Living as Children of the Light: Pentecost VIII homily

When we say “Our Father”—or, as St Paul says it, when we say “Abba Father”—when we say those words, we are stating that we are children. Actually, infants and toddlers. Who need, constantly, to be cared for. Who really have nothing of their own. Who trust implicitly that their parents will give what they need. Who think nothing about tomorrow, but live only in the present.

Toddlers, infants, children—they live solely from mercy to mercy. From the mercy given today toward the mercy given tomorrow. From the present the loving father gives to the gentle kiss and soothing words the affectionate mother generously dishes up. And from undemanded love to undeserved care.

But when we plot and plan, when we scheme and demand, when we shove our way to the front to get what we deserve—then we are no longer children filled with light. Then we are driven by our self-pleasing desires. And then we live for whatever feeds our darkened souls, and become children of the world.

Yet listen to what Our Lord says about the narcissistic children of the world: The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

This is not a compliment. Comparisons are rarely compliments. Because comparisons are hardly ever about mercy. Rather, they are about fairness. Or, most often, about getting ahead.

Children of the world who are wiser, more prudent, shrewder, than children of light. Our Lord is neither praising us nor them. He is saying that the selfish, the greedy, the mercenary expend greater energy in getting what is really nothing more than a handful of sand, than we do in striving for holiness and God’s true riches.

Think about this: how much work does just about everyone put into dying a little later. For that’s the truth of the matter. We are, almost everyone of us, afraid of dying of something: sickness, abuse, an accident, loneliness, lack of necessities. And we fear the loss of a loved one. Yet death cannot possibly not happen. It can be delayed but never eliminated. And so, everyone works hard to put off the day of death. Everyone keeps watch, digs in, bolts the doors, keeps their distance, diets and exercises, avoids toxins—not in order not to die, but in order to die just a little later.

That’s what the unjust steward is doing in today’s parable. He’s working furiously to stave off the day of reckoning. And to take care to get what, in the end, doesn’t really matter. He’s striving for what he can’t take with him hoping that he can ease himself into the grave. And in doing so, this disreputable man has forgotten the patriarch Job’s principle: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Yet instead of blessing, the steward hopes to sneak a few things—pride, comforts, self-love—past the Lord.

On the contrary, how much energy, how much desire, how much work do we expend in aiming to live forever? The cheating steward was insuring himself for an end without the beauty and love of God. Why don’t we insure ourselves for Our Father’s never-ending beauty, love, and warmth—by good and holy deeds, by the virtues of patience and humility, by prayer and self-control, by averting our eyes and curtailing our sharp judgments, and most of all by living as if the Holy Sacraments matter most.

The fraudulent steward prepared a little nest of short-term quiet and security by exercising self-serving foresight. Shouldn’t we, then, especially since we like to be called children of the light—shouldn’t we also have the foresight to live for the praise of the saints, the embrace of the angels, and the unending pleasures of the Blessed Trinity?

I don’t, I’m sad to admit, because I get so caught up in myself. And because the joys of heaven seem so distant and nebulous. And like the villain in today’s parable, it’s too easy to use all my energy on short-term happiness. And perhaps you do the same.

Yet together we have tasted Our Lord’s goodness, right here in this place. Together we’ve experienced, especially when life is hard or scary or unknown, the kindness that our heavenly Father provides, quickly and without hesitation. Together we’ve known those moments and tasted those appetizers of spiritual delights.

Let us recall, then, that we are all stewards. Our Lord has entrusted us with each other, with material blessings, with His kindness and mercy, and with other gifts. Let’s use all these, not to manipulate, but to make friends of all whom we meet, so that they may greet us in everlasting habitations.

And let us also recall that we are children—toddlers and infants—who are graced to call God ‘Our Father’ just as Christ did. And to receive from Him now, at this moment and here in this place, His care which exceeds our expectations and needs.

And as we recall who we truly are, and what we are by God’s grace, let us never stop in asking the Lord Jesus to make us grateful at all times, to recall that we are completely reliant on Him, and so to have the spirit to think and do always those things which are according to His will: who lives and reigns with His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit: throughout all ages, world without end.

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Seeing the Goal

The goal is attaining the kingdom of heaven. Not just individually—for that is quite selfish. But together; in families; with loved ones; and with all those who have been baptized into Christ, who deny their own agendas and rely exclusively on His mercy and kindness, and who desire nothing more than kneeling at His altar and receiving the Holy Supper of His very Self.

The goal is the kingdom of heaven. Not just escaping this life and being done with the horrors that have been done to us, together with the misery we’ve often created. But being welcomed fully and completely by God Himself, and being embraced and warmed by His no-strings-attached mercy. So not simply being delivered from now, but more importantly living as we were made and designed to live—in an intimate relationship and communion with our Maker.

The goal is attaining the kingdom of heaven. But what does that look like? There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain. For the former things—that is, the things that have frightened and sickened us, the things that have made a mess of our lives, the things hurtful and wicked that we have falsely loved—these things have passed away.

But what does this look like?

Look at Our Lord Jesus Christ as He stands on the Mount Tabor. Look at Him as He is transfigured—His clothes as white as light, and His face shining like the sun. Look at Him as He is surrounded by Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John—the key representatives of the Old and New Testament saints, the weak men whom the Lord sanctified and strengthened to be His voice. Look at Him, standing there in all His glory. You can see that He’s human. But He’s not like any man that you’ve ever seen. His divine nature is shining through His human nature. His flesh cannot hold back His divinity.

You’ll see Him again like this after His resurrection. He’ll be so transformed that you won’t always recognize Him. You’ll need the Spirit to open your eyes and your mind in order to know and understand and believe that this glorified man is the same One who was nailed to the cross; who was tempted in every respect like you are; who destroyed all you suffer when He suffered; and who truly died and truly was buried.

So, look at Him now. For the goal is the kingdom of heaven. And when we arrive, we will look like Him. That’s not just a wish or a dream. That’s a rock-solid promise. For St. Paul assures us that the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body. And there He is in His glorious body. The fullness of God filling every cell of His body and shining through every pore of His flesh.

He does this not for His benefit. And not to show us how different He is from us. Our Lord transfigures to show us what the seed He plants in us will look like when we arrive; when we attain the fullness of His heavenly kingdom. For the body is sown in corruption, will be raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, and will be raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, and will be is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, and raised a spiritual body. And now, looking at Our Lord Jesus transfigured before our eyes—now we have an idea of what our spiritual body will look like. And how our life in God looks when we attain the kingdom of heaven.

It is good that Our Lord gives us this glimpse. He shows us not just what He’s like, but also what we’ll be like. For Our Lord knows what we’re like. We’re more interested in the end-game, in how things will turn out, than we are working through the hardness of life and striving against our ungodly desires. We want to know we’re there already without doing the hard work necessary for the journey.

The goal is the kingdom of heaven. There’s no more moving on once we’ve arrived. And what we need to believe, what we need to understand, what we need to see now, today, is that we’re standing right now in the kingdom of heaven. That this place, this Mass, is both the goal and the way to attain the fullness of our goal. If we lose this, then we lose everything. If this is messed with or tainted or corrupted or defiled, then we’re in danger of not reaching the goal.

So today Our Lord gives us a glimpse of what lies ahead. And He does it to strengthen us. For He knows—my goodness, does He ever know—that the journey is hard, that the devil will confuse and derail us, that life in Him and with Him entails a narrow path with hard choices and no easy options.

And so, today, Our Lord lets us see what lies ahead; what the goal looks like. And in doing so, He is teaching and reminding and urging us two things: that sacrificing all in order to remain true only to Him is worth whatever grief and hardship we might now bear; and that we must never lose heart. For that is what He did for our sake—He sacrificed Himself, even His divine powers and prerogatives; and He never wavered in His trust in the Father, even when He thought He was forsaken. And why was that? Because He knew, He saw, and He kept focused on the goal.

And the goal is the kingdom of heaven.

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The Lord’s People

A Sermon by Sdn Joseph on the Feast of St Anne

A Blessed Feast of St Anne, Grandmother of Our Lord and Mother of Our Lady, Mary Most Holy.

It is important, I think, to remember that Our Lord Jesus Christ came from a family. He had step-brothers, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. This grounds Him in real time, and a human context.

It is custom from where my family is from to inquire of someone “Who are your people?”. You would never ask someone what they ‘did’, because they might be unemployed and that would cause embarrassment. So you ask “Who are your people?”. Who we are from can certainly inform as well as what we do; and Southerners love to tell family stories.

My people are characters: wealthy, gentile aristocrats to dismally poor dirt farmers in one generation. We have a train robber, a pirate in South Caroline at the time of Blackbeard, and if I am really lucky, there might be a hanged witch from Salem in there. I know who my 7-times great grandfather was in Henry VIII’s England and have seen the inside of the church where he worshiped in Bedfordshire, England; and my maternal grandmother’s first cousin was William Randolph Hearst’s lover for whom he build Hearst’s Castle. Believe me, that is all much more interesting then me explaining to folks my knowledge of department store design and merchandising. Does anyone really care about the formula to figure out profit margin/items= dollars per square foot? No, but a good story about my great grandmother Drucilla, there is some juicy stuff.

My parents were desperately poor, (although as a child I did not know it), and uneducated. My mother had to drop out of school at 12 to pick cotton in the fields, and the tips of her fingers were solid scars from the tough, sharp case around the soft cotton. My father was raised in an orphans home during the Depression, because his parents were both dead by the time he was five, and his 12 year old sister got them from a mud floor shack in Tennessee to Dallas, Texas. The orphanage took my dad and his identical twin brother, but would not take the other two brothers and sister, so they lived in a lean-to on the edge of the property (I have a picture of that as well). My younger brother was the first one since my great-great-great grandfather’s generation to graduate from college.

These are my people. Heroes and scalawags, crafts-folk and slave-owners, the depraved rich and the desperate poor. And all of that, genetically, chemically, socially, and metaphysically makes up me. All of that history of loves, fears, hopes, despair, laughter and tears is concentrated and distilled, and focused into the entity we call Sdn Joseph.

Our Lord has a similar history; but where we can reach back at most 500 years into our family history, He had record back to the beginning of time. It can be shown that the all of the Old Testament is simply the story of God’s working with one family. And if you think about what I have just said, that should be a little shocking to you.

As post-modern, post-post-post-Christian post-enlightenment westerners, we get a little nervous around the idea that there was a family, that we were not a part of yet, that is THE family, and that in a special way set aside by God for the fulfilling of His will. But that is exactly what the Hebrew scriptures are: an account of God taking one family and over the course of thousands of years, teaching them about who He was, what He expected and that in time, into this family, He himself would take their flesh and blood, history and stories, heroes and scalawags, crafts-folk and slave-owners, the depraved rich and the desperate poor, kings and queens, prostitutes and finally a perfect virgin, and focus all of that, genetically, chemically, socially, and metaphysically; all of that history of loves, fears, hopes, despair, laughter and tears concentrated and distilled, into the person we call Jesus of Nazareth, the One and Only Son of God.

On the level of the divine, all of salvation history, all of the prophets, all of the prayers, all of the psalms, and all of the sacrifices bled, from a snake whispering in a garden to the gardens of Babylon where the family was exiled for disobedience, all of this was sharpening to a laser focus on one women, a girl really, who from eternity was to be the center-point, the locus, of everything made, visible and invisible, Our Lady, Mary the Virgin Mother of God.

Once upon a time, according to tradition as found in the apocryphal book “The Protoevangelium of St James”, there was an elderly couple, Joachim and Anna, of the line of David. They were a righteous couple of means, who gave a third of everything they had to the temple, another third to the poor, and a third for their own simple sustenance. I am sure that today’s epistle describes the type of woman that Anna was. They loved each other very much and were blessed, but they had no children. To be an Israelite, and to have no children was taken as a reproach and a sign of God’s disfavor. When Joachim approached the Temple to offer his sacrifices, the High Priest, Issachar upbraided Joachim, “You are not worthy to offer sacrifice with those childless hands!” Joachim took his flocks high into the mountains, refusing to return home in his shame. Anna, wept daily in her garden, and seeing a robin in a nest with its young said, “Even the birds give glory to God with their young.” And so, the Father gave the Word that it was Time.

The Holy Trinity sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave tidings of the birth of a “daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Joachim was told to return to home where he would find his wife waiting at the city gate. When they saw each other they embraced, and this is the image found in the icon of the Conception of the Most Glorious Virgin. Anne gave birth to a daughter, and they named her Mariam, Mary.

At the age of three, Joachim and Anne brought Mary to the temple to be dedicated to the service of the Lord and presented her to the priest Zecharias. Mary was raised with other young girls in a cloister at the Temple complex, and this is commemorated on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, on November 21.

Anna and Joachim visited the child Mary many times, and they died in their old age several years after the presentation in the temple. Tradition has that they are buried in the garden at Gethsemane. They did not live to see the Birth of the Messiah, but they were essential to His coming. Like the Prophet King David, they were given but a glimpse of the land that was very far off. They did not see their offspring’s fruit but, like our forebears, they hoped.

These are the Lord’s people.

Through the mystery of baptism, we are joined with these people, and they become our people. The Most Holy and Glorious Ever-Virgin Mary is now our mother, Joachim and Anna become our grandparents, Elizabeth and John the Baptist are our cousins, and on and on. His people become our people. And like our children, and perhaps our children’s children, we can glimpse the Kingdom that is to come, but seems so very far off.

So today we celebrate Grandmother Anna; the woman of Proverbs.

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Receiving God’s Justice

When the 4000 men together with their wives and children went out into the wilderness, they were not exercising their rights. Rights are within the realm of power and threats. Rights also have to do with justice. But our understanding of justice is that a justice is about what is fair for me or what is fair for you.

But these 4000 men with their wives and children went out seeking the justice of God. They are hungry and thirsting after His justice. His righteousness.

The justice of God is not about treating us fairly. The justice of God has to do with mercy. The justice of God has to do with the Just One was crucified for our benefit. The justice of God has to do with compassion and kindness.

So, compassion and kindness is what these people are seeking. In fact, it was compassion and kindness, it was mercy—God’s mercy—that drove them out of their cities into a desolate place where they had no shade from the sun, no speakers to hear better, nothing of comfort whatsoever. For three days, listening to Christ, and having Him heal their sick, listening to His word—that’s what drew the crowd out. They yearned to hear what He had to say. And they understood that He was speaking about not some broad concept of kindness. Rather, He was planting himself into their ears.

That is the justice of God.

Planting Himself into our ears, into our hearts, into our minds, into our very being—that produced in this multitude such great satisfaction that they did not even realize that they were hungry. They did not even realize that they had gone without food. And the touch of Christ, to heal the wounds of the sick, was no different than the words of Christ, to heal the wounds in their hearts.

That’s what these people were seeking—a gift from God. They were not demanding rights, but rather desiring this gift that exceeds all of our expectations, that is beyond anything that we could imagine.

Our holy father Gregory the Great describes it this way. When we seek the things that satisfy our body; when we wish to gratify our sexual urges; when we wish to grab with both hands and hold tightly to the things that we think we must have; when we wish to exercise control and power over certain circumstances and with certain people—then we might be satisfied for a while. But after a while the body will rebel. The body will rebel especially in terms of quantity. And it will rebel the more we feed our disordered passions. And it will rebel in such a way that we will want to do nothing more than push ourselves away from the table.

Instead, let us seek those things which satisfy the soul. For when it comes to the things that God provides for us; when it comes to those things which really sink down deeply not just into our hearts and minds, but even into the marrow of our souls; when it comes to these spiritual gifts given by Our Lord God—then we yearn for more yet without being bloated; and we hunger yet without ever overindulging.

In fact, the more that we experience the joys of the kingdom of heaven; the more we experienced holiness in Christ Himself; the more we experience God’s love and God’s body given to us in the place—the more our desire increase for these holy gifts increases. And our spirit does not repel them as our body does when we overindulge. As we receive more and more from God, our appetite increases, and we desire more.

This is what happened with those 4000 men, together with their wives and children. They desired more and more to the point that they forgot their physical desires and only focused on their spiritual desires.

Jesus, being the Just One, of course also understood that he needed to feed their bodies. So He gave them the gift of a few loaves of bread and a few fish. That was able to supply enough so that they could continue receiving the spiritual satisfaction from Him.

But in giving that gift, He also gave something to us: glimpse and foretaste and looking forward to what we receive here in this place. For what they received was bread and fish. What we receive his God’s body and blood. What they received satisfied the body for a moment. What we receive satisfies the soul. They received a little bit in order to stave off momentary death. We receive the Eucharistic gift which gets us through death into the life of the world to come.

They went out into the wilderness to receive Christ. We come here to do the same.

Sermon for Pentecost VI
19 July 2020

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Fighting the Inner Scribe, the Inner Pharisee

The words you just heard are from the Sermon on the Mount. A sermon Jesus gives to His disciples, which others get to listen to. A sermon that begins with Jesus describing the blessed life. His life. The life, not of pride or self-serving, not of doing what you think is best, not of feeding your disordered passions so that anger gets the best of you, affection turns to lust, and my truth denigrates Truth Himself. Rather, the blessed life, the Lord’s life—the life His life describes, and shows, and gives us for authentic living. That blessed life is to deprive yourself in order to live in obedience to God, no matter how much it hurts. That blessed life is to give up who you think you should be in order to become the human God designed you to be. That blessed life is to sacrifice whatever you hold most dear within your being, in order to attain heaven.

Our Lord says that we are truly capable of this blessed life. That we are the only creatures specially designed to embrace, and be fully filled with this blessed life. If only we can begin to be what we truly are: children loved to life by God our Father, men and women knitted to Christ’s glorified body, people animated and renewed with a right life-giving Spirit.

This blessed life is not an impossible dream. When we hold to the gift He is, and the grace He gives, then that blessed life is ours. When we let go of all the things we think we must hold with both hands, then Our Lord fills us with hope to live through our fears, with intimacy that dissolves our loneliness, with mercy that overwhelms whatever threatens us, and with a love that completes us in ways we never could imagine.

The worst enemy of the blessed life is not anarchy or atheism. The worst enemies are the Scribes and Pharisees. Not those guys from back then. But the scribe and the pharisee that lurks in the dark corners of our heart and mind. The scribe in our mind that looks for the loopholes, and seeks a work-around so that we can still get what we want while looking Christian. And the Pharisee in our heart that is more concerned with judging others than with looking critically at ourselves; more concerned that they do what they should and not mistreat me, rather than working on the amendment of life that strips away our fake niceness and false layers.

The Scribe and Pharisee in us works hard to bend and constrict, massage and manipulate the Lord’s commands. Then we’re not intent on rejoicing and living the spirit of the Lord’s Word, but rather aimed at sticking others with the letter of the law. And then we’re more intent on displaying our self-chosen identity while not caring who we damage or grind down or dismiss or oppress.

To our inner Pharisee, nothing matters except that I am heard. To our inner Scribe, a little part of us dies every time we say about someone, “I really don’t care.” The hurting, the confused, and the weak—no matter how loudly we dispute this, they are not our deep-down concern. We are too often concerned mostly with letting everyone know how right we are.

To call us to our senses, and to help us see how much we are hurting ourselves, Our Lord says that the blessed life depends on a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.

What does that mean?

Consider this law: thou shalt not kill. For the scribe in you, that’s all about intent, and degree, and motive. And then you work the loop-holes in order to prove to yourself that you’ve kept the law. And for the Pharisee in you, killing is fine if you’re avenging, or defending someone’s rights, or making a better outcome. And then you work the logic to see if the ends justify the means.

But Our Lord reveals the lie within this thinking. He shows that anger kills more than a knife. Words wound more deeply than a gun. Name-calling and unfounded assumptions and hateful posts and tweets are more damaging than any other weapon.

Others are harmed when I’m angry. But the greatest destruction is to my soul. My words typed in rage, while the bile rises, are hurtful to others. But I ruin my soul more than theirs.

And that’s why Christ Jesus points to anger, rather than something else. For anger kills a part of you, and so leads you away from the blessed life—the life He wants for you, the life He plants in you, the life He sacrificed all to give you.

And what anger does, so does lust. And so does shaping my own narrative, making my own truth. Like anger, lust and truth-manipulating wound and threaten me more deeply than someone else. Because anger, lust, and truth-shaping are all about me living for me; about me not facing the fears which are running me; and about me caring about everything but my soul. So when I’m filled with anger, lust and the denial of Truth Himself, I hunger and thirst, not for righteousness, but for revenge, or gratification, or looking good.

Not restraining the temper, giving into unsacramental sexual desires, manipulating truth’s reality—all of these lead us into temptation, and deliver us into evil. For every time we feed them, we are going our own way, and not living within the Way that Christ says He is.

Christ Himself is the life we truly desire. And Christ Himself exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees—not for His sake, but for ours. And He does this by His humility, by His willing sacrifice, by His refusal to be run by His passions.

In a mercy and kindness that surpasses and outstrips any generosity we know, Christ pours into us His humility, His sacrifice, His self-restraint; together with His intimate and affectionate love which truly can chase away all isolation and loneliness when we let Him fill us.

And that’s the key: to let the righteousness that Christ is fill us fully. Or, to say it another way: to get out of our own way, and to truly lay down our fear, and then let Him, in His grace, carry us to the heights of heaven.  

St Paul says it this way: our Lord Jesus is ‘The grace of God that brings salvation.’ And that grace, which He pours over us and feeds into us—that is what truly exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, even as it also helps us achieve holy living.

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Facing the Lord: Pentecost IV homily

When we stand before the holy God, when we are confronted with the superabundance of His mercy and love, then

  • everything that we think matters so much
  • everything that we say God and others should accept about who we are
  • everything that scares or overwhelms
  • everything that draws our attention and captures our imagination
  • even every joy and happiness

everything else fades away and dissipates.

That’s what it means to rest. To be at rest. To put to rest our fantasies for how things should be. Not because our thoughts, hopes, fears, imaginations and desire are unimportant. But because we are single-minded. We have fixed our hearts on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sits on the right hand of the throne of God.

Notice how Our Lord perfects, how He completes us: by leading us through our crosses, our anxieties, our fears—which we get through both because He lead us, and because He shows us joys that give us the strength to live through these heartaches. And so the things that seem so important to us, truly pale in comparison to Our Lord and His relentless compassion.

This is our hope, now and in all times: that Our Lord sees, and knows, and has experienced trials like the ones we now endure; and that He has constructed the way of escape. A way that is not like the ways we currently see—from frustration to turmoil, from anxiety to despair. The way Our Lord builds, the way He leads us through, the Way He is—that is a way where everything that divides is united, every disease is healed, every hatred is overcome, and every death is atoned—for those who love Him and align themselves with His commandments.

This way of escape does not require us to carry the weight of world, or the oppressed, or our families cares on our shoulders. The cross of Christ holds all those things. He shoulders our burden. And He simply asks us to take a splinter or two of that cross while we walk with Him in the way that leads to salvation.

This way of escape does not mean that we evade our responsibility to love by putting the needs and lives of others before our own. Our Lord Christ holds in His arms all who are poor, neglected, oppressed, abused, and ignored. And He simply asks us to be aligned with Him in a love that trusts that He knows what He’s doing and with an obedience that sacrifices our desires.

This way of escape does not require us to be Übermenschen, with an indomitable will to power through the wrongs that needs to be righted. Our Lord Christ is the True Man whose humility and self-denial and sacrifice have already made all earthly powers an illusion. And He simply asks that we have confidence that His way of humility and self-offering is not just the best way, but the only way that actually leads to a lasting good.

All of this comes clear as we stand with the Holy Apostle Peter before Our Lord, cognizant of His mercy. Peter stands facing Our Lord who just relieved him of the burden and apprehension of how Peter will care for his family. For spending all night not catching fish greatly depresses and deprives the income of a fisherman—and so, how he will provide for his family and business. But the miraculous catch of fish not only makes his income whole, but also helps Peter see that his family will be taken care of by a Father who never forsakes the righteous, nor lets his descendants beg for bread.

Peter stands facing the Lord. And we stand facing that same Lord in this place when we behold the Lamb of God, Christ present in His body and blood, physically as well as spiritually. With Peter, we see Our Lord with our eyes. And with Peter, we are invited to share in His divine nature.

But it doesn’t seem right to stand before the holy God, as He presents us with the superabundance of His mercy and love. It doesn’t seem right because we know who we are. We are made of dust and ashes. We do not order our lives aright, but rather follow our disordered, misplaced, self-loving desires. We put ourselves forward and take on what Our Lord carries, because we believe the lie that nothing gets done unless we make it happen. And we give in, more and more, to our fear that time is running out, and that we’ll miss our chance at whatever.

When we really confront ourselves, when we truly explore our motives, when we look at what draws our eye away from Christ, our ears away from His life-giving commands, and our attention away from His beauty—when we see who we truly are, then it doesn’t seem right to stand before the Lord whose mercy exceeds our imagination.

And so, with Peter, we should be on our knees. Kneeling because the Lord’s love engulfs us and moves us, not to fear nor despair, but to see that only Christ and His love matters more than any and everything else. And, as we should, we echo St Peter’s words: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man. Depart from me, because I fear that Your kindness is too much. Depart from me, for I don’t have enough words to say, and enough things to give in order to truly give thanks. Depart from me, because this unholy person cannot stand or kneel in the presence of the Holy God.”

Yet here is the best thing of all. Even though we are right; even though Our Lord should depart—He stays put. He does not leave us, He does not forsake us. He does not say, “You’re on your own.” He does not tell us to figure it out. Instead, Our Lord relieves and lessens our load, and eases our fears, and increases our hope. By drawing us closer to Him. And by inviting us to partner with Him as He, in humility and love, changes the world.

To partner with Jesus. Not to be in the lead, but to follow His lead. To team with Him, as if we are equals. Yet to realize that this is His movement, His way, not ours. And that He is the head and we are the members of His body.

That’s an astounding summons—not just for Peter, but for each one of us when Jesus says, “Take up your cross, the cross that I’m carrying for you, and follow me. For I know the way. And I know the best means to get there. Because I’ve done this already once for you.”

To be sure, we think we know better. And our pride kicks in and says we need to do what we need to do. But that’s not how love responds to Love Himself. True love responds with trust and obedience: with confidence that Christ knows best, and heeding whatever rules He gives—no matter how much they hurt or seem wrong.

True love responds as Peter, James, and John did: by forsaking our foolish ways, by laying aside all earthly cares, by sacrificing our pet ideas, by putting to death our carefully crafted identity—in order to be all in with Him, who is All in All.

May God give us strength to be who we are baptized to be: children who stand enraptured with the love of God.

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The Heart of Love: A Homily

Blood poured from the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That blood was shed not to validate my truth or your truth; for these versions of truth participate in a false truth, which cries out for an answer to Pilate’s maddening question: What is truth? It’s a maddening question because—as Pilate sees it, as we too often see it—there is no answer. For we think that truth is like leaves blowing in the wind; fragments which you can catch if you work hard enough while many more vexingly fly quickly away. What is truth? He stands before Pilate. For truth is not a belief of what I am cocksure is true. Truth is the person. And the blood that pours from the Most Sacred Heart of Truth Himself asserts that only one Truth is real: that His blood is shed to raise us from the death-blows we continually inflict upon our own selves and thereby upon His holy body.

Blood poured from the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That blood flowed not to confirm my narrative or yours, but to proclaim that there is only one narrative. And we don’t need to get behind it. We need to be within it, and it within us. Which means we need to give up the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and then insist that others listen. These stories, because they are mine and come from me, are rooted in pride: and so they are not, and cannot be aligned, with the Passion of the Christ. That story is the only real story. It is the story of the Son of Man determining to take all our brokenness, all our disordered passions, everything that labels, and misidentifies, and drives a wedge between you and me, between us and them—and, as a result, between God and humans—that story of Our Lord healing us by urging us to trust

  • that His self-sacrifice is the only way love works;
  • that His asceticism gives strength to our self-denial;
  • that He sits at our table to speak mercy tenderly into our ears;
  • that He is willing to embrace, and then die for, those who hated Him.

That story, His story, His narrative to put away the sword and then heal the man who persecuted Him when He persecuted Christ’s body;

  • That story of dying to give life, of long-suffering which revitalizes, of being wounded to heal, of becoming my worst self and your worst self, to forgive me and you,
  • That, and that alone, must be our story.

Blood poured from the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That blood poured forth to give birth to something new: a society never before imagined because our societies are always built from fear and are maintained only by power or threats. This new society eschews every tribalism, and every attempt to re-create a new world made after our image and according to our likeness. Instead, this new society, which poured from the pierced Heart of Our Lord, is the society of all nations, all races, all languages, all people whom God seeks in His justice; which is

  • the unfairness of His mercy given to those who turn to Him
  • the determination of paying the cost in His blood to return His own
  • the diligence of doing whatever it takes to win us back, not by intimidation or self-serving pity, but by honoring our free will while loving us into His heart.

Gushing out of Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart was the water and blood which were the full measure and public demonstration of His love for us. For at one and the same time, the price of our salvation coupled with the strength of His sacraments issued from the hidden and unending fountain of His compassion. This saving bath from which the new society was born; this holy drink which satisfies those who gather together to taste God’s truth and justice—this is poured over us, and into our lips, to give us the ability to love with the same heart which first loved us.

To love all as Christ first loved us is

  • to castigate none;
  • to push away none;
  • to demonize none;
  • to ridicule none;
  • and never to condition your love on others accepting you.

For that is not the way of Christ. And so it ought not be our path.

To love with the heart of Christ is to see that we are the shepherd. When Christ, the Good Shepherd, leaves the ninety-nine, He is leaving all that is secure, all that is peaceful, all that is as it should be, in order to enter the scariest places and do battle with the meanest forces just to rescue us. And in doing this, He thinks nothing—not one thing—about Himself, His desires, His needs. Instead, He willingly leaves the ninety-nine, which are the angelic choir who will not be full-throatedly rejoicing until all of humankind joins them in this new society, this heavenly kingdom.

To love with the heart of Christ is to see that we are the woman. She frantically searches not because she is obsessed with shiny, glittering gold. Rather, she wishes to return into her purse everyone stamped with the image of Christ the King; everyone made according to His likeness; everyone redeemed at the price of His life. So consider this: the one lost coin does not realize that it is lost, but the Holy Spirit, as this woman, will search every crevice so that the purse is filled in this new society where every soul is valuable and priceless.

And to love with the heart of Christ is to see not only that the Father stands at the window, eagerly awaiting our return. More importantly—and too often missed—is this: that when the Son leaves the Father, this is also the Father making Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us:

  • to live in our disordered world;
  • to experience our self-degradation;
  • to endure our pitilessness;
  • and to sit in our filth.

The Son does this so that He might return us, in His own flesh, to His Father, so that “we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Do you see what really pours from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus? Not the demand to be loved. Yet also not blaming or shaming. And no vitriol or hate-filled words. Certainly, no name calling or labeling 0r boxing-up others.

What also does not come from Christ’s heart is saccharin, or the idea that nothing needs to be done, and the ostrich-hope that the bad will go away.

What pours forth from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is Jesus Himself. The patience, the mercy, the sweat, the blood. All that is He. All that He has. All for the good of me. For the benefit of you. For the well-being of all.

Thy Heart, O most dear Jesus, is the good treasure, the pearl of great price, which we find by digging in the field of thy body. Who would cast aside this pearl? I will rather give all my pearls, I will exchange for it all my thoughts and everything I hold dear in my story—so that I may purchase this one pearl for myself, and expend every effort and turn my every thought to the Heart of the Jesus who, without fail, supports me. O most sweet Jesus, so that my heart may align with thy good Heart; so that I may find my heart secured within thine—I implore thee to accept my prayers and ever more draw me into thy holy and sacred heart. For with thee is the fountain of life: and in thy light shall we see light.

St Bonaventure (paraphrased)

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Loving Enemies

Love your enemies. That statement by Jesus is unique to Christianity. What is even more unique is how that statement is lived. We see ‘love your enemies’ when we look at Jesus in His Passion. He tells Peter to put away his sword, and then heals one of the men brutalizing Jesus. He doesn’t resist. He isn’t defensive. And as He is dying, He asks God the Father to forgive them because they are ignorant about who they are really attacking; because He truly loves them.

We also see ‘love your enemies’ in action with St Stephen. His last moments are similar to Jesus. Treated with injustice, brutalized, put to death—and this holy deacon begs Jesus to forgive them.

‘Love your enemies.’ But that’s not all. ‘And pray for those who persecute you.’ Which is what Jesus, St Stephen, St Peter, St Paul, and holy women and men throughout history have done. They have prayed for their persecutors, those who terrorize them, the abusers, and those who mistreat them. And the prayer is not ‘Make them stop’ but ‘Forgive them, be merciful to them, do not hold this wrong they are doing to me against them.’

All of this is challenging in the abstract. When our enemy is a nameless, faceless person; someone on social media or someone in the news or someone far away—those folks are difficult but also easier to love.

But when someone is attacking you, someone from your own family, someone you know well, someone like Judas or Saul—when that is your enemy, then the command to ‘love your enemy’ truly matters. And that is really what Jesus is talking about. The person who is raging against you. The one who is getting in your face, yelling and screaming at you, threatening you, making you feel unsafe—that is the one, above all else, that we are called to love. That person, in that moment, is the one out of 99 that Jesus, through you, reaches out to.

“That’s what I would really like: that even at the moment when your enemy is raging against you, you then turn your eyes to the Lord your God and speak the words of Jesus or St Stephen: Father, forgive them.” (St Augustine)

So watch yourself, especially when your enemy is someone close to you, someone you know. Watch yourself that you don’t become their enemy. Instead, love them. For “in no way at all can your raving enemy do you more harm that you do to yourself, if you don’t love your enemy. He can damage your house, your stuff and, at most, if he’s given the authority, he can harm your body. But can he do what you can do by your hatred: can he, as you yourself can, do any damage to your soul?”

To love your enemy, then, is to protect your soul. To love your enemy is not simply an ideal for saintly people. It is what you must do to make sure you don’t throw away the love of God and your heavenly inheritance. We must not let our passions, our hatred, our desire to strike back, our extreme words, or any aggression of any kind get ahold of us. For then we kill our very self far more than no enemy, no matter how brutal, can do to us.

I say this to you for two reasons. First, too many of us are saying and sharing and posting and retweeting things that are truly hurtful—to our family, to our parish, to those who aknow us. This is hatred in words, and it is slowly killing us when we give into it. Standing up for what we believe in does not mean lashing out at those who disagree or who are even wrong. The Christian responds to these things, not by laying down, but also not by picking up the gun or the phone or any other weapon of metal or words. The Christian responds by saying, “Father, forgive them” and by trying, at all costs, to win the enemy by love. And he does this chiefly to guard his own soul; and then also to help Christ win back one from the 100.

The second reason I’m reflecting on our Lord’s command is because of the response to terrorism from our Patriarch in Damascus. The decades, even centuries, Christians have been persecuted and put to death. These brothers and sisters in Christ know their enemies—their faces, their names, where they live. And the Patriarch’s own brother, together with another bishop, were kidnapped and possibly brutalized 7 years ago. And what is His Beatitude’s response? “Christians…are still paying, with their lives and their fate, taxes to terrorism and violence: displacement, kidnapping, murder, and many a tribulation. Despite all this, [Christians] remain faithful to their pledge of love for Jesus Christ, as the Lord who redeemed them on the Cross and implanted them in this East two thousand years ago, to proclaim the joy of His Gospel.”

To proclaim the joy of the Lord’s Gospel: the Gospel of mercy, love, kindness, forgiveness—that is our only task. And that, more than anything else, is what it means to love your enemy.

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Enjoy This Blessing!

We are, right now, in the kingdom of God; and Christ is in our midst, speaking to us, inviting us to partake of a great banquet, a great feast! So this is not a gathering of people who think the same way, who agree on everything, or have the same tastes and interests. And this is not an event like we are used to, where we need to be stimulated, and our emotions manipulated, and our needs satisfied. We are in God’s court. Our Father is presiding. The Holy Spirit is drawing us nearer and nearer to Our Lord so that we might draw nearer to Him and each other.

This is a great blessing—to be invited by God to be here; to be a member of His body; to be attached to our Head. This is a great blessing—to be welcomed, not because we demand it or deserve it, but despite our flaws and short-comings. This is a great blessing—to not be labeled or judged by anything except that we have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

And the greatness of this blessing sits on the altar. It’s a banquet, prepared by Christ, for which He paid dearly. It’s a feast where He gives back to us the flesh and blood He took from us so that He might transform us by His love and sacrifice.

This banquet doesn’t look like much because our eyes clouded over with the cataracts of materialism, which are informed by our physical desires. We seek physical delights—something that feeds our passions—the passions of gluttony, lust, envy, and pride. That’s what we want to see—a great spread, a feast for the stomach, something that pleases and whets our appetite.

When that is all we see, when that is all we want, then anything else can draw us away. Then we come to this altar only when it’s convenient; or to assuage some guilt; or to fulfill some duty. Otherwise, we’d rather be somewhere else. We’d rather be indulging our senses—because this doesn’t look like much.

And so the excuses pour in. “I cannot come to this banquet. Don’t bother me now. There are so many other things that demand my attention. Helping others, seeking justice, protecting my stuff, meeting my needs, making sure I don’t miss out—all of that is more important than standing here, with my brothers and sisters, standing before Christ, heeding His invitation to partake of His divine nature.”

What is offered here in this place is something no angel will ever taste. The food offered here, thousands before Christ’s death never received. But it’s given for us. It’s given to you. And for your good.

If you miss out on this, you miss out on eternal life. You can eat other food and live, for a time. But if you turn up your nose at this food; if you believe your feelings, your thoughts, your fears, your wishes are more important; if you think this food is yours to take whenever you’re good and ready, and when everyone and everything is as it should be—then you run the risk of pushing aside life Himself; and you jeopardize your soul. For here, surrounded by saints and angels and this family of ours, however disagreeable we may sometimes be—here Christ’s flesh and blood are served to you. And not just to you as individuals, but to all of us together. And He says clearly: ‘everyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’

Enjoy this blessing, then! Let nothing stand in the way. Not your fears. Not your disordered passions. Not your desire to control. Not your inability to see what’s really going on. Instead, in faith and love, draw near.

And while you approach, and when you receive this tremendous godsend, guard yourself. Guard your impulse to be overcome by anger or pride. Guard your tendency to give into your lustful desires. Guard your inclination to speak your mind. Rather, consider how ennobled you are; how much respect and dignity our Savior shows to you by letting you kneel here with others who are so different from yourself, and taste not just His kindness but also His very flesh and blood. And let that truth, Truth Himself, restrain every unruly stirring, and every presumptuous yet hurtful judgment that you feel entitled to speak.

For who has taken on every hurt, every abuse, every brutality, every crime? Isn’t it Our Lord Jesus in His Passion and Death? Let’s not add to them, then, by our hate-filled words or our violent and extreme accusations. Who has taken all hatred into Himself and transformed it into life-giving, life-restoring, life-renewing love? Isn’t that also Our Lord Jesus? Let’s believe that what He gives us here, can give us the courage to withstand every evil impulse, and the boldness to speak not my truth or your truth but Truth, which Our Lord truly is.

Take to heart that the power and grace which changes the bread and wine also converts and transfigures whoever receives this Holy and Blessed Sacrament with true faith. Believe, and hold fast, and trust, that what is really given is really here; and as you give thanks more and more for this astounding kindness and generosity—then you’ll know that Truth tells the truth when He says that you will live because of Him.

The only thing you should fear, then, is saying the horrid words spoken in today’s Gospel: “I cannot come. I will not come. I don’t wish to come.”

Instead, lift up your heart, and draw near, looking only at Our Lord and His Supper. “Believe me, this Sacrament drives away not only death but also all diseases. For when Christ abides in us, He calms our sinful urges; He strengthens piety; He extinguishes the passions; He heals our wounds; and He raises us up after every fall.” (St Cyril of Alexandria)

To this Lord Jesus Christ, whose flesh is food indeed and whose blood is drink indeed, together with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Ponder the Mystery: Corpus Christi Homily

Take a minute to consider the honor your heavenly Father bestows on you; the respect He shows you; the kindness and thoughtfulness He has for you; the gift He offers you.

What the Father suggested when He told the children of Israel to eat the Passover; what the Son of God celebrated with His Apostles at the Last Supper—this is the table, the feast, the altar that the Spirit brings to you, and sets before you, and urges you to join.

Abraham, King David, the Prophet Isaiah, Ruth, the prophetess Deborah, the Queen Mother Bathsheba—none of these holy men and women, these matriarchs and patriarchs—not one of them tasted what is so readily served to you.

No angel will ever get what the Lord gives you. What we are given drove Lucifer insane with jealousy. And it creates an unquenchable desire within Michael and Gabriel.

Those children whom Christ held; the men and women who felt His healing hand; the little girl Jesus raised from the dead by gently lifting her up—as much as they were blessed, none of them received at that time the blessing, the boon, the miracle that is right before your eyes, ready to be placed in your mouth.

Sometimes we pine to hear His voice, to see His face, because we think the people who heard and saw Christ Jesus before His passion had it better than we do now. But while you wonder what it was like for them, they envy you.

For you and me—each one of us that gets to draw nigh and take the body of the Lord, each one of us that gets to consume the Lord so that His blood mingles with ours, His flesh is knit to our flesh—each one of us, when we receive the Blessed Sacrament—only we know what it was like to be the Holy Mother of God.

For she carried in her womb Him whom the world cannot contain. She felt growing within her the God through whom all things were made. This young teen-aged girl was blessed by the Father’s Spirit to be able to say, “His blood is intermingled with mine; Christ’s flesh is united with my flesh.”

You and I can speak the same way. The Lord’s blood flows through our veins. The Lord’s flesh feeds our life. Jesus’ own Self is conjoined to our self.

That is the gift we celebrate today. Not that God is nice to us. Not that Jesus loves us. Not that the Holy Spirit inspires and moves us. But that God’s own nature unites with our nature. That the Holy Trinity actually, truly, undoubtedly, and without hesitation makes a home within our very being: in our soul as well as our mind; in our body as well as our heart.

Ponder the reverence the Most High God shows you. Marvel at the attention He pays to you. Meditate upon the mystery that is both held before your eyes and then placed in your mouth.

And as you do, as you draw near believing that what I hold in my hand is actually what Jesus said it is; as you behold no longer some piece of bread but Christ’s body and blood, together with His soul and divinity—understand, then, and take to heart that this conversion, this change, this miracle happens for only one reason: so that you might partake of the divine nature. So that the Lord God might actually permeate your nature with His; and imbed Himself within you.

This happens not because of anything I have done. A priest does not cause the offered bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the work of Christ Himself, who was crucified for you. I simply say the words obediently; but their power and grace are God’s. (St John Chrysostom)

And that power and grace which changes the bread and wine also converts and transfigures you. Slowly, if you resist. To your harm, should you deny the mystery. But as your faith in this sacrament grows; as you own the gift, embracing and depending on it; as you begin to see, and believe, and hold fast, and trust that what is really given is really there; and as you give thanks more and more for this astounding kindness and generosity—then you’ll know that Truth tells the truth when He says that you will live because of Him.

The life you live from this Holy Eucharist—it is a life no longer lived with fear because you have seen that, however things go, the Lord’s goodness prevails. And life lived from this Blessed Sacrament is a life no longer lived wanting more or different, because you know that nothing can match or exceed this Holy Gift. And life lived from this Holy Communion is a life no longer lived pursuing other goals because there is nothing else, except to live in the kingdom of heaven, surrounded by the saints and angels, sitting at the Lord’s Table.

As you taste the Lord in His Sacrament and see what He gives you from this altar, you will realize true justice and righteousness; complete beauty and authentic love; and a unity that exceeds all other intimacy.

Only this, then, can cause you pain and grief—if you are deprived of this heavenly food, either because your sin requires you to abstain, or because your neglect and selfish desires have kept you away, or because our Father, in His wisdom, has prevented you.

But if none of these are the case, do not deny yourself this food. Do not think up reasons to stay away. And do not let your pride or pity keep you at home. Instead, with all that you have, hasten with gladness to receive the blessing Christ offers you in His holy chalice. For you want eternal life; and here it is. You want to know that you are safe and protected; and the blood on your lips drives away the devil, and the flesh you consume brings you through the grave.

Lift up your hearts, then, and draw near with an earnest heart, focusing on Our Lord and His Supper. “Believe me, this Sacrament drives away not only death but also all diseases. For when Christ abides in us, He calms our sinful urges; He strengthens piety; He extinguishes the passions; He heals our wounds; and He raises us up after every fall.” (St Cyril of Alexandria)

To this Lord Jesus Christ, whose flesh is food indeed and whose blood is drink indeed, together with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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