Reflection - February 24, 2019

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.

Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?

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Reflection - February 10, 2019

“‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’
Simon said in reply,
‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.’
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. 
They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’
...Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.’
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.”

We can feel it. Family members have left the church. Friends who had been very active rarely come to mass or volunteer at the parish any more. Children or grandchildren have no time or interest in traditional faith or practice. Many studies from a variety of organizations such as Gallup, Pew, the Barna Group, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Notre Dame, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), and Dynamic Catholic confirm it. More people are leaving the church: some become Protestant, but a growing number simply disaffiliate from religion all together. This is especially true for younger generations where 39% or more claim no religious affiliation. Among those who remain affiliated, fewer are going to mass weekly or monthly by nearly a percentage point per year. Engagement is down and less than 7% of Catholics account for 80% of volunteer time and financial contributions. Taken as a whole, few fish are in our nets and more and more are jumping out of the boat. 

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Reflection - January 20, 2019

“He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me 
to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

If our reader on a Sunday walked up to the ambo and happened to be reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah quoted above and instead of saying, “The Word of the Lord,” that we’re used to hearing at the end of the reading, said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” we would probably think he or she was delusional. We would probably be right. This story from the gospel today is a unique moment in Jesus’s life. It indicates Jesus’s self understanding of both who he was and what his mission was. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. Luke emphasizes in Jesus’s mission the reversal of fortune associated with the Kingdom of God. Good news has come for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Jesus knows who he is and why he’s here. In this moment, he proclaims truth to all of those gathered in the synagogue. He is the messiah sent to proclaim the good news and usher in the kingdom. You and I, or our reader, are not the messiah. We are not the anointed one and we do not have his unique mission. 

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Reflection - December 9, 2018

“I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it 
until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The day of Christ Jesus is, in its most common sense, Jesus’s return in glory, when all things are made new. The End. That is, an eternal beginning. As I have written before, it is also the day each of us will walk through the doorway of death to our eternal destiny, when our personal life on earth has ended. There is another sense in which the day of Christ Jesus is today: no sense in putting off love. Jesus comes here and now. There is a fourth sense, in this Season of Advent, in which we are preparing for Christmas. The day of Christ Jesus can be that for which we are preparing. Namely, the celebration of Jesus’s birth in just a few weeks. 

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Reflection - February 3, 2019

“Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.”

Truth. In the generic sense, I am a skeptic. I don’t hold a philosophical position that knowledge is impossible, but I do tend toward greater trust in rational thought and verifiable data. I am slow to accept popular opinions just because they are popular and I question common assumptions. I would probably be the guy that wants to put my finger in the wound in Jesus’s side. I am suspicious of pat or easy answers, emotional decisions, and extraordinary claims. I cringe at superstition, secret knowledge, or magical powers. I explore and test ideas from multiple perspectives, evaluate possibilities from every angle, and rejoice in concrete solutions. I desire to learn, expand my knowledge, and do what works. 

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Reflection - January 6, 2019

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod, 
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 
‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.’
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled, 
and all Jerusalem with him.”

Today, we celebrate the Epiphany. In this context, it is the revelation of who Jesus is by the magi following a star to find a king. Their search, which leads to the encounter with a baby in Bethlehem, reveals to all that this baby is indeed a king, worthy of the gifts given to him. There are many other moments of epiphany in the gospels (e.g., Jesus’s baptism, the transfiguration, and his death on the cross, itself) and, in fact, Jesus’s entire life can be considered an epiphany, a revelation of God the Father. Jesus is the bringer of the truth and is the Truth, himself. 

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Reflection - November 25, 2018

“Pilate said to Jesus,
‘Are you the King of the Jews?’
Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?’
Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? 
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. 
What have you done?’ 
Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. 
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.’”

This man, Jesus, stands before Pilate accused of being the King of the Jews. It’s remarkable, really. Born in the little town of Bethlehem, likely never traveling more than 100 miles from the place of his birth, and growing up in Nazareth (can anything good come from there), his public ministry only lasted three years. No army followed him and even though he had some public success, almost everyone who cheered him also abandoned him. Perhaps Pilate is being sarcastic. It’s hard to imagine him seriously asking Jesus if he’s the King of the Jews. He knows he’s not. Pilate might just be seeking to find out if Jesus is delusional enough to believe he is the King of the Jews, as he has been accused of claiming by his own people and chief priests. Is this man, Jesus, that crazy?

Pilate can’t believe his ears. Jesus is more crazy. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Jesus is King of more than Israel, more than the Roman Empire, more than the Earth. We might be placated to think that Jesus is King of Heaven, an eternal spiritual realm. But that’s not really it, completely. Jesus is redefining kingship. He is not a political human king, but the king of God’s realm: of creation (everything that exists), revelation (truth), and salvation (God’s action). Jesus is the king of all reality, seen and unseen. Theological reflection through the centuries has brought clarity to our understanding of the Second Person of the Trinity: his role in creation, revelation, and salvation. To Pilate, he had to appear crazy. Theology has made Jesus’s claim more understandable for us, but the centuries of growth in knowledge have not made his claim any more believable.  

Traditionally, we call this weekend the Feast of Christ the King, but it’s official title is the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. To take our understanding of creation, the universe as it were, as an example, our knowledge today is so much greater than what Pilate knew. The universe, which is all of space and time, began about 13.8 billion years ago. It has been expanding ever since, and is expanding now at an accelerated pace. Space, itself, (hold on) is expanding. It’s not just that the edge of the universe is growing, but that everything in between is growing, too. This means that we, on earth, can observe the distant past of stars from the light they emitted close to 13.8 billion years ago, but which are now 46 billion light years away (try not to get a headache). The observable universe from earth has a diameter of about 93 billion light years, but since the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light, it may be many times larger than we can or ever will be able to observe (ouch!). Just in what we can observer, there are 100 billion galaxies with an estimated average of 100 billion stars each (our own Milky Way has 300 billion). Jesus didn’t claim to be a political king, but to be King of All. He was either crazy, or he is God. 

Reflection - January 27, 2018

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.”

Author’s note: I made a mistake. Last week I wrote my reflection on this week’s readings. In order to get back on track, this article is based on last week’s readings. Next week, provided I don’t make the same mistake again, we should be back on schedule. Thanks for reading!

Sometimes we can think of our spiritual journey as an individual call to holiness: my relationship with God, my growth, my struggles with sin, my gifts, my meaning, or my purpose. There is a necessary and good sense in which our spiritual lives are personal. We should realize that God’s love is personal and we should take a certain ownership of our own actions and engagement with God, the Church, and all the world. The problem arises when we think of this aspect of our faith as the only or primary lens through which we look. We can end up setting ourselves up as the central beneficiary of the actions of God and everyone else. It becomes all about me. We can experience our faith as simply consumers or customers and judge everything based on how it benefits me. How I spend my time, use my talents, or give my money become a type of exchange for what I feel I have already received. Is it worth it? Was it earned? It is sort of like tipping a waiter. 

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Reflection - December 16, 2018

“Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!”

The Third Sunday of Advent is “gaudete” Sunday. From the Greek word for “rejoice” in Paul’s letter to the Philippians above, which we read today, this Sunday gets its name. We are admonished to rejoice. In the first reading, it is to shout for joy, sing joyfully, and be glad and exult with all our hearts. It seems like an odd thing these days. We witness plenty of fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, division, criticism, jealousy, offense, and even hatred, but not much joy.  We see plenty of distractions, entertainment, adrenaline rushes, virtual reality, social media, altered states, and even pleasure, but not much joy. We hear of natural disasters, wars, terrotism, mass shootings, starvation, oppression, persecution, forced migration, suffering, and even abuse, but not much joy. Way back in 1975, Pope Saint Paul VI wrote in his apostolic exhortation, On Christian Joy, “Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy...yet boredom, depression and sadness unhappily remain the lot of many...sometimes go as far as anguish and despair, which apparent carefreeness, the frenzies of present good fortune and artificial paradises cannot assuage...the sum of physical and moral sufferings weighs heavily: so many starving people, so many victims of fruitless combats, so many people torn from their homes...and they overwhelm people's minds.” Where did all the joy go?

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