Response June 28, 2015
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 28, 2015
I couldn’t figure out was happening when the families of the victims of the South Carolina “church shooter” addressed him through closed circuit TV and gave what amounted to “impact statements.” It didn’t appear that he had even entered a plea, and yet, from their remarks, it was clear that he was presumed guilty. And then a reporter interjected that this kind of immediate face-to-face contact with those left with the pain of surviving crime is a process unique to South Carolina. While I still wondered how this squares with “innocent until proven guilty,” I quickly embraced the practice as I heard family after family describe their pain and then go on to say: “But I forgive you!” Their loving gesture, one of the purest elements of Christianity, became more newsworthy than the mass murders.
These disciples were able to face this young man who had lost his personal battle with evil and win the war with three little words: I FORGIVE YOU! This was one of the most powerful, dramatic, and sincere expressions of faith I have ever witnessed. I FORGIVE YOU! Very powerful words made possible because of very strong faith.
Last Sunday, we enjoyed a glimpse of the power that rested in Jesus. He could calm a violent storm. This week’s Gospel speaks to the power of faith demonstrated by Jairus, a Synagogue official, as well as an unnamed woman. Both, motivated by their faith in the healing power of the Lord, reached out to Him; Jairus very publicly, the woman with a gesture that went unnoticed by all but Jesus. The power of her faith actually drew Jesus’s healing power out from Him.
The tragic events that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina, showed us the power of prejudice and irrational hatred. But it is important to remember that evil was ALMOST overpowered by the warm reception that a Christian community offered to a stranger. The accused shooter is reported to have said that he almost abandoned his mission of triggering a race war because of the kindness his targeted victims showed to him. Maybe if he had been able to spend just a little more time doing Bible study with these good people, things might have been different. Sadly, the power of their goodness did not have enough of an opportunity to convert him, and he drew a gun and began to kill. But, up to this point, he has failed in his mission because the power of faith…the power of forgiveness…was so immediate, so public, and so genuine that it has calmed the storm.
I FORGIVE YOU! Words spoken in a courtroom during victims’ impact statements have had the same effect as the words spoken by Jesus as a violent storm threatened to sink a fishing boat: QUIET! BE STILL! Some people have an opportunity to invoke the power of these words very publicly…others…like the unnamed woman, make private gestures. In either case, the power of faith always prevails against evil. What kind of impact will you make in the world during the coming week?
Response June 21, 2015
LORD, HELP US!
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 21, 2015
When I was much, much younger, I often sailed with a very close friend. I was not a skilled crew member, although I was quick to obey orders. One year, probably too early in the season to even be boating, we eagerly motored out from the dock and into the Detroit River, bound for Lake St. Clair, eager for the first sail of the year. It was a sunny spring afternoon and there was a good wind. We raised the mainsail, killed the outboard motor, and were thrilled to be underway. As we approached Hart Plaza in the “heart” of downtown Detroit, there was a lake freighter just ahead of us. No worries! At least not until we tried to “come about” (change direction) in order to avoid a collision with the ship. It was at this point that rudder came completely out of the brackets that held it to the transom. So, “the skipper” started pulling frantically on the outboard engine, but it was flooded. It would not start.
In the meantime, the mainsail was flapping out of control and we were being tossed around, caught up in the wake of the enormous ship which seemed to be getting bigger and bigger with every passing second. We were clearly on a collision course and there was nothing we could do to avoid it. I was absolutely certain that we would die. It was then that I called out at the top of my voice and in total desperation: “LORD, HELP US!”
It wasn’t a storm that put us in peril. It was our own negligence. But, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, it was Jesus whom I called to save us. And it really was as if Jesus responded by standing up in the middle of the boat, and, shouting over the wind and the deafening sound of the freighter’s enormous engines and the rush of the water, He said: “QUIET! BE STILL!” He was speaking to me!
That urgent prayer, entrusting us to Christ, brought an unexpected and undeserved calm over me. I felt a wave wash over me. Not cold and threatening river water, but rather, the warm and reassuring PEACE OF CHRIST! The only Peace that is powerful enough to calm the most violent of storms…fear! I continued to follow orders, rather than following my instinct to simply jump overboard to certain death. With the next pull, the outboard roared into life. We then turned our attention to the rudder, and, defying the laws of physics, were able to jockey it into its mounting. With a last-minute course change, we just missed a horrible collision.
That day, on the Detroit River, there was a miracle as certain as the one reported to have occurred on the Sea of Galilee. While it probably isn’t appropriate to rank miracles, the one I experienced might arguably have been even more powerful than Jesus calming a storm. I say that because we have free will…nature doesn’t. Our terror storms can defy or resist the calming Peace of Christ! Nature obeys.
But when we temper our human nature with faith and call out with complete trust and from the depths of our hearts…LORD, HELP US! ….well…expect a miracle!
Response June 14, 2015
It’s Time to Grow
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 14, 2015
I was visiting some friends who were babysitting their little granddaughter. She was anxious for me to read her new book with her. My friends, who had already read the book with her, were anxious for me to take a turn. So, the child ran into her room, came back with something under her arm, jumped up onto my lap and presented NOT A BOOK…but her iPad. It took no time at all for her pudgy little fingers to click onto her “favorite book” called “Sid the Seed.” There was no reading to be done by me. The author, David R. Pagen, who illustrated the book as well, also reads the written words as the iPad turns the pages.
Sid is a little seed that lives in a dark hole in the ground with a spider and a caterpillar. They enjoy sharing their home and seem completely content. Moreover, they are all afraid of what is outside…the unknown. Eventually, the spider becomes restless, explaining, “The world is so big, it’s time that I grew…it’s off to the outside to find something new.” Their friend having literally soared out the comfort of their dark, little hole, Sid the Seed and the caterpillar resume their ordinary routine. A few pages later, however, Sid the Seed awakens to find the caterpillar has been transformed into a cocoon that soon breaks open, freeing a beautiful butterfly. Before rising out of the dark hole to soar through the sky, the butterfly announces that: “The world is so big, it’s time that I grew…it’s off to the outside to find something new.” Poor Sid the Seed, however, has grown so comfortable in his surroundings and so intimidated by the prospect of change that he lives on all by himself.
Finally, one day, Sid decides there just might be something more than the hole in which he has basically imprisoned himself. He begins to drink water. That causes him to grow uncontrollably, until, like his friends, he has broken through to the surface. Once reaching the life-giving sun, Sid continues to grow and mature until he becomes a majestic tree. The story ends with Sid’s two friends seeking protection and shade under his beautiful crown of leaves. Sid’s reaction to his metamorphosis was simply: “Life is more full!”
This little story reminds me of Matt 11:25…I give praise to You, Father, Creator of heaven and earth…for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, You have revealed them to the childlike. If my little friend is able to make the connection between the liberation of Sid and the Kingdom of God, then, at a very early age, she will know what many people have never learned…or have forgotten; she will understand this Sunday’s Gospel.
We sometimes bury ourselves deep within our day-to-day lives. We become content and we fear change. And so, we remain in the dark. And then, someone takes the initiative and makes the suggestion that “the spider” made. The Kingdom of God is so big…it’s time that we grow. This Sunday, we resume Ordinary Time and we continue in this season of germination, sprouting and growing until Advent. Let’s use these months of Ordinary Time to move outside of ourselves. With just a little commitment and patience, like Sid and his friends, we can break out of the dark holes that we’ve grown so comfortable in, and grow and develop and mature into something extraordinary…something eternal…where LIFE WILL BE FULL!
Response June 8, 2015
CORPUS CHRISTI SUNDAY 2015
June 7, 2015
MK 14:12-16, 22-26
It isn’t an easy task to give a meaningful explanation of what we Catholic Christians celebrate today…The Feast of The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is especially hard to offer an explanation to non-believers.
However, Michelangelo’s depiction of the “Peace of Christ” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a very familiar and original image of the creative power that brought life into Adam by “The Finger of God.” Obviously, that is not how the Creation Story is reported in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, the expression “Finger of God” is, in fact, used in the Old Testament in several places. Even Jesus used it as a way of describing the transmission of Divine power.
“The Finger of God” touched the shoulder of a young woman, and Divine Power, Life and Spirit was transmitted and received. Then, nine months later, The Word of God took Flesh and Blood and came to dwell among us. Jesus, the Eternal Word, The Son of God, was like us in all things…with this distinguishing characteristic: The Lord was completely free of sin. Other than that, Jesus was fully human.
At the Jordan River, The Finger of God reached through the heavens and pointed at Jesus, acknowledging Him as The Son of God, in whom God was well pleased. Call it a sacred mystery…but when The Finger of God touched the waters of the Jordan River, all Baptismal water was sanctified and made holy…filled with Divine power…Spirit filled….and able to call people to new life.
Over and above this gesture of introduction was the Divine command that we “Listen to Him!” And people did…and were amazed at the authority with which He taught. They were also amazed that His touch could do what clearly only The Finger of God had the power to do…heal, forgive, calm storms, feed the hungry, and return life to the lifeless.
When His mission and ministry in this world was complete, at the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus took bread into His hands and reached for a cup of wine, it was “The Finger of God” that touched this ordinary bread and wine…and transferred into them the Divine Power, Life and Spirit. Those privileged to be part of that Sacred Banquet listened to Jesus and heard Him say…This IS my Body and This IS my blood…DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!
When we bring forward the gifts and place them on the Altar, and do as Jesus told us to do, once again, The Finger of God reaches into time from Eternity…and transmits the Divine Power, Life and Spirit into them, returning them for us to consume so that we might become what we eat!
Think of it this way: When we are touched by The Finger of God, we become The Body and Blood of Christ. The more we participate in the Sacramental Life of our Church, the closer we resemble Jesus. So then, in a very real way, this Feast of Corpus Christi…The Body and Blood of Christ…is about us! It is about our Church. We are The Body and Blood of Christ. So reach out today and touch somebody who needs healing, forgiveness, and life. You have the power…use it!
Grow in Grace
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2015
Last Wednesday was “Earth Day.” The purpose of setting aside a special day to celebrate our planet…our home…is clearly to make us more appreciative of this great gift from God. With that appreciation and understanding, it is the hope that we will take better care of Earth.
I watched a special “Earth Day” program on television and I learned some very interesting things. I never realized that almost 100% of the nuts and 90% of many of the fruits and vegetables that we consume in this country are grown in California. Many of these agricultural products are referred to as “thirsty crops.” For example, it takes 1/3 of a gallon of water to bring one little grape to our lips. I also learned some alarming things. I learned about how the severity of the drought in California is threatening our food supply. Scary stuff.
I thought about all that I learned on Earth Day as I sat down with the Readings for this Fifth Sunday of the Easter Season. What hope there is to know that, through Baptism, we are “grafted” into the vine whose roots reach all the way into the Eternal Kingdom. I thought about what a “thirsty crop” we are, and how a constant flow of God’s saving grace flows through the vines into us. We are free to drink in as much of God’s saving grace as we wish, without fear that the flow will ever be interrupted. I thought about how the Light of the Risen Christ warms us and helps us to grow, and how the Holy Spirit provides the spiritual climate we need to be the best we can possibly be. I thought about how delighted our Creator is on that day in which The Divine Hand reaches into this world and picks us from the vine. And I thought about how important it is to stay connected to the Community…our Church…the vineyard which produces such an abundant crop of the most beautiful fruit.
“Earth Day” gave me a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, our planet. John 15:2-8 gave me a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, our Church. Thank You, God, for our Earth…and thank You, God, for our Church and our Sacraments, for there is where our thirst is truly quenched.