Membership.

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

The words membership and identity are hot terms in these days. That said, they have been terms used throughout history to impose or self-impose a sense of communal belonging. 

In some cases, membership and identity were imposed upon others as a result of prejudices – in an accusatory manner – to differ the other from self, to reduce people’s humanity. In other cases, we have taken on our own memberships and definitions of identity.

If we took a moment to pull out our wallets and purses, we could quickly list some of our memberships. Here are some of mine: SEFCU member, NY driver, PACC member, AARP member (how did that happen?), BJ’s Club member, and others. A quick look at someone’s Facebook – memberships and identity markers abound. Where in all of that is our Jesus card?

The most significant sign of our belonging to Christ is that we bear markers that cannot be reduced to a card or social profile.

Our communal membership, our mutuality, our identity as Christians starts with that which was written on our souls at Baptism-Confirmation, our regeneration, from which our membership and identity as family, as brothers and sisters permeates our entire being and way of living.

Jesus, joined with His disciples as recounted today, told them that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations. This statement directed His disciples to go out and bear witness throughout the world. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, as St. John’s letter describes, the keeping of His word, they grew the family of faith. Out of people of every nation, class, status, color, and gender the Church grew as family.

Faithfulness to Jesus does not make us individuals, separate from each other. Rather, we are defined by our belonging, our obligation to God and each other.

We, the people of the Church, are not a separate people, each on his or her own path who just happen to get together for a moment. Instead, our getting together in worship is sign and symbol that we belong to God, that He belongs to us, and that we belong to each other. God infuses us with a grace to see beyond self to the family. He causes us to share with the Body of Christ as a symbol – a sacrament – of our love and of each person’s dignity.

In today’s Psalm we hear, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling. This is not just our home, a physical structure in which we reside. Rather, the term my dwelling refers to our house, the place we reside together. He secures us in the family of faith and calls us to show our Jesus card by being “witnesses of these things” and bearing perfected love.

Say what?

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “I will not believe.”

As usual, on this Low Sunday, we consider the consternation St. Thomas faced when confronted by the news of the resurrection.

The consternation St. Thomas faced is what we might call ‘say what-ed-ness.’ We all do that, don’t we? Someone tells us something and we proclaim, ‘Say what?’ We shake our heads in a state of perpetual disbelief. I don’t get it. I can’t accept it. This is too foreign to me.

If you ever want to test your own or others ‘say what-ed-ness,’ tell them what the Church teaches in truth and power. Jesus is God and man – He is not just a nice teacher. His words are the Word of God and must be obeyed. We must take up our cross and follow Him, walking the gospel path. All people are the children of God, and each of the baptized are co-heirs with Jesus to the promises of the Father. The Church’s teachings are not just an option but required belief. Say what?

Within the first three Chapters of the Book of Acts we learn that: The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

We do not even have to imagine the ‘say what’ reaction of the people who witnessed the life of the early Church. The reaction of the established leadership was negative. It is well recorded throughout Acts and the Epistles. We can hear the voices: What do you mean? They sell everything they have and share in the proceeds equally? They proclaim Christ without fear, with no apprehension, but publicly and with great power? Say what? We need to shut them up. That still rings true today.

Our ability to elicit ‘say what-ed-ness’ from the worldly is founded upon the power we have as recorded in St. John’s writings: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God… Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

As a people empowered by the salvation and inheritance we have in the risen Jesus – the God-man who overcame for us – we need to be a people of resolute faith, a people who truly believe and own, within our hearts as well as shown by our actions and words, the power of the Risen One.

We are called then to go out, dressed in Easter joy, with power, to challenge the ‘say what-ed-ness’ of the world. We are called to proclaim truth and liberty, freedom from death in sin to life in the resurrected Christ. The next time we hear ‘say what?’ let us respond with ‘Let me tell you about Jesus.’ “My Lord and my God!” He lives. In Him we have life. Come and believe.

In the garden.

“He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that He is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Here we are, in this beautiful garden, standing in awe before an empty tomb.

I have spent a lot of time these days contemplating this garden, in my mind’s eye thinking that it closely resembles the nearby tomb where Jesus was laid.

Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there…

I watched as this was put together, the color and texture of the place, the scent of flowers where our beautiful Lord slept in death.

Picture, in your mind’s eye, the women, setting off to the tomb before daybreak on the third day, eager to attend to the remains of their Lord and Master. They loved Him and could not do otherwise.

Each of the Gospels differ slightly in the exact narrative, but they all agree that the first witnesses to the resurrection were the woman who followed Jesus. They all found the tomb empty and went or were instructed to go tell the disciples. 

Here we are, in this beautiful garden, standing in awe before an empty tomb.

The narratives describe the reaction of the women and the disciples as one of fear, a lack of understanding, or wonderment – all words for awe. Awe is defined as a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

We too respect this garden, and we encounter it with fear and wonder. Certainly, we can picture the scene, we even physically sense it in feeling the petals of the flowers, the moisture of the green leaves, smelling the flowers and the scent of earth, touching the sharpness of the crown of thorns still resting nearby and the hardness of the rock. We can look up and see the cross still standing, but can we connect with the new reality this day brings?

Here we are, in this beautiful garden, standing in awe before the empty tomb. We still stand in awe because, like those women and disciples, we can hardly believe what God has done for us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.

He gave His Son for us. His Son suffered and died for us. His Son rested in the tomb for us. His Son rose for us. For you. For me. Awe.

Here we are, in this beautiful garden – not just that garden, but the new Eden in which we dwell with God, no longer alienated or unreconciled, because of all Jesus did. So, affirmed now, let us go forth from this garden to proclaim, testify, and bear witness to our risen Jesus.

Scripture: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 21:15-18

Do you love me more than these?

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Antioch. Odd thing at face value to most of us. Why celebrate someone’s chair? A little history will help us understand.

This Feast actually celebrates the establishment of the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter’s office as bishop of that city. Bishops have a special chair they sit in which signifies their office as bishop or overseer. This day celebrates his taking leadership in that city.

St. Peter’s role in Antioch is known from historical references found in the writings of the Church Fathers such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Clement. Saint John Chrysostom says that Saint Peter was there for a long period. It was in the City of Antioch that Jesus’ faithful were first called Christians, followers of the Christ, the Messiah.

More than history, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ question to Peter, Do you love me more than these?

Jesus asks this question with the Apostles gathered along the Sea of Galilee (AKA the Sea of Tiberias) after Jesus’ resurrection. The question had real significance for Peter as does the fact that Jesus had to ask Peter the same question three times. This was the opportunity for Peter to repent of His denying Jesus three times. 

But, more than history, and Jesus’ specific reconciliation with Peter, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to ask ourselves, Do you love me more than these?

Do I love Jesus more than anyone else? You see, we are called to outdo each other in love (Romans 12:10). We are each called to excel at love. Peter’s lesson beside the sea was that love in and of Christ Jesus was necessary for those who wished to follow Him. Service was required for those who love Jesus. Feed and care for my sheep and lambs. Giving up our self-interest is necessary as well. Not where you wish to go but be bound to Me and go where I want you to go.

It starts in forgiveness. Certainly, we have all fallen short. We have all, like Peter, denied Christ. We have all sent Him to the cross. Every time we speak with anger and judgment, every time to enter into conflict, every time we listen to voices of greed and self-interest, every prejudice in us, every thought of us against them, every time we sin, we deny Christ. We say with Peter, “I do not know him…” But thanks be to God that Jesus will not let us end up in our sin. He is generous in forgiving us for our denials of Him, in allowing us to start anew.

Next comes the welcome. As with Peter in the house of Cornelius we must also say, I see that God shows no partiality. Our hearts and our everyday reality must be one of welcome. We must open the doors of our homes to welcome. We must open our wallets to provide welcome to those in need and to level the inequality in our community, our land, and the world. We must open our parishes to everyone who seeks the Face of God.

Then, the witness of the Christian people in their ministers, their lay leaders, and their churches as a whole. Tend to the flock, oversee willingly, do not lord it over, be examples. Words are not enough, for in the rush to outdo each other in love let our actions and example speak volumes about the power of God’s love given us in Jesus Christ.

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the commencement exercises at Antioch College. He said this:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. And we all want to live the well-adjusted life so that we can avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must be honest enough to say to you that there are some things in our world and in our nation to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. To which I call all men of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For you see it may well be that our world is in need of a new organization – The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the Prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in words that echo across the centuries.: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yes, as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.”

Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from this bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

At Antioch, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Let that be our true name. Let us not be Christ deniers wallowing in sin; let us never become adjusted to anything that denies Christ. Let us not be short in welcoming people into the family of God, and let us be examples by our leadership. On this day, let us reflect anew on Jesus’ question: Do you love me more than these? And be ready to answer Him, Yes, Lord, you know that I do.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This month, along with the celebration of the Solemnity of the Christian Family, we also celebrate Heritage Sunday (October 18th). Why? Reading through the documents created in the Church’s organizing years we see so many references to humanity, established in nations, to be bearers and sharers of the gifts God has given them. In the Tenant and Aims Document it is recorded: “The most important objective of the Church… is to maintain, enrich and develop the life of God in the soul of man…” Likewise, the Confession of Faith, our Creedal Document. Familiarize yourself with these statements, for they are a call to us and to the world. We are to recognize the dignity and value of each person and nation in their contribution toward helping us know God. These documents from the early 1900’s a sure cure to the inequality we still face today. We are not called to division, but to celebrate each other in unity and equality. We celebrate heritage because God has given us gifts, attributes, and experiences that when shared adds to our collective knowledge of God. A paraphrase of the Preamble to our Constitution sums this up: “Religion is the source of life and regeneration. Religion [that] possess the character of a nation [transmits innate] moral principles from which we achieve real freedom and stature.” As we celebrate let us each experience God more fully in each other and in what we share of ourselves.

October, our next jam packed month of events and opportunities. We bless pets on Sunday, October 4th. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Christian Family, a feast unique to our Church as well as Heritage Sunday. We will pray the Rosary every Wednesday evening in church and virtually. And … Fr. Jim is in the kitchen cooking up a yummy take-out/take-away American Goulash Dinner for Sunday, October 25th. Your efforts at discipleship and evangelism are drawing people to church – keep up the good work in the ministries you each have. There are some great prayers for family and our nation and a wonderful reflection on Certainty in God.

Read about all it in our October 2020 Newsletter.

The whole world.

And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Par’thians and Medes and E’lamites and residents of Mesopota’mia, Judea and Cappado’cia, Pontus and Asia, Phryg’ia and Pamphyl’ia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyre’ne, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 

A strong driving wind. The City of Jerusalem filled with visitors from throughout the world. They heard it, were shocked and amazed, and came to attention. They came running. The light of the Holy Spirit’s fire filled the precinct where the Apostles were staying. They appeared to the crowd, on fire, lit by the Holy Spirit. They spoke in the languages of the world. Each person, with their cares and worries, with their outlooks and prejudices and opinions heard, no distinction. The Holy Spirit at work through these Apostles – witnesses – focused them on renewing the face of the earth.

The fire of the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and holy fear were operative that day and have been ever since.

On that day, of the approximately one million people in Jerusalem, three thousand came to be baptized. Three thousand came to realize that cares, worries, outlooks, fears, prejudices, and opinions were the work of the opposer, of the devil. What the three thousand discovered was that human distinction meant nothing. They learned that the unity of the body, as Paul would later write, was what mattered, for they were the body of Christ in the world. They were the Holy Church.

The world remains afire, afire in opposition. Cares and worries, outlooks and prejudices and opinions – the ability for humans to ignore the image of God in each other burns. We have, as a people, resolutely ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The seed of change must start with us. We must listen to the Spirit, we must accept His gifts, and not just count them theory, and a nice thing to have, but as the mark of our lives; the mark we will leave on society, our cities, towns, and villages, and upon the whole world. We are that three thousand.

As the new three thousand we must allow the Holy Spirit to burn away cares, worries, outlooks, fears, prejudices, and opinions. We must allow the Spirit to open our eyes to the dignity and worth of every person. We must be serious and be the witnessing Church, the body of Christ, for and with all, here and now.

One way.

“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

Last week we studied Jesus, the gate-man. The one way to enter is through Him. We enter through and by Him so that we might have life eternal. Recall that entering through Him gives us abundant life. We call ourselves Christians and we live like we got heaven for indeed we do.

This theme carries through to today’s gospel. Jesus holds a dialog with his disciples. He was preparing them for the long and difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross. In doing so He means to give them assurance. Of course, the disciples being very literal missed the literal meaning of Who Jesus is. So, He explains it in even plainer language.

Those same questions plague our minds these days. I don’t know the way! I don’t know how to go! Jesus answers succinctly – “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He truly is our One way of going. His words and example are our truth. He holds the key to real life. We put ourselves into Him, take Him into us knowing real life is in Him.

Ok, but… we can hear ourselves saying. But what about my life now, here, today? What about my worries, fears, and stuff? If we were to lose it all, if we were to be left like Lot, sick, sitting on a dung hill, with people around us trying to figure out what’s wrong with us, we would still possess the greatest gift of all, the One way to the Father. See, neither our stuff, worries and cares, nor anyone else’s promises will get us to heaven. If we have Jesus, we have the Father and eternal life.

Today we honor great figures and witnesses of faith. There is a reason.

Our moms taught us about Jesus because they got it. They cared more about our everlasting life than daily worries or stuff. They wanted us to know Jesus, to know the way, truth, and life. Their gift was not just our existence, but rather the fullness of life in and through Jesus. They wanted us to see the Father, so they helped us know Jesus. Bp. Joseph Padewski knew this, from his mother and from his Holy Mother the Church. He laid down his life under torture, refusing to reject Jesus. No secret at all. He had it all. He hung on to Jesus, the way, truth, and life and came to everlasting life. Our moms, Bp. Padewski, lived knowing they had it all in Jesus. Let us as well.

Realization.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Let’s start again this week from music. Would we happen to know how many songs talk about ‘hearts on fire,’ ‘hearts aflame?’ There are at least twelve. Probably a lot more.

Songwriters like the image of hearts on fire because it evokes a passion and desire so necessary to them in drawing pictures of love and even loss. Bryan Adams ‘Hearts On Fire’ is from his album ‘Into The Fire.’ Those titles, cobbled together, speak to what the disciples on the road to Emmaus were experiencing. They went from hearts burning within them to hearts on fire for the gospel, for bringing people to the knowledge of Jesus. Their hearts would not let them stop as long as there were souls in need of salvation.

In their journey with Jesus the disciples felt their hearts being enkindled by the words of scripture, and in fact by Jesus’ very presence. They were experiencing God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus in their midst. They felt. within themselves, an urge for more.

Hearts on fire is a motivator to action and to living the gospel way. We, like those disciples, are called by the fire within us to go out into the fire, to bring Jesus word and way to souls in need of salvation. 

St. Paul traveled about, proclaiming the gospel message, often to people who wanted nothing to do with it. He could not, nor would he, stop. We might ask ourselves why he did it. After government officials, Jews in the diaspora, followers of empty stone rejected him over and over, after they tried to stone him, after numerous arrests and ninety-nine plus percent of people rejecting his message – why still try? Because the fire would not let him stop, not even rest. It needs to be the same for us.

In this time of crisis, we feel the fire deeply. If we long for normality, if we long for something in particular, how much greater our longing should be for, our fire be, for the salvation of souls.

The debate over faith of the heart or the brain has gone on for ages. Is faith felt or intellectualized? The reality is that Jesus speaks to each of us in the way that best ignites the fire, the passion, the drive to be His witnesses to all who are without hope, whose hearts and minds also cry out to be lit aflame by the Lord. Now is the time to self-listen, to recognize our hearts already aflame with the Lord, His gospel, and to help others realize their faith and hope are in God.

We are
among them.

Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

History is amazing study. The more we delve into history, the more we find humanity repeating it over and over.

Since Israel’s freedom from subjugation under the Pharaohs, the people began to lose faith and complain. They complained in various was over forty years of wandering. Joshua and the Judges came, they complained and began to follow gods of stone and wood. Trees and flowers held more fascination for them than the great miracles God was doing in their midst. By Ezekiel’s time, everything was god but God. He was at the end of three centuries of pagan life in the two kingdoms.

Ezekiel sums up the ways people had gone astray. Among these are a covetousness that lusted, longed, yearned, and desired each person’s own selfish ends. It is selfishness in its purest and most extreme form. Israel misread God’s love, grace, and goodness. They thought they could do whatever they wanted without consequence. Israel abused blessings on loan from God – they took the worship and gifts that were to go to Him and placed them at their own purposes. Selfish desire was more important than community, family, children, and life itself.

As we well know, greater responsibility is attached to those who own superior spiritual advantages. Israel ignored what they had, owned, possessed, held right in their hands. They wiped their memory clear of all that God had done and lived ‘for the moment.’ Today was all that mattered to them. As such, their sin demanded a more severe judgment.

Jesus faced a similar resistance in His hometown. People focused on what they thought were being said, and who was saying it (their perspective) instead of what was actually being said and what it represented. Their selfish ends were once again in front. They misread God’s love in their midst. They did not consider consequences.

Ezekiel and Jesus confronted hard hearts that would not move and selfishness. Those traits in our world today are a thousand times greater than former times. So now, today, we must stand forth. They must know that we are among them by the truth we tell.

What kind of letter
am I?

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reflects on credentials. He begins by saying: Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? Did Paul need a letter of recommendation when he came back to Corinth? After all, he had led the people there to Jesus. Yet, we infer from this passage that they were asking for exactly that; his credentials. The next time you come here, bring us some letters from John, or Peter, or James, or one of the real apostles. Paul is incredulous, “Do you really mean that? Don’t you understand? You are our letter of recommendation. Christ has written it on your hearts. He didn’t use paper or stones. He wrote it on your hearts, and the ink he used was the Holy Spirit. As for me, I’m nothing but the postman; I just delivered the letter. God did the work.”

Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that the changes that had occurred in their lives, the freedom they were experiencing, the deliverance from evil habits that were regular and destructive parts of their lives– all happened because Christ’s gospel, delivered through Paul’s work and the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what changed them and turned them into a letter to others. They were credentialed.
Think back on the early Churches. Acts and in the letters of Paul said nothing about the Church and its ministries. Those early Christians did not go around, as we do today, talking about what the church can do for a person, or about the value of becoming a member of the Church.

The members of the early Church did not mention it because they understood that they were the message, the letter. People saw that Jesus changed healed and restored them. Look at what the Lord has done in me.

Paul seeks out their understanding – their realization of the power that is in them. Christ had written the letter of recommendation in them. It shows forth in their changed lives. People are drawn to Jesus because their lives witnessed to His power. They are all the testimony needed.

As we prepare to enter Lent let us reflect on our life letter. Are we a recommending Jesus in the eyes of those who read us? Can they see that Christ has done something powerful in us? That is the point. We ought to be the visible evidence of God at work; so much so that people will say: “What’s this? What’s going on? I know your name, but somehow, I get the feeling I’m talking to Jesus.”