Monday, September 30, 2013

Damned if you do

September 18th was the ninth anniversary of my ordination. Since I work with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary I asked if I might assist at mass. Fr. Shawn agreed and suggested that I preach. The post that follows is my homily from that day. It is on the gospel of the day, Luke 7:31-35.
The phrase “you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t” must have come from this gospel.  Jesus describes to his detractors their own hypocrisy, and to his followers, then and now, the cost of discipleship.
To be a Christian, to listen to the will of God, to live the life and walk the walk, to be the prophet proclaiming good news to a world not willing to listen, brings with it a measure of sacrifice.  If we follow Christ we can expect to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered and in some cases killed.
How we react to persecution, regardless of how subtle or how overt, is the true test of our faith. As that first reading tells us, “we must know how to behave in the household of God.” We must know how to behave as HIS children not fighting evil with evil, fire with fire but overcoming evil with good, hatred with love, hard-heartedness with forgiveness; to speak out for Christ, to cry out for justice in an unjust society without regard of the cost.
In 404 AD an Egyptian monk named Telemachus visited Rome and the Coliseum. He was appalled at the savagery and the bloodshed that he witnessed in those Gladiatorial games. As an eyewitness to the injustice of it all he was moved to cry out for it to stop “in the name of Christ.” The crowd became enraged and he was stoned to death right there.
Three days later the Emperor Honorius stopped the gladiatorial games for good.
Speaking out that day as the Lord’s prophet in the Coliseum; being the  voice of one “crying out in the wilderness,” cost Telemachus his life, yet in doing so he defeated evil with good and saved countless other men their lives in that very arena and others arenas throughout the empire.
As we are fed by God’s word and by his precious body and blood let us go forth from this place today courageous as lions but gentle as lambs changing the world by proclaiming to all who will listen the love of God poured out to all humanity in Christ Jesus His Son and our Lord. And let us do so regardless of the cost.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Reflection on Today's Gospel

Luke 9: 7-9

Today’s gospel tells us that Herod kept trying to see Jesus. You would think that as king he could easily have sent out his guards to seize Jesus and force him into his presence.

But it doesn’t work that way. We can’t force him and he won’t force us. If we want to “see” Jesus then we need to answer His invitation and enter into His presence. But what is it to be present to someone? We can be in the same room with someone, live in the same house for years and yet not be present to them. There is a mutuality involved with being present. There is a communication or better yet a communion when we are present one to another, and it can happen even in complete silence.

Herod had John the Baptist, a voice crying out in the wilderness of his own heart, to point the way to Jesus and he had him beheaded. Did he really want to be in the presence of the Christ? Was he afraid, afraid of being condemned; afraid of being challenged; afraid of needing to change?

Who is pointing the way for us? Who are the voices of those crying out in the wilderness of our hearts “prepare the way of the Lord!” Who is calling us to change? Whose voices invite us to His presence? Can we see them and recognize them? Or do we, like Herod, condemn them because they make us uncomfortable or worse act as if they didn’t exist.

I think we know who they are. They are the hungry children of the world; they are the homeless; the alcoholic and the drug addicted we step over at the entrance to the subway; they are the mentally ill who talk gibberish on the street corner. He is present in all the faceless strangers we pass every day. He is there in their sadness, in their loneliness, their grief and despair.

If we really want to see Jesus then we have to start looking in the places from which we usually turn away and listen to the voices we usually shut out.

Lord, send me someone to serve in your name today, help me to recognize the need, the courage to act upon it and the wisdom to speak as you would. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

I could write a book entitled “Stupid Things I Did as a Kid.”

This would be one of the chapters. When I was 18 or so, just out of high school I had a job working at a McDonald’s in Weymouth, and I usually got the closing shift. Now it was June or July and as anyone who has either worked that shift or was ever eighteen years old knows, you don’t want to go right home. You want to unwind – do something. By the time the store closed and everything was cleaned up it must have been about 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning when some friends came to pick me up. The conversation went something like this…

“So, what do you wanna do?”

“I don’t know, let’s drive to New Hampshire.”

“Yeah, that’s great. What do we do when we get there?”

“Let’s climb a mountain.”


And so it was that we found ourselves at the foot of Mount Chocorua at 2:30 in the morning, totally unprepared to climb anything much less a 3500 foot mountain.

With our one flashlight (God only knew how old the batteries were) we started the climb. It was pretty dark out there and thinking about it now, I’m sure there were all kinds of cretures watching us from the woods – probably thinking we were the breakfast buffet; things like, lions, and tigers and bears --- (“Oh MY”) It was kind of scary, though no one admitted it. And it wasn’t an easy climb either, especially in sneakers and at certain points it got quite steep. It was really a lot more work than we expected going in.

But – the most memorable part of the whole experience was this - we got to the summit just as dawn broke. We were above the tree line on top of the world watching the sunrise from a vantage point that few people get to experience and it was the most spectacular thing I’d ever witnessed. It was, for me at least, as though we had come face to face with the very glory of God. And in fact it was a real sign of just that. The long, hard, scary journey was rewarded with a very special gift from God.

As we read the Gospel today it’s helpful to remember that Peter, James and John didn’t just find themselves on top of that mountain with Christ. Before they experienced the vision of the transfiguration they first had to climb the mountain. I can assure you that climbing any mountain is not easy and these guys didn’t have a groomed trail to follow or flashlights or sneakers - they climbed it in sandals, or bare feet. When they got to the top we can be certain of this; that they were very sore and tired, with blisters on their feet and they might very well might have asked “was is worth it?”

This episode in the life of Jesus and his friends took place as Christ was on his final journey to Jerusalem. His friends were going to have to suffer the loss and pain that His death would bring and he didn’t want them to be so overwhelmed that they’d lose hope, and so he allowed them a glimpse of His glory, a taste of His resurrection to hold on to when the going got tough.

Every day of our lives we enter into that same journey. We’re climbing that mountain too, and often we’re sore and tired and scared. We’re on the way to Jerusalem with Peter, James and John and like them we’ve experienced the death of our own friends and loved ones. We’ve looked evil in the eye and sometimes we are overwhelmed.

But the Lord does not want us to lose hope anymore than he wanted Peter, James and John to lose hope. We too have had glimpses of the Glory of the Risen Lord. I had one on the top of Mount Chocorua.

Throughout our lives in all too real ways, we suffer all of what Good Friday has to offer, but my friends if it’s Friday, then Sunday’s coming.

If there’s death then resurrection will follow.

If there’s a tomb then there is also an empty tomb, and like Christ on the top of that high mountain, we too will also be transfigured and share in the glory of the Risen Lord – all of us together - never to be separated again.

As Peter said, “It is good for us to be here.” Even if the path isn’t easy, it is good for us to be here; even if it’s laden with stumbling blocks, it is good for us to be here; even if the devil himself is lurking around every dark corner ready to devour us like a lion we will not lose hope! Because we’ve been there before with Christ and He won the victory. It is good for us to be here.

And we will not lose hope because we have experienced death and resurrection over and over - and we have seen the glory of God. Because we’ve climbed the mountain and it was worth the effort.

When we come back from the depths of depression and illnesses we’ve experienced a bit of resurrection.
When we’re able to break away from toxic relationships, that’s a taste of resurrection.

When the stone is rolled away from the tomb of alcoholism and addiction and we’re on the road to recovery we’ve experienced something of both death and resurrection.

When a loved one dies and we feel we’ll never smile again – we have shared in Christ’s death, and when, unexpectedly, a smile or laugh returns, then we’ve been touched by His resurrection.

All of us are on a journey to Jerusalem. And all of us have mountains to climb just like Peter, James and John, and all of us, like the apostles, have had some glimpses of Christ’s resurrection to hold on to, given to us by the Lord so that we will not be overwhelmed and so that we will not lose hope. But sadly, we are often too busy or blinded by our own tears to recognize the vision right in front of us.

Today’s gospel invites us to remember our own mountain top experiences; to call on Christ in quiet prayer and ask him to open our memories so that we can recognize Christ with us during the hard times; on our journeys to Jerusalem, and to our Good Fridays; so that we won’t be overwhelmed but recognize the coming resurrection and remember that what Easter means to us. Sit there with the Lord. Sit with Peter, James and John. Bathe in the hope and the promise and see Christ in His glory and proclaim with Peter, with our whole heart, that “It is good for us to be here.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Homily for Ash Wednesday

"Don’t be like the hypocrites!" That’s what the Gospel tells us today. But what is a hypocrite? Usually we think of a hypocrite as someone who says one thing and does another. But is there something else to it – is there a little nuance that may get us thinking in a different direction.

As it turns out I just happened to come across the Greek derivative for our word hypocrite. The Greek word hypokrites refers to an actor who performed behind a mask. It refers to someone pretending to be someone he is not. That puts a little different spin on it doesn’t it?
Have you seen the movie “The Mask?” Well, in this movie there is a character that lives a life that is … ordinary. He doesn’t have much of a job, never gets the girl, and everyone is on his case, until one night he finds a mask floating in the river. Whenever he puts on the mask he is transformed into this extraverted, cartoonish character who is smooth, who always gets what he’s after and who always gets the girl. But he soon discovers that the Mask brings with it more trouble than it’s worth and so at the end of the movie he throws it back in the river and discovers that the person he was underneath the mask is the person he is meant to be. And with this he finds contentment… oh and he does get the girl.

I wonder how often we pretend to be something we are not. Not because we’re bad but because we’re afraid or lack confidence. The “fake it till ya make it” school of life.
I’m of the opinion that all of us, to one extent or another wear masks. In small and not so small ways there are parts of us that pretend to be something we’re not. We all have something in our lives that we’d like to hide behind a mask.
There was a pop psychology book 25 -30 years ago called “Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am.” The answer is pretty simple, because we’re all a little bit afraid that if someone knew the real us; all the little secrets; the feelings; the shame; the guilt and the stuff of life we carry around like litter, that they’d reject us. They wouldn’t love us anymore. We’d be alone and what is worse for a human being than to be alone? And so we wear masks and we pretend to be something we’re not and it still isolates us.

Sometimes we pretend so well that we don’t even see the person we are. The person we are supposed to be. At times we look in the mirror and see the mask and think that’s really us. Maybe we’re afraid we won’t love ourselves if we take the masks off.

The Lord is giving us an opportunity during Lent. To go to Him with our fear of rejection, the fear that we won’t be loved, the fear that we can’t be forgiven or the fear that we can’t face ourselves.

Jesus is whispering softly to us, gently “Take the mask off. Don’t be afraid. I’ll show you the person God your Father created you to be. You don’t have to pretend with me. I will not reject you and I WILL love you – no matter what! I am always with you.”

And that’s what Lent is for us. It doesn’t have to be a time of self-deprivation but a time of renewal. It’s the time that reminds us that God calls us back – always, continually calls us back into that right relationship we were meant to have with Him and each other. It is a time to shed the masks and put on Christ – a time to stop pretending and be authentic. To discover once more that we are people made in the image and likeness of God and to live our lives that way.

Lent is the traditional time in the Church when people who want to become Catholics prepare for the promises and obligations that being a Christian places on them. They study scripture; they make prayer a habit in their lives; they fast as a spiritual exercise; they do the things that will help them change their lifestyles to match the calling they’ve received.

Like those preparing to enter the Church, we too do the same kinds of things during Lent. We pray; fast; go to confession; abstain from meat; give up candy; and do good works not to prepare for our own Baptisms but to renew them. At every Mass on Easter Sunday all of us renew the promises of our baptisms. We renew our pledge to put on Christ and to live as Christ lived so that like Jesus we too can bring life and healing to a world desperate to receive it.

During this Lent let us all go to that hidden room that the Gospel speaks of today and pray with Christ. Let’s ask him to show us our masks and give us the courage to look behind them, see the real person, the person God created us to be – a new creation in Christ.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thus says the Lord

Reflecton on 30: 21

Thus says the Lord:
His leader shall come from Jacob
and his ruler shall come from his kin.
When I summon him
he shall approach me.
You shall be my people
And I shall be your God.

The phrase “Thus says the Lord’ strikes me as being very powerful. When I hear it I want to sit up and listen.

It reminds me of that E.F. Hutton commercial. There would be some kind of function, abuzz with activity, a piano player, glasses clinking and dozens of conversations going all at once. The camera zooms in on one of the conversations and a man says “My broker is E.F. Hutton and E.F. Hutton says…” And everything stops. There is complete silence in the room – everyone wants to know what E.F. Hutton has to say.

“Thus says the Lord.” Who takes notice when God speaks? Do I? Do I notice all the different ways God calls me to pay attention?
The homeless cry out, “Thus says the Lord, pay attention to me!”
The hungry cry out, “Thus says the Lord, feed me!”

The grieving cry out, “Thus says the Lord, comfort me!”

The war weary cry out, “Thus says the Lord, give us peace!”

The prisoner cries out, “Thus says the Lord, set me free!”

The abused, the addicted, the elderly, the orphan, the ridiculed, the outcast, the lonely, our own families all cry out, “pay attention to me.” Do we?

Unlike the E.F. Hutton commercial the world does not grind to a halt to listen to what the Lord has to say. Why? Because feeding the hungry won’t fill our own bellies, and listening to the poor won’t help our own bank account grow.

God is calling – it is a summons. A summons is not a take it or leave it proposition. It must be answered. We can respond either in the affirmative or the negative. It is our choice to make.

But it seems that from this scripture passage God has full confidence in us to respond properly. We need to have the courage and confidence to listen and respond to God’s call in the people who cry out to us in their need.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Good Shepherd

Have you ever thought about all the different ways that God is described in Sacred Scripture? It’s amazing. For example, The Lord is King, The Lord is a warrior, God is wisdom, God is Father, God is love, and God is creator. Jesus is described as our brother, a teacher, a friend, and the one we have in today’s Gospel, The Lord is a shepherd.

The reason that we have so many ways of describing God is very simple. God is so beyond anything we can imagine that He can’t be described adequately in any one way. God isn’t either a King or a shepherd. God has qualities that we humans attribute to both those things and many others.

Each of these touches upon some different reality of God so that we may better understand Him. They’re analogies that somehow give us greater knowledge of who God is. Since many of these analogies and metaphors come to us from ancient times it’s often bit difficult for we modern men and women to really understand what they’re saying to us. And so it is with shepherd. We need to know something about what it was to be a sheep and a shepherd in the time of Christ if today’s gospel is going to meaningful to us.

First of all sheep were not primarily raised for food during the time of Christ. For the most part they were raised for their wool and their milk, and because of this the sheep would graze together with their shepherds in fields for long periods of time – for years. The relationship between sheep and shepherd was more like the relationships we have with our pets. The shepherd and the sheep got to know one another and understand one another in much the same way we come to know and understand our dogs.

Secondly, sheep were not herded. They were not pushed or frightened or forced into going where the shepherd wanted them to go – they were led. They had a certain freedom. The shepherd would lead or call and the sheep would follow.

Now if I can change gears just a little, I’d like to talk about our family dog, Chelsea. We have a very cool relationship with Chelsea. She is a people dog. More than anything else she just wants to hang with her people. If you leave for even a few minutes, when you come back she acts like she hasn’t seen you all day.
And she’s a pretty good dog. Mostly obedient although she has eaten several pairs of shoes, a few dollars, one of my homilies, my son’s hat, two wallets, and a trash can full of tissue. One time when we were having steak for dinner, she was just hanging around waiting for something to fall on the floor. After a while she got frustrated and whined a little. Not getting what she wanted, she suddenly ran to the front door barking, which usually means someone came to visit. So I went to the door, opened it, stepped out to look and found no one. When I turned around there she was on my chair eating my streak. Bad dog! Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

Usually, when we go out, even if it’s only in our back yard, I keep her on a leash. I’m just afraid she might run out into the street and get hurt or go off chasing a squirrel and get lost.

But lately I’ve been letter her out back without the leash and on certain streets I’ll take the leash off just to see how she handles it. Mostly she’s very good, if she gets ahead I call and she stops and waits. Sometimes, she gets ahead and she stops on her own and turns around to make sure I’m still there. “I’m with ya, keep goin’” and she continues. If we come to an intersection I say “Stay” and she stays.

But one time recently my wife Luanne and I were out back raking leaves and cleaning out the garage and Chelsea was right there with us. She was just hanging out sniffing things and curious about what we were up to. More often than not she was just laying in the grass watching us.

Well at one point I asked Luanne “have you seen the dog”

“No I haven’t”

So the calling began. And she didn’t come. I was getting nervous. I went looking for her. Finally, she emerged from the yard next door. Now this is one of those neighbors who never mows the lawn, and whose back yard is literally more like a jungle than a suburb. Chelsea came around the fence with a “sheepish” look on her face and in some obvious discomfort. When I got close I noticed that she was covered with burs. You know those spiny Velcro-like things that stick to a dog’s fur like little needles. I spent the next 20 minutes removing those burs and brushing her.


Now lest you think that I’m telling you all this just to show you what a cute puppy we have, even though it’s true – there is a connection to the good shepherd. When we can’t totally understand something in scripture because we are so removed from it by time and culture we can sometimes use similar experiences from our own lives to better understand what the scripture is telling us. In this case it’s our pets.
When you think about it aren’t we all a little bit like Chelsea; mostly being led by the Lord, hearing his voice and following? There is something about us that makes us just want to hang with Christ.

But sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and have to stop and turn around and find comfort in the fact that He’s still there even when we can’t see Him.
Like Chelsea eating a shoe or a wallet we too find ourselves getting into mischief, things the Lord doesn’t want us getting into. We feel guilty and a little “sheepish.” We often find ourselves in the dog house with the Lord, and each other.

At the end of the day we forgive Chelsea / and at any part of the day God forgives us when we go to him.
And when we really run off and lose ourselves completely and really get in trouble the Lord goes looking for us, calling our names. And when He finds us all stuck and covered with burs He’s not going to yell and scream and punish. He’s going to be concerned, He’s going to bring us home, and as gently as possible remove those burs. If we who are sinners know how to be good to our pets, how much more God knows how to be good to his children.

Our analogies and our metaphors about God are always going to be inadequate. Something will always be lacking because God is so much beyond anything we can imagine. And so it is with sheep and shepherd – dog and owner, because our relationship with God is not as much like a pet and its owner as this analogy might suggest. As much as we love our dogs and cats and guinea pigs or whatever, we will never be able to become dog-like and share in their dogness so that they can share in our humanity. – We can’t give them our life. Yet that is exactly what Jesus has done for us. Christ humbled himself, took on the face of a man and shared our humanity for the sole purpose of sharing his Divinity with us.

And so through our prayer, our community, and the sacraments we can better come to understand our relationship with our God, who reveals himself to us in a myriad of ways if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.
When we find ourselves covered with burs, dirty, and tired; when we find ourselves so busy with our lives or so distracted by sin that we lose sight of Christ; when we’re lonely and afraid; stop – listen for His voice and follow it. He’ll take us home where it is safe, where we’ll find healing and forgiveness, and where we’ll find perfect love in the arms of our God who is our good shepherd; Our Father; brother and friend.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Father's Patience

Reflection on 2 Peter: 3:15a
Taken from Morning Prayer Saturday week IV

How many of us, as parents, have experienced those first few tentative steps taken by our children as toddlers. It is exciting and joyful. But we don’t expect them to run yet – we are patient. When they fall, as they surely do, we help them back on their feet and encourage them to try again. We are proud of their effort and we are patient.

As they grow and enter each new stage of development we avoid belittling them or shaming them for the wet pants; the poor grade; the error in judgment or the bad attitude that comes in the teen years. We don’t ignore these things but we reassure, teach, guide and direct them to the right path.

Throughout their childhood and adolescence it is our patience, constant encouragement and guidance that leads them to maturity and a productive adult life. And we do it because they are our children and we love them.

If we who are sinners know how to give good things to our children how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7:11)

We are told to “make every effort to be found without stain.” The spiritual life takes effort. It is our choice to either get up and keep going or lie down and die in the mud. We decide to take the Father’s hand and continue or not. It’s a step at a time. We won’t run before we walk. We won’t come to perfection without Christ. God is our Father and he does know how to give good things to his children.
On his way to be crucified, tradition tells us that Jesus fell at least three times. Each time he got back up and continued on his journey. But he needed help. He couldn’t do it alone. He had the Father, the Spirit and Simon of Cyrene.
We can’t carry our crosses alone either, but with God’s help and the assistance of our brothers and sisters, scripture and the sacraments we can also get back up and continue our journeys knowing that our Father, who is patient with us, is there to cheer us on.

That is why his patience is directed toward salvation – because he knows how to give good things to his children. The Father knows we will fall down. He knows we will be tripped up. He helps us to our feet, wipes away our tears, brushes us off and tends to our scrapes and bruises. He encourages us to keep going; keep trying; keep pressing on. We cannot let ourselves be so discouraged by our own failings that we despair and give up. We cannot let ourselves be so overwhelmed that we fail to hear his voice. We must keep pressing on.

Cause For Rejoicing

There is cause for rejoicing here, although for a while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7
Picture this! The year is 1986. You’re at game 6 of the World Series at Fenway Park, top of the 9th. Two outs, one more strike, and the Red Sox win the World Series for the first time since 1918. It’s History in the making. You watch the windup, the swing. You hear the crack of the bat, a line drive to first base, an easy out. You watch the ball go through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner. Some say the worst moment in Red Sox history. You stand there in shock, your eyes wide and your jaw opened as the hopes of a championship crumble before you. Then you notice this guy all clad in Red Sox gear, jumping around, cheering as though the Sox had just won it all. There’s something to rejoice about? This guy’s got two heads.

Imagine this. You haven’t been feeling well so you go to the doctor. He orders a CAT scan. You’re sitting there by yourself waiting for the results and finally you get called into his office. He is sitting there with a big grin on his face. “I have some GREAT news for you! You have an inoperable brain tumor you’re going to have a painfully miserable, agonizingly slow, humiliating death. Let’s go out and celebrate!” What planet is this guy from?

As unlikely as it is that either of these two scenes would actually play themselves out, this is exactly the kind of thing that the author of 1 Peter is doing when he says to this group of Christians. “There is cause for rejoicing here!”

These were people who were being persecuted for following the Lord. They were being ostracized by there communities, their friends; perhaps they were losing their livelihoods or homes. Maybe they were getting spit upon. Perhaps things were being thrown at them. They knew that some of them would probably lose their very lives. Rejoice?

We all endure trials of every kind. It’s the human condition. Several years ago, during my deaconate formation, just around the time all our papers were coming due, a lot of stuff was hitting the fan in my life. My mother was gravely ill, there were legal problems with a re-mortgage; a battle with the school system over my sons Ed plan. Papers needed to be written; Holy Week; Confirmation; First Communion! I was stressed. I was really stressed. I was cranky. Rejoice? Maybe with a thousand mg of Zoloft!

I wondered, what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I rejoice when things aren’t going right? What’s wrong with my faith?

You know, I can’t picture Jesus rejoicing in the garden of Gethsemane. I can’t see Paul rejoicing as he was being led to the chopping block. I can’t imagine Peter rejoicing as the nails pierced his hands and feet. Where does rejoicing fit in?

A woman in labor suffers great agony as she struggles to bring new life into the world. I’ve witnessed it twice - 100%NATURAL. She was NOT whistling a happy tune. It wasn’t until the baby was born that our rejoicing began. Peter tells us that we may for a while have to undergo many trials. It might be that the rejoicing Peter speaks of is a kind of anticipation that “this too will pass”. It’s the solace of knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God poured out in Jesus; that all things work out for the good to those who love Him. It’s the consolation of knowing that we are not in this alone. We have each other for encouragement, prayer, an embrace or a shoulder to cry on.

My mother’s health returned (though she has since passed). We got our mortgage. My son’s educational services were tripled! All my papers got finished. I’m still here. It all passed and no one got hurt. I can rejoice again.

Your trials and mine will come and go just as the Red Sox losing streak even came to an end “so rejoice you heavens and you that dwell therein.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reflection on The Temptation Of Christ

In his letter to the Ephesians Saint Paul writes “Put on the armor of God, so that you ay be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” These armaments Paul speaks of include; truth, righteousness, readiness for the Gospel, and salvation. Finally, he directs us to “take the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.” Isn’t this exactly what Jesus does when he is tempted by the devil. Three times he is tempted and three times he uses the sword of the Spirit, His knowledge of scripture, to overcome the evil that approached him.

Did we notice how clever the devil was in this exchange? Twice he was blown out of the water when Jesus successfully defends himself by quoting scripture. Note what he does next. He fights fire with fire. After two unsuccessful attempts the devil himself uses God’s word against Jesus, quoting Psalm 91, and therein lays the rub. The devil can turn even scripture against us. I’m sure we can all recall some episode in the news or in life where God’s word has been used foolishly or for evil purpose. One example I recall from the news a few years ago concerned a non-denominational preacher from Florida (I think). He took a scripture about handling poisonous snakes out of context was bitten and later died, not because he didn’t have enough faith but because he took scripture out of context.

We see all manner of evil being wrought upon the world by misuse of God’s word. Our world has seen discrimination, hatred, intolerance and violence which have all been justified by both corrupt and well meaning people who use the Word of God not for building up the Kingdom but for their own agendas. The devil is not usually so overt in his temptations. More often than not we will see something good, like the Word of God, and are deceived into misusing it. There are a lot of good things in the world that we can be tempted with. Food for example nourishes our bodies but when misused and abused can lead to many health problems. Sexuality is a good thing. It brings married couples closer together and perpetuates not only the human race but the community of Christians as well. It can be misused and can even become a compulsion or an addiction causing great heartache within families and individuals. Studies indicate that a glass of wine at dinner might have beneficial health effects in moderation but we can see clearly how alcohol is abused and causes great suffering in our society. The list is endless.

Let us not be deceived. If we are to rid our world of suffering and evil we must bring it Christ. This Christ who took on human form 2000 years ago continues to take human form today in us, the Church. We are the body of Christ, the incarnation present to the world today. This presence is more visible to the world the more we allow Jesus to posses us. We do this by daily prayer, our unity with the community of believers, reception of the Sacraments and by our knowledge of scripture. This is also the way we can fend off the temptations of the devil in our lives.

Jesus had a tremendous knowledge of scripture. This knowledge was not supernatural, as a good Jew he was immersed in the Torah. It was as much a part of his life as breathing. Without this knowledge of scripture Jesus would not have had the ability to fend off these temptations. So it is with us. We need a real knowledge of scripture to win our own spiritual battles. Without this knowledge we go into the fight not with the sword of the Spirit, but with a butter knife.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Original Sin

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2: 5-8

What exactly was the sin of Adam? What exactly was the “forbidden fruit?” The real sin of Adam (and Eve) is found in the words of the serpent. “God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.”  The sin of Adam, the “original sin” was a sin against the first commandment. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other God’s before me,” especially not ourselves.

It is a sin each of us struggles with. It is the door to all other sin. It’s like a gateway drug. If we make ourselves out to be God then it is easy to take His name in vain because our name is the important one. The Sabbath is our day to do with as we please. If I am god, then I don’t have to honor my parents – they should honor me. If I am the deity then I have the power over life and death, all possessions are mine, I can do to anyone exactly as I please.

Unlike Adam who wanted to be God’s equal, Jesus, who was in fact equal to God, demonstrates for us by his incarnation, that being God, playing God, and acting like God is not in our best interest, just as it wasn’t in Adam’s best interest. The first commandment was given to Adam not Moses. “Don’t try to be ME. It won’t work. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your neighbors. You’ll only get yourself and others into trouble.” Ironically, what Adam wanted to seize by his own will, God wanted to offer freely by His grace. Through faith in Jesus we all have been given a sharing in Christ’s divinity.

And so, sin and death entered the world because someone wanted to play god. And the game continues even now. Because men and women continue to see themselves as the important thing, misery plagues our world. Because men and women (all of us to some extent) continue to play God every corner of the earth is witness to war, hunger, poverty and disease. Because of personal, corporate, national and global greed countless people suffer needlessly and we all bear some responsibility.

In the words of the Bob Dylan song, we all have to “change our way of thinking.” We need an attitude adjustment so that like Christ we will become humble servants to one another, putting the welfare of our neighbor ahead of our own. Then we can sing with the psalmist “All the ends of the earth have seen the glory of God.” Psalm 98

Father, as we strive to imitate your Son in His humility and service to all people may we come to share in His divinity as He humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Apple of His Eye

"He found them in the wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert. He shielded them and cared for them as the apple of His eye." Deut 32:10

I’ve been reflecting on this passage for a few days now. It is interesting what happens when we substitute the word “me” for the word “them.”

He found ME in the wilderness. He shielded ME and cared for ME.

Isn’t that true? When I think back over my life that’s exactly where God found me, in a wilderness, a wasteland. It wasn’t a geographical place but a state of being. It was the condition of my mind and spirit.

If God found me, then it’s obvious that he was looking for me. God was seeking me as he seeks all of us who are lost in a wilderness.

There is rich imagery in this passage. Imagine yourself in a deserted place, a wasteland, the desert. It is described as a howling desert – according to the Greek it is a howling of beasts. Can you imagine yourself in a place like that, helpless. The sun setting and you can hear the sound of the animals you know will come to devour you when the light is gone. Imagine the terror.

This is when God finds us, when all seems lost; when there is no hope; when we give up; when we let go and let God. This is when the Lord shields us from the terror of the night. Some translations tell us the “He encircled them.” They were protected from every side. It is something like circling the wagons except our protection is not made of canvas and wood but is the King of Glory himself, “The Lord, the mighty, the valiant, the Lord, the valiant in battle.” (Psalm 24)

Having been saved by the Lord we are also cared for by him. We are held in his arms until we stop trembling from fear. Our wounds are tended to; we are fed; we are healed; we are led home. We are kept as the apple of his eye, something cherished beyond everything else. Literally translated, the original Hebrew word means “the little man in the eye.” It is the small reflection of ourselves that we see in another’s eye. When God looks at us he sees a reflection of himself in the apple of our eye. When we look at God we see a reflection of ourselves in his. God finds us in the wilderness and we find ourselves in God. He is our origin and our destination.

One last thought, the next time we we’re walking down the street and encounter a homeless person or someone with mental illness, an immigrant, or run across the person we really can’t stand, anyone really, if we take a good look into their eyes, the apple of their eye, who do we see? Does it make a difference?