St. Dorothy Catholic Community Orlando/Winter Park, Florida
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalms 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 1, 2021
Last week Jesus performed the multiplication of the loaves, and all the people who witnessed the amazing miracle wanted to make Jesus king. Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period in their history didn't have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. How about if I explain it this way: "Israel was like the thirteen colonies before they broke off from England - and the Israelites wanted Jesus to be their George Washington."
And the massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed him across the Sea of Galilee after he sneaked away in the middle of the night. So Jesus finds himself once more surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd willing to follow him to the death if only he will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.
What would most people do in that situation? They would fulfill their dreams of ambition, giving the crowd what they wanted so as to enjoy celebrity status for as long as it lasted. Not Jesus. He didn't come to earth for an ego-trip; he came to fulfill a mission. And that mission is not to bring paradise on earth - which is what they want: "you are... looking for me... because you had all the bread you wanted to eat."
Rather, he came to bring them "bread from heaven," the truth and freedom that come from of living in communion with God. He doesn't cave in to the temptation to satisfy a natural desire for power and popularity, for merely human success. Christ is a Leader entirely focused on his mission, not on himself. If we are to be faithful to him, if we are to experience true success in this life, we need to follow in those footsteps.
One reason it is so hard for us to live according to Christ's standard of true success is because the world/society around us doesn't usually reward true success.
In our world, selfishness and sin are often glorified and glamorized - not always, but often. This is why the Bishop Emeritus of Rome, Benedict, in his second Encyclical Letter, called the Last Judgment a motive for hope more than for fear. The Christian believes in God's promise that even if justice is not always or completely fulfilled here on earth, it will be fulfilled at the end of history. And so, our efforts to do the right thing, to serve those in need, to be merciful and forgiving, to control and channel our selfish tendencies - all these efforts, which can be so costly and painful here on earth, are worth it. With them we are building up an eternal kingdom; the rewards of true success will never be lost.
Here is how Benedict explains it:
"The image of the Last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope... it is an image that evokes responsibility... God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace... Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value... Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened".
So even if our efforts for true, everlasting success are not rewarded very much here and now, they are still the best investment we can make with our time, talent, and treasure.
Here's how Mother Teresa put it:
"At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me'".
Learning this lesson well is the antidote to one of the most disturbing sentiments we can experience: envy.
Envy is a self-centered reaction to other people's successes, a reaction that fills us with anger and spite and makes us resent them. Envy doesn't just fill our own souls with anguish; it also leads to sins like destructive criticism, calumny, tale-bearing, and even violence. And it comes from thinking that if someone else succeeds in some visible way, then their victory is somehow my loss. If we conceive of success in an earthly way, there is a certain logic in this thinking.
If Joe gets the promotion, then Frank can't get it. If Martha wins the gold medal, then Matilda can't. When it comes to earthly achievements, success is, at least in part, exclusive. But when we measure success truly, the way Christ does, in terms of fulfilling our unique mission of loving and serving God as only we can, then envy is no longer logical.
The heart of our mission in the Church consists of deepening every day, through prayer and virtuous action, our friendship with Christ. But since every friendship is personal and unique, no one can "beat us" at it. No one else can know, love, and serve God in the exact same way that you can, because you are absolutely unique - that's how God made you.
In heaven, please God, each one of us will have a totally unique glory, because our friendship with Christ is totally unique. Adopting true, Christ-like success as our personal standard of success has many other benefits as well, but its being an antidote to envy is high on the list.
As we continue with this Mass, in which Jesus will renew his commitment to us, let's renew our commitment to him, and to his style of success.
Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10
Psalms 45:10, 11, 12, 16
First Corinthians 15:20-26
Assumption - Aug 15, 2021
The world’s take on Mary is pretty lightweight, and the solemnity we celebrate today sheds a different light on Mary’s role in the history of salvation. We can let the world’s take on her influence our thinking and think she was a little protected Palestinian flower who God treated like a Jewish princess, but that does not cut it: Mary was the most perfect creature. So perfect she’s living the Apocalypse now.
Today we celebrate a path that we’re all called to walk: from here to Heaven. We celebrate Mary’s assumption, body, and soul, into Heaven after her time upon this world. Mary received the grace to be body and soul in Heaven along with her son. The other just souls that have preceded us are in Heaven, but they’re separated from their bodies until the Last Day when Our Lord raises everyone from the dead in the Last Judgment. Our Lord ascended into Heaven in glory; Our Blessed Mother was assumed into Heaven.
The First Reading today reminds us that Apocalypse and Revelation are synonymous. The apostle John had years to reflect on Mary’s Assumption, and in the First Reading, he tries to express her role in the Church yesterday, today, and forever. She is clad in the sun: in Revelation, the justified is simply clad in white, but Mary’s brilliant clothing shows the graces she’d received from God are even more dazzling. The moon is under her feet: as the most perfect creature, the heavenly bodies are subjected to her, not the other way around. Crowned with twelve stars: the queen of the apostles and the mother of the Church in the order of grace.
Totally beyond the dragon’s power: it can sweep the stars from heaven, but it cannot defeat the mother of God or her mission to be the mother of the Redeemer and our mother.
When the Jew’s Kingdom in this world, under Saul, then David, then Solomon fell flat, they looked forward to a Kingdom of the future, but the future Kingdom they had in mind wasn’t much different from the Kingdom they dreamed for in the here and now. Christ showed them the “Kingdom at hand,” and it wasn’t what they expected. It was a Kingdom only seen by faith, starting here and now in this world, and only achieving its full glory in the world to come.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that Christ was the first fruits of the definitive victory over death that was to come. In the end, “Jesus hands over the Kingdom to his God and Creator, … For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet … the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
The Assumption is God’s reminder of that victory to come. Whether Mary died at the end of her time on earth is not clear, but the decay of death did not spoil her. Taken up body and soul into Heaven, her Son’s final victory was shown in her. Through Mary’s fiat her desires for the Kingdom, which she sings for in the Magnificat, coincide perfectly with that reality to come, and she accepts it and strives for it with total faith.
Mary was no spared little flower. When the Kingdom took flesh in her womb she had Joseph to contend with, a flight to Egypt, thirty years of silence in Nazareth, three years seeing how many people did not accept her Son’s message, then Calvary and her greatest commission: to be the mother of the apostles and of the whole Church. She’s continuing that mission, body, and soul, from Heaven, showing us what is to come as long as we keep working and hoping.
In today’s Gospel Elizabeth rejoices that her cousin had come to visit, not just because she was glad to see her kin, but because Mary is aglow with accepting the invitation to become the Mother of God. John leaps in the womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Their missions are closely linked. Elizabeth blesses Mary because she “believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary was extraordinarily blessed because she believed in the Lord, and in the Assumption, we see that she believed in the Lord throughout her earthly life and beyond. Mary doesn’t take credit. She glorifies the Lord with her canticle, and now she does so in eternity.
Ask yourself, “Am I living the apocalypse now?”
Am I focusing all my efforts on my projects in the here and now, only to see failure after failure and despair on the horizon? Am I contenting myself now with petty emotions and crossed arms, hoping in a future when Christ returns to clean house with no effort required on my part? Or is my personal fiat like Mary’s, letting the Kingdom planted in my soul flower and grow through my daily struggles, failures, and victories, always keeping the Kingdom I ask to come every day in prayer on the horizon?
Heaven reminds us that suffering and trials are also gifts from God. It was not easy for Mary, but she made it. Mary’s Assumption reminds us of what awaits us if we accept suffering and trials with patience and faith, desiring to help Our Lord accomplish the work of redemption. Let’s pray today that Mary helps us make the journey to Heaven and one day shine there alongside her and her Son.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
22nd Sunday in OT - August 29, 2021
Today’s readings remind us that the source if good and evil is the heart, not external things. The heart is our inner sanctum where we can be pure or defiled, and both conditions try to go beyond their confines to influence the lives of others.
In today’s First Reading we’re reminded that the purpose of the Law is to enable us to grow closer to God and to show our intelligence and wisdom.
In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees had derived over six hundred rules and regulations from the Law, all derived from the Law spelled out in the Old Testament books (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, etc.).
However, they had lost sight of the fundamentals: love for God and neighbor, not just ritual cleanliness.
Moses reminds them today that the Law is to be followed so that they not only have intelligence and wisdom but show it.
Intelligence is something that shines from within. It’s not just the information we receive that counts, but how we process it and use it.
Wisdom influences how we perceive the world. It makes us see causes, connections, and consequences, and our actions show or disprove that we are wise.
In today’s Second Reading St. James reminds us that to please God we should strive “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
The “world” today believes that if something feels good, you should do it, but the world is also witnessing how much destructive behavior comes from following that principle.
We are wounded by original sin and our own sins; not everything as a result feels good that is good–addicts destroy themselves by trying to feel good.
Lots of behavior turns into compulsive behavior that we can’t control: this is a stained heart that Our Lord wants to make clean again through love and mercy.
The Pharisees in Our Lord’s earthly time were focused on externals and had lost sight of the bigger picture. Our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel that defilement comes from hearts and endangers other hearts, and we should strive to maintain a purity of heart, not just ritual cleanliness.
In today’s Gospel, using the example of dietary laws, Our Lord is teaching us that the “Devil made me do it” as an argument has no merit. The problem of evil has plagued man and philosophy almost since Creation, and a trend has always tried to blame God or other things as the cause of sin when all man needed to do was look in the mirror.
The Lord created everything good and for the good, but his creatures freely chose to do evil instead: the fallen angels, starting with the Devil, and humanity, starting with Adam and Eve. If the world is a mess, it is because we, sinners, made it so.
The dietary laws in Jesus’ time believed certain foods brought ritual contamination and, therefore, defiled a man; Mark makes a point of saying in his account that Jesus is teaching that there are no ritually impure foods.
It’s a teaching that even the first disciples would struggle with as they realized that Christianity was meant to go beyond the Jewish world and culture.
The Original Sin of Adam and Eve robbed us of something we, their descendants, couldn’t do without, and it is only thanks to the Redemption that their sin didn’t condemn us all to spiritual death.
However, Adam and Eve aren’t to blame for all of it: we too have sinned and continue to sin.
This sobering reality is not meant to discourage us; instead, it makes us realize that not only do we need Savior, but have one: Our Lord.
In 1978 a former city supervisor, Dan White, shot and killed San Francisco mayor George Moscone along with supervisor Harvey Milk.
As part of his defense, an expert witness testified that White had long battled depression, a fact that eventually reduced the charges to voluntary manslaughter.
During the expert testimony, it was mentioned that White’s change to junk food, such as Twinkies, was an indicator of the seriousness of his depression, since it represented a radical change of behavior for the previously diet-conscious White.
When White’s charged were reduced the media started reporting, erroneously, that the charges had been reduced because his defense had argued that Twinkies had altered his brain and were responsible for what he did.
This led to the expression “Twinkie defense” in the legal world: it came to represent the efforts of criminals to avoid responsibility for their actions by claiming that some external force beyond their control had caused them to act the way they had.
Our Lord gives a long list of things that come from defiled hearts and endanger other hearts, and they can all be traced back to someone going overboard in trying to feel “good” and dragging others into their behavior, even through their bad example.
St. James in the Second Reading may have spoken of charity toward widows and orphans, but acting in this disordered way is also a lack of charity toward others since it can lead them to ruin themselves spiritually.
Let’s ask Our Lord to practice charity with all our heart, not only caring for others but treating them with purity of heart and encouraging them to do the same. In that way, we’ll please God and remain close to him.
Psalms 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 26, 2021
It is not uncommon to hear Catholics who have fallen away from the Church complain about "Catholic guilt." They explain that as they grew up in the Catholic Church, they were constantly badgered about sin, and were taught that God is angry and vindictive, watching over our every move, just waiting for a chance to catch us doing wrong and condemn us. This negative view of God and religion stifled their spiritual growth, they go on to explain. They didn't think it was healthy, and they didn't like it, so one day they left the Church and simply didn't come back.
Today's Readings seem to fit right in with that kind of experience.
In today's Second Reading, St James is clear, direct, and forcible in his denunciation of sin. He reminds his readers that if they let greed dominate their lives, if they commit injustices against their neighbor in order to enjoy comfort themselves, they will not escape their punishment, and it will be a painful punishment.
Even today's Gospel passage chimes in on the same note.
Jesus uses language that we find shocking to convince us that sin is a horrible thing, the worst thing in the world, in fact. So far, the fallen away Catholic's critique holds true: the Catholic Church is energetically against sin; we believe that sin is real, destructive, and to be avoided at all costs. Sin is the number one enemy of God and the human race, and so it is also the number one enemy of each one of our lives, the biggest obstacle to the happiness and fulfillment we crave. But the next part of the fallen away Catholic's critique isn't so obvious - the part about God being constantly angry and our spiritual lives being stunted by guilt. In fact, that critique comes from a misunderstanding of what the Church teaches about guilt.
If we can have in our minds the right understanding of guilt, we may be able to avoid straying off the good path ourselves, and help our wandering brethren come back into friendship with Christ.
Basically, there are two kinds of guilt: good guilt and bad guilt.
Good guilt is like a spiritual nervous system. Our physical nervous system is designed at least in part to help us recognize and avoid physical danger. So, for example, when we touch a hot piece of metal, our immediate reaction is to pull away, so we don't get burned or damaged by it. Or, to take another example, if smoke from a fire starts seeping into a room, we start finding it hard to breathe; we start coughing. These are signs from our physical nervous system that we better get out of that room before we suffocate.
Imagine if your nervous system was malfunctioning, and it wasn't able to warn you about bodily threats - you would be in an extremely dangerous situation. Well, good guilt, healthy guilt, performs this same function for our souls. Physical health is good for our bodies in the same way as moral health is good for our souls. And moral health means doing good actions and avoiding evil actions. If our conscience is in good condition, it will register guilt when we commit, or toy with committing, evil actions.
That guilt is a warning against performing or persisting in evil actions, because committing evil damages our interior peace and integrity, just as a hot piece of metal will damage our skin and breathing smoke will damage our lungs. In this sense, the Bible's warnings against sin are not the expressions of an angry and vindictive God. On the contrary, they are a sign of God's infinite love; he knows that committing evil, even though it sometimes appears to give us a short term benefit, is destructive, both for ourselves and for others.
In fact, the "punishment" for sin isn't something that God adds on, the way a judge in a court of law sentences a criminal. Rather, it consists precisely in the pain and misery caused by the sin itself - just as the child who plays with knives even when his parents warn him not to suffers pain and misery when he cuts himself. It would be a mean and selfish God that didn't warn us about the destructive consequences of evil actions. But it is a good and wise God who has given us the gift of a conscience, which helps us experience good guilt to warn us against committing sins, and to move us to repent if we have committed them.
The second kind of guilt is bad guilt.
This occurs when we feel guilty without having done anything wrong. This is the kind of unhealthy guilt that can stifle our spiritual and emotional maturity by leading to moral confusion. Unhealthy guilt makes us blame ourselves for things that are not blameworthy, or for things that we had no responsibility for. When we do that, we become emotionally and spiritually tangled up, almost paralyzed. This is because there is no escape from this feeling of guilt: we cannot be forgiven for something we were not responsible for, or for something that wasn't a sin. And so, this guilt becomes like a cul-de-sac; we go round and round in our minds trying to find mercy and a fresh start, but we can't.
It drains our energy and inhibits us from growing in our friendship with God and others, because we don't feel worthy of their love, and so we keep them at a distance.
In either case, whether we are dealing with good guilt or bad guilt, the remedy is the same: returning to the loving embrace of God our Father. If we are experiencing good guilt, we need to repent and ask for forgiveness and mercy, which Jesus Christ won for us by suffering on the cross. God never runs out of mercy; he is always eager to dish it out. If we are experiencing bad guilt, then we need to go to God in prayer, reading and reflecting on the Bible, God's own Word, which assures us, over and over again, that we are infinitely valuable in God's eyes, that he is always thinking of us, that we have nothing to fear. Today the Church is reminding us of the reality of sin, but it's a reminder that springs from wisdom and love.
This week let's share that reminder with someone who should be here with us today, but because of a misunderstanding about "Catholic guilt," they aren't. And as we continue with this Mass, let's pray for all our brothers and sisters who have wandered away from the path of salvation.
Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
October 3, 2021 – 27th Sunday in OT (Feast of St. Francis of Assisi)
Today we honor St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved saints of the church. Most of us think of Francis as the patron saint of animals and creation. When we think of him, we may think of a St. Francis statue in a garden. We may think of various images of him preaching to birds. Some of us may even recall that tale where Francis negotiated peace between a village and a wolf that had been terrorizing the town. That is why when we celebrate St. Francis’ feast, we also bless animals – the creatures that were so dear to him. That is also why we often worship outside – honoring God’s creation, which Francis loved so profoundly.
The challenge with honoring Francis in this way is that we forget the other parts of Francis’ life – quite frankly, the much more difficult parts of St. Francis’ life. You see, Francis’ love of creation comes from a deeper place. Francis first started his journey to God out of a new relationship with wealth. Francis was the son of a wealthy businessman in the 1100s. He had everything at his disposal, and his father wanted him to enjoy that privilege and pass that privilege to Francis’ own children. But in his early twenties, Francis had an encounter with a beggar that changed everything. Suddenly the trappings of wealth no longer felt like a safety net or source of comfort – they feel like a burden – a barrier to the life Christ calls us to lead.
And so, Francis renounced the wealth in his life, reportedly even stripping off the clothes his father had given him to show how fully committed he was to this new way of life. He married “Lady Poverty,” and invited others to join him. The lifestyle is so austere that many joke that that Francis is one of the most revered, and yet, least followed saints of our faith.
I remember in college having long conversations about living in solidarity with the poor. We were presented the idea over and over again, but we could not get our heads around what living in solidarity with the poor meant. Several graduates tried – volunteering for at least a year after college. Some joined intentional Christian communities, in the hopes that living simple lives in community might help them get closer to that solidarity. Some traveled to impoverished countries to serve among the poorest, while others worked in the nonprofit sector in the States. But we always came back to one crucial question: can we live in solidarity with the poor? Most of us have a safety net, whether our safety net is family, wealth, education, or citizenship. Can we even help the poor if we renounce everything like Francis?
I must confess, I do not think there is a good answer to the question about living in solidarity with the poor. And I am not convinced that most of us can live like Francis, begging and living in tattered clothes. But what Francis is trying to do is help us see how money gets in the way of our relationship with everything else. That is why Jesus talked about money so much. Jesus even led a life much more similar to Francis’ than ours – wandering through life, depending on the hospitality of strangers, and telling his disciples to give up staffs and bags when they go out to meet the people. Both Jesus and Francis began to learn that living without the comfort of wealth meant entering oneself into a state of vulnerability – a state where true, holy, meaningful relationships begin; a state where everything’s value changes – down to the birds that sing, the creation that breathes beauty, and even the pets that show us unconditional love.
Of course, each of us has to discern what taking up Jesus’ or Francis’ way means for us, knowing that many of us have family obligations and debts that must be managed. But what Jesus and Francis do today is invite us to not allow those burdens to become an excuse for not making ourselves vulnerable. Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” For those of you who may have worked with farm animals, you know that yokes are meant to fit smoothly on to animals, distributing the weight and burden in a manageable way. That is what taking on the yoke of Christ, and walking the way of Francis is like – a life, that if taken on, is manageable. We may be scared to put on our shoulders the burden of vulnerability. But Jesus promises the burden is light, the yoke is easy. And Francis shows us the world of beauty that opens when we simply let go.