A Millennial Exodus for Meaning

The following are my remarks made at the opening of our pastorate meeting…

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to dialogue with some Millennials who I have met along the way and was telling them about the changes that are taking place in the Church.  Some faithfully practice and others come and go when they can.  At the same time, I’ve learned through them, that they are often the most misunderstood generation that exists and they get blamed for much of what we, older generations, fail to take responsibility for.  Their way of thinking and way of life can be foreign to so many of us, and yet, in many ways, I relate to them in a very different way.  If I had to sum up my experience not only of those who are friends but also whom I have worked with is that more than any other group they seek meaning and purpose in their lives.  They aren’t going to stay at a job or a church forever if it isn’t feeding the deeper hunger of their lives.  Honestly, we’re better at serving stones than bread.  It’s part of the mass exodus that has taken place over the years.  That’s not just the main Institution but the parishes that have been institutionalized as well.

Quite frankly, it’s probably a miracle or at least the grace of God that I have stayed in this institution over the years just knowing how much we haven’t met the younger generations in that way, often because we think it’s still about us.  Instead, we’ve blamed, resented, and projected our own stuff onto them while failing to see, become aware, and accept where we have gone wrong as Church, where we have failed at feeding the ultimate hunger of meaning in people’s lives.  And I include myself in this, we have fought over who can and can’t receive communion, we’ve fought over music and style of liturgy, we’ve fought over empty meetings that have been more about building ourselves up rather than the encounter with the other, and of course, even times and places for mass and other events.  All this while poverty continues to exist and grow, churches empty out because of our pettiness, attaching ourselves to superficiality while returning home empty, yes, even fighting over spaghetti sauce, war persists, hunger persists, murder within the pastorate rises, drugs run rampant up and down York Road, immigrants looking for direction, a school barely hanging on, people persecuted because of color and sexuality, among other things, and yet here we are, all of us, locked in the upper room out of fear, hiding in the comfort of our own space.  More often than not, clinging to what we have known rather than braving the great unknown.  If you want to know why Millennials often don’t show up, well, we typically don’t have to look too far.

If you haven’t realized, and I know many don’t know me beyond the priest, there’s a lot of stuff I just don’t care about, but what I do care about I care very deeply.  I care about people much more than institutions and parish agendas and identities.  I care about souls and the spiritual well-being of people because I know if we’re not healthy in a spiritual way we just won’t be healthy.  We’ll get hung up on the trivialities and have no perspective and larger picture.  I care about people and relationship and meeting people, having coffee with people, talking about faith and certainly preaching about it.  I’m well aware I have other responsibilities and other things happen in the life of a parish, but more than anything, I am about prayer, silence, and leading others to that same place, to find meaning and purpose in their lives.  It’s not that I don’t care about other things, because I do, but I can never quite stop myself from looking for deeper meaning and trying to lead people to the great unknown now so it won’t be as painful later, because it does always come.  I care about leading others to finding deeper meaning and purpose in their lives, through the muck of consumerism, capitalism, and politics which are often the gods we cling to in life.

When I teach, I always remind the students that, more than anything, we cling to what we know.  We like to be certain.  We like things to be black and white.  Yet, the more I have allowed myself to delve into mystery the less I see that as being real.  We, more often than not, find ourselves somewhere in between.  For me, one of the great stories that I use is that of the Exodus and people Israel.  They were miserable with what they were clinging to and yet, no sooner they are led to the unknown to encounter God in a very different way, being led to conversion, they immediately want to go back to what they know despite being miserable.  Heck, they get ticked off at Moses for leading them out of Egypt because they would have rather died to what they had known and clung to than to begin to experience life differently.  Aren’t we very much the same at times?

As we proceed, like Moses, we never quite know the twists and turns that we will encounter, and we have encountered them and will continue to do so, but our faith and trust must transcend what we know and what we cling to, which is often not real in the first place.  Don’t get me wrong.  We can continue doing what we’ve always done, business as usual, but know there are consequences to that as well.  Demographics continue to change, population is shrinking in most of this pastorate and appears to be in the near future.  In other words, we’ll die with it.  We’ll die with it.  As the poet, W.H. Auden, once wrote, “We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”  If I have learned anything this past year it’s that both locations have just that, illusions of one another, often deeply rooted in fear and the unknown which only entering into relationship can change.

So here we are, at the crossroads of change.  Like the disciples of Jesus in John’s Gospel, some may high tail it out because of change and what will be asked of them, because something is asked of all of us.  Some of this is personal.  I was close to just breaking down in exhaustion earlier this summer and I cannot continue to do that to myself.  If you read my blog you know that Notre Dame was like a “field hospital” for me and vacation more like respite care.  We currently have seven masses on the weekend and I’m seeking to move it to five.  In relation to the seven and nearly 30 in this vicinity, it’s not that much when we see ourselves as stewards of the liturgy rather than possessors.  I am a believer that less is often better because I can be better, and not allow the celebration that stands at our center to be entered into in drudgery and exhaustion. 

Change is hard and it’s messy.  There have been missteps and there will continue to be mistakes.  There always is when you wander through the desert.  Like the Israelites, our eyes have a way of deceiving us.  Change is also good and one of the few consistencies in our life.  As we enter into this discernment process and dialogue, we pray for the grace to move us to a place of encounter with and through one another.  We pray for the grace of the Spirit to come upon us and lead us to the place of poverty within our soul which often holds the key to so many of our struggles.  One of Pope Francis’ first quotes about the Church was that it is poor and for the poor.  It leads me to the image that we hold so dear, that first Christmas in Bethlehem when poverty took on flesh.  Here we are some 2000 years later, still asking for the grace so that we may be the same in the here and now, in this pastorate, as one people in and through Christ.  That, my friends, is what we’re all about and where we will find fulfillment of the deeper hunger for meaning and purpose in our lives.

 

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‘Better than This’

Isaiah 22: 19-23; Matthew 16: 13-20

In today’s opening prayer we heard something like, we pray amid all the uncertainties of the world.  Well, I’m not sure where it is we start with that.  It seems as if there is uncertainty and chaos all over the place, around the globe, the country, even Mother Nature seems to be playing a part, but also right outside our front door.  I’ve been here three years now and this was the first summer that I was awakened one night because someone was shot across the street.  I don’t know who he was or what the circumstances are but I’d guess drugs.  It’s the way of life in this stretch of road.  It’s been a rough summer in the city of Baltimore and here in our own neighborhood.  All I can think is, aren’t we better than this?  Aren’t we better than all of this?

You ever notice that’s often our response to realities like this?  It was our response following Charlottesville, following 9/11, after mosques had been blown up, among other things, that somehow we’re better than this.  It is the American way to these situations, somehow we’re better than all of this.  It’s the illusion and persona that we collectively try to project to the world that somehow we’re above these realities even though everyone else knows otherwise.  None of us can really escape it.  It’s a part of who we are but it’s also a way that we separate ourselves from responsibility and connection to those who suffer and hurt, people who walk this street day in and day out.  More often than not we’d prefer the illusion over the reality but the reality is that the guy shot is me and you as well.  In the end those who suffer those most from our thinking that we’re better than this are the poor who often get trampled upon to uphold the illusion and avoid the reality.

It’s where we encounter Shebna in the first reading today from Isaiah.  Shebna is about to be tossed out as the master of the palace because of his lack of responsibility to the people.  Shebna is all about himself and feeds into this power that has been given to him and has abused it.  God’s not going to have anything of it and is now going to toss him and raise up Eliakim.  As with many of these figures we encounter in the prophetic books they let power go to their head and becomes about thinking they’re better than others and somehow above others along the way.  We’re better than that would be his approach to the people and so now he’ll be humbled and stripped of this illusion of power that he has held so tightly.  God will raise up a father figure, one who can tend to the needs of the people and their pain, holding a place of honor in the family.  From the beginning of time we’ve lived with the uncertainties of a changing world and a fallen world clinging to power.  As I said, it’s very much a part of who we are as humans and certainly as Americans.

Then there’s Peter.  He too is given power today as they have this encounter with the Lord.  Upon this rock I’ll build my church, keys of the kingdom and so on.  Needless to say almost instantly it’ll go to Peter’s head and will be knocked down a few in next week’s gospel.  He immediately begins to think that he’s somehow better than and above the rest because of all this recognition from Jesus but despite identifying the Lord in today’s gospel he doesn’t yet realize he is also speaking of his own deepest identity.  Notice that Jesus asks two questions.  First he asks what the crowds have to say about him.  What is the image the persona that he is projecting to this crowd?  They say he’s one of the prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah or John the Baptist.  But then he goes directly to those closest of the followers, those closest to him and asks and Peter responds ‘the Christ’.  It doesn’t put him above them in some way or lording authority over them.  It’s a recognition of the reality of who he really is beyond any illusions and persona that may get in the way.  At the core we are the divine, myself, you, the man shot outside, those peddling drugs, those looking for some sense of belonging in gangs in this city.  At the core we are all the same.  When we think otherwise we begin to separate, distance ourselves, and as we are so good at, the problem is somewhere out there.  The illusion can be so strong and we love to hold it so tightly thinking it’s who we are.  But in the end it separates us from reality and the many uncertainties that we face as a city, a nation, and a globe.  In the end, we all know who it ends up hurting the most.

If there is one thing we can be certain of, the extremes in our politics and even in our Church cling to that illusion in their own way, that somehow they hold the truth entirely, that they are somehow better than.  But they’re not and we’ll never move to a place of healing as a city and nation unless we learn to let go of that illusion and move to the place of our deeper identity.  All our clinging to the illusion is a mere reminder that we continue to search for something, search for God in our lives yet we cling to the wrong thing.  There are countless people suffering in this city and country and beyond and yet we still seem to convince ourselves that we’re better than that.  Our prayer is to allow ourselves to be aware of it in our own life; it happens so naturally.  Then learn to let it go.  Once we can accept reality for what it really is we then can begin to change it for the better, ourselves and as a society.  It’s humbling.  It takes a great deal of patience and acceptance.  It takes a great deal of courage to step out of that illusion and see the other as yourself.  There is always hope.  If we don’t, we’ll continue to separate and buy into the illusion, keeping us out of touch with reality, out of touch with the pain of our brothers and sisters.  The problem is…the problem is…we’re better than this.

 

Stop Worrying!

Isaiah 49: 14-15; I Cor 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34

I have to say, one of the most disheartening things that I have seen as a priest are the amount of churchy people that worry about everything and live with so much fear. That’s not to say that there aren’t things that we all worry about and even fear. We certainly all know people who are sick, suffering from cancer, worry about health insurance, jobs, some these days fear being deported, heck, not far from hear many worry about whether they’ll still be alive tomorrow, and the list goes on, but so often it does beg the question that we can glean from today’s gospel, asking us where we put our faith. We can’t come here, in faith, believing that somehow God can transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and somehow can’t lead me to a place of transformation and conversion.

We’ve heard some challenging gospels the past several weeks as we delved deeply into the Beatitudes and the blueprint that Jesus puts forward as what it means to be a disciple and as Christian, in our language today. None of it has been easy and should be challenging us on many levels. However, this message of faith and trust lies at the heart of it all. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about dogma and doctrine. You know, none of that was around in the time of Jesus, but this level of trust as we hear in these readings today that somehow God will provide, despite our worries and fears.

Of course, we also live in a culture and society that is driven by consumerism and capitalistic America. Success means something to us today. However, the more we pursue it, the more it begins to take a toll on us when we begin to realize that we start creating gods and idols that we’d prefer to trust rather than to seek first the kingdom and keep our eye on the bigger picture of life and becoming consumed as consumers. That too begs the question as to where we are putting our faith. Unfortunately, that has even found its way into church and parish life. We want to be a successful parish. We want numbers. We need money. Before you know it, we simply become part of the problem because we begin to live our lives as the world does rather than seeking the kingdom. We become about building a business rather than leading people to faith in the true God who will continue to provide.

The same was true for people Israel whom Isaiah delivers this beautiful message in today’s first reading. He too reminds Israel about this faithful God despite their own unfaithfulness over the years. Think about them building their golden calf and the tower of Babel, thinking that will somehow take them to the God that they desired. It became about building and holding onto things, this god, for them, became about safety and security. It’s all the really wanted, even if it was an illusion of safety and security. But, of course, in time, that too all came crashing down around them and they find themselves in exile over and over again, lost, wandering in the desert, still trying to satisfy the lacking that they felt in their lives. Once again, they had to learn and ask where they were putting their faith and trust and was it really in a God that continued to provide. Sure it’s a scary proposition for us, especially in the face of so much uncertainty and so many realities that seem to scare us and invoke fear these days, but where are we putting our faith.

Paul tells us to seek that faith in the mystery in which we are stewards. It’s not something we own or hold onto, possess, but rather are caretakers of. This mystery, grounded in faith and trust, leads to freedom, where we can let go of the idols and gods that we have come to rely upon and even become addicted to over the course of our lives. His communities, especially Corinth who we have heard about these couple months struggled greatly with what it means to be a people of faith. Every community and person does. It’s the human struggle because we doubt and question, especially in situations where we worry, but as Jesus says, where does it get us.

As we round out this Ordinary Time in the Church and prepare ourselves to enter into a season of transformation and conversion, we must take with us this blueprint that Jesus has laid out before us the past several Sunday’s. They can’t just be left at the door now that we enter another season. Rather, they must continue to challenge us in the society and culture that we live. There is great fear and anxiety in the world and much to worry about. There is no denying that. But with each passing moment we must continue to ask ourselves where are faith lies and what idols do we continue to hold onto despite the disappointment that they often afford us. Is our faith in money? Is it in our success? Is it in what we own? Is it in an institution, including a Church that often disappoints?

Now imagine our lives with those scales falling from our eyes and that when we see bread and wine being transformed, in faith, so are our lives as well. Imagine that! It’s scary to think about it when these false gods have been seemingly so faithful to us despite the worry and fear they often invoke within us. As a matter of fact, it only seems to leave us feeling more short-changed in life. As we close out this time and enter into Lent, we can all do ourselves a favor by asking that simple question, where does our faith and trust lie? If it leads to fear, anxiety, and greater worry, well, it’s not in a God that always provides. Maybe it’s in a god that has kept us safe and secure, but it’s not seeking the kingdom and seeking a God who does faithfully provide.

Jesus Christ, Public Enemy Number One

Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48

What happens when the solution to our problems no longer works? Honestly, we have to prepare for it because the typical means of dealing with problems, these evils of the world, and so on, it is typically done through violence and fear. What happens when it doesn’t work anymore? Think about it, Jesus himself was public enemy number one. He was hated by the scribes and pharisees, as well as the political authorities of his day. He rattled their cages. He challenged the status quo. He preached this awful message of loving enemies, and yet, he was that person. For it, public enemy number one faces death, death on a cross. Why on earth would be we surprised that we would do the same thing? If we can do it to God, to Jesus, why not get rid of anyone and everything that stands in our way, our enemies. Yet, the message today is to love them.

So where do we begin. We first get rid of anyone with brown skin. We lock up black people. We bar Muslims. We can dump the President. We can get rid of Congress. There’s no need for the Church or any institution for that matter. Now, of course, we can throw in the press and the desire for truth and honesty. Let’s just get rid of everyone and everything that has become an enemy to our way of life. There is so much out there right now trying to open us to a place to look at ourselves and where we need to grow. But then what? When all else is gone, using the image that Jesus uses today, after I hand over my tunic and my cloak as well, I now stand naked, exposed, with no one else to blame for my problems, out of solutions, and after I use both my words and actions to take down the enemy, I’m left with myself and the greatest enemy of all, lying deep within myself, my own hurt and pain that I finally come to realize I can no longer outrun and no longer blame everyone else for in my life. If we’re willing to do it to Jesus, and none of us are innocent in this game, the only one left to destroy so often is myself.

Martin Luther King, Jr, in his sermon on this very passage said most of us live with “a persistent civil war that wages within”. It becomes the easiest of paths and the path of least resistance when we choose violence and hatred. It does make it easier, though, when we remove God from the scene. It’s the challenge that Leviticus faces in the first reading today. The writer speaks and writes of a God that is distant from the world. It’s so often easier to justify our wrongdoing and the bitterness that we hold onto in our hearts. It is so often that Christ within that tries to rattle all of our cages, moving us to a place of freedom in our lives where we can begin to deal with the injustices of the world and of our country. We mustn’t allow the oppressed and those who feel oppressed become the oppressor in return. If we are not living in that place of freedom ourselves, we so often resort to violence, and no, maybe not always physically, but with our gossip and talking about others behind their back. Violence doesn’t come just in the form of war, but often from our own mouths. That civil war becomes a persistent part of our lives when we desire to move to the place where we can love our enemies rather than destroy.

Paul warns of destroying God’s temple, which I am and you are and the community is, with Christ as the head. Paul warns them about taking advantage of those who may feel oppressed in the community of Corinth and beginning to think that somehow it’s about me and what I want rather than recognizing that we become instruments of God’s grace, a God who works through and with and in us. When we keep God at a distance we can put ourselves in that place of power, a power that is so then often abused and so the war begins of trying to take out anyone that stands in my way. Jesus was public enemy number one and if we’ve done it to him, who’s next? What happens when this solution to our problems, the deep hurt and pain we so often want to hold onto, no longer works, when we find ourselves, as individuals and as country, standing naked before the true God and the world, with no one else to blame for our problems, but now exposed for our own pain. It’s a humbling place to stand when we no longer have to fight that civil war and we can learn to love our enemy.

Sure, there are plenty of enemies in our world and plenty of evil at play. But the journey of faith that Jesus invites us into these weeks, leads us to that place of pain and the place of humility when I can finally begin to see that that damn enemy that I have been fighting all along is right within me, looking for attention and to be loved. Jesus understood first-hand, knowing that he was that enemy to so many, or so they thought. If he teaches us anything, it’s that when we allow ourselves to go to that place of pain and ask ourselves why we do hate and why we even desire to have enemies and what it is about them, we can finally hold the mirror to ourselves, individually and collectively, and realize it’s not a solution that we desire, but rather healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. An alcoholic will always think that alcohol is the solution to his problems, but in the end, it’s a destructive end to himself and others. Hurting people will always think that violence and “getting rid of” is the solution to our problems, but in the end, it’s destructive to ourselves and others. Sure it may give an immediate gratification and stroke our ego, but it’s never a long-term reality of the Kingdom that Jesus preaches.

The civil war will only persist in our lives if we don’t first deal with the enemy within ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to project it onto the world, continuing to hate and to hurt. We must live a life of resistance that heals, a resistance that forgives, a resistance that leads to a deeper love. That is why this gospel stands as one of the most difficult and most challenging that we hear all year. It’s not easy to love people around us sometimes let along those whom we have deemed enemy. It’s a sad way to live our lives when we give into such hate and violence. When we resist the temptation, and it will always be a temptation, to retaliate and exact revenge, we finally move to that place of freedom, free of any oppression in our own lives, to then begin to tackle the real problems that exist. Hate leads to more hate. Violence leads to more violence. It’s time to accept the challenge for all of us to hold that mirror up, with public enemy number one looking back, leading us to a place of love, forgiveness, and healing, first in ourselves and then for the salvation of the world.

Family Trials

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53

There are no mincing words in today’s gospel. It seems as if there’s no good news as Jesus speaks of division among family, if you believe good news is simply keeping the peace. We must, though, put it in context. For the past several weeks, probably back to the Good Samaritan in mid-July, Jesus has been, in one way or another, attacking different institutions. He doesn’t always do it by judgment directly, but rather through these rather provocative statements and stories which keep inviting the disciples into deeper understanding. He goes after the political authorities. He certainly goes after the religious institution of his day. So why not go down to the most basic of institutions that we all are a part of, family.

The time of Jesus was no different than our own. Institutions, including family, are about keeping the peace rather than seeking peace. Now we all know what that means. It’s about avoiding problems out of fear. There always seems to be the “elephant in the room” that no one is allowed to talk about out of fear how it is going to be seen by the rest of the world. It’s about avoiding these conflicts to grow and become more integrated people; it’s about keeping the peace as we have determined and anyone that tries to disrupt that is so often ostracized.

It should be no surprise to any of us that it would filter up into these larger institutions that we are a part of in this world. We have seen it in the Church over the years and the abuse scandal. It became about protecting the institution rather than the people. We certainly see it with our political parties. You even hear them say it that it’s for the party and not about the good of the country. Institution first before the people that are being impacted by it all. Even if you read any of the DOJ report on Baltimore this week you would have seen more of the same. It’s about protecting the institution rather than the good of the people. These realities are the same realities of the time of Jesus, but over these weeks he’s trying to move the disciples to see differently and hear differently. Today, he takes it to the core, the family, where so much of it begins and we learn our learned responses to dealing with life that we so often have to let go of in order to grow and become the prophetic voices of the disciples.

No one does it better than Jeremiah that we hear in today’s first reading. Who’s he up against? Political class. He’s facing the princes of his day who want him dead. Jeremiah has the conscience the size of the earth and doesn’t always know what to do with it. He struggles greatly trying to be faithful to the word of God in his life. He allows the word to change his heart and then struggles when he finds himself in these situations where he has to speak truth and raise consciousness of the leaders. So what do they do with him? He’s thrown into the cistern. He too is ostracized. They don’t try to reconcile the problems and seek the good. Rather, they blame him and try to get rid of what they think is the problem. King Zedekiah is thrown in the middle of it and is left with a choice. Is he going to keep the peace with the princes or side with Jeremiah. It’s so often advocates for the prophets that frees them and that’s the case for Jeremiah. He’s freed despite the danger that he poses to these institutions because of the interior freedom that Jeremiah continues to seek. That’s the peace that Jesus seeks for his disciples and us.

But there is a great price for living differently in that way. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the suffering that one must undergo in life with Jesus being the model for his disciples. He really isn’t about keeping the peace as we have come to know. Rather, he desires a deeper peace. It’s messy. It’s hard. It comes with great suffering and great cost with the possibility about being thrown into the cistern, sinking in the mud. But when we allow our hearts to be changed by the word and we grow as adults it comes with great freedom as it does for Jeremiah.

Unfortunately, we too continue to live at a time when prophetic voices are silenced. We don’t want to hear it on all levels of institution. We live in great fear so often and sell fear because it becomes the norm. Rather than confronting the real problems that this city faces, this country faces, and this world faces, we try rather to keep the peace and protect something that isn’t even real in the first place! We strive for our own interest rather than seeking a more just society by entering into the messiness of our lives, just as Jesus does for us.

As we continue in prayer today, we pray not only for families that do face great divisions but the divisions that exist on all levels of our lives. Rather than seeking to keep the peace we must enter into the difficult conversations to seek reconciliation in our lives and world. It begins at the most basic level of our lives, the family. We can’t expect change on greater levels if we’re not willing to do it in our own lives. Otherwise we simply blame and continue this cycle of victimhood all at the price of human lives. We pray for peace, not in the way we have come to know, but in the peace that Jesus desires for us; that our hearts may be opened to these words and change the way we see, hear, and love so that the kingdom that Jesus preaches may become a reality, a kingdom of eternal peace.

Lip Service

James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A few years ago I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t watch more than an hour of news a day. Quite honestly, it’s too depressing most of the time and much of it is useless chatter, especially now that we’re into this presidential cycle of elections. As I listen to them and the commentators, I can’t help but to think that it’s more of an election for high school or middle school class president rather than for the United States, the way they bicker with one another and all of us know full well, deep within, that much of it is lip service, and in turn, very little substance. Yet, that becomes a way of life for us in this world where we fail to look at what is most important and get caught up in the wave of lip service that, in the end, is divisive, means not much of anything and we become, once again, consumers with someone trying to sell us something.

Now this is nothing new, this lip service. Even in the time of Jesus, many of these gospels that we hear seems to be lip service of the scribes and pharisees and Jesus trying to lead them to that place of substance within themselves. Here we are again today. Do the Pharisees and scribes that now gather around Jesus really care about his well being or that of the disciples or the crowd that is moving in on Jesus? Not necessarily. They cared about what they have made into their own god, these laws and prescripts about washing hands and things. The confrontation comes when they care about that where as Jesus tries to lead them to what is in the cups and jugs, inside ourselves; that’s where the change needs to take place. Quite honestly, this is why so many have lost interest in politics and for that matter, the institutional Church, because it has been so much about the lip service, so often about making gods out of the rituals, the ideology, the thoughts, making them an end in and of themselves, rather than seeking the true substance that gives life, that fills the cups and jugs and allows us to live life to the fullest, to be people of integrity and faith.

Be doers of the word and not only hearers as James tells us in the second reading today. We attach ourselves to these false religions he writes, when the word doesn’t lead to action, when the interior and exterior aren’t jiving, when all of this is about practicing rather than living. When we simply hear the word and not allow it to change our hearts, we undoubtably end up using it against the other or ourselves, to bring them down, to build ourselves up, as the scribes and pharisees do in today’s gospel, rather than allowing it to change our hearts. We all know that guilt and shame that so often becomes the driving force of our lives, holding us back from the very substance of who we are. That’s why Jesus sounds so harsh at the end of the gospel today of the stuff that we carry around in our hearts and become rigid in our lives. We become about trying to change others to conform to us and our way rather than being changed by the encounter with Christ. Here they are, front and center, building in around him, and they aren’t moved to seek the substance of their very lives, remaining rather on the surface, caught up in the rules, offering nothing but lip service. How easy it is to make God into something that God is not, for all of us.

The readings challenge us today to look at our own lives and our own hearts. First, are we falling for the lip service of others, easily buying into the lies. Second, are we in turn doing the same in our own lives, merely lip service but not seeking the very substance that gives life within. Be doers of the word and not just hearers, allowing ourselves to be changed by the word. Be people of integrity, where we in turn live life from that place of substance, not getting caught up in the exteriors of the cups and jugs or our lives for that matter, but come to accept that it’s the very substance within, the deeper truth of our lives, that gives meaning to who we are moving us from settling for lip service in our own lives to people of integrity, of true faith, rooted in the very Christ that leads to the full life we desire.

You Are God’s Building

Ezekiel 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12; 1Corinth 3: 9-11, 16-17; John 2: 13-22

Since the beginning of salvation history, as read in Scripture, there is an ongoing tension of where one praises, thanks, worships, God. There is this tension that it must happen in a specific place, such as this church or that that temple or some synagogue. Certainly there is some significance to that and we continue to do it today. But God is not simply found in this structure. Jesus breaks that mold by moving around and ministering and being present in so many different places and leads us to finding God in all things.

In this day and age, when churches are closed and merged in many different ways, it too is challenging us to see and view church in new ways. I know my home parish up in Pennsylvania is no longer open and functioning. It’s hard for people because we become attached to the structures. They mean something to us throughout our lives but so often can no longer be sustained. The readings this weekend provide us the opportunity to look and see beyond church as a building and a specific place. As a matter of fact, Paul says today in his letter to Corinth, “You are God’s building.” It is you, me, we that make up this church beyond the building. If the building were to be fall today, church would still be because we would still gather and pray. It would still be a living body, growing, changing, and seeking conversion to newness of life.

Paul wanted that for the people of Corinth. He eventually works his way up to the many challenges facing the community but begins with this ongoing dialogue of what church and community are and can be. He has high expectations for the people. Yet, he is aware that there is divisions in the community. He realizes that some are being excluded from the eucharistic celebration of the community. Some are being singled out by others, and so he reminds them of their foundation in Christ. Christ was not one to exclude from the body but found ways to be inclusive, even when others thought they should be excluded. If they are to become the body, with Christ as the foundation, then they must build from that in including, especially those who are hurting, exiled, banished, and being pushed away and judged and deemed unworthy by the community.

Ezekiel, in the beautiful first reading we hear today reminds us that that life comes and flows from within each of us, building on what Paul says as we being the church, the building, we are mindful that we too must seek conversion and change in our lives, as individuals and as a community. If life isn’t flowing and we’re not being moved to change within, then we become a stagnant water, drying up, lacking fruit. We begin to age and the building begins to fall down and away from us, in need of repair. It can happen to us and it can happen to community. At times, we become an obstacle for others being church.

Jesus addresses that in today’s gospel from John. John wants to send a message loud and clear that there is something different about Jesus. In the other gospels this episode happens near the end of his time but John places it right at the beginning. This is a God that is going to disrupt the natural flow and stagnant water. The sellers and money exchangers become an obstacle to those seeking God, even at their holiest time of year. They prey on the weakness of the people. That’s why Jesus gets angry with them; they too are making the choice who to exclude, and as usual, it is those who truly desire and seek conversion and the living presence of God.

Although this feast doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot to our daily lives, I do think it and the readings today provide us the opportunity to reflect on church and what it means in this day and age and how we can continue to become God’s building, ever-present, ever-changing, a community of conversion. Yes, the building, structure, institution has its place, but it is also more. That is why we come here as a body. Not to exclude or judge or anything else. Yes, it’s important for us to come as our whole, not just what we have deemed holy in our lives, but our darkness and shadow as well because that is where we seek conversion. As the body of Christ, we come not just to receive something; that makes us consumers. We come in order to continue to become what it is that lies before us, here on this table; the body of Christ becoming the Body of Christ, broken, seeking wholeness, seeking conversion, seeking to become God’s building, the living body of Christ in the church and in the Church.