Jan 21, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Please consider the words of St. Paul we heard in the Liturgy of the Word: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”

Ideally, we will agree with St. Paul’s apostolic exhortation, but unfortunately, at the same time, too often we want everyone else to be united with my own way of thinking, my own purpose. "If you don’t think the way I think, or have the same vision I have, if you cannot agree to see life from my perspective - then there is nothing we have in common - we have no relationship, we are on two different sides!"   (As graphic as the example might be, I’m reminded of what my dog does as I walk it around the neighborhood - it lifts its leg to mark its territory, even when it’s not “his” own territory!  In effect what’s it’s saying is, “I claim this land, whether you like it or not, as my own turf - I’m in charge around here. Only my particular distinctive smell should dominate this land”)

The apostle experienced this corrosive virus eating away in the community of the Church in Corinth. Individuals were locked into their own allegiances, each with their own particular partisan or ideological rallying cry - "I only follow this bishop (Paul)," "I only follow this priest (Apollos),"  "I only follow this pope (Cephas)," or "I only follow Christ (my own Christ)”. St. Paul is encountering a power play. It was as if everyone was living together, hating each other all for the love of God!!!!!

In Southern California we are used to, even incredibly comfortable with the idea of living in an area susceptible to earthquakes.  Even though we all stand on a common ground, we tend to think that the fault line will never appear right under our own feet, or that we will see it coming and jump to one side, or be able to watch it unfound from a safe distance, like a Hollywood movie.  But our common ground is not always as secure as we think.

What if I live my life cut off from the dignity of justice and freedom that God has planted in the core of my being? What happens when husbands and wives become estranged, living two separate lives? What happens when our children are left to slip into into their own virtual worlds? What happens when families isolate themselves from others or when the dining room table becomes merely a display feature? What happens when particular communities in our society turn inward or when nations only see other nations as threats to their own particular way of life? Tension slowly builds up, stress lines begin to appear, cracks within the foundations of relationships, institutions and traditions we presumed would endure forever, now begin to appear, threatening our unity and companionship even at the most fundamental level.  

Two solutions might seem obvious to bring together opposing sides. One is glue. The other is jumping into a lifeboat.  Glue can come in many shapes and forms. It can present itself as a sacred book in the hand of a fundamentalist, a notion of nationalism in the mind of a dictator, or a call for freedom inspired by a champion for change. However, such impulses often paper over divisions that are already there - there is no healing, no growth, cracks often resurface with time from scars painted over.  

Alternatively, the temptation to jump from slow sinking vessel into a lifeboat is oftentimes understandable. But it betrays the responsibility that each of us have to repair and help fix, to mend and refresh the fabric of our relationships with each other, within our family, in our workplace and even the gift of God’s creation we too often take for granted until the earth shakes, mountains fall or our homes flooded.

To this end, the Gospel we have listened to today, Christ's very own words, should waken us up. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand." This is not a simple warning. It's a fact. Repentance is not only to acknowledge our individual wrongdoings, our sins. It's also an invitation to see our lives and our relationships with God and the world from a new and bigger perspective. If the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, that does not mean that we are near the end of the world. Instead, Christ tells us to look and see through the darkness - that God's Kingdom of heaven is, instead, coming to us.  Is that not what we pray every day in the Lord's prayer - "Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven".  

Therefore -

What is your vision of yourself here and now? I want to be on earth now, as I would be in heaven. What is your vision of marriage? I want my marriage to be on earth now as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of family? I want my family to be on earth now as it would in heaven. What is the purpose of your work? It has the same purpose now on earth as it would be in heaven. What is your vision of the parish, of the Church? I want this church to be as on earth as it would be in heaven. What vision do we want for our nation? We want our nation to be on this earth as it would be heaven!

On earth as it is in heaven begins now at this altar, in this Eucharist, our bread and wine of this earth becomes for us here and now what it is in the kingdom of heaven - our living Savior standing before us, leading the way, who belongs, not to any one person or group, but to everyone, every tribe, every tongue, every nation under God. In the meantime, as Christ preached with his life on earth, bringing healing of every disease and illness which divides and separates us from each other and God, we now must do likewise. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 19...