St. Dorothy Catholic Community Orlando/Winter Park, Florida
Isaiah 22:15, 19-23
Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
21st Sunday in OT - August 23, 2020
Where is truth? Where is reality? Where is God? In today's Gospel I think Jesus is showing us where to look. He asked the disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" He was interested in the perceptions and feelings in the locality in what we would now call the signs-of-the-times. They answered that some said he was Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then he asked them, "Who do you say that I am?" He wanted to find out the truth they felt and heard from within. When Peter professed his faith that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God, Jesus replied, "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, because no mere man revealed this to you but the Father who is in heaven." Truth and knowledge and experience of God come from around us, within us and above us. These are not in competition with one another but complementing one another. To have a perception that is as balanced and as whole as possible of God, we must be in touch, as fully as possible, with all of these sources.
The two questions, "whom do people say that I am?" and "whom do you say that I am?" and the response that there are other things that come from above, open up a wider vision of where to find God. The first question makes us look for truth in history, sociology, anthropology, culture, in the concerns and aspirations of our times like feminism and concern for the environment. It opens us up to a God (and a church) who are to be perceived and responded to in the world around us. The question, "who do you say that I am?" opens up the world of psychology and spirituality. It makes us alert to a God who dwells in the cave of our heart. Finally, the message that is given from above opens us up to the very necessary world and Church of theology, institution, scholarship and worship.
Starting from these questions we can identify three ways of being Church; the communitarian, the mystical and the institutional. If the church itself is to be healthy these need to be working together in a balanced harmony.
The communitarian church relates to the Emmanuel God, the God-with-us. For this way of being Church the primary place in which to hear God and to answer God is in people and situations. It is a Church which empowers us to use our God-given gifts to provide for our wants, and calls us to make a prophetic stance at times. It is a Basic Ecclesial Community Church. One of the great happenings of our time is the shift of focus from the primary location of God in heaven to seeing him and responding to him in the community, the people of God.
The mystical church is the church of the Spirit that dwells in our hearts. It is being in touch with the source of life within - to drink from one's own well. The relationship with God is immediate, it is not mediated by ritual or people or situations. It is a relationship which brings us more and more to transcend wanting and just be and enjoy and respond to the abundance of God's goodness in the world around us. It brings us into a nonviolent partnership with God rather than a self-centered effort to direct him and his work. It releases an abundance of energy for relevant action in the world. It is a spirit-filled, rather vague, unstructured church.
The institutional church relates to a God "out there." It relates to God and mediates God to us mainly through sacraments, devotion and ritual. It asks God to intervene in our world and provide for our wants. It tries to manage the bookkeeping for God. It gives us a framework of meaning; it provides the security of authority and continuity of teaching. The institutional model of being church has been dominant for the centuries leading up to the Second Vatican Council. When most people thought of God they thought only of the God out there in heaven; when they thought of the Church they thought only of the institutional church.
One of the great insights of Fr. John Main was to see that renewal of the church would have to be contemplative renewal; a rediscovering of the Spirit that is within. Not only did he rediscover it but he gave us a simple way of getting in touch with it - through the twice daily saying of the mantra or prayer word for 20 to 30 minutes.
The Spirit within us is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. The Spirit within us should be our first place of prayer. It should be our first but not our only place of prayer. Our towns have water supplies. Most of these originate in a lake or reservoir. The water is then pumped to a tank on an elevated place. After that it is allowed to flow by gravity, bringing this essential for living to the faucets of taps in our homes, gardens and places of work. The water in the lake, tank or faucet is the same water. When on a picnic you may go to the lake and take a pail full of water directly from it. You may rush, as the fire engine does, to get water from the tank. Normally, however, for your day to day usage, you will turn on your tap or faucet right there in your home if you need water.
So, too, we can and should turn to God our Father/Mother/Creator on whom we depend for all. This is the main emphasis, but not the exclusive one, when we go to church and worship. When we read the Scriptures and reflect on the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, we are principally but not exclusively growing in relationship with Jesus, the companion God, who became one of us. But just as we turn to the faucet within our house for our day to day water needs, so too, our day to day relationship with God will principally be with the Spirit who dwells within us and who helps us to express God in and to the world.
Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 30, 2020
Jesus Christ loves us enough to tell us the truth about ourselves. Those who selfishly use other people instead of seeking their authentic good rarely tell them hard truths. It's too risky. Pointing out their failings may result in offense and rejection - like the parents who are afraid to discipline their child. But love will take the risk, because love always goes after what is best for the beloved. A true friend will tell you when you're wrong, so that you can straighten out.
Christ is a true friend, and he shows it in this conversation with St Peter. Jesus just finished elevating Peter to a position of prominence in the coming Kingdom, the passage we just listened to follows immediately the one where Christ dubs him the "rock" upon which he will build his church. But then Jesus makes the shocking announcement that he is going to suffer greatly and be killed - he predicts his passion.
Peter, puffed up with naïve self-importance, takes the Lord aside and disagrees with him. That's when Christ comes down hard on him - very hard, calling him "Satan" and telling him that he is thinking like a pagan, not like one of his followers. Only a true friend would do something like that.
Not everyone liked Jesus. Many Pharisees and Scribes positively hated him and had been plotting his death almost since the beginning of his ministry. When Jesus made his speech about the importance of the Eucharist, of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to receive eternal life, most of his followers walked out on him. Here too, by being so firm with Peter, he was risking a walk-out. But in every case, Jesus cared less about personal popularity than about the saving truth. He is a friend we can count on.
Being honest about the hard truths got Jesus in trouble - in fact, it got him crucified. It also got the Old Testament prophets in trouble, and Jeremiah, the author of today's First Reading, is a prime example.
He lived in Jerusalem in the final years before that city was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians, in 588 BC His God-given task was to warn the Israelites that if they didn't repent and return to the commandments and the faith of their fathers, disaster would strike. No one wanted to hear that, especially not the corrupt rulers, so they tried to silence him. They spread lies about him, accusing him of sins he never committed. They imprisoned him more than once. One time some false prophets even threw him into an old well, filled with mud, and left him there to die. Another time the king asked him to write down his prophecies, and when the scroll was read in the king's presence, he became so infuriated that he ripped up the scroll, threw the pieces into the fire, and then had Jeremiah arrested. And yet, God continued to give Jeremiah the courage to speak the hard truths, to warn the Israelites, encouraging them to repent.
This experience of speaking the saving truth even at great personal cost is what Jeremiah describes in today's Reading: "...the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself... I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." Jeremiah was a preview of Jesus. Jesus loves us too much to hide the hard truths - even if he knows that we don't always want to hear them.
Jesus tells us the hard truths we need to hear; he loves us too much to put his own comfort ahead of our spiritual and moral well-being. During this Liturgy, we should thank him for being a true friend, and let his love give us comfort and confidence. But we should also ask ourselves a difficult question.
What kind of friend are we being to Jesus? Jesus cares about this; he doesn't want a one-way relationship. There are at least two ways we can check up on this.
First, are we honest with him in prayer? It is easy for us to turn our prayer into an exterior exercise in good manners rather than a real, heart-to-heart conversation. Jesus is our King, but he is also our older brother, the kind of brother who really cares, who you can talk to about anything. Is that the kind of relationship we have with him?
Second, are we courageous about speaking the hard truths to others? Jesus died for every sinner, and he wants to save all of us - our neighbors, our cousins, our coworkers, our teammates... everyone.
And we are his messengers - messengers of his love.
That means that sometimes it's up to us to tell people the hard truths that no one else will tell them, the ones that they really need to hear, so that they don't damage their souls, their lives, and their futures. This doesn't necessarily mean going to football practice wearing a chastity sign. But it does mean reaching out to your buddy who is struggling with temptation and helping him make the right decision.
The best way to thank Jesus for being such a faithful friend to us is to be a faithful friend to him in return.
Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 6, 2020
Nobody likes to be corrected. It tweaks our ego, and it is often badly done or consists of someone making snide comments or berating us because we’ve done something they don’t like. Fraternal correction can also sting, but it has the good of the corrected person in mind. Today’s readings remind us that correction when done fraternally, can be a great act of charity that we should appreciate and practice for the good of others.
In today’s First Reading God reminds Ezekiel, and us, that it is our moral responsibility to warn a brother or sister that they are doing something evil. It’s our duty to inform people of the consequences of their evil actions.
When the Lord first asked Cain about the murder of Abel, he phrased it in a way that tried to help Cain realize he was responsible for his brother: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain responded, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”. We are all our brother’s keeper.
Today in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, racial unrest, political unrest, we live in a world that teaches us at times to mind our own business, but that doesn’t include someone who is drowning, at the mercy of criminals, or committing a crime themselves. Our society is full of initiatives to help others turn from their errors and faults: from programs for “at risk” youth to drug rehab to penitentiaries, but none of them has the same power as a brother or sister who genuinely cares and takes an interest in someone on the wrong path.
God is telling Ezekiel today, and us, to inform consciences out of charity, not to force them onto the right path. If we love someone, we cannot leave them in ignorance about the errors and bad judgements which they’re doing.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that every just law is built on love, and if we focus on loving and teaching others to love everything else will fall into place. Society has many laws and measures today that are built on justice, but not always enforced with love.
Deeper than the labels of “suspect,” “victim,” “criminal,” there is only one label that matters: “brother/sister.” St. Paul simply repeats what Jesus himself answered when the scribe asked him what was the greatest commandment regarding each other: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Fraternal correction is not returning evil for evil, no matter what our brother/sister has done.
In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that before entering into litigation with someone who has wronged us we should try simple fraternal correction. Our society today tends to try and resolve disputes through rules and regulations, lawyers and courts, fines and penalties or even through violence. We often try from the beginning to get justice from someone through someone else, when we know that nobody reacts well to being pressured into doing something. We should always try to start by settling a dispute fraternally: one on one, in frank but charitable dialogue.
We should not only seek our good, but the good of the person who has afflicted us, and we won’t completely understand their motives if we don’t speak to them. There are many small disagreements that can be resolved this way and to everyone’s satisfaction. If an attempt at fraternal correction fails it is not a lack of charity to bring witnesses in and, if necessary the authorities be they civil or church, to help both parties see the truth and adhere to it.
Justice is sought, but the good of both parties as well. If the guilty party does not listen to all the facts and an authoritative judgment, then the guilty party has been shown to not be in communion with those he or she has afflicted, and that has to be acknowledged, sometimes publicly.
There’s a false story as detailed on snopes.com that has floated around for the last twenty years on the Internet, but, as a joke, it is worth telling to illustrate our point.
On a foggy night, a large ship saw a smaller ship on the sea and realized that they were on a collision course. The large ship made radio contact and asked the other ship to change course slightly. The request was calmly declined. Angry and astonished, the large ship identified itself with all its titles and demanded to be heeded: “This is the U.S.S. BIG NAVAL SHIP, and there will be serious consequences if you don’t change course immediately! Over.”
The response? “This is a lighthouse. Over.” The small “ship” was actually a lighthouse and the U.S.S. BIG NAVAL SHIP, for all its fuming, was headed straight for the rocky coast.
Fraternal correction is simply pointing out that someone is on a collision course. They can stay on course if they wish, but it’s inadvisable.
Some people may be eager to go out and start correcting, but there is a fine line between judging and correcting. Jesus taught us, take care of the beam in your eye before you help your brother/sister with the splinter in theirs. If we’re going to inform other peoples’ consciences, we need to make sure to form our own.
Reading Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good way to deal with the beam in your eye so that you can better help your brother/sister with removing the splinter from theirs.
The best remedy to being judgmental is to remember that we are all people in need of grace and guidance. As one of the options for the penitential rite at the start of our Liturgy we say: “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…”
With a healthy dose of humility and self-knowledge, you’ll be ready to help your brother/sister as a fraternal sibling.
Sirach 27:30 - 28:9
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2020
Life is complicated. As we go through life, we run into problems and dilemmas; questions come to the surface; doubts and difficulties confuse us. Unfortunately, we don't always go to the right place for answers. We have a tendency to try and fix everything ourselves, to measure out these difficulties according to limited, human yardsticks. Sometimes we use our own, and sometimes we use one from a popular writer, speaker, or website.
But Jesus came to earth precisely because he knew that human yardsticks are not good enough for our dilemmas. We need to learn to measure all things according to Christ’s standards. We need to bring our questions to him, just as St. Peter did in today's Gospel passage.
This passage immediately follows Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve about being good shepherds. We can imagine the disciples discussing those instructions, maybe even arguing about how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep, if it keeps wandering away. Rabbinic teaching in those days placed the limit of forgiveness at three times; a fourth offense was not to be forgiven. Maybe St. Peter was proposing to increase the limit to seven times, in light of Christ’s teachings, and some of the others were sticking the traditional view.
To resolve the argument, he goes to Jesus. That was the right thing to do. The buck stops with Jesus; he is the final word God has spoken to us. In him we find the answers we need for every dilemma.
Like St. Peter, we should bring our questions to Jesus in prayer; we should cast the light of the Church’s guidance on our moral and intellectual quandaries; and then, also like Peter, we should accept Christ’s solution.
One of the great women mystics of the Middle Ages was St. Hildegard. She was a noblewoman who consecrated her life to God at a very early age, and eventually became abbess of a Benedictine monastery in Germany. Besides her attractive virtue and her wisdom in ruling her growing monastery, St. Hildegard was also given the mystical privilege of visions and private revelations. And that's when her life got complicated.
At the time, back in the twelfth century, the Catholic Church in Europe was still a relatively new religious institution. The work of evangelizing the pagan tribes of northern Europe was still going on. As a result, superstition and various forms of dramatic spiritual warfare linked with left-over pagan practices were rampant.
When St. Hildegard started having her visions and revelations, she became afraid that they were tricks of the devil. She needed a dependable yardstick to bring peace to her soul. So she recorded her visions and submitted them to her spiritual director. Then she decided to submit them also to one of the other great saints of Europe at that time, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Finally, they were submitted to the Pope, who authorized her to publish her writings widely and speak publicly about all that God was showing her.
This determined and humble submission to Christ's authority as delegated to the Church not only brought peace to her soul, but it also allowed her personal gifts to bear fruit for the whole Church. You can still read her writings today, and even listen to some of the music that she composed. Christ is the sure yardstick for all of our confusions and dilemmas. And when we bring our questions to him through his chosen representatives, we too can achieve interior peace and assure the supernatural fruitfulness of our lives.
Life is complicated, tangled with dilemmas, questions, and problems. Jesus is the only sure way out of the tangle. But to follow Jesus, to really make Christ our yardstick, requires a fundamental decision. At some point, every one of us has to make this decision. Unfortunately, too many of us wait too long before doing so. St. Paul explains what this decision is in today's Second Reading.
He tells the Romans: None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other.
In other words, in order to fill our lives with the light and strength of Jesus, we have to decide to live and die for Jesus, to belong to Jesus. We have to give our lives to him. We can't just be labeled “Catholic” on the outside; we have to invite Jesus to come into our hearts and allow him to be our teacher, our friend, our Savior, and our King.
One reason we sometimes delay making this surrender of our lives to Christ is because of our faults and errors. We feel unworthy, unlovable. But today's Gospel reminds us that God's mercy is unlimited, if only we are willing to confess our faults and errors and accept his forgiveness.
Another reason we delay making this commitment to Christ is because we are afraid of giving up our own plans and hopes. But God's plans and hopes are infinitely more wonderful than anything we could come up with on our own, as today's Psalm reminds us: "As the heavens tower over the earth, so God's love towers over the faithful."
As we continue with this Mass, let us open our confused, complicated, and yearning hearts to Jesus, maybe for the very first time, and invite him to be our way, our truth, and our life.
Nothing would please him more.