Sunday, July 4, 2021

Homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time July 4, 2021

 Homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time    July 4, 2021

           In the Gospel we just heard, we are told “Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, ….”  Since St Mark earlier told us that Jesus came from Nazareth, we can presume he meant the town of Nazareth.  But Mark didn’t say “Nazareth” but rather “his native place.”   A little odd.

          The New Revised Standard Version translates this as “his home town”.  The Greek Orthodox Bible translates it as “his own country”.   So there is a little ambiguity about what St. Mark meant. 

          If we allow the insights of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel to guide us, then we know that Jesus really was born, not in Nazareth of Galilee, but rather in Bethlehem of Judea.  And if we really want to be thorough, we need to admit the Prologue of the Gospel of John that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  So in Jesus’ fullest, truest identity He was not from Nazareth nor Bethlehem, but from God.  He is the pre-existent Word of God, existing from beyond all time.  Jesus’ true homeland, we could say, is in God.  That is truly where Jesus is from and where He is most truly at home. 

          So, where are you from?  What is your true homeland?   What is your “own country?”

          Today we celebrate Independence Day.  Many of us were born in the USA.  Others may have become naturalized as citizens of the United States like Fr Rene Constanza, and so now this is your homeland.  Others may have other national homelands such as Mexico or Guatemala or the Philippines.  Bult like with Jesus, is that really true?  In the deepest sense, where is our true homeland?  Where do we most belong?  What is our ultimate citizenship?

 

TWO                    TWO                    TWO                    July 4, 2021

          Well, St. Paul in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians gives us the answer.  Paul states: “But our true homeland is in heaven, and we are waiting for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come from heaven.  By his power to rule all things, he will change our humble bodies and make them like his own glorious body.”  3:20-21

          Our truest, most basic and real homeland is union with Christ Jesus in heaven.  That is what we were created for, and what is our ultimate destiny.

          But that is not quite yet.  We have a period of time, short or long, before we go to our true homeland in heaven. And in the meanwhile, we are here, in Austin, in Texas, in the US of A, on earth. 

          There are two ways that we can be mistaken about our real identity.   One way is to so focus on our ultimate destiny that we ignore the real opportunities and obligations of living in the world.  As members of this great country, we have an obligation to engage in politics and civic life, doing what we can to ensure justice, seek peace, and benefit all of society, especially those most in need.  We are not hermits.  We are called to engage in the world, and work to make Austin, Texas, and the United States, lands of liberty and justice for all.  That is our sacred obligation.

          The other danger is the opposite, to become so focused and engaged in the here and now and so forget our true identity as children of God, as members of the Body of Christ, as people destined for eternal glory by the salvific work of Jesus.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of work and activities and politics and entertainment and be completely absorbed into the here and now, and to lose sight of our ultimate purpose and destiny.  That is a tragic loss.

THREE                THREE                THREE                July 4, 2021

 

          Therefore, let us celebrate the Fourth of July.  May we use this celebration of the birth of our nation as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the founding ideals of our nation, that all people are created equal and are to be treated equally under the law. 

          Let us strive for the economic, personal and spiritual advancement of all our fellow countrymen.  But let us not forget that our true homeland, our ultimate destiny, is not in these United States, but in union with God the Father, in Jesus the Son, through the Holy Spirt. 

AMEN.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle B June 20 2021

 Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time   Cycle B    June 20 2021

           Our Gospel today opens on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Anyone here ever been there?   Jesus has been preaching all day to large crowds on the shore while He was in a boat on the water.  The subject of Jesus’ preaching was parables, several of which we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel about a farmer and the parable of the mustard seed.  And Jesus was at it for most of the day.  Finally, evening drew on and Jesus told His disciples, “let us cross to the other side” of the lake.  St. Mark says something rather odd.  The Gospel states: “Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.”  “Just as he was?”   I take this to mean that Jesus was tired, worn out, shot, exhausted, pooped.  He had been preaching all day, and Jesus was tired.  That is only normal.  So “they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.”

          Then Mark adds another detail that neither Matthew nor Luke, who tell the same story of calming the storm, adds.   Mark tells us “And other boats were with him.”   Mark, the shortest of the Gospels, gives us very few details.  So when he gives us an aside like this, I wonder what it meant.  “Other boats were with him.”  Who or what are these other boats?

          The boat is often used as an image of the Church, as in the barque of St Peter.  That is why there is a boat depicted in the church window up there.  So other boats implies other churches.  I don’t know what St Mark intended by this comment, but for me it reminds me that we are gathered here praying and singing and worshipping, while up the street from us the Baptists and the Methodists are doing the same, and a few blocks to the West the University Christian Church is doing the same.  For me this odd detail of other boats is a reminder of the need to pray and work for ecumenism, for the unity of all Christians. 

This unity is so important for the power of our witness to Jesus as Savior and the effectiveness of our preaching of the Gospel.  Maybe St Mark already was aware of this, and so tells us that “Other boats were with him.”  I like to think so.

          And while Jesus is catching a few well deserved winks, a storm blows up.  Storms are always blowing up: in our world between nations, God knows within our nation, in our state and city, in our work places, in our neighborhoods and families, and even in our church as demonstrated this week at the US Catholic Bishops’ meeting.   This past week the US Catholic Bishops have met on-line, and it was contentious.  There was a storm over Catholic politicians who do not support all church teaching and who are going to Holy Communion.   The Vatican weighed in on this to pre-empt this storm, but it did not prevent it.  And I don’t need to list for you all the other fights in our city over homelessness, in our state, and in our nation.   Storms blow up all over the place.

          Where is Jesus in all this?  He often seems asleep, distracted, not paying attention.  Why doesn’t Jesus do something to save us?  The disciples woke Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

          Have you ever had the experience of being in difficulty and danger, crying out to the Lord for help, but He seems to be asleep, indifferent to your plight?  //  Of course you have.   We all can identify with the disciples in the storm.   We shout, at least to ourselves: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  

           Following Jesus will not make the storms go away.  Will not shield us from conflict and controversy, will not protect us from bitter disagreements and very different views of issues. 

          But, we can have faith that Jesus is in control.  That He has the power to protect us in the storms and tempests of life.   From the beginning of the Church, when St Peter and St. Paul argued publicly over the role of the Gentiles in the Church, up to the US Bishops meeting this week, and long into the foreseeable future, tempests and storms and disagreements will be with us in the Church and all the other aspects of life. 

          But we do not be afraid.  No matter how strong the wind is, no matter how loud the thunder and storm, no matter how high the waves, Jesus is not asleep.  Jesus does care for us.  Jesus will protect us in the ultimate sense and help us to remain true to Him and to His Father. 

          So we can have confidence.  We can have faith. 

Enjoy the ride, AMEN.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ June 6, 2021

 

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ    June 6, 2021

          Thank YOU!   Two very important words.   Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.   We also call this Sacrament “Holy Communion” because we commune, we make community together, in sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ, sharing the consecrated bread and (hopefully soon) the consecrated wine. 

          Because this ritual is a mystery with many facets, we also have another name for Holy Communion, and that is “Eucharist”.   The word comes from the Greek, meaning ‘to give thanks.’  So every time we celebrate and receive Holy Communion we are involved in giving thanks, in saying “Thank You” to God.  And as I said at the beginning, “Thank You” are two very important words.

          Let us unpack this mystery a little further, turning to the Gospel for today, from the Gospel of St. Mark.

          The setting is the Last Supper: While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, …”

          While they were eating.  Notice the setting.  After the year long pandemic, we should all know the importance and meaning of eating meals together, sharing fellowship, camaraderie, intimacy, as well as food.  I am so happy that I can again go out and enjoy a meal with fellow parishioners, at their home, at a restaurant, at the rectory.  The meal setting for this great Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is very important.  What we do here every Sunday is a ritual meal.

          Jesus assures His disciples of His real presence using a four part action: TAKE;   BLESS;   BREAK;   SHARE.

 “While they were eating, he took bread,…”  

 This was much much more than a utilitarian action of grabbing the loaf before his hungry apostles wolfed it down.  Rather Jesus taking the bread is a symbolic action of great meaning.  Bread was basic to the life of the common people.  It was their main food.  It was referred to as the staff of life.  It is what the common folk mostly ate, and it therefore represented their lives, their very selves.

          In taking the bread Jesus is really taking hold of His life.  Jesus is summing up all that He is about, all that He means, all who He is. 

          And what does Jesus do with His life?  Does He moan and complain and carry on?  He had every right to.  In a few verses left out of our reading Judas had just gone off to betray Jesus.  He knew what was in store for Him, that he would be betrayed, falsely condemned, abandoned by all His friends, tortured and unjustly executed.   Jesus had good reason to moan and groan and complain about His life.  

          But Jesus doesn’t.  Instead, Jesus “said the blessing”.  This “blessing” was the typical Jewish meal blessing, much like many of us grew up reciting “bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord.  AMEN”

          But the meal blessing Jesus said is very similar to what the priest says, sometimes out loud but often to himself, over the gift of bread and wine at Mass. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you;”  That is straight from the meal prayer, or blessing, that Jesus said when He had taken the bread which represented His life.  

          Instead of complaining about His life, Jesus blesses God and gives thanks to God the Father for His love.  

Jesus is accepting His fate in accordance with God’s Will for Him, out of loving trust in the Father.  In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, Jesus firmly believes the Father loves Him intensely, and Jesus trusts God His Father.

          Having gathered up His life in taking the bread, and blessing it by giving thanks to the Father for His life, Jesus breaks the bread.  This breaking foreshadows that His own life would be broken on the Cross in a few short hours.

          Then Jesus shared the bread, just as His life would be shared with all of us by His death on the Cross.  "Take it; this is my body." Jesus told the Apostles, and Jesus tells us today.

          Jesus takes the bread as a symbol of gathering His life, He blesses the bread and gives thanks for His life, Jesus breaks the bread as He will be broken open on the Cross, and shares the bread with His disciples, and Jesus shares Himself with us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion right here in a few minutes.  Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and shares.

          This 4 part action demands a response on our part.  That is what we are doing here in church right now.

          First, we gather our lives: the good, the bad, the boring, the tedious, the thrilling, the painful, the parts that make us proud and the parts that make us ashamed, the accidents, the choices, the coincidences, all of it.  We gather it and we do what Jesus did, we give thanks for all of it.  It is all God’s gift.  We gather together as one body and we give thanks for our lives.  We do “eucharist”, or “thanksgiving.”

          We break ourselves open to let in the Holy Spirit, letting down our defenses, our false pride, our tough guy exterior to humbly ask the Lord for the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us, and to give us the gifts we need: patience, understanding with others, fortitude, honesty, generosity, chastity, compassion, and all the others.

          Then we are sent out at the end of Mass to share what we have found, to proclaim in our actions and in our words the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. 

          We take, bless, break open and share.  That is the meaning of Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
          You see, Eucharist is not a noun, but a verb.  It must be put into action.  It must be lived out.  It is not something so much to look at and adore, but to receive and to do, to live out as members of the same Body of Christ that we have received.  And it all starts by giving thanks.  

AMEN.