Pentecost Sunday 2018

No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

Saint Paul turned to the gentiles after several failed attempts to rally Jews to Jesus; and was astounded at their readiness to be baptized and instructed in the Way. He found, especially in Corinth, an enthusiastic, if odd, congregation. That polyglot city, an important seaport of the Roman Empire, offered a diverse population of many languages and ethnic races. Despite their well-deserved reputation for decadent, lawless behavior, some Corinthians embraced the Gospel and flocked into the Community of the Saints. But, because they brought more enthusiasm than wisdom with them, they needed the firm, principled guidance of Saint Paul's Jewish tradition.
His Jewish bones were horrified when he realized these former pagans didn't object to a man's marrying his father's ex-wife. Perhaps she was a widow -- we have no details -- but their marriage was anathema to Paul.
So here we are on Pentecost Sunday -- a wonderful, glorious occasion -- and I have recalled one of the more contentious and controversial passages of Saint Paul's writing. How do I dig myself out?
I recall that God's Holy Spirit never hesitates to wade into the swamp of human politics with us. I remember that the Holy Spirit blesses our good intentions, incompetence, immaturity, fearful sinfulness and general confusion as he guides us in the Way. Daily life in the church is often "like making sausage." Despite our idealization of the Sacred Scriptures, the divine authors were well aware of this messy process; and, on closer inspection, their magnificent banger shows it.
Today we celebrate the revelation of the Holy Spirit to Jesus' disciples. We believe that Jesus remains with us, as close, beautiful, assured and reassuring as he was to his disciples on that first Easter Sunday.
The Spirit of God fits innumerable descriptions; but today I think of water. There is no life without water; it takes a billion forms as it saturates and enlivens every kind of life. Water adjusts itself to whatever it sustains, as brackish or fresh, liquid or gas. There is no spot on earth without water, though life cannot survive in the coldest extremes of the poles and altitudes. If it could, water is there to sustain it!
Saint Francis praised water as useful, humble, precious and pure and yet it can be dreadfully polluted, filthy or poisoned and still sustain some forms of life. Like the Holy Spirit, water gets down in the swamp where it is needed.
Recently I recalled how Saint Paul, harassed by a meddlesome young slave, drove the demon out of her. Her ungrateful owners ran him out of town. Did the Apostle heal her out of kindness or impatience? Does it matter?
Sometimes the Spirit gives us the patience to put up with a lot of grief. Sometimes the Spirit leaves us to handle the frustration with whatever tools are at hand. I usually have to confess my sin afterwards, but I can't be sure that the Holy Spirit didn't used my shortcoming for his own purposes. When I go around later to apologize I may find a grateful friend who appreciates what I said. It was the right time and right place and it needed to be said!
In his letter to his fractious Corinthian church, the Apostle urged them to open their hearts to strangers. No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit." I have known admirable Christian ministers who could not be Catholic, much less priests. Several generations of worship represented an unbridgeable chasm between their religion and mine. But I have no doubt of the Divine Inspiration that moves them to heroic virtue. Despite our separate churches, different prayers and varied readings of the Bible, we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Very often we might want to shut out certain people but we have to recognize the Spirit that moves them. Our ancient, historical divisions are painful and sad and should be unnecessary -- but there they are. Because they are historical they are real and necessary. They don't go away when we wish upon a star. Rather the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the present moment, inviting us to the future. We cannot return to the past, especially an idealized past that exists only in present minds. 

Because the Spirit of God is so mysterious there is no end of wonders, and no end of reflection. On this solemn feast day we thank God for drawing us into the endlessly fascinating life of the Trinity.

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter - Mass in the Morning

Lectionary: 302

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about him?"
Jesus said to him, "What if I want him to remain until I come?
What concern is it of yours? 
You follow me."
So the word spread among the brothers that that disciple would not die.
But Jesus had not told him that he would not die,
just "What if I want him to remain until I come?
What concern is it of yours?"

The twenty-first chapter of Saint John's Gospel was clearly written by someone other than the original author, and was added later. Today's passage addresses one of the perplexing problems of the early church; a problem spawned by the Gospel but not addressed by it. The author and editor(s) would clear it up with the same terse dispatch characteristic of the great Evangelist. 
It seems a silly misunderstanding has persisted: "Isn't the 'beloved disciple" supposed to survive until the second coming?" We call him "John;" tradition says he was the youngest, survived the longest of the twelve, and did not die a martyr. Leonardo da Vinci portrayed him as a youth with no beard. Because he took Jesus' mother "into his own home," he was also known as a virgin, a fitting companion to an older woman. 
People always have more questions than there are answers, and a great many of those questions are entirely irrelevant, as are their answers. The question of "Saint John" was especially tiresome -- or so it would seem -- so much so that it earned a place at the end of the gospel. 
Yes, Virginia, contrary to what you were told in religion class, there are stupid questions. 
"What concern is it of yours? You follow me!" Jesus told Peter, his disciples, you and me. 
The Gospel of John is deep, mysterious and often perplexing. I have watched in horror as some priests read a passage during the Mass, closed the lectionary, and preached about something else entirely. They couldn't be bothered to study and ponder the Gospel, and then speak to the congregation of these deeper mysteries. At least one declared, "I don't understand a word of this!" 
We study the Gospel to learn what should concern each one of us? 
Some people might suppose my homily blog has no political agenda. It does. It may not be partisan, but I believe the mystery of the Holy Trinity -- the relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- is hugely relevant to our time. Those who speak of "God" without reference to the Trinity overlook the Humility of God. They worship a mistaken image of God, one that is embellished with Power. They suppose that might makes right; perhaps they believe that right makes might. In either case, the agenda is power.
"You follow me!" Jesus told Peter, who died as the Master died, a martyr, powerless. Just as Jesus followed the Holy Spirit from Galilee to Jerusalem, neither looking back, nor to left or right, so do we follow him through these troubled times to Easter. 

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." 

Any fool can challenge those who say they love God, "Do your actions prove it?" 
Not many Christians can reply with assurance, "Yes, I do." 
We make our declarations of love often enough, especially with the Church during our prayers. Wrapped in the warm blanket of the assembly, it's not hard to say what everyone else is saying. Alone among friends or family, it might not be so easy. Our readiness to do so probably measures how far we trust these intimate companions. Caught up in an alien or hostile environment, we might be forgiven for remaining silent. 
But, all reservations aside, we must make that declaration periodically, in the community and privately, within the sanctuary of our hearts. 
The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins said it as well as anyone,
O Deus, Ego Amo TeO God, I love thee, I love thee —
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,┬░
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu so much in love with me?
Not for heaven's sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then? —
For being my king and God. Amen.
Several years ago, as the director of a retreat house I asked my staff to make their love of God transparent before our guests, especially during their presentations and prayers. Some of us found that very hard to do. The culture resists the impulse, rationalizing that, "God is totally self-sufficient and doesn't need our love. We should save our love for one another. The phrase, 'Love of God' is all about how God loves me -- unconditionally -- and not about my love for God." It took a while for us to come to some agreement. 
In today's Gospel, Jesus three times challenged Peter, "Do you love me?" If he could not answer in the affirmative, he could not be appointed as shepherd to "Tend my sheep." How he will demonstrate his love in other ways, with actions, will come later. There's ample time for that. But in the meanwhile, each of us must say it very clearly, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

...that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,

As we approach Pentecost and the end of the Easter cycle I find myself greedily reflecting on these passages from Saint John's Gospel. I hear witnesses of the past assure me, "There is still more here. You haven't got it yet."
But insight bears only a passing resemblance to virtue. Just because I take delight in this Gospel doesn't mean it's changed my attitudes toward the friars with whom I live, the VA staff with whom I work, the Veterans and their families, myself or God. If anything, it may delude me into thinking, "I get it!" when I don't.
I hope these reflections shape my imagination and teach me what to expect; so that when I am disappointed I will realize this grace-filled opportunity is not what I, in my sinfulness, hoped for or expected.
I hear Jesus pray, "...that all may be one." He reminds me that I cannot cling to a competitive attitude toward others. I am not the best, the strongest, or the most intelligent. I am not the most favored. Why do I think that I am? Why would anyone cling to such nonsense?
"...that all may be one" reminds me we're all in this together. If Jesus would not save himself from the mockery and taunts of his enemies, why would I separate myself from those who are mocked and taunted? If he stands with them, obviously I should too; whether "they" are African-Americans, Muslims, gays, aliens or criminals. Which pariah people has never found the Lord standing with them in their trials? Even if they didn't notice his presence, we saw it -- and were ashamed of our reluctance to stand by them.
"...I have given them the glory you gave me..."
There's a fascinating passage in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. "Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, walked up on the mountain, and sat down there." (Matthew 15:29) As an amateur writer I know that the Evangelist doesn't waste words. Why does he say, "Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee?" Why have millions of gallons of ink in billions of printed bibles in every language on Earth replicated those words?
Saint Matthew would have us remember that the Lord passed by in front of Moses, but Moses was not allowed to see God's face. "for no one can see me and live." However, Moses was permitted see God's "back;" that is, the train of his glory as He passed by. When Jesus passes by the Sea of Galilee we see the train of his glory coming behind him, which are "the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others." And then, "he cured them." The train of Jesus' glory is broken, humiliated, dispirited, suffering humanity. He wears our crown of thorns. 
Our oneness in the Lord, for which he prays, begins first, as he gathers us; and secondly, as each of us sheds all pretensions of power, success, comfort and assurance; thirdly, as we join that wretched, pathetic mass of humanity; and finally as he gives us the glory the Father gave him -- the glory of the cross.
And the promise of Resurrection -- so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me....
We think of heaven as a happy place. We might do better to think of it as Communion, with all the mystery of that word.

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.

"...he went to heaven," Saint Peter says of Jesus in his First Letter (3:22 NAB). That's how we explain death to children when we explain the passing of grandparents, neighbors or pets. They're gone; we will not see them again, they went to heaven.
Always there is that other doctrine that denies heaven, that sees nothing beyond death. It offers no more consolation than a prison door or a firing squad. How could we comfort children with such a teaching?
No, we cling to hope for some kind of unimaginable future when the torn fabric of families, churches, neighborhoods and friends will be rewoven with affection and love.
Facing death, Jesus assured his disciples they would share his joy completely. In the meanwhile we have his prayer for us, and his Holy Spirit, which is a "down payment" or first installment of the glory we expect:
(you) were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory(Ephesians 1:13-14)
Our vision of life always includes this other dimension, invisible to most, which clearly sees Jesus Christ seated at God's right hand.
Our faith is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus which was witnessed by trusted members of our own Church. There were several appearances; and though the stories are not consistent, their testimony is. Admittedly, we cannot amass all the evidence into a proven fact. The tomb was empty, no body was ever found, rumors contradicted the story. But not many truths in life can be scientifically demonstrated. Those who claim they live only by "the facts" are talking through their hats.
We have apostolic testimony, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the "proven" track record of heroic good works which have been amassed throughout the centuries, throughout the world, by Jesus' disciples. We choose to believe, the Spirit gives us confidence and we practice courageous generosity daily -- because we know the Risen Lord at the Father's right hand is watching, guiding and guarding us.
Each one of us has, at times, doubted; and we've seen where it led. We were quarrelsome, suspicious, fearful and anxious. We may have suffered moral injury; the return was long and arduous. Some of us found relief in alcohol, drug abuse and other foolishness. Life made no sense; we knew we deserved better.
Returned to the Lord and faith, grateful for surviving where many perished, we share his joy completely.

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.

With this last week of the Easter Season we arrive at the deepest, most mysterious chapter of Saint John's Gospel. Chapter 17 has been called "the priestly prayer of Jesus." We are permitted to hear the Lord speak to his God as he prays for us. Unlike the Tridentine priest who mutters in Latin while the congregation recites the rosary, Jesus audibly prays for us that we might hear and understand every word.
While it is true that God exists in and of himself, that God does not require or need our existence -- the universe and the Earth existed billions of years before the first human beings appeared -- we realize that God is for us.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. John 3:16
Earlier, during this Easter season, I tried to share my own astonishment at this verse. John 3:16 intentionally invokes the Sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham might have responded to God's demand for sacrifice by offering to kill himself; but the Lord wanted more than that! What parent, if forced to make a choice, would not choose suicide before killing her own child? Abraham was a 112 years old; he could readily surrender his life in favor of Isaac, his only beloved son. But the Lord wanted more than Abraham could give!
Because the Lord would give for our salvation more than God could give. The Sacrifice of Isaac is a prophetic story which anticipates the Sacrifice of Jesus. We too often think, "God is God. God can do anything he wants. God can save me and still have infinite resources to do anything else! What's the big deal? In fact, if he wanted he could give me anything I want and still have infinitely more. My pleasure costs God nothing! "
This "prayer" might sound like this, "You owe it to me because you can do it and it costs you nothing. You can save, heal, forgive, enrich, empower and glorify me and if I thank you for your trouble it won't be because you need or deserve my thanks, since it cost you nothing. I thank you only because I need to do something a little less than selfish." Thus rendering gratitude a selfish act!
But that's not the God we meet in scripture. Our God could  not save us unless he gave more than he could afford, unless he gave his only begotten son.
Those who follow Jesus to Gethsemane and watch him collapse on the ground, who hear his anguished prayer and see him sweat blood must appreciate what this means. The man is momentarily helpless with fear. A friend might urge him to flee for his life, but we must urge him to stay and wait for his tormentors to arrive. We cannot be saved unless he is crucified.
In John 17, the Lord permits us to hear his prayer for us.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
We have often heard of Jesus authority. Again, we must reflect on that. The Gospel of Saint Matthew closes with his assurance to his disciples, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me." The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, "Son though he was, Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered..."
His authority over the Universe and the Church is his obedience through suffering. Because Jesus is absolutely obedient, because he marches relentlessly toward Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit directs him, he can say, "The Father and I are one." The Son is not the Father but they share one will, which is the salvation of humankind. God is for us.
Insofar as you and I are guided by the Holy Spirit we too share the freedom, authority and the sacrificial suffering of God. We too can make every necessary sacrifice freely, gracefully, eagerly. This freedom is "eternal life."

Feast of Saint Matthias

I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another."

Some people doubt that Jesus named twelve apostles to be his inner circle. They believe he did not intend to found a church or start a new religion. That, they say, was Saint Paul's doing. Refuting that argument, Catholic scripture scholars point to the first decision of the Eleven. Even before Pentecost and the fiery appearance of the Holy Spirit, Saint Peter called them together and urged them to fill out Jesus' sacred number Twelve. After determining what qualifications the person should have, they asked the Lord to reveal his preference with the time-honored custom of casting lots. (More reliable than voting!) Matthias was chosen.
Though they did not replace Saint James when he was beheaded some time later, and The Twelve disappeared as a college of leaders, Peter and the other disciples clearly believed some kind of organization was necessary; in that case, a group known as "The Twelve."
In the next centuries, heads of the metropolitan churches, "bishops", organized and supported one another. They based their authority on the foundation of the apostles. Although "The Twelve" had vanished long before, they never doubted Jesus' intention to start an entirely new, well-organized religion. 
The feast of Saint Matthias invites us to reflect on the privilege of the Lord's friendship and apostolic communion. The word friendship is incredibly important to us and, for that reason, has been appropriated by the commercial world. If it's not Facebook's friending, and your friendly neighborhood bank, it's "man's best friend," i.e. a dog. The innocent, unaware of Jesus', may suppose the word means nothing more than that; that "friends" care only about themselves; and their crushing loneliness is inescapable.
In today's gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples, 
"I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing
Without the light of Jesus' Spirit we cannot know what he is doing; nor, for that matter, what we're about. Even with the Spirit, we might not be able to put it into words. 
Without the Lord, when hardship, disappointment and suffering come our way, we wonder, "Why is this happening to me?" But in the Lord and his Spirit we can say, "Why not me?" Some good must come of this, though we cannot imagine what it might be.

And so we wait as the Twelve waited in Jerusalem, with expectation but no vision.
I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 
We have an intimate knowledge of the Lord; he has revealed to us the meaning of freedom, the hope of forgiveness and the promise of friendship. 

Our friendship begins within the conversation of the Trinity; that is, in Jesus' "hearing" the Father. The Communion of the Saints is the mystery of the Love of Jesus for his Father, which he reveals to us from the cross and through the Eucharist. It appears in the Resurrection which the Father has given to his only beloved Son, and revealed to us.
If we suffer any illusion of having saved ourselves, of being justified by our own good works, he reminds us, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you." Just as Jesus is begotten of the Father and not self-generated, we are called into being, life and love by his initiative.

That is so much sweeter! If my salvation relied on my own choice -- on my consistent, faithful, attentive practice -- I'd certainly be a lost soul. My existence would flicker in and out, like the signal of a local radio station as you leave the city. Instead, I am assured of his calling and appointment: he has chosen me to go and bear fruit that will remain.