It’s in the Name

Acts 4: 32-35; 1 John 5: 1-6; John 20: 19-31

Poor Thomas!  If there’s to be a study done on why labeling people is not a good thing, Thomas would be the classic study.  Doubting Thomas as we know it and all he’s really known for because of this one passage.  He was destined for such labels.  I’m still not convinced that he’s even a doubter as much as he is in disbelief and grieving at this point of the story.  None of us would be much better.  All this and Thomas is even really a huge character in John’s Gospel.  He only appears twice.  The other is at the Raising of Lazarus.  The other unique thing of Thomas is that he’s only one of two who’s name is also given in Greek, Didymus.  Simon is called Cephas at the beginning of the Gospel, who’s Peter.  Thomas is the only other so maybe the passage has more to do with his name, Didymus meaning twin or double.

The name probably describes all of them at this point of the story, living two different lives.  While they find themselves in the Upper Room they’re somewhat bursting with joy in the Risen Lord but no sooner do they step out that door fear takes over.  That inside is somewhat of a comfort for them, where they can be themselves but they end up living a double life.  They’re not there yet.  As much as they have had this experience of the Risen Lord it still has not been embodied by them.  It’s still something beyond them and what they see with their eyes and not something lived.  Like us, they’re good at compartmentalizing their faith at this point of the story, living a double life and not knowing what it all means, still unfolding for and in them.

It’s not until we get to Acts of the Apostles where we begin to see how that love manifests itself in the life of the early community.  Like the Gospel today, we’re also good at labeling the message Luke conveys twice in Acts.  We want to label it socialism or communism but it had nothing to do with creating some kind of economic structure that we’re familiar with today.  That says more about us than it does them.  But they can point the way, for us, to look at our own lives and what it is that moves us.  That’s the real message of Luke today.  It is by no means that everything was just perfect in the Early Church.  Far from it if you read Acts in its entirety.  But Luke will keep drawing them back to what gives life.  He’s going to keep drawing them back to what it is that motivates and defines the community as one of integrity.  If they’re not being motivated by love, then they need to step back and evaluate where fear is creeping in, where it’s becoming about self-interest.  When we’re motivated by fear, success, wealth, self-interest, then the gap only grows, anxiety and fear take over, and we begin to live that double life ourselves.

We need to move to a place where we recognize that we never fully embody that love.  As long as we are here and breathing our motivation and what drives us will become skewed.  We become blinded by everything else.  It’s why the wounds of Christ in the gospel are so significant and how they connect to that early community.  When that gap begins to grow and they start to become closed in on themselves, locked in the Upper Room, they are once again invited to come back.  As much as they are sent forward, they are also called to come back to that love.  To step inside the wounds, even their own, and it will once again open their eyes.  That’s the significance of the reading from Acts today.  They recognize the needs of the community through their very own woundedness.  Their eyes are open to the poor.  Their eyes are open to members of the community in need.  It’s not being motivated by economics.  They’re motivated by love.

These readings on this Second Sunday of Easter challenge us to look at what motivates us at this point in our lives.  What is it that’s pushing us forward and where do we put our faith.  That’s John’s message in the second reading today.  As much as the disciples may still fear the world beyond the locked doors in that gospel, it is only faith and love that is going to break through the locks and push them out and to embody that love that they have experienced.  It’s not meant to be kept to ourselves.  Then love is not our motivation.  Rather, when we embody that love we know we have nothing to fear and we change the world not through fear, economics, self-interest, but rather love.  Victory in the hostility of the world is not won through war but through love.  That’s the message of John on this Easter Day.  Nothing else.

Where have we allowed the gap between our lives and Love to ever increase through fear, self-interest, and motivations other than faith and love?  Where are we locked up inside, afraid that somehow I won’t have enough and so I can’t give in love, holding on for dear life?  That’s where that gap grows and like the disciples in that Upper Room, we live a double life.  Faith becomes something we simply do on Sunday morning and then go about our business, often in fear, once we walk through those doors.  Yes, we come to this place to be nourished and to be fed and the more we are fed and nourished in love, the more we have to confront the world when we step forward.  We come and are nourished in order to be sent out to be the disciples, to embody that love, and to narrow the gap between faith and our lives.  It’s an ongoing process and one that never ends but also one we don’t go at alone.  We walk this journey together in order to embody that love not just by ourselves but as a community of faith.

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Thrust Into Faith

Genesis 9: 8-15; IPeter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15

It would be hard for any of us to imagine what the families of the 17 killed in Parkland, FL are going through, or for that matter, any that have been killed in such horrific ways.  How on earth do you return to some semblance of normalcy and begin to pull your life back together again when faced with such trauma?  It would seem impossible because everything you know as normal is no more.  Everything that you knew of life is now clouded by events that took just seconds and minutes to unfold and you can never go back.  Time seems to be clocked now through that experience and all you can really do is push forward.  Push forward.  There’s not much else one can do and hopefully over time begin to rebuild a new sense of normal and a life that now stands in the shadows of such events.

I would think, though, that that’s what Noah experiences himself.  He has now witnessed the destruction of the earth and most of humanity, wiped off the face of the earth.  The natural inclination would be to hunker down inside the ark and stay where he was, wallowing in his own sense of grief and loss and never learning to trust again.  It could have been that in that moment, life comes to a standstill and Noah gives into fear and the sense of loss, ravaged by the hostile flood waters that have consumed the earth.  But Noah wrestles with it and looks for something beyond the destruction and the trauma faced by humanity.  He simply looks for some kind of sign that all will be well and that this God who has pledged commitment and love upon humanity and the earth will once again see them through the hostile waters into a new sense of life.  That doesn’t mean that they forget what has happened.  It’s nearly impossible to forget.  However, to make peace with the events and somehow reconcile with a humanity that has gone astray in order to push forward.  That sign for Noah comes in the form of a rainbow.  How many have lost people and simply wanted a sign reminding us that things are ok?  Noah saw that rainbow and was reminded of the everlasting covenant that God has made not just with Israel but will all humanity.  It seems, even for Noah, that the only way through the hostile waters or the arid desert as Jesus faces is to go through it, often clinging to what was but over time learning to let go, surrender, trust, and deepen the faith in that covenant that God remains.

Like Jesus, the hostile waters or the arid desert are often not of our choosing.  We often don’t get to decide what life throws at us or what the world throws at us.  None of the people or Parkland chose to enter into it.  Mark’s Gospel tells us today that Jesus is literally thrust into the desert.  Mindful that just prior to this is his baptism and his identity is revealed.  From that moment forward it will be challenged.  As Mark tells us, he will have to confront the wild beasts that thrive in the midst of the desert.  However, it’s not just the wild beasts out there that we learn to confront in our lives.  More often than not it’s the wild beasts that live within us that have a way of taking hold of our hearts and lives.  The worst part is, it’s the wild beasts that we tend to believe.  It’s the wild beasts of negativity and the voices that drag us down even deeper into despair that become so believable or are just easier to give into over time.  Yet, like Noah, there is only one way through and that’s pushing through the experience and allowing it to transform us.  It is so often the very place where we learn to trust and find faith in God because in the end, that’s all we really have anyway!  It’s literally all we have, faith and trust. 

There had to come a time when Noah stepped off that ark in order to begin life anew.  He had to pass through the hostile waters, unbeknownst to himself, just as we pass through the waters of baptism.  It’s where we learn to trust and put our faith in this God who has promised life from the very beginning of time and until we pass over from this life.  Our second reading from Peter today tells us of that pledge that God has made, not as a removal of dirt from our body but rather an interior change of heart and to begin our life anew.  Despite the hostilities of the world and our ongoing obsession with violence, witnessing such tragedies as we have this week and the persistent tragedy we see in this city, God still promises life.  Like Noah, it takes a first step off the ark into the ruins in order begin the process of rebuilding life but now through the lens of faith.

As we begin this season of Lent, we begin with that very promise and pledge from God about the eternal life that is given to each of us at this very moment.  We mustn’t find ourselves locked up inside the ark, trying to keep ourselves safe and secure through our illusions.  We mustn’t try to dance around the desert to avoid the aridness and the insecurity that we face in meeting the wild beasts.  More often than not and ready or not, the hostile waters and the arid desert will be thrust upon us and then the choice is ours as to how we proceed.  This season reminds us of the promise of passing through and pushing through the darkest moments of our lives, when we find ourselves unsure and questioning, that somehow life is assured and God will continue to literally pull us through in order to experience that fullness of life.  None of us can go back to what was before these moments.  All any of us can do, and the grace we pray for this Lent, is to trust and find faith in the promise once given and yet unfolding in a God who remains faithful to humanity and all living things.

Healing Divides

2 Kings 5: 14-17; 2 Tim 2: 8-13; Luke 17: 11-19

So often when we hear these healing stories within the gospels, the physical healing taking place almost becomes somewhat secondary to the spiritual healing that takes place. They appear to be so intertwined with one another. But it’s not just the physically wounded one that Jesus tries to heal. If you look at it from the perspective of God, healing is not limited to just a select few. It’s what causes so much of the tension with Jesus, that this God somehow seems to go beyond the boundaries that have been set by the people. Only by the grace of God will that begin to fall away and hearts begin to expand.

On the part of Israel and his Jewish brothers and sisters, Jesus tries to break down their image of who they think God is. They were the chosen people and began to believe it on all levels. They thought somehow the grace of this God was somehow limited to them where everyone else perishes. At times they probably felt that they didn’t even need this God; they had it handled on their own. There’s no doubt that there was contention with the Samaritans. That’s our first hint that this is more than just a physical healing that is going to happen. But the Samaritans as well need healing that goes beyond the physical. They were considered outsiders and often less-than-human, especially one suffering from leprosy. There had to be some feeling, for any of us, that this God had somehow abandoned them. So it all sets the scene for Jesus to bring about healing. For one it is a humbling and for another a raising up. How often does our own pride get in the way, thinking we can do it ourselves?

For Israel, as with Naaman in today’s first reading, there is a need for humility. He too had to get over himself. He just constantly fights with Elisha over what is being asked of him in order to be healed. Again, he had this idea of who God was and couldn’t understand why he was being asked to go into the murky waters of the Jordan to be healed. He couldn’t get over that. He was better than that and was insistent that he deserved better treatment from God. He questioned how this could happen to him in the first place, knowing his place. Yet, there was this one thing that he hated about himself that he couldn’t let go of. But Elisha was persistent as well. Elisha already understands the imminent God.

We see it in his response to the gift Naaman tries to give him. Elisha refuses and not because he somehow doesn’t see himself as being worthy of it. Rather, Elisha knows full well that this healing had nothing to do with him. It was all this God who leads Naaman to the murky waters of the Jordan working within and through him. Elisha the Prophet was an instrument of God’s grace and healing. In turn, Naaman comes through the experience a changed man, humbled by a God manifested in a different way, a new way than he ever could have expected. The very thing he hated about himself becomes the fullness of the grace given by God. Naaman finally opens himself up and God steps into his life.

Yet, there must be an openness on our part if we are going to experience such healing in our lives. We live with such division in our city, our country, and our world, with each side claiming to hold the truth. Yet, they’re all wrong. It’s God who reveals the truth. If we are in need of healing with anything beyond the physical, it’s a healing of God. We have a God problem. Using the imagery that Paul uses today in the second reading, our hearts remain chained. When we close ourselves off to the gospel we remain chained. Here he was in his final days of life, in prison, and yet speaks with such freedom. He has allowed himself to be open to the healing power of God, and even for him, persecutor of the Christians, the boundaries begin to fall away and God expands. Paul stands as a witness to us all of the possibility of conversion in our own lives. When we allow ourselves to be opened in that way, we become agents of change. We become agents of healing as he was and as Elisha was in today’s first reading.

In the time of such division with our politics and beyond, we must seek healing. If we feel we don’t need it, then we pray for an openness to it. We are all in need of healing from the divided lives we often live. It will only be through God that we will find such healing, such reconciliation. We can’t survive much longer as a race if we don’t find a way to seek understanding rather than living in fear and allowing our pride to stand in the way. God desires this healing for us now, at this very moment. As we open ourselves up to this healing, we begin to change the world. We become the agents of change. We become the agents of healing. It’s what this city, this country, and this world need now more than ever and God has us primed for such a healing in this very moment of our lives.

It’s Too Hard

Ephesians 5: 21-32; John 6: 60-69

I came across a book this week entitled Thieves in the Temple. The basic premise of the book is that religion in America has become bankrupt in many regards, it’s lost it’s purpose. The author cites that it’s become much more about entertainment, money, and membership, a more business model rather than the intended purpose of salvation of souls and the conversion of hearts and minds. Now he is speaking of a very large umbrella of the institution of church, beyond just Catholic, but has also at times. I thought of that as I was looking at this gospel that we hear today and how what it is that Jesus speaks of is too hard for the some of the disciples. We look for the easy way out, least amount expected of us, choosing sides, and so often fear-based over the life-giving faith that Jesus speaks of to the disciples. It’s too hard for them and often for us.

But think about what we’ve listened to the past few weeks in this Bread of Life discourse. We’ve heard this constant bickering and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and in the middle of it all, listening to every word, are the disciples. They’re left with a choice and many choose to go back to what is known. I’ve thought about it, the Pharisees would have at least been perceived as the greater threat. They’ve already heard what they’ve thought about Jesus and the animosity towards him. If they’re being called to live such a radical life are they willing to face the same thing. Fear has a way of taking a strong hold on us and them in those situations. It was never that Jesus was even expecting them to give up what they held so closely, the law that they knew, but rather to fold it into something deeper, to reconcile these pieces of life that often become fragmented over the course of our lives. It’s hard work, living a life of faith and living wholly and holy in the way Christ calls. Even for Peter, despite his firm acclamation in today’s gospel, we know when the going gets tough at the end, he too is taken hold by fear and will have to be led to a place of reconciliation as well. It’s hard stuff when we commit ourselves to a life of faith; how easy it is at times to choose the easy way out…settling for entertainment, money, and simply filling the pews. That’s not faith and rather than blaming the world, sometimes we have we have to be willing to look at ourselves and see how we are contributing to the problem. If we’ve strayed from our purpose of conversion and the salvation of souls, not only does religion become bankrupt but so do we. We become divisive, violent, make politics into a religion. It’s hard but it’s the way to life.

Then there’s this second reading from Ephesians. Paul takes a lot of heat for it and quite honestly, there’s question whether he’s really the author of this letter to begin with! I did a little research to see what was going on culturally and in society at that time as to why he would write these words. At that time there was a struggle with differing understandings of marriage. There was, of course, still that sense that the woman becomes property of the man and Paul is trying to reconcile that with faith. Maybe most importantly is that at the end of the reading he too returns to the roots of who they are and speaks of the two becoming one from the Book of Genesis. It’s where Jesus tries to lead the disciples, although some split by differing values, to a place of oneness within themselves, a life of wholeness and holiness which only comes through a reconciliation of our “former way of life” to what it is that Christ calls us to; that’s how we become one but it’s also why this is so hard and why some choose not to proceed and accept the call. It’s easier to choose the lesser and be satisfied. I do wonder, though, that once the word has been planted, do any of them begin to feel something missing from their lives when they return to the former way? Will they go away restless for something more in life?

As we wrap up this jaunt through John’s sixth chapter, the Bread of Life discourse, we ask ourselves if it’s too hard for us. What kind of life are we looking to live? Can we be satisfied with anything less that the word that has and gives eternal life, Jesus Christ? It’s easy to say that we are committed, but when push comes to shove as it will for Peter, what will we do? Will the former way of life look all the more appealing in that moment? When we commit ourselves to Christ and a life of faith, we will never be satisfied with anything less. It may be hard, but a life of wholeness and holiness is hard to beat and nothing else will do!

Birthing Mystery

Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; John 3: 16-18

On this Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, we celebrate the fact that it is more than just “a” mystery. Yes, it is that, but also more than that. I dare say it is Mystery. What makes it so difficult is that when we try to understand or think we know what this relation of Father, Son, and Spirit is all about, we immediately fall short of trying to define God, a God who has no lines, but rather is Mystery.

From the beginning of creation, and even before the accounts we hear and read in the Book of Genesis, God has desired to give birth to Mystery into this world, to somehow show and model to the people a God who goes beyond all knowledge and understanding. God goes about it in many different ways. Take into account the passage from Exodus today. Before Moses, this God-fearing man, a name is revealed, Lord. From this moment it invites the Israelites to view God in a different way. God is no longer something out there, but is rather Mystery revealed not only out there, but among us, and even more so, within us. For centuries and beyond people will reject this, an impossibility that this God so desires to enter into relationship with people that we could even begin to fathom a name, and yet, over and over, God gives birth in different ways to Mystery. Can our eyes and hearts see what is being revealed? Are we stuck in the need to know and understand, failing to see that somehow God is at play in our lives?

I often tell couples I work with who are getting married, as in any relationship, that Mystery is a must. There will never be a moment in our lives when we will fully understand or know the other. No time when we will fully understand ourselves. Certainly, will never begin to know and understand God fully. If we think we do, spiritual death is more imminent, as it so often was for people Israel. As soon as we think we know it all or understand it all, we begin to eliminate Mystery from our lives.

This mystery comes to its fulfillment when Mystery enters the world in and through Jesus Christ…for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Before the eyes of the disciples, Mystery enters the world and yet they still doubt and question. Before their very eyes, they want to know and understand and box God into who they think God is supposed to be or who they want God to be. They, and at times, we, can’t believe that this God loves us so much that He even tries to give birth to Mystery within us as well.

As we celebrate this feast of the Holy Trinity, we pray that our hearts, our minds, our eyes, may be open to Mystery being birthed among and within us, leading us to something new, a surprise in life that will begin to take us to even greater places. We pray for that openness today not just as we celebrate any old mystery, but a God who gives birth to Mystery in the relation of Father, Son, and Spirit, but also in relation among us and as hard as it is sometimes to believe, even within us.

The Wounded Healer

John 20: 19-31

As I stood listening to the gospel proclaimed at Mass this morning something had struck me about the Lord and Thomas and the other disciples that had gathered, locked in the upper room. Despite this display of the wounds to Thomas and the other disciples, there was never a time when their wounds were exposed and yet, somehow they were healed through Jesus exposing his own. So often in our lives we fear exposing our own wounds because of that very fact, that they are wounds and they have brought on much pain in our lives. As much as Jesus never mentions their wounds, they obviously weigh heavy on their hearts when he appears. They know how their own wounded-ness has been displayed in recent memory as they fled from his presence in his greatest moment of need, as he suffered and died on the cross. His wounds would have been a deep reminder of what was and had happened, yet, it’s never addressed. He doesn’t abandon them, now in their greatest time of need as their own lives will be threatened. No, he simply offers them what they need, peace.

Jesus understands their anxiety, their pain, the darkness and fear that they allowed to consume them in that moment, when the pressure was on to deny. In their moment of weakness they now lock themselves in the upper room for “fear of the Jews”; yet, it is only Christ crucified and raised who can move through the hearts that have become locked shut in fear and terror to bring about not condemnation or judgement or guilt or shame. They, I’m sure have done enough of that themselves as they blame each other and themselves for what had done, but no, peace. And not the peace that world tries to give but a peace that can come only from the Divine who offers limitless mercy in our lives, even when we have locked ourselves inside our hardness and fear.

Peter tells us in the Second Reading today, “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in hi, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” We all see and desire that salvation of our souls and once again, Jesus shows the way through the disciples. He doesn’t need a key to get into those places in our lives, rather, like the disciples, in that moment of our own weakness when we finally begin to surrender that “we can’t do it anymore” and find ourselves locked inside, the wounded healer appears, never to judge, but to heal and offer us that same gift of peace.