Although she was not the first to record it, Lynn Anderson’s version of “Rose Garden” became the standard for female Country and Western singers to “cross-over” into pop. The song, more famously known as “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” became a world-wide hit, with Country Music Television (CMT) putting it in its 2003 list of “100 Greatest Songs of Country Music.” You might remember these lyrics from a part of the refrain:
I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain some time
When you take you gotta give so live and let live
Today’s Gospel follows the same track – all of us have been in situations where there is conflict, hurt, and pain in human relationships. It’s inevitable – we’re not perfect and therefore no relationship will be perfect – how could it be? As beautiful as they are, a rose is attached to a plant full of thorns; as wonderful as human relationships built on love can be, there are prickly situations that develop along the way to its flourishing. We were never promised a rose garden, true, but that doesn’t mean we need to live in a briar patch of our own making, either.
Look at the conflict in the Bible: Esau must have felt twice cheated by Jacob, his younger brother, who stole both the blessing and his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). Nehemiah had problems with his leaders because of their selfishness (Nehemiah 5). Martha and Mary – Jesus’ best friends – had some conflict between them when Jesus visited them one evening (Luke 10:38-42). Even Peter and Paul had their troubles (Galatians 2:11-14). And I need not mention Jesus’ troubles with the government officials and religious leaders that really didn’t end even when they put Him to death.
Jesus gives us the roadmap to conflict resolution, and it isn’t easy. Knowing that one of the worst things that we can do is brood over our grievance which can poison our mind and heart and make it even more difficult to seek resolution, Jesus prompts us to go directly to the offender and sort it out. This is the step most often missed by the parties in conflict. I know this from personal experience as I have not always practiced it, I know it as a supervisor as my staff has not always practiced it between themselves or with me as their manager, and I know it as a pastor because I hear it all the time between husband and wife, parents and children, and young people with their friendships. Most of the time we tend to go right toward the second step of mediation with a “wise” counselor hoping for a resolution. But we miss that valuable first step in the process of reconciliation.
If the “face-to-face” discussion doesn’t work the second step is to seek someone who is wise and gracious to help mend the relationship. Here the goal is not to put the offender on trial, but to persuade the offender to see the wrong and to be reconciled. If this fails, step three can be quite difficult: bring the conflict before the Christian community. Nobody likes to “air their dirty laundry” in public. Don’t worry, this step is not about bringing the people into the church and polling everyone on what should be done (as that alone would create more conflict between people), but by seeking the help of other Christians who hopefully will pray and pursue a solution based on Christian love and wisdom rather than relying on worldly coercive force or legal action.
Lastly, if even the Christian community fails to bring about reconciliation, Jesus seems to say that we have the right to abandon stubborn and obdurate offenders and treat them like social outcasts. But even in this action, we must be Christian. Remember how Jesus often gathered with tax-collectors and other public sinners – Jesus refuses no one who is open to receive pardon, healing, and restoration. Even if outcast, we still pray for the conversion of the offender.
So, back to a more practical view of conflict resolution, when we are offended a sign of true Christian love would be to put aside our own grievance and injury in order to help heal our brother or sister’s wound. Consider this quote from St Augustine of Hippo:
“If someone has done you injury and you have suffered, what should be done? You have heard the answer already in today’s scripture: ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.’ If you fail to do so, you are worse than he is. He has done someone harm, and by doing harm he has stricken himself with a grievous wound. Will you then completely disregard your brother’s wound? Will you simply watch him stumble and fall down? Will you disregard his predicament? If so, you are worse in your silence than he in his abuse. Therefore, when any one sins against us, let us take great care, but not merely for ourselves. For it is a glorious thing to forget injuries. Just set aside your own injury, but do not neglect your brother’s wound. Therefore ‘go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone,’ intent upon his amendment but sparing his sense of shame. For it might happen that through defensiveness he will begin to justify his sin, and so you will have inadvertently nudged him still closer toward the very behavior you desire to amend. Therefore ‘tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother,’ because he might have been lost, had you not spoken with him” (excerpt from Sermon 82.7, emphasis added).
The love of Christ both purifies and sets us free to do good to all – even those who hurt us. The call to accountability for what we have done, and for what we have failed to do, is inevitable and we can’t escape it, both in this life and at the day of judgment when the Lord Jesus will return. While we have the opportunity, we must pray for those who have offended, as St Augustine notes, and seek God’s help to change the heart of the offender – as well as the heart of the offended – with the grace and power of God’s healing love and wisdom.
We were never promised a rose garden, but that doesn’t mean we sow a patch of thorns either.
May God keep you holy and healthy.
Nobody wants to hear what they don’t want to hear. None of us want to hear the pilot say at 35,000 feet over the Pacific, “Uh-oh.” We don’t want to hear the boss say, “I’ve got some bad news.” The teacher might announce “Pop quiz!” the morning after we didn’t do our homework. The same is true when we have a performance review at work. It’s a nervous time when we sit with our supervisor and review our work over the last year. Hopefully we’ve met the expectations of the employer and can at least keep the job, let alone get a raise. We may think we’ve done a great job, but the supervisor may have a different opinion.
It may have been a similar situation with Peter. Recall that in last week’s reading, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter and was obviously happy with Peter and his work, so much so that Jesus gave his trusted follower “the keys.” We could only imagine what Peter must have felt – anytime we’re given increased responsibility it comes with a certain amount of pride and joy, yet nervous anxiety and apprehension can lurk in the mix as well. Additionally, into this moment is introduced something that the Apostles didn’t want to hear. They have spent a lot of time and energy learning and discipling with their trusted and loved leader, and Jesus tells his disciples that He must first suffer rejection, be crucified, and then rise again on the third day. In so many words, He explained that there could be no victory and no glory without the cross. This prediction of suffering and death on the cross caused the disciples great dismay and disbelief. It would be similar to you or I developing in a few short years a great friendship with someone only to have our new friend announce that she had terminal cancer. That would be news we don’t want to hear; it would be hard to process.
Peter, who was often the first to react to whatever Jesus had to say or did, wanted to protect Jesus from any threat or harm. That’s what we do for a loved one – protect them and protect our relationship. That is why Peter rebuked the very thought of Jesus having to face rejection, condemnation, and crucifixion.
So, why was Jesus seemingly so harsh to Peter, the disciple to whom Jesus just said, “You are a rock”? Why would Jesus call Peter “Satan”? Consider that when Jesus went out into the wilderness to prepare for his public ministry, Satan (a word literally meaning “adversary”) came to tempt Him to follow a different path than the one chosen by the Father. Jesus recognizes in Peter’s response another temptation: Satan, the great tempter, was offering through Peter the chance for Jesus to follow a different path than the one chosen by the Father in heaven – tempting that human side of Jesus through the free-will that has been given to all of us. Jesus recognizes in Peter’s response yet another temptation to seek a different, less costly path for accomplishing His mission than the way of the cross. Jesus reminds Peter that his role is not to be an adversary, but a disciple – one who supports and follows the Master with trust and obedience.
Having just been transfigured, Jesus knew that the cross was the only way He could ransom us from slavery to sin; the price of this ransom would be His blood which would be shed for our freedom. Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus defeated Satan who held us in bondage to sin and condemnation. This defeat of the power of death also overcame the finality of the grave through His resurrection. Through His obedience to the heavenly Father’s will, Jesus reversed the curse of Adam’s disobedience and His death on the cross has won pardon for the guilty, freedom for the oppressed, healing for the afflicted, and new life for the condemned. His death makes possible our freedom to live as the adopted sons and daughters of the merciful Father in heaven.
Yet, here comes another one of Satan’s traps – this time for us. We have the gift of free will and when used in accordance with the wishes of the Father, we can be assured of our freedom from the fate of eternal death and participate in the reward of eternal life that Jesus has purchased for us. But where Satan can work his evil is through subtle thinking and our attempts at nuancing God’s will. Satan’s world is ever-present to us, tempting us to partake in it by refining Church teachings to fit our way of thinking and acting – just as Peter did. Peter wasn’t thinking like God; Peter had given in to the way of man. When we try to run our life according to our will, we end up losing it in our futile efforts. Remember what Jesus said: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Only God can free us from our ignorance and sinful ways if we let Him. When we surrender our lives to God, He gives us new life in His Spirit and the pledge of eternal life. God wants us to be spiritually fit and ready to do His will at all times, but as with any fitness regimen, it takes effort and hard work. When the human body is weak or ill, we make every effort to bring it back to health – how much more, then, should we give to the spiritual health of our soul?
May God keep you holy and healthy.
Blessed John XXIII was the pope during a very turbulent time in the world – not world-war turbulent, but one of societal upheaval and unrest. For many it seemed that institutions and much in “regular” society was falling apart. The institution of marriage was falling apart as infidelity rose, contraception was allowing “no consequence” (so we thought) sexual relationships to flourish, priests and religious were leaving their ordained ministry and communities choosing secular societal lifestyles, the ideas of the Enlightenment were manifesting in Rationalism and Humanism causing people to reject in part or in whole truth (which had become relative to any given situation), and the wholesale decline in attendance at the Mass began in earnest. Pope John XXIII worked long and hard trying to address these problems. As the story goes, one evening after an exhausting day, he went to his private chapel to do his daily Holy Hour before retiring but he was too exhausted and too stressed out to focus or pray. After a few minutes of futile effort, he got up and said, “Lord, the Church belongs to you. I am going to bed.”
Jesus says, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, emphasis added). The Church is His community, the community of His disciples, the People of God; in these words from Scripture, Jesus claimed it as such.
This is something key for all of us to remember, all of us who work in and for the Church in one way or another. While Jesus established Church leadership under Peter, He did not give Peter or the other disciples ownership of the Church. The pope, bishops, priests, deacons, and other church leaders as well as laity in various “ministries” who think and act as if they own the Church through their agendas, actions, and words are fooling themselves. It’s quite the opposite: all of God’s people have been called together as co-workers in Christ’s vineyard. Yes, some are managers who oversee others, but they do not “own” the Church. We belong to the Church and the sole “owner” of the Church is Christ.
Think of it another way. Building on Jesus the Master Carpenter who has the building plan in His hands. Human co-operators are like the many people “employed” to build His House – He put down the foundation, but He as the Master Builder has employed framers, brick-layers, plumbers, electricians, etc., to do the labour. Our role, as these workers, is to listen to and follow His instructions, doing our own small part in the grand design of the Master. And while there needs to be some leaders and coordinators of the work being done (foremen and women, so to speak), we must trust those in leadership positions that they have been inspired by the Master’s grand design to carry out the mission within their area of responsibility. Those who insert their own ideas of what the of what the building should look like or be rather than follow the directives given by the Master may find themselves working at cross-purposes with the Divine Master.
Such cross-purposes are quite evident in this world. There have been many leaders within the Church who have been at odds with the teachings of Christ; there have been popes who have engaged in nefarious activities, lewd lifestyles, and obtuse business dealings. Bishops have engaged in criminal activities and scandalized their sacred office. Priests have engaged in heinous and deviant behaviour to satisfy their carnal instincts, and the laity have engaged in un-Catholic practices that are more self-centred rather than God-centred, even picking and choosing what to believe and practice (the “cafeteria-style Catholic). Yes, the building is full of sinners; but the building itself is solid precisely because the Master is the one who designed and built it: “…upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus even gave us His word – His “guarantee” if you will – that nothing will happen to His Church; in fact, it is so strong that it (the Church) will prevail against all evil coming at it from the outside or the inside: “…and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Let us not work at cross-purposes with the Church, with the parish, or with each other, but recognize that we are working together on the same team that Christ has chosen – the team doing the work for the Master Builder. And after a hard day’s work, when we go to sleep, with all the worries and strife in this world, let us remember what Pope John XXIII said, “Lord, the Church belongs to you. I am going to bed.” In Him, we find our rest.
May God keep you holy and healthy.
It would seem that, in our day and age, the use of a pejorative (a word with a negative connotation that expresses contempt, dismissiveness, or even hatred) is something new, or if not new, at least has become more frequent when in fact it is not new to our culture, or any other for that matter. It’s not right, but it’s not new. Some pejoratives are dependent on perception – to some people, these words have a negative connotation, but to others they are neutral or even positive. It’s possible for a word to be used as a pejorative even if its dictionary definition doesn’t have a negative connotation. For example, the word “nerd” simply means overly studious and somewhat socially awkward, but some people use it as an insult, or pejorative. However, “nerd” is only a pejorative if you think that being a nerd is a bad thing!
There are also words that started off as neutral words but became pejoratives (or vice versa). Thus, pejoratives are dependent on history and culture as well as individual perception. For example, the words “moron,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “dumb” all started out as medical terms denoting mental illness. Over time, however, they became popular pejoratives that people would use to insult one another. Once that happened, the medical community no longer found them acceptable, and they found other words to replace them.
Consider the use of a pejorative in literature. Pejoratives in classic literature present something of a problem – for example, the “N-word” is all over the place in Huckleberry Finn, due to the fact that Mark Twain was trying to imitate the way people talked in the South. The intended message of the book is anti-racist, but the use of such pejoratives makes for a complicated reading, and forces teachers and parents to consider whether it’s an appropriate book for teaching anti-racist values.
Consider today’s Gospel. The passage we have today describes the only occasion in which Jesus ministered outside of Jewish territory. (Tyre and Sidon were fifty miles north of Israel and still exist today in modern Lebanon.) A Gentile (a non-Jew foreigner; it is a word that could be a pejorative in certain settings) woman puts Jesus on the spot by pleading for His help. At first, Jesus seemed to pay no attention to her, yet it had a purpose – to put her faith to the test.
Seemingly out of character, Jesus uses an expression that, in Jewish culture, would include a pejorative: dog. The Jews often spoke of the Gentiles with arrogance and insolence as “unclean dogs” since the Gentiles did not follow God’s law and were excluded from God’s covenant and favour with the people of Israel. Even for the Greeks the “dog” was a symbol of dishonour and was used to describe a shameless and audacious woman.
What we don’t get in the telling of the story is the body language of Jesus nor do we get his facial expressions. Consider, for example, if when He said “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” he had a bit of a wry smile on his face. Such a delivery would then make this statement not an insult, but a prompt for an answer, which the Canaanite woman did promptly provide. It seems that she responded with a bit of wit – and faith: “Please Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
Jesus praises the Gentile woman for her faith and for her love. She made the misery of her child her own and she was willing to suffer rebuff in order to obtain healing for her loved one. She also had indomitable persistence. Her already strong faith grew in contact with the person of Jesus: she began with a request and she ended on her knees in worshipful prayer to the living God. No one who ever sought Jesus with earnest faith – whether Jew or Gentile – is refused His help, love, and mercy.
May God keep you holy and healthy.
It would be hard to rank them, but the grand ocean liners that once plied the seas were quite something and the big industrial countries were always trying to outdo each other across the Atlantic. From what I understand, today’s cruise ships are quite spectacular in their over-sized and “Carnival-istic” chaos and decor, but the grand ocean liners were just that: stylishly grand. Certainly, the romantic would revel in the elegant first-class suites, lounges, and dining rooms where everyone was dressed in their finest and danced the night away. Of course, there were the other classes on those ships, but most reports indicate that even the “lower” classes were treated quite well and a far cry from today’s cramped cattle car jet crossing the “Pond.”
While the decorating and service were the main factors that got the lion’s share of attention of these stately steamers and luxury liners, much effort was put into the ship itself to make it fast and steady in the sometimes-difficult weather of the north Atlantic. The few ocean liners that remain today are master-crafted crafts loaded with the best technology and do their best to sail the seas so as not to disturb or perturb the paying passengers with inconvenient bob and list. But even if tempest-tossed, these big liners can protect their patrons and hired hands from peril with expert and competent build and crewmanship.
Building on this nautical theme, today’s Gospel is a very familiar story. In Matthew’s Gospel it is the second example of a storm-tossed pinnace in peril on the sea. The first story (in Chapter 8) is when Jesus implores the frightened men to not be afraid and calms the raging waters. This time, the men are again frightened, but not by the sea, but by Jesus whom they mistake as an eidolon strolling toward them on the waves.
Let’s consider the symbology of the boat in the Gospel. A boat on the sea is one of the earliest Christian symbols for the Church in her journey through a turbulent world. Just as the disciple’s dory is chucked about the waves, so is the Barque of Christ (the Church) pounded from all sides by worldly and spiritual forces hostile to the Kingdom of God. (By the way, note what a “barque” is: a sailing ship with three equal masts; again the symbology is unmistakable: each equal mast represents Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
In the midst of crisis, Jesus comes to strengthen the faith of the Church. He assures us that no matter how bad the storms of life rage at the moment, He will remain with His Church, and he always keeps His promise. During the persecutions of the Roman emperors, the threat of Moslem invasion and conquer, during times of heresies and schisms, and even the sexual scandals of clergy that seem to toss the Church to and fro, some of our popes, bishops and priests have also defended the Church in His Name. The Church still exists and will continue to exist in the future because Christ is with His Church; in fact, He is the Church. It is when we, those who are within the great Barque, step out and take our eyes off Him and focus on the storm that we suffer the fate of Peter: we begin to sink – the ship doesn’t.
So, how do we keep from sinking? Consider these three actions that, when combined, become that life preserver thrown to us from the deck:
1. Recognize that we cannot save ourselves. Like Peter, who had to face the fact that he could not save himself as he was slowly sinking, we must do the same, but pride can keep us from doing this. It is not weakness to admit we need God; it is, however foolishness to think we don’t.
2. Reach out to Jesus. After we admit that we cannot save ourselves, we must reach out to Jesus like Peter did using the Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist.
3. “Get a grip” on Jesus – a strong one – like Peter did. Peter held onto Jesus for dear life and made it back to the boat in safety. Through prayer and regular time in Adoration, study of His word and our faith, and by making the daily effort to put our faith into practice, we can not only “get a grip,” but keep it. If we take prayer seriously, not just saying a few formal prayers to pacify our consciences, if we study our faith diligently and make the effort to live it out in the world, then our grip on the Lord will not loosen.
Those great ocean going vessels have all but disappeared. They have been replaced by those who cruise on ships titled “Relativism” and “Humanism”; these are the glitz and glam bacchanal boats of the party-hardy who cruise rather than purposefully set sail on an adventure of a lifetime. But the Barque of Christ remains and will do so until the end of time. The question is, which do you board?
May God keep you holy and healthy.
It had been a long day already; our destination was Dallas/Ft Worth, and we had one more flight to get there. We left Salt Lake City in the morning and flew to St Louis, then to Atlanta, then to Boston. This was back in the day when passenger’s tickets included the price of a prepared meal and we had served our passengers on these full flights breakfast, a snack, and lunch as we worked our way across the country; the dinner flight from Boston to Dallas was scheduled with only 40 people and as flight attendants we were looking forward to this “easy” three-hour flight after the long, long day.
After our passengers had boarded and we were set for an on-time departure, the phone rang in the jet bridge and the agent said that our competitor’s later flight to Dallas/Ft Worth had just cancelled and they were rushing over their customers and we would go out full – that meant that about 110 more people were “coming to dinner.” We had enough for our 40 passengers, so I asked the agent if we were going to get more meals. He said, “No”; there wasn’t time to get meals from the caterer and besides, they didn’t have any extra to give. That meant we were facing 150 people, and two-thirds of them were going to go hungry! What to do? I’ll answer that later.
For the last few weeks, we have heard Jesus’ discourse with his disciples and the crowds about the Kingdom of Heaven. Today we jump ahead in our reading of Matthew’s Gospel to Chapter 14. In Matthew’s narrative of these events, we skip over some details that might help us understand how Jesus was feeling at the time. Prior to the event described in our Gospel reading, Jesus had left the crowds and returned to Nazareth, where he was rejected by his own people. Matthew then recounts the story of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist’s arrest and execution at the hands of Herod and his vengeful wife. Today’s Gospel reading begins at this point.
Upon hearing the news of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus seeks to withdraw, most likely to spend time with His Father in prayer and for some rest, but the crowds follow him. Jesus reaches out to them in compassion and heals the sick. At the end of another long day, the disciples encourage Jesus to send the crowds away so that they might find provisions for themselves. Jesus again responds with compassion for the crowd. He tells his disciples to provide food for the crowd to which they reply with a report of the meagerness of their own provisions: five loaves and two fish, hardly enough for this many people. The result is the very familiar miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that 5,000 men were fed, and this number does not even include the women and children!
Jesus’ blessing brought abundance from the meager provisions of the disciples. In this action, Jesus offers us a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven that he has been teaching about in the parables. This feast results from the smallest of portions and recalls the parable of the mustard seed and the yeast. In this miracle feeding we witness an example for our Christian life and ministry. Even the smallest of our offerings can produce abundant results when placed in the service of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every offering we make, regardless of form (time, treasure, or talent) is magnified in untold ways for His glory.
So, what did we do with our much smaller feeding on that flight from Boston to Dallas/Ft Worth? Certainly not having the power of God to multiply the 40 meals into 150 – and although the pilots might like to think they are gods of sorts, we mere mortal flight attendants had to face a hungry mob for the three hours it took to get to our destination. Using the resources that we had on board, we offered those who would forgo a meal an “open bar” and all the pretzels they could eat. Miracles do happen – especially with some “spirits” – we were able to get a meal to everyone who so desired, and the rest were “happy” to treat themselves to a toddy or two and munchies. While we couldn’t multiply the “loaves and fishes” we had on that flight, everyone seemed to leave happy – some more so than others! I can only imagine that the crowds on that hillside who “ate and were satisfied” also left quite happy in a much more profound way.
May God keep you holy and healthy.
I’m sure most of us have entertained some of those hypothetical questions before…you know the ones that begin with “Would you rather…or…?” They’re kind of fun to toss about with family and friends. I thought I might pose a few for you to think about or to discuss with a friend or perhaps at the dinner table – who knows…the kids might even put down the phone and participate!
If you could learn any one skill in the world without trying, which would you pick and why?
If you could travel 100 years into the past or into the future, and stay there, which would you choose?
Would you rather be rich and ugly (no, you can’t have plastic surgery!) or poor and good looking (and no, you can’t make money off your good looks)?
Well, of course these are hypothetical situations that really have no possibility of coming true, but such questions can help us probe what is really important in our lives – even test our value system in whatever real-life situation that may present itself at some point in the future. Discovering what we value can be very enlightening – and frightening at the same time.
Today’s Gospel concludes three weeks of readings from the 13th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout these three weeks we have heard Jesus teaching crowds about the kingdom of heaven, and we have heard Jesus interpret some of his teachings for the disciples. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus offers three more short parables.
The first two parables describe the great value of the kingdom of heaven. In the first parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a buried treasure that is worth possessing even if it means giving up everything else. In the second parable, Jesus proposes that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great worth for which one will sell everything in order to possess it. These parables teach us that we are to place everything we value in the service of the pursuit of the Kingdom of God, even if it means ridding ourselves of “everything.”
The third parable that Jesus proposes in today’s Gospel is different from the first two, but it is reminiscent of the parable of the sower heard in last week’s Gospel. The kingdom of heaven is compared to fishing with a wide net. After the fish have been collected, the good fish are kept and the bad fish are thrown away; so too, in the final judgment, will the wicked and the righteous be separated.
In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we get incredible foundational teachings – both through the organic parables as well as being treated to Jesus’ meaning behind the parables. The disciples asked Jesus to explain the parables to them, and he did just that so they would see the greater meaning of the story and apply it not only to their own lives, but use it in their teaching as well. To this day, Jesus’ teachings remain for us to use; not to interpret in light of today’s culture, but to reflect on how we are absorbing His teaching and demonstrating these standards in our daily life.
May God keep you holy and healthy.
In the 60’s and 70’s there was a game show hosted by Monty Hall called Let’s Make A Deal. It came back in the 80s for a bit, and I understand that there were versions of it through the following decades and still survives in this day and age. Although I haven’t watched the show since the 80’s, I couldn’t judge the new one against the original, but to me it would be difficult to recreate the satirical, yet good-natured situational humor that was Monty’s trademark. Of course, it was always fun to play along with the contestants who had to judge and choose a course of action when based on unknown results of their actions. Inevitably, there would be a contestant who, with all hope of seeking a new car as a prize, had to choose either the “small box on the display stand or the curtain by which Carol Merrill is now standing.” Of course, there would be no car behind the puny box, or so the contestant would think, but behind that curtain…
In reality, there was no “safe” rationale for which to choose – the box or the curtain. While a car may very well be behind the curtain, there could be a “zonk” (a “booby prize”) behind it and a key to a new car could be behind the box. The fun of the game show was not only choosing a course of action on this side of the television set (we had nothing to lose except for a bit of pride, especially if playing along with others in the room), but watching the contestant anxiously make a decision under the duress of time or other offers being made by the host that only added to the confusion on what to do.
Just as the contestants usually judged by appearance (the size of the box versus the tall and wide curtain), so do we often judge by appearance. We judge a restaurant by the number of cars in the parking lot (or lack thereof), a movie by the writings of an unknown critic, and yes, a person by their outward appearance, speech, or education (or lack thereof).
Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of Jesus’ discourse that we began reading last Sunday. This week, Jesus offers three parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, one of which is very similar to the parable of the sower we heard last week. Again Jesus explains why he speaks to the crowds in parables and once again we are treated to His interpretation of the parable for the disciples.
All three parables in our reading use commonplace experiences to describe aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first parable is longer and more detailed than the following two as the parable alerts us to the two-fold reality of the Kingdom of Heaven: the beginnings of the Kingdom of Heaven can be found in this world; the fruition of the Kingdom of Heaven, however, will not be realized until the final judgment. In the meantime, as Jesus’ explanation to the disciples cautions, any effort to judge the progress of the Kingdom of Heaven is premature. Only God, in the final judgment, will distinguish the fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven and offer its reward.
Contained within the parables are words of caution as well as words of consolation. In the parable of the sower we are warned against judging others – to prematurely judge and uproot the “weeds” will harm the wheat. As we know, the final judgment rests with God. How often have we heard someone say to a young person who has made some tragic decisions “She won’t amount to anything” or “He’s not smart enough to get a real job” only to find out, years later, that in fact she did amount to something (consider Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN) or that he nearly flunked out of school yet ended up starting a company of his own (consider Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza). These stories of people who were judged by others coincide with the other parables in that the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast is the message that God can work wonders and produce abundance from even the smallest beginnings.
So we have to be careful about judging: the world may be behind the curtain, but the key to heaven may be behind the small box.
May God keep you holy and healthy.
As we all know, the spoken or written word – and even the unspoken message such as that from body language or silence – can have meanings that the sender understands, but the receiver might not get the same meaning or intent. Think back to when you were a child and mum said those dreaded words, “Clean your room.” I know I didn’t like hearing those words – I mean in my mind, my room was clean! So what if there were toys on the floor, or paper and crayons all over the desk, and clothes scattered about; to me it was clean – I knew where everything was because I left it there! I didn’t see any dirt – well, maybe on my pants that were on the floor, but then if I could wear shorts my pants wouldn’t have gotten dirty! Mum’s message, however, wasn’t so much about the earth’s components being found inside the house as it was about being tidy and neat. Her definition of “clean” was different than mine.
Of course, as we get older and as time has passed, communication has become even more complicated. Yes, we have all sorts of communication devices at our fingertips these days, and the speed at which we communicate has been enhanced from the speed of sound (voices) to the speed of light (data transmission through fiber optics and such), but we still have trouble getting our meaning across from one person to the next due to interference – not just electronic interference, but language differences, physical and emotional barriers, and just by the fact that we are each individuals with our own history that forms how we see and interpret the things of this world, including interpersonal communication.
In relating to our Gospel today – as well as the next few Sundays – we are treated to the third of Matthew’s discourses given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew; in fact, the Gospel readings over the next few weeks will consist of the entire 13th Chapter of Jesus’ teaching discourse. In it, Jesus will offer several parables to illustrate for His listeners what he means by the kingdom of heaven. Each of us will have a different interpretation of the kingdom (and maybe even of how to get there…), and that’s just the point: Jesus is going to teach us, just as He did the people gathered around him two thousand years ago. And this week not only do we get the parable, but Jesus also gives us (through the recording of His private discussion with His disciples) the meaning behind it. He doesn’t leave much room for personal interpretation but does give us the information upon which to reflect and apply His teaching to our life.
Yet, what is interesting is that when Jesus is talking to the crowd, the focus is on the soil and where the seeds fall. But when He discusses it with His disciples, the emphasis changes from the soil to the sower; in fact, Jesus titles the parable when He says, “Hear then the parable of the sower.” The message about the kingdom is the same; no differences among the seeds are noted. But the result in each case is very different depending upon how the message is received. Of course, Jesus wants us to be like good soil in which the seed can bear abundant fruit – that’s an easy message to get. But we are also sowers – we broadcast the seeds each and every time we represent ourselves to others. How we broadcast those seeds is just as important for us as to where those seeds land. A sower of seed tries to make sure that his or her efforts at broadcasting the seeds aren’t interfered with by the wind or other conditions that would block the seeds reaching the ground. For you and me, our words, actions, body language, and so on have an effect on those seeds being sown – the wind if you will. If we’re sending a message of God’s love and mercy, but not practicing charity toward others in our speech and goodwill toward others by our actions, then these “winds” will interfere with the broadcasting of Christ’s message to others. As such, how we sow is as important as what we sow. And that is our Christian mission: to sow the seeds of the Gospel to everyone we meet, and to do so with as little outside interference as possible.
May God continue to bless us, protect us, and have mercy on us.
Ernest Shackleton set out on an expedition to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. In Shackleton’s words, the “one great main object of Antarctic journeyings” was that which was attempted by Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen’s 1911 epic feat of endurance, but ultimately failed. Shackleton wasn’t a stranger to the wilds of the Antarctic; he had been on two previous missions but this time was doing it as the leader with the backing of the British government and some important financial backers such as the National Geographic Society. He had secured a crew of mixed personalities with varied experience, bought and set sail aboard the aptly named Endurance, a wooden sailing vessel strengthened to do battle with a harsh enemy: thick sea ice. In an attempt to be there before the southern hemisphere summer started (with average summer temperature being -4F degrees, and winter -76F), Shackleton and crew set sail in 1914 just as World War I broke out.
The Endurance became beset in the ice of the Weddell Sea before reaching its destination in Vahsel Bay. It drifted for days, headed northward and held secure in crushing pack ice. The men, including teams of stout dogs, survived through the winter of 1915 on what little provisions they had supplemented with seal meat (when they could find a seal), and tried not to get too depressed in the long and near-endless nights of an Antarctic winter. Eventually the ship was crushed by the pressure of the ice and sunk, stranding the 28-man team on the ice. After months spent in makeshift camps as the ice continued to drift northward, the party set sail in lifeboats and landed on inhospitable Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean from which another sailing was undertaken. Eight men made the 800-mile open-boat journey to reach South Georgia, an island chain far to the south of Argentina that was an outpost whaling station for Great Britain. From South Georgia, a rescue operation was undertaken to get the remaining men off Elephant Island. Miraculously, there was no loss of life on this adventure.
I tell this tale because one must wonder if Ernest Shackleton had known about the hardship and failure of his mission, would he have attempted it? Of course the explorer mindset of which Shackleton’s spirit certainly consisted finds such adventures appealing, but knowledgeable of the expense of both time and money, hardship and pain, and years of work only to fail to obtain the objective, would he (or anyone) go through with it?
As with Sir Shackleton (who was knighted for his exploration and perseverance for the Crown), one could also wonder if Jesus’ disciples really knew what they were going to face, would they have done it? In the Gospel today, Jesus alludes to the dangers and persecutions that the disciples will face in their mission. Many people will not receive them well, and even family members will turn away from them because of their commitment to Jesus and the kingdom. In the Gospel passage, Jesus might be understood as putting suffering in perspective. The disciples of Jesus are called upon to keep their focus on God, even in the face of such hardships. Jesus comments that those who can harm the body do not have ultimate power; God does. Still, persecution and suffering cannot be avoided or prevented, but Jesus reassures His disciples that God knows and cares about what happens to His children.
We might not face the same type of persecution and hatred as did the disciples, but we do experience difficulties as we endeavor to live a Christian life – a life that is akin to that of the great explorers like Shackleton and so many others. We Christians are on an adventure and are seeking treasure that we have been promised; it’s out there, way out there, and we have never seen it, but still desire to go there. Our barriers in this day and age may not be the extreme and bitter cold of an Antarctic winter, but we are in an age where there is cold and bitterness towards us Christians, and we might even get caught up in a drifting “ice flow” of modernism and relativism that leads us away from the Truth. As did that adventurous team on Elephant Island, and as did that small group of disciples in the desert landscape of the Middle East some 2000 years ago, you and I need to set sail from this desolate and inhospitable world, mount a rescue team, and bring God to recover and reclaim our Catholic faith and countless souls for God.
We have one thing that Sir Earnest didn’t get from the world: we have the reassurance and promise that God cares for us and protects us. Let us go and bring God to our fellow human beings who await rescue – their lives (and ours) depend on it.
May God continue to bless us, protect us, and have mercy on us.
Once called Corpus Christi (Latin for “Body of Christ”), the solemnity that we celebrate today has been retitled the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – not to be wordy, but to expand the event being celebrated to better reflect our Eucharistic theology. Since the 13th century, there has been a great desire in the Church to hold the Blessed Sacrament in a moment of adoration, worship, and contemplation. The feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated in Liege, Belgium, in 1246 and was extended to the universal Church by Pope Urban IV. Think of it: to this day and age, reverence of the Blessed Sacrament has been carried on somewhere in the world for nearly 800 years.
For us, this celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a joyful celebration of the abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In some places, the day is marked by a procession of the Eucharist and for our parish, while we won’t be engaged in a procession per se, what we do have is perpetual adoration and today we are blessed to welcome over 20 people for their First Holy Communion and Confirmation and join us in the fullness of the sacramental life of the Church.
Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament flows from the heart of the Mass, the re-presentation of the action of Jesus on the night before He died. During the Last Supper, Jesus took ordinary bread and wine, blessed them, and gave of Himself in the sacramental signs of bread and wine His Body and Blood. In His words and actions, Jesus pre-figured the greatest action of all: the offering of Himself on the Cross. As Catholics, we believe and re-present this sacred action in obedience to Him as was his command “Do this in memory of me” (Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
This “re-membering” is a dynamic activity of all who believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The worship of God, which we offer through this sacred action, is not merely “the work of human hands” as is mentioned in the preparation of the gifts – the raising of our minds and hearts to God is certainly an important element of our worship. But it is the prayer of Jesus Christ Himself into which we are drawn which offers true worship to God. This is what lies at the heart of the transfiguration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord.
This transfiguration is foreshadowed by one of the most moving scenes in the Gospel of St John: the Transfiguration of Jesus. Right before their eyes, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus be transformed; right before our eyes, when we are attuned to what is happening on the altar, bread and wine are also “transformed” for us. And like the disciples who wanted to hold on to that moment of contemplation (“Lord, let us make three tents (tabernacles) here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4)), so do we desire to remain within the moment. For them – and indeed for us at Mass – it is a moment of ecstasy to be in His transformed and transfigured Presence.
Like every moment of ecstasy, we want to hold on to it; but as we know, time moves on. We have to return to the “ordinary” things of this life. Yet we have in our churches around the world the “reserve,” the Real Presence. And for some parishes like Blessed Sacrament, we have Him visible in the Adoration Chapel so that we can once again participate in the ecstasy of being with Him. The feast we celebrate today – and every day that we participate in the Holy Mass – is a special opportunity for a “transfiguration moment” for us as we contemplate the abiding presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Brothers and sisters, please pray for our people who have today joined us in the fullness of the faith, and who will help us take His Presence into the world and transform the world into His image and likeness.
Every flight attendant who has been flying for more than a few years will have stories about certain flights or events that they will remember for a lifetime. I recall flying with a wonderful flight attendant named Verna; she had an Egyptian father and a German mother. Needless to say, Verna was quite beautiful with her Middle-Eastern features, dark skin and crystal blue eyes. But not only was she beautiful on the outside, she had a heart to match.
Anyway, on this particular flight (known as a “round-robin” in our airline culture) from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Wyoming, to Idaho Falls and back to Salt Lake City, these flight were usually full – Jackson is a popular destination year round. As this particular trip was during the summer, the weather around Jackson can be quite “rough” – both in that the summer heat combined with the Grand Teton mountains cause some incredible turbulence, but the winds and thunderstorms boil up in what seems like minutes. This was the case on this mid-July afternoon as we approached Jackson.
Verna and I were in the back galley of our 737-300 and being tossed around like clothes in a dryer as we were struggling to put the incredibly heavy and horribly designed beverage cart away to prepare for landing. The aircraft got caught in a violent down-draft and both of us, and that dreadful cart, became airborne – weightless like the astronauts – as the aircraft descended thousands of feet in seconds. Suddenly and violently, Verna, the cart and I “fell” to the floor as the aircraft was caught in a fierce updraft. Needless to say, the passengers on the full flight were a “bit” freaked out to say nothing of the cabin attendants. When stabilized, both Verna and I grabbed strategically placed handles as we were being tossed around again. That’s when I saw Verna make the Sign of the Cross – and I did the same. I said to her, “Are you Catholic?” She replied, “No, but I’ve seen it in movies and figure it can only help.”
So, on this Trinity Sunday, I thought it might be good to review that most-Catholic practice of “making” the Sign of the Cross. It’s fun to teach it to little kids – they like to dip into the holy water and perform it – even if it is backwards. Of course there’s the recollection of our baptismal promises in the Signing – and the words that were used at our baptism: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We often start our prayers with it – before a meal (do you do it when you go out to eat???), pray the Rosary, genuflect before the Tabernacle when entering a pew, and so on. It is used when things are blessed, and when we are blessed. And like Verna, in times of a bit of stress or distress, we make the Sign of the Cross as a comfort and recollection of our faith. In and of itself, the Sign of the Cross is a quick, wonderful prayer of faith.
Whenever we make the Sign of the Cross, we are recalling a central mystery of our faith. This mystery expresses what we believe about God: “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” as the beautiful traditional hymn says. And at the heart of our understanding of the Holy Trinity is the confidence that God not only loves us, but that God is love. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are bound together by love, the same love that is extended to us as God’s creation.
The Gospel today talks about why and how God acts. We come to know who God is by what God does for us. God sent His Son to save the world because God so loved the world. The Holy Spirit has been given to us so that we might believe that God loves us (recall the gifts of the Spirit and the five “intellectual” gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, and knowledge) and wants to give us eternal life (recall the spiritual gifts: piety and fear of God). Practically speaking, at the close of the evening before bedtime, or perhaps after dinner with the family gathered around, it is good to reflect on how the Trinity has been present in your life during the day…not necessarily what you’ve been given, but how the Trinity has impacted your actions and words during the day.
When we landed in Jackson, Verna and I immediately opened the doors to let in the fresh mountain air and to help passengers breathe again! (Jackson didn’t have enclosed jet-bridges; everyone had to use stairs – the best way to board/exit a plane!) When I asked the first officer what had happened, he said that they were struggling with the airplane to get it free of the rapidly developing thunderstorm’s wind shear. At one point, he let it slip that the warnings in the flight deck were sounding off with “Pull up! Pull up!” meaning we were close to the ground, even though he couldn’t see out the window because of the weather. As I said, the mountains were surrounding us. The pilot did say, however, “My hands were frozen to the controls, so I had to mentally make the Sign of the Cross.” I asked him, “Are you Catholic?” He said, “Yes, and much more so now!”
My first real job after graduating from university was working for a bank (actually a savings and loan – remember those?) and within nine months was promoted to the training and development department which I so enjoyed. After a year of developing and conducting skills development workshops for the employees, I was again promoted to train new branch managers. This created some interesting situations because, at the age of 24, some of the people I was training were all “senior” in age to me – and some of them let me know it.
On occasion, I would send my “fledglings” of management trainees (most of whom had no previous banking experience, but did have good management experience) out on their own for a week into the branch offices to be without me hovering over them. It was good strategy as they would have to use their training to function with the branch employees and customers in various environments from the super busy branches in Smitty’s (see, I’m dating myself!) to the quiet branches in Sun City with a wealthy and demanding clientele.
One day I went to visit a branch in which two of the trainees (one of which let me know that I was too young for the job I was doing…) were stationed and as it so happened, it was closing time and they were “out of balance” in their cash drawer. And not just a little: they were short $18,000! They were having significant difficulty in finding the error or errors and the company policy was that you didn’t “close out” until the error was located. They were in a panic because they didn’t want to tell the branch manager for fear of “looking dumb” or perhaps receive a reprimand, nor did they want the other tellers know that they had “messed up” – which they had done in grand style. When I walked in they said, “Oh, thank God, you’re here. Now we know everything is going to be alright.”
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after His Resurrection, His first words to them were a greeting of peace. This was certainly welcome news to the disciples as they were huddled together in a room and were in fear of what might happen to them because they were His disciples and might also be put to death. They may have had a similar reaction as did my trainees: “Oh, thank God you’re here.”
The Feast of Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ first disciples, and that same Spirit is with us today. Significantly, after breathing upon them and giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives them something very important to do: forgive sins. Just as Jesus sent his disciples to forgive the sins of others, so too are we sent to bring peace to the world and also to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us.
All of us have been on both sides of that equation: others have hurt us, but we also have hurt others. We know that forgiving takes work, a lot of hard work sometimes. But we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us with that task, just as did the disciples. It is in the forgiveness of sins that we can bring peace to the world – even if it just our small part of the world.
So, what happened to the $18,000 error? It was a series of computer entry errors on their part. But this young trainer made it a point to his trainees about being careful to not be afraid to ask for help, to reiterate that their training on how to read the “journal tape” (that shows each transaction and how to decode it was an important part of their training – and was not just for “young people” to know, and that age doesn’t reflect ability or for that matter, inability. Both of these two trainees went on to be very good managers for the company. I accepted their “apology” in my heart, even if it wasn’t spoken publicly.
Let us thank God for the many gifts He has given us, especially for the gift of the Holy Spirit – and for the people who have listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and have come into the Church on its “birthday.”
Last week I offered an experience from a teacher’s point of view. Guess what. Here’s another.
As one of the department leaders in the high school, the end of the year was bittersweet. Yes, as all teachers know, the end of the year is a joyous occasion as the promise of a summer break looms ever so sweetly. But to get there, after the graduation ceremony and cleaning out our rooms, we had one event that was most dreaded: the Leadership Workshop. It was a three-day intensive meeting to determine what our “mission” would be for the upcoming year; it took two and a half days of the three to do that, with addressing the calendar (which for most people in attendance was the most important) was at the end. What did we work on? The school’s mission statement. For us, it was death – death by mission statement. And those three days were an eternity.
In corporate culture, the mission statement is probably the most outdated corporate invention of the last thirty years, and I would say that it really isn’t any different in education. The problem is that so many people are so intent on conforming to politically correct positions that they fail to communicate; they simply regurgitate current buzz words and offer blinding glimpses of the obvious. Here’s an example, and I have replaced the name of the school so as to not attract any undo ire: “The Grey High School Learning Centre will foster a passion for learning and empower each student to become a productive citizen in today’s global society that creates a culture of encouragement and pride. Every student. Every day.” All I can say is, duhhhh! It get’s worse: somebody had to write the 34-page handbook that goes with it!
The generic features of the old mission statement have been replaced in these days with a new process that has divided the statement into three sections:
1. A Purpose Statement: this sentence clearly states what the organization seeks to accomplish.
2. A Business Statement: this sentence outlines the activities and programs the organization chooses in order to pursue its purpose.
3. A Values Statement: the wording here identifies the beliefs that guide the work of the organization.
Let’s use this process and compare it to what we read in today’s Gospel taken from the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is giving His disciples a commission (a title often used for this Gospel is “the Final Commission”) and He is quite direct in what He is asking, or more to the point, telling, His closest companions to do: go and “make disciples of all nations.”
Jesus had previously prepared His disciples for this mission. Recall that Jesus had sent the Twelve to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal people of whatever ails them (cf. Matthew 10:1-15). The difference between that event and this “Final Commission” is that previously they were sent to the House of Israel; now the Eleven are told to go to all “nations.” The mission of Jesus is now to be taken to all people; and the task is to teach and to baptize in the name of the Trinity.
Now, I don’t recall in Scripture anywhere where Jesus sat down in a three day Leadership Workshop and asked His Apostles to come up with a Mission Statement. The fact is, He gave it to them. Let’s see how Jesus did with the three “new” statements I noted above:
1. Purpose Statement: Jesus told them “to make disciples of all nations.”
2. Business Statement: Jesus told them to “teach and baptize.”
3. Values Statement: He told them to do so “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Well done. Short, succinct, and clear. What Jesus gave them is the job of the new “Church” and it remains so today. No need to annually review and revise Jesus’ statements.
You and I are part of His Church, and you and I have been given the same “Mission Statement” as were the Eleven. By this mission statement we won’t experience death, but life – life in Him for all eternity.
God’s blessings and peace,
As a teacher, to advance on the salary scale, it was necessary to complete a certain amount of professional hours each year to not only maintain qualification to teach, but to spend time, effort and money to “move over” on the salary scale. (The odd thing was is that it took more money to “move over” on the scale than the money you would receive from actually moving over!) Anyway, I chose to get my Masters’ Degree in Educational Leadership (as it fit with my Business Management undergraduate degree) as a way to “move over” even though I had no desire to be a principal. The principal of a school is a thankless job – when you need to make a decision, someone will be mad at you: the student, the parent, or the teacher (and mention any other special interest group: the Board, parent’s group, coaches, etc.). It’s a no win situation and that’s because each entity (student, parent, teacher, and so on…) is an advocate in some way: the student advocates for his or her action (even if it was a dumb thing s/he did – they don’t want to get in trouble), the parent is an advocate for their child (as it should be – but maybe the little cherub shouldn’t be given an “A” on that paper that was copied and pasted from the internet, even if the parent thinks so…), and the teacher is (hopefully) an advocate for the student, or at least an advocate for the subject matter and the need to learn to read, write, and do math (yes, even math is important – maybe not calculus for everyone, but that’s a different discussion!) Anyway, the point is that we all advocate for ourselves, and sometimes we have advocates for our self.
In a continuation of last week’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for their change in reality: the Passion is looming after their participation in the meal in which they are celebrating together. Jesus uses the term Advocate to describe the Holy Spirit whom He will send to them. Another term used to describe the Holy Spirit is Paraclete, a legal term meaning “one who offers defense for another.” Jesus says that he will send “another Advocate” other than himself (who defends our cause before the Father); Jesus Himself is the First Advocate, so it is only right that He would send another Advocate since He (Jesus) will be sitting at the right hand of the Father.
There’s a bit of contrast in the situation: everyone in that room where they are enjoying a last meal together is hearing about impeding change, a disruption to their lives and the way of “doing business.” Yet Jesus is letting them know that there will be something permanent, that someone will be with them through it all: the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit – the Advocate – that the disciples (and us, through Baptism) will continue to live in union with Jesus.
It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that the disciples will come to know and appreciate the unity of the Son and the Father. They will also understand that they too participate in the communion between the Father and the Son: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (John 14:20). Today’s reading is one example of the contrast that John’s Gospel presents between the community of disciples to whom God will reveal himself and the unbelieving world. The unbelieving world cannot accept the “Spirit of truth” whom the disciples will receive, and whom we will receive through the Sacraments. It is only through the Spirit that God’s revelation and love can and will be known.
May the Holy Spirit continue to work through all of us to bring others to know and love God the way we believers do.
God’s blessings and peace,
Years ago there was a series on the History Channel entitled The Presidents. I do enjoy American history, and while this program wasn’t an in-depth look at each of the men who have occupied the White House, it did start with President George Washington and (at that time) through President George W. Bush. (I did a bit of research, and the series is available on DVD and has been updated to include President Obama.) I thought at the time that it offered a good portrait of the leaders of the nation as it expressed both triumphs and failures in a generally objective manner. The personal lives, legacies, and powerful personalities of these Commanders in Chief who have guided America throughout its history certainly played a role in their leadership style and developed a rapport not just with the American people, but the world as well, in one way or another. Some were more successful than others, but that’s the nature of leadership.
When we think of Christian leaders, the same mix of personality, temperament, and style come into play. Certainly the Pontiff would be put on a list of Christian leaders, but others would be added to the list: the Reverends Dr Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, as well as Martin Luther, etc., all the way back to Sts Peter and Paul and the other Apostles. And of course, Jesus Christ, lest we forget him! I Googled “Christian Leadership” and was quite amused at what popped up in the lists of the characteristics of a “good/great Christian leader.” Here are five that made most lists, in an order that I assembled, ranked in a “best fit” of the results of my search:
“Great leaders lead.” This statement can be summarized as intentionally moving toward a clear and compelling objective and inspiring others to move “with you.”
“Great leaders model.” Most agreed that it is important for the leader to not be a hypocrite in their life – the “Do as I say and not what I do” type of thinking.
“Great leaders pray.” While this seems obvious, I wondered why this wasn’t first or second on most of the lists?
“Great leaders learn.” The summation of this characteristic had much to do with humility – in other words, leaders don’t think they know everything and are aware of what they don’t know, and surround themselves with those who do know about a particular subject.
“Great leaders love.” Again, I was wondering why this one was down the list on most of these reports. Wasn’t this the “greatest commandment” and the basis of the second commandment of Jesus? Seems to me this should be at the top!
And so this brings me to the Gospel reading for this weekend. What was the relationship between the shepherd (the Good Shepherd) and his sheep? “Good” Christian leaders have a “good” relationship with Jesus, first and foremost. They know the Shepherd’s voice (Scripture and in prayer) and faithfully follow Him. And while the shepherd (a Christian leader) may not be the most charismatic, or the greatest speaker, or the greatest singer, etc., a good Christian shepherd (leader) enters the sheepfold through the Gate (Jesus) and cares for his flock despite his shortcomings.
Now, don’t think I’m only talking about the pope, bishop, or parish priest. A Christian leader is anyone and everyone who has been baptized. Through baptism we are the “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9, RSV). So, where do you lead? At home, at work, at school, on the playground, in the store, driving on the roadway, etc. You are a leader charged with bringing others (family, co-workers, fellow students, etc.) into the sheepfold by your life of love, prayer, and focus on Christ and your words and testimony about your faith. Today’s Gospel gives us the opportunity to reflect on Christian leadership and that the leaders (you and me) will be known by our faithfulness to Jesus. We recognize that Jesus is the gate for all of the sheep and that having a good relationship with Him is the primary characteristic of a Christian leader.
I pray for you and your family and friends to glory in the Risen Christ.
Georges Seurat’s painting “Sunday Afternoon on Le Grande Jatte” (1884) was labeled “bedlam,” “scandal,” and “hilarity” by critics of the day when first exhibited in Paris. Now, over a hundred years later, it is considered one of his greatest works and one of the most remarkable paintings of the nineteenth century. With what resembles scientific precision, Seurat tackled the issues of colour, light, and form by using tiny dabs of colours that, through optical blending, for a single and as Seurat believed, brought a more brilliantly luminous hue to his work. It is a piece of art that, like all great master-pieces, continues to fascinate the viewer.
I offer this painting as a reference to what was accounted for in our Gospel reading. From a distance, when looking at “Sunday Afternoon on Le Grande Jatte” it isn’t possible to see all of the “dots” that make up the painting – the subject matter is recognizable – it’s easy to make out the people, trees, and water feature, but it isn’t until one comes closer that the viewer recognizes the composition of each subject – the dabs. Someone who wanders by the painting without considering it closely might be forgiven for thinking it a bit of a dull or fuzzy depiction of life of a bygone era. But it is on considering it and peering into the characters and landscape that appreciation for the art and artist come to light.
Consider our Gospel today – certainly a familiar story to us who know of the Road to Emmaus from Luke’s Gospel. It’s a bit surprising that these friends of Jesus could walk and converse with him at some length yet not recognize him. It’s yet another account that the risen Jesus was not always recognizable (remember Mary of Magdala thought He was the gardener?) and in this case, Cleopas and the other disciple walk with a person whom they believe to be a stranger who is uninformed about the recent events.
Looking deeper into the story – as we would do with Seurat’s painting – some of the “dots” become a bit more important than what we see from a distance. We could consider the story of the Road to Emmaus as reflecting the Sunday Mass, for example. Consider that there is a gathering at the beginning: the friends of Jesus are on a journey and He comes to be in their midst. The men are invited to share their experience and interpretation of the events that had just occurred just as we who have gathered and kneel or sit in the pew to reflect on our lives before we begin the Mass. Jesus then offered his own interpretation of his crucifixion and resurrection, citing Jewish Scripture in doing so. For us, we encounter our Lord when we break open the Word of God in the part of the Mass known as the Liturgy of the Word.
In the next part of the Gospel, we find a model for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus is invited to stay with his friends and it is during the “meal” in which they share in the breaking of the bread that the disciple’s eyes are opened; in “the breaking of the bread” we too discover Jesus in our midst. Eventually the disciples recount their experiences to the other disciples just as we are sent from our Eucharistic gathering to share our love and faith with others.
As with Seurat’s masterful artistry, we can find so much more detail in sacred Scripture when we sit with it and ponder it. Of course our limited abilities won’t allow us to see “all of the dots” in God’s grand design, but we’ll not see any if we don’t take a closer look.
I pray for you and your family and friends to glory in the Risen Christ.
As a high school math teacher, I was fortunate to work with students who were known as “at risk.” I say I was fortunate because I really was – I enjoyed helping them gain some confidence in their ability to be able to do math problems and solve equations, and while they may have started the class “hating math,” hopefully by the end that softened a bit – maybe they didn’t love it, but at least they didn’t “hate” it.
Math is a very humbling subject – there IS a right answer; and there are limitless wrong answers. In English class, for example, there could be many interpretations to a story or motive or character, but math was “a different story” so to speak. For many students I worked with, it was necessary to get them over the “math anxiety” and help them discover that they could, in fact, “do” math and once they had success (even if it was below grade level), then I could begin the process of helping them discover new subjects and ways of doing things – to graduate, if you will, from basic math to algebra and geometry. It was great to be there for the “A-ha!” moment when they “got it.”
We don’t always understand things that happen – be it a subject in school, why a relationship ends – or starts for that matter, or why someone gets sick or survives given impossible odds. All of this brings me to the point with the action in our Gospel and what we celebrate today: The Resurrection of our Lord. In our readings for Easter Sunday, we encounter several people who have a hard time understanding what was happening. The empty tomb is encountered by women; in John’s Gospel, it’s Mary of Magdala. She isn’t quite sure about it all, and runs to Simon Peter and “the beloved disciple” for support. Her statement indicates how she processed the information: she figured that the body of Jesus had been stolen not even considering the possibility that He had risen from the dead. Simon Peter and the beloved disciple race to the tomb and arriving first, the beloved disciple does not enter until after Simon Peter. By reference, and considered by theologians is that the body was in fact not stolen because the burial cloths remained; if the body had been stolen, it would seem logical that the cloths would have gone with the body.
The Gospel passage concludes, however, that even having seen the empty tomb and burial cloths, the disciples did not yet understand about the Resurrection – they didn’t have that “A-ha!” moment at which Jesus’ teachings and prophecy could be understood. In the passage that follows, Mary of Magdala meets Jesus, but mistakes him for the gardener. In the weeks ahead, the readings will show us how the disciples came to believe in the Resurrection through Jesus’ appearances to them.
For most of us, it’s a similar path. We’re presented the faith early in our lives, but as we progress through time, we come to parts of it that we really don’t understand. We may have little “A-ha!” moments along the way, and these help us to graduate to the next level of understanding. The problem is, however, if we stop searching. I could get the kids in math class to “search” for the right answer – the problem was when they gave up in searching (trying) for the solution. Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter, and the beloved disciple didn’t stop searching for the answer – so why would we? Now that we’ve come to the Easter Season (Eastertide) for the next 50 days, let us enjoy the history lessons from the Acts of the Apostles and Jesus’ attempts to inspire His disciples in their faith and work. Even though discouraged at times, they never gave up. And neither should we.
I pray for you and your family and friends to glory in the Risen Christ.
Obedience. It’s not an easy thing for us humans. We are introduced to it from the very beginning – at birth, we get a rap on the bum and if we are obedient, we cry and fill our lungs with air for the first time. From then on, we might even associate obedience with a bit of pain. The “terrible twos” seem to be all about obedience – we’ve learned what the word “no” means and usually it has to do with not doing what we want, but what our parents want. And of course by the time we get to our teens, we struggle with doing chores around the house, the homework we’ve been assigned, and having to stay home when we would rather be out with our friends. But it doesn’t end there – there is our boss at work, even our spouse at home: those famous word, “Yes, dear” become (or should become) our mantra.
Today, we begin Holy Week, the days during which we journey with Jesus on His way of the cross and anticipate His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Normally, the liturgy begins with the blessing and procession of palms to recall Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. It was all done in obedience.
The events of Jesus’ Passion are proclaimed in their entirety in the Liturgy of the Word, and will again be proclaimed when we celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week. While normally the catechumens and the community would be together at the Easter Vigil, we will still have the opportunity to enter together into the central mysteries of our Catholic faith.
This year’s cycle of readings on Palm Sunday gives us the Passion of Jesus as found in Matthew’s Gospel. (Good Friday is always read from the Passion as accounted for in St. John’s Gospel.) In Matthew’s Gospel we find particular notice of Jesus’ obedience to the will of the His Father. As Jesus sends his disciples to prepare for the Passover celebration, he indicates that the events to come are the will of the Father (26:18); Jesus in particular prays three times to the Father while in the garden to take away the “cup of suffering,” but each time Jesus concludes by affirming his obedience to the Father’s will (26:39-44). Matthew’s description of Jesus’ death continues to show His obedience to the Father.
Throughout the Passion narrative, and related to obedience, Matthew alludes to Scripture to show that the events of Jesus’ Passion and death are in accordance with all that was foretold in Scripture. Since the foretelling was in Sacred Scripture, and the reader is well aware of the telling in the narrative that Jesus is the Suffering Servant of the Old Testament, we certainly can know that God is in control of the situation with His Son. Jesus acts in obedience to the Father even in death, so that sins may be forgiven. Matthew makes this clear in the story of the Lord’s Supper as Jesus blesses the chalice and says, “…for this is My Blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins (26:28).
A reader of the Passion can find many parallels between the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, but there are a few details worth noting found only in Matthew’s Gospel. Only Matthew indicates the price paid to Judas for betraying Jesus, as is the story of Judas’ death. Also unique is the account of Pilate’s wife and her dream regarding the situation as well as the telling of Pilate washing his hands over the whole thing. Matthew also includes an earthquake and other phenomena that happened after Jesus’ death.
There are many vantage points from which to engage in the Passion of Jesus. The characters are reflections of ourselves and the many ways in which we sometimes respond to Jesus. There are times we are like Judas who betrays Jesus, and yet come to regret it. We can be like Peter, who denied Him, or like the disciples who fell asleep (avoiding a neighbor in need) at Jesus’ darkest hour, but then act indignant at injustice (as did the disciples who made rash decisions and acted in violence). Sometimes we are like Simon, pressed into service to help another person carry their cross, and we may, at times, be like the leaders who fear Jesus simply for what he asks, does, and teaches. There are people who, like Pilate, wash their hands of the faith, or perhaps even of the whole human experience. But through it all, those of us with faith know why Jesus died – it was for you and me for the forgiveness of our sins.
These events of Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection have a special word in their grouping: mystery. They are called the Paschal Mystery because no amount of study or reflection will exhaust or explain the depth of love that Jesus showed in offering such a sacrifice for us. But the hope is that we never give up pondering such a mystery, and what Jesus’ obedience has won for us.
As we journey through Holy Week, even though we are separated from the beautiful liturgies in a physical way, they are still presented for you to engage in them, body and soul, so that the mystery can continue when we are together again.
May God continue to bless us all.
The words “I believe” are actually a statement of faith. These two words are quite common in everyday life and can say much about a person if we listen closely. For example, Sven might say, “I believe that a Volvo is the safest car on the road.” For him, such a belief may be from personal experience of having been in an accident and he was “protected” by the car’s safe design and systems or he may have come to this belief because of research or advertising. However he came to his belief, it is difficult to change his belief because, in some way, he identifies himself with the product. Of course, Ingrid may not have the same belief as Sven but regardless of her belief, she knows what Sven believes simply because of his statement, “I believe.”
In our Gospel, Jesus has a conversation with Martha who tells Him that she believes in resurrection. Her response shows great faith, affirming her belief in eternal life and Jesus’ connection to this promised salvation. We, too, make this profession of faith every Sunday or whenever we pray the Nicene Creed.
As Catholics, we have two Creeds: the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Both say essentially the same thing with the Nicene Creed being more elaborative in its profession; it was developed at the Council of Nicea to counteract some heresy that had developed at the time. The Creed is a summary of what we believe as Christians and when we pray the Creed with the Church community, we are affirming our commitment to the beliefs stated in it. Recall that two weeks ago the catechumens were presented with the Nicene Creed; today, they present to us their faith by reciting it back to us.
Back to the scene in the Gospel, we find another confrontation between the leaders and Jesus; there is growing animosity toward Jesus and many do not want to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He tells the people to look to his works that testify to his coming from God; and for this, they want to stone him.
Into this scene, Mary and Martha – the sisters of Lazarus – send word to Jesus that his friend is ill. Jesus delays his journey and this heightens the drama. But there is a purpose in the delay, and that delay allows Jesus to show His obedience to God who is to be glorified in the unfolding events, specifically through Lazarus’ resurrection. When Jesus finally declares that he will go to Bethany, his disciples fear for his life. Thomas declares that he and the other disciples should prepare to die with Jesus. But are they?
The scene described at Bethany is a sad one. A weeping Martha meets Jesus saying that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Yet Martha remains confident that God will do whatever Jesus asks and affirms her belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead in the last days. Mary confesses the same confidence, saying that Jesus could have cured Lazarus. Jesus asks to be brought to Lazarus’ tomb where he prays and calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Some come to believe; some turn and take the story to the authorities who then begin their plan for His death.
Set in this backdrop of Jesus’ impending death, many elements of the raising of Lazarus foreshadow the good news of Jesus’ own Resurrection. Jesus, facing the conflict with the Jewish authorities, acts in complete obedience to God. In raising Lazarus, Jesus shows his power over death so that when Jesus dies, those who believe in him might remember that and take hope. Just as Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb, so too will the disciples find the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.
We’re over half way in the Lenten Season. May you be strengthened by God’s grace to continue your journey to the Day of the Resurrection.
When I finished my university studies, the economy wasn’t in too good of shape so jobs were a bit difficult to come by – especially for a university graduate. I did get a job in a large bank with many branch offices and eventually was promoted into the training and development department. I very much enjoyed the work in that department and one of my favorite days was the day of new teller training in which the Director of Security would come into the classroom and stage a mock robbery. We used real money in the classroom (on that day) and so it seemed plausible that we could actually be subject to a robbery and the students would unwittingly see their instructor hand over his wallet or her purse as well as the money in the teller drawer. Of course the students were in a bit of a panic, but after the Director left the instructor would explain it was a drill. The instructor would have everyone write down what they saw. The variance in stories would be amazing, and it was a good lesson for all to understand how each person can have a different perspective on what had happened. Of course the Director would come back in and help the students gain an understanding of “situational awareness” and an appreciation for details. And yes, the real money would be returned and account for!
Today’s Gospel from John is full of details that make the story more meaningful – such is the case with all of Scripture. The healing of the man born blind invites us to focus on the physical, but there is also an important spiritual component in the aspects of sight and light.
In the first part of the Gospel, we hear Jesus’ response to a prevalent belief of the time (and to a certain extent even in this day and age) that misfortune and disability are the result of sin. That belief is why Jesus is asked the question of whose sin caused the man’s blindness – the man’s own sin or that of his parents’. Jesus does not answer directly, but instead gives the question an entirely different dimension: through this man’s disability, God’s power will be made manifest. Jesus heals the man, but this leads to another problem for the locals.
The healing is controversial because Jesus heals on the Sabbath. The Pharisees understood that the Law of Moses forbade work (including healing) on the Sabbath. They also have trouble believing that Jesus performed the miracle in the first place. To determine whether the man was really born blind, the Pharisees question him and his parents. The man challenges the leaders of the synagogue about their assessment of the good that Jesus had done and in turn they expel the man for questioning the leader’s judgment.
The final revelation and moment of enlightenment comes when the man born blind again encounters Jesus. Having heard the news of his expulsion, Jesus seeks out the healed man and reveals himself as the Son of Man. In this moment, the man born blind shows himself to be a man of faith and worships Jesus. Jesus replies by identifying the irony of the experience of many who encounter Jesus: those who are blind will now see (a non-believer, for example, who comes into the faith), and those who think they see will be found to be blind (perhaps a self-professed Christian who attends Sunday services but engages in gossip or judgment during the other days of the week).
As did last week’s Gospel reading about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, this week’s reading also has many allusions to Baptism. The washing of the man in the pool of Siloam is a prototype for Christian Baptism. Through the man’s encounter with Jesus, the man born blind is healed, his sight is restored, and his conversion to discipleship begins. The man born blind gradually comes to a greater understanding about who Jesus is and what it means to be His disciple, while the Pharisees (those who should see!) are the ones who remain blind.
When we encounter the Word of God, what is our “situational awareness”? As this reading shows us, there is much in the details of this account of an encounter with Christ that can help us be aware of our own situation. Just as the students in the teller training class learned to recall details of the incident, when we read or listen to Sacred Scripture, are we paying attention to what God is telling us and opening our eyes to His Glory?
We’re over half way in the Lenten Season. May you be strengthened by God’s grace to continue your journey to the Day of the Resurrection.
It seems like there is either too much water or not enough. Living in the part of New Zealand that I did, rain was a frequent companion. Often, all four seasons would be felt in any one day, and rain would be the largest share of the day. That’s why it is so green: it’s wet, and wet a lot. Getting 7 inches of rain in a day was not common, but it would happen once or twice a year in my “patch” (area). Rarely would there be floods, unless this would happen for a few days in a row.
Of course, living here in the desert, 7 inches of rain might be the total for the year (if we’re lucky!) And when it does rain, watch out: the drivers get crazy as the roads get slick and in the summer, steam even rises from the asphalt. But how the water here is managed is a marvel; it seems to take a few years of less than average rainfall to create drought conditions. In New Zealand, a drought occurs after just three weeks of no rain. Many people do have underground tanks that store rain water that falls off their roof in order to survive a month-long drought.
And, by the way, if you want to start a conversation with a Kiwi (a New Zealander), start talking about the weather. You’re guaranteed to talk for ten minutes!
The initial conversation between Jesus and the woman is better understood if we consider the importance of water, especially in the climate of Israel. At first, the woman understands Jesus’ promise of “living water” in the literal sense: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” With no running water, the daily trip to the well by the women of the community was of paramount importance. Of interest in the story is that the Samaritan woman came to the well during the hot part of the day; the women of the town would have travelled to the well in the early morning. The timing of her visit would indicate that she was an outcast within the Samaritan community. This is further confirmed because of her “many husbands,” a situation not tolerated even in the Samaritan community.
The woman also breaks with tradition – and it involves water. Jesus, also breaking tradition, engages the woman in a conversation by asking her for a drink of water. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” she queries. Not only does Jesus talk to her – in broad daylight – but he also asks to share her drinking vessel, an action that makes him unclean according to Jewish law.
Behind the conversation lies the animosity and rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans. Samaritans shared Jewish ancestry, but Samaritans had intermarried with foreigners when they lived under the rule of the Assyrians. Samaritan religion included worship of Yahweh, but was also influenced by the worship of other gods. When the Jews refused Samaritan help in building the Temple at Jerusalem, the Samaritans eventually built a temple for themselves at Mt. Gerizim, the same mountain mentioned by the woman at the well. Like the Jews, the Samaritans believed that a Messiah would come.
The high point of the conversation is when Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah. His answer to the Samaritan woman’s questions about worship is meant to predict a time when worshiping in truth and spirit will become the way to worship. After the conversation, the Samaritan woman becomes a disciple. Even though she is an outcast and not a Jew, she returns to her town to lead others to Jesus and to wonder whether she has found the Messiah. The Samaritan townspeople return with her to meet Jesus for themselves, and many are said to come to believe in him.
As do most encounters with Jesus, the significance of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has many levels. The first one is personal: the woman is herself converted to belief in Jesus as the Messiah because he knows her sin and speaks with her just the same. The second is social: having come to know Jesus as the Messiah, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist to her own people. And the third level of the story is educational: Jesus uses his encounter with the Samaritan woman to teach his disciples that God’s mercy is without limit. The disciples return from their shopping spree quite confused: how could He be not only talking to a Samaritan, but a woman at that!
The conversation of the Samaritan townspeople is a foretaste of the kind of open community that will be created among those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The significance of the well and the water is a call for us to reflect upon and to live deeply the promises of Baptism. It was at the well (and the woman’s request for the “living water”) that she was converted and sent on mission.
For us, who have been baptized, we have had hearts converted to God and we are sent on mission. We meet new people all the time who are in need of the “living water” of the well. Do we lead them to it by our words and actions? Perhaps with the remaining time in Lent, instead of focusing on what we have given up, perhaps it would be good to focus on what we can give.
May God continue to bless us all during the Lenten Season.
Endorsements are a tricky thing. If any of us still watch television, or listen to the radio, we often see or hear a celebrity endorsing a particular product or service. It lends credence to the product if the person is someone we have grown to trust.
Of course, it doesn’t always need to be a celebrity – and sometimes it is better that way. If, for example, we wanted to buy a car, and a friend has had one of the same brand we are considering, they might have some positive (or negative) influence on our purchase decision. It’s good to get some feedback from a trusted friend and we appreciate their opinion.
Sometimes we might be the one to give an endorsement – such as writing a letter of reference for someone applying for a job. Many prospective employers ask for both professional and personal references, and in both cases, providing a reference is directly related to our character and reputation. If the person we “referee” for turns out to be a good employee, then our reputation remains intact. But if the person doesn’t work out well, then our reputation could suffer if we refereed for someone whose character is questionable – especially if we know it beforehand – and it ends up being an issue with the employer.
In our Gospel reading, we move from Jesus’ retreat to the desert to His Transfiguration in which two other important figures return – a sort of endorsement, if you will. The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is told in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and follows Jesus’ first prediction of His death and teaching about the cost of discipleship. Jesus’ Transfiguration is a promise of His glory – His Resurrection.
The Transfiguration occurs in the presence of just three of Jesus’ disciples: Peter, James, and John. In Matthew’s Gospel, these three are among the first whom Jesus calls for mission. The three can be seen then as an “inner circle” amongst the disciples when Jesus asks them to accompany him to the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest. Again, there is a cost to discipleship, and just as when we provide a reference for someone, we must put our reputation on the line – but this time for Him.
But not only is the “inner circle” there on the mountain top, so to do Moses and Elijah appear. Having this “endorsement” connects this story with God’s relationship to the people of Israel. For them (and for us), Moses represents the Law (not being abolished, but fulfilled) and Elijah represents the Prophets who communicated God’s message to the people Israel.In all of this, today’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus is not an ordinary person – and neither is His message. Through the telling of these events, we are reminded to pay close attention to His teachings as He represents God’s complete Word. And that is something we can count on.
May God continue to bless us all during the Lenten Season.
I have always been an admirer of the natural world – the plants and animals and people and the natural processes that keep everything progressing from one season to the next, year after year, from one millennia to the next. I find inspiration in the sunrise and sunset, animals in the field and birds on the wing, and the frailty yet robustness of the human spirit. In all of it, I see God’s masterful hand that created it all out of love and for love.
It may sound silly, but I have found inspiration for much of my professional career – and priestly vocation – from the Canadian goose. Depending upon where we hail, we may have personally seen them fly in formation toward some distant destination. They fly with a singular focus – to reach their destination – but do so helping each other along the way. For example, when the leader of the V-formation gets tired or weak, another picks up and leads the gaggle. The one who tired from the journey isn’t cast off, but falls into another spot where the struggle is lessened by the draft of the geese still flying in formation. This imagery of flying together towards a goal has been an image that I have shared with staff and councils at Blessed Sacrament and is hopefully indicative of all of us – that we fly together toward our goal, Jesus Christ.
I share this with you as foundation for my vision of moving forward and working together to build up not only our parish, but the Body of Christ as well. Our parish has been through some significant changes and difficulties over the past several months and while important to acknowledge these issues, it is of greater importance that we look forward to the future, just as the geese do when flying in formation toward their destination. At a natural level, the geese instinctually know that they must move forward together; if they don’t, they would remain mired in a lake that will freeze over for the winter. The same is true for us – we must not remain locked in a lake of anger, animosity, or apathy; we must get ready to soar by flying together and support each other on the journey.
One issue that has mired our parish in the “lake” has been the response to the Safe Environment Training (SET) initiative put forward by Bishop Olmsted. With the understanding that not all agree with the vehicle put forward to verify individual backgrounds through the use of Social Security numbers, all of us would agree that it is important that all who function as volunteers on our campus must be of upstanding character to protect and serve those who are vulnerable to abuse of any sort, be it physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. With this understanding and in following our shepherd Bishop Olmsted, going forward from this day our parish will become part of the “formation” with the other parishes of the Diocese of Phoenix that require all clergy, staff, ministry volunteers, and leaders of clubs and organizations that function in some way on campus, as well as volunteers who are members of such ministries and groups who assist in activities and events as members of such clubs and ministries, to be SET compliant. As presented to the leaders and members of the various ministries and clubs that are part of our parish and who attended the presentations regarding SET that have been conducted over the past two weeks, we recognize a difference between a “volunteer” and a “participant” with regard to SET. A volunteer is someone who engages in an activity (for example serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or someone who calls out numbers at Bingo) as part of his or her ministry or group. A participant is someone who attends an event (such as Mass, Adoration, or plays Bingo) but does not function in any capacity during the event.
Many of us have seen or experienced the effects of the diocesan policy regarding SET, but we must recognize that this requirement has been determined by the Diocese, in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to be the most effective avenue in protecting all who venture onto our campus or into our midst, as well as protection for all who work and worship here. While not all are in agreement as to the procedure, those of us who attended the presentations heard about the success the Diocese and parishes have had in identifying people who are not suitable for ministry to or being around our vulnerable brothers and sisters. And while some of our wonderful volunteers have chosen not to continue in ministry or in clubs due to this requirement, we think no less of those who have personally chosen to withdraw from ministry or clubs and will welcome them back should they choose to become SET compliant. If you have any questions regarding SET, please contact our parish SET Coordinator, Mary Ann Bateman.
For our parish, we now an opportunity for others to join in ministry and clubs and organizations to help further and revitalize our mission to know, love, and serve our Lord, perhaps for the first time in a parish setting. There are many opportunities to volunteer, and it is our volunteers who give so much time, talent, and love in serving the Lord in the many and varied apostolates on campus. With our many volunteers, we are able to offer many services and events that wouldn’t be possible without their generosity in serving our Lord and one another. If you are not currently involved in “campus life” at Blessed Sacrament, please prayerfully consider what you can do to further our mission and serve or join with your fellow parishioners so that Blessed Sacrament can continue to be a place of safe refuge from the world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us form that flying “V” of victory over the temptations of the devil as Christ did in the desert. Let us come out of the cold water and gather together with our goal in focus: Jesus Christ.
May God continue to bless us all during the Lenten Season.