Aug 29, 2020

Promoted, then Demoted

 

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time:



The portion of Matthew’s gospel proclaimed to us last Sunday assured us of our Lord’s care and protection of the Church - so much so he entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom of heaven to St. Peter with the authority of to make life-saving decisions. 

It’s a beautiful image, captured in many paintings, stain glass windows and holt cards. If we simply left it there as the end of the story, we risk seeing St. Peter gilded in coronation robes and seated on a throne - picture perfect, a photo worthy of a Facebook moment with a million “likes”.

Not only can we risk doing this to St. Peter, we also can at times do it to ourselves. We have all had our moments to walk on the red carpet. We all have also had our moments when we tripped and fell, looking around quickly hoping nobody saw us. When we try to save face too often our pride will get in the way. It takes a lot of strength and endurance trying to be a rock of strength and stability for everyone else. But when our strength gives up, or we fail, we can be particularly hard on ourselves, bitter or angry.

For this reason the Church asks us this week to reflect of both the Prophet Jeremiah and, of course, St. Peter. We see them, not in a hall of fame, but in their brokenness and vulnerability. The prophet Jeremiah, having been thrown into a prison pit because his wise and holy counsel was rejected, complains that he was set up - not by his enemies, but by God himself. He accuses God of "dumping" him. He is even mad at himself for agreeing. 

The same, no doubt for St. Peter. Having been entrusted with the keys of office to open and close the doors of heaven, he now offers his educated opinion but he is abruptly told by Christ he is out of line, to be quiet and fall in line behind. Just when he presumed he was trusted to sail his own ship, Christ takes over steering and sends St. Peter the fisherman to the rear of the boat.

Too often we can get so caught up in our 15 minutes of fame, that we can’t think or pray outside the box. We can often become so full of our own sense of importance, that we can easily become so closed minded and arrogant. So let us be courageous before God, acknowledging our weakness and vulnerabilities, in swallowing our pride and trusting in God’s plan and His power without wanting to always understand it.

That doesn't mean that we are like puppets on a string. Far from it, God will sometimes cut the strings from whatever puppet master we sometimes allow to control us. Yes, we will often fall flat on our face and at times find ourselves all tangled up. It will indeed be a cross. But with humble submission to the strength of God’s grace, that cross, in whatever way it may unfold in our lives, will not be the last word. 

Instead, cooperating with the grace of humility, God can use the cross to save me, raise me up and strengthen me in the vocation he has asked me to respond to. That I know, but I pray when the weight of the cross becomes too heavy to carry, that I will not think of myself as solid rock hardened in my own estimation, but clay in the hands of the God I have slowly learnt to trust more and more.

First reading

Jeremiah 20:7–9

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;

you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.

All the day I am an object of laughter;

everyone mocks me.


Whenever I speak, I must cry out,

violence and outrage is my message;

the word of the Lord has brought me

derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,

I will speak in his name no more.

But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,

 imprisoned in my bones;

I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.



Gospel 

Matthew 16:21–27

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves.

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 

He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”







Aug 22, 2020

Outside Worship Inside Presence

 


................

 “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 16:19

Even though we are restricted from congregating inside the church for worship because of our battle with the Covid virus, gathering outside in the piazza and offering the daily Mass in front of the doors of the church allows us to reflect on how close we are to the doors of heaven itself. 

Think about it. The church building is not merely a worship space. Whether it is crowded with people (as it was before the pandemic) or the pews are empty, within the church the substance of the real presence of “God With Us” always abides as long as the Eucharistic elements remain within the tabernacle. And that they do. 


As I take out my keys to open the doors of the church in the mornings so that anyone can enter inside and privately pray in the presence of the Son of God before the sacred tabernacle, I often think of the passage from Scripture recalling Christ giving Peter the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. When I close the church, I often recall how the outside doors look every much like the tabernacle doors inside.  A coincidence? I think not!


When we gather outside in the church piazza for Mass, we are very much like the pilgrims of old who made their way up to the Temple of Jerusalem and congregated in its courtyard to worship. They faced the great doors of the temple behind which the Presence of God abided. Only the Temple priests could unlock the doors of heaven and enter to commune with God face to face and offer sacrifices. 


But now, because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of His own Body and Blood, now resurrected and in glory, and made present in the Holy Mass, all who are baptized and prepared, can walk through the open doors of the temple and enter into Holy Communion with God.


Whether the doors of the church are open or closed, the piazza itself is a sacred meeting place for the People of God. Christ taught the people in the temple courtyard. He cleansed the courtyard of the temple from the influences of commerce and politics. It was a sacred place where God reached out to His people from every tribe and nation. 


When we enter the church courtyard, we do so to the chorus of the pilgrim people of old. They too endured trials and tribulations. But when they arrived at the threshold of the temple of Jerusalem they unlocked the doors of their hearts and souls and sang,


“I will give thanks to you O Lord, with all my heart,

    for you have heard the words of my mouth;

    in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;

I will worship at your holy temple.” Psalm 138

Aug 14, 2020

The Heavenly Mother, Body and Soul

 The Lord and Lady of the Dance


Our Christian faith looks upon the human physical body not only with respect but also with reverence. The body is a sacred form, substance through which God communicates His love to the world. We first encounter this in the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. Humanity is formed first in a physical form from the moist earth. Only when the body is emerged and fashioned is it then infused, animated with the breath of God and Adam become a “living being” (Gen. 2:7).


In God’s original design, the body and the soul are not two opposites held together in an awkward relationship. God revealed his power and beauty through the human form of Adam and Eve, from their head to their feet. Think of a Danseur Nobel and a Ballerina, full of grace with every movement of their body and soul in tune to the music and their environment. 


But sadly, the entry of sin into the world threw everything out of harmony, out of sync. Instead of heavenly music, there erupted noise. It’s damaging shockwaves permeated through all creation, even affecting time itself, which made new things old and old things to decay and die. (CCC 1008) Only God himself could push back this cosmic tsunami. And God does so through his Son Christ. The New Adam, to the rescue, came. 


If Christ is the New Adam, then we see Mary also in a new light and involved intimately in the plan of salvation. At the first moment of her conception, her physical and spiritual existence resonated perfectly to the music of heaven. Her “dance” embodied the salvation of all creation in a very physical - a virgin pregnant with the Son of God. (CCC 148, CCC 411). 


In the same way as the tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant resonated and radiated the Presence of God, so did Mary’s very body. Is it any wonder that both her body and soul, so perfectly attuned to each other in the song and music of heaven, that after the completion of her earthly life, Mary still sings and dances, body and soul in the heavenly realm. For all who have died and rest in peace, what beautiful music we sleep to. And when our souls awaken to our own physical resurrection, we hope to be able stretch out our bodies and dance to the harmony. (Maybe “Catholic heaven” depicted in the Simpson’s is right, after all!!!)


During this time of physical testing, concerns for our health and hygiene, let us pray that our physical movements, expressions, choices and actions will become, with God’s grace, more in harmony with the Spirit of Christ and the music of heaven. In short, as our salvation is through faith and good works responding to the music of God’s grace, keep stretching, work every muscle and keep dancing! And when we do finally rest from all our labors, when the Kingdom of God comes upon us, may we rise once again to enter joyfully into the final and eternal dance with Jesus and Mary leading the way.

Aug 7, 2020

Grab on + Hold fast

 

The Sunday Scriptures the Church gives us to begin the week, once again bring us outside and into the open where God meets us. This is apt as Mass is now offered in the piazza where we are naturally exposed to the elements of God’s creation, and when we leave the security of the parish grounds, we find ourselves sailing into a storm surrounding us. Will we encounter Christ standing on the waves, or do we fear drowning amidst all the confusion and panic. 

First, a thought on miracles. Although the rationally minded might try to explain Christ’s “walking on water” as an optical illusion or offer a natural or scientific explanation, it is well worth reflecting on the interplay between the “whispering breeze” (the breath of God) and the primordial waters of creation as described in the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis. Crack open your Bible at the first page of Scripture. Is it any wonder that the substance of the waters at the very beginning of creation into which God breathed His Spirit, would now remember, welcome, and literally uphold the physical substance of its Creator-God made man when He walked upon it? 

Scientists tell us that our bodies are at least two thirds water. That includes Christ’s body, Peter’s, and our own. At Christ’s invitation, Peter was able to also walk on the waters towards his Lord, albeit baby steps, because the waters of the sea also recognized in Peter, the life of God’s Spirit breathed into man when Adam was first created. But the fisherman became distracted. He ran out of breath, afraid of the power of the raging wind and the hidden terrors of the deep. 

Is that not also our story - attracted to the invitation to reach out to the unexplainable and unpredictable mystery of God, but afraid that we will lose control of what is familiar in our lives? In the midst of the storm, Peter could have stayed on the boat and resigned himself to going down with his ship. But he didn’t. 

Was Peter a fool for thinking he could walk on water? No. He did so only when he could see and recognize Christ standing on the waves in the midst of the storm. Did Christ then set up Peter for failure, knowing that he would eventually sink? No. Our Lord has no wish to humiliate us with failure or teach us a cruel lesson. Instead, Christ wants us, not only to see Him in the storm, but for us to call out when we are afraid, “Lord, save me!”  Peter was not humiliated. Instead, Peter the big strong fisherman, had to trust in Christ’s power to save him. 

What can we take from this?  

Like Peter, when our surroundings are turned upside down and we find ourselves lost in a storm that threatens our lives and livelihoods, we have to look to Christ standing in the midst of it. But beware! We will get wet! There are many false messiahs who can also “walk on water”.  Peter had to first be sure it was actually the ‘flesh and blood’ Jesus, not a ghost nor an impersonator. Only then would Peter put his life and livelihood on the line. The fisherman didn’t test the waters first. He tested the identity and the power of the one standing on the waters before he stepped out. As Peter would write later in one of his letters, “Be calm and vigilant”. (1 Peter 5:8). 

And we must also do the same!  In the midst of crisis, confusion and pandemic hysteria, we can be tempted to blindly jump out in the direction of false messiahs, or mythological sirens (dangerous creatures who lured passing sailors to their death with their enchanting music and songs). A well-seasoned fisherman like Peter instinctively knew how to read the signs even though he knew the dangers of being caught off guard by a change of weather. 

Even though our own faith journey towards God can easily be compromised by our fears, and we can find ourselves sinking or overwhelmed by the headwinds, it doesn’t take a mountain of faith to call out to Christ “Lord, save me.” But it does take humility. Yes, we are people of little faith. But we need only the faith the size of a mustard seed! (Matthew 17:20)

Now notice how Christ responds. He “immediately” stretched out His hand and physically caught the big fisherman. That takes both quick reflexes and physical strength. That's the strength and power of the carpenter’s strong arm that Jesus inherited from His foster father Joseph! I imagine our Lord, like a fireman to the rescue, carrying the heavy and exhausted Peter on His shoulders, back across the waters to the boat in the open seas as the waves turned to ripples under the Lord’s feet.  

There are dangers and sunken debris on the bottom of the sea, in our own depths.  Storms will often bring them to the surface. There are hidden dangers below us, within us and around us - the cellar, the attic, a box under the bed, the storage unit, even in the dark corner of our garage or garden shed. That’s where we often place memories, old, good and bad - memories that we revisit every so often. Storms can bring them to the surface. Sometimes we bring them into the light. Sometimes it’s best to put them back in their place. Our lives are cluttered enough. There are some things we should store and bring out for a rainy day. There are some things that should rest in peace without being disturbed. The final word goes to the first line of the Sunday gospel. We are told that after feeding the crowds, Christ made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side of the sea. Did He, through whom all creation was made, not know there was a storm approaching? Of course He did! From His place on the mountaintop, I imagine He could also see the storm brewing in the distance and sense the change in the wind. But He had told His disciples to sail to the other side. Coming from the mouth of God made flesh, what does that imply? It simply means, we will get to the other side safely, despite any storm. He is a man of His Word. The Word of the Lord. That’s good news to hear!

Gospel Selection

Matthew 14:22–33

Command me to come to you on the water.

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost, ” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”



Aug 1, 2020

Outside Miracles



Outside Miracles 

Gospel for the Week of Sunday, August 2, 2020

Matthew 14:13–21

They all ate and were satisfied.


“He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.”


When Our Lord blessed and broke the loaves of bread and fed the multitudes, it was, in a way, an outside “dress rehearsal” for the Last Supper He would eventually share with His disciples inside the Upper Room, the first church building. How true this is for us!


Like the biblical account, we too are sitting outside. Christ, once again, feeds us through the blessing and breaking of the Eucharistic Bread - His substantial presence on earth as it is in heaven. We may not be literally sitting on the grass, nor numbering over five thousand, but until Mass is offered inside the church building without restrictions, our outside numbers continue to multiply like the loaves and fishes recounted in the Gospel. 


Just like the hungry crowds Our Lord responded to, we will likely have to get used to being outside for the summer and probably for the weeks that follow. We have multiplied the chairs and the sanitizers - not exactly a miracle! But we have to also be prepared for an increase in sun and summer temperatures. That is why the outside Masses are short, no spoken sermon, and we quickly transit through the church for Holy Communion. 


To that end, we have a few practical issues that we will need to address. Unlike the hardy people Our Lord preached to at length while outside under the beating sun, we have to be conscious of sunburn and heatstroke. In other words, use sunscreen, bring bottled water, wear a hat as needed or bring an umbrella for shade. There are not enough trees for shade to go around for everyone! 


Although in January I had shared the desire to build a permanent shaded area around the piazza for small gatherings, the pandemic has put a hold on that for now. We are now looking at some sort of outside shade for as much of the piazza itself as possible in order to “buy” us enough time for the rest of the year. 


Suggestions surfaced about purchasing some kind of wedding tent, but with too much open access to the church grounds, especially after hours, and with an increasing transient population, tents might invite overnight camping ( which we are not zoned for!) Prudence suggests we will have to secure the parish perimeter better to more adequately address health and safety concerns.


Presently, we are looking at some semi-permanent shade structures over the piazza that will not cheapen our sense of the sacred while offering the Sacraments outside. 


Added to this, with the fire season upon us and with the church grounds located around a residential area, you will begin to see a lot of work during these coming weeks, clearing out brush, dangerous trees from around the hall and hillside and practical landscaping maintenance. So, just when I thought we would be saving money by not running the air conditioners inside, the outside environmental controls are just as taxing!


Why can it not be as simple as it was in the biblical days when we could just sit on the hills and grassy meadows and listen to our Lord and partake of the free gift of His presence among us?


In short, it is because the outside world has become so complicated, politicized, and much more challenging. But even still, Our Lord, as does the church, meets us where we are. And that’s where He finds us today - in the trenches, in a field hospital, and still feeding us by His Sacramental presence. He is our shield in the battle, the healer of wounds and our shade in the heat of the day. 


Thank you for your great patience, your example of sacrifice and perseverance, generosity and practical help that give assurance that we will endure and offer up to God the challenges we all face inside or out. 




Mental Fatigue

The Sunday Gospel (30th Week in Ordinary Time) once again reminds us of Christ’s instruction to Love the Lord our God with everything we hav...