Friday, December 9, 2016

Light and Truth

Mark Twain is purported to have said, "A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots." And that was long before the internet. There appears to be, in our wounded human nature, something that makes us willing, almost anxious, to hear bad things about people we don't like. It is not new. In the gospel today we hear,

John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Spin as we call it is as old as sin itself. 21st century technology has simply provided this evil inclination in us with new tools. Now we can all be publishers, but as Christians we have a particular responsibility to the Truth. After all, we claim to be followers of the one who is The Way, The Truth, and the Life. When the candle is given at the Rite of Baptism, the minister says, "...[he/she] is to walk always as a child of the light."

Among the titles for Satan are: Father of lies, and Prince of Darkness.

Before we post, share, tweet or retweet; we should always ask ourselves, "Am I sure this is the truth?" And then when we are sure it is true, we still need to ask, "Does it add to the light or the darkness?" Many thing can be true, and still be words of darkness. If we tear down rather than build up, if we open old wounds rather than bind them up, the we are still working for the darkness.

Social Media is a magnificent invention it can literally unite the world. And nearly a third of that world professes in some way to be Christian. As we continue to light the candles of our advent wreaths, let us also be the one who work to transform social media into places of light and truth for all people.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trusting the Word

About once every decade Christmas falls on a Sunday, giving us the opportunity to celebrate four full weeks of Advent. This is one of those years.

Today's gospel takes us to the last words we say at mass before receiving communion, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." These words are the words of the centurion personalized. The centurion spoke of his servant who needed healing. We speak these words of faith, recognizing our own need for healing.

As a commander, he centurion in the Gospel understands the power of words. He speaks and something happens. As he says,

I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Even more so with the Word of God. The story of creation tells us he spoke and it came into being.

Each time we participate in mass and we repeat the words of the centurion, we should call to mind that we are the servants in desperate need to healing. The good news is that the medicine we need is the Eucharist. With the faith of the centurion we believe that when the priest spoke the words of Jesus,the bread and wine became His body and blood. And when we receive the Eucharist in faith, that grace can heal even those wounds we do not know we have.

On this first Monday of Advent, may we be the servant and the centurion, the one in need of healing, and the one with the faith to be healed. And so we pray, Come Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Darkness and Light

Growing up Baptist, I knew nothing of advent wreaths and candles. The nearing of Christmas was marked by television: Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (with the voice of Boris Karloff). And yes, even though I now know advent wreaths and candles, I still want my tv shows.

But after I was ordained I found out about another more obscure advent tradition, the Advent Nazi. It's a church version of Jerry Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. These are the people, often priests sometimes a lay person, who have been to one too many liturgical conferences, who want absolutely no Christmas in their Advent: no decorations, no music, no parties, none of it. While I understand the sentiment and hate the Christmas decorations the day after Halloween in stores, I don't think it's a battle we can win.

Where we can win is internally. If we look at the history of Advent we discover that it was originally a time of fasting, parallel to Lent. It was the early Church's counter-cultural response to among other things, saturnalia. While the pagans got drunk, the Christians fasted and prayed.

Today we begin a new liturgical year. Our Jewish brothers and sisters begin each year with a time of penance, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Perhaps this year we need to remember why we wear violet. We need to remember the penitential quality of Advent. We need to identify those parts of our own lives that still need conversion. In Advent, the days grow progressively darker, each one shorter than the one before. In the same way darkness can slowly creep into our own hearts. As we move through the days of Advent can we name the darkness in ourselves, so that Christ can wash it away and make room for his own marvelous light. Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's not about quantity

Today's gospel ends with the famous,

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed.."

Most of us remember that part but not what causes Jesus to say it. He had just explained to his followers that if someone sins against them 7 times in a day and comes back each time and says "I'm sorry", they are expected to forgive. Their response is to ask for an increase in faith to enable them to forgive in this ways.

They think the problem is a lack of faith on their part. They think Jesus needs to give them more faith. Jesus understands that faith is not something to be quantified in that way. A mustard seed of faith is more than enough. After all it is a supernatural gift from God.

What is require in the gospel is not an increase in faith by Jesus, but a decision by the disciples, the decision to convert the faith they already have into action. The disciples want to put the ball in Jesus's court, YOU increase our faith. Jesus put the ball squarely in their court.

So it is with each of us. Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you have faith at least the size of a mustard seed. We have the faith, now we have to make the decision and the effort to put that faith into action, not by uprooting mulberry trees, but by forgiving and loving, not just loving God but loving our neighbor. For me, as a priest, the great question for tomorrow is not who will win but, will Christians behave like Christians.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

All Souls Day

Yesterday the church celebrated all those who have run the good race and are now in the presence of God interceding for us. Today the Church turns our attention to those who have yet to complete the last leg of the race.

I know that there are those who will deny the concept of purgatory because the word isn't in the Bible, or see it as old-fashioned or outdated. In reality, it is the necessary and logical consequence of justice.

We believe that justice is a part of natural law. It is more than a social convention. It is rooted in God who is the only perfectly just one. In God we find both mercy and justice perfectly balanced.

When we sin there is a twofold consequence. One that relates to our eternal salvation and the other the temporal punishment due in justice. When the child breaks your window with a baseball and says I'm sorry, in mercy, you may forgive him. But in justice he still owes you for the window. The person who has committed horrible crimes her whole life and converts on her deathbed is forgiven. But in justice there is still a price to be payed for the life of sin. And which of us can hope do die sin free?

The scriptures are filled with passages that remind us that our words must be linked to actions.

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

For this reason, we not only ask for forgiveness but we also DO penance.

Today we pray for all those who have fallen asleep, that their final cleansing, their purgatory will be complete and they may enter the company of the saints we celebrated yesterday.

Today is also a reminder to each of us of the need not only to ask forgiveness but to do penance for the sins we have committed that we too may one day join the company of the saints in heaven.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The abandonment of ego

Today we pick up reading the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians with chapter 2. There St. Paul puts forward what may well be the most difficult challenge in living the Christian life. Each of us is to avoid all selfishness or the search for what he calls empty praise. And we are always supposed to act not looking toward our own interests but the interest of others.

The surrender of self and self interest is a constant struggle for all of us. Two places where we can easily see it are when we drive and even more when we are on the phone and put on hold. In those moments how many of us can hear St. Paul's admonition to think of others as more important than yourself?

The Church provides us a place to practice selflessness in her liturgy. In liturgical prayer we are called to abandon ourselves to the prayer of the Church. The presider is called on to use not their own words or gestures but those of the Church. Every aspect of the liturgy (words, postures, vessels, vestments) belongs to the Church and not to any individual or community. Even the homily is not about whatever the priest or deacon chooses but is limited to those topics listed in the General Instruction.

To celebrate the liturgy in this selfless way requires tremendous discipline. All of us at times feel the urge to deviate. Those on the right want to import from previous forms of liturgy. Those on the left want to be creative. Both are manifestations of the same ego that says, "I know better."We practice selflessness in liturgical prayer in the hope that it will help us to live it in our daily lives.

Every time we walk through the doors of a Church we should remind ourselves that this is the time and place that I surrender myself. And when we hear that interior voice rising up to criticize (the deacon, the lector, the musician, the priest), we should recognize it as ego, name it and return to a spirit of prayer. If we look closely we will find that our greatest distraction do not come from the outside but from our self.

Monday, October 24, 2016

November 9th

More and more I find myself worried about, November 9th, the day after the election. Regardless of who wins, we are still going to have to come together as a country and function. We know as St. Luke tells us "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." And we have undoubtedly been entrusted with much more.

In today's reading from Ephesians, St. Paul tells us how to act toward one another.

Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

In the Greek, the three words kind, compassionate, and forgiving are side by side.

The word kind can also be translated as well-mannered. I feel like an old man when I have to say things like this, but it seems that we have all but given up on the concept of manners. We somehow fell into the erroneous belief that we have a right to express our feelings in all times and places. One of things that separates adults from children is the ability to monitor and judge the feeling that rise up in us and know which are worthy of expression and which are not, how to be be considerate of others.

The word St. Paul uses for compassionate can also be translated as tender-hearted. To some in our culture that sounds unmanly. But look at the alternative, hard-hearted. There is no middle space. We are one or the other. Which will you be?

Most important is the last word, forgiving. St. Paul tells us that we must be forgiving of one another as God has forgiven us in Christ. And if we look at the whole New Testament, we are told repeatedly that we will be judged as we judge, and forgiven as we forgive.

This year offers us as Christians an opportunity to stand out from the crowds and witness to our faith. While others around us yell insults, we can show that we are followers of Christ by being kind,compassionate, and forgiving.