Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday: Scandal (2018-03-30)

GOOD FRIDAY 30 March 2018,
•• Isaiah 52:13-53:12  •• Psalm 31  ••Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9•• + John 18:1-19:42 ••

Title:  “Good Friday: Scandal

[__01__]    Scandal. Scandal is the loss of or damage to reputation caused by an actual – or apparent violation of propriety, a violation of what is right.
          Scandal also leads to conversation, lots of talk. [e.g., it’s .. T.M.I. ; M.Y.O.B. But if you are my B.F.F., tell me what I need to know! ]
          Many take guilty pleasure in the details of a good scandal. And, as they say in Hollywood where fame is your fortune and air-time is money … in Hollywood, they say, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”
[__02__]    On Good Friday, we always read the Passion Gospel of John, the Gospel of John in which the focus of the evangelist is on his credentials, his competence, his identity as Lord and Messiah.
            This is particularly true in the Gospel of John where we read these “I AM” statements.  We read this in the beginning of the Passion.
            It seems, at first, that these “I AM” answers are only a response to a question of ordinary personal identity and getting the face and name connected, i.e., they are just trying to figure out who is on the police report.
            “Are you Jesus the Nazorean?”
            “Yes, I am…”
            But, there is more the “I am” statement, a response in which the Lord affirms his names-and-numbers of his  identity.
            When Jesus says “I Am”, he is identifying himself with God, God who said – to Moses – “I Am Who Am.”.
            This is blasphemy. This is scandalous, to his listeners, to his community.
            In other Gospel Books, Jesus is not recorded as saying this. The focus is different.
            In the other Gospels, he says, “Who do you say that I am?” But in the Gospel of John, he says,
·         I am the Good Shepherd
·         I am the Bread of Life
·         I am the vine you are the branches.
·        And, to Pilate, yes, I am a King.
          It was a scandal that Jesus should assert this in the first person singular present tense: “I am.”
          His detractors and adversaries enjoyed this and they create a trial and it led to 3 experiences for him in this scandal.
            On Good Friday, he was a …
          … each of which was/is scandalous in its own way.
[__03__]     1st.  [CAPTIVE (CAPTURED)] 
          The innocent one – Christ – is a captive, captured, and convicted.
          That’s pretty scandalous that he Son of God is captured, arrested and thrown in jail.
          Even in the early Church community this was difficult for some people to understand. How/why would the Messiah be captured, arrested and thrown in jail?
          Why would he give up his life? SCANDALOUS!
          [The innocent person suffers.
            The letter to the Hebrews,  today, testifies that Jesus, the Son of God, our High Priest and Savior is able to sympathize with our weakness [our fragile state] because he has been similarly tested in every way.
            Captured, convicted.]
          Have you been called a name? Have you been misunderstood by your friends and family? Has your kindness been rejected – made you wonder if it was worthwhile?
          It is a proof of our love for others that we give charitably (which is often recognized) but also that we endure wrongs patiently (which is often not recognized and often more difficult).
          Often, it is not noticed that we are enduring a wrong, enduring a fault. [No publicity is bad publicity! Alert the media!]
          Jesus is captured, a captive, convicted.    But he is also contending…[►CONTENDER (CONTENDING)]

 [__04__]  2nd. Jesus as [►CONTENDER (CONTENDING)]
          When we think of “contending”, we may naturally consider something competitive like a sports game, track meet, or other contest.
          Jesus is contending not only physically with his adversaries, but also intellectually, mentally.
          He is the intellectual superior in this drama and trauma.
          By  “intellectual superiority”, I do not simply meant that he contended by a higher-percentile GPA, SAT, ACT, IQ or what you and I associate with breeding or prestige.
          He is using his intellect, his mind, his spirit also to speak up for himself and to give his captors a chance to repent.       
          He is trying let Pilate off the hook, but Pilate does not understand what Jesus is talking about.
          [It’s scandalous what Jesus is saying.  And, it’s sometimes scandalous for us if we speak up for what is right or what Gospel/Church teach about the tradition and sanctity of marriage, about the dignity of life at all stages. This is scandalous to some people. It is difficult. But, we are contending – speaking up for another person’s rights or speaking up for our own rights. ]
          [For example, Pontius Pilate how is not only culpable but also just very very gullible is told by Jesus that his position, his company car/chariots, palace, bodyguards are not going to be seized by Jesus and his disciples. In other words, my kingdom does not CONTEND with your kingdom. At least not right now.]
          Jesus is a humble contender, against Pilate who is certainly the “house”and the favorite here, trying to bring Pilate along…but Christ also realizes how enormously difficult it is for Pilate to understand Christ’s kingship. Yet, Jesus is contending for his rights and reminds us that it is consistent with humility and virtue to speak for our rights against those who might try to capture or corner us.
          It is consistent with  humility to speak up for our rights.

[__05__]    3rd. Jesus is [►COMPASSION] personified.
          This is also scandalous because it contradictory, paradoxical.
          Jesus is compassionate.
          To be compassionate means not simply that we do something kind and walk away but that we stay with – and suffer with – another person.        
          The gift of Jesus is that he suffers with and suffers for our sins.
          He is convicted for our sins. He puts our sins to death on the cross. He is contending, fighting for your salvation and for mine.
          And, while convicted for being a earthly-civil-rebel, or civil-disobedience-type-of rebel (the legal claim/charge: see Luke 23:2)  he is really trying to build a heavenly kingdom. It was not his miracles or parables that got him in trouble but rather – as my seminary professor – Father Lawrence Porter instructed us -  that he developed a following. Others felt threatened. They captured him.
          His response: “Forgive them Father they know not what they do.  (Luke 23:34)
          Do we endeavor to forgive those who do not understand us?
It feels scandalous at times.
[__06__]      On Good Friday, our Savior reminds us that he is convicted – yet innocent. He is the innocent captive and intercedes on behalf of all innocent captives and intercedes on our behalf if/when we endure bad credit history with people long after we have paid our sinful debts.
          Jesus is contending, persevering. He speaks up to his captors, using his mind, his intellect.  Doing so, he is not telling us that we must have a witty comeback for every injustice, but simply that we are called to return a blessing, a prayer, when we are insulted or wronged:
          Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
          And, that we are also called to be compassionate because we also have been set free by God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, his death and resurrection.  His scandal is our salvation. [__fin__] 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Power Corrupts & Connects (Holy Thursday, 2018-03-29)

HOLY THURSDAY 29 March 2018,

•• Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14  •• Psalm 116  •• 1 Corinthians 11:23-26•• + John 13:1-15 ••

Title:  Power Struggle. Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper

[__01__]   There was a power struggle at the Last Supper, at the Lord’s Supper. There was a power struggle. And, in our lives each there is an exertion, endeavor, to exercise of our will each day in our relationship to choose express – for example -- GRATITUDE rather than GRUMBLING … in the choice to LISTEN rather than to LAMENT.
            Our Lenten fast of 40 days give us this option and opportunity to follow Christ, but I think that – sometimes – following God’s alternate route is different than our own WAZE/ways or device.
            It is not easy to be in a power struggle for power, for freedom.

[__02__]  On November 4, 2012, the New York City Marathon was scheduled to commence with its usual shotgun start early Sunday morning and line of runners on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island.
          The NYC Marathon – just in case you are college-Final-4-basketball-immersed – is the 26.2 mile race through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, with a finish line in Central Park.
          While it is an outdoor day time event, it does require electricity, organization and there was a power struggle in New York City in November 201, because Con Edison and all the utilities due to Hurricane Sandy (or Superstorm Sandy as the meteorologists prefer) a few days earlier.
          There were many victims. Thousands were without power, without electricity. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many wanted the marathon to occur… believing it would unite and excite city.
          After much deliberation, the runners did run… a marathon of sorts …but there was no official marathon due to the many obstacles to recovery.
          In this, there was a power struggle, in New York City politics. And, in any power struggle, we may be concerned our relationships.
          We may wonder if we have “followers”.  The mayor had to decide if people like his decision or not. Would the marathon be popular or not?
          In a power struggle, how do I make a difficult decision of my own free will in whatever race or walk I am completing or competing in. Full marathon. Half marathon. Or a regular day’s work.
[__03__]      The Gospel of the Last Supper [Jesus and his disciples the night before he dies]  reminds us that POWER can CORRUPT and POWER can CONNECT.
          Power can be corrupting, toxic, poisonous.
          Power can be connecting, beneficial, inspiring. [like .. electricity…that brings us together.]

 [__04__]  1st. [►POWER CAN CORRUPT]  Power was a corruption for Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. It was a corruption, intoxicating, poisonous not because Judas was executing a coup d’etat in which he [Judas] would land on the throne in the palace.
          Rather, power was corrupting for Judas because of his expectation of what Jesus, the Lord and Messiah, would do after being arrested.
          Judas had a game plan that involved, in theory on paper, good things for the disciples, the Jewish community currently subordinated to the Roman Empire, and of course, good things for Judas himself.
          That is, Judas was playing and gambling that if Jesus were arrested, then Jesus – who is the Messiah and would not dash his foot against a stone – would then assert positively assert himself, and take over.
          In this regard, Judas was not just betraying Jesus but was trying to betray the Roman Empire, but his plan did not work.
          There is a power struggle between Judas and Jesus.
          And, there is a power struggle whenever we expect that our salvation and success and happiness is based on simply a competition or perhaps the working out of our own pre-defined plans.
          Jesus, did he not, lay down his life also for Judas?  Did he not lay down his life for those who accused him and crucified him?
          His response: “Forgive them Father they know not what they do.  (Luke 23:34)
          There is a power struggle when we endeavor to express our CONTRITION … our CONFESSION. There may be a power struggle when we try to forgive someone else.
          It’s not easy.
          The power can corrupting. It can be difficult.
          There is another way.

          Starting shortly after college, I visited annually – almost every summer -- friends and family who had a place on the water in New England. They also have a lovely sailboat. I know nothing about sailing, only how to tow the boat back in after an incorrect calculation of the wind, current et cetera, et cetera.
          On this boat, aboard this vessel, my friend’s father treated all of us as his sons and daughters, as family.
          So, for the weekend, he had about about 20 grown children instead of 5. And, we were hungry … maybe even power hungry. [We were also actually hungry and ate them out of house and home.]
          He treated us as though we knew something about sailing.  Early on, he asked me to wheel, focus on that island up ahead and went below deck. He expressed full confidence in all of us.
          The power was a connection, it was inviting.
          His relaxed demeanor, his expectation that we all – and that I too – would respect his boat, but this was not written down. It was, at times, expressed in actual words but also in attitude.
          We might recall that for the disciples at the Last Supper, they had no LECTIONARY – neither 1st reading nor 2nd reading – no NEW TESTAMENT. Nothing was written down. Yet, they were already the Church, the Body of Christ. The Gospel was being written in their hearts.
          Jesus was also expressing his confidence in them, even though they would later desert him, abandon him.
          As an analogy, do we not receive this in love from others who place confidence in us, faith in us, sharing their destinations and hope with us.
          The power is connecting.
[__06__]      Jesus is making his disciples and you and me – part of the destination, part of the plan which involves not only the struggle for power but the transfer of power.
          Yes, he is our Savior an Lord, but he also promises us that he is the vine and we are the branches  (John 15) and that we can do great things in faith, hope and love by our connection to him.
          He is trying to transfer his power to us.          The sacraments – Baptism, Confession, Holy Communion, Matrimony, Holy Orders – all the sacraments – are on one level a humble recognition of our fragility, our brokenness … yes our actions maybe be rusty or corrupted at times.
          Yet the sacraments also remind us of a transfer of power, a restoration of energy, of grace in our hands and feet, even though our hands and feet also may be wounded.   
          The sacramental experience reminds us about running a race – in connection with Christ – just as Paul reflected in his words to Timothy that Jesus’ body and blood are given to us, poured out for us so that we may also long for his presence and that death leads to new life.
          Paul writes: “For the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day and not only to me but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
          Jesus’ appearance, His presence is our power, our connection.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Asleep? (3 Times): (Palm Sunday 2018-03-25)

SUNDAY 25 March 2018, Palm Sunday
•• Isaiah 50:4-7  •• Psalm 22  •• Philippians 2:6-11 •• + Mark 14:1-15:47 ••

Title:  Asleep? 3 Times. Palm Sunday

[__01__]   It is a paradox that on the this most sacred and stressful night of their lives, the disciples of Jesus had no trouble falling asleep.
            Three times, they fell asleep. Meanwhile, Judas Iscariot is up at all hours. Jesus himself is restless physically and spiritually.
[__02_]      This leads to 3 responses, 3 lessons from Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
          The disciples arrived at Gethsemane, a garden away from the downtown hustle and bustle and away from the hustler, Judas Iscariot. They were safe there, but Jesus was anxiously praying, ”Father … all things are possible … remove this cup from me, but not what I will but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36)
          Meanwhile, they were sleeping. And, Jesus discovers this 3 times, with varying responses …
          There is [TELLING (yelling?)]; there is [TOLERATING]; there is [TURNING BACK …].
[__03_]     1st .  [TELLING]  Jesus told them to wake up, though he was not shocked because he knew and stated  the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:35)
          Do you/I fall asleep at times, under the weight of, say:
          Disappointment.  For example, we had an intention to do something or someone else promised to do something, but the flesh or the reality was weak or way off-target.
          We can be hurt or discouraged by disappointing results. In these instance, we may fall asleep with indifference. Jesus sounds the alarm, inviting us to stay with him.
 [__04__]   The disciples fall asleep a second time. This time, Jesus finds them, leaves them there. They know not what to say.
          This is [TOLERATING]
          This is mysterious. He does not want them to sleep, but lets them sleep. He tolerates them. This 2nd time, we read the disciples knew not what to say to Jesus. We may not know what to say and feel caught between night and day.
          God gives us free will and accepts our free choices. Yes, we believe that we can change and be converted but…only if we freely cooperate.
          We may also find, at times, that we cannot correct – but only tolerate – the injustice or unfairness we encounter.
          We may encounter this in the harm another person can inflict, we may wonder why evil is possible.
          St. Thomas Aquinas observed that God does not enforce his law by preventing evil, but rather “enforces” it by allowing us to be raised up to something greater even after sin, to draw something good. (CCC 412, STh. III, 1,3 ad 3, cf. Romans 5:20)
          There is always something greater in God’s toleration / acceptance of our free will.  God also accepts our repentance, offering us mercy.
[__05__]   On this journey, Jesus does not abandon his disciples nor does he abandon you or me.
          The 3rd time he finds them asleep, he urges [TURNING BACK]. He turns back to them, he does not give up on them.
          In other words, let’s get going.  While recognizing that all of their lives are in danger, Jesus invites his disciples to walk the Stations of the Cross with him.  The Good News is that the disciples, while sleeping, were still in his presence, still connected.
          Yes, the first time, they missed the alarm, slept in. He told them, forcefully to wake up.
          The second time, their waywardness and indifference were not corrected. There was [TOLERATION]
          But after all of our falls – one, two, three or more – he invites us not simply by [TELLING] not simply by [TOLERATING] that everything we do is OK, but by urging us to walk with him, with [TURNING BACK ..], to us, he does not give up on us, but tells you and me  to rise, let us be going [on our way]”. (Mark 14:42)  [__fin__]      

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Other Side: St. Patrick's Parade Mass (2018-03-18, Lent)

SUNDAY 18 March 2018,5th Sunday Lent
•• Jeremiah 31:31-34 •• Psalm 51  •• Hebrews 5:7-9 •• + John 12:20-33 ••
Title:  “The Other Side / St. Patrick’s Parade Mass.”

[__01__]   Welcome to Our Lady of Lourdes, to our Parade Committee,  Grand Marshal Donald Shauger, Deputy Grand Marshal Robert Lynch, Deputy Grand Marshal Sean McGinley, Deputy Grand Marshal Brad Squires and their families.

            To you, our family, and thank you for your prayers as we begin this solemn and joyful celebration. We are grateful to all those who went to great lengths to make sure our parade happened this year, we are grateful to the many workers and officials in our township who made possible this special event moving it from last week to this week. Thank you for your prayers and effort and for being here.
            We have waited. We have waited for this day.

 [* * * pause * * *]

[__02__  And, there are disciples and future disciples who are waiting in this Gospel reading, waiting in the wings.
          They are visitors from Greece who have come from the other side of their known world, from the Mediterranean (Greece) to the Middle East (Galilee) to see Jesus.
          And, they, so to say,  forward a message to Jesus.  The visitors forward a message to Philip who forwarded it to Andrew who forwarded it to John who forwarded it to Jesus.
          And, Jesus got back to them …
          He got back to the Greece-visitors because he understands they want to see him. However, Jesus was telling them that -- if they were to wait just a little while longer --  they will see him after his death and resurrection even more clearly.  This is in anticipation of next Sunday – Palm Sunday and Holy Week – and Jesus being put death and rising from the dead.
          Jesus compared his current life to being to a seed or grain of wheat, saying:  Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains but a single grain, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” (John 12:24)

[__03_]      The paradox is that Jesus said that they would know him, experience him fully after he has disappeared physically, after he has died.
          Do we believe this?
          I think we do…
          Here is an analogy. After we receive a message – whether this message is a text, photo, email – do we not observe that the message has an effect on us long after the message, maybe even after it is deleted.
          Or, perhaps I have lost the message and cannot find it in any search or scan. Yet, I know what the message is. The message remains.
          I can recall certain lessons I was told about, say, how to drive a car … even though I am no longer in driver’s education. I not only recall what I should be doing but also who told me and why they told me and when they told me.

[__04_]     Is not a similar thing happening in our relationships?
          In these examples, we are going from “this side” of what is very earthly and immediate and temporary to the “other side” of what is permanent and spiritual and eternal.
         And, the visitors are going from this side of Greece to the other side of Galilee.
          And, we are going each day from this side of life to eternal life. That is our goal, to reach heaven and eternal life.
          A similar thing is happening in our relationships.
          That is, we know certain things – trust certain things – about other people not because they were written down … but simply because a seed was planted, the seed died within is … bore fruit and now we have this knowledge, this connection to another person, even not everything is written down and not everything is spoken out loud.

[__04__]    Jesus wants us to know him, in a similar way, to pass to the other side by following his ways by what we do in secrecy and silence for him and for each other.  In the Lenten 40 days, for example, we are doing things that help us to pass from this side of the earthly life to the other side, to our eternal life.
          >> DESERT: by accepting hunger or inconvenience during our Lenten fasts, we share his life of 40 days in the desert.
          >> GETHSEMANE by accepting that prayer is not always easy, but a struggle, we share his time in the Garden of Gethsemane.
          >> CALVARY-Good Friday by accepting that we may endure rejection, dislike, even dislike of ourselves at times, or the desertion of our friends, we share his rejection on Good Friday.

          But, we also share his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

          Doing these things, we accept that – in our little sacrifices each day – we allow Jesus to be impressed upon us, so that we can go to the other side, even before we have died.         

[__07__]   One day, many years ago, I asked my grandmother about her journey to New York and to the U.S., her desire to come to this country from Ireland [EIRE], from the auld sod, from the other side.

          As a young person – age 14 – she left her home and parents in Donegal and came to stay with an uncle in New York. She arrived with her sister with whom she was best friends for her entire life. 

          She immediately took menial jobs, cooking, cleaning houses.  After all, my grandmother had little of what we call … EXPERIENCE.

          To our family, hers was an fascinating autobiography and life-experience.   To her, her life was more than an experience and narrative she kept updating to define and explain herself to others. It was an experiment that lasted 82 more years after landfall in New York.

          Asking her about this once, about what it was like before she left home, arriving in New York, my grandmother reminded me – you know, if I had not come, you would not be here.

          Her life was not just a series of experiences but of experiments and risks.

          Yes, her life was an experiment – days and nights which began on a transatlantic ship sometime around 1920. The U.S. / America was certainly no experiment for which she could fudge the results in the lab or go to summer school if it didn’t work out or update her "profile."  She wanted to impress this on me.

          We pray today in a special way for all those who have helped to build our community, for those who come to country anew, new immigrants as well, and those who unite our township and make Saint Patrick’s Day a reminder of not only of our age but also our youth, a reminder of not only our limited length of our lives, but also the hope we have of being born again each day in faith, a reminder of our distinct identity and our common hope to reach the other side, the Promised Land of Heaven, a reminder of not only our wisdom but also our need for God’s help.
          St. Patrick, Pray for Us.