Love’s Downward Motion

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; John 13: 1-15

This evening marks the beginning of this three day retreat as it was meant to be, when the great feast and the hour that Jesus had anticipated had finally come together.  If you were at the Seder Meal you know it’s true of our Jewish brothers and sisters as well as they prepare for their great feast beginning at sundown tomorrow.  They don’t gather simply to remember with a sense of nostalgia of days gone by, the good old days or anything like that.  Rather, there’s a retelling of the story to make it our own, in this very moment, when once again the great feast and the hour join in the person of the incarnate Love.  We open with this first Easter prayer with the washing of the disciples’ feet as we hear in John’s Gospel.

Jesus seems to move now with great intention towards his own moment just as Israel does in this moment of Passover.  They are to eat with great urgency and intention as they enter into this exodus experience.  As the reading tells us today they find themselves in Egypt without any ability whatsoever to love Pharaoh for what has been inflicted upon this community.  It’s hard to love someone who has brought about so much pain in their lives, living lives of oppression, and the only true desire is freedom, the Promised Land.  The feast and the hour has come for Israel.  Yet, they don’t even quite know what it is that they seek freedom from or for.  No sooner they find themselves freed from the hand of Egypt they want to go back.  They had become comfortable in their own darkness, pain, and hate towards this way of life.  To love seems nearly impossible.

Yet, thousands of years later the Son comes down from heaven and takes on human flesh for that very reason and tonight, for John, it’s where it all begins to align.  Notice with this gathering, unique to John, all are present.  Not only the one who denies Jesus in that hour but the one who denies.  In this very moment Judas becomes the archetypal character in John’s Gospel.  It even seems to be anticipated by Jesus in this moment.  As the pressure seems to mount, Judas falls for the ways of the world and succumbs to the hostility that seems to have been gathering around Jesus leading to the alignment of the great feast and the anticipated hour.

This is precisely the moment John waits for and anticipates.  Not only does God come down from heaven and take on flesh, become human, but now this same God sets in motion this downward trend to his knees to wash the disciples’ feet before taking the paramount downward trend to the depths of the earth when he faces his own impending death.  Yet, no one is excluded.  This love doesn’t seem to have the boundaries that would have been anticipated or expected of God.  Rather, Jesus gathers at table with not only the one who denies but the one who betrays.  Judas stands as the character who represents the hostility and violence of the world, all that is hated, manipulated, coldness, and hatred, and it’s precisely his feet that are washed.  For John, the great gift of God taking on flesh is precisely that, to love in such a way that this love is even extended to the world who has turned on him.  In an act that appears to them to be quite humiliating, in the washing of their feet, stands as an act of humility that gets down in order to transcend the hatred of the world.  That’s the first Easter prayer that we remember, connect with, and are challenged by in this retreat gathering.  It is this great act of love that is to be modeled in service to even the one who has shown hate and hurt.

And so I ask, who is it that you can’t bring yourself to love?  Who?  Is it a loved one who has hurt you and you still have not been able to forgive?  Get down and wash their feet.  Is it someone who has wronged you in life?  Get down and wash their feet?  Is it me or the Church?  Get down and wash their feet.  Is it the President of this country?  Wash his feet.  Is it the teenagers who seem to be challenging the status quo?  Wash their feet.  Is it someone who has betrayed you in this life?  Wash their feet.  John does not necessarily write to a specific community as the other gospel writers but instead writes in a way that challenges a community to become someone else, to become love incarnate and to love in the way that Christ had shown to his disciples.  When we hold onto hatred, anger, resentment, hurt, and certainly our pride, we remain trapped in Egypt under the hand of Pharaoh.  Like Israel, and certainly the community that John anticipated, they often weren’t even aware of what it was they needed to be freed from nor certainly for the purpose in which they had been created as community.

As we enter into this communal celebration of our Easter prayer, the prayer is simply for the desire to love as Jesus loves.  To call to mind all who have hurt us and all who continue to seem to have control over our lives.  In those moments, all the Peter’s and Judas’s of our lives are called to mind, and like Jesus, we stoop down to the depths of our own being, in what can feel like great humiliation, and ask for the grace of humility to be set free in order to love.  Who is it I still am not willing to love in such a way?  Tonight the feast and the hour have arrived and finally arrive for anticipated change in our own lives.  Who is it?  Wash their feet.


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.


Remembering to Forget

Deut 8: 2-3, 14-16; I Cor 10: 16-17; John 6: 51-58

There’s a rather obscure movie out right now, or at least I think so, called Dean.  The basic crux of the story is about a young man and his father who just keep clashing with one another because of this nagging grief that they share for the loss of their mother and wife.  They both have very different ways of dealing with what life has given them and neither understands the other.  Long and short of it, without even knowing it, separate themselves from one another to deal with their loss before they can once again come to a deeper understanding of their own relationship with one another and remember the love they have and share.  Quite honestly, it would be true of all of us here.  These deepest parts of ourselves, love, loss, grief, hunger, desire, all of them run so deep within us and often need to be found in our own way before we begin to see the oneness we have with the other and a shared love.

These two weeks now we’ve heard different versions of the story of the exodus of people Israel.  Today’s account comes to us from Deuteronomy.  The very first word out of Moses’ mouth today is simply to remember.  For the people today it was about this deepest hunger in their lives that they continue to seek out and to fill.  Much of their time, as it is with us, is forgetting who we really are in life and in our deepest self and love.  Israel was no different.  And, of course, over time, you begin to believe that you’re something other than you are.  You no longer remember.  For them it has been about their experience in the desert and the experience of slavery in Egypt.  They’ve thought God had abandoned them and somehow rejected them over time, punishing them for some reason.  But Moses simply reminds them today to remember.  It’s almost as if, as Moses points out, that they had to have this experience of the desert and to come into awareness of this deeper hunger in their lives before they can begin to remember once again.  So much, not only in their lives, must be forgotten and let go of before they can begin to question and remember and once again come together as community, more deeply rooted in their truest begin, in love.

Some who followed Jesus in those early days had similar experiences.  Shortly following today’s reading many will begin to disperse and fall away from Jesus.  They hear what he says, often taking it literally, and realize they just can’t do it.  Even in their own experience of separation from doesn’t necessarily lead them to the deeper places of their own lives.  They want to believe, as we often do, what we see and exactly what we hear in words.  But that’s not the Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel or who we encounter in this Eucharist week in and week out.  In his own way, John through Jesus and Christ through him is trying to move them to a place of remember their deeper identity as well.  As if, what speaks to us in this Eucharist can only somehow communicate with the deepest parts of ourselves.  It’s hard because we want to stay on the surface and go with what we feel, but this remembering takes us deeper than all of that.

Paul consistently tries to lead communities to that deeper place of understanding in their own lives.  They find other ways to separate themselves but in ways that often lead to divisions within their communities.  Even today, the larger context is to warn them about having more than one God.  That too is easy for us in our own process of forgetting not what we need to let go of, but forgetting that deeper love that we are.  We begin to satisfy those deepest longings and hungers within ourselves with something other than God, creating gods for ourselves, often fooling ourselves into believing that it will somehow satisfy, forgetting what is most important to us.

Over time all of this that we celebrate begins to be forgotten on the deeper levels.  We become more about worshipping, distancing ourselves not only from the drama of our lives but the drama that unfolds before us here.  We, over time, find ways to separate ourselves while this God, as it was for Israel, continues to offer manna, food that will satisfy, even in our desert experiences.  Yeah, in some ways I stand before you in a privileged position.  I stand at this altar celebrating the highs and lows of life, even my own.  I know the stories that flow through this table and Eucharist.  I have seen it unfold, trying to lead others in their deepest grief, their unsatisfied longings, and all the rest, to a place of remembering.  No matter what we may be experiencing in our own life, this Eucharist we celebrate and share it stands as a reminder of who we are and the life we are called to, a life of not simply worshipping this God, but allowing ourselves to be transformed by this God.  As we move to this Eucharistic celebration, remember.  Remember not only what you are but who you are in your deepest self, love.  In the midst of our own forgetting in life, the Eucharist calls us back to continue to be transformed into this love for an often divided and separated world.












Refugees En Route

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; I Cor 11:23-26; John 13: 1-15

In just a month’s time our Jewish brothers and sisters will gather around table as we do this evening to remember and commemorate the Passover, which we hear all throughout these readings. Of course, they were all Jewish so it’s central to their very being as people. As they gather it is custom that the youngest begins with the obvious question, why is this night different from all the rest. We can ask ourselves the same question as we gather. There is something different on this night. There’s a different feel as we anticipate what is to come. It is the Passover of the Lord we hear in Exodus this evening. It is the commemoration of their freedom from the bonds of slavery to the Egyptians, refugees in another land seeking their home, seeking freedom. That’s what makes it so special.

But from the splashing of blood on the wooden doorposts to the splashing of blood on the wood of the cross, there is an intensity to the story that people Israel and the early disciples probably have a much different experience than our own. It seems as generations pass that these marked events lose some of their luster. We become disconnected from the larger story as a people enslaved to this day and refugees to this day of another land, seeking freedom and the celebration of passing through. Our lives are marked by passing through, all that come with a great deal of intensity and stress it seems. From the passing through from the womb into the world and the passing from our attachment to this world to the eternal comes with great stress.

Think about what it was like for the Israelites who have that first generation experience of being tossed from their homes, the youngest child and animals slaughtered, and the nightmare that it must have invoked in their lives as the world comes crashing down around and within them, no longer knowing what life is all about. The disciples as well. The crucifixion of their friend will send shivers. Their about to experience utter chaos and darkness in their lives and they will be left with great choices as to how they proceed. Think about the grief that they will experience, the bitterness, the anger, the resentments. At this moment of the story, it’s all building around them and soon the bottom will fall out and their world will collapse. It will be the Passover of their own lives, but now with new meaning, connecting it back to their heritage, to the great story as they retell the story. There is something special about this evening. There’s something different about it.

We’ll start to feel that change as the we proceed today and into tomorrow. Gradually the music lessens and becomes more somber. Soon the lights will dim and the sanctuary will become bare and vulnerable, exposing all that is unseen. We begin to feel that uncomfortableness. All that we know and are familiar with when we come to this space and when we gather at this table will be taken away from us and we’ll look at things differently, we’ll experience things differently in this space, anticipating a return. It is the Passover of the Lord. It is the Passover of the people, freed from slavery, freed from sin. No longer wandering as refugees in a foreign land but a call home, a passing through, to that place they call home, remembering the suffering that came with it all. From the womb to the world and from our attachment to the world to the eternal. Their story is our story as we gather and retell. There’s something special about this evening. There’s something different about it.

Our first glimpse of the tradition on the other side is given to us by Paul in today’s second reading. We can only imagine what it was like for them as they recalled the story and experienced it in the breaking of bread and the through the cup. Yet, there they are, telling the story and watching it unfold once again. They were so close that it must have still been raw for some of them, that feeling of intensity returning. Do this in remembrance of me, they are told, we are told.
As we enter these most sacred of days we are aware that something is different. We are invited to put ourselves into these stories and allow the symbols to speak to us today. Think about it. Despite all the chaos swirling around Jesus through the disciples and the increased pressure of the religious leaders, he enters the scene this evening with a great sense of calmness and peace. He models for the disciples and us that place of strength within when we feel our lives our out of control and chaos ensues. He meets us there this evening. These are messy events and he encounters us in the messiness of our lives. It is the Passover of the Lord. There’s nothing easy about it, yet, we’re invited into it all and allow the Lord to meet us in it all. From the womb to the world to the eternal, we are but refugees, seeking a better way of life, seeking the same freedom that people Israel sought. It is the Passover of the Lord. There’s something special about this night, something very special.

A Yearning for Mystery

Exodus 3: 1-8, 13-15; I Corinth 10: 1-6, 10-12; Luke 13: 1-9

As imminent and edgy the message is from Jesus today about repenting, changing, seeking conversion, whatever way you want to describe it, it’s really Paul that sends up the flares to the people of Corinth today that they need to change their ways less their world is about to fall apart around them. We hear at the end of that reading that the one that thinks his life is secure should anticipate a fall. As a people that are obsessed with safety and security, I think it’s something we can relate to in our own circumstances. Maybe the reality is that this journey that we participate in, not only during Lent, but throughout our entire lives, is more about falling than it is safety and security. As a matter of fact, when it comes to faith, there is no safety and security, there is only falling freely into this deeper mystery, into the great I AM.

But the people of Corinth, like us, look for something to hold onto, something tactile, something known that gives us the illusion of safety and security. For them, as often us, it’s their way of life. In particular here, he calls them out about the way their treating other people and the traps of idols that they have created for themselves. He has even witnessed how they celebrate the Eucharist. It’s not like we celebrate it here, where anyone can walk in off the streets. In Corinth it’s still done in small communities, in homes and it had become a celebration of the elites, excluding others or at best offering them the scraps left over. These were a people that were caught up in greed, power, sex, and it was beginning to take a toll on the larger community, the common good of the people. Paul wants to warn them that this will all pass and fall apart for it’s not grounded in faith. They have the yearning within for something more, love, God, the promised land, whatever you want to call it, but they seek it and try to fill it in all the wrong ways. As it goes, the larger you build and try to protect yourself, feeling safe and secure, the harder you’ll fall when things that will pass begin to crumble.

The story of the fall is also that of people Israel. Even Paul makes reference to that in the reading to the Corinthians where many perished during their time in the desert. Of course, it’s no easy experience for them individually or as a people. Of course, the one charged with leading them in that experience we hear from in today’s first reading from Exodus, none other than Moses himself. Their journey, though, is first Moses’ journey. He too must learn to let go of what has given him security and safety and learn to fall into this mystery, into the great I AM that he encounters today. Anyone that allows themselves to participate in such an experience knows how difficult that is, in letting go and feeling like the world is falling apart around them. He will soon head out to meet Israel, finding itself in the throws of slavery in Egypt, not only at the hands of the Egyptians, but their own way of life, which is why the desert becomes central to their journey and ours.

Remember even that experience, though, as the build the golden calf as they seek the promised land. They too look for something to hold onto, something that will give them some sense of security and safety, albeit it an illusion, but there nonetheless. Like Paul, Moses becomes frustrated with them, and yet over and over again, encounters this mystery inviting him to fall into the hands of I AM, a God that weeps for people Israel. A God that weeps for the people of Corinth. A God that continues to weep for his people that have such a desire deep within, a yearning for love, for relationship, for the promised land, and yet they prefer to hold onto their old way of life, a life that no longer satisfies, a life that no longer fulfills. How much better, and yet, how much harder to allow ourselves to fall into mystery. That’s faith. That’s the spiritual journey we walk together.

Throughout it all, God remains faithful, calling forth to this new place, never giving up. Despite that imminent call to repent in today’s Gospel, it’s coupled with this parable of the fig tree that no longer bears fruit. What once was no longer gives life. The immediate reaction, as is often ours, is to destroy it, get rid of it, it no longer produces. The gardener, though, like God, doesn’t see death but rather opportunity for growth in the face of no longer bearing fruit. Rather than destroying it, cultivate the plant, nurture it, and hope for life to be given. If anything, we can be thankful that God doesn’t just discard us and dispose of us, but rather remains faithful through it all, inviting us into the deeper yearning of our hearts and fall into the the mystery of I AM.

These are tough readings to preach on and to hear but readings we need to take to heart in our own lives and especially during this lenten season and we have our own experience of exodus. I know the natural response is safety and security, to hold onto things even if they no longer give us life, but we are called forth today as individuals and community to look at our lives and ask ourselves what we’re holding onto, that no longer feeds us and no longer bears fruit. No, it’s not the call to destroy; God takes us warts and all. Rather, it’s an invitation to let go of what has given us security and to fall more deeply into love and in love with the mystery Moses encounters today in the burning bush, the mystery of the great I AM.

The Injustice of My Own Heart

Deut 26: 4-10; Luke 4: 1-13

I say it every year as a good reminder, that this gospel reminds us how careful we should be about using Scripture against someone knowing that the devil knows scripture and uses scripture as well as anyone. We can never forget that point. The readings this weekend, though, point us to one reality and that is that there is one God and that it’s not me and it’s not you but we struggle with a daily temptation thinking otherwise. Like most things, we have a way of even making the temptations into something superficial. We limit it often to what we can see, of the flesh, habits we must break, but we never move to the deeper questions that ask why I’m so easily tempted and from where within me do they arise, often these crazy desires that we sometimes face and, rather easily, submit to in our lives. There can be a lot of truth in the statement that the devil made me do it. Of course, as long as we accept that the devil is within me.

But the temptations that Jesus seems to face in today’s gospel don’t sound like anything that we encounter and so can come off as being disconnected from our own humanity. But his temptations go beyond what he can see with his eyes, even though the devil shows him in that way. Let’s recall how the story unfolds because it is the Spirit that leads Jesus out into the desert. Of course, the desert has great meaning to the people as they recall the events of the exodus in the first reading today. The desert becomes that most vulnerable place within, where we are somewhat in limbo and experiencing great vulnerability. We know what it’s like. There’s not much life, or so it seems. It’s hot and can be quite cold. It would make any of us uneasy. But it is precisely in this God-sized hole, our own interior desert, that the Spirit also tries to lead us, to our own place of vulnerability, to a deeper hunger that reveals the depths of the temptations in our own lives.

But it’s the place we’d rather not go. We like Lent the way it is, on the surface and making some little changes in my life knowing I can always go back to it come Easter, a temporary respite. Any of us can do something for forty days. But that’s not the point. I had mentioned yesterday that the Lent we are called to and the fast that we are called to is much more radical, a fast that the prophetic voices preach and lose their lives for. What we are called to fast from and change is from the injustices that happen around us all the time and our participation in the injustices. On a deeper level, there is greed. On a deeper level, there is safety. On a deeper level, within this God-sized hole, there is all this activity that catapults our world into war and famine and how easy it is to turn a blind eye to it all, actively participating so often by doing nothing. Worse yet, we have often made virtues out of some of them, such as greed, that we become so blinded by it that we consciously give into it because we’ve decided it’s something good. How blind we can become and how easily we can be swayed into believing something is not true, all in the name of virtue, happening in the world and Church. We can never call out big money lest we be called out, nor can we say anything against war. Oh, how much easier it is to keep Lent on the surface and never examining where these desires come from and why we are led to such blindness.

But there is that deeper hunger within and that Jesus experiences after forty days in the desert. Again, it’s paramount the experience in the desert. We hear that recounting of the exodus from Deuteronomy today. They too fell into that trap, people Israel, in thinking that they can be god. They buy into the lie that they can do it alone, despite being up against such opposition in facing the same realities in their lives that we do in war and famine, abuse of power and willing it over others. Gradually they too had to be led to that same place, to their own vulnerability and a confrontation with their own inner hunger before they can surrender themselves over to the one true God, the one that leads from death to life.

The Spirit not only leads Jesus to the desert. That same Spirit will lead Jesus to the Garden which we will hear on Palm Sunday. It’s the same Spirit that leads him to the Cross, the most vulnerable and humiliating of places for anyone, including Jesus, only to hand himself over, not only to the hands of the authorities but to hand his life over to the Supreme Authority in God. The temptations Jesus faces in the desert are central to our own lives but we must be willing to go to the same place and allow the Spirit to lead. The only way we change and seek conversion in our lives is to go to that place, below the surface of our superficial temptations that we’ve vowed to give up for at least forty days, and to go to the place of injustice. It’s not just the injustice out there. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that I must confront. It’s the injustice in my own heart and soul that needs change and conversion.

As we enter into this season we pray for the Spirit to lead us where it wills, in particular, to the place of vulnerability, to the God-sized hole within that we try to fill. It never works and deep down we know it, but the temptation to be God is also very real and convinces us as it tries Jesus that we’re something and someone that we are not. There is but one God and it is that one God that changes hearts and souls to be more like Him. We pray this is a time to fast from injustice, to feel and experience the Cross within, so that we too may be transformed into a new life, a life we have been created for in serving the one true God in this world and to build up not our own kingdom, but the Kingdom of that God.

Movement Toward a Deeper Call

Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; John 6: 24-35

I’ve often wondered what must have been going on in the mind and heart of people like Jesus and Moses in the situations they find themselves today. In some ways, I’d imagine that it was somewhat of a parental experience. The disciples, the crowds, and people Israel, ask a lot of questions, are never satisfied with the answers, and it’s always about them. Isn’t it the way kids often are in our lives as well? Certainly in our call to discipleship, we all begin there. Yet, in the larger context of this gospel that we hear today, we must be mindful of themes that take place in John. If we think about the stories we are most familiar, Lazarus, Man Born Blind, and the Woman at the Well, there is always movement that is taking place, a movement to somewhere deeper within themselves. There is a time for questions but not always the answers that is expected. There is a movement towards what we would call mature discipleship as opposed to where we often begin and where the crowd finds itself today in a more childish discipleship; they are looking for specific answers and for physical nourishment but Jesus in turn never answers their questions directly but is rather trying to move them to those deeper places within themselves and to be able to sit with the questions and not always know the answers and not always understand in the futility of our minds as Paul says.

The movement in the Bread of Life discourse is no different. But before they can come to the finality of this gospel and a question of whether they can commit to what is being demanded of them, there is a process of deepening and understanding that Jesus is leading them and us in our lives at this very moment. When it’s time to commit, can we stand with what is being asked of us, such a radical way of life. In the end, as I mentioned last week, some will make the commitment to a new and different way of life in which they are called; but most will walk away, unable to meet the demand of what is being asked of them. Paul tells us in the second reading today that it’s time to put away the old self, our former way of life because something new is being asked of us.

Moses, whom you have to feel for at times, never has it easy with people Israel either. You wonder why he never gives up on them over time. Again, think of the context of what we hear today. They have just been freed from Egypt. The Red Sea parted and they crossed over, only to see the Egyptians swallowed up by the same sea that saved them. Their lives were spared of slavery and hardship. All of that, and yet, today we hear them grumbling and complaining. It’s easy for us to say that they should be grateful for what has been given to them. But Moses never gives up on them on their own journeys of life. Despite never making it to the promised land, Moses, knows it within and has committed himself to that promised land, which gives him the hope and perseverance he needs in these difficult times and to accept that not always having the answers and at times, being unhappy with life’s circumstances, is a part of the process of moving towards mature discipleship and to know that there aren’t always answers to life’s questions and I may not always be fed in the ways that I desire. Before any of us can commit to this demand that is given, we have to, as Paul says, let go of the former way of life, stop feeding with what doesn’t nourish and seek out in this journey the bread that lives forever.

But it’s what they knew. Even though a life of slavery for people Israel was wrong and something we would certainly condemn, it’s what they knew. Their basic needs were met and now they have nothing. We’d complain and grumble as well! Moses, with his eye on the promised land, assures them that they will be fed. This God that has been faithful to them now for generations will once again see them through this time of change and transition into the new life that they have been called. Who knows if they can commit to such a change. It’s almost impossible for the crowds to change in that way; it’s often one by one that change and grow and with that the community.

It’s hard when it comes to faith. We don’t change easily. We get comfortable with what we know and want to stay there. But that’s not the discipleship we encounter in John’s Gospel. Jesus continuously is trying to move them to something deeper, to a more radical way of life where the only thing that will feed the deeper hunger is the bread that comes from on high. What comes from on high feeds us in our deepest hunger and in turn, we feed others. That bread that lives forever is not just something out there and something received, it’s already within. That’s where he tries to lead from what can be seen with our eyes and known with our minds to what is seen with the heart and known with our souls. The same will be asked of us as is asked of the crowds and disciples, can we commit to such a radical way of life and to trust a deeper call within ourselves? It’s not easy, but it is the discipleship that we are called to. Life’s not easy. There aren’t always answers to our questions in life and sometimes we’re left with simply sitting with the question while keeping our eye on that promised land. The more we do the more we learn to put away the old self and become the new creation in and through Christ, who we have been all along!