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.