Tag Archives: trust

3RD SUNDAY IN LENT, 2018

I know very few people who appear to be incapable of rage. Some of them came to my mind as I was preparing this homily early this past week. But most of us, I think, have experienced the frustration of dealing with a person or an incident that just doesn’t yield to rational negotiation. We get “fed up to here”, as the expression has it, with a situation that has become unacceptable. We can, therefore, easily imagine Jesus lashing out, striking in every direction, yelling for all to hear, “Get out of here, all of you! You know as well as I do that this is the house of God, my Father’s house. And you are dishonoring it, using it for your own selfish, sinful gain! Get out of here and stay out!”

We feel Jesus’ righteousness and we cheer him on.

But why did St. John and the other three Gospel writers choose to include this event in their writings about Jesus — especially this early in their manuscripts? (John’s gospel, for example, has 21 chapters, and this incident occurs in only Chapter 2.)

Many reasons have been suggested, but my favorite is that Jesus was saying something about himself and the Jewish religion of his day that was very important to him. What he is saying is that he is not merely trying to purify what already exists in Jewish religion by, for example, driving out from the temple the merchants and their wares; rather, he is declaring that the temple and all its functions and rituals have been replaced by himself! He is the “place” of true worship now! The temple had been built by human labor and through it people sought union with God. But now, God had built the temple — the very person of Jesus — and only by entering him can anyone experience the fullest possible union with the One he called Father.

Analyze the context of the story: Jesus angrily confronts the money-changers. Their business was to take the Gentile money that worshipers brought with them and, for a fee, to exchange it for coins that were acceptable for use at the temple. In attacking this practice, Jesus was abolishing the ban against non-Jews and making it clear that everyone is welcome in the new temple that was himself!

No favorites, no exclusion, no separation — just people making up but one family united in him.

He drives out the cattle and the sheep, the animals that would be sacrificed in the temple worship. Another revolutionary statement not from his mouth but from his mind and his actions: “Animals are no longer necessary at the altar. You can commune with the invisible God with and through me,” he was telling them. His perfectly truthful and loving life would incite hatred and vengeance in evil hearts, and he would soon enough be slaughtered like a lamb — not as a human sacrifice to a presumably offended God, but to satisfy the blood-thirst of those who hated him and wanted him destroyed. His very presence was both a threat and a rebuke to them.

They asked him to justify what he was doing and saying among them — things they had never heard before. Who do you think you are?, they asked. He gave a puzzling answer: “Tear this temple down, and I will rebuild it in three days.” Looking back, we realize that he was referring to his coming death and resurrection. They thought he was a madman, talking that way.

The passage ends disturbingly, not with the “good news” we are accustomed to hearing. Instead we are told that he could not bring himself to trust the people who had come to believe in him. Why? Because he knew what was really in their hearts. Their faith wasn’t deep enough: it was merely amazement at what he was saying and doing — a momentary, fleeting Yes to what he was offering to ease the burden of their shabby lives. It wasn’t the solid commitment, including the possibility of suffering, he was looking for.

There could well be something of them in us, too. We do believe; but in what areas of our lives are we not really sure that Jesus is the way?

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4TH SUNDAY IN LENT, 2017

If you are familiar with my homilies of the past months or of the past several years, there’ll be no surprise in my telling you that I am convinced that the experiences of these biblical persons we hear about in every Sunday Mass were no different from our own with regard to God’s involvement in our human lives.

I do not believe that they heard clear, verbal commands anymore than we do. Their knowledge of God was, just like our own, that of faith and trust in an unseen, unheard God. The main reason we honor and revere them is that, in the most trying situations, they lived by faith in that invisible, inaudible God.

And we can be sure, by the way, that it was exactly the same for Mary and Joseph and the apostles and early disciples — no matter the literary liberties the sacred authors used in their writings. These were persons of very strong faith. They’d hardly be worthy of our admiration and imitation if all they had to do was take verbal directions from mysterious inner voices and follow them step by step. Their greatness, instead, was in their believing when they could not see, could not hear, the divine presence. They managed, somehow, to trust a God who would reach out to them in the most subtle ways, who would be in and around them, but perceived only through the lens of faith, trust, and belief.

Have you ever tried to explain to anyone why you believe in God? And do you know why that’s so hard to do? It’s because we can’t, and we don’t, embrace God; quite the contrary, it is God who embraces us. We can’t comprehend the mystery of God’s presence in our lives. God is with us like the air we breathe so as to remain alive, the atmosphere that sustains us simply by our inhaling it. Maybe that’s why one of the most ancient symbols of God’s presence to humanity is the cloud.

Jesus’ encounter with the blind man, which we heard in today’s gospel excerpt, ends in an almost ominous way. He says to the devious Pharisees: If you were really blind, you’d be blameless; but since you claim that you see, when actually you have made yourselves blind and deaf to the God who lives within you, you live in sin.

If we’re willing to let the lesson sink in and think about it, we recognize at first that it contains a disturbing question, one we may rather not consider. The question is, is it possible that with all our busyness, even our admirable, constructive activity, we remain, at least partly, blind and deaf to the Creative Spirit?

If Lent is making any inroads into our lives, has it at least been a time during which we have tried to achieve an inner stillness in which we have given God the chance to speak to us? Are we becoming more open to the wisdom and insight that can come only as the gift of God? Do we want our love to be deeper, nobler, more beautiful and creative? Do we want to know better what we should be doing?

Not even God can put all that, and more, into a mind and heart that are shut tight.

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

Getting accustomed to looking beneath and beyond the words of bible readings to find their real meaning, what would you say is the message of the three we just heard – the first from the Hebrew bible, the next from a letter of St. Paul, and the third from the gospel, this particular excerpt from St. Luke’s version?  The word urgency came to my mind from all three: that we resolve now to remain conscious of the presence of the Spirit of God in whatever we are doing, saying or thinking.  That’s a fairly good definition of a spiritual person: not a holier-than-thou fanatic who goes around in a daze of personal devotion that makes everyone uncomfortable, but a person who views life and all its parts through the lens of the Spirit within and around him or her.

I recall in this connection that it was Pope Celestine the First who, in one of the earliest centuries of the church heard that some priests were dressing in distinctive ways to distinguish them from ordinary people.  He wrote to them and said he found this disturbing because priests should be distinguished not by what they wear but by their conversation and their love.

But, we all ask, where is God when a bloody war is raging, as is still happening today all over the globe?  Where is God in the drug-abuse scene?  Where is God when conflict tears a family apart?  Where is God on Death Row?  Where is God in AIDS or cancer?  Countless millions of persons have found reason to say, “I turned to you, Lord, but you did not answer me.”

It’s our concept, our image of God that is the problem.  God is not a person like us, however bigger and better.  God is pure spirit; God is force; God is energy, God is love.  When we deliberately align ourselves with that benign force, with that energy, that love, our own human powers are enhanced, they are magnified.

How God “answers” and when God answers are not for us to say or even to know.  Our part in the pact is to maintain unyielding faith in the goodness and the love of God.

A high school classmate of mine, at the funeral of his young daughter many years ago, said to the overflowing crowd of mourners assembled in the church that day, “My wife and children and I thank you for being here today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of our beautiful daughter.  It must be that God loves her more than we do, because God gave her to us in the first place for these too-short 19 years.  At this time of sorrow, God asks of us only faith and love.  In this tragedy, too, God is only good.”

Who would dare to limit the power of God especially in the troubles of our life?

There may be no time or circumstance in our ordinary lives when we more need that awareness of Jesus’ presence than when things are not going well for us or for those we love.  He says to us, “Come to me, you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”  The “refreshment,” by that or any other name, may be just the vision of light at the end of the tunnel, and restored confidence because Jesus is leading the way — Jesus, who called himself “the way.”

Faith can falter even in the most convinced and loyal believer.  There’s no shame in that.  We are, after all, only human and very limited.  We live in a kind of darkness, a shadow in which not everything is perfectly clear.  To trust in a Jesus we have never seen is no small challenge at times.  But, if we make the commitment, no matter how feeble it may occasionally be, our faith in him will grow by experience.  We will increasingly sense his real presence in and with us and we will be only the stronger and the more at peace for it.

BAPTISM OF JESUS 2016

Having enjoyed it so much the first time around, I’m currently reading again a great book by a priest whose theology and life views I’ve admired for decades.  (His name is Daniel Maguire.) Actually it’s light, though very substantial, reading, filled with humor that has me laughing on every other page!  I wrote to thank him for what he’s written.  He resigned from the active ministry of his priesthood many years ago, married, raised a family and continued for a long time to teach at a Catholic university.

Early in the book, he dedicates four pages to 19 major events in his personal and professional life, many of them disappointments and tragedies of one sort or another, including the death of their 10-year-old son. He introduced the list as surprises of life that awaited him; he ends it by saying, “I never saw all that coming.  How I dealt with it, sometimes well, sometimes anything but, is a story full of life with all its spices…and not just a few lessons.  I share it in these pages.”

Did the real Jesus (not the Jesus manufactured by piety and religious imagination over the centuries), did that real Jesus have any idea that his life of loving service would end in rejection and violent death?  I think not.

During those 3 years of his work among the people, when they came flocking to him from all over, listening to every word he spoke, singing his praises, wanting to crown him king, he could never have imagined that he would soon be crucified as though he were a criminal.  It was only when he was very near his death that he saw clearly the handwriting on the wall.

The greatness of Jesus is found in both periods of his life: in the first, when he gave himself totally to God in unselfish service to the people; and in the last, when he did not run away from the terrible ordeal that awaited him.

I think that is what we are honoring today as we remember his Baptism at the age of about 30: that he was committing himself to something largely hidden from his view, trusting that the God he called Father would, in the end, make all things right and happy and beautiful and would provide for him along the way, especially at the most difficult times.

Jesus was saying a firm Yes to both “better” and “worse” and was certain he’d complete the journey successfully because its ultimate outcome lay in the wisdom and love and power of God.

Persons who have experienced deaths of many kinds – the death of someone very close to them, the death of their marriages, the death of physical and mental powers, the death of their fondest hopes and dreams — still have lives to live, commitments to keep, love to share, and faith to practice.  In all of that they are bound to be led beyond anticipated limits, just as Jesus was.

For all of us Christians, the focus of existence here on earth is Baptism, in which the direction and the ultimate meaning of our lives are established, as they were for Jesus.

I wish you happiness and peace and hope on the next lap of your journey!

HOMILY FOR 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2015

That was an interesting dialog we heard in today’s Gospel passage.  It begins with a complaint, a criticism from Jesus.  He says to the crowds, including his closest followers, Your enthusiasm for me is not based on your understanding of who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish.  So far, you don’t seem to be grasping either.  The truth is that you’re coming to me again and again so excitedly because I’ve given you plenty of free food when you were hungry and your cupboard was empty.  You’ve gone out of your way, you’ve pushed and shoved and spent your energy only to get here for more.  But you don’t hear what I’m saying to you even when you’ve taken the lesser part of what I offer.  Your sense of values is upside down.  If you had your heads on straight, you’d be breaking your backs to get the bread that gives permanent life, not just the bread that can only tide you over until tomorrow.

And the people, still not understanding him, asked how they could get this marvelous food.

Jesus answered, Put your complete trust in me.

They reply, We will, if you give us some kind of proof that you are from God.  We’re not asking for any more than our ancestors got when the manna came to them from heaven in the desert.  That’s the reason they trusted in Moses.

And Jesus wraps things up by saying, Get this into your heads now and don’t ever forget it.  I myself am the bread that has come from heaven.  I don’t need to give a sign: I am the sign.  Anyone who comes to me shall never hunger or thirst again.

As we today use every human skill we possess to resolve the never-ending series of problems in our lives, we mustn’t forget for one minute that all our deepest desires, all our hopes, all our hungers, will be fulfilled through personal union with Jesus.

I purchased and listened twice to the CD version of a book by Mark Shriver, son of President Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, in which he celebrates the thoroughly Catholic life of his father, not only on the world stage where he spent much of his life, but especially as a husband and father.  One of his many tributes reads –

In his final letter to us, Dad wrote about his parents (these words) — “Their experience [of bankruptcy and despondence during the Great Depression] helped convince me that putting trust in money or in any economic system is absurd.  It is wiser and safer to trust in the Lord than in banks or gold or the New York Stock Exchange.” 

It was (Dad’s) faith in a different system that kept his eyes on a richer wealth, a bigger prize.  He went to Mass every day and had a daily relationship with God, even a minute-by-minute relationship with God – that’s what gave Dad “power,” gave him his hope. 

He kept us believing; he kept us hopeful.  When he walked into a room, you just felt better.  You felt ready for the day. 

+ We have to reach out to Jesus actively, not merely accept him passively.

+ We must expect that in his teachings and example we will find reliable guidelines for the best way of living a really human life.

+ We must pray daily – not in many words or formulas – but in sentiments that come from our heart and mind and will, starting with prayer of gratitude…

+ We must develop an on-going conversation with him – with or without words – as the events of our day suggest.

+ We must celebrate his presence with us in the countless ways he is to be found and encountered, especially in other persons and in the Eucharist, where we can know him better in the breaking of the bread.

+ When bad things happen to us, we should join our sufferings with his, confident that these too will be swallowed up in his victory over death on that cross.

It’s all about personal relationship – with God, with Jesus, with each other.