cut in order to do good, but tries to cut as little as possible and do the most amount of good.

Jesus brings the gift of peace.  We will not know its fullness until the end of our journey (1Peter 1:3-9), but we can get a taste of it when we encounter Jesus. We all are sinners, and we all suffer from others sins.  We can look from that pain and say, “Jesus, you can make me whole; you can bring me to peace.” We can live in hope for the complete peace of heaven, and strive for peace now. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:9).”

Blessings, joy and peace,

Fr. Jim

Something New on Earth

Resurrection

Dear Folks,

Today is Easter and the Lord has risen!  He has risen indeed!

Yes, we are still on lockdown, and we are still dealing with the pandemic, but that cannot stop Easter. We remember what when Jesus rose, the Romans still ruled in Israel, and they were just as nasty as they were before.  We remember the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus had encountered in the Gospels were just as stubborn as they were before. When the disciples encountered the risen Jesus, he would forgive them for their failures on Good Friday, but they would still have to forgive themselves, and many of us find that the hard part.  They were still facing a very dangerous future, one that would call them to deal with many kinds of suffering and death.

But Jesus had risen.  Because they encountered the risen Jesus, nothing the world could throw at them could defeat them.  No pain or deprivation could kill their joy.

Jesus doesn’t really do much that’s new, but the power of being in His presence is what makes the difference.  He demonstrates that He is real, and explains that He had to suffer and die. He also sends them on mission.

Brant Pitre in his (excellent) book The Case for Jesus mentions there are three things we know about the resurrected Jesus: He has a body and is not a ghost, that He has the same body (still has wounds, but they seem not to hurt), and that it is a transformed body.  It is clear that He is not just like He was before, but has become something more. In 1Corinthians 15, St. Paul talks about the resurrection of the body, and compares the difference between the earthly and resurrected bodies as being like the difference between the seed and the full grown plant. In any case, He was not just resuscitated like Lazarus, but was (and is) more amazing than they could put into words. This experience was powerful enough to change everything.

It was only when Jesus appeared to them and explained why things happened as they did that they understood, at least somewhat.  He had, of course, explained a good deal before but they didn’t get it. I find that I’m often going through things that make no sense at the time, but later on I can see how God was at work, and how this served a greater purpose. Often things have been explained to me but I still did not understand until later.  The Risen Jesus helped them see the bigger picture.

They were not yet ready to go out to the world and transform it.  They still awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Once again, even though Jesus had explained it, I figure they really didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like. Until then, they continued to hide, to keep to themselves, to gather carefully.

We are, of course, immensely frustrated with the current situation, with cancellation of liturgies extended through the end of April. Some people believe that is the wrong decision. Some people believe it is the right decision, but are still ready to tear their hair out.  Whatever happens, two things are absolutely true: First Jesus is risen.  Second, wherever we are at, whatever our circumstances, this is where we are called to serve God.  No power on earth can take either of those away.

We are a people of the resurrection. Let us rejoice and let us answer Jesus’ call.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim