Reflection - February 16, 2020

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This saying of Jesus flips expectations. To get a sense of this, think of other areas of exceptionalism: unless your power surpasses that of the President of the United States; unless your knowledge surpasses that of the MIT researchers; unless your talent surpasses that of the Renaissance painters; or unless your skill surpasses that of the NBA All-Stars. The scribes and the Pharisees dedicated their lives to righteousness. They were at the pinnacle of holiness. The average Jew, the hearers of Jesus’s words, had no hope of achieving greater righteousness. The conditions of their lives simply did not allow the opportunity, time, or study to fulfill all the requirements of righteousness. It was not possible. How can we do that? It is harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, so the saying goes. 

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Reflection - February 2, 2020

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The day I arrived at seminary, I was still quite naive about what it meant to be a priest. I pulled into the parking lot in my Mercury Sable packed to the roof in the back seat and towing an 8’ by 5’ U-Haul trailer with all of my accumulated belongings. The welcome committee was more than generous in helping me transfer everything to a third floor 10’ by 17’ room. I brought too much stuff. The next morning as we headed to pray morning prayer, someone asked me if I had a breviary. “A what?” I asked innocently. They found an extra one in the sacristy (2000+ pages long) and handed it to me saying, “It’s the book of psalms and prayers we use to pray morning, evening and night prayer.” They added, “You’ll have to pray these prayers every day for the rest of your life.” “I’ll have to do what?” I was in shock. “I’ll take you to the theology bookstore later and and you can get the single book to hold you over, but you’ll probably want to get the four volume set some day.” “There’s a four volume set?” 

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Reflection - January 12, 2020

“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying, 
‘l need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’”

There is a recognition by John that Jesus does not need to be baptized. John’s baptism, a ritual cleansing with water signifying repentance for the forgiveness of sins, was not a necessity for Jesus. Jesus was sinless. So, if he didn’t need to do it, why did he? First, and this is an essential point, Jesus didn’t need to do any of the things he did. He didn’t need to be incarnate, do miracles, teach, suffer, or die. Jesus chose to do all of these things. Out of love, he did them for us. It wasn’t a need. It wasn’t for himself. It was love. It was for us. Jesus wasn’t baptized because he needed it, he was baptized because we needed it. The short answer is that Jesus was plunged in the waters of the Jordan for us. This is expressed poetically by the Eastern fathers of the Church, “I am trying to find the lost Adam, let me go down and look for him.”

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Reflection - December 8, 2019

“It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

I have visited a prayer and fasting retreat center in Colorado a number of times. At 9,000 feet, it is 110 acres of mostly mountain fields, rock formations, aspen and pine stands, and amazing blue skies. It is beautiful, and I have had some of my most profound experiences of God there. On my last visit several years ago, I noticed, significantly, that a neighboring property had essentially turned into a junk yard. Old machinery, supplies, materials and trash were piled up around the property, easily visible from the retreat center. I think I made the observation in small talk to the woman who ran the retreat center that it would be nice if the neighbor would clean up his property.  Her reply surprised me, “In Colorado, we have strong property owner rights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” There is a tension, sometimes, between individual rights and the common good, or put a different way, between the personal and the communal. 

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Reflection - January 26, 2020

“He said to them,

‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”

 

Metaphors can be powerful. They catch the imagination and provide piercing insights. They have their limits, however, and usually break down if taken to the extreme or held as the primary or only perspective. They can illuminate, but can also obfuscate by eliminating other perspectives or models of an issue or idea. Jesus used similes and metaphors for the positive value of insight while being little concerned about the limitations. Really, that’s how we all use them. It’s only under analysis that we can explore the positive and negative aspects of a particular metaphor. The process of analysis can provide greater clarity as we wrestle with an issue. We can even learn something when a metaphor breaks down. 

 

The metaphor “fishers of men” has, of course, been tied to the call of the first disciples, but it has also been connected to missionary activity, vocations to the priesthood, and evangelization. Many have been inspired to leave their homes, travel to far off lands, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Many have also been inspired to change the direction of their lives and discern a call to ordained ministry and service in the church. Likewise, many have been inspired to overcome fear and witness about God’s love and work in their lives to family and friends. Some scholars have begun to question the universal application of this metaphor. Perhaps it was meant only for Peter and Andrew, they posit. If they had been farmers, perhaps Jesus would have said, “I will make you sowers of the word.” Or, if they had been carpenters, maybe he would have said, “I will make you builders of the kingdom.” It could have applied only to Peter and Andrew because of who they were. Nonetheless, as with so much of scripture, the meaning can be revealed on multiple levels, at various times, and in deeply personal ways. Even with its limitations, I think it can speak powerfully to us here and now. 

 

The metaphor is important, but more important is the first part, “Come after me.” Most translations use “follow” or “come, follow” for this verse. “Come after me” gives a bit more of the imperative original in the Greek. Do this! Come after me! Pursue me! It is not so much of a polite invitation, but a passionate plea or, even, command. There is transformational energy to it. Let go of what lies behind and press in to what lies ahead! The metaphor is dependent upon the changed life, new direction, and passionate encounter with Jesus. Becoming a fisher of men is the result of going after, following, Jesus. More than that, it is Jesus who does the work, “I will make you.” We see here an essential dynamic: Jesus calls, we respond, Jesus works, and we are given a mission. Invitation leads to decision, which leads to grace, which leads to purpose. Jesus calls us, pleads with us, invites us, commands us, and loves us. He is yearning for us. Come after me! Will we? How do we respond? Can we let go? Chart a new direction? Change? Move? Trust? This is our part, our first part. God never forces our hand. It’s up to us. 

 

Once we say yes, God’s work begins in earnest. God’s transforming grace comes to us in our prayer, study, action, and relationships. Personal prayer and the sacraments open our hearts more fully to God’s love. The scriptures and tradition enlighten our minds to God’s truth. Serving the poor, wounded, naked, and imprisoned conform our lives to God’s mercy and justice. Being part of a community supports us on the journey and challenges us to be authentic. All of this work in us, however, isn’t just for us. We have a purpose, a mission, a direction, and a goal. We live for others. We live for the lost, lonely, searching, seeking, confused, abused, troubled, and forgotten people on God’s heart. “He cries, he weeps, he bleeds” for them. This is our part, too. We are sent. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Reflection - December 29, 2019

Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I think it’s time to get serious. The weeks leading up to entering basic training at the Air Force Academy were glorious. Like a hero going on an adventure, there were congratulations, meaningful conversations, celebrations with family and friends, sad goodbyes, practical preparations, and my entourage standing at the gate of the airport (back when that was still possible) to wish me well. Arriving at Dad’s house in Colorado Springs, there was an air of anticipation and a feast the night before to rival the end of the world. An amazing new chapter was about to begin! Dad pulled up to a stop sign in the cadet area, I got out with my bag of personal effects, and everything changed. Everything. An upperclass cadet started yelling, I ran to a spot on the ground, learned, immediately, how to stand at attention, and spent the day getting a new hair cut, new clothes, shots, equipment, and either running from place to place or waiting in long lines. What had I gotten into? The glory was gone. It was time to get serious. 

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Reflection - December 1, 2019

“Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”

She really turned it around. He came to his senses. They are on fire. Did you see that comeback? Rally time! Rally hats! Let’s shift gears. He’s got it all together. She pulled through. Time to upgrade. Take it to the next level. He’s beginning to believe. There is no spoon. Disrupt the industry. Charge! High speed, low drag. Pivot. Using cutting edge technology. Ideas worth spreading. New and improved. This just in. First rate, top notch, beyond compare, and second to none. What a transformation! This will revolutionize the way we live our lives. She had a change of heart. He saw the light. They charted a new course. That’s progress. It’s a breakthrough. Eureka! They’ve made great strides. It is a quantum leap. Advancing by leaps and bounds. Get up, everybody!  I’m on the look out. She’s hooked. He’s ahead of his time. We’ve got spirit, yes, we do! Plugged in, turned on, and ready to roll. You’ve got my attention. Brilliant!

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Reflection - January 19, 2020

“It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant,

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the survivors of Israel;

I will make you a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

 

Ancient population numbers are difficult to estimate. Records from the time are notoriously unreliable and greatly overestimate the numbers, while modern estimates are far removed from the reality of the time and can tend to underestimate the numbers. It seems that great academic debates occur regarding these varied estimates. In any case, with almost no sense of accuracy, it may be said that Israel was a small kingdom, but not altogether insignificant. In Jesus’s day, it may have been as large as 0.5% of the world population and close to 3% of the population of the Roman Empire. Again, not very large, but also not totally insignificant. The Jewish population outside of Israel was probably as large as the population within or as much as double. So, a decidedly geographic religion, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center, could have accounted for 1% to 1.5% of the world population and 6% to 9% of the Roman Empire. Small, but not insignificant. 

 

Today, adherents of Judaism represent roughly 0.2% of the world population. Christianity has grown from its inception out of the Jewish tradition to about 31% of the world population with Catholicism representing nearly 17%. The vast majority of nations, languages, and people groups have at least some adherents to Christianity, and many to Catholicism. Although, as I have mentioned previously, we are facing a great challenge in the United States from the reality of those who are choosing to leave the church (the growth of the “unaffiliated”), the Church continues to grow, especially in Africa and Asia. Beginning in Jerusalem, the Church has spread to the ends of the earth. 

 

Numbers are, of course, numbers. What they represent are human hearts open to the message of God’s love and responsive to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God had big plans for a small, though not totally insignificant, people. He wasn’t just concerned with a few tribes or a small nation, but with the whole world. He planted a seed that began to grow. A constricted horizon based on national self interest gave way to an infinite horizon encompassing every human heart. For a small people, it was a big vision. It is the same dynamic, however, within each of our own lives. God constantly expands our horizons. From my own personal well being, to that of my family, to those in my community, to the needy and hurting, to the far flung seeking and searching, God moves us out of ourselves. Every person is significant to God. Every person becomes significant to us. God’s vision for us, here and now, is not small. It encompasses everything.  

 

The kingdom always starts small and grows, like a mustard seed. It starts in our own hearts and minds. Is our understanding of God too small? Is our view of our own potential too small? Are the possibilities of what we can accomplish as a community too small? Is my heart too small? Is our vision too small? God has planted something in us that will grow. Are we ready for something large? For everything? For God? David Crowder, a Christian musician, has some lyrics that get at this idea:

 

“I'm so bored of little gods

While standing on the edge of something large

While standing here, so close to You

We could be consumed”

Reflection - December 15, 2019

“Go and tell John what you hear and see.”

I recently hosted a group of parishioners at the St. Patrick rectory. It was a diverse group with long time and new parishioners, empty nesters and families with young children, a variety of ages, experiences, and states in life. During introductions, we shared one word we felt described St. Patrick: community, family, home, memories, welcoming, and dynamic. I’m sure we would come up with similar words at St. Boniface: the group may be a little more diverse, the memories a little longer, and we might highlight tradition and history a little more, but in both parishes, we are able to voice what the parishes mean to us. Neither parish would exist without the work of God in the hearts and lives of our members. The meaning we share is the fruit of the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

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