Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Year B 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 7,1-4.6-7; Ps 147,1-6; 1 Cor 9,16-19.22-23; Mk 1,29-39

Today’s readings give us snapshots from life’s photo album. In these readings we see three related dimensions of human existence: the harshness of life, Jesus relieving us of life’s harshness, and the disciple sharing the Good News of Jesus’ healing and salvation.

In today’s first reading from the Book of Job, we take a cold, hard look at human life, at the problem of suffering, at life’s harshness, and its brevity. Because it was written before the advent of Jesus Christ, Job’s story is not the final word on suffering and is, therefore, incomplete in its conclusions. However, this ancient story resonates down through the ages to our own time. It finds resonance with us because we have experienced disappointment and suffering at different times in our lives. For too many people sorrow to constitutes the whole of life. When people suffer in the manner described by Job, our life becomes drudgery (Jb 7,1), happy memories tend to get swallowed up and any hope of a brighter future grows dim. At such times there is a temptation to despair, to no longer view suffering as an ordeal that will pass. Rather, suffering appears to be one’s permanent fate. Such a view of life, along with life’s shortness, is expressed in such contemporary sayings as "Life is hard and then you die."

Jesus knows the harshness of human life because he is one of us. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4,15). Furthermore, because Jesus loves each one of us, he sees our hurt and is touched by our suffering. This week’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel, in which we read about Jesus healing the man with an unclean spirit not only on the Sabbath, but in the synagogue, leaves off. Our Gospel today follows Jesus from the synagogue to "the house of Simon and Andrew" (Mk 1,29). Once in the house Jesus continues his ministry of healing by healing Simon’s mother-in-law who "lay sick with a fever" (Mk 1,30-31). In Mark’s account of this particular healing he uses two words that merit closer attention. The first is the Greek word egeiro and the second is the Greek word diakoneo, from which we derive the word deacon.

Egeiro means "to raise up" (Mk 1,31). What is significant about the appearance of the word in this context is that it is typically used to refer to Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, it is indicative of Jesus raising her- and us- from the sickness and death, about which Job laments, to new life. Diakoneo, or service, is what Simon’s mother-in-law does in response to being healed by Jesus. We read, "Then the fever left her and she waited on them" (Mk 1,31). The word "waited" is the English translation of diakoneo, which denotes much more than traditional women’s domestic work. It connotes ministry or service within the community. So, this nameless woman provides for us a model response to our encounter with Jesus Christ.

After sundown, which brings the end of the Sabbath, "all who were ill or possessed by demons" were brought to him. In fact, "the whole town was gathered at the door." Jesus "cured many who were sick . . . and drove out many demons" ((Mk 1,34). He then went from Capernaum to "the nearby villages" to preach. He went into their synagogues throughout the whole of Galilee, preaching and driving out demons ((Mk 1,38-39). In all of this Jesus establishes his authority over the forces of evil and death. We learn that the appropriate response for one delivered by Jesus’ saving power is ministry to others.

Job, like all of us at times- is overcome by the evil he encounters. In our modern technological age we daily encounter the evil that happens everywhere in our world. The evening news often seems like the bad news. But the Good News of today’s Gospel is that Jesus is not so overcome. On the contrary, through his life, death, and resurrection, he has overcome the world (Jn 16,33). His healing frees us from diseases of both body and spirit. Of course, we know that Jesus did not come only for the people of his own time. He is present to people of all times and of every place. His healing power is present for us in the Church until the end of time. He is present most concretely in the sacraments. Too often our initial reaction to encountering serious evil is to think that here we cannot be the followers of Christ. However, it is precisely where we encounter evil that we must follow Christ most closely. We alone cannot remove all the loneliness and fear; we cannot make a fever go away with a simple action, as Christ could. Yet, like St. Paul, by virtue of our decision to follow Christ, a commitment we make at baptism and for which we are strengthened in confirmation, we have made our choice. By choosing to follow Christ, we willing accept the responsibility of sharing the good news with others. All who choose to follow Jesus say with Paul "an obligation has been imposed on me" (1 Cor 9,16).

In today’s Psalm response we "Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted" (Ps 147,3). May we who’s hearts have been mended by the gentle, healing touch of the Savior bring our new life to others daily in all our encounters be it in our homes, at work, at school, or right here in our parish. We receive new life from Christ continually, especially in and the through the eucharist. Christ meets us in all the sacraments. When we are overtaken by evil and fall into sin, rejecting the wholeness and life offered us by our Lord, we are reconciled in confession. When we are physically ill we have recourse to the sacrament of anointing.

Faith is our loving response to God’s loving and unceasing reaching-out to us. The Holy Father in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, sums up our Christian vocation, modeled for us so well in today’s readings. Pope Benedict writes that those of us who have come to faith in Christ "have come to believe in God’s love." "Being Christian," he writes, "is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." Since it is God who first loved us, "love is now no longer a mere 'command'; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us" (DCE, 1). By giving this same gift in all of our relationships, we bring God to others. May we do this, like St. Paul, "all for the sake of the gospel" (1 Cor 9,23).

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Year B 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Job 38,1.8-11; Ps 107,23-31; 2 Cor 5,14-17; Mk 4,35-41

Images of raging waters and turbulent seas are found frequently throughout the Old Testament. We need only recall the stories of creation, the great flood, and the exodus to see this. Among the cultures of the ancient Near East the stormy sea symbolized the forces of chaos in the world. In the wakes of the Indian Ocean tsunami and last summer’s hurricanes, we know that even in our own day the sea’s untamable waves are beyond human control. It was over the invincible power of the waters that the psalmists and prophets exalted God’s omnipotence. We find an example of this in today’s psalm in which the LORD raises “up a storm wind” only to rescue the mariners by turning it into “a gentle breeze.” In the story of creation, the unrivaled sovereignty of God is on display when God creates the earth and causes his spirit to sweep “over the face of the waters” bringing forth life. His power over the chaos of the seas is elsewhere on display in Genesis when God, to use Job’s words from our first reading, “shuts in the sea with doors” (Jb 38,8) by separating the waters from the dry land (Gen 1,1.6-7). Though fearsome and often menacing, the roaring seas pose no threat to God, who is their creator and master.

The storm represents far more than a retelling of what occurred on a particular night over 2,000 years ago. The storm is both a terrifying natural event and a metaphor for the overwhelming difficulties that we experience collectively and individually on our voyage to true discipleship. In both cases Jesus is in our midst urging us to greater faith, to greater trust, to further abandon ourselves to God. Yet, just like the disciples in the boat, many of us have yet to discover through our own experience that Jesus is the one “whom even wind and sea obey” (Mk 4,41). In the psalm the sailors, beset by a storm and being tossed up to the heaven and sinking to the depths, cry out to the LORD in their distress (Ps 107,26-28).

Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, perhaps at multiple times, have uttered urgent words to God, like those shouted by the disciples in the boat: Lord, “do you not care that [I am] perishing,” suffering, failing, grieving, or hurting? It is a pious platitude merely to say that Jesus is with us in the midst of life’s storms. Or, that he is especially near to us when we are hurting, suffering, and downtrodden. Nonetheless, both these statements are true. But the only way to make them real is through experience. It is certainly not enough to believe the truthfulness of these pious propositions; we must know the person who asks us to put all our trust in him in order to know whether he is, in fact, trustworthy. In order to trust Jesus Christ consistently we must pray to him so that we come to know him. We must also get to know some of his friends, our brothers and sisters in faith, both those we sit surrounded by here today in church, as well as those who have gone before us. Having saints for companions and intercessors is an indispensable means of knowing our Lord better, as are daily prayer and scripture study. It is only through prayer, scripture study, Eucharistic fellowship, and constantly entrusting ourselves to his loving care through concrete acts that we really come to know our Savior. It is only by knowing him intimately that we come to know just how he works in all the various circumstances of our lives.

In addition to this good news, it is also comforting to know that there is a limit to suffering, our own suffering and that of the whole world. The set limit to which God decrees “Thus far shall you come but no farther” (Jb 38,11), is Divine Mercy. The boundary of this limit, the door behind which the sea of evil and suffering are damned, is the Cross. “Brothers and sisters,” St. Paul writes to us no less than to the Corinthian Christians of the first century, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all . . . so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5,15). Living for others means dying to ourselves. In order to live for others, we must love them. Loving another means making ourselves vulnerable, subjecting ourselves to rejection and disappointment, it means relinquishing control without ceasing to care. Conversely, it is the failure to love God and our neighbor, as Christ taught us, that causes human evil in the world.

In reflecting on our readings today, it must be remarked that is through water that God deigns to save us. The Rite of Baptism speaks powerfully of this sacramental reality when, during the rite, the minister blesses the water of the font saying:

“At the very dawn of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness.

“The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that
make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.

“Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image
of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism.

“We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the water of this
font. May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him
to newness of life” (Rite of Baptism for Children, pg 36-7).

In his graciousness, made most manifest in and through the sacraments, God washes away our sin and restores us to his favor. Through Christ he releases us from the prison of our selfishness to the freedom of loving others. It is on this voyage of liberation that Jesus Christ gives us passage and beckons us, as he did his disciples, “Let us cross to the other side” (Mk 4,35). On our way Jesus calms the stormy waters of life, which are for us a wellspring of holiness. My dear brothers and sisters it is God working through our struggles, trials, and failures that we die to ourselves, bury what is dead, and rise to new life. Having already been redeemed, it is through this on-going process that we are sanctified, that is, made holy. This is how we become new creations in Christ, that is, beloved sons and daughters of our Father in heaven who awaits our arrival home on the far shore. Like those rescued from the abyss in our psalm, or the relieved disciples in the boat, may we rejoice when our Savior brings us to our “desired haven” (Ps 107,30).

Friday, July 21, 2006

St. Mary Magdalene- Madeleine- Myrrophore-Isapostole

I just returned from giving a tag-team lecture on St. Mary Magdalene, the patron saint of our cathedral and of our diocese- Salt Lake City. Hers is such a fascinating story. At first glance the scriptural evidence of her seems slim. First, there is Luke chapter 8 verses 2-3, which reads: "1 and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.." This is the only passage that refers to her apart from the passion and resurrection narratives found in all four canonical Gospels. Two samples are found in Mark's Gospel, both in chapter 16.

Since chapter 16 of Mark's Gospel was added onto, only one of these is found in the original- chapter 16 (verses 1-8) which reads: "1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Then, the addition, which appears to be a variant taken from St. Luke's Gospel because it refers to the casting of seven demons: "9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them." Of course, there are the parallel passages in the three other Gospels that attest to her being the first witness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What is clear from this is that Mary of Magdala, a town near Tiberius, was the first witness of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, she has rightly been designated "apostle to the Apostles." Her story has been conflated with a couple of other stories in the Gospels (Luke 7,36-50 and John 12,1-3). Because of these conflations, which began among the Latin Fathers and culminated with the preaching of St Gergory the Great, Mary Magdalen, the only one of Jesus' women disciples not named with reference to a man, but to her city, gets confused with Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and the sinful woman, likely a prostitute, who enters the house of Simon the Pharisee and anoints Jesus' head with oil and washes his feet with her tears.

Of course there are the different "traditions," which amount to legends about St. Mary Magdalene from the East and the West that she went to Rome, preached to the emperor Tiberius and, as a result, Pontius Pilate was exiled to Gaul where he committed suicide. Or, that, along with St, John the Evangelist and Mary, the Mother of God, she went to Ephesus. Or, in the Western tradition, sticking with the conflations, she, along with Martha and Lazarus and other companions, went to Provence, landing in what is today Marsellies, not a bad place if you're going to France.

As in all things, there is the gnostic Mary kissed by Jesus and in the breath exchanged in a kiss, Christ imparting to her knowledge - . The Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, not, as misnamed on the link "The Gospel According to St. Mary Magdalene." But the gnostics are just as untrue to the historical witness of her and subsequent tradition, both East and West.

She is truly the myrrh-bearer and isapostole (equal-to-the apostles). A follower and supporter of the earthly ministry of Jesus. We celebrate her solemenity this Sunday. we implore her assistance.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Memento Mori

Death is the horizon against which we live our lives. Whenever we look out over our future, we see this horizon and quickly focus on that which is nearer. For many life consists in not much more than avoiding this reality. But faith invites us live and engage this mystery. Having completed my fortieth year last Fall, I have become more acutely aware of how quickly time passes. Therefore, I have become more concerned about I spend my time. Currently, I am trying to be less busy so that I am more free to live my priorities. My single biggest stumbling block to this is my ministry, which I do in addition to my regular job and raising a family. These priorities were made all the more clear this morning when I learned at 7:09 am that my maternal grandmother had passed away at the age of 90. While I was typing this I received another phone call informing me that one of my brother deacons passed away this morning as well.

I remember as a young man in my mid-teens wishing life would hurry up and happen. As a man in middle age I sometimes have the desparate desire to slow life down. The ancient hymn Dies Irae is a sobering, yet hopeful reminder of what is important.

Dies Irae
1 Day of wrath and terror looming!Heaven and earth to ash consuming, David's word and Sibyl's truth foredooming!
2 What horror must invade the mind, when the approaching judge shall find, and sift the deeds of all mankind.
3 The trumpet casts a wondrous sound,through the tombs of all around, making them the throne surround.
4 Death is struck and nature quaking, all creation is awaking, to its judge an answer making.
5 The written book shall be brought forth, in which is contained allfrom which the world is to be judged.
6 So when the Judge shall sit, whatever is hidden shall be seen,nothing shall remain unpunished.
7 What am I, wretched one, to say,What protector implore, when (even) a just person will scarcely be confident?
8 King of awesome majesty, you who save gratuitously those to be saved, save me, fount of pity.
9 Remember, gracious Jesus, that I am the cause of your journey; do not let me be lost on that day.
10 Seeking me, you sat exhausted;you redeemed me by undergoing the Cross; let so much toil not be in vain.
11 Just judge of vengeance, grant the gift of forgiveness, before the day of reckoning'.
12 I groan, as one guilty; my face is red with shame; spare, O God, a supplicant.
13 You who forgave Mary, and heard the plea of the thief have given hope to me also.
14 My prayers are unworthy; but you, the Good, show me favour, that I may not be consumed by eternal fire.
15 Grant me a place among the sheep, and separate me from the goats, placing me at your right hand.
16 When the accursed are silenced, sentenced to piercing flames, call me with the blessed.
17 Suppliant and bowing, I beg, heart contrite like ash: Have a care for my end.
18 Tearful that day, on which will rise from ashes guilty man for judgement.
So have mercy, O God, on this man.
19 Compassionate Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Amen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How Occasional?

I'm back almost a year later posting again. I have re-named my weblog from its original. Now that I have decided to take up blogging with fervor, I am making a few changes. One change will be that comments will be moderated. So, please don't spam me with your comments. If I were interested in antique cars or other stuff, I am capable of finding what I want on my own. Constructive, even critical, comments are welcome as long they foster genuine dialogue, are temperate and not profane.

The focus on my blog will not change, but within the realm of theology, pastoral practice, preaching, history, philosophy, politics I will range more widely. One feature of my blog will be my homilies, which I will post here. I also want to put up some notes for classes I teach and comment on what I am reading. I am looking forward to this endeavor made easier by my acquisition of a laptop computer and home DSL.

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word trans...