Sunday, January 19, 2020

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

“If you see something, say something.”
This is the vaguely Big Brother-ish
post-September 11, 2001 slogan
of various U.S. security agencies,
encouraging Americans to keep
a suspicious eye on each other.
But, in a very different sense,
it might also serve
as the slogan for today’s Gospel:
“John the Baptist saw Jesus
coming toward him and said,
‘Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.’”
John saw something
and he said something.

A prophet is someone who is gifted
with a keen eye and a persistent voice.
And John the Baptist—
the last prophet of the Old Covenant—
has a particularly sharp eye.
He reads the signs of the times
in the light of Scripture,
and he keeps his eyes open,
looking not for potential threats,
but for the savior
whom God has promised to his people.
He also speaks out persistently,
crying out in the wilderness of fading hope,
“prepare the way of the Lord,”
unafraid of the religious and political leaders
who would silence him.
The prophet sees something
and he says something
so that others can see what he sees.

And what John the Baptist sees is the Lamb of God.
Others might have seen simply a young man
of undistinguished background
from an unimportant northern village,
who had no particular potential or promise.
But the keen eye of John, the eye of faith,
sees in Jesus the fulfillment of the promise of God.
John sees something and says something
so that we can see what he sees:
“Behold”—look! see!—“the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.”

In acclaiming Jesus as the “Lamb of God,”
John evokes a host of images from the Scriptures of Israel:
the Passover lamb whose blood marked the doorposts
of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt,
sheltering them from the angel of death;
the lambs sacrificed every morning and evening
in the Jerusalem temple to offer honor to God;
the servant of the Lord prophesied by Isaiah
who would be “led like a lamb to the slaughter”;
even the scapegoat that symbolically bore
the sins of the Israelites out into the wilderness.
John says what he sees in Jesus
so that we can see it too:
here is one who would bear away
not just the sins of the people Israel,
but the sins of the entire world,
who would rescue us
from the ancient curse of death
that afflicts the human family,
so that, as God says in our first reading,
“my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

A prophet has a keen eye and a persistent voice,
and John’s voice persists even today,
in the words of our liturgy:
when we sing the Gloria, John still acclaims Jesus
as “Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father”;
when the bread of Christ’s body is broken,
John still implores the Lamb of God
who takes away the sins of the world
to grant his mercy and his peace
to us and to our troubled world;
when the priest invites us to communion,
John’s words still invite us to see what he saw:
“Behold the Lamb of God.”

Do we see it?
Do we see the Lamb of God,
the bearer of all our sins and sorrows,
present in his gathered people,
present in his word proclaimed,
present in the gift of himself in the Eucharist?
Perhaps it takes the keen eye of the prophet
to be able to see the Lamb here present
within the motley assembly of the Church,
within the often puzzling words of Scripture,
within the simple gifts of bread and wine.
But John tells us that Jesus has come
to baptize us with the same Spirit
that descended on him at his baptism,
to give us the eyes of a prophet,
eyes of faith to glimpse the Lamb
now present here in mystery.
This is what the gift of God’s Spirit does:
makes us able to see the Lamb of God
who is here with us now,
veiled in sacramental signs.

So if we see something,
do we say something?
Do we keep to ourselves
what we see with the eyes of faith,
or do we, like John, speak out,
perhaps at cost to ourselves,
so that others can see what we see?
We, no less than John,
have been given a prophet’s eyes
to see what is hidden
and a prophet’s voice,
to say what we see.
We, no less than John,
are called to be,
in fear and trembling
and with all due humility,
Christ’s heralds to others
so that they too might praise Jesus
as Lord, Lamb, and Son;
so that they too might implore his mercy and peace
on our broken and warring world;
so that they too might know themselves
graciously invited to the banquet of life.
If you see something, say something,
because the world waits to know
what can be seen with the eyes of faith.
______________________
Click here for the video of this homily.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Advent 3


Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
But who would ever take offense at Jesus?
Who would ever take offense
at the blind being given their sight,
at the deaf being given their hearing,
at the sick and suffering being made whole,
at the dead being raised,
at the poor being given good news?
Well, apparently, quite a few people.
Though it is perhaps unseemly to mention it
as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of baby Jesus,
but he did, after all, end up on a cross.
This is the stubborn fact over which we stumble
whenever we try to make Jesus inoffensive.
Sweet baby Jesus grew up
and made a lot of powerful enemies
who saw him as offensive
and even dangerous
and, certainly, worth killing.

Who would take offense
at the blind seeing and the deaf hearing?
Maybe those who are worried about
what they might see and hear.
Who would take offense
at the sick and the suffering being made whole?
Maybe those whose own power
is derived from the weakness of others.
Who would take offense
at the dead being raised?
Maybe those concerned
about the tales the dead might tell?
Who would take offense
at the poor receiving good news?
Maybe those who fear
that good news for the poor
might be bad news for them.

Who would take offense at Jesus?
Maybe those who want to use him
for their own agendas—
agendas of personal reassurance
or national greatness
or ecclesiastical power—
and who are surprised to find
that he comes with his own agenda,
an agenda that is not about
reassurance or greatness or power
but seems to involve
a radical remaking of our world.
And this remaking of the world
is offensive to those who benefit
from business as usual,
from the way the world ordinarily runs.

“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Who, then, are the ones who take no offense at him?
Presumably it is those who do not benefit
from the way the world ordinarily runs.
It is a multitude that includes the disabled and destitute;
it includes those who await God’s vindication;
it includes those whose knees are weak,
whose hands are feeble,
and whose hearts are frightened;
it includes those poor waiting for good news,
those whose lifeblood is spilled
to grease the gears of business as usual.
These are the ones for whom
Jesus’ promise of radically remaking the world
holds out hope that one day justice will prevail,
that the desert will bloom,
that those made mute by suffering will sing.
These are the ones whom Jesus calls blessed,
whom he comes to comfort,
who will join him in his kingdom.

I do not presume to know
who here is among those blessed ones
who take no offense at Jesus.
I can only speak for myself.
And, if I’m honest, part of me wishes
that Jesus had remained a voiceless infant
rather than growing up to be
the offensive, inconvenient character
who said a lot of difficult, dangerous things
that strike my conscience and trouble my prayers.

Who would ever take offense at Jesus?
If I’m honest with myself and you,
I take offense at Jesus.
I take offense because he can make someone like me,
who by virtue of race and sex,
of social class and structural inequality,
has benefited so much
from the business as usual of the world,
suddenly begin to worry:
could God not be entirely happy with me?
The letter of James warns us,
“Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.”
And how will I be judged?
Could the blessings I have received
be a sign not of divine approval
but in fact the basis of divine condemnation?
The very idea offends me,
and my offense troubles me,
because I believe that Jesus is in fact
the one who is to come,
the saving God who comes to rescue his people.

But what can I do?
I cannot undo the benefits I have received
from being who I am,
from living the life I have lived.
But I can let Jesus’ vision of the world transformed
set the agenda for how I use those benefits.
I can try to see the world from the perspective,
as the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it,
“of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated,
the powerless, the oppressed and reviled.”
I can try to make their cares and concerns
my cares and concerns,
to stand with those on the underside of history,
so when Christ comes in judgment,
to cast the mighty from their thrones
and lift up the lowly,
to turn business as usual upside down,
to make the underside the top side,
I might take no offense at him,
but rather, seeing the wounded made whole,
seeing the poor made rich,
seeing the dessert sing,
I might join in their great song of praise,
grateful to be found among the least
in the kingdom of heaven.
_________________________
Click here for a video of this homily.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Malachi 3:19-20a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19

In today’s Gospel,
hearing a group of people
admiring the Jerusalem Temple
and its rich adornments,
Jesus tells them: “All that you see here—
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone
that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus knows that the Temple,
as magnificent and awe-inspiring as it is,
will one day fall to dust.
And, sure enough, some thirty-five years
after Jesus issued his warning
the Temple was thrown down by a Roman Army
that put the city of Jerusalem to the torch.

Jesus speaks as a prophet,
but you don’t need to be a prophet to know
that everything we human beings make—
our architecture and our art,
our monuments and our museums,
our civilizations and our cultures—
have their day and then are gone,
not unlike us ourselves.
The psalmist says that we mortals are
“like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers” (Psalm 90).
This is a knowledge that lurks in the back of our mind,
something that haunts us
because it can make our lives seem frightening and futile,
because it reminds us that our life in this passing world
is one of exile and pilgrimage.

But Jesus is not simply trying to rain on our parade,
to dampen our enjoyment of impressive edifices,
to make us fear the loss of all our achievements,
to cast a gloomy pall over our lives.
He is trying to warn us:
“many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’”
He is trying to warn us that there are those
who would exploit the fear that haunts us,
the fear of losing what we have,
the fear that all our achievements and even we ourselves
will be thrown down into oblivion.
He is trying to warn us
that there are those who would seek to heighten that fear
by convincing us that the ordinary trials of human life,
the ordinary losses and conflicts that we all experience,
are in fact the final cosmic battle between good and evil,
a battle between “us” and “them”
in which we must prevail at any cost.
He is trying to warn us about those who would tell us
that they and they alone can save us from loss,
that they and they alone can guarantee
that stone remains on stone,
that all that we value and fear losing can be safely ours
if only we place our trust in them and them alone.
He is trying to warn us about false Messiahs,
false saviors who exploit fear
and place the blame on whatever scapegoat is ready to hand.

And Jesus’ message is clear: “Do not follow them!”
Do not follow those who exploit fear
in order to gain power for themselves.
Do not follow those who would turn
people who disagree with them
into demonic figures of cosmic significance,
unworthy of our love or even common human decency.
Do not follow those who promise us that they and they alone
can save us from the struggle and loss and vulnerability
that inevitably enters every human life.
Do not follow them;
follow Jesus the crucified and risen savior instead.

Jesus knows, however, that those who follow him,
those who refuse to follow false saviors who exploit fear,
will make themselves even more vulnerable.
He warns his followers that they will be persecuted,
that they will be dragged before kings and governors because of his name,
that they will even be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends.
They will become the scapegoats whose elimination promises salvation.
But, Jesus tells them, they should not be afraid
because the one whom they follow is the Lord of life,
who will give them words of truth to speak
and a way of living that will endure beyond this world
even unto life eternal.

Perhaps the point of Jesus’s words
for our world today is clear.
But just in case it’s not:
we are living in a time of great anxiety and division,
both in the world and in the Church;
we are plagued by scandals and wars,
nation rising against nation,
faction rising against faction,
and there are those on all sides of our divisions
who would exploit our fears
and demonize their opponents,
casting them as figures of cosmic evil,
unworthy of our love or even common human decency,
and presenting themselves as those who
will keep that evil at bay by any means necessary.
Jesus’ tells us: do not follow them.
Do not follow those who exploit fear and division.
Do not follow those who demonize their opponents.
Do not follow those who offer themselves as saviors
who can do what only God can do:
save our lives from being thrown down into oblivion.
Rather, follow Jesus no matter the cost.
He is the sun of justice who rises with healing rays,
the one who will raise us up when we are thrown down.
Cling tightly to him as the one true savior,
and by your perseverance you shall secure your lives.
______________________
Click here for video of this homily.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8

In our second reading, Paul writes to Timothy,
“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”
And in today’s Gospel, the unrighteous judge
obviously finds the persistence of the widow inconvenient.
Fearing neither God’s law nor human opinion,
he is one of those people who rise to power
by sheer force of their shamelessness,
who care nothing for justice,
but use power for their own benefit.
But he meets his match in the persistent widow,
though she is the most powerless sort of person
in the patriarchal culture of Jesus’s day:
a woman alone with no male protector or advocate,
and no money with which to bribe the judge.
Yet the inconvenient persistence
of this powerless widow
defeats this shameless man.
In her relentless quest for justice
she eventually bends him to her will,
and out of nagging or shaming
or a fear of being punched
(or perhaps a combination of all three)
he is persuaded to act, against character,
in a just manner
and give her what she asks for.

There is much inspiration to be drawn for our own day
from this story of the persistent widow,
much to be learned about the power of the powerless
who have the courage to be inconveniently persistent.
But, at the same time, there is something puzzling here.
Jesus tells this parable to encourage his disciples
“to pray always without becoming weary.”

Is Jesus comparing God to an unjust judge
who cares nothing about his petitioners,
but can be bent to our will
by nagging or shaming or a fear of being punched?
Jesus’ point, of course,
is that if even an unjust and shameless judge
can be swayed by inconvenient persistence
then we should believe that a just and loving God,
will answer our persistent prayers.

And, of course, we do not believe
that God needs to be cajoled
into granting our prayers;
we do not believe
that we need to wear God down
with our inconvenient persistence.
We do not believe it,
but it sometimes feels that way.
And I think that may be part of Jesus’ point.
While our faith may tell us that God
is always more ready to give than we are to ask,
our actual experience of prayer
can be a frustrating one.
We may often feel we are trying to cajole
a God who seems not unlike the judge in the parable:
someone who holds what we want
for ourselves and our suffering world
tightly in his stingy grip,
someone who perhaps might loosen that grip
if only we persist long enough in our praying.
But how long?

How long, O Lord, must I feel so alone?
How long, O Lord, must I resist this temptation?
How long, O Lord, must the hungry go unfed?
How long, O Lord, must the poor endure injustice?
What more must I do before you answer, O Lord?
Such prayer is spiritually exhausting;
it is impossible to pray in this way without growing weary.

Let me suggest two things that might help:
one having to do with how we understand God,
and one having to do with how we understand ourselves.

First, regarding God,
the 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich wrote,
“some of us believe that God is almighty and may do everything,
and some that he is all wisdom and knows how to do everything;
but that he is all love and willing to do everything—
there we stop short” (A Revelation of Love ch. 73).
This “stopping short” is what Julian calls
“doubtful dread”:
the fear of God that leads us
to doubt God’s goodness,
to see God as a powerful and clever
but ultimately unloving
and unconcerned with our well-being.
The cure for this doubtful dread, Julian says,
is to see God through the cross of Jesus,
to see God as one who wills
to pour himself out in love for us
with an eternal persistence,
to see God as one
whose answer to our prayers is never “no,”
though it may be “not yet”
or even perhaps “I’ve got a better idea.”

Second, with regard to ourselves,
we should see that our struggles
to persist in prayer
come not from God’s unwillingness
to answer our prayers
but from a kind of blindness—
our doubtful dread that God
is an unrighteous judge
who does not will our good.
We struggle to persist in prayer,
we struggle with doubtful dread,
because we are human,
living the mystery
of our common journey
to God’s eternal kingdom,
a journey of faith, and not of sight.
We struggle to persist because it is hard
to surrender our wills to God’s will,
to forego our plans for God’s plans,
to seek not our answer but God’s answer.
God does not judge our doubtful dread
but heals it with relentless persistence
that opens our eyes
to see God’s love revealed in Jesus.
We can persist because God persists with us.
The God who endured the pain of the cross
knows our struggles and gives us the grace
to share in God’s eternal persistence,
to utter one more prayer when all hope seems lost,
to listen to the silence in which God’s answer is spoken.

May the inconvenient persistence of God
sustain us in our prayers this day,
heal our doubtful dread,
and open our hearts to hear God’s words of love.

____________________________
Click here for a video of this homily.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers two brief parables—
one about a man building a tower
and the other about a king preparing to go to war.
He seems to offer us a clear message:
before you begin something
make sure you know what your endgame is.
Before you start to build,
make sure you have the funds to finish;
before you march to war
make sure you have an army big enough to win.
Clear and sensible advice
that is useful, if maybe a bit obvious.
The thing is,
I generally find that when it seems like Jesus
is dispensing clear and sensible advice—
when he is saying something obvious—
it is a good idea to go back and look again,
since “obvious” is not really Jesus’ style.

A glance back at the Gospel reading
proves this to be true.
For the apparently clear and sensible advice
about planning your endgame,
is preceded and followed
by some of Jesus’
most confusing and shocking statements.
He says that anyone who comes to him
without hating
father and mother,
wife and children,
brothers and sisters,
and even one’s own life,
cannot be his disciple.
Anyone who does not renounce
all their possessions
cannot be his disciple.
Shocking statements,
even offensive statements.
Does Jesus really want us
to hate our parents,
our spouses,
our children and siblings?
Does he really expect us to give up
all our possessions?
Who does he think he is?

Of course, the relevant question here
is not who Jesus thinks he is,
but who we think he is.
To know who Jesus is
is to know him as the one
for whom we should be willing
to give up everything,
because he gives us everything,
even life eternal.
To know Jesus is to know him
as the one through whom
everything came to be,
in whom everything hangs together,
who gives us everything that we are and have,
who gives us nothing less than God’s kingdom.
How do you calculate the cost
when the cost is everything
because that which is sought is infinite?
How do you plan your endgame
when your end is eternal life with God?

This perhaps accounts for
the vehemence of Jesus’ words:
hate your parents and spouse and siblings
and even your own life;
give up all of your possessions.
Jesus is not, I think, telling us to loathe and abhor
those whom we have hitherto loved and adored.
Nor is he, I think, telling us to make ourselves destitute—
though from St. Anthony of Egypt
to St. Francis of Assisi
to St. Teresa of Kolkata
people have found in this a route to holiness.
But he is telling us that,
as we calculate our costs,
as we plan our endgame,
these things that we hold so dear
count as nothing.
Even those human relationships
that represent what is best,
what is most noble,
what is most fulfilling in this life—
indeed, even this life itself—
cannot tip the balance
when weighed against the infinite good
of being Jesus’ disciple.

But that is not all than can be said
about our human relationships.
Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says,
“there is no one who has left house or wife
or brothers or parents or children,
for the sake of the kingdom of God,
who will not get back very much more in this age,
and in the age to come eternal life.”
The relationships we surrender
for the sake of being Jesus’ disciple
are not lost to us
but are transformed.
Once they are no longer figured into
our calculation of costs,
once they play no role in our endgame,
once we place them into Jesus’ hands,
we find that we receive them in a new way,
as divine gifts.
Once they no longer must bear the weight
of giving meaning and purpose to our lives
they can become for us
joyful signs of God’s goodness to us.

So Jesus’s shocking call
to hate our loved ones
so that we might be his disciples
is a call to let our relationships
be radically transformed by following him.
It is a call to plan and calculate
in a new way;
it is a call to plan an endgame
where the end is life eternal.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not one more thing
that we try to fit into our life;
it is our life.
Following Jesus is not one factor among others
that we must figure into our endgame;
it is the endgame.
We know that it is only when our offerings
of bread and wine
are placed on the altar,
given into God’s hands,
that they can become for us
the gift of Christ’s body and blood.
In the same way, let us place
all that we have and love—
parents and spouses,
children and siblings—
into God’s hands,
so that we can receive them back transformed,
into the precious gifts of God
given in love to God’s people.

________________
Video recording of the homily.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

The question Jesus is asked in today’s Gospel —
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” —
seems like a natural question to ask.
After all, when you are entering a contest
you kind of want to know
how hard it might be to win it.
Jesus’ answer is frustratingly indirect,
but it doesn’t sound like the odds are very good:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,”
but “many” who “attempt to enter…
will not be strong enough.”
It also sounds, however,
as if the consequences of losing the contest
are disturbingly severe:
those who find themselves on the outside
will depart to wail and grind their teeth.
Sobering news.
The kingdom of God, it might seem,
has sharply policed borders
and stringent conditions for admission.

But at the end of this sobering news
the words of Jesus take a somewhat different turn.
He says that “people will come
from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
Rather than a single point of entry,
and a narrow one at that,
Jesus speaks in a way reminiscent of our first reading,
from the end of the book of the prophet Isaiah,
which speaks of how God will “come to gather
nations of every language,”
and that this multitude will stream
to God’s holy mountain in Jerusalem
“on horses and in chariots,
in carts, upon mules and dromedaries,”
a mighty caravan of new citizens for God’s kingdom.
The people of God is made up
of all sorts and conditions of humanity.
The table at which they feast
seems capable of infinite expansion.
The kingdom of God, it seems,
has open borders.

So, which is it?
Is God’s kingdom entered
through a single, narrow gate,
a gate that many will fail to enter,
or is it a kingdom into which
a multitude will stream
from all directions?
Perhaps it is somehow both.

When we hear the call of Jesus,
we hear the call to strive:
the call to strengthen our drooping hands
and our weak knees,
the call to learn obedience
through the discipline of the cross.
St. Ignatius Loyola, in the very first of his Spiritual Exercises,
directs us to imagine ourselves before Christ on his cross,
and to ask ourselves,
what have I done for Christ?
what am I doing for Christ?
what ought I to do for Christ?
If we call ourselves followers and companions of Jesus,
then of course we ought to strive to serve him.

But there is a danger and a temptation in our striving.
As I ask myself what I have done for Christ,
I might forget what Christ has done for me.
As I try to calculate how much striving is necessary,
I might forget that God’s grace is beyond calculation.
As I can strive to enter the narrow gate,
I might forget that my salvation
is not a reward for my striving
but the free gift of God,
won for me through the passion, death,
and resurrection of Christ.
There is a reason why St. Ignatius directs us
to imagine Jesus on the cross
before asking ourselves
what we have done, are doing, or will do for him.
Because all our striving should be nothing but
our grateful response to what Christ
already has done, is doing, and will do for us.
We are saved first and foremost
not by adherence to a code of conduct or a creed—
as important as those things are—
but by being drawn into the narrow gate
of the love of Christ crucified.

And here we can see how the glorious vision
of the multitude steaming into God’s kingdom
can fit with Jesus’ command
to strive to enter the narrow gate.
For if we strive to enter into the crucified love of Jesus
we begin to see the world as he sees it:
not divided into strivers and non-strivers,
but one giant herd of lost sheep that he longs to shepherd.
We begin to see that the love that we have received
is not a love cautiously measured out
but one that pours forth from his pierced heart,
a love that cannot be contained,
a love with unpoliced borders
that embraces a multitude.

Jesus calls us to enter through the narrow gate,
but that is a gate that leads us
into the heart of Jesus himself,
who loves us and saves us not because of our striving
but because of his own goodness and generosity.
So let us make our own the prayer
with which St. Ignatius concludes
his “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love”:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me. 
Amen.
________________________________________

Watch this homily here.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12: 32-48

Imagine that you see me at the train station:
you see me repeatedly check my watch,
check the arrival board,
perhaps check my appearance
in some reflective surface.
At a particular moment,
you see me stand up
and move toward the entrance
to a specific platform,
looking intently at the crowd.
You see a look of recognition cross my face
as I approach a woman and kiss her
(you surmise—correctly—that this must be my wife)
and then you see us happily depart the station together.
If someone were to ask you what I was doing
when you saw me at the station,
you would likely say
that I was waiting for someone.

Now imagine that you see me
on another occasion at the train station:
you see me browse the magazine rack at a newsstand,
buy an iced coffee at Starbucks,
stare blankly at crowds of people departing the trains,
yawn, scratch, read the paper, blow my nose,
and, eventually, leave the station alone,
having done a bunch of stuff
without any obvious single purpose.
If someone were to ask you what I was doing at the station
you would probably not say
that I was waiting for anyone or anything.
You might say instead that I was “loitering”
or, maybe, if you wanted to make me sound less criminal,
“killing time.”

“Waiting” is something different from simply “killing time.”
Waiting is not merely hanging around as time passes;
it is about your life coming into focus
around the person or thing that you are awaiting.
When you await someone or something,
your anticipation gives shape to time.
Every moment is given meaning and significance
by the act of waiting
because each moment moves you closer
to that for which you wait.

Killing time, in contrast,
is shapeless, formless, directionless.
Time moves forward, but isn’t going anywhere;
passing moments have no particular significance,
no particular goal or end.
Killing time is, frankly, boring;
as the term itself suggests,
it renders time lifeless.
Waiting, on the other hand, brings time to life,
as our moments are filled with meaning.

In today’s Gospel reading
Jesus calls on us to live lives of waiting,
not lives of merely killing time:
“be like servants who await
their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately
when he comes and knocks.”
Jesus speaks of your lamp being lighted
and your loins being girded—
symbols of wakefulness and readiness for action.
The servants whom the master commends
are not those who pass their hours killing time,
but those who keep an active watch
for the one whom they await.
The passing of time for these servants
is not the slow trickling away of life,
but a mighty flow that carries them
toward the arrival for which they wait.

The master whom we are awaiting
is Jesus himself, of course.
He is the master who returns from the wedding,
who with his arrival brings with him
a measure of that celebration’s joy.
Indeed, he bids his waiting servants
take their place at his table
so that he can serve them and share with them
all that he has received from his Father.
Jesus is the one whose awaited arrival
brings time to life,
gives form and direction and meaning
to the moments of which our days are made.
To be his disciple, to know him as master,
is to stand with lamp lighted and loins girded,
ready at every moment to welcome his arrival.
To await him is to accept time itself
not as something to be endured or killed,
but as God’s gift to us
to be used for God’s glory.

Yet even before the master returns
the time that he gives us,
the time that is brought to life by awaiting him,
is already filled full with his presence.
Indeed, the one we await arrives
at an hour we do not expect
because is arriving at every moment.
He comes to us invisibly,
in the gift of grace.
He comes to us visibly,
in the poor,
the imprisoned,
the stranger,
the suffering,
in all those we serve for his sake.
He comes to us in the Eucharist that we celebrate,
sharing with us the joyful wedding feast of the Lamb,
bidding us to receive from him
the food and drink of eternity.
We wait for one
who is already present with us in our waiting.

Time given over to awaiting the master
who arrives at every moment
is time that carries us forward
into the fullness of God’s kingdom.
Time given over to our own pursuits,
our self-made goals and personal agendas,
is simply killing time,
no matter how important
those goals and agendas might seem.
The call of Jesus in today’s Gospel
is to embrace time as God’s gift to us
and to use it for God’s glory,
standing ready
with lamps lighted and loins girded,
servants awaiting the master
who gives life to our days of waiting.
As I begin my ministry with you
here at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
I pray that our days together
will not be merely killing time
but will be time that is filled full
of the presence of the one
whose arrival we await.

____________________________
Watch this homily here.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62

As many of you might know,
last month I spent two and a half weeks
traveling by raft with family and friends
down the Colorado River
through the Grand Canyon.
The thing about this sort of trip
is that once you set out
you are committed for the long haul:
except for a lengthy hike to the Canyon rim
or a quick-but-costly medevac by helicopter,
there is only one way to the journey’s end,
only one direction that the current flows,
only one takeout point, many days and miles ahead.

I knew this, of course, in a theoretical way,
before setting out,
but you don’t really know
what you’ve gotten yourself into
until you’ve tried to set up camp in the rain,
or spent an hour pumping river water through a filter
so that there would be something to drink,
or taken a four-hour side-hike
that ends up lasting seven hours,
or stood above a class-nine rapid
listening to more experienced boaters discuss
all of the places in the rapid
where you definitely don’t want to end up.
The trip was much more arduous and challenging
than I anticipated,
the kind of vacation
where you need
another vacation afterward,
just to recover.

But the current flowed just one way;
there was no going back,
even if at times I wondered
what I had gotten myself into.
And it was a good thing that I had no choice,
that quitting was not an option
and weariness or fear could not change my course,
because along the way I saw wonders
that I could not have seen in any other way:
crystal-blue waters flowing from side canyons,
billion-year-old stone walls,
bighorn sheep climbing sheer rock faces,
the undimmed stars crowding the night sky,
the violent pounding force of the rapids,
and people of varied background, skill, and ability
working together to make the journey possible.

I say all of this not just to let you know
that I had an awesome vacation—
though it was awesome
(in the literal sense of the term).
Rather, at the risk of turning
a geologic marvel into a metaphor,
I can’t help thinking of how such a journey
tells us something about the journey
of our life as followers of Jesus.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel
that once you set out
on the journey to God’s kingdom,
once you embark
on the adventure of being his disciple,
you are committed for the long haul:
“No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.”
He warns his followers, repeatedly,
of the arduous and challenging nature of the journey:
“foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
But it is only along the way that we discover
exactly what it is that we have gotten ourselves into:
the labor of being people of faith, hope, and love,
the perils of misunderstanding and rejection,
the thirst we feel in times of doubt and spiritual dryness,
the struggle to keep our hand on the plow
and not look back at what we have left behind.
But there is no turning back
because we are caught in the current of the Spirit
who carries us forward on the journey.
And thanks be to God for that,
for it is along this arduous way
that we discover wonders:
the beauty of God revealed in the face of Jesus,
the glory of God shown forth in the Word and sacraments,
the love of God displayed in the lives
of those who travel with us on the journey.
This journey with Jesus
leads us into the very meaning of existence.

It is a journey we share together,
each of us bringing with us
our varied background, skills, and abilities.
It is a journey that is held in common
and yet is also unique to each of us.
We share common milestones that mark the way:
Baptism, Confirmation,
our weekly gathering at the Eucharist.
We each also have
our individual milestones
by which we chart our journey:
joys, sorrows,
losses, triumphs,
illnesses, friendships,
marriages, religious vows,
births, deaths.
But in the Body of Christ
these individual milestones are
in some mysterious way,
through the one Spirit that we all share,
also part of our common journey:
your joys become my joys,
your sorrows become my sorrows.

Twelve years ago,
immediately before I was ordained as a deacon
through the laying on of hands and prayer,
I knelt before Cardinal Keeler
with my hands joined in front of me.
He put his hands around mine, asking,
“Do you promise respect and obedience
to me and my successors?”
and I replied, “I do.”
Then the Cardinal said,
“May God who has begun the good work in you
bring it to fulfillment.”
Amidst all the ritual and symbolism
of the rite of Ordination,
this moment has always stood out for me.
This promise of obedience was a milestone
that made concrete for me
something that had been true
since the day of my baptism:
my life belonged not to me but to the journey,
and to belong to the journey is to be truly free.
It was not simply about submitting
to ecclesiastical authority,
but about listening for the voice of Jesus
when he calls us to leave behind the things we love
and step into the current of the Spirit,
so that the wonders of the journey
might be brought to fulfillment
in the freedom that comes
from answering Christ’s call.

This, of course, is true for every follower of Jesus.
As Paul says, “you were called for freedom.”
All of us must listen for his voice,
calling us into the current of the Spirit.
The difference for me, as an ordained person,
is that the voice of Jesus—as strange as this may seem—
can sound like the voice of the Archbishop of Baltimore.
And it seems that the voice of Jesus
is calling me to leave behind this community that I love
so that our common journey can continue in a new way.
This is one of those arduous, challenging moments of the journey.
This is one of those moments when you wonder
what you have gotten yourself into.
This is one of those moments
when you must tighten your grip on the plow
and step forward in faith.

I have worshipped with you for twenty-two years
and served you as deacon for twelve,
and quite honestly it is hard for me to imagine
what it will be like not to gather with you each Sunday.
But if it truly is the current of the Spirit
that moves us forward on the journey,
if it is in answering the call of Jesus
that we find true freedom,
then we must trust that new wonders
will be revealed to us along the way.
And if it is truly the one Spirit
in whose current we are floating
then we are still journeying together,
even when it seems that we are separated.
For we all, wherever Christ calls us to be,
however scattered in time and space,
remain together members of his body,
Corpus Christi.
This is perhaps the greatest wonder of all.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost


Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Jesus promises his disciples that the Spirit
whom the Father will send in his name
will teach them “everything.”
Everything?
That’s a pretty big promise.
I don’t know about you,
but I can’t imagine what it would feel like
to know everything.
My knowledge of quantum physics, for example,
is pretty limited,
as is my understanding of
how my smartphone works,
or why people buy jeans that are pre-ripped.
My knowledge clearly falls far short of “everything.”
But maybe the “everything” that the Spirit teaches
is not this sort of knowledge,
not a collection of facts or insights
concerning this or that.
Perhaps the “everything” that the Spirit teaches
is a truth of such surpassing importance
that it changes everything for those who accept it;
perhaps it is a truth that becomes the lens
through which we view everything else.

St. Paul suggests, in our second reading,
that one way to put into words
what the Spirit teaches us
is to confess that “Jesus is Lord.”
Indeed, he says that no one can truly say
that Jesus is Lord apart from the Spirit’s gift.
When the Spirit prompts us
to proclaim that Jesus is Lord
the Spirit is teaching us that everything,
every aspect of our existence,
finds its center and meaning in Jesus.
In Jesus’ life and teachings,
his death and resurrection,
the universe snaps into focus;
through Jesus we can see things
with a new clarity,
against a new horizon,
the horizon of the love that death cannot defeat
that we have been celebrating in this Easter season.
We see that even in the midst of
violence and conflict,
fear and disappointment,
sickness and death,
there lives, as the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins put it,
“the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
   Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
To know this—
to have met the risen Lord,
to have glimpsed the bright wings of the Spirit—
is to have been taught everything,
because it changes everything,
brings everything into focus.
It frees us from fear and gives us boldness
to proclaim to the world the message of Easter hope.

But this message of hope,
this “everything” that the Spirit teaches us,
is not a private possession.
It is a communally held gift.
The truth that the Spirit teaches us
is too vast and all-encompassing
for any single individual to contain.
On the day of Pentecost
the Spirit speaks a multitude of languages
in order that the mighty acts of God might be proclaimed,
the Lordship of Jesus might be confessed,
because no one language can capture everything.
St. Paul tells us that the gifts of the Spirit
are distributed within the body of believers,
in such a way that it is only the entire community of faith
that can truly proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
It takes a multitude to speak what the Spirit teaches;
it takes everyone to say everything.

Some of us, however, might feel
that we have nothing to say.
We might feel that our faith is weak,
our hope is wavering,
our love has grown cold.
But St. Paul says that all of us
who have been baptized into the Spirit
have been given some manifestation of the Spirit,
and that it has been given to us
for the benefit of the body as a whole.
If we are truly to know
the “everything” that the Spirit teaches
then I must tell you what I see
in light of Jesus the risen Lord,
and you must tell me what you see.
I must share with you the way in which
love and joy have fallen upon me
in times of sorrow,
how peace and patience have sustained me
in times of trial,
how kindness and goodness have been shown to me
in times of need.
And you must share with me
how you have found faithfulness
in the midst of doubt,
how you have found gentleness
in the midst of conflict,
how you have found self-control
in the midst of temptation.
We must share our joys and sorrows,
our tales of how we have felt the breeze
stirred by the Spirit’s bright wings,
our stories of how faith has brought us through,
if we are to have even the slightest insight
into the “everything” that the Spirit teaches.
For while we all confess Jesus as Lord,
each of us confesses Jesus as Lord
in our own way,
in our own language,
out of our own lives
and our particular circumstances.
This is what it means to live our faith
as members of the body of Christ,
so that the gift of each becomes the gift of all.
Let us pray on this feast of Pentecost
that the Spirit will be spoken
in a multitude of tongues,
and that we will hear
in the murmur of that multitude
everything that the Spirit teaches.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Easter 4


Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30

Jesus the Good Shepherd is a familiar image
and an apt metaphor for the one who calls and gathers us,
who guards and guides us,
who will even lay down his life to protect us;
as our Gospel today reminds us,
no one can take us out of the hands
of Jesus our shepherd.

This is all very fine,
but our second reading, from the Book of Revelation,
offers us a stranger, less easily understood,
image of shepherding.
Earlier, the seer John beholds a throne on which is seated
one of who’s appearance it is said only
that it “sparkled like jasper and carnelian”—
like precious stones.
And before this sparkling one seated on the throne
he sees a lamb standing.
Not a cute little fluffy white lamb,
whom we might imagine draped
around the shoulders of the good shepherd,
but one “standing as if it had been slaughtered,”
a sacrificial victim, blood-drenched and flesh-torn.
And this is the Lamb of whom it is said in today’s reading,
“The Lamb… will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Christ our shepherd is this slaughtered Lamb.

John offers us a startling—
I’m tempted to say “psychedelic”—
set of images in which
the lamb is shepherd,
the victim is victor.
John’s Apocalypse makes clear
what we might miss
in the Gospel metaphor of the Good Shepherd:
the shepherd in whose hands we are held,
for whose voice we should listen,
is not one who triumphs over threats,
who slays the wolf and the thief,
but one whose life is sacrificed on the cross,
who wins through weakness,
who offers us life not as the avoidance of death,
but as the passage through the cross to resurrection,
who calls us to surrender our lives
into the Shepherd’s pierced hands.
The Lamb is slaughtered
yet standing,
slain
yet victorious.
Like I said, it’s all kind of psychedelic.
But what really makes it hard to understand
is that it runs counter
to everything the world tells us
about how power works,
about what victory looks like,
about what counts as winning.
John’s vision of the Lamb
suggests that the ordinary calculations of power
by which our world operates,
the ordinary standards of what counts as winning,
might not be the way that God sees things,
and perhaps should not be the way we see things either.

This past week saw the death of Jean Vanier,
the founder of the L’Arche movement,
which since the 1960s has created communities
in which the mentally disabled live together with others
who not only help them cope with the practicalities of life
but who offer them friendship and dignity.
Over the years, Vanier always stressed
that this was transformative
not only of the lives of the mentally disabled
members of his communities
but of those who lived with them as friends and helpers.
Vanier said that living with the mentally disabled
forced him to rethink what we mean by “ability”
and to reassess who is the giver
and who is the receiver in those relationships.
He wrote, “To be human is to be bonded together,
each with our weaknesses and strengths,
because we need each other.
Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered,
is at the heart of belonging.”

Jean Vanier was always clear that his work
grew out of his Catholic faith,
out of his belief that in Christ the Lamb
God has redefined what counts as a life worth living,
God has redefined the possibilities of human community,
God has redefined victory.
Vanier wrote in a commentary on John’s Gospel,
“In front of the power and armies of Caesar,
in front of their mighty weapons,
stands a lamb, the lamb of God.
What can this lamb do?
The lamb will break down walls of fear, of aggression,
of violence, of sin
which imprison people in themselves
and incite them to seek their own glory.
He will liberate in each person a new life of communion with God,
with other people and with what is deepest in the self,
sowing seeds for universal peace.”

Jean Vanier was one of those who,
as the Revelation of John puts it,
“have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
He was one who learned from the Lamb,
slaughtered and yet standing,
that it is not the powerful or the capable
but the weak and the vulnerable,
who will lead us to the waters of life
by revealing to us
our own weakness and vulnerability.

What does it mean to be a Christian?
Jean Vanier and John the visionary suggest to us
that it means letting yourself be shepherded by the Lamb.
It means placing yourself in the pierced hands of Jesus,
trusting them to shelter you from the great tribulation.
It means living by a new standard of what counts as victory.
It means learning from the Lamb
how to let yourself be wounded,
even slain, for love
and yet still stand,
bearing witness
to the God who chose what is foolish in the world
to shame the wise,
the God who chose what is weak in the world
to shame the strong,
the God who is revealed to us
in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.