Homily 26th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 30, 2018

“If Christ is for us, then who can be against us?”

                This Scriptural verse is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in chapter 8, the chapter that precedes Paul addressing the issue of the salvation of Israel in chapters 9-11. If Christ is for us, then who indeed can be against us. Well, I guess the accurate answer to such a question can be seen in this Gospel as well as the other 2 readings this Sunday.

                It’s clear that our Lord sets up two camps in his response to John the Apostle when John starts complaining to Jesus about some unknown dude casting out demons as he uses Jesus’ name. “He’s not supposed to do that! I’ve never seen him in our small group of followers! Where did he come from? Maybe he’s an alien?” But the truth is that he isn’t an alien to the ways of Christ. It’s obvious he knew the Lord, witnessing Christ at some other point in his ministry when Jesus himself called out a demon or two. “Gee, I wonder if I can do that in his name.” He found out the answer.

                Jesus’ response to John sets up two camps; “For whoever is not against us is for us.” So, the first understanding that flows from those words is that there is evil in the world. This is one camp. There are those who are against Christ; against his ways of love, forgiveness, peace, compassion, his ways of making whole a person who was torn apart by a demon or some other issue. Whatever does not reflect the Person of Jesus Christ, knowing the radical truth of who he is and applying it in our lives, is against him. Every time we sin, we are against him. That’s why he says to cut off the limbs and pluck out the eye. Throw away whatever is against the holiness of Him who is the Source of all holiness. It’s much better to go to heaven with a prosthetic, then not go to heaven at all, the place we are called to.

                In this first camp, who are the ones who are against Christ? This isn’t like Yankees fans being against Red Sox fans. That stuff is tiny when placed alongside the reality of what’s going on in these Scripture readings. Who are the ones against Christ? The demons are. They made their choice; they made the wrong choice and they went with the guy with the pitchfork. They chose the Devil in their one choice of siding with either love and life, or eternal death and violence. They chose the latter. They chose ugliness, and forcing their ugliness on human beings. Right from the Garden of Eden forward to this day. This is why the Eucharist is so essential; the Eucharist is the most powerful form of protection against those who are against the Son of God.

                But here’s where the hard answer comes at us; we know the demons are against Jesus. Christ is everything they are not. From love all the way to humility and mercy. All that is good for us. The hard answer to who is against Christ are those who are meant to love him, which is every human being. Not one person is created to stand against God. Yet, there are many of those made in his image and likeness who do stand against the One who created them. Just like the Devil and his slew of demons, these created beings, who fought against God instead of trusting Him and letting Him be the boss that He is. The sin of pride is the deadliest sin. It opens the door to fighting against God in ways of hating Him instead of loving Him.

                What that guy is doing in this Gospel that gets under the skin of John the Apostle, it’s an act of full cooperation with Christ who shares his loving power with us. We have power within us; the power to be for him or against him. I suspect we are all here because we are for him. Because we love the Savior of the world who died for us so that we may live forever. If we lose that central insight to our faith, then we will start to build a bridge against him, which many have done. And in doing so, they have set up in their lives this most unnatural relationship with God.

As human beings, we are made to be for God, and for his Son, and for the Holy Spirit. That is the correct team to be on. The sin that Jesus talks about, the cutting off this and plucking out that, it places us on a team that is unnatural for us. The wrong team. We’re here because we have chosen Christ, through thick and thin, through life and death, through the ups and downs. We are for Him, because we know he will bring us back together again. That Christ has power over not only the weak-minded demons who get scared when he is in close proximity, knowing they will be crushed by Him. But his power extends to the crushing of our greatest enemy, death itself.

There are two camps set up in this world. We have every reason in the world to be for him, because his victory is assured. By being for Christ, we are like the angels who made the choice of loving God, and not like the demons who rejected him in their free will, causing all sorts of problems for those made in the image and likeness of God.

Be for Christ, and all that is good. Which is our most natural state of life.      

               

Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 23, 2018

Some conversations are a waste of breath and time. Such as “Who is the greatest?” Do these followers of Jesus really think that he’s going to stoop to their level and say, “Let’s see, should I pick Peter and Andrew as the greatest, or James and John as the greatest, or Philip and Bartholomew as the greatest, or, maybe Judas Iscariot will stop stealing money from the purse and become my greatest disciple?”

                It’s all a waste of breath and time. It’s downright immature and foolish, to think that Christ the Lord is going to choose sides, or he’s going to line them all up, look at them square in the eye, and say, “Okay, you Matthew the tax collector, you’re the greatest among this small group of followers of mine.” No wonder why they kept silent when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about on the way to Capernaum. Their honest answer would have made them look even more foolish than they already were. It would have revealed them to be the little children that they were spiritually.

                Also, this conversation was a waste of time because the greatest disciple, whom they all will come to know, she and Joseph already raised their Son in the tiny village of Nazareth for the past 30 years. His greatest disciple already gave birth to him. His greatest disciple was already born without the stain of original sin, destined to be assumed body and soul into heaven, sitting in the place where these guys want to sit, thinking they deserve that place.

Mary was called long before they were, and called to do something that was impossible for them to do. In her giving birth to the Savior, this entire “greatest” conversation is made possible, for without her loving “Yes” to Gabriel, heaven would be sadly silent to this very day. She’s the greatest among them, yet, we never hear such words coming from the lips of the Mother of God. She lacks their immaturity in her life, and is filled instead with the Spirit.

                St. James in his writing today is so correct, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” This Scriptural verse couldn’t be more correct when placed alongside this Gospel of their arguing over who is the greatest among them.

We continue to go back many times to this observation about the Apostles concerning their growth as followers of Jesus. This conversation about who’s the greatest among them is like the low point in their understanding of what Jesus is calling them to. They think their lives are now going to be a cakewalk. That all is easy-peasy because they now personally belong to the Lord of the universe. And within that falsely confident thought they now argue within their own little circle about who’s number one. They match their big egos with their tiny understanding of the Man they walk with. And there’s still much of that today, where Christ is falsely represented by adults who are tricked into thinking they know Christ the Lord better than the holy people. Better than the handful of Mary’s of this world.

And that’s what we find at the heart of this heated discussion they hold within earshot of Jesus, who can hear everything they talk about, probably shaking his holy head the few hours it takes them to walk to Capernaum. Our Lord must have been thinking as he walked along, “I can’t wait to see how this plays out! I can’t wait to ask these little children what they were talking about.” And, he does ask them. “What were you arguing about on the way?” The answer? Silence. The kind of silence you’re looking for when someone you’re with is talking to loud in public, in a restaurant, about politics, or sports, or religion, and you want to say “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Everybody is looking at us!”

You know what their silence to Jesus represents? It represents their admission of how dumb the conversation was. Of how misguided and ill-informed it was. That their story had many, many holes in it. They knew when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, how little they understood what the Master was looking for from them. They were controlled by worldly thoughts, and not by their faith in him. My friends, don’t be controlled by worldly thoughts. Be controlled by your faith in Him, which brings us freedom.

What their silence also brings about is a small bit of growth, which is good. Making room for silence for Christ will do that, especially in our whacky world of noise. The Apostles’ silence to Jesus’ simple question of what they were arguing about is the perfect answer, when the spoken answer would have been, “We were arguing about who was the greatest, Lord. We’ll leave it up to you. Would you like to choose one of us so we can settle this issue?”

“Yes, I would. I’m glad you asked. I choose the woman who gave birth to me. She’s the greatest of my disciples, because she’s humble like this little child in front of you, and not arrogant like you adults who act like little children. She’s the greatest disciple because in heart and mind she has already died for me in her silence, Our Lady of Sorrows. And when you guys finally come home after drinking from my cup of martyrdom, you’ll see her standing next to me.”

Silence is good. Make room for silence in your life for Christ. When Jesus asked them the question, unknowingly they gave the best answer: silence. In their silence, they took one step toward growth in their understanding of what discipleship for Christ truly means, which begins and ends with being a servant.              

Homily 24th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 16, 2018

There goes Jesus being apparently secretive again in this week’s Gospel, similar to last week. Last week in the curing of the deaf and mute man, our Lord instructed all those in attendance of that miracle to not tell anyone what just happened. They didn’t listen to him. They told everyone they met how they just won the Powerball. Hopefully, the Disciples did a better job at keeping quiet about Jesus being the Christ.

                Again, his apparent secretiveness concerns this issue of Jesus not being identified until he’s on the Cross. It’s in that moment in Mark’s Gospel where the bystanders see Jesus at his worse, but believers over the centuries see him at his best. The Cross is his highest moment because all the sins committed in the world’s history were nailed to the tree. All the small white lies that barely register a blip on the radar, to all the big ones that destroy the lives of other people in some violent form, be it verbal or physical.

                The contradiction of the Cross, it’s called by many Christians. The contradiction that when Jesus looks his ugliest, sort of what we look like when we wake up in the morning, that’s when he’s at his most stunning, his greatest look of beauty. The contradiction that when he appears to be at his weakest moment in 33 years of living, he’s at his strongest. And what makes that incredible contradiction possible, is sacrifice.

                At the heart of Jesus’ apparent secretiveness is the issue of spiritual maturity. He wants them not to tell anyone who he is because they themselves are not prepared to share this message that our God is a crucified God. The Disciples are not spiritually mature enough for this message of truth. Much of our world today still laughs at such foolishness. “Look at those Catholics. They worship a guy who was crucified. They worship a criminal, a dead man.”

                We see this important element to our faith playing out in this week’s Gospel. Peter worships Jesus, just like we do. “You are the Christ,” he says. If “Who do you sat that I am?” were the only question on the exam, then Peter passed with flying colors. “You are the Christ.”

Those are words of worship that I pray we repeat also; “Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the Anointed One of God. This is the first reason why I follow you.” We all have that in common. We’re one, big happy family with that Jesus thought. But when our Lord starts yakking about his future death, Peter says, “That’s not who I want to worship. I like you just the way you are, Jesus. Upright and healthy. Make sure you live to be 140 years old. Please don’t die shortly.” Spiritual immaturity.

                I can understand why people fear death in the way that Peter feared Jesus’ future crucifixion. Like Peter, there’s always that seed of doubt, that little piece of crumb off the cracker, that tells us we don’t know what’s on the other side. Is there anything on the other side? Do we die and that’s it? No Wright’s Chicken Farm in heaven because there is no heaven? Well, if that’s the case, then I better eat as much as I can on this side. Maybe that’s why I do.

                Spiritual maturity is not only a grace that allows us to hold fast to a faith that teaches us to believe some pretty amazing things. Such as eternal peace; no more pain; no more bad relationships; no more disease; the vision of the unapproachable beauty of God; the Reunion; the infinite joy; the resurrected body that will never die again, unlike Lazarus who did. Spiritual maturity is also the willingness to take up our own cross and follow after him.

                There are many concerns in the Church right now. We are still willing with heavy hearts to follow after him. That speaks well to all of you. But there are also many crosses in each of our personal lives, some crosses being heavier for some folks than for others. And where that happens to be the situation, we apply the words of St. James that have no secrets to them; “Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” From the works that assist others who carry heavier and more crosses than we ourselves carry.                                                

To have a Christian vision in our faith journey that sees the struggles of the poor and those hurting in a thousand different ways. And take that vision and do the work on behalf of someone else as Christ did the work for us.

                Spiritual maturity doesn’t run away from Christ like Peter and the rest of them did when our Lord was falsely arrested. It doesn’t run away from Him when times get tough. Spiritual maturity follows him to the Cross, like Mary his Mother and Mary Magdalene, knowing life is a gift, and that eternal life awaits.

                “You are the Christ.” Follow him to the end. Great things await.

               

               

Homily 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 9, 2018

The secretiveness of Jesus is on display in this moving Gospel story. Throughout the course of his public ministry, our Lord, whenever crossing paths with a person who is ill, physically deformed in some way, or in need of forgiveness of their sins, he would never and could never allow that situation to pass by without addressing it somehow. He would recognize the particular need before him, be it spiritual, or the combination of physical and spiritual, and, in his divine capacity uproot a deformed situation in someone’s life, and make the person whole. How long the wholeness would last, many times, would be up to the individual who experienced the healing.

                All that Christ did, all that he spoke, all that he taught, was good and holy. Not to make himself feel good; he was already God in the flesh, which I would think feels pretty good. His purpose was to lift up the sufferer, the one who knew physical and spiritual pain; the pain of sin; the pain of a physical nature, like being deaf and dumb; the pain of separation from communities, like lepers; the pain of not being whole in some way that takes away from the joy and happiness that our Lord so deeply desires for all of us.

                Even though the Lord speaks elsewhere in the Gospel, “Pick up your cross and come after me,” and, “You will have trouble in the world,” even though he emphasizes time and again that struggle and strife are a highlighted part of this faith journey for us, what undergirds all that language of Christ is that he still deeply desires our joy and happiness, for at the end of the day he is risen. He is victorious over all the ailments and tortures that life will send our way, as well as all that people will cause to others who are made in God’s image and likeness, including priests being the unholy cause, as we have seen once again.

                In the Gospel, Jesus, if you will, gets physical. It’s a loving, compassionate, caring, redeeming type of physical. And Mark’s Gospel is a “physical” Gospel. Look what our Lord does! He put his finger into the deaf man’s ear; any ear Doctor will tell you, “Don’t do that to yourself, unless you wish to grow deaf.” Then, Jesus spits, touching his tongue. His holy saliva is in the guy’s ear. And then comes the purpose for all the physical moves; “Be opened. Speak clearly; hear; hear the amazement of the witnesses’ present; hear how they proclaim this man in their midst a miracle worker; a doer of incredible things that bring joy and happiness to a person who was deformed.”

                The physicalness of Christ reclaims the wholeness of the individual. It’s not the only time he does this. In John’s Gospel he rubs mud in the eyes of the blind man telling him to go wash in the pool. It’s a beautiful thing what Jesus does, filled with great love and compassion.

                His request is to not tell anyone – a request they totally ignore. It’s one of the few requests of Jesus that goes unheeded. They don’t listen to him. You can’t hold back, not just good news, but great news too. If anyone of you wins the Powerball, if you think you can keep that a secret, you’re living on another planet. Our Lord’s request for them to not tell anyone about the healing, his apparent secretiveness, is simply the Gospel writer’s way of holding back on our Lord’s true identity until he gets to the Cross, where the centurion will proclaim, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” It’s called the Markan Secret. The secret in Mark’s Gospel where Christ will become fully known and identified while on the Cross, at the moment of his death.

                There should be no Markan secrets in the Church. The more transparent we are, the more transparent the leaders of God’s Church are, the more holy we will become. Holiness is the goal; holiness is the way of life that Christ calls us to, as he was holy in his earthly journey.

                Over the past near century, there have been, as we now know again, many priests and Bishops who lived physically and spiritually unholy lives; the opposite of what we see in this beautiful Gospel, where the physicalness of Jesus leads to great joy and happiness. There have been many priests who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders whom God did not call to the priesthood. I am not of the mindset that every guy who gets ordained is called by God to the priesthood. There’s no way that’s true. God calls holy priests, of which there is many today. He does not call those who go on to commit the gravest of sins.

                And, there have been many Bishops who are as dumb as a doornail. Fortunately, ours is not one of them. They’ve made decisions where you want to say, “What are you thinking? Where’s your common sense and common decency? That isn’t what Christ wants, to put these guys in settings where they can continue their unholy actions.”

                We continue to pray for every person affected by the unholy actions of men who were never called to the priesthood, yet got in, and Bishops who looked more like Judas than Peter. May our loving and gentle Jesus make those affected people whole again, and touch them with his Divine grace.

                May God continue to cleanse his Church in like manner of Jesus cleaning up the ear and voice of the deaf man with a speech impediment. And may God bless you, the good People of God, who are so faithful in times of great adversity and confusion. May he touch you also with his grace and healing power, for you are the ones who will bring his Church to the place of joy and happiness where he wants us to be.