Saturday, January 14, 2017

To Know Jesus

I did not know him.

These are strange words coming from John the Baptist.  Wasn’t Jesus his cousin?  Surely they spent time together growing up, attending family gatherings, and the like.  Even the most distant families have some knowledge of one another.  And yet John makes this stunning statement regarding Jesus:  I did not know him. 

But each and every one of us can also utter these words regarding our relationship to Jesus.  Even the most devoted follower of Jesus in their most private moments of prayer asks, “Do I really know Jesus?  Do I really know myself?”  In a million moments of each day we often overlook the presence of Jesus – in the tabernacle, in our neighbor, in the homeless person, immigrant, refugee, or any other person we encounter.

In the time after Epiphany the Church asks us to consider the different ways Jesus manifested his presence to us in the Gospels.  Both before and after the resurrection we find the disciples failing to know the presence of Jesus in their midst.  These stories are designed for us to be ever attentive to Jesus present in our lives so that we can find our way to the reign of God.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Being Led to Avoid Being Lost

Where is the newborn king of the Jews?

Today’s Gospel and feast present us with a lesson in not getting lost.  The Magi first arrive in Judea having been led by a star in the heavens above.  They then arrive in Bethlehem having asked for directions as to where the newborn king of the Jews was to be born.  Finally, in order to avoid Herod’s trap, they are then led by a dream to return home using a route that would keep them safe from him.  The Magi allowed themselves to be led by the hand of God in various manifestations so that they could complete their journeys and goals.

The Magi story is filled with questions – what is this star?  Where did these Magi come from?  Where was this house in Bethlehem where the Holy Family welcomed these visitors?  But these are unimportant questions that detract from the point of the story itself:  stay focused on the journey, allow yourself to be led to Jesus, and allow yourself to be led safely on your life journey.

The Magi teach us that God is for everyone, not just for a particular group of people in a particular time and place.  They also teach us that God leads everyone to himself in various ways provided we allow ourselves to be so led.  It is a story for all times and all peoples open to the hand of God in their lives directing them in so many ways to the reign of God.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Up from Slavery

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.

Family trees are important, especially for Biblical folk.  Notice how many we find in the scriptures.  It was their way of connecting themselves to the one true God through the ancestry back to Abraham, the father of faith.  Muslims do likewise in their tradition, seeking to connect to Abraham and the one true God through the lineage of Ishmael. 

But if we are not from those ancestral peoples, how are we then connected to God?  Paul gives us the answer:  we, through baptism, have been adopted by God.  To us moderns that doesn’t seem like very much, since we associate adoption with being unwanted.  But in ancient times it was the opposite:  if you were adopted it meant you could never be disowned – you were forever wanted!

This promise of adoption was first given to Mary, and so we celebrate her today as the new Abraham, the one who had great faith in the midst of an impossible situation and mission.  Mary is ever our mother and example, showing us by silent witness and humble faith the way forward to the reign of God. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Birth of Peace

And on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Tonight we hear the Gospel text according to Linus – the text of Charlie Brown’s Christmas special wherein is answered Charlie Brown’s question about the meaning of Christmas.  And while every apologist loves a proof text to refute skeptics, the real meaning of Christmas is not found in a book but in our hearts.

For the text of Luke proclaims that all the Messianic hopes that we have awaited for so long are now fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.  The peace we long for can now be realized – not in some cosmic baby Jesus magic, but only if Jesus is truly is born in our hearts.  For if he is, then selfishness within us is ended; hatred is vanquished; love reigns. 

The curses of evil in our lives and in our world end when we, like Mary, accept the teaching and example of Jesus in our hearts and give birth to him in our own lives.  Any celebration of Christmas without these two elements has no authentic meaning, and nor do our lives.  But with them we have meaning and direction that lead us to the fullness of peace – the reign of God.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Obedience of Faith

Do not be afraid…

When Joseph discovered that Mary, his betrothed, was with child, according to the strictures of the law he was required to divorce her for bringing such shame on him.  Such a course, however, would have left Mary utterly destitute and with no possibility of recourse.  Mary’s human reality is an utterly vulnerable one.  Joseph, however, thinks he can do this quietly in order to afford Mary some protections from public shame.  The human dilemma before the law is utterly harsh.

But the realm of faith extends beyond law, and Joseph is told by God not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.  In the human realm, such an action would provoke great public shaming and he would have struggled to find work.  Yet, in the journey to Bethlehem, in the exile of Egypt, and in the return to Nazareth God continually provided for this vulnerable couple.  Love has reasons that reason does not know.

The same is true in our own lives.  Whom are we afraid to let into our homes?  The unplanned pregnancy?  The immigrant and refugee?  The estranged family member or friend?  God is asking us to have faith to welcome others into our homes, our lives.  And God will provide just as God did for Joseph and Mary, for the obedience of faith that transcends law brings us ultimately to the reign of God.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Patience of God

What did you go out to the desert to see?

Once again we look forward to Messianic blessings in today’s readings, this time related to the barrenness of the desert blossoming forth with great and fruitful bounty.  If we thought the promise of peace last week to be farfetched, then how much more difficult is it to await rich harvests and crops in the desert.  And yet, ironically enough, it is in the desert that we find the most fruit and peace in our spiritual lives.

In the desert we have no need for great possessions, confidence in our own strength, or much of anything else.  The desert breaks us down, reduces us to our barest needs, and leads us to greater confidence in God alone.  No doubt that is what people went out into the desert to see - a man named John the Baptist who found those very things.  And some of them found those very things themselves.

But the desert requires the patience that Paul urges us to have, the patience that God has for us and our hearts that are as dry as deserts.  It is in these deserts of our hearts where the Messianic promise lies, and if we go there we will see, over time, the promise fulfilled and the eventual arrival of the reign of God.a

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Time of Peace

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.

Every Advent we hear the words of Isaiah proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and the reign of peace that will accompany his coming.  And each year we look around our world to see more ruin, more bloodshed, more devastation.  Has the Messiah not come?  Has God been unfaithful to his promise?  Why do these horrors continue?

Yes, the Messiah has come, and yes God is indeed faithful.  But these horrors continue because we look upon God as a cosmic vending machine.  In our minds we think that God will automatically grant this peace.  We merely insert the coins of our prayer and remembrance of God’s promise and, we think, God will grant the peace.

But the Messiah came to show us how to live in such a way that peace is a reality in our own lives and in our communal lives.  He came not with magic wands but with teaching and example so that the reality of peace promised long ago might be made real in our lives in every age right up to the final coming of the reign of God.