Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 10:19-25
Psalm 24
Mark 4:21-25

REFLECTION: "Jesus is the Measure"

We live today in a world with competing systems of spirituality. Each one has its own claims, its own priorities, its own distinctive aims. In that respect, Christianity is no different. 

At the same time, Christianity makes a specific claim that no other faith makes. To paraphrase Jesus' own words, Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that nobody can come to the Father except through him. 

This means that no other spiritual tradition, no matter how lovely or moving, is capable of serving as a vehicle for the atoning power of Jesus Christ. Christianity is unique.

To be sure, our faith shares some of the same practices as other belief systems. We worship. We meditate. We read sacred writings. We revere those who have gone before us. But, for the Christian, this occurs in a way that is unique, because it is all enlightened by Christ.

Through this enlightenment, Christ enlightens us, and empowers us to serve as a light for others. But sometimes, unfortunately, in the name of 'tolerance' and 'getting along', we sometimes gloss over the uniqueness of Christianity, surrender to the inter-religious narrative that 'all religions are simply seeking the same God in their own way', or allow the secular jibe that 'all religions are the same' to go unchecked.

As bearers of the Light, we are called to be extremely sensitive and caring towards each and every individual we encounter. We are called to meet the where they are. We are called to learn and understand their situation, their beliefs, their viewpoints. We are called to walk side by side with them... but we are never - NEVER - called to hide the light we have received.

No guru, no matter how convincing, can take away our guilt forever. No parapsychology practice can give us eternal peace. Even our own common religious practices will fail us if our light is burnt out or covered up. You see, light is a metaphor for the presence of the Spirit in our lives. When the Spirit is with us, our path is illumined to discern right from wrong, spiritual truths from quakish counterfeits. When we hide our light, even because we think that doing so makes us more 'kind' and 'compassionate' to people who do not share our beliefs, we do ourselves a disservice. And, frankly, we do them a disservice as well. We begin or deepen our relationships under false pretenses. We do not bear true witness to who we are and what we believe. 

Now, to be sure, this doesn't have to be in your face. I'm not speaking of that. I don't walk into every patient room, every meeting I attend, every situation in life and say, "Hi, my name is Rob. I'm a Christian, and you should be too." But I also strive to discern situations in which the light I have received should be used. How it should illumine a situation. I equally seek to determine what kinds of practices are antithetical to my Christian confession, and do my best to avoid them.

I'm not always successful. I'm certainly still a sinner, saved by grace. I still need a fresh infusion of the Spirit day-by-day. I need to be reminded constantly of the uniqueness of Christ Jesus, of his sacrifice, of his promises. I need that for my own personal relationship. I need it to be an effective preacher. I need it to secure my heart for priestly ministry. I also need it to ensure that I am balancing proper witness and respect in all aspects of my life.

Friends... you need this too. The world is filled with sincere people who are not Christians. They deserve to be treated with respect and integrity. But the world is also filled with plenty of spiritual fakes; and we must discern them and exclude them from our lives; lest they become baskets over our light. 

You see, putting a basket over a light is dangerous. 

If the basket is woven tightly enough, it may snuff out the flame from lack of oxygen.

If the basket is loosely woven, it will catch on fire, collapse atop the flame, and after a wild, fast burn, will reduce the basket and the lamp into cold, dead ashes.

This is not what Christ wants for us.

In our longing to behold God face-to-face, let us make use of every spiritual tool at our disposal to grow and develop our relationship with God in Christ Jesus; and let us rightly discern what makes for a spiritual tool, and what makes for a destructing influence in our spiritual lives.

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

That the Church would always shine forth brightly
in witness to the Good News of Christ Jesus;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That Christian leaders would equip the flock
with the spiritual tools they need
to deepen their relationships with God;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That we, in our daily walk,
would find just and honorable ways
to balance a respect for others
and the integrity of our professed faith;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who feel their lights dim,
who find gusts and breezes to be aiming at their lamp,
or whose faith has been snuffed out
by spiritual frauds
or the pain and hurt of life
may be protected,
encouraged,
and rekindled,
through our loving-presence,
and through the power of the Spirit;
let us pray to the Lord;
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the sick,
the broken,
the grieving,
and the dying
may, even in their moments of deepest darkness,
find the consoling warmth of the Spirit to be inflaming their hearts,
constantly kindling faith, hope, and love within them;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all of our personal needs and intentions
would be received by God who reigns in everlasting light...
...and that we,
trusting in his goodness,
may see in our lives the fruit of our prayers;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 10:1-10
Psalm 40
Mark 3:31-35

REFLECTION: "Show Me Some Love"

Today we commemorate Fabian of Rome, an leader of the early Church who, after taking steps to organize the Church to survive persecution, found himself at the wrong end of the executioner’s determination during the reign of the emperor Decius. Some might argue that death, and a brutal one at that, at the hands of the government isn’t any kind of love to show to a faithful servant. 

Of course, one could say the same thing about Jesus’ words concerning his family, especially his mother, in our Gospel reading today.

Recently, in one of those internet discussions (okay, Facebook, specifically) that is probably best left alone, an individual posited that Mary was not special, and didn’t deserve to be remembered with any regularity in the Church. She was Jesus’ earthly mother, nothing more. And what passage of Scripture was proof-texted to make the point… Yea, you probably already guessed it… our Gospel reading from today.

In our passage, Jesus’ family, including his mother, are outside, asking to see him. And Jesus proceeds to give the ultimate dis to his mother… putting her in her place. After all, she’s quote the upstart. He probably heard her say, “all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48b) while he was in the womb, and was just looking for the day when he could lay the smack-down on her oversized ego.

That may be the narrative that some would seek us to believe, but in doing so, we miss the entire point of the passage.

In Scripture, Christians are repeatedly called adopted children of God. We are made a part of the family. On what basis? Doing God’s will. If we follow in his pathway, we are grafted into the family… we become a part of the work he is doing in ministering his redeeming grace to the world.

When follow in faithfulness with God’s will, we should find joy in doing so. That joy comes from knowing that God draws close to us… he is the one who ultimately privileges us by allowing us to come to him tenderly, as our ‘Abba’.

This also means that God is raising us up… far from slamming Mary and his brothers, Jesus is instead showing us his desire to lift us up and exalt all who bear his name as members of his family. We have the inheritance of Mary, and of all God’s beloved, ahead of us… joy, hope, and peace forever in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes, though, being faithful involves suffering, pain, and yes, even death. But such costs do not separate us from the family… from the love that is made known in Christ’s perpetually pled sacrifice. Even today, the Eternal Son stands, pleading the one perfect sacrifice before his Heavenly Father… just as he did in the days of Fabian.

And, just as Fabian could draw confidence in that fact no matter what travail faced him, we can as well… for Jesus still reigns, to the glory of God the Father.


PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That Christians everywhere
may be led by faithful pastors,
instructed by caring teachers,
and loved within the community of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those charged with leadership in the Church
may be strengthened in their faith,
even unto death,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all of us would view our fellow Christians
as members of our own family,
showing love and forbearance to them in every circumstance,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are deeply fearful,
on account of a recent diagnosis,
uncertainty in life,
or the prospect of immanent death,
might find in us
and in others who bear the name of Christ,
ready companions on their journey,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs which we bear in our minds and hearts today
would be touched by the gentle power of the Spirit,
and lifted through the mediation of the Savior
before the Father who reigns on high…
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle

READINGS
Acts 4:5-13
Psalm 23
1 Peter 5:1-4
Matthew 16:13-19

REFLECTION: "Stupid is as Stupid Does"

No less a luminary than Albert Einstein is quoted as having defined insanity as: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Tom Hanks, playing Forrest Gump in the 1994 movie of the same name expressed a similar theme with the famous words, "stupid is as stupid does".


So, shocker, in our first reading today, we encounter the apostle Peter, at a point not too long after Pentecost, already courting the very same religious leaders who sent Jesus to the cross, confronting them with the Gospel and, essentially, daring them to believe, or to take action to eradicate them.

Now, Jesus had come and spread his Gospel across the land, and, within the span of three and a half years found himself hanging on a tree. Why on earth would Peter have expected any different reception of the Gospel a mere six or so months later (if that!)? In and of itself, such an expectation is plain stupid... but taken with the absolute intransigence that the religious authorities demonstrated repeatedly insofar as Jesus was concerned, Peter's conduct borders on the insane.

Or does it...


Contending for the truth is never insane, at least not in the conventional sense. Insanity implies a lack of rationality. Of course, there are those who would mock Christians for abandoning rationality and exchanging an evolved sense of logic for 'fairy tales'. Next time you hear someone speaking sarcastically about the 'Flying Spaghetti Monster' or asking in that kind of serious/mocking tone (you know what I mean) about your relationship with 'Our Lord and Savior Cthulhu', you can pretty much figure that you've met someone who would take a similar position, at least intellectually, to your beliefs as the religious leaders did to the faith of the Apostles.

So what makes Peter's situation, and by extension ours, any different from those who abandon rationality, and who believe that we are all the offspring of aliens, or that all vaccines are a government conspiracy, or that Barack Obama isn't really an American citizen and, thus, isn't qualified to be president? 

The difference is faith. In specific, it is the summary of faith that Peter confessed in the presence of Jesus under girds, or at least should under gird, every aspect of our lives. Our every work and witness should confess, with Peter that Jesusis the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. No matter how significant the act, or how insignificant the word, whatever we do must have, at its core, a Christian identity and perspective. True, at times we are going to fall short of that ideal, our faith at times waxes and wanes... we become fearful or we withdraw at times. Peter knew all about this. And yet, no matter the strength of our faith, no matter how we may, at times, try to avoid it, Jesus is always there and ready to forgive and renew us, just as he did with Peter after his resurrection.


There is another difference... one that is found rooted in the Spirit. We are given the grace to approach life with boldness, knowing that what we believe is true. We believe it because of the witness of Scripture, the witness of blood in the martyrs of the Church - including Peter, and in the witness of the countless lives changed over nearly two-thousand years of Christian history. Yes, the Jewish religious authorities and Roman civil government could kill a man, but the Spirit raised him to new life, and enflamed with that new life those marked by the name of the Risen One. 


And with every new life formed in the waters of baptism, and through the sealing of the Spirit, there once again echoes out the cry of Peter... "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God".

This is the faith that makes Peter rock. And, when we profess it, it makes us rock as well. This is the faith of the Church. It is a sold, dependable faith. It is rock. And, as we hear in our Gospel, the Gates of Hades will not conquer it. To put it plainly, this faith will never die.


And that's just as it should be, because - worldly rationality aside - we serve a Savior who will never die again... one who assures us that our death is simply the birth into a new life, if we are found solid on rock.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the leaders of the Church may serve,
not out of a sense of self-entitlement,
or with a desire for personal recognition,
but with the truth in their hearts
and the needs of the people foremost in their minds,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the people of God may cling to the solid rock of faith,
forever professing Jesus as Messiah,
and reaping the strength that comes from their profession,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who oppose the the faith
based on false information,
or who ridicule believers for fun,
may have their hearts touched by the gentle presence of the Spirit,
and moved to understand more deeply the mystery of faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the young and the old,
the educated and the simple-minded,
may with one heart profess the faith that saves with earnestness,
in spite of every obstacle presented by religious leaders,
civil governments,
or those who would terrorize them and demand that they give up their faith,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the needs and concerns of our hearts...
that, as people of faith,
we may be confident that the Messiah is interceding for us
even now before the Eternal Throne,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle

Today, the Primitive Catholic Community celebrates the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter.

In our readings today, we recall how the Apostle Peter was led by God's grace to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20), and we join with Peter, and with all Christians everywhere, in hailing Jesus as our Lord, God, and Savior.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Anthony

Today the Primitive Catholic Community commemorates Anthony of Egypt, accounted by many as the founder of Christian monasticism.

Born in 251 in upper Egypt, Anthony died in 356. He gave away his possessions and sought the austere life and solitude of the desert at an early age. He attracted disciples who formed communities of hermits. The account of his life by Athanasius was extremely influential in the development and spread of monasticism. Yet Anthony remained involved in the theological controversies of his day, defending the divinity of Christ. He is remembered as the father of Christian monasticism.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 8:6-13
Psalm 85
Mark 3:13-19

REFLECTION: "A Very Difficult Conversation with a Big and Dirty Theological Word!"
Today, as we read from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are presented with a very difficult passage; one that requires some really particular exegesis to understand when held in context with the totality of Scripture. But first a quick history lesson.



As the title of the Letter implies, it was written to the Hebrews; in other words, to Jews. But that only tells half of the story. This wasn't some tract written to be distributed to people in Synagogues that were still teaching Torah. This letter was aimed at Jewish Christians who, one one side, felt pressured to return to Torah-obedience as a means of salvation, and, on other side, who felt that their liberation from the Law opened up a new pathway that was exposing them to, and tantalizing them with, the practices of pagan Gentiles. Thus, the author is deeply concerned about the fidelity of the convert-audience, going so far as to urge those hearing or reading the words to "...hold firmly to what we believe." (Hebrews 4:14)

Now, let's concentrate on a difficult point found in our reading today, which can be summarized in the very final verse of our first reading:

"When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear." (Hebrews 8:13)

It is deeply unfortunate that a concept known as Supersessionism has been used over the centuries as an excuse (and I consciously choose the term excuse!) for people with anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs to twist the New Testament into a rallying cry against the Jewish people in general, and individual Jews in particular. It is unfortunate because, today, the doctrine of Supersessionism is in massive decline among Christians, and I think that such a decline is directly connected with an institutional memory among Christians of the actions of their fore-bearers throughout Europe who marginalized, harassed, and excluded Jews from civil life, and deprived them of their liberty, their religious freedoms, and yes, at times, of their lives.

Supersessionism, however, is a clear teaching of the Letter to the Hebrews, and of the particular passage we have read today. The Old Covenant between God and the People of Israel is, "obsolete... out of date" and, "will soon disappear". Why is this so? Because the Old Covenant is was fulfilled in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus himself stated: "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose." (Matthew 5:17). The New Covenant, its rites and hits promises, has superseded the old.

Notice, however, that neither the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, nor Jesus himself ever makes a blanket exclusion of the Jewish people from the 'rolls of the chosen'. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul explicitly describes, through the Olive Tree analogy, how the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the institution of the New actually interact.

In the Olive Tree analogy, “Israel” and “Church” are essentially the same thing - they are viewed as alternate designations for the chosen people of God who abide in a right relationship with Yahweh. “Israel” or "Church" is likened to an olive tree, from which some branches were cut off (unbelieving Jews) and other branches were grafted in (believing Gentiles). Note what was cut away - unbelievers. Note what was grafted in - believers. Believers, Jew and Gentile, remain grafted to the tree. Unbelievers, Jew and Gentile, are cut off. Of course, as long as the cutting is alive, it can be grafted back on... but that's another homily in and of itself!

Jesus's words are in keeping with what we heard yesterday in our reading from Hebrews, about the things of the Law being types and shadows of a greater reality. The Law pointed to Jesus, in which it has its fulfillment. At the cross, the Covenant established in the wilderness is completely fulfilled. Jesus meets the terms of the Covenant to the letter, and in doing so empowers the transformation of that Covenant, for those who believe, into a new relationship with God... a New Covenant sealed in his blood. It is this New Covenant of which we speak at the Table of the Lord, each time we lift the cup of salvation and call upon his name.

Such a belief is not, remotely, anti-Semitic... nor should it ever be used as an excuse for any kind of violence of hatred. God knows we have more than enough of that in the world now! In fact, the concept of Supersessionism is not intrinsicly anti-Semitic. Now, you might expect such a profession from me, as a Christian, but actually, this belief is far more eloquently spoken of by David Novak, a prominent Jewish rabbi and theologian, who, in 2007, when writing on Edith Stein, a Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism, stated, "Christian supersessionism need not denigrate Judaism." In his writing, he went on to explain why. Suffice it to say, in this context, that it is ironic that a Jewish rabbi recognizes this fact, but many Christians fail to do so, precisely because of a fear of being labeled anti-Semite.

Friends, the Old Covenant remains an eternal signpost, and it is eternally fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The rules, structures, and worship of that Covenant are no longer necessary for a right relationship with God. The Old Covenant remains important, because, remaining as it does in the collective memory of Jew and Gentile alike, it still, to this day, points the way to its fulfillment, who has opened up the way that the Old Covenant is a type and symbol of.

In Galatians 6:16, Saint Paul refers to the people of the New Covenant as the Israel of God. The name Israel means "the one who prevails with God". Those who 'prevail with God' do so, not because of their genetic lineage, but because they have placed their full faith and confidence in God. Paul summarizes this concept beautifully and so poetically earlier in Galatians when he writes:

"For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you." Galatians 3:26-29

Supersessionism does not mean that the Jews bear collective responsibility for Jesus' death...


Supersessionism does not mean that the Jews are damned to eternal fire for rejecting Jesus...


Supersessionism simply means that the Old Covenant, its forms and symbols and practices, has been superseded by a New Covenant, for the Old has been perfectly fulfilled... 

...and that perfectly fulfilled Covenant stands, to this day, as evidence of the love of God, made manifest in Christ Jesus.

It is in that love that all people have access to the Creator, now, and for all eternity.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That Christians everywhere would denounce violence in all its forms,
most especially in the religious strife
that leads to tension, bigotry, and hatred between people of various faiths;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That world leaders would be sensitive to the beliefs of the peoples who live in their nations,
granting them protection from persecution
and encouraging dialogue among peoples of many convictions
to the end that human rights and individual freedoms may be preserved and strengthened;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That we would, in our daily lives, stand firm in our faith,
boldly confessing the truth we have received,
while, at the same time, being respectful
and demonstrating love to those whose faith differs from our own;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all those who devoutly ponder the Law and the Prophets
would find, in Christ Jesus,
the fulfillment of God's promises to his set-apart people;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That we,
the people of the New Covenant,
may be strengthened in faith,
confident that the Lord hears us
when we bring our prayers and petitions to him...
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 7:22-8:6
Psalm 40
Mark 3:7-12

REFLECTION: "We Participate in His Sacrifice"

Let's step back for a moment to our first reading, from the seventh and eighth chapter of Hebrews. In chapter eight, verse three, we read these words:

...since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices, our High Priest must make an offering, too. 


Now, my gut instinct tells me that most of us here can identify the offering that Jesus makes as High Priest. If, in your thoughts, your assumption is that the offering is his suffering and death upon the cross, you're wrong. Or, perhaps to put it a bit more circumspectly, you're only half right. 


Do you notice the parallelism that dominates the reading? The concept that the earthly temple, established in the Old Testament law, a temple that the recipients of this letter would have been quite flamiliar with, is a shadow, an image, of the heavenly? 

Now, Christ's sacrifice, made once for all upon the cross, is full and complete; yes! But, when we leave it at that, we miss out on something very important.

You see, when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, which is the Temple's shadow of the immediate presence of God, the priest did not bring in a live animal and slay it there. No. He slayed the animal outside, and brought the blood into that most holy space. There he pled the blood... offering it to cover his sins, and the sins of the people.

Jesus, therefore, when he enters into the Holy of Holies, the true Holy of Holies, is not going up to be re-sacrificed, but to plead his sacrifice, to offer it, as what the Bible describes as a propitiation, or perfect offering, for our sins.

In turn, when we gather to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as we await his return, he is pleading his eternally efficacious sacrifice for us! And, through the Sacraments, the power of that sacrifice comes to us, washing us, strengthening us, and renewing us in faith, for service, and in a depth of refreshment that goes beyond anything we can understand.



So, as we stand here, in this humble earthly sanctuary... what we are doing is empowered, not by mere words, not by timeless religious ritual, but by the eternal sacrifice of Christ Jesus, which even now, and for all eternity, is being presented, pleaded, offered before the Throne. And we, the people redeemed by him, are covered by that pleading, for that sacrifice comes to us here, in this room; not simply in some heaven light years away.


PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

That the people of God may recognize in their lives
the power and effect of Jesus' eternal sacrifice;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are lost
in pain, anguish, and loneliness
may be given the courage to approach Christ with their burdens,
seeking his peace,
and the consolation of the Spirit;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those whose lives are mired in sin,
and who believe there is no hope for redemption,
may see in Christ Jesus an eternal redeemer,
readily present,
and personally concerned with their spiritual state;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those with few to care for them
will know the over-whelming love of God
in a powerful, life-giving way;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the needs and concerns of this congregation...
and for the needs and concerns of our hearts that are known to God alone;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer. 



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 7:1-3,15-17
Psalm 110
Mark 3:1-6

REFLECTION: "Lawbreaking... starring Jesus and the Pharisees"

Jesus doesn't seem to have much luck on the Sabbath day when it comes to sharing his message with the religious types. No, I don't mean the rank and file Jewish believers who, even at this early stage of his ministry, have begun flocking to his public appearances. I mean for the religious leadership of the occupied Promised Land, and, by extension, for their relationship with the puppet regime of Herod.

Once again, Jesus, who - if you recall - was exalted in our reading last Tuesday for teaching with "real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law" (Mk. 1:22b) is turning ears and heads with a controversial teaching. He's just blasted the false understanding of the Sabbath plied by the Pharisees, and now he enters a synagogue and - GASP! - proceeds to do something nice for someone.

Now, we need to stop for a moment and understand a few things about Judaism in the Holy Land in Jesus' day. This isn't the place for a comprehensive overview of the subject. Let's call this a 'minute primer' on the topic.

Most lay-Jews were non-sectarian. They were Jewish, but, in our current language, they didn't affilliate with a particular 'denomination' or 'brand' of Judaism. There were, however, four significant streams of Jewish leadership active in Jesus' day. Josepheus, the Jewish historian, identifies them as the Essenes (famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls), the Pharisees and Saducees (whom we hear of often in the Gospels), and a group identified only as 'the fourth way' (which scholars today identify with one of a handful of active groups, including the Zealot party). The Essenes were generally opposed to participation in politics and seem to have been founded as a reaction to politically appointed priests in the Temple. They are never mentioned in the Gospels. The Pharisees embraced an oral tradition that was on par with the written Law, and also believed in the Resurrection of the Dead. The Saducees rejected both. Obviously, time prevents us from discussing all the possible 'fourth ways', other than to say that many of them were interested in promoting the liberation of Roman-occupied Palestine, by whatever means possible.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus seems to have landed in a Pharisee-controlled synagogue. Now remember, the Pharisees had an oral tradition that was accounted, by their party, as being on-par with the written Torah. Of all the myriad rules and regulations the Pharisees kept to preserve their ritual holiness, the Sabbath rules stood at the top. Most holy of all their laws, the Pharisees believed that Sabbath-keeping provided a righteousness that was unequaled by any other work of the written or oral law.

Of course, Scripture never really defines work for the purposes of the Sabbath observance. Some of the other laws of the Old Testament give some structure to the concept of what work means with regards to the Sabbath... but it was left to the development of the Oral Law to flesh out what Sabbath keeping meant... and, of course, when it came to Oral Law, it was the province of the Pharisees. They had the power to define (and yes, to selectively define for their purposes) what the law meant. And so, quite expediently, their definition does not agree with Jesus'... so his performance of a miracle, a healing miracle, immediately ran afoul... and they immediately ran to Herod to find a way to silence this upstart Rabbi from the Galilee.


We know from Colossians 2:14 that Jesus "canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross." Charges are only possible where a law remains in force. He destroyed the power of the Law over those who came to him in his death. But he did so as well during his earthly ministry. He was, after all, a different kind of priest... a priest, not linked with Judaism's ritual origins... but directly with the Most High God; just as Melchizedek was.

He did this with a succession of miracles, each more prominent than the last, during his ministry. Each miracle involved the healing of a sick person. In each case, Jesus could have waited till after the Sabbath. He repeatedly chose to heal disabled or chronically ill people, those who could have easily waited a few hours until sundown. The healings were both gifts from God, and overt acts performed to illustrate a point. 

Starting with healing a man in a Capernaum synagogue and culminating with giving sight to the man born blind (see John 9), Jesus systematically displayed the need to "judge not by appearances, but to judge with right judgment." He repeatedly challenged the Pharisees on the points they would consider most holy, to find out if they could somehow elevate their minds beyond their own traditions.


The cooked up boundaries of the Pharisitical sabbath meant nothing in the eyes of the God who instituted the Sabbath in creation. It had a much deeper meaning that they completely missed. And yet, it was their strongest belief... their strongest mode of sanctification in the works-based religion. So Jesus went right to their theological stronghold, and, not just once, but repeatedly, made pointed attacks against their traditions. 

Traditions can have great meaning and power. They can have deep purpose. Jesus never denies this. Just yesterday we heard the words of Jesus conveying to us that the Sabbath was instituted and intended as a blessing to us. But when the theological gobbledygook appended to a God-given institution becomes to much to bear, Jesus has no problem wiping it away in the name of the truth.

May God give us the grace to behold our own beliefs through a similar lens...  not utterly forsaking our traditions, but instead, insuring that our traditions and laws, be they ecclesiastically propagated or self-imposed, are Spirit-inspired, God-pleasing, and never found to be interfering with the purposes of our Holy God.

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

That Christians everywhere would be faithful to God's Word
as the ultimate rule by which their life is to be lived,
and may make right use of the Church's traditions
to further their connection with their Creator;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That church leaders may carry out their responsibilities to keep doctrine and beliefs pure
with a compassionate, pastoral heart
that does not seek to burden individuals with unnecessary weights
as they seek God's loving-kindness in their lives;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That individuals who feel that man-made rules have overshadowed Scriptural truth
may be given the grace to recognize the difference
between God's established standards of living and belief,
and those created by people,
so that they may discard what hinders them
and submit to what God has asked of them;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That denominations and ecclesiastical jurisdictions would seek
to more fully understand one another,
and, ultimately, that they would seek unity and peace among themselves,
to the glory of God,
and to the strengthening of Christian witness in the world;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs and intentions we bear in our hearts today
may be touched by the merciful love of the Father,
expressed in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ...
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 6:10-20
Psalm 111
Mark 2:23-28

REFLECTION: "Truth Matters"

Today we commemorate the life and witness of Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop of the Church who was born just prior to the rise of Constantine. When he was in his fifties, he was consecrated as bishop of Poitiers in Gaul (in modern day France) and became known as a fierce defender of the doctrines of the Church against the prominent Arian movement. For a time, he was exiled by the civil government - making his life and ministry a pretty compelling evidence as to why the government shouldn't be involved in legislating religion... but I digress.

Hilary was consistently found advocating for the truth as well as the needs of his people. Why? Because faith and works walk hand in hand.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews opens up with these words: "For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him..." 

"But wait," many may cry, "works are useless!" They might point to the famous episode where Luther, while reading Romans 1:17 (“It is through faith that a righteous person has life.") took out his pen and wrote "sola" (the Latin word for "alone") in the margin.

Of course, Romans 1:17 never says "alone". Not in the original Greek, not in the Latin Vulgate, and not in any proper Bible translation that I personally know of. In fact, the phrase "faith alone" appears in precisely one place in Scripture: "So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone." That's James 2:24... our actions and our beliefs make a difference.

In our Gospel today, the disciples, and by extension, Jesus himself, are criticized for plucking a snack for themselves off of live plants. Jesus goes on to rightly point out that the Sabbath exists for a purpose, and it is for people's needs, and not for the needs of God. The religious leaders of Jesus' day failed to understand a central concept of their own belief and practice, just as many well placed religious (and secular!) leaders of Hilary's day failed to understand the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ Jesus. 

Everything, the totality of our witness, our confession of faith, the theology we hold to, and the actions we take... all of them come together like the vertebrae in our bodies to form the backbone of who and what we are as Christian people. Right belief (orthodoxy) is vitally important. So is right action (orthopraxis). 

These two exist synergisticly. They enhance, empower, and provide nuance to one another, and when they are right and just, they flow from very Spirit of God. They move us forward to deeper experiences of faith, hope, and love, which lead us to abandon our own self reliance day-by-day and come to rely ever-more-fully on the grace of God to bring us through.

Hilary understood this. The early Christians understood this. The apostles understood this. We would serve ourselves well to understand it too. May we, like Hilary, always defend what we believe through the Spirit's inspiration and with passionate zeal... but let us never fall into the trap of believing that our theology is more important than our actions; for such is not a holistic understanding of our faith; and it will lead us down a Pharisitical path, no matter how cautious about it we think we are trying to be.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the Church may be continually inspired
with the Spirit of truth, unity, and concord;
and that all who confess Jesus as Lord,
may be united in fidelity to the word,
and live in unity and godly love;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all who minister in the Church,
may be filled with grace,
inspired in their teaching,
and faithful in ministering the sacraments.
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That our president Barack
and all others in civil authority,
might be guided by Divine Wisdom,
and given the strength and courage to do God’s will;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all those who, in this transitory life,
are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any adversity,
would know of  Yahweh’s presence with them in their time of need;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the Lord would graciously incline his ear
to our personal needs and intentions,
as well as the concerns of those we love…
In his compassion,
may all who approach him with reverence and expectation
be defended from every evil,
and granted what is needful in this life;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the wonderful grace and virtue declared through the life and witness
of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Hilary, and all the saints
may inspire us to remain, like them,
steadfast in faith,
and obedient to the ways of Jesus.
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.


Hilary

Today the Primitive Catholic Community commemorates the life and witness of Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, who is accounted as a confessor, and a Doctor of the Church.

Born in the year 315, Hilary of Poitiers lived and ministered during the midst of the Arian controversy. Hilary was exiled from his bishopric at Poitiers by the emperor because of his staunch opposition to the Arian teaching that Jesus Christ was not equally God, together with the Father and the Spirit. His exile, which began in 357, lasted three years, during which time he wrote several essays, including “On the Trinity”. Finally the Emperor was forced to send him back to Gaul because he was causing such difficulties for the Arians in the East. After a life of faithful service in defense of the orthodox Christian faith, Hilary died in the year 367.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 5:1-10
Psalm 110
Mark 2:18-22

REFLECTION: "Sometimes you've got to break a few... wineskins."


Things that remain static over time generally become, well, boring. But changing the status quo is often an arduous process. The old adage, "You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette" is an apt, if trite, reference to this fact. We are called to do things, sometimes, that radically shake up our experience of life in order to move forward in the pathway that God has in his heart for us.

Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus' disciples are asked about fasting... specifically why they aren't following the same fasting schedule as other prominent groups who are present in the region at that time. Jesus gives an initial answer which seems to point at himself as a reason... but he then goes on to offer two other analogies for his disciples behavior. I want to focus, for a moment, on the second of his analogies.



A wineskin was an animal hide, as the name suggests, that was used to contain wine. What is not immediately obvious from the context, and what we miss if we don't know how a wineskin was properly used, is the fact that fresh grape juice or very new wine was generally poured into a wineskin for the purposes of fermentation and aging, similar to the way we place wine in oaken barrels today. These skins were usually made from goatskin, which has a similar tension as most other animal skins... which is to say that it is resilient, but not terribly thick. And, just as is the case with any other animal skin, when the wineskin is stretched, as it is when the fermentation process generates carbon dioxide gas, the skin loses its integrity, and becomes subject to puncture. Eventually, natural fault lines, such as pores, in the skin, become naturally occurring weaknesses, ultimately 'springing leaks'. Thus, any time you were going to start a new batch of wine, it was essential that one invest in a new wineskin. The old skin had been stretched to its limit, and even if allowed to rest and re-assume something akin to its original size and shape, its structural integrity was forever compromised. Attempting to patch it up, far from repairing it, would have made the situation even worse. It's like attempting to use tape to patch up an old, brittle page in a collectible book... only to have the entire page disintegrate in your fingers. That's not what you want happening.

Jesus, in our reading, is making a point. As we'll hear throughout this week in our readings from Hebrews, Jesus is the High Priest with a difference. Instead of being considered a High Priest on account of his Israelite lineage, he is connected with Melchizedek, the King of Salem, who was a priest of God back in the time of Abraham. Instead of making continual sacrifices, day in and day out, year in and year out, for all time to cover the sins of the people, he makes a singular and unique sacrifice for the life and salvation of the world. 

Thus, it becomes necessary to do away with the old... for the old wineskin, which represents the Law, has already been stretched to its max, for the law had one overriding purpose, as summarized by Paul in Galatians 3:19:
"[The Law] was given alongside the promise to show people their sins."
But, as Paul goes on to say (in the very same verse),
"the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised."
In other words, attempting to use the Law, as handed down through Moses to the people of Israel had, through the Incarnation of Christ Jesus, become an ineffective means of containing the truth, as God wished it to be revealed. A new High Priest was on the horizon, and with him, a new rite... a new way of intersecting with God.


The concept is also an apt one to incorporate into our own personal spiritual lives. Sometimes, our prayer life becomes stale; the way we intersect with liturgy becomes tedious. Sometimes what we bring to the table at a given moment isn't meant to stretch or expand any further. Sometimes, we need new perspectives, different disciplines, and fresh motivations to move us forward in our faith walk. This does not mean that we need to cease reading Scripture, or praying, or attending Liturgy, or receiving the Sacraments. It does mean that, from time to time, as we grow, as we mature, we will need to vary our approach, our receptivity, to what God uses to strengthen and develop our spiritual lives... before we spring leaks, or before the structure disintegrates altogether.



You see, friends, faith isn't a static thing... it is dynamic. It grows, develops, deepens... it to questions, cries out for understanding, and yes, can at times experience despair. On the journey, some wineskins are going to get broken... and we're going to have to replace them. Sometimes, it can be hard... we get attached to our favorite wineskins, just like we do a great pair of shoes. But, just as wearing shoes beyond a certain point can actually damage your feet (and more!), so too does carrying a compromised wineskin.

So go ahead, toss out those broken wineskins... you never know just how amazing the vintage will be from the new one you find to accompany what the Spirit is pouring into your heart as your faith continues to grow.

PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

That the leaders of the Church
may follow the example of the Great High Priest,
shepherding the people committed to their care
with humility and obedience to God;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those considering vocations
to the priesthood and religious life
would do so out of a deep sense of God's calling,
and a heartfelt desire to serve;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are struggling with their faith lives
may be given the courage to embrace new ways of connecting with God
that are in keeping with their personal growth, challenges, and needs;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That those who are fearful of leaving behind old ways of thinking
and old methods of reaching out to God
may be moved by the gentle grace of the Spirit
to recognize the opportunities
to deepen their connection with the Divine;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the families of those who are coping with loss at the hands of violence,
be it ideological terrorism
or random acts of hatred,
may find, in Christ Jesus,
a ready companion on their journey of tears;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the needs and intentions of our hearts
may be heard and ministered with mercy and with love...
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Tatiana

Today the Primitive Catholic Community commemorates Tatiana, a deaconess and martyr who died in the first half of the third century.

Tatiana was a Christian martyr in 3rd century Rome during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus. She was a deaconess of the early church. She was the daughter of a Roman civil servant who was secretly Christian, and raised his daughter in the faith. Tatiana was captured by a Roman Jurist and exposed as a Christian. She underwent significant torture before she was beheaded sometime between 225 and 230.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 40
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
John 1:36-51


REFLECTION: “Knowing the Lord”

In our reading today from First Samuel, we hear something very interesting. As the story of the voices in Samuel’s head evolves, we are given what, off the top, seems like an afterthought detail. “Samuel did not yet know Yahweh because he had never had a message from Yahweh before.” 



Samuel then goes to Eli the priest, who finally figures out that God is calling to him, and so he tells him how to respond. Samuel, therefore, has his first experience with God in a personally manifest way.
Things are a bit different a thousand or so years later when Jesus is making the rounds after his baptism, while some of John’s disciples accept his testimony about Jesus and begin to follow him, and while Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael none of them know exactly what they are getting into. They are, though unaware, hearing and responding to the voice of God – uttered by the Word itself made flesh.

Ultimately, this has to lead each of us to a question… have we had a genuine personal connection with God? Would we recognize him today if he called out to us?
Now, Samuel certainly knew of God. As a servant of Eli the priest, he couldn’t not know of God’s existence. The same goes for these early disciples… clearly they are devout Jews, at least the pair of John’s disciples who lead off our Gospel reading are waiting for the Messiah to come, so they respond when John acclaims Jesus as the Lamb. But they have no idea at this stage of the deeper Christological theology that is being reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus. To put it another way, they didn’t realize who they were responding to. 


I bring up these facts to call each of you, as we move into this new year, to seek out consistent, personal connections with God in your interior spiritual life. Liturgy and worship, ritual and sacrament, Scripture and personal prayer are essential parts of a healthy spiritual life, but when God is actively speaking to you through these means, and through other, more direct means, you can’t help but find joy in him.
PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

We pray for the Church:
May all who are united in Christ Jesus hear his voice,
in their assembled worship,
in their study of Scripture,
and in the silence of their hearts.
O Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.
We pray for our Nation and Community:
May our president, Barack,
the members of the new congress,
and those tasked with governance here in our own state and community
be opened to the promptings of the Spirit,
that we may be peaceably and equitably governed.
O Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.

We pray for the Young:
May all those who are growing towards adulthood
be blessed with an ever deepening personal understanding
of who God is,
and how he is calling to them in their lives.
O Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.
We pray for the Elderly:
May they continue to experience God’s presence in their lives,
empowering them for service,
dispelling all fears,
and filling them with hope,
as they ponder what the future holds for them.
O Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.

We pray for our own personal needs and concerns…
When we are anxious,
when we are fearful,
and when we are uncertain,
may we hear God’s voice in a way that is unmistakable,
and trust that he will answer as is best for us.
O Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday in the First Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 4:1-11
Psalm 78
Mark 2:1-12

REFLECTION: "Forget not Yahweh's works."

In the response to our Psalm today, we echoed the words, "Forget not Yahweh's works." This is such a vital thought, or should be anyway, to us as Christians, that I think we need to take a few moments to unpack this concept. 



The idea of remembering what God has done for his people is not something new in Jesus' day, or in the days of the psalmist. Remembering what God has done is at the heart of an ever growing faith. Remembering what God has done is key to positive evangelism.

Remembering what God has done is, for Israel, a national action. It is to be woven into the fabric of their spiritual DNA, as it were. This notion carries over to the Church, and to her Liturgical form of worship, which we inherited from Judaism. We celebrate daily prayer, the Eucharist, and other liturgical forms of worship precisely because they are specifically crafted means by which we remember what God has done for us.


The psalmist points out that it is by knowing our own faith, and passing it along with passion and in purity, that subsequent generations are strengthened in their faith journey, and kept from falling into the trap of stubbornness that marked the Israelites in the desert.

This institutional remembering, however, is one part of the picture of how we catechize ourselves and the next generation. Liturgy is great. It is an amazing vehicle. It carries so much on its shoulders, but we must be cautious to ensure that Liturgy does not become a substitute for a personal, individual commitment to cultivating a living relationship with God. Liturgy as a part of that living relationship is great. Liturgy substituting for it, however... not so much so.


Liturgy walks us through vital truths, it gives voice to the praise of the Church, it allows God to speak to us and remind us of what he is doing towards us. One name often applied to the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church in Germanic languages is "Divine Service". In the worship of the Church, God serves us. 

But he also seeks to serve us at home, in the quiet, still hours of prayer that he calls us to nurture in our hearts and minds. Yes, it is essential to hear preaching and teaching, to join with others in prayer... but all of that is meaningless if we are not calling to mind for ourselves, in our own personal exploration of God's Word and his Person, what he has done for us from the beginning... in Creation, in the promise of a Messiah, through the Flood, in the calling of Abraham's progeny, in the Exodus, through the Promised Land, and to Capernaum... to the sick man's mat... and to his rising to a new life on his own two feet.

Friends in Christ, when we allow ourselves to be formed, through Liturgy, private prayer, Scripture study, and the deep, intimate connection to God that only silence can bring at times, we begin to get a foretaste of that rest that we read about in the Letter to the Hebrews today. Its a rest, an eternal rest, one that goes beyond our comprehension... but one that is the ultimate destiny of all who seek to still their hearts, know who God is, and embrace him for what he is.

And so, today, my brothers and sisters... if you hear Yahweh's voice speaking to you personally - through the texts we share as a worshiping community, through the readings we have just shared or your own personal Scripture time, through the prayers you offer on your knees at home, or in the still, quiet moments of reflection that perhaps pepper your day - harden not your hearts.


PRAYERS OF THE FAITHFUL

For a rejuvenation of our personal commitment
to both the public worship of the Church,
and to private prayer and Scripture study,
that we may be formed daily through our remembrance of God's mighty acts;
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the deepening of our own personal integration of faith into the various aspects of our lives,
and for the grace to listen to God's promptings in how to wisely apply what we believe
in our relationships,
our vocations,
and our daily thought processes;
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those, in France,
as well as in other areas of the world who,
being used to peace and security in their homeland,
find themselves deeply unsettled
by ongoing threats to life and liberty at the hands of extremists,
that they might find themselves visited by the Spirit
and gently led to the peace promised to those who follow the Master's way;
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who, today, 
find themselves in the midst of refugee camps, 
in foreign homes, 
or walking with no purpose, 
and for those who come to their aid, 
that their needs, fears, and losses may be consoled 
and fullness of life restored to them; 
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For children everywhere who are grieved in body, mind, and spirit
by war, abuse, neglect, or outright abandonment,
that in their darkest moments of sorrow,
and in their most painful tears,
God might be made manifest to them
in ways that are unmistakable and comforting;
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For the special needs and intentions that we bear with us today
as we gather in the presence of the Lord...
let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 3:1-14
Psalm 95
Mark 1:40-45

REFLECTION: "Well that didn't take long."
For a guy who wanted to fly under the radar, Jesus didn't take long in attracting crowds so large that he had to remain in more isolated areas, at least for a time. On Tuesday, in the wake of our Gospel reading, we examined some of the reasons that Jesus didn't want his name widely manifest, at least not at this point in his ministry. 


We identified two central reasons linked to those readings: First, he wants to avoid undue publicity early on because, as he shared with his mother, it wasn't his time. Second, names have power, and he didn't want anyone, especially demons, misusing his name or speaking it in a way that would discredit his preaching.


Today, we examine to other reasons that Jesus wished to fly 'under the radar'. 

The first of these, which is tied in what the concept of "Messianic Secret" that I mentioned on Tuesday, is to fulfill the model of the Suffering Servant shown forth in the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah says that one clear sign of the true Messiah is that he will go about his work with a sense of hiddenness, with humility and restraint.  Jesus' true power did not lay in his miracles, as impressive as they were. The true power of his incarnation was to be realized in his passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus wasn't interested in drawing a crowd and entertaining. His goal was to build faith through his atoning work on the cross. The astonishment that comes with miracles is not the same thing as faith. They may help to support faith, but they themselves don't constitute faith.

Second, and in a way we touched on this on Tuesday, if Jesus was manifestly revealed as Messiah, if he used such terminology openly, at this point in his ministry, he'd immediately be ran off into a prison. People speculating that John was the Messiah helped him to land in Herod's hands. Remember, in Israel, the Messiah was going to be a military leader, like Joshua (whose Hebrew name was actually Yeshua, just like Jesus!), and like the Maccabees. The Messiah was going to overthrow Roman occupation and restore to Israel its independence and self-determination. This was a threat to puppets like Herod Antipas... and to the Roman Empire. No, a Messiah just wouldn't do. That is why, for the most part, in Mark's Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, a Messianic title rooted in seventh chapter of Daniel, but one which did not carry with it the militaristic and revolutionary heft of some of the other titles of Messiah.

Now, I want to address miracles for a moment. Jesus' miracles are great and magnificent. Certainly faith is built where miracles occur... but faith isn't generally generated from miracles. Again, the faith that saves is not a faith in a miracle worker, it is a faith in a Messiah who renews our human nature through his death and resurrection... who forgives our sins and makes peace for us through the blood of the cross. Miracles form a helpful part of the framework of the 'house of faith', but just as Moses, so to are miracles servants in the 'construction' and 'maintenance' of the house of faith. Without a cross, without a spotless Lamb, there is no faith worth having.

Medical doctors and pharmaceutical researchers minister healing talents day by day... but they are not the Messiah. Those working in our streets even now, as the wind chill hovers in the -20's are showing great compassion and love, but they are not the Messiah. No miracle, no good deed, nothing constitutes Messiahship, Scripturally speaking, save for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah... and they require the Messiah to be a sacrifice for sin.

Hopefully, in this introductory chapter of Mark's gospel, you've already drawn closer to the mission of Christ, to an understanding of its nuances. It can't be reduced to a simple movie plot-line. It's complex. It's a real situation, with drama fomenting in the shadow of political and religious tension, where one wrong move can end things in a hurry.

PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL

For the wisdom to listen faithfully to the Word,
and to follow his example with patience, zeal, and wisdom,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who serve the Church,
that they may seek only the exaltation of God
and the salvation of souls in their labors,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who serve the common good,
that their lives and their work would be guided
to the relief of need,
the securing of justice,
and the reconciling of the human race,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who, today, find themselves
without food, shelter, or hope,
and for those who fervently seek to minster to their needs,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For those within these walls who must soon face death,
and for their families,
that as the Lord speaks in their hearts today,
they would be warmed with hope and consolation,
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our own personal needs and concerns…
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wednesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 2:14-18
Psalm 105
Mark 1:29-39

REFLECTION: "Grant Us Peace in Our Day, and Keep Us Free From All Anxieties."

Today, in our first reading - drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews - we hear a very powerful phrase concerning Christ's mission. The human race is described as people who have "lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying." 

We couch death in darkness. Black is the 'color of mourning'. We gather in dimly lit funeral homes that, frankly, always come across - at least to me - as being artificially maudlin. We seal tombs. We speak of 'The Grim Reaper'. Very little about the way we couch death is 'comforting' to those who look ahead with trepidation about their final days, no matter if they are 25 and in perfect health, or 85 and facing an uncertain diagnosis and health future.

Now, don't get me wrong... life is worth living to its fullest. If we can find ways to extend our life that are morally and ethically appropriate, then there is no reason not to do so. Same goes for quality of life. We can, we should, and we must continue to seek ever more effective treatments and, whenever possible, cures for diseases like cancer, AIDS, Ebola, and the like. Diseases, especially degenerative ones like Parkinson's, ALS, Alzheimer's, and the many forms of Dementia which rob human beings of physical and mental functionality deserve to be attacked with gusto by medical science. Emotional health too deserves a strong research into continually improving the lives of those suffering from Bi-polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression, and other impairments.

But these diseases, and even the cessation of our biological functionality (and yes, that's a nice way to say death) must be viewed, by us, as Christians, through the lens of Jesus' atoning death, powerful resurrection, and majestic ascension into heaven.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is seen healing various individuals... chief among them the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. But I can promise you this. His mother-in-law eventually died. That group of sick and demon possessed people... the ones who darkened the doors where Jesus was staying around sunset... yea, they got their healing; but they died too.

You see, while we may be healed of physical ailments via medical or miraculous means, while we may be delivered from self-inflicted demons, or from those who oppress and possess at the command of the Enemy, we are still subject to the rift, the separation that Adam created through his actions in the Garden. Though redeemed from sin, we still partake of its effects. We are still going to die.

It may happen through disease. It may happen in a car crash, or a terrorist attack, or in a multitude of other ways, but you and I are going to die, unless Jesus comes first. (Can I get a Maranatha from anyone?) But, as we are reminded in our selection today from the Psalms, God is faithful to the covenants he makes. 

In a few minutes, we will share the covenant meal that God has left us. To paraphrase the words of one of the Eucharistic Prayers from the Sacramentary, this sacred meal is "imbued with the virtue of his passion". What is the virtue of his Passion, well, our first reading stated it pretty succinctly:

"the Son... became flesh and blood. 
For only as a human being could he die, 
and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, 
who had the power of death.
Only in this way 
could he set free all who have lived their lives 
as slaves to the fear of dying." 

Jesus, in his dying, offers a sacrifice that takes away the sins of the people. When our committed sins are wiped away, when God's abundant mercy is poured out over us day by day, when the perpetual covenant is celebrated in our sight, our hearts become formed in new ways, and the fear and anxieties that surround a poor diagnosis, the loss of function, or even the barrel of a gun begin to diminish.

This isn't to say that, from time to time, we won't have moments of renewed anxiousness concerning the realities of life and death. Anxiety comes with the territory of our human nature. But, as we pray in the short prayer which follows the Lord's Prayer, known as the embolism, "Grant us peace in our day... and keep us free from all anxieties". When anxiousness begins to surface, and peace seems fleeting, we can look to the Cross, we can come to the Table, we can open the Scriptures. There, we will find sure signs of the Covenant, a covenant that we, as Covenant People, can trust to deliver us safely through the trials, the pains, and the troubles of life... and lead us safely to our Kingdom home.


Brothers and sisters, when you feel fearful about what lays ahead... might I encourage you to take our first reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews, and inscribe it upon your hearts as a shield? Through these powerful words, and the Covenant Meal we share, God assures us of his presence by our side, liberating us from the fear and anxiousness that surrounds our uncertain future, and yes, even our death.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday in the First Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 2:5-12
Psalm 8
Mark 1:21-28

REFLECTION: "Let's Muzzle Someone..."


As we enter into the new year, we encounter the Gospel of Mark as our weekday Eucharistic gospel reading from now through the beginning of Lent. Thus, with the exception of a few feast days over the next month and a half, we're going to be reading slowly and carefully through Mark's Gospel.

Today's reading brings us to one of the odd features of Scripture that many believers don't fully understand... in verse 23 of our Gospel - and we're in Mark's first chapter - a demon-possessed man openly professes not only Jesus' earthly identity, but also his eternal nature as the Holy One of God. Jesus immediately responds with a rebuke, "Be quiet!" This is the first of multiple times in Mark's gospel where Jesus silences those who seek to profess his nature. Later this week, we'll hear the story of Jesus healing a leper. And, though telling him a bit more reservedly not to reveal his identity, he still tells the man to keep it under wraps.


But why?

Biblical scholars refer to this as "The Messianic Secret", and while they cannot give us the mind of Jesus in the situation, there are some common Biblical and cultural reasons that can help us to understand why Jesus wished to avoid notoriety. Today, I want to focus on the two most prominent reasons.

As a foundation of understanding, let's revisit something we heard in yesterday's Gospel reading: "Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God's Good News." (Mk. 1:14) John the Baptist was languishing in a cell on account of Herod Antipas' concern that John was a threat to him. John, who claimed nothing other than to be a slave - well, more accurately - even less than a slave, was viewed as a threat to Herod's power, precisely because he was able to influence people. He was such a threat, but he was only administering a mikvah-type baptism, typical of Old Testament religious leaders. His mikvah was for the forgiveness of sins, and people were flocking to him that their consciences might be salved by the Jordan's waters. Some people clearly thought he might well be the Messiah, as we hear recounted in Matthew 11:3. Thus, John was a threat. Yet John is never recorded as casting out demons, or performing any other miracles. Imagine the kind of threat that would have caused! There was no logical reason for Jesus to place himself on the radar screen at this point in his ministry, for it was not his time to be more publicly manifest. This harmonizes with Jesus' own words in John 2:4, addressing his mother's request at Cana by pointing out to her that it was 'not his time'.

The Gospel writers give us, therefore, a picture of Jesus as an individual who was aware of his destiny, and knew what needed to be accomplished along the way. As it stood, his healings and preaching were soon enough going to start offending the religious establishment. Once they got their linen undergarments in the proverbial knot over him, it wasn't going to take long for people with real power to start working to undermine Jesus' ministry, and to deliver him, ultimately, to the cross.

The second reason that we can posit as to why Jesus would not wish, specifically a demon, to speak his identity widely, is because names have power. Think about that for a moment. In an earthly sense, you may well recall from a parent or spouse hearing your name pronounced in a specific way, followed by an immediate awareness of what was about to occur. From a spiritual perspective, names also have power. In Luke 9 we hear the apostles expressing concern that some others were casting out demons in Jesus' name. In Acts 2, the authority behind the apostles' practice of baptism is Jesus' name. In the Letter to the Philippians (2:10) we are told that at his name, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth. Names have unmistakable power. Demons confessing Jesus' name and his divine nature would only serve to generate more doubt and to dilute the power of the faithful witnesses who were to come along later, preaching in his name.

So, while it may seem counter-intuitive in our contemporary culture to avoid notoriety when trying to get a message out for public consumption, it was precisely an under-the-radar approach that Jesus wanted to follow for the early portion of his earthly ministry.


Even today, there are right moments to speak Jesus' name... and right ways to do so. Some moments are not opportune for the proclamation of the Gospel, or the power of Christ. I know, I know... that's just as baffling a concept for us as Christians as avoiding publicity is for a movie star, but there are moments when quiet actions without words are the only appropriate ministry of the Gospel.

May God give to us the grace to consistently act in accord with his will, the wisdom to choose our words and our timing to best minister Jesus' truth, compassion, and love to those we encounter day by day.



Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

READINGS
Hebrews 1:1-6
Psalm 97
Mark 1:12-20

REFLECTION: "Let's Get it Started"

So, the holidays are over, and it's time to start in with some New Year's resolutions, right? Some of us may have planned out our resolutions in detail, others may have broad sketches in their minds. And yes, a few folks don't fall into the whole 'resolution' mindset. So be it.

In our readings today, however, we are presented with some food for thought as we seek the ongoing deepening of our faith walk...

In our first reading today, drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews, the nature of Christ is insistently proclaimed. He is not an angel, a prophet, or any other created being. He is the Son of God!

Therefore, 
be it resolved, 
that I will firmly confess 
that Jesus Christ is of one essence with the Father 
(and the Spirit too!). 
Jesus Christ is God!

In our Psalm today, we profess the supremacy of God over the entire earth. We confess that even the stars of the sky glorify him... and we are reminded to never substitute anything for him in our lives. Not money, not advantage, not even family... nothing must take God's place in our lives.

Therefore, 
be it further resolved, 
that Yahweh, who is sovereign over the whole earth, 
will be the sovereign 
of my mind, 
my body, 
and my spirit, 
and nothing... no matter how tempting, 
will ever unseat him 
or become an idol for me.

In our Gospel today, we see the promise of new beginnings... of restoration... of renewal. Through fasting and a wholehearted reliance on God, we, like Jesus, can enter interface with life with a degree of mastery. Our self-discipline, shaped by the Spirit, can lead us to become more Christ-like day by day.

Therefore, 
be it further resolved, 
that I will take time to fast and pray, 
especially in times of temptation, 
so that I may entrust myself more fully 
to the care of the God 
who is the ruler of my heart.

We also witness Jesus calling others to join him in the proclamation of the Gospel. Just as surely as he is calling them, he still calls to us today. He seeks to empower us to share the Good News as broadly as possible, and through whatever means is appropriate.

Therefore, 
be it further resolved, 
that I will listen in the quiet of my heart 
to seek out exactly what new frontiers, 
or re-commitments, 
God is calling me to tackle in his name.

Finally, we are reminded of a central part of our ongoing growth and renewal: "Repent of your sins and believe in the Good News!"

Therefore, 
be it finally resolved, 
that I will examine my conscience daily, 
repenting with a true desire to change my life, 
and seeking out my pastor and others who can help me overcome my sins. 

I will do so with a fervent trust 

that the Good News can reshape 
my heart, 
my mind, 
and my spirit, 
even now!

And most especially,
as a part of this final resolution, 

I will strive to accept God's forgiveness, 
and to forgive myself!

Forgive me the perhaps chintzy format today... but as we really settle into the flow of this new year, there is a lot we can be doing to move forward in faith. Growing in our spirituality isn't simply an experience for Christmas and Easter after all!