Mass for Thanksgiving Day, November 22,, will be held at 9:00 a.m.
As we approach the end of another Church year, and toward the end of Mark’s Gospel for another cycle, the Church gives us this very, shall we say, colorful Gospel. Colorful in its language; colorful in its meaning; colorful in its interpretation.
Will this generation really not pass away until the stars fall from the sky, the sun be darkened, and the moon fail in offering its light? With this Christian belief, the people of the 1st century waited for all these astronomical events to happen in their time, which would be the signal that Jesus was returning; the sun, the moon, and the stars to start acting out of whack; to possess a mind of their own and start doing their own thing, away from the natural purpose for which God created them. Sort of like people who perform actions of true hatred. They’re like fallen stars and a darkened sun if we say and do things that contradict the love Christ calls us to. We’re not meant to be Catholic contradictions.
Maybe that’s what our Lord meant with the words that symbolize the irrational behavior of nature’s most potent elements. That the Son of Man is near the gates when there are so many fallen stars, and so many darkened moons, that we leave God no option but to return and save us from ourselves. But don’t you think his return would have happened during the Second World War, a time of violence and hatred on a scale our world had never before seen, and has yet to match it since? Not to minimize the violence and hatred we see tossed around today, with political divides, immigration, and caravans and such. That would all make sense, if he already didn’t come to us. Instead, his first appearance to our generation was an invitation to love, with the perfect example given by Christ on the Cross. A concern for one another, this invitation to build up his Kingdom.
As we teach in our faith, there is no further revelation after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him, our generation has been given all we will ever need to shine like stars in the sky of heaven, to be as bright as the sun on a clear day, to allow our resurrected hearts to be as bright as a full moon on a cloudless night. There is no further revelation to come, after Christ. The eternal commandment is spoken; love God and love your neighbor. Not a false god and some of our neighbors. The goal is to seek perfection. ‘Be perfect,” Jesus says, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The language of today’s readings is the language that causes a few folks to lose their minds and begin predicting things that pass like a ship in the night. The Church uses this end-time language because we near the end of a Church year that leads to what? It leads to a new advent. An advent where we, with great joy, look forward to celebrating the coming of Him who invites into his Kingdom of love. A Kingdom that is larger than the universe, yet it’s within us. “Come to me,” he says, “all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
If that’s a core teaching in our Lord’s lasting revelation to us, then why all this talk about falling stars, darkened sun, the moon losing its light? Why all this talk about caravans, political divides, and whatever else that has the potential to bring forth from us a response that contradicts the great commandment, choosing instead to live in fear?
You know what I think? It’s like God says to us, “Here’s a star for you. Here’s the sun for you. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to turn this caravan into a fallen star, or a shining star? Is the great Prince Michael going to arise in your heart, or is the great demon that Michael destroys going to control our actions? Which one is it?”
If God does indeed test us, this is what it looks like. What are we going to do with that star? Because this generation will not pass until all these things have taken place. Which generation is Jesus talking about for our time? Is it the Greatest Generation of all those men and women defined by history as the ones who saved freedom back in the 1940’s, in the midst of a twisted generation of evil leaders and followers? Is it Generation X Jesus talks about, or the Millennials, or the Baby Boomers? Which generation is Jesus referring to with falling stars and a moon that fails to shed its light?
It’s all so confusing, on paper. But it’s not to be confusing in our hearts. In fact, it’s very clear. We know what God invites us into, in our Baptism, in our Confirmation – go and be disciples, – in our reception of the Eucharist. These are not routine actions. We do them, I pray, because we seek to draw closer to him who has already saved us from ourselves, and him who calls us to imitate his love.
“This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Jesus fooled them all. “All these things” refers to every star, sun, and moon, every act of love, small and large, that God in his infinite wisdom knows will happen before Jesus returns in all his glory. The focus of God is on love, and each one of us owns a plentitude of those acts. Every one of us participates in “all these things.”
And, “this generation?” “This generation” is not reference to all the human names we give to certain people and certain times over the centuries. “This generation” refers to the entire Christian generation from the time of Jesus’ resurrection to the time of his return. It’s one longstanding generation of those who follow the Master, which is why we stand united with all the Saints from every time. He will come back and resurrect our bodies when the full quota of loving acts is reached. God is counting. May we help to build up that number.
I wonder if Jesus’ observation flew right over the heads of his Disciples, like someone who is slow to get a joke. Except here we have no joke being spoken at the treasury department of 1st century Palestine. The observation that 12 Disciples are being called to imitate a widow and her two coins, as opposed to the bigshots standing nearby with the long robes and happy salutations. Jesus actually told his chosen few that the widow was their Saint to look up to. My guess is they didn’t get the non-joke. It went right over their heads.
Why would our Lord choose a widow who drops her two cents into the treasury as the model for Christian discipleship? Is it her generous nature? That could certainly be part of the answer for us, that we are to be generous toward one another in word and deed. Generosity is not limited to the rich, as we see in this Gospel story. Most of us have the capacity to be generous financially, whatever our respective numbers in any monetary institution, or whatever we hide under the mattress.
Or maybe Jesus chose the poor widow to be the model of discipleship because she looks and dresses more like the Lord that she does the long-robed scribes. We wish not to throw any good clothing stores under the bus, but would you trust more a preacher who dresses simply, or one who is flashy, wears three watches, and talks really fast?
Simplicity, which the widow defines to a tee, is one of the surest virtues that connect us to Jesus. Granted, we have no photos of Christ from the 1st century, with no Facebook back then. But if Jesus is critical of the long robes that stand aside of long egos, you just know our Lord didn’t shop at Brooks Brothers, which has some really nice clothes. The widow as a model of simplicity, however, is not defined by her simple clothing, but in her simplicity of heart. In that, she models Christ, as well as not being a fast talker, for she speaks not one word in the Gospel.
Or, as just mentioned, maybe Jesus chose the widow as the perfection of Christian discipleship because she has no ego, therefore, she possesses great humility. A Christian disciple embraces always the virtue of humility. No humility, no discipleship for Christ.
How do we know the widow was humble and not an arrogant poor woman? Her silence coupled with her generous nature is certainly telling. I know people who are extremely generous … and silent. And the ones I know are deeply humble. They’re not poor, but there’s something Godly to be said for generosity and silence in the same act. But even more, we know the widow was humble because the Son of God raises her as an example of what he admires. Jesus is a big fan of the widow.
More than all these above virtues though, the number one reason why our Lord chooses the poor widow as the perfection of Christian discipleship is because, as Pope Benedict XVI once observed about the widow, she gave her entire self. And that’s why Jesus highlights her actions in the treasury in front of his disciples; to give their entire lives to him, and the same for us. Not because he’s some sort of egomaniac, or that he’s looking to expand an army to conquer nations – although spiritually and lovingly he does want that. Jesus looks for the 12 to give him their heart, soul, mind, and strength as we heard in last week’s Gospel because he doesn’t want our jar of flour to go empty, nor our jug of oil to run dry. A vibrant faith in him is the road to effective discipleship.
The 12 will shed their blood for him, minus one, if they are to succeed at bringing the Good News of salvation to the world they encounter. A mean world at times, where many folks in the 1st century will be offended by the “Jesus message.” “Who are you to tell us pagans that this crucified man is the Messiah?” Many others will open their hearts to the Good News; others will kill the Apostles. If the Disciples don’t give their all like the widow – drinking from the same cup of martyrdom that Jesus drank from – then God’s message of peace and salvation will be overpowered by godlessness, which runs rampant in our culture today.
The generous, silent widow is our model for Christian discipleship too. Jesus points her out for more than her generosity, her simplicity, her lack of ego, her humility, and her silence. Although those alone are a really good ticket to heaven. She’s our model in the 21st century because, as they say in baseball, and as the Red Sox did, she leaves it all on the field. She left it all in the treasury.
The retired Pope who is now living the monastic life in Rome is spot on; she gave it all. And that’s what our Savior seeks from us. Faith is faith when we don’t hold back, whether times are easy or difficult. Faith is true faith in Christ when we put forth the expanse of our lives, as parents, grandparents, single people, clergy or lay persons, doing all for Christ, and not for the sideshows in this world, starting with politics.
The poor widow was definitely poor by the standards of any time. But in giving her all, she didn’t laugh all the way to the bank, for there was nothing left to deposit. She laughed all the way up Jacob’s Ladder as she climbed to heaven. May she intercede with Jesus for us.
I’ve heard a few people say in just the last month alone, and many times in past years, that just when it looked like a priest was finished with his homily, he would start another story. And I empathize with the good People of God sitting in the pews regarding this issue. I used to sit out there. And over my lifetime I can honestly say that there were a few priests who didn’t know how to, what we say in preaching, “land the plane.” They would circle the airport again and again when the air traffic controller was telling them to land, giving the impression the homily was about to finish, and then go back to another story, not landing the plane. I try not to do that from this side of the liturgy.
The great part about priests who don’t know how to fly a plane is that they still provide a holy meal, called the Eucharist. Whereas the length and style of their preaching may exasperate listeners, their capacity to feed us in the second part of the liturgy is never diminished, thanks to God’s power that comes through ordination.
Jesus is asked a question, a very important question for all of us in today’s Gospel: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” And without hesitation, our Lord proceeds to answer through the holy words of his sermon… This prayer called The Shema that goes back to Moses and a wandering people in the desert as we heard proclaimed in the first reading.
The Jewish prayer begins with, “Hear, O Israel.” Remember, Jesus came for the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but would extend his love and miraculous powers to non-Israelites (Gentiles) who professed faith in him. These Gentiles could move God’s mountain with a mustard seed of faith in him. But our Lord here speaks to Israel, the ones who recognize the words he is about speak further. The Jewish people know The Shema the way Catholics know the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Jesus continues his sermon; “The Lord our God is Lord alone.” A message that remains relevant in the 21st century, and for centuries to come. Don’t create any false gods in the world of our lives. We know many of them; money, power, sexuality, which is a false god for many people today. The list is long, because the temptation to worship idols is long and ever-present.
Contrarily, when the Lord is God alone for us, we see the world and its inhabitants in a Godly way. Through the eyes of holiness and dignity, through the eyes of compassion and mercy, through the eyes of faith. The Lord is God alone sets us on a path to healthy relationships, to good works of ministry, knowing we serve him in serving others. The Lord is God alone is the train that rides us to the great promises of Jesus Christ, which are many.
And then Jesus continues his sermon to the question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart,” placing him at the center of the ticker within all of us. Not just a portion of our hearts, like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday like a college course. Or, not dropping the ball on our heartfelt love for him from Friday night to Monday morning when the Evil One is working overtime to penetrate our free time, trying to transfer some portion of our love for God to his hatred for us. Rather, love him with all our heart, being nothing less than a forerunner for heaven itself.
And Jesus continues his short sermon; “With all your soul,” we are to love him. The invisible part of us. Love God with our conscience.
If I were to ask, “What is your conscience?” I bet most people would say, “It’s what I feel.” And I would say, “That’s not what it is. Our conscience is not simplified or relegated to feelings and emotions.” Our conscience is the deepest part of our being. Conscience goes as deep as we can travel within when addressing an issue. If I say, “Yea, I support the death penalty because that’s how I feel,” without taking into account all that our faith teaches us, and praying about it for a long period of time, that’s miles away from our conscience. Conscience is deep, and it takes time to arrive to arrive there. Loving God with all your soul is deep, and it takes time to arrive there.
And the sermon continues; “Love God with all your mind.” Think of the great things of heaven in the midst of a twisted generation, and what’s been prepared for us. If we could capture in our minds a small portion of what God has prepared for us, our heads would explode, but in the best of ways.
And the homily of Jesus comes to an end; “Love God with all your strength.” This has nothing to do with physical strength, like only muscle heads can love God greatly with their strength. Most of us, I suspect, are not muscle heads. I’m not. You don’t look like you are. Jesus means that whatever strength we have internally, strength of will and desire, love Him above all. This is why people in wheelchairs and the homebound can love God with all their strength much greater than those who pump iron at the gym five days a week.
And there’s Jesus’ homily for this Sunday. Oh, wait! There’s a second story from Jesus. He doesn’t want to land the plane yet. Sorry. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we love ourselves for the way God created us, the type of love that will see ourselves with respect, dignity, humility, grace, with dependence upon Him, then we will love our neighbor too. Loving others is dependent upon a healthy Christian love of ourselves. Not a conceited love, but a humble love, like Christ has given to us.
That’s really the end, I think. Just one more. Love God, love yourself, and please do your best to love your neighbor. It’s worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Since I’m sick of listening to myself, this plane has now landed.
Masses for All Saints Day will consist of a Vigil Mass on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. Mass for All Souls Day, Friday, November 2, will be held at 5:30 p.m. At this Mass, all present will be invited to light a candle in memory of loved ones who have died and placing the candle in front of our altar.
It’s one of the more special blessings of the human body.
To smell a delicious sauce is nice. To hear a good song is good. To taste a sumptuous meal is satisfying. To feel the summer breeze on a hot day touching us, or the fireplace heat on a cold winter day is inviting.
But there’s something extra special about vision. Seeing the world through our eyes. And it’s hard not to understand why Bartimaeus wanted it so badly. He could taste a good meal after purchasing one from the money he collected while begging. He could hear the many rebukes – even from our Lord’s own disciples probably- when he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” He could smell the anger and the rottenness of their words tossed at him like sharp javelins. He could touch the tension from the gathering crowd that followed Jesus out of Jericho, where the walls came tumbling down, and something else was about to tumble down too, called blindness.
Bartimaeus had all the senses keenly, missing only one. What’s the big deal? Four out of five is a pretty good percentage. Having eighty percent is much better than what Helen Keller had by a longshot.
So, Bartimaeus was not necessarily looking for the 100% that most of us take for granted. He was begging for a certain twenty percent. The premier twenty percent, many of us would say. The premier twenty percent in relation to the senses of the human body that God created for certain good uses, being the gift of sight. Everyone there except for one blind beggar saw Jesus standing before them. They gained in the process a sneak preview of the Beatific Vision we all hope to arrive at in the repose and glory of heaven. The disciples were far enough along in their friendship with Christ to the point that looking at him face to face everyday became second nature to them. Bartimaeus begged to see him for the first time.
Imagine if Bartimaeus had written a book titled The First Time I Looked At The Face Of God? I’d purchase a couple hundred copies from Amazon and offer one to each of you, and have our Confirmation Class read it. Why? Because that’s how special that truth is going to be one day, a reality that cannot be exaggerated. The gift of vision cannot be overstated.
But this week’s Gospel is more than just about a blind man miraculously receiving his sight. With all the pushing and shoving we see today in the political arena, between supporters of this party against supporters of that party. Between all the pushing and shoving, sending bombs in the mail, shooting up synagogues, the verbal attacks in public places where people makes the biggest fools of themselves and care not, thinking they can embarrass someone who’s’ trying to enjoy a quiet meal with family or spouse. With all the pushing and shoving we see in schools with bullying, in work places where people get undercut, affecting families, altering lives, it’s quite obvious our society, culture, and world is in desperate need of each of us firmly living out, not our political notions, but our faith in Christ.
The attempted shouting down of Bartimaeus is a low point for the crowds who follow Jesus, including his disciples, second only to the scene where they holler at the top of their lungs, “Crucify him, crucify him.” If the disciples of Jesus are not verbally participating in the rebuking of a blind beggar at the side of the road who has no potential to hurt anyone, someone who’s seeking the Lord, then their apparent silence toward the harsh rebuke is complicity. They lack the courage to stand up for a guy who is down and out. Aside of “Crucify him,” this is a low point in their following Christ. They will thankfully improve as the years roll by, as we hopefully do also.
Bartimaeus wants to see. There is no pushing and shoving found in his request, but rather the humble admission he wants that top 20 percent of the human senses. So, in this real life story, Mark gives us this uplifting image of what Jesus does best for all of us; he intercedes on behalf of Bartimaeus. He doesn’t push us and shove us, like the Devil does, embarrassing us in public. Jesus isn’t a fool. His love is unconditional. His is the one voice that speaks to the blind man with respect and compassion; “Jesus is calling you.”
Without the Lord’s intercession, Bartimaeus stays on the street corner for the rest of his dying days, begging and looking unclean. No one else had the love and courage to go over to the son of Timaeus and bring him to the Lord. That’s called neglect 101. They were all overpowered by the angry, unsettling mood of the crowd. Not one had the fortitude to be different for Christ. But HIS voice reigns supreme; “Jesus is calling you. Get up and go to him, and receive your 20 percent.”
To follow Christ is to be a person who desires peace, who brings peace, who extends peace. Rebuking may be part of our Christian faith, but only by way of drawing someone closer to Jesus, not pushing them away.
The 20 percent that Bartimaeus so badly wanted, even though he had the rest of his senses, would lead him to seeing the face of God. And to think that the entire crowd tried to prevent him from such joy! We are people of peace who lead others to Christ by word and example. He is the Mediator between God and men, but now that he’s ascended, he would like our steadfast cooperation. The opportunities are many to imitate, not the angry crowd, but the Peacemaker of our souls.
As I was watching the Red Sox game the other night, I texted a friend to ask him a question, knowing where I wanted this homily to go: “If you had the chance to ask God one question, what would it be?” The friend I asked, he’s a pretty knowledgeable person in many different areas of life. He thought about it for a few minutes, then texted back the question, “Is there more than one universe?” I texted him back, “I like that one. That’s a great question.”
The more I thought about his question, the more I understood how much it fit what is of interest, and what is curious and important to him. He has a strong interest in the workings and doings of what is out there, up there in the sky, from earth all the way to the ends of the universe, wherever that happens to be. The question fit his life, his personality, one area of interest.
So, I started thinking to myself, “What would you ask God for your one question, Mr. Priest?” And my question would be, “Am I going to heaven?” I want a sneak preview to that answer, to make any adjustments right now. And, there are times and days where I would downright fear the answer from God, which is fine I guess, for the Scripture tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
So, what would your one question be? How would you frame it? How would it fit your personality, and what’s important to you? Would it challenge the ways of God, which are sometimes very difficult to understand, especially when it comes to carrying crosses? And there are no follow-ups, like reporters with questions directed at a politician. One question only. What is most concerning or curious to us?
And there’s the Gospel for this week. James and John ask Jesus one question that takes the form of a statement by the time they speak it, but it’s one question; “Can we sit at your right and left in your glory as your telling this person’s soul to go here, and that person’s soul to go there. Can we watch you in action, Lord, as you judge the nations and billions of individual souls? Maybe, just maybe, we can take a load off your shoulders and assist you, Lord, like the 72 leaders assisted Moses because he was overworked. Maybe we can tell people where to go on your behalf.”
Well, at the end of the day, and the end of the conversation, they asked Jesus the wrong question. Not necessarily a dumb question, or that it was totally ridiculous. But the wrong question for sure, for their request to Jesus told two things about them; first, what was most important to them in their lives, which was power and position (standing at his right and left); and second, how it was the exact opposite of where Christ wants his disciples to be in this world of power and violence. They wasted their question. No more questions for them. Just be his disciple, and learn what that means.
Last week, I talked about discipleship for Christ alongside the word dependency on him at the same time. Discipleship and dependency. To be his follower, his disciple, comes with the relevant understanding that it’s not possible to succeed at the serious issues of life without dependence on him. Unless his grace is flowing through our veins, and his Spirit is guiding our thoughts and actions, then the end of the road is met ultimately with failure.
I think about this continuing opioid crisis in our state and nation, and how our political leaders wish to address this crisis, which is right and good. As a priest, however, I have to ask the one question, “How much of their approach to addressing this most serious issue in our communities is grounded in partnership with the living God?” Is that thought or action even there? While hearts are certainly in the right place, unlike James and John in their quest for power, is there any humble call for assistance from the Divine? From our Creator who loves us? If not, expect little success, because we’re just not that good on our own.
Our Lord takes the one question of James and John and teaches all his disciples where we are to stand before him. And where we are to stand before him, and best stand in for him is not to seek his right and left later on, but to be servants of the Most High right now.
To be a servant for Christ in serving others is to be humble. If there is a lack of humble pie in our spiritual diet, then we should pray for that great virtue of Jesus Christ. So, our one question is to reflect his life, and not our own selfish desires. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” Why? Because “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve,” by “giving his life as a ransom for many,” meaning all.
So, if we had the opportunity to ask Jesus face to face one question, would we blow it like James and John, asking a question that fit their power-hungry personalities? Or, would it touch on the many facets of our love for him?
James and John wanted to be on his right and left in his glory not because of their love for Christ, but because they wanted to lord it over others, which they would have misused, as so much power is. Our closeness to our Savior is grounded in being a servant, a humble servant, for the good of bringing his kingdom to those around us.
So, not only is following Jesus a sacrifice, giving up all sorts of apparently likeable things, but it’s also a sacrifice that comes with persecutions as the icing on the cake of discipleship. Who in their proper, rational, sensible mind would choose such a thing for their life? Not only to make sacrifices, but sacrifice while getting beat up for it! (Sounds like something the Red Sox did to the Yankees this past week).
No wonder why the disciples were exceedingly astonished. And they were not only astonished, but dumbfounded and uncertain as to whether they were going to continue to stand by the side of Jesus for the remainder of this ministerial initiative called the Kingdom of God. Isn’t that the easiest way to lose a friend? To tell them something along the lines that if they wish to remain friends with you, they have to make all sorts of difficult sacrifices, like families and livelihoods, and then get persecuted for your friendship with them? I’d be like, “Have a nice day. Hope to see you in the next life.”
We return to this fundamental Christian understanding time and time again as we pass through these Gospels from one Sunday to the next. And the message never gets old. The thought that Jesus is very demanding toward those of us who want to be his disciples. Like yourself, I consider myself to be his disciple. A weak one, but his disciple nonetheless. I’ll follow him all the way to heaven in my UPS Truck. He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I wish not to follow anyone else in this world of time and space, this very short life. No one!
We seek good advice and knowledge from others in their respective fields of expertise. I listen to my doctor because he’s pretty good. He really cares about my health. He told me early on that he doesn’t want to answer to God for not taking good care of me. But, I don’t want to follow him like I would follow Christ, and be his disciple. The only possibility of following someone aside of Jesus and Mary, is if I believe someone to be a living Saint.
Like if I was alive in the 1950’s and 60’s, I would have loved to have traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo and met Padre Pio, now St. Pio. I would have loved to have met Mother Teresa, because you just knew she was going to heaven when she died. I would follow them to Christ. But my doctor? Nice guy who does good work, but I’m not following him. Yet, in his hard work of trying to bring me to better health, to arrive at better numbers for cholesterol and whatever else, my doctor is far less demanding than Jesus.
The demands of God begin with the 10 Commandments that we’re supposed to memorize by the time we leave the 3rd or 4th grade. And this son of Israel who runs up to Jesus in the Gospel, kneels down before him, asking the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life; well, he’s kept to perfection all the commandments that Moses carried down the mountain. “I kept them all,” he says to Jesus. How many of us can say the same? When he says he’s kept the commandments from his youth, he’s not talking about the last week or two. He kept these beautiful commandments of God his entire life. This guy is on his way to the Communion of Saints. I would even consider following him. Until, that is, he falls flat the face of his possessions.
When Jesus demanded more because the Lord saw this guy’s great potential for goodness, and his potential for being his disciple, the guy who rushed up to Jesus and knelt at his feet, he now drew a line in the sand. To paraphrase, he said to Christ, “I can’t cross that line. I need all my goods.” On the first floor of his life, the easy floor, he was able to maintain a clean house where all the commandments were lived out to perfection. The first floor was in perfect order. But as Christ called him a little closer to heaven on the second floor of his life; “Come up the stairs where all your possessions are placed in the attic,” it was a mess which he didn’t have the heart to clean up. Even if all his possessions were in perfect order like his commandments, he couldn’t cross that line of Jesus’ demand.
This Gospel for us is much less about selling all we have. If we did that, we’d all be homeless. I don’t believe God wants that for any of us. While the Gospel this week is less about selling all we own, it’s much more about a certain type of dependency. A dependency that trusts that God has it all covered for us. From the goods of the earth to death itself. And everything in between. The radicalness to our faith is less about selling everything and more about allowing ourselves, through his grace, to be dependent upon him in all matters. Not many people arrive there.
Dependency is another one of those tough religious words today, alongside of obedience. We see dependency as identifying ourselves as a weak person. How many times have we heard, “I don’t want to burden anyone with my difficulties.” My advice is, “Burden them.” Give someone the chance to care about you, to perform an act of love. It will help your life and theirs too. It’s the same with the Lord. Give Him a chance to feel burdened. He would love it if we did.
Most times, we would think, when we are in a deep sleep, and someone comes by and takes something from us, it would end in a bad result. A result we certainly don’t like. One we would like to reverse. Like someone breaking into our homes in the middle of the night, heaven forbid, stealing precious items such as family heirlooms, and not discovering our stolen loss until we wake from sleep, eventually discovering the awful news of what took place while we slept. We would feel invaded.
Minus the bad result, the result that will anger and frustrate us, this is exactly what God perpetrated on Adam. After Adam named all the animals that God created, all the birds, the hippos, the pesky squirrels who steal bird seed, the wolf and the cobra; after giving a name to every animal with two legs, four legs, 100 legs, or no legs, Adam was deeply, deeply disappointed. Not because he had to come up with all these animal names – that must have been lots if fun for him. Rather, Adam’s disappointment stemmed from the fact that, among all these animals that we admire and fascinate us so much, he couldn’t find a suitable partner. His suitable partner was not to be found with numerous legs, pretty colors, fancy stripes, tall, big, short, or tiny.
So, God gave Adam a sleeping pill while Adam moped around in paradise, the Garden of Eden. He’s the first one to experience the sadness of loneliness. So, while Adam was sleeping on a comfortable mattress in the holy Garden, and God was wide awake, the Lord entered Adam’s house, the house of his body, the entity that will one day be resurrected, and from Adam’s holy, pure body – for sin had not yet occurred – God “stole” a rib, one Adam could live without, and formed from his personal being the woman that Adam couldn’t live without. The rib was the holy answer to loneliness.
God placed this first woman next to the first man, so that when the first man woke up from his afternoon siesta, and looked intently at this newly formed creature, he said, “Holy Cow! God does good work!” “Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” Thus, God created marriage, “in the beginning.”
To say that Adam became the happiest man on the face of the earth would be a slight understatement. The woman who would be named Eve was his perfect match. The match that God created from the internal organs of the first man in order to light a fire in the heart of him who was made from the dust.
Whenever this Gospel comes up each year in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, this year being Mark, the instinct in today’s time, I have to believe, for most priests and deacons who preach on this reading, is to address the issue of marriage in our culture today, showing how the Scriptures are not outdated, but rather relevant and even refreshing. And, how some Catholics insist loudly and angrily at times that the Church – the Church of Jesus Christ formed in His pure and holy Body – accept other types of so-called marriage that God did not create. There’s one perfect match for him with relation to marriage. And it’s her. And, I am going to preach a few words on Marriage, the Sacrament that God created in the beginning, as Jesus says, but using a couple of the many awesome examples I know about, be it family, friends, or others we meet along the way.
For example, my friends Bill and Robin who live in Spencer, friends I enjoy visiting on some Sunday afternoons. These two were made for each other in God’s mind from the beginning of creation. Not that life is always perfect between them. I told them last week that I will never forget the time I visited them on a Sunday about 8 years ago, and they were ripping at each other for whatever reason. Like, really mad. And they both used me to get at each other. In the presence of all 3 of us being there, he said, “Tell my wife she’s wrong.” And she said, “Tell my husband he’s wrong.” And I’m standing there thinking sadistically, “This is a lot of fun. I think I really like this.” The only person they liked that day was me. It was a good day to be a priest, if you know what I mean.
They eventually got over their squabble that they put a priest in the middle of. It’s been a grace and blessing to watch their marriage grow now toward 35 years.
Another example being the many funerals I preside at for a spouse from the Greatest Generation, where the other spouse literally lost their best friend. Time and time again it seems like God years ago took that World War II veteran, put him into a deep sleep, took a rib from him, and gave him the perfect match, the suitable partner. The Sacrament of Marriage, at the beginning and at the end, is such a beautiful gift to behold. The joys, the deep, deep sadness at loss, the families created, the faith lived out.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in regard to marriage and divorce goes back to the beginning, when Adam was lost and lonely, when all the animals in the world were better for meals than for a suitable partner, and where paradise was still paradise, and not a Garden of disobedience. Marriage is much too important to God’s plan for us to settle for 21st century legal minds altering what He created in the beginning. Jesus goes back to the beginning because God came like a thief in the night, invaded Adam’s precious body, and created from him she who gave his life meaning and purpose all the way to heaven.
This Gospel is hard for anyone who has lived through a difficult marriage that didn’t last. The surest way to find joy for those who struggle with the loneliness of Adam is to fully embrace a new spouse. I suggest that new Spouse to be Jesus and/or Mary. Those are the two I’m married to, and I pray, to address the loneliness of Adam in the Garden, that you do the same.
May God bless all couples living in the Sacrament of Matrimony, and call those who are not to that blessed state of life. Amen.
“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.