Tag Archives: Jesus

CORPUS CHRISTI, 2018

A former World War II GI said that, after jumping off the landing craft, he had to skip and hop to avoid the injured who were moaning on the sand; he had to run carefully around the bodies of the dead soldiers that had accumulated in large numbers on the beach at Normandy that fateful June 6, 1944. I was 13 years old at the time, surely not mature enough to realize the significance of the event.

It was the same GI who told of seeing a 19-year-old soldier get the brunt of an exploding shell and being left with a gaping hole in his hip, its white bones fragmented and jagged, protruding through flesh and skin. “Hang in there. You’ll be OK. They’ll send you back to England and then you’ll be shipped home. The war’s over for you.” And the young man answered with boyish innocence and manly courage, “You know, I didn’t intend to get injured.”

And so it is that we treat the body — the body of our fellow human beings, the body of family and nations and the world, the body of Christ. We maim and we kill, physically or emotionally, to keep the stranger, the different one, away — a much quicker solution than the awkward, challenging struggle toward reconciliation. Kill in the trenches, kill in the streets, kill even in the womb. Do away with the person. Leave a body, a body that cannot dialog, cannot assert itself. There’ll be more space then, more time, for us as bodies are removed.

What a tragic perversion of the mind and heart of Jesus! The body is a reflection of society: one body, many parts, many functions. Not one of them should go unhonored; all are necessary, useful, beautiful in the eyes of their creator. Never should one part, one member, scorn another as inferior or unimportant.

I once received a lovely note from a relative of mine, a young woman, very appreciative of the gift of life, ambitious and hard-working. Her work — she surrounded the word with quotation marks — was that of a bicycle tour guide. Her graceful, strong body had traversed hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles on two continents. She wrote to me, “I feel so fortunate to be able to cycle as my job…sharing a wonderful meal with my group in an old castle in Ireland or biking with them through the olive groves of Toscana, Italy”.

The very day I got that happy, thoughtful message I had been reading accounts of the poor in Latin America and the valiant efforts of the volunteers from other countries who had gone to help save their lives and attain a measure of dignity and justice. What a contrast, I thought, among the members of the Body of Christ. Yet, the plain fact is that that body requires both tour guides and missionaries; it includes the vibrantly healthy and the suffering sick, the rich and the poor, militant activists and secluded contemplatives, light skin and dark skin, males and females, heterosexuals and homosexuals, English-speakers and Spanish speakers, and on and on and on…

Jesus could not have made it clearer that he wanted us to honor all these differences and try always to achieve, not exclusion, but inclusion.

Today, Corpus Christi Sunday, we join all who believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic bread and wine. But I think that we should not make too much of precisely how he is present in this mysterious sacrament. After all, what is to be gained from our analyzing and theorizing and theologizing when we know that we can never fully understand this pure gift of love? We ought to give ourselves, instead, to the demanding, far more important matter of his presence in the people, how he continues to suffer in them, and hear him calling for our attention, for hands and hearts that can make a difference for the better.

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TRINITY SUNDAY, 2018

Forty-or-so years ago, a Jesuit priest anthropologist published his study of a pygmy tribe in Africa. He had discovered that one of the chief features of their extraordinary way of life was this: The entire village would arise early from sleep every morning; the women would tend to the children, feed the animals, prepare the day’s meals, and perform other domestic chores. The men would repair or continue constructing the thatched-roof dwellings, hunt and fish, maintain their weapons, prepare firewood, and so on. But all of this for a short time — three or four hours at the most — and then everyone, the men, the women and the children, would spend the rest of the day at play.

There were games for the adults and for the children, games that involved whole families, song, conversation and relaxation. But even more interesting than the enviable imbalance that favored recreation was the theological or religious statement this chosen lifestyle was meant to express — the belief of these people that they were never being more faithful creatures of the Great Spirit than when they were playing, carefree and confident, in God’s presence, “at God’s feet”, as they put it.

Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment? “Primitive” we sophisticates call them while we are at the same time challenged by them and ask if it is possible that their philosophy of life and their idea of God are not in some important ways truer and more sensible than our own.

The Old Testament speaks of Wisdom as a person, a part of God and yet outside of God, playing in God’s sight and finding happiness through contact with the very creatures that she — Wisdom — had fashioned in compliance with God’s loving command.

That said, we can see more quickly and clearly that our ancestors in the Judeo-Christian faith understood that in the Mystery called God there were dialog & conversation, listening & responding & community. And they realized that we humans are “made in the image & likeness of God “. And so it is that we cannot be happy and fulfilled without cultivating those same qualities and dynamics in our personal lives. We are designed and we are destined to find our true selves by constant dialog and interaction with each other, filled with grace and charity and forgiveness.

I suppose it’s the same with you, but I get so relentlessly busy with things I believe have to be done that I don’t always make enough time to be silent in the inner presence of the Spirit of God. I work as if everything depends on me, almost forgetting that God is our generous and powerful provider, the source of our strength. For 60 years I’ve been visiting the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, in order to reorient myself. There, observing the prayer life of the monks, I renew my intention to keep my priorities in proper order.

Our world is, really as never before in human history, so full of sound and non-stop activity, that we view God as a crutch for times of crisis, a last resort, when we should instead maintain an awareness of God’s minute-by-minute presence within us, always ready to guide us and always loving us. This is how we can best manage our lives and gradually become all that we were created to be for ourselves, for others, and for God.

Today is the Feast of the Trinity — “three Persons in one God”, we were taught, beginning with our infancy. Jesus would not have known what we were talking about, since the doctrine came into being more than 300 years after his life, death, and resurrection. (You won’t find it in the bible.) It was and remains one of the countless efforts we humans make toward understanding God, an impossible task. But what Trinity means at rock bottom is that in God there are love and relationship and conversation and sharing and all the elements that make up community. And we are made in the image and likeness of God.

And that’s why we pray “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2018

It was in the New York Times that I read the story of a Jewish rabbi and a world famous financial investor who had met through their wives and had become friends. The investor was born of a Christian family and sang in the choir of his Protestant church in his youth, although he later on gave up religion.

The rabbi’s wife prevailed upon her husband to ask their friend to invest their life’s savings in stocks and bonds. He made the investment, which in 25 years yielded 25 million dollars.

The reason that the two men were featured in the good-size article was that the rabbi and his wife had recently given one third of their fortune to the theological seminary in which he had prepared for his ministry.

The two men were asked how a friendship between such unlike persons had ever begun and then endured for such a long time. The rabbi answered, “We both felt that the business of life is to be decent to one another and to live with compassion and not indifference,”

It’s hard to think of a statement that comes closer to the sentiments of Jesus.

We’ve just completed the many weeks of Easter and Ascension, when the church put before us a Jesus who was preparing his followers for his physical absence, when they would no longer see him or hear him. He is reminding them of what he had taught. He is encouraging them to stay close to him as he is close to the One that he called Father. And he is cautioning them not to be deceived or won over by the world’s spirit of greed and selfishness and idolatry.

If we are going to be faithful to Jesus’ wish for us, we need all the inspirational help that we can get. Jesus said, “Let your good works shine before others so that, when they see them, they too will give glory to God.” I think that also implies that we need to look for and pay close attention to people who are saying things like —

+This war is immoral. Human lives are more precious than a nation’s treasury.

+This doesn’t belong to me. I cannot keep it. I have no right to it.

+We don’t always have to make business decisions. We must also make decisions from the heart. These workers have families and children.

+ She’s gone home to God. She lives, and we can receive from her some of the peace and happiness she now enjoys in perfect union with our Creator.

+Sex is about love. It’s not for domination or intimidation or barter or selfish pleasure.

+A baby is a human being with inalienable rights whether in the womb or outside it.

+Women are as fully human beings as are men. By God’s design they have every right that men have.

+I won’t buy or wear clothes or shoes or anything else that I suspect was made by the slave labor of children and the oppressed poor in third-world countries.

And so on…

We call ourselves sons and daughters of the Resurrection. That cannot mean that the promise of eternal life and happiness in the world-to-come relieves us of responsibility in this mortal life here on earth or allows us to go the world’s self-serving way. Quite the opposite: it imposes on us the heavy responsibility to know the mind and heart of Jesus and to make him the ultimate and practical standard of everything we say and do.

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2018

When I began working on today’s homily last week, wondering first of all how this time I should approach the simple topic of Jesus’ central theme — love, I looked back over hundreds of my saved homilies and came across one that I thought would again be appropriate. It was based on something that had happened only the day before the Sunday on which I first preached it.

What happened was that a Sister friend of mine borrowed my car to visit her family in south Jersey. As she was returning on the Parkway, the car’s engine stopped completely. Sister Kathleen coasted off the shoulder of the road, tried without success to start the motor, and then, without success, to flag down someone who would help her. Frustrated and frightened, she got back in the car and simply wept.

On the seventh floor of an apartment building nearby, a young man was watching out his living room window. He quickly left his apartment and went to fetch his own car and drove to where Sister was marooned. He walked up to her open window and said, “What’s the trouble, Ma’am? No one would stop to help you? I figured you went back to your car for a good cry.”

The good man opened her hood, guessed correctly that the problem was a clogged fuel filter and went to a local auto parts store for a new one. When he returned and attempted to install it, he discovered that his wrenches were the wrong size and therefore useless. He said, “I think we can get it running at least for a few miles. So, if you drive slowly on the shoulder, I’ll follow you just in case there’s more trouble.”

And so he did, all the way to my home in Clifton, where I met this person, shook his hand and thanked him. He refused to accept the money I offered him, even for what he had spent. He would not give me his address, wanting nothing in return for his kindness. All he said was, “My mother and six sisters all drive. When they are on the road alone, I have no peace until they’re home. I always hope that if they ever have car trouble someone will help them. So I was glad today to be of help to someone else.”

It is especially interesting and inspiring to know that Sister was not wearing a religious habit and was, therefore, in no way identified as a nun. He wasn’t doing this extraordinarily good deed for a “special” person. Interesting and inspiring also to know that Sister was white and this man was black.

I had the feeling that I had met the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ immortal story. Change a few details and all the essential elements were the same.

There are many kinds of love. I can’t help but think that the kind this gentle man had in his heart was one of the rarest. All these past many years, especially as I have passed that building hundreds and hundreds of times, I recall the incident with fondness and gratitude and hope. I also feel the expectation that in the end love will win out.

I wish I could have told my nameless friend that he would be the Christ figure in my homily way back then and now again. But maybe it’s better that I couldn’t, because the very suggestion of reward or honor seemed to displease him.

“What I command you is this:” Jesus said, “that you love each other as I have loved you.”

4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER 2018

Years ago I had a priest friend with a very laid-back sense of humor — hard to know whether he was serious or joking. One day I was introducing him (who rarely wore clerical garb) to some friends of mine, one of whom asked him what his line of work was. With a straight face he answered, “I’m a shepherd.” “Oh, really?” she replied. “That is so interesting! Where, may I ask?” And without missing a beat, Ray said, “In Jersey City.”

At that point I intervened and informed my friends that Ray was a priest and that his work was in the city.

The incident left me with the unforgettable image of a man leading a hundred sheep across Broad Street amidst horns beeping and drivers cursing! I have seen the real thing in both Israel and Ireland, and to a suburbanite like me it was a treat.

However, Jesus was a carpenter, not a shepherd. St. John, alone among the four Gospel writers, has Jesus claiming to be the Good Shepherd. After his death and resurrection, his followers seem to have paid little attention to his real occupation and styled him instead as the Shepherd, not the Good Carpenter. You have to wonder why they and John made that choice.

The carpenter becomes a creator, fashioning things of lasting strength and beauty. I think of it as one of the noblest and most artistic of crafts.

But the work of the shepherd involves something uniquely different: the shepherd has the care of other living creatures. To the extent that he loves them and labors for them, to the extent that he is willing to inconvenience himself — even making personal sacrifices for their benefit — will those dependent creatures be happy and secure. I believe Jesus admired that about shepherds and that John saw those very qualities in him, and therefore called him the Good Shepherd.

This is interesting because as far as we know Jesus never took care of sheep as an owner or as a hired hand, so his talk about shepherding has directly to do not with sheep but with us. He cares for us, he guards us, protects us, feeds and heals us; he binds our wounds and nurses us to spiritual health; he provides the rehabilitating rest that our tired, battered spirits crave.

An elderly friend of my brother died several years ago. For a long time, he and his wife had not been churchgoers, although their Protestant faith was still deep in their hearts. At the wake service, his daughter told me that a week before his death he said he knew that he was dying but that no one should be upset because “I know Jesus will take care of me.” He apparently understood well the concept of the Good Shepherd.

It could not be clearer that what Jesus wants of us is that we cultivate a “shepherdly” attitude toward each other, discerning always how we can enhance each other’s lives, not merely by giving off the top from our abundance and our surplus, but by sacrificing when necessary, doing what at the moment we may not want to do; monitoring our words, that can so easily hurt; refraining from saying what would make the other sad or disturbed; giving when it appears risky; and so forth.

Certainly it would be absurd for us to expect that the whole world will suddenly turn to such altruistic behavior, but you and I can turn more in that direction today and discover again what peace and happiness await the person who, not just in words but in daily action, imitates Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

 

EASTER SUNDAY, 2018

About 30 years ago, I began to suspect that I was well into the second half of my life — although today I’d have to revise that to the last quarter! As we inexorably age, what can keep us from depression and despair; what can keep us interested in, and enthusiastic about, these limited years of our earthly existence?

Who doesn’t know the pain of losing someone, or anticipating the loss of someone so dear and so much loved that going on without her or him would doom one to endless sadness and loneliness and misery — a spouse or a soulmate or a daughter or son, for example? Is there anything other than the Resurrection of Jesus that can assure us that the separation is not final and that we shall be together again forever with those who have died before us?

And how shall the failures and injustices of this world be made right and resolved when time swiftly and surely runs out for all of us?

Think of —

– Those who were born and died in inescapable poverty and oppression of one cruel sort or another.

– Those who died too young to have experienced a reasonably full life of achievement and happiness.

– Those who struggle from birth to death with debilitating handicaps.

– Those whose relationships and careers are limping along with virtually no hope of significant improvement.

To all such persons — in other words, to each and all of us — the Resurrection of Jesus is not merely a passing consolation; it is the most exciting, energizing, and exhilarating good news!

Jesus has been called out of death and, in turn, calls us to follow him through this life, to the death that awaits each and all of us, and finally to eternal life with him and with God, the source and sustainer of all life!

For that reason, and that reason alone, we say Happy Easter!

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An afterthought: If I were asked what is the direct and complete opposite of resurrection, I would suggest that it is annihilation — to pass out of existence.

That did not happen to Jesus, we believe. Instead, after his death he passed from this life into perfect union with the Creative Spirit that we call God.

Even while his tortured body lay dead in the tomb, that transition was made, just as he had predicted it would be and had made clear would happen to us also.

That is what we have gathered to celebrate today: the immortality of our lives in imitation of his.

4TH SUNDAY IN LENT 2018

I once heard two Baptist ministers on TV say that anyone who does not profess Jesus to be his or her Lord and Savior is doomed to everlasting damnation. No exceptions. Innocent ignorance and good intentions notwithstanding, anyone who does not accept Jesus as the one and only Savior is condemned to everlasting torture.

Here we are once again with a Gospel reading that seems to say what we find impossible to accept, something we know to be unreasonable and untrue. You just heard the words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer, this time St. John, that whoever does not believe in Jesus as God’s only Son and the Savior of the world has already been condemned. What are we to make of such a statement? Well, I suggest that this is what we do with it:

1. We start with the fact that through the entire first century, the infant church did not have the bible that we have today; there was a word of mouth tradition, the faith being passed on from person to person and generation to generation under the leadership of the apostles and their successors. The church was like a classroom that had a teacher and an eager body of learners – but not yet a textbook. The formation of the Christian faith community came first; the textbook — the bible — was being developed and refined at the same time.

2. We admit that both the Old and the New Testaments contain many vengeful statements, as they are called, that sound hard, even cruel, and we realize that they have to be understood in the context of love. I think no one has expressed that better than the authors of the brilliant little book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God. Listen to this quote from page 13: “…we use vengeful punishment language all the time in our homes and families. Such statements are exaggerations (hyperbole) that can be safely used only in a context where everyone understands that they are not to be taken literally…”

Later on the authors say that when Jesus intervened in the about-to-take-place stoning of a woman accused of adultery, he was telling the scribes and Pharisees that they were not to interpret literally those words of Moses which commanded the violent execution of such a sinner.

3. We must read or hear the bible always with common sense! We can be sure that Jesus and the Spirit of God expect that of us. If I tell you that I am blue today, I assume you know that the comment has nothing to do with my skin color, but only with my mood. If you tell me that there were a million people at the dinner last night, I know you mean many, not a thousand thousand. Similar adjustments and accommodations that we make all the time must also be made when we are reading or hearing the ancient scriptures.

With these guidelines in mind, we can be certain that Jesus is not saying what the two ministers interviewed on TV claimed he was saying: that those who don’t know or follow Jesus are on their way to eternal damnation. No, what he was saying is that the first and most basic duty of every human being is to try to find the truth in all things and then to live by it, to look for the light and to walk toward it and then in it. Truth and light will lead us to goodness and love. Jesus is truth and light, and all persons, regardless of their religion, who make goodness and love the essential standards of their lives, walk in the company of Jesus, whether they recognize him or not.

Saints are in every religion – and many are in none! Let us love and respect one another, as Jesus wants us to.