All Saints Day
Not to cheapen things or evacuate mystery,
but we could frame today’s celebration as that of our forever BFFs.
Let me start with a few thoughts from Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-
Weber, about the holy company we are invited to keep:
It’s quite a thing, really. That we be connected to so many,
to so much faith, so many stories, so much divine love.
Especially in this day and age of alienation and trying to
find community and belonging in smaller and smaller
ways. I may think that the basis of me being connected to
other people is in having political beliefs or denominational
affiliation or neighborhood or musical taste or Facebook
groups in common. But none of this is what connects me
to the Body of Christ. What connects me to the Body of
Christ is not my piety or good works or even theological
beliefs. It’s God, a God who gathers up all of His children
into the Church eternal.
All Saints, all the Saints,
those whom we believe, as our first reading says, see the Father as
Now, some of you may be thinking: this seems really Catholic.
It could be argued that this is simply saintly, holy, so much divine
Mysterious bonds in which the Church has believed for centuries.
“I believe in the Communion of Saints.” Thank you, Apostles’ Creed,
an expression of faith, a theological statement, emerged in the fourth
(It can be found on pages 53, 66, 96, 120, 292, 304, and 496 of the
In that same fourth century, we find reference to a feast for “all the
by St. John Chrysostom, illuminating. eloquent figure for the Church,
Archbishop of Constantinople until his death in exile at age 58 in 407.
In the early 800s, that feast was established for all Christians, for
And here we are 1200 years later.
All Saints, all the saints: those who said “yes” so often and so deeply
that the community of Christians was convinced, in faith,
that they had been so transformed by so much divine love
that they would be instruments of it for the community after their
Not all Christians nowadays believe this, of course. It’s hard to
Yet, many dare to believe.
Not simply models of Christian living,
the saints actively journey with us, now, into eternity: forever BFFs,
showing us that grace indeed does not simply cover darkness,
showing us that God rejoices in making use of instruments to draw us
So much divine love…
This is what this gospel seems to be about for this feast day.
The beatitudes, the mysterious “happinesses” from God,
reveal the transformation in the hearts of believers, the hearts of the
our hearts while on our earthly pilgrimage,
the completeness of which we anticipate in hope.
The beatitudes are not a pep-talk for the downtrodden
nor a list of conditions for blessing.
They reveal Jesus reaching into the fragility of our lives to give
so much divine love
Blessed are you who feel small and overwhelmed, who are unsure
who can’t fall apart because others need you to be strong,
who still weep after all this time the death of your beloved,
who feel lonely or wrestle with anger,
who, young or old, just want to feel safe but do not,
who struggle to make eye contact with a world that only loves the
You are God’s children now, the apple of His eye, and He is leading
leading you with the saints to springs of the water of life
and will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
As Saint Paul, in Colossians 1:12, exhorts, let us give thanks to the
Father, who enables us to share in the inheritance of the saints
in the light.
We are not alone.
We are truly surrounded by a multitude, forever BFFs,
a few of whom are depicted in this church!
In celebrating with them, we celebrate the Holy One Who makes us
so much divine love.
Let us continue our celebration of Him, gathering at His altar, His
preparing for the unique gift of Eucharist, Communion.
so much divine love.
How ‘bout them Grapes?
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2023
An outrageous parable because an outrageous situation.
A landowner leases his vineyard; a lease is an agreement.
Collection time, as agreed,
but the tenants kill the servants who come for the landowner’s produce.
Take 2: the landowner, quite the optimist, sends another round of servants.
At that point, one might declare, as did Jack Swigert, command pilot on Apollo 13, when an explosion occurred aboard the spacecraft en route to the Moon,
April 14, 1970: Houston, we’ve had a problem!
A prudent landowner would pause before sending anyone else.
But what happens? The landowner sends his son!
What is he thinking?!? What naïveté and im-prudence!
The tenants are irrational, so irrational that they actually think that,
by killing the son, they will get his inheritance! Not how it works.
Remember: this is a parable,
and the illogicality serves as a doorway to something deeper.
The apparently naïve and imprudent persistence of the landowner is very significant.
This parable can refer to the prophets, servants, and Jesus, the Son,
coming to the Chosen People, tenants
—although it is not a declaration of definitive denial on the part of the latter.
Jesus never makes declarations of definitive denial.
Jesus always appeals to openings of the heart. Divine mercy is infinitely creative.
Today’s question: how does this parable involve us?
Suppose we are the tenants and the landowner wishes to collect his produce.
Two questions arise:
We are children of God in whom the life of God must bear fruit.
God shares with us His life, not because He’s lonely,
but because goodness, by nature, radiates.
And what is the fruit that must come forth in our lives,
which the great landowner wishes to collect?
If I may appeal to John, chapter 15, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine,
and of us as the branches on the vine in whom His life flows,
and in which He gives the new commandment: love one another as I love you.
The fruit is the love between us.
The life of God in us must come forth in love for one another.
If my heart has been lovingly seized by Jesus, I cannot but love others,
whomever the Lord sends across my path.
Being loved by God transforms and expands the heart,
enabling and moving us even to love enemies.
This is where the persistence of the landowner begins to make sense.
He persists because love is urgent. He persists and so love is victorious.
Indeed, Jesus promises the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church,
His Body, born of that love.
He persists because we struggle to love one another and He is all-merciful.
We have been drawn into the Body of Christ with people who are very different.
It’s a little much, frankly!
And, in the broader circle of our lives, we all have at least one person
who so pushes our buttons that we either bark, bite or wave the white flag.
We struggle to love one another.
The landowner, Christ, however, never grows weary.
He persists. He works with our weakness.
St. Paul wrote from a dark, damp Roman prison cell, just before his death in AD 67,
to Timothy, who had earlier ministered alongside him:
If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself
In other words, Jesus will never break His promise of faithfulness.
We have been grafted onto Christ; He will not let go of us.
And our part in this? Stepping out in faith, in acts of love:
Hear the advice of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, (published 1952):
Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you do. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him.
Let us let ourselves be loved in the Eucharist and then go forth choosing to love.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2023
I am blessed to be back, with you, to continue our holy journey together. Thank you for the generous gift of a time of sabbatical. I do not take for granted how much of a privilege it is.
As most of you know, I departed late June. And, while in Brussels (Belgium!), I had the honor of living with a community of Jesuit priests and of working in the community of l’Arche (French for “the ark”, as in Noah), founded in 1964 in France, now international in scope, whose mission is home-life and work with mentally-challenged adults.
Such persons can be disarming: limited verbal ability, perplexing exchange; and the childlike-ness of many of them cuts across many lines. Displays of affection, for example, are not uncommon. A 30-something Muslim fellow with Down’s Syndrome, Fouad, would come behind me during coffee break at the activity centre, massage my shoulders lightly, then kiss my neck. His concern was not personal space and the protocol of polite society, but rather connection.
There was something very church, in the deep sense, about the experience. We are, of course, in the world, and so there is personal space and rightful protocol of polite society. But we are not of the world. We are blessed with a connection in Christ that cuts across all lines: of ancestry and affinity, of politics and prose—you name it. And we are here, drawn by this Christ, to allow Him to deepen the connection, expressing our willingness to live into it.
I think today’s gospel speaks to this.
But, first, it may help to admit that this is an un-comfortable gospel!
Especially for the confrontation-averse!
Any members of that club?!?
What exactly is Jesus suggesting?
That we morally police one another
and, if necessary, add layers of enforcement?
Isn’t church hard enough?!?
Unclear and challenging—for many reasons.
Challenging in that this seems to be a commandment,
not simply a suggested option.
Jesus doesn’t say, “If another member of the church sins against you, perhaps go and point out the fault, if you’re feeling it,
if chances are good the other person will be receptive, if the benefits are obvious...
If another member of the church sins against you, go…
Challenging in that we can straddle others’ visible disruptive behaviours
and, at times, invisible ill-intentions of the heart,
both of which converge to sin.
Challenging in that Jesus doesn’t always tell us
exactly how to discern who has sinned against us.
Challenging in the unclarity of what Jesus means by
let the church member who refuses to listen
be to us as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Regarding this last challenge, by the way,
note Peter’s bewilderment in the verses that follow:
Lord, if another member of the church sins against me,
how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?
To which Jesus responds, not seven times…seventy-seven times.
To forgive or not to forgive, that is the question.
Treat the member of the church who sins against me like an outsider
or with unconditional love?
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 1964, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. says:
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method
which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love.
Saint Augustine (+430), in a sermon on this passage, says:
Our Lord admonishes us not to overlook one another’s faults,
yet not so as seeking for matter of blame,
but watching what one may amend.
For our rebuke should be in love,
not eager to wound, but anxious to amend. (Sermon 82, 1)
Bear in mind that this follows the parable of the lost sheep,
in which the shepherd risks the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains
to go in search of the one that went astray.
This is indeed understood in love, in the greatest love.
As disciples of Christ, we participate in the Shepherd’s search
for the one that went astray or
for that which went astray—in ourselves and in one another.
Jesus is speaking to us, eternally bound to one another in divine love,
beyond questions of ancestry or affinity, politics or prose,
mystery of the Church that we are,
at the service of whom are the structure, leadership, and the sacraments,
whose origin and end are Jesus’ heart.
Wonderful—and weird, for this is not our spontaneous framework.
We have indeed been entrusted one another’s hearts.
Thus, although we must address the wrong that we see,
visible disruptive behaviours,
(note: this gospel is not a practical manual for how to do this,
which is why the Church sometimes does this very poorly),
this is not about policing; this is about loving, about being instruments
of deep healing for one another: a-mending hearts.
Jesus gives this as a commandment
because this is not our spontaneous framework,
because this divine love, given to us, surpasses understanding.
It’s a BIG deal!
When we sin, we act against this love, and thus damage everlasting bonds.
It’s a BIG deal!
Hence, it crystalizes in the limitless forgiveness asked of Saint Peter.
As St. John Chrysostom (+407), in commenting on this passage, says,
The Lord bids us who have suffered the wrong to forgive our neighbor.
Gathered in His name, Christ is present.
Compelling, transformative love
that moves us to awe and surrender and forgiveness.
On a hill just south of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, stands a sculpture in a churchyard. The central figure is a man sitting on a bench in front of a column. His hands are partially raised in a gesture that implies pleading. His face is turned toward the figures of two girls standing just to his left. Looming behind this man’s right shoulder, looking down on him is the figure of a Roman soldier. You can almost hear the words:
“I do not know what you are talking about.”
“I do not know the man.”
“I do not know the man!”
You can almost hear the cock crow.
The sculpture is Peter’s denial of Christ located in the yard of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, where, by tradition, Peter’s denial occurred. What happened to Peter? Is this the same man who immediately dropped his fishing net to heed Jesus’ call: Follow me! Is this the same Peter who was the first to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Is this the same Peter who said, even though he dies with him, Peter will never deny Jesus. (Mt 26:34-35)
Until he did. Three times.
Peter was among the disciples in today’s Gospel who heard Jesus tell them: “…whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” He knew the consequences. What changed? Did Peter lose his courage?
In our Gospel text today, Jesus asks his disciples to be courageous.
He warns them of the adversity and persecutions they will face. Jesus tells them they will be treated no better than he will be treated. I imagine these words and images were difficult for the disciples to hear; they are stark, prophetic. They are black and white, with no gray areas. The choices and their consequences are clear, direct. Purposely so. This is what it means to be Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus is acknowledging what he asks of the disciples is not easy. He knows it will cause conflict and division. He understands the mission he gives to them because Jesus understands his mission from God the Father. He is experiencing and will experience the same rejection and persecution. What he asks the disciples to share in, he shares with them. More importantly, he will lead the way.
It will take courage to be Jesus’ disciple. Do not fear, Jesus says. Proclaim what you have been taught.
I can imagine the Gospel text may have challenged us today for same reasons the words Jesus speaks were challenging to the original twelve. The idea of God’s judgement can make us uncomfortable, and rightly so sometimes. Not fearing God can have eternal consequences.
Not fearing human judgement is easier said than done, however. Judgement by humans is a powerful motivator, one Jesus understood and experienced. Picture the cross. Picture the image of the Roman soldier looming over Peter. We may not face threats to our health and lives as some have and still face as they carry-out their vocations as disciples. We may experience hostility, rejection, and persecution. We may experience indifference to our proclamation. And we may experience the pressure to soften the message, to cheapen the cost of grace in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The list can go on and on.
We face other, smaller ways that we acknowledge or deny knowing Christ. We show we know or deny Christ in how we live our lives. We show we deny or know Christ in how we treat others. We acknowledge or deny Christ in the choices we make; in the things we do or leave undone. Some of these may require a different form of courage – moral courage -- but courage, nonetheless.
It is understandable how we may succumb to such pressure, to be less than what we are called to be. Because Jesus mentions fear I think he understands it is an all too human reaction to what threatens us and what we value. It sometimes shows what we value more. Jesus shared our human nature and understands all too well our weaknesses and frailties.
We are called to have courage; it goes hand-in-hand with faith, linking our beliefs and actions. A definition of courage states it is not the absence of fear, but the determination to continue despite it. That is what I think Jesus asked of his disciples then and asks of us now.
If you only read the Gospel selection for today, you might get an unforgiving picture of discipleship with no margin for error. But we know the larger picture.
Christ’s mission on earth, one he passed to his disciples and the Church, and one which we carry-on today, is also one of forgiveness and reconciliation. Through repentance and amendment of life, we can be reconciled to each other and to God. Acknowledging Jesus acknowledges the potential for reconciliation. This is also part of the Gospel we proclaim.
Later in Matthew, Jesus predicts his disciples will deny and desert him in his final hours and after his death. He knows they are human. Even though they will deny and desert him, he will not desert the disciples.
Take a moment to picture another scene in your mind, this time from the Gospel According to John: It is morning. The risen Jesus is on the lakeshore, kneeling before a fire. With a stick he stirs the coals, tending the fire. Fish are roasting over fire. A basket of bread lays next to the fire. The disciples join him. After eating, he turns to Peter and asks him:
Do you love me more than these? Feed my lambs.
Do you love me? Tend my sheep.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
This is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times. Yes, Lord, you know I love you, he says three times.
Though the disciples’ faltered, Christ did not desert them. He will not desert us, either. Tend my sheep, there are a lot of wolves out there.
Three’s More Than Company
Trinity Sunday 2023
As we do each year, after Pentecost,
after recalling the original manifest outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
and beseeching a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
we gather to encounter God in a particular way--
God-Big, God-Mysterious: Trinity Sunday.
It follows Pentecost because the Holy Spirit leads us to the heart of God:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus—Holy, Holy, Holy.
The mystery of God in Three Persons: ridiculously overwhelming.
Which is why preachers often try to toss this one like a hot potato.
Indeed, in his treatise on the Trinity, St. Augustine (d. 430) says,
There is no subject where error is more dangerous,
research more laborious,
and discovery more fruitful than the oneness of the Trinity.
Today’s opening prayer eloquently addresses this God-Big, God-Mysterious:
Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given to us, your servants, grace…
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,
and, in the power of your divine Majesty, to worship the Unity…
God: Trinity—Unity, Triune—One.
Relationally: oh my—home, home-sweet-home.
The Church has wrestled with the Trinity, come into “faith focus” over time:
Councils of Nicaea (323), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431),
Chalcedon (451) and more—more prayer, more pondering, more ink.
These doctrines, however, are not nice, neat packages, easy definitions.
Which is why, be honest, we wrestle with the Trinity!
Indeed, you will notice in the gospels that
Jesus does not define but rather opens the mystery to us.
To reveal is to open experientially.
The Son becomes human to share the secret of God,
i.e., to reveal, to open the inner life of God to us.
The mystery of God in Three Persons is ridiculously overwhelming,
far beyond all imagining.
And yet, over the centuries, artists have sought to imagine,
to provide small stepping-stones for us.
One of these is the triquetra—found on the cover of your bulletin,
from the Latin adjective triquetrus, for “three-cornered”,
of Celtic origin, recalling Saint Patrick’s three-leafed shamrock.
Another of these: Russian artist Andrei Rublev’s three angels
(Rublev was canonized, btw, in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988).
Painted in 1410, we have a print here.
Inspired by the story of the 3 visitors to Abraham (Genesis 18),
believed to foreshadow and thus reveal the Trinity.
Allow me to read this ever-so-briefly with you, leaning on
an 82-year-old Swiss Orthodox priest-monk, Fr. Gabriel Bunge.
Rublev depicts these 3 figures as angels: with some variation,
same in form and size, same wooden stick, a stave,
same type of throne, same garments.
From left to right: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Father alone sits upright; the other two incline towards Him.
The hidden Source in the Source that is God, we catch only
a glimpse of the blue of His tunic (the blue symbolizes divinity).
We hope to see Him through the beauty and wisdom of His creation represented by His tunic of gold and red, greenish reflection, symbol of life.
Both hands firmly gripping the stave, suggesting authority.
A house rises immediately behind him:
in my Father’s house are many dwelling places (Jn 14:2).
The Son’s tunic is striped with gold: “anointed of God,” king and prophet.
The reddish brown represents the earth and thus His humanity:
fully God and fully man.
The blue of His tunic prevails: He reveals the glory of God.
The tree behind Him: the Tree of Life (from Genesis) and the Cross.
The Holy Spirit: more mysterious.
Everything we know is through relationship to the Father and the Son.
towards Whom He is inclined.
The pale green, here: the liturgical color of Pentecost--
new life in the Spirit, even for the whole earth represented by the rock.
The rock, also, the mountain: privileged encounter with God, in the Spirit.
The cup, a point of convergence between the three: love poured forth. Moreover, although salvation is the work of the Trinity,
notice the middle angel contained in the shape of a cup
whose contours are formed by the other two angels.
Finally, their communion opens and offers space for another.
We are invited into the Trinitarian circle of love:
from observing to participating.
We believe (and thus cannot prove) that God has revealed Himself
to be One luminous, loving Being
in Whom there is an eternal procession of Persons,
all Three perfectly one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God-big, God-mysterious, God-personal.
Personal means invited into the embrace—which is more than a group hug!
Let us accept the invitation, letting ourselves be loved by the Triune God.
St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-cetury Italian mystic, prays:
O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea
in which, the more I seek, the more I find,
and the more I find, the more I seek to know You.
Sixth Sunday of Easter 2023
A priest is walking through the jungle when he comes upon an
obviously hungry lion. The lion is preparing his attack, the
priest crosses himself, folds his hands in prayer, and says,
“Lord, if you can hear me, please infuse the Holy Spirit in the
heart of this beast.” The lion comes to a screeching halt as a
bright light begins to glow around him. He looks to the sky, folds
his paws in prayer, and says, “Thank you, Lord, for this meal.”
We continue reading John’s gospel, chapter 14: the Last Supper.
Further consolation of distraught disciples, ambitious consolation.
To console us, Jesus never simply gives a hug or an aspirin
or an inspirational catch phrase.
He gives someOne: the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit,
thanks to Whom light glows around us
and we are able give great thanks for good meals.
And Jesus promises that this Holy Spirit will be with them, with us,
Forever means the truest giving, true gift.
How does this sound to you?
Consoling? Abstract? Too intangible for the very tangible distress of
Perhaps. We dare trust, nonetheless, that Jesus is speaking to us.
And that, as He tells us, we have a real part to play in this gift
which evacuates abstraction.
Jesus respects us too much to leave us passive in the spiritual life.
This promised gift of the Holy Spirit,
although unmerited and completely gratuitous,
is especially given as we freely move our hearts.
Hence, Jesus’ words: “If you love me, you will keep my
In keeping Jesus’ commandments, we freely move our hearts in love.
Not abstract…but seemingly impossible!
What are these commandments, by the way?
Where does the rubber hit the road for us?
Both before and after this passage in 13:34-35 in 15:12,
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one
One can suggest that Jesus’ commandments
are contained in this new commandment.
And, again, although God is the One who makes all of this possible,
what is the aforementioned real part that we play?
“Keeping Jesus’ commandments”, on our side of the equation,
requires intention and willingness to and efforts at loving one another.
Which open us to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Not abstract and not impossible.
We can all intend and be willing and try.
We are invited to choose, beyond emotion,
to love with the help, with the love of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Catherine of Siena, the 14 th -century Italian mystic, exhorts us:
Enrich your soul in the great goodness of God:
the Father is your table,
the Son is your food,
and the Holy Spirit waits on you and then makes His
dwelling in you.
Each day, with the love of the Holy Spirit, will have meaning
—regardless of our circumstances, I promise!
This love of neighbor (my loved ones who are getting on my last
nerve, the odd person on the sidewalk, in the check-out line or the
lane next to me, the reclusive neighbor down the street, my long-lost
aunt, my estranged child, my unpleasant co-worker, clergy who
disappoint me, whomever) is possible.
We choose to love, knowing, as says the Carmelite nun (d. 1897),
St. Therese of Lisieux, that Our Lord does not look so much
at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty,
but at the love with which we do them.
Today is a new day. Today is God’s day.
As Saint Augustine (d. 430) suggests, let us entrust the past to
the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.
I close with words from Mother Teresa (d. 1997), Albanian,
whose birth name, by the way was Anjezë, Agnes
—as a nun, she took the name Teresa in honor of St. Therese of
Yesterday is gone.
Tomorrow has not yet come.
We have only today.
Let us begin.
Let us indeed begin.
A Larger Cup
Fifth Sunday of Easter 2023
The scene: the Last Supper.
After foretelling Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial
(which put a real damper on dinner!), Christ consoles the apostles.
As Matthew Henry, the late-17th, early-18th-century Presbyterian minister,
The Lord Jesus is acquainted with all our secret undiscovered sorrows, with the wound that bleeds inwardly; he knows not only how we are afflicted, but how we stand affected under our afflictions, and how near they lie to our hearts; He takes cognizance of all the trouble with which we are at any time in danger of being overwhelmed; He knows our souls in adversity.
And what is the remedy to such sorrow and affliction, trouble and adversity?
Faith—which, by the way, is not magical thinking.
To be more precise, the remedy is Christ
to whom we are bound by and in faith.
Faith, however, is a gift that is only freely exercised.
There is no pressure in faith because there is no pressure in true love.
Hence, Jesus’ appeal to believing.
“Please make use of this gift”, Jesus asks,
for immeasurable closeness follows.
Upon appealing to faith,
Jesus reveals Himself, with illuminating vulnerability:
Believe in God, believe also in me.
In other words, believe in me as you believe in God. Believe in me, God.
And He reveals: because He is the God-man, God-become-human, we have
a unique dwelling in the Father’s house, our home in the mystery of God.
I will…take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
I will, I promise: today, tomorrow, when you die, at my Second Coming.
Jesus reassuringly and forcefully proclaims,
I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Which is not a declaration of exclusivity but of divinity.
The identity, the oneness (yet distinction) between Son and Father,
is, of course, beyond immediate grasp—for Philip, and for us!
Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.
Jesus, the Son, God incarnate, although distinct,
in His perfect oneness with the Father,
I am in the Father and the Father is in me
perfectly reveals the Father.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
Now, what is meant by many dwelling places?
Although Three Persons, one God,
and so really just one dwelling “place”, no?
Well, yes and no.
God is our home: one dwelling--beyond place, of course.
But we each have a personal relationship, distinct one from the other.
And, although we shall all be perfectly happy in God,
and thus no jealous comparison, like that which bedevils us here on earth,
there are degrees of intensity in the participation in the life of the one God.
Which is not a question of predestination favouritism, but of free choice.
St. Thomas Aquinas (I know, again!), in his commentary on this passage, says,
It is like a spring of water, available to all to take as much as they wish. Then, one who has a larger cup will receive more, and one who has a smaller cup will receive less. Therefore, there is one fountain, considering it in itself, but every one does not receive the same portion.
He goes on to say,
One who has a more burning love for God
will find more delight in the enjoyment of God.
Our journey here on earth is about increasing the size of the cup,
about expanding our hearts, so that we delight as much as possible,
in the enjoyment of God for all eternity.
And, although ultimately a gift, this is our responsibility, our free choice.
How do we increase the size of the cup?
A simple inner act, repeated, whereby God takes hold of our hearts:
And, from desiring, not feeling, seeking to love in action, seizing
the opportunities, big and small, that God brings across our path each day.
It is daunting and it is hopeful.
These inner acts of love, which we seek to translate into action,
are the works that are greater than those of Christ.
The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do
and, in fact, will do greater works than these.
No one, of course, can do works greater than those of Christ.
He seems to refer to Him working through us, spreading His love,
in new expressions.
Jesus has gone to the Father in His humanity.
His Body, the Church, which we are, is a wondrous sacrament
for God to so love the world.
Hence the words of the 16th-century Spanish mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila,
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Time to desire. Time to believe. Time to act.
Meet Me at the Well
Third Sunday of Lent 2023
I am certain you recall the sermon from two weeks ago:
“Lent is meant to be an experience of newfound intimacy with Christ.”
Walk with me through this moving encounter in our gospel,
an experience of newfound intimacy with Christ.
Samaria, to the west of the River Jordan, between Judea (Bethlehem, Jerusalem…) and Galilee (Cana, Nazareth…).
Samaritans, disliked “half-breeds” considered to have defiled the Jewish faith.
Jesus, however, travels freely through Samaria and interacts freely with Samaritans.
A deliberate encounter at the well, the well where Jacob met Rachel (Genesis 29).
Was that a prefiguration of this?
Does Jesus come spiritually to “espouse” the Samaritan woman,
whose life is drudgery, whose heart is broken?
Is Jesus being revealed as Bridegroom of our souls?
High noon, i.e. the sun at its peak--not the hour to draw water.
“Tired out by his journey” (4:6; chosen, real fatigue), Jesus sits.
A strategic initiative.
So to encounter this woman alone, Jesus sends the disciples to fetch lunch,
them whose presence would likely have been intimidating.
The Samaritan woman’s daily routine, going through the motions, exhausted.
Jesus engages her rather directly; seemingly rude.
“Give me a drink.” ...no introduction, no “please”, nothing.
Some might have responded,“Excuse me: who are you?”
She could have responded, “Nobody tells me what to do.”
Why is Jesus not gentler, more inviting and poetic with her,
beaten by life and by the mid-day sun,
Unfortunately, Jesus’ tone cannot be heard.
Jesus seeks to awaken, to reach through the heaviness.
She is understandably unable to respond with enthusiastic interest.
Not an order, not a command.
Jesus chooses to be vulnerable with her, to beg from her.
Unfortunately, her tone cannot be heard.
Cynicism? Disturbance at Jesus’ forwardness?Surprise at Jesus’ freedom?
Jesus does surpass two strong barriers: a Samaritan and a woman.
She asks about Jesus’ disregard of protocol: “How is it?”
Jesus responds with mysterious references: “the gift of God”, “living water”…
Not immediately or exactly on the same page.
Blasé and burdened, she only manages to point out
that Jesus is ill-equipped to draw water! You don’t even have a bucket.
Little by little, Jesus reaches her and reveals a gift.
She begins to want it, somewhat self-servingly.
It would mean no more fetching water, i.e. no more drudgery (!).
Jesus capitalizes on the gradual awakening of her heart.
He asks her to fetch, not water, but her husband.
The latest fellow, however, doesn’t even qualify as “husband”.
Why this request when aware of her pain and her despair?
His finger right on the painful wound.
Perhaps the only way truly to reach her: take the initiative,
and uncover her well-guarded sore Himself.
Jesus reads into her broken heart--lovingly.
The sign of this?
Instead of crushing embarrassment,she recognizes in Jesus a prophet
who can receive another, deeper wound of her heart,
which she has had since childhood, regarding worship.
Not uncommon and odd as it may sound,
a deeper wound, for deeper love even than spousal love.
“Hurt by church”, conflicting stories, unsure and stifled heart,
she no longer worships.
Jesus, however, opens and heals her heart.
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship.
What Jesus reveals Jesus gives.
Henceforth, thanks to Jesus, the Messiah, worship is in spirit and in truth.
What does this mean?
We worship with Jesus, Who, being the God-man, alone worships perfectly.
And Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to us who know not how to pray.
In spirit: worship in the Holy Spirit, Who prays in us, and enables us to pray.
In truth: worship in all that we are, including our bodies.
Our form of worship, by the way, sets the stage and invites this well…
Jesus heals this woman in her two wounds.
They don’t necessarily disappear, but they no longer have the last word.
She will freely love.
He gives her living water
that will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
Living water? Water is normally not “living”…
Ahhh: a metaphor to indicate something that flows from its source.
Living water is divine love, love connected to its source: God.
Divine love heals us and enables us to love again—one another and God,
and it ought to gush.
This woman has found her purpose and her freedom,
in being loved by and loving the Messiah.
The small but significant sign of this?
The woman left her water jar and went back to the city.
Her little claim to fame, amidst the drudgery, relativized and unimportant.
Let us, this day, this morning,
find and be found again by the One who is our purpose and our freedom:
Jesus, Who reads into and welcomes our hearts,
Who comes to us in quiet, real ways, especially in the Eucharist.
He takes the initiative and meets you in your fatigue, your heaviness, your burdens, your struggle to worship, your well-guarded wounds, your broken heart.
Third Sunday of Advent 2022
There’s the story of a Rector being called to another parish and,
on his last Sunday, saying farewell.
He was shaking the hand of an elderly member on her way out,
when she said, “Your successor won't be as good as you.”
“Nonsense,” said the Rector, in a flattered tone.
“No, really”, she said, “I've been here under four different Rectors,
and each new one has been worse than the last.”
For centuries, the third Sunday of Advent has been Gaudete Sunday.
“Gaudete” is the first word from the introit (opening/entrance verse) in Latin.
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!
(Philippians, chapter 4, verse 4).
One rejoices, of course, not when someone is saying farewell.
The joyous focus of Advent, as you know, is Christ coming.
Three-fold coming, we could say:
Christ “born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
Christ present and transforming through Word and in Sacrament.
Christ to return in glory to be our merciful Judge on the last day.
And Advent has a fitting penitential character to it,
entails “cleaning house” to make room for Christ coming.
The color associated with “Gaudete” is rose.
Rose is violet, which suggests penance,
approaching white, which suggests luminous, transformative presence
suggesting the “already, not yet” of our bond with Christ.
For today’s celebration, like last Sunday, we have John the Baptist.
The Church can’t seem to get enough JB!
There is indeed no one like John the Baptist
to prepare the way of the Lord.
An extraordinary, moving, and, frankly, very odd character.
As the Reverend Fleming Rutledge says,
irreducibly strange, gaunt and unruly, lonely and refractory,
utterly out of sync with his age or our age or any age.
Not an immediate asset at a dinner party!
Nonetheless: extraordinary and moving and invited and present at this party!
He is entirely about Christ.
Consumed with zeal for the Messiah which makes him odd, that is,
far from ordinary, out of sync with the popular preoccupations of the age.
He is simply the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.
He seems to have no identity outside of Jesus.
Normally, humanly speaking, when we are totally relative to someone else,
it’s a problem.
With John, this is not unhealthy dependence or attachment disorder.
This is about purpose, awe, surrender and being an instrument of God.
And an amazing thing: John is “in the dark” while living all of this.
John the Baptist is Jesus’ cousin.
Presumably aware of this, John’s focus, however,
is Jesus as the Messiah, his Messiah.
Hence, in John’s gospel, when Jesus finally appears to be baptized,
John needs a sign to recognize Jesus: the dove alighting.
I myself did not know him he declares twice (John 1:31,33).
And between this lack of knowledge, Jesus not visiting John in prison and,
from prison, here, John asking, via his disciple-messengers:
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
we witness compelling poverty of spirit, John so very much in the dark.
Why is this? I surmise so that he be absolutely surrendered
and purely the voice of the Holy Spirit.
John’s joy lies in his being a unique instrument in the hand of God.
What is it to be an instrument of God?
It’s hard even to think in such terms.
We typically think in terms of what we do, in terms of productivity
and, on a good day, our efforts at inter-personal decency.
We don’t think in terms of God taking hold of us and working through us.
Too abstract. Too unproductive. Too mysterious.
Perhaps, John the Baptist can help us to understand this and, better,
to surrender to Jesus with awe and trust.
Our joy too lies in our being instruments in the hand of God.
God does not want simply to shower us with blessings
and we sit passively as though on Santa’s lap.
God wants to take loving hold of us, so much so that
we be transformed and He be able to love through us.
Indeed, at the end of the Mass, after having been fed, having been loved,
we are sent forth: instruments of light and goodness, in peace and hope,
rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
Mother Teresa says,
I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God
who is sending a love letter to the world.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!