Monthly Archives: November 2015

Prayer for the Earth

Noah
Today the crucial world conference on the environment ( COP21 ) opens in Paris with over 145 nations participating. Pope Francis offered a prayer for the environment at the end of his encyclical Laudato Si. “All it takes is one good person” like Noah, the pope wrote. We ask God to bless those meeting in Paris with the spirit of Noah.
All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

1st Sunday of Advent: C Waiting for the Birth of a Child

Audio homily here:

We’re beginning the season of Advent, a season to get ready for the feast of Christmas and the birth of a Child. For four weeks we will light a candle reminding us of the Light to come. We will hear the Old Testament prophets who spoke of his coming, and John the Baptist and his mother Mary who welcomed him when he came.

But today’s readings seem to be getting us ready for the end of the world. And they are. How else can we read what Jesus says in Luke’s gospel?

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Sounds like a nightmare. And it is.

Now, a nightmare’s the last thing we want as we prepare for Christmas and the birth of a Child.
Why read scary things today that seem to echo today’s grim headlines about terrorism, planes shot down, people killed for no reason at all, climate change? We want normal lives. Like the people from the days of Noah whom Jesus describes, we’re looking for good, safe lives “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building” (Luke 17, 26-30) and seeing the birth of children. We’re looking for a peaceful world.

How shall we understand these readings that seem to describe, not only the reality of our world today, but a world in turmoil and falling apart? Is Jesus telling us, as we listen to them, that God is with us, not only when life is ordinary and good, but also when life holds wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecutions. God’s with us at all times, no matter what. God’s kingdom will come, no matter what. So don’t be afraid when you see signs like these, Jesus says. “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21,28)

Not a hair of our heads will be harmed; we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, we will have the wisdom to keep going, Jesus says.

At the same time, we’re told in the gospel not to live lives of denial or lives of escape. We can’t live unthinking lives, lives of “carousing and drunkenness.” Lives swallowed up by “the anxieties of daily life.“

In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us to live each day as best we can and take up the cross we have to bear each day as best we can. He gives himself to us as an example. As a Child born in Bethlehem, he lived under threats of death and eventually faced death; he lived most of his days in ordinary Nazareth and brief days when he was recognized for powerful deeds. Live each day as it comes, he says, not swallowed up by “the anxieties of daily life,” trapped by small concerns. Live each day as you’re given it; God is there in the ordinary day.

We’re in Advent, getting reading for the birth of a Child, a powerful Child who holds in his hands our future and the future of our world. This same Child is with us each day. We welcome him as the Lord who lives with us each day. The Child we welcome at Christmas is also the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven on the last day, bringing God’s kingdom and judging the living and the dead. He is our Savior and Lord.

Clay Feet

As the church year ends we read apocalyptic writings, the Book of Daniel and apocalyptic sections from the gospels.They’re about the future, the day of the Lord, when the kingdom of God finally comes and humanity and creation itself attain the goal intended by God from the beginning.

We’re like the people Jesus describes in Luke’s gospel, however, those in the days of Noah and the days of Lot who were “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.” (Luke 17, 26-30) We like our normal lives.

For that reason, these writings make us uneasy, because they point to a future that’s far from normal: “wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, awesome sights and mighty signs in the sky” (Luke 21, 7-28) And there’s persecution besides. We don’t want those things in our lives.

Jesus promises in these same readings that not a hair of our head will be harmed, that we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, that we’ll be able to give testimony, that we will have the wisdom to understand it all. But still, we’re unsettled by it all.

If faith helps us into the future and the life to come, what can these readings teach us?

The Book of Daniel, which we’re also reading at Mass this week, recalls King Nebuchadnezzar training Daniel and three other young Jewish exiles in Babylon to serve as his advisors. The king has a lot on his hands to deal with, and he needs a brain trust to help him see where he’s been and where he’s going. People in charge always need advice.

Daniel gives Nebuchadnezzar a picture of the future that he wasn’t expecting. Other empires will follow him and his kingdom will come to an end, Daniel tells him. The great powers of his world have clay feet; they collapse and fall to the ground. The only kingdom that endures is God’s kingdom, a stone hewn from a mountain.

Daniel wasn’t afraid to present the king with reality. Is that what we learn from apocalyptic readings? God works through reality, they tell us, whether wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecutions. Yet, the kingdom of God will come, no matter what. So don’t fear the future, whether your own or that of the world.

“When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21, 28)

Feast of Christ the King

Audio version here:

This Sunday for the Feast of Christ the King we’re reading from the Gospel of John. As you read John’s gospel, you notice that much of it is made up of the lengthy teachings of Jesus to his disciples and those who oppose him. At the Last Supper, for example, John gospel quotes extensively for almost five chapters what Jesus says to his disciples about who he is and what he wants them to be. “I am the vine, you are the branches…Love one another as I have loved you…Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” John’s gospel is filled with the words of Jesus.

But then, as Jesus leaves the supper room that night and crosses over the Kidron Valley, you notice he hardly says a word. It’s not the time for words; it’s the time to act, to be who he says he is, no matter what.

You notice in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus hardly answers those who come to take him. His words are few to the leaders of the people who bring him to trial. Then he’s brought before Pontius Pilate. This is one of the great scenes of the gospel story. Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Pilate in his fine robes seated on the raised judgment seat, where powerful Roman justice was meted out. The Romans didn’t like long trials; they were masters of quick judgments and getting things done.

Jesus stands below the Roman judge tied and beaten, soon to be scourged and crowned with thorns.

You can hear the sarcasm, the disdain in Pilate’s questions: “Are you the king of the Jews? …What have you done?” You can hear quiet, unshaken conviction in Jesus’ response. “I am a king, for this was I born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.”

John’s gospel has a way of presenting the story with wonderful irony. Pilate seems to be all powerful, in control of everything, but his power passes away. Even his sentence of death in overturned; Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus seems to be a condemned nobody, but he’s the stronger of the two. He knows who he is, he’s born a king, and that dignity never leaves him, whether he’s threatened, or ridiculed, or made fun of, or beaten, or put to death. He knows he’s a king. He’s knows he tells the truth, no matter what. He knows that ultimately truth wins out, because God is true.

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate,” In those words our creed summarize the whole story of his passion of Jesus. They can summarize our lives too. How hard that is to understand, but think about it. When we see Jesus, we see ourselves. We say, “I’m not a king; I’m not God made flesh.” That’s true. But we’re children of God, given life by God, made for a purpose. We have a mission in this life. Jesus himself says we have, and he is with us to accomplish that mission.

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Is there a way we do that too? Well, can the powers of this world, the day by day world, the official world, the world of leisure, the world of culture–can that world intimidate us, threaten us, ridicule us, make fun of us, question our truth, frighten us to death? Sure it can. We can all suffer under Pontius Pilate.

And so we come to the Lord who did that once, and ask him to stand with us and make us strong and remind us who we are and feed us with the bread of the strong and wisdom of truth.

Friday Thoughts: To All Gathered in Thought and Prayer

by Howard Hain

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Jesus Christ is Real.

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He is not made of wood or ink or paint. He is not a distant figure from a distant past. He is here. We gather in His name—He is here. He is as real as each one of us. He is what makes each one of us real.

The message is simple:

He is the Son of God. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. He is Love. He is Forgiveness. He is Humility. He is Boldness and Obedience.

He is Lord. He is God. He is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

He is Christ Jesus, and He is Real.

I see Him now in each of you. I say to Him, I say to you: “I love You, my Lord and my God.”

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Now, let us go and tell others…

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egon-schiele-conversion-78198

Egon Schiele, “Conversion” (1912)

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And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

— Matthew 28:20

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The Last Days

Pope Benedict XVI said that the Old and New Testament readings about the last days, read during the final days of our church year, are the hardest readings to preach about. The last days, when “he will come to judge the living and the dead,”  are hard to understand.

Speaking about the last days, Jesus sometimes uses images of natural disasters that turn everything upside down, like floods, earthquakes, plagues and famines, when “awesome sights and signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21,11) Who can bear them?

Sometimes our readings use actual historic events experienced by the Jews or Jesus and his disciples, like the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem  in 70 AD and the persecutions that followed.

The last days destroy the normal world we’re used to. They end what we know and bring us to the unknown. They will be unpredictable and challenging, yet his disciples should face them bravely, Jesus says. They’re a time for testimony Don’t worry about what words to say or what you are going to do:  “I myself shall give you a wisdom that all your adversaries will not be able to refute.” Don’t worry, “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”

Our days here and now can often seem like the last days.The terrorist attack in Paris last week qualifies as a sign that frightens us.  I heard someone say recently he thought the world ended when his marriage broke up. It took him years to get over it.  Present days can seem like the last days.

Jesus offers us the same advice and promise for these last day experiences.  Faith is our strength.  We will discover the wisdom of God, which is always the wisdom of the cross. Don’t worry, “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.”

33rd Sunday B: When the Stars Fall

Audio  homily here:

Pope Benedict said before his retirement that the gospels about the end of time, which we’re reading these Sundays at Mass, are the hardest gospels to preach about. I think he’s right. What can we say about a time when everything in our world is turned upside down? The sun is darkened, the moon doesn’t give light, stars fall from the sky. A frightening time, a time of tribulation, the gospel says, hard to imagine, harder to explain.

We want a solid, predictable life and we like a solid predictable life, where the sun shines, there’s day and night, and the ground is solid under our feet.

That’s the world Jesus and his disciples were experiencing in today’s gospel. They’re on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, with its superb view of the great city and its evirons. It’s shortly before he’s arrested and put to death. They have just come from the temple which was then almost completely rebuilt by King Herod, one of the master builders of the time.

His disciples were delighted with the beauty of the place. “Look, teacher, how wonderful those buildings are.” Not only were they admiring the temple and the city before them, but in a way this was now their city. Crowds had welcomed them and brought Jesus into the city in triumph when they had come up from Galilee. The city’s leaders, even though they saw Jesus as a threat, feared to act against him. In a way Jesus and his disciples owned this place.

“Do you see those great buildings?” Jesus said to them, “There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.” His words came true some time later, in 70 AD, when Roman armies completely destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple, not leaving one stone upon another.

That tragedy was some years off, when Jesus spoke, but very shortly they faced a tragedy of another kind. That was the death of Jesus himself, who had become so much a part of their life. He would be arrested and abused and killed on a cross, and they did not expect it all. Instead of the promise of a solid, successful life, which he seemed to bring them, their world came crashing down.

This gospel certainly reminds us that however solid and permanent our world may seem the time will come when the Lord will judge the living and the dead. We don’t know the day or the hour.

But let’s remember too that this gospel is also about our time, when our own worlds may seem to end. Tragedies of every kind can do that to us: sickness, failure, disappointments, death. Things we did not expect at all. These are times when the sun goes dark, the moon gives no light, and the stars fall from he skies.

God can seem far off at these times, maybe not there at all. Our lives may seem ready to end. There’s no hope we can see. But listen again to the words of our Lord. Times like these are not the end. God’s still with us; God’s love never ends.

“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

Jesus is our Savior. What he said to his disciples he says to us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”