The
Goal.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

The age-old question, ‘How do I get to heaven?’ A young man, a legal scholar, approaches Jesus to ask exactly that. How do I receive a share of heaven, how do I inherit a place there?

Of course, the scholar came to the right person. Who better to ask than the King of heaven and earth, who dwelt in heaven from eternity? We will cover Jesus’ answer later.

For now, let us focus on the various attempts at human answers to the heaven question.

For some, heaven is an impossibility, a fantasy. It is something made up by primitive people who needed answers to the world’s mysteries. They have no need for an answer on how to get there because no one gets to heaven. Rather, they are readying themselves to flash out of existence.

On the opposite end are people with vague notions of spirituality. They have squishy notions of what heaven is, an indeterminant place of peace and contentment, the fulfillment of whoever conjures a fantasy of what it will be. In their estimation, everybody (except the usual suspects) gets to heaven.

The other major religions of the world have amazingly similar perspectives on how to get to heaven. It is as simple as checking off items from a to do list. For the Jewish people, it is the keeping of the Law. For Muslims, at a basic level, the following of the five pillars, righteous actions, and striving will lead to heaven.

God instructs us differently. Our call is to get to the core of all lists, laws, and rules. God’s way is love. So, how do we achieve our inheritance and get to heaven? It is faith based devotion of our our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds on the Lord. Love of God, in and of itself, is the first commandment. This love extends through and beyond God – and must also be focused on each person we encounter. With faith in Jesus as the way, we are to love, get to building the kingdom here and now, and thus gain the inheritance.

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

As I was studying for this week’s discussion, I came across a great word: performative. The Webster type definition seems a little complex. Here it is: “Relating to or denoting an utterance by means of which the speaker performs a particular act.” This example, contained in the definition, sets it out better: “performative utterances do not merely describe what one is doing; to say the utterance is to do it”

The words Jesus gives his messengers, as He sends them out, are performative: they do, they accomplish what He says. The kingdom of God advances and draws near. Jesus seemingly gives great power. When the disciples return, they rejoice for they have seen remarkable things, miracles. Yet Jesus cautions them. Why?

Jesus cautions them, not to get caught up in the power they have (something we as Christians have completely forgotten and neglected), but to see more clearly the ends that are being achieved.

Certainly, Jesus words accomplished the power the disciples exhibited. Yet they did far more than that. Those signs and wonders were mere markers of the coming new age, the redeemed time, the advent of the kingdom. The performative word of Jesus ushers in the kingdom, invites all into that kingdom. Jesus’ presence among us and His performative words bring the kingdom. So, we must share.

We have to reconnect to the performative words of Jesus. 

We have power in faith. We have to own that power and have confidence that Jesus – GOD – provided. His is the true and performative gospel. What He said is! The enemy cannot win against us because we bring the truth.

Beyond that power, and more compelling, is the word we bring, whether accepted or not: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ And if some do not listen, we say: Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love… I say, then: live by the Spirit

This week we approach the Fourth of July, and coincidentally, St. Paul is talking about freedom. 

We are, after all, pretty blessed by the freedoms we enjoy. Bishop Hodur and the organizers of our Holy Church made a big deal over the freedom this country espoused. After all, they were able, with only some opposition and persecution, able to organize a democratic Catholic Church without bowing to the money, political power, and influence of the Roman Church in areas of the country where they were they were the definition of “Church.” Hodur and the faithful were able to buy property, publish newspapers and pamphlets, build, educate, exercise support of Union membership, and advocate for the power of collective ownership. Pretty strong ideas and ideals, even today.

That kind of radical freedom was successful and blessed not because of actions, advocacy, or loud voices among a group of people. Rather it was from the fact that this group of people recognized and truly believed in the true freedom found only Christ Jesus. Christ set us free, and with His freedom came their and our ability and power.

Freedom means we no longer bow to any slavery. There is no slavery to politics and power. There is no slavery to money. There is no slavery to calls from the worldly – do this and that and you’ll find happiness. We clearly see that those alleged happiness’s come at the cost of a yoke and chains, bondage – slavery. In Christ we have power and ability to say no to slavery.

Freedom means power to use what we have been given for good that goes beyond simple measurement and scales. It is a freedom and power to be self-sacrificial, to go the extra mile, to go beyond even the extra.

The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre wrote on ‘radical freedom.’ Along our faith lines he posited that everyone always has a choice, and every act is a free act. He noted that those who say, ‘they had no choice,’ are lying. In Christ we have a call to freedom and honesty. So then, with St. Paul let us say I am free, and I live by the Spirit.

Are we
hungry enough?

They all ate and were satisfied.

Last week, we discussed the hungry Jesus and His chief hunger, unity of life with the Father and Spirit and our participation in that reality, that meal where love is perfected. It is the meal to which We have gained access. We were left with the question: Are we hungry? Are we hungry enough to participate in God’s life?

Today we continue the celebration that began this past Thursday, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Church sets aside special Octaves, eight days of celebration that follow special moments in our collective faith life. We celebrate Octaves after Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. You have to love a Church that focuses on celebrating!

Today’s Gospel tells us that crowd ate and were satisfied. Now we’ve all had plenty of meals where we ate, and remained unsatisfied, perhaps even disappointed.  Yet, when Jesus feeds us we find only satisfaction. The Gospel goes on to tell us that the leftovers filled twelve baskets– in other words, Jesus feeding us leads to an overflowing abundance.

Sunday, in the Octave, is a great moment to reflect. Do we really believe this? Does receiving this bread and wine really make us whole and satisfied? Does this activity, have any real meaning and reality? Do we have any overflowing abundance coming from this feeding? Are Jesus’ promises real?

Father, what are you saying? You’re confusing me. I’ve said that myself to people who called me to express what I really believed.

That is the question, not whether I am confusing you, but taking this very important moment, this eight-day period, and the rest of our lives to come to terms with what we really believe of God’s reality. We can read words – This is my Body. This is My blood. Do this… but reading alone will not move us from disbelief and unbelief and going-through-the-motions, to full faith and overflowing abundance.

If we do anything, as we meet the reality of Jesus’ Body and Blood today, as He passes us in procession, let us make an absolute affirmation of true faith and belief. Let us say and believe: He is here, and I am hungry for Him. Let us eat and be satisfied. Then with that realization of faith, come to see all His promises fulfilled in our lives to overflowing.

He’s
hungry!

since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

I read a very interesting article recently. It concerned the hungry Jesus. Sounds like the name of a great cooking show!

Jesus spent much time at meals. He did this in three ways.

At most meals, Jesus was the guest. He was invited by many. As an iterant Rabbi He relied on the hospitality and generosity of others. These meals were encounters with the hurt, broken, and lost. They were an opportunity to learn important truths. They were an opportunity wherein Jesus offered healing through His call to faith and conversion – change of life, rejection of sin.

The article points out that Jesus was rarely the host, and when He did host actual meals in time, excepting the feeding of the multitudes, He only fed those who were closest to Him.

The third type of meal Jesus offered was visions of the eschatological meal. This was the meal in the kingdom after the end of time, His return. Again, we return to a limited meal – open only to the prepared, the faithful, the wise who could enter the banquet.

In these three types of meals we see representations of Jesus’ hunger. 

Jesus’ hunger starts with His call to conversion, to invite all into the kingdom meal. He is hungry for each person’s participation in the kingdom life. But there are requirements to get in! Jesus had to teach those – and so He showed us the way. He told us that all are welcome to commit, to change, to become participants.

If we do as He asks, if we truly live as He models, we get to take part in the meal offered here this very Sunday – the Eucharistic banquet. Eucharist means thanksgiving and we should be very thankful for inclusion in this meal with Jesus. We also have the promise of the kingdom meal, full participation in heaven life.

Certainly, scripture shows us that Jesus was most hungry for unity of life with the Father and Spirit and our participation in that reality, that meal where love is perfected. We have gained access. Hungry? 

He’s
everywhere!

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Happy Birthday Church!!!

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. The Holy Spirit is central to every act of creation. Genesis tells us at creation the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. He was there as all that was created for us came into being. How much more would He be there as we were returned to the fullness of creation. His work in us was and is focused on bringing the word to the world, on proclaiming and spreading the Good News of repentance for salvation in Jesus so all might be re-created, might be re-born, might be regenerated.

St. Paul says: But how can people call on him if they have not believed in him? How can they believe in him if they have not heard his message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News? Exactly! So, the Spirit was there to call us, to motivate us, to infuse us with the gifts necessary to spread the word.

In Jerusalem, tongues of fire were created into tongues of proclamation. It is not lost on us that these tongues were world-wide tongues. Every nation heard. Jews, Arabs, Romans heard. The Holy Spirit is with us everywhere. In every corner, to every place needing re-creation, He accompanies us and gives us all necessary to get the job done.

St. Paul expounds on the gifts: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts. There are different forms of service. There are different workings. The Spirit produces all of them in everyone (who is in the Spirit) for some benefit.

Notice, there is no delay. There is no questioning. There is no debate. The Spirit floods and fills us. He empowers us to get the job done. Feeling lazy? Feeling unable? Feeling afraid of this God stuff? Call on the Holy Spirit and the job will be done (by you and me) before we even realize it. That’s how we know. That’s how we are sure of the Spirit’s presence, the reality of God and heaven. It is when we are amazed that it got done. Then we know He is everywhere in our proclamation of salvation.

Be a
light.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were mechanically inclined. They could craft and fix things. They could make engines run better – and louder – which we all loved.

I, for my part, did not get any of those skills. My friends, being generous, asked me try a couple of times, but they soon realized I was better at dropping and breaking than fixing.

That said, they did give me a job. I got to hold the shop lamp or the flashlight.

To a young person who wanted to be cool, it was a bit of a letdown, but it did teach me several important lessons.

The foremost lesson was the importance of properly focused light. No job can get done, and mistakes happen, without light.

Think of the things we heard in the readings and gospel today. Stephen, the deacon, is being murdered by those who rejected Jesus. In the face of persecution and sure death he held out his light. He firmly declared the Divinity of Jesus, reaffirmed his faith in Jesus, and forgave those who stoned him. Certainly, this is a light for Christians to this very day. Like Stephen, we must commit to being light even in the greatest darkness.

John, exiled to Patmos, hears the testimony of Jesus Who is returning. He brings recompense according to our deeds, i.e., the amount of light we shine. We must wash our robes in His blood, be buried with Him, suffer with Him so that we may enter the city through its gates. That means we must commit to being steady lights in all situations.

Jesus prays for His disciples – and for those who would come to believe through their being His light in the world. They were to teach, preach, evangelize, baptize, and bring people to the Table of the Lord – not for numbers, or attendees, or any other reason than to know the light of true and everlasting love – love defined by God. So we are to go out as light.

Whether we are handy or not, we are called to hold up that light for nothing will happen without our being His light.

Our
Visitor.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I remember many cars pulling up to the curb in front of the house where I grew up. 

After my dad died, my aunt and grandmother, Busia, moved in to help my mom out. They came out of family love, to help this relatively young widow raise two children. Because we were not your typical nuclear family, but rather a multigenerational family, an extended family, we had many visitors.

Most of the visitors came to pay their respects to my grandmother. She had ten children, seven of which survived into adulthood. So they, and their families, came to see Busia. My uncles, who lived out-of-state, would make days long road trips with their large families who we expectantly waited for at our front window. Large families with lots of kids camped out on our Livingroom floor. The weekly visits from nearby family. All because of love. Sure, it brought work, but mostly great joy and closeness. We wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.

If we love God, if we are following His Son, if we are keeping His word then God is always expected. He comes to remain with us. His car has pulled up. God is not going to just pop-in. His staying is going to take work on our part, but would we want it any other way.

There is a mutuality to Jesus’ instruction. Our action – to love Him and keep His word. His action – to dwell, i.e., to stay. He abides, remains and continues with us. An even deeper meaning of dwell is that He and we will remain in a given state of existence.

And, Jesus doesn’t come alone, but with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to instruct, remind, and prompt us, and to bring us peace in unexpected ways.

If God has pulled up to our curb, if He’s come to dwell with us – He is there because we chose to love Him, listen to Him, and follow Him. He’s come out of love to see to our need. He’s come to lift us. He’s brought the Holy Spirit along as a great and precious gift so that this state of existence endures.

God is our Visitor. He comes to dwell. Would we want it any other way? Invite Him in.

Our
travelogue.

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith… They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord.

Today’s first reading from Acts presents quite the travelogue. Paul and Barnabas had been getting around and welcomed the Gentiles into the Holy Church. In fact, Chapter 14 of Acts covers eight cities where the leather of their sandals really got a workout. The road wasn’t easy. At Iconium they were nearly stoned. At Lystra, Paul was stoned.

Those things are facts. Cities, miles, shoe leather, the number who came to the Lord, the number who turned away. Above the facts of the trip and the numbers in and outside the Holy Church, Paul and Barnabas were carefully laying out a model of behavior. Through teaching and example, they present us with a measuring stick, a barometer, a gauge, standard, and frame of reference by which we may determine how committed we are to travel Christ’s way.

The Gospel and Revelation speak of newness. A new way of life – founded on love, but not any old love. It is the love Jesus walked. A new heaven and earth unknown to anyone before and unachievable except by traveling with Jesus.

This newness is Jesus way of life. He makes all things new, doesn’t He? But to have part of that newness, to be welcomed into the new Jerusalem we have to walk the same travelogue Paul and Barnabas walked.

Jesus is the steps, the map. Paul and Barnabas proclaimed Jesus, the truth of the Gospel told plainly in the face of rejection – because there was those who did come to believe and were saved. They stayed strong! So must we with truth to turn souls to Jesus. They made disciples – we must tell and invite. They lived community by strengthening, encouraging – It is what our community in Mont Pleasant is about. They exhorted – called people to faithfulness, didn’t let people slack – Call that person who has been away. They shared the ministry. Call men to take up the challenge. It is time to hit the road on Jesus’ travelogue.

About the
when.

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

It is often said that it is all about the timing. It is about being there when our ship comes in. Well. today the ship has really come in. Three special celebrations all in one day. We, of course, celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. We also honor our Blessed Mother, Mary, in a special way today crowning her with our admiration and love. Finally, we celebrate Mother’s Day. While these celebrations may seem somewhat disparate, there is a central theme that runs throughout. It is the theme of motherhood, of deep caring. About mom getting us to when.

As we consider the concept of motherhood, let us look at it from the angle of our mom’s, our Blessed Mother, and what the Good Shepherd left us, our Holy Mother, the Church.

Each of the ‘mom’s’ in our lives exist in time. Each of them has related to us throughout our lives in differing ways. Each of them has left an impact and a past. Each offers potential for the future. Each has been the source of tears and joys leading us to when.

We start with our mom’s. As we reflect on them we consider their experiences of us, and what they prepared for us. As we reflect on such things, we consider those many times mom may wondered about us. We also, and much more frequently, reflect on the happy moments. Those times mom was assured of our love, when she knew her counsel made a difference, when she had assurance of our ok’ness. For her, it is/was about our when, the opportunity of the moment – for us to have everything that really matters.

The same with our Blessed Mother. She holds out her hands to us. She watches over and intercedes for us. She certainly has wondered about us when we were distant from her Son. But there she is, always ready to help us come back. For her, it is about our when, the opportunity of the moment – for us to have everything that really matters.

Our Holy Mother, the Church, works diligently to raise us to the realization of Jesus’ intervention as Good Shepherd. We find Him holding the gate open, leading us, knowing us. For the Shepherd and His Holy Church it is about our when, the opportunity to have everything that really matters.