Tag Archives: Florida

An Unclean Spirit

Our gospel today is from the first chapter of Mark.  Jesus has come from his baptism in the River Jordan,  gathered disciples and is living at Peter’s house in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. He enters the synagogue in the town and amazes people with his teaching. They’ve never heard anyone like him.

But a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit challenges him.  I’m not sure what an unclean spirit is, and neither do most of the commentators on this gospel. The man certainly reacts violently to Jesus, shouting out:
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1,21-28)

In other words: “Keep away from us; you’re only going to bring us trouble.” The man just wants to be left alone. Even in the synagogue he wants to be left alone. Even if Jesus is from God, the man just wants to be alone. “Get away from us!” he says.

That strong reaction to Jesus was not limited to the synagogue in Capernaum. It continued as he made his way to Jerusalem. The rejection was sometimes strong, sometimes people just ignored him. Mark see that rejection as diabolic.

No matter how wise his teaching, how compassionate his healing, how loving his words, Jesus was rejected.  In the end, his enemies killed him.

We believe the gospel repeats itself, and so it’s repeated today as we hear it.  “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Can we reject Jesus too? As we sit in our synagogue today, do we reject him in signs of his presence and in faith?

Belief in Jesus Christ is at the heart of everything. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Believing means hearing Jesus, listening to him, offering ourselves to him, entering into friendship with him, hoping in his strength, waiting patiently to receive what he promises.

Believing is not something we do occasionally; we believe day by day. There’s always the danger of losing faith in him. “Leave us alone,” we say, “You want to destroy us.” We can prefer isolation to communion with the One God has sent.

So maybe an unclean spirit is not rare at all. Maybe we could call it that cloudy, dark spirit that can take hold of us, so we don’t see the light. Deliver us, Lord, from an unclean spirit.

Rejection of Jesus was not unusual in his day, as the gospel of Mark reminds us, and it’s not unusual today. Today, however, it’s influenced by some different factors.

For example, our western world resists the idea of Jesus as a unique Savior and Teacher. We live in a pluralistic society, and so when we say Jesus is a unique Savior and Teacher, we seem to deny the truth in other religions and religious teachers.

What about the Dalai Lama? What about Buddhism, Hinduism, the religion of native Americans? Don’t they teach the truth? When you claim that Jesus is unique, do we deny there’s truth in other religions and religious teachers?

In answer to that, we can say that we believe a human search for God goes on from the beginning of the human race. The human spirit is always searching for God and its search has been blessed by wisdom and spiritual insight. So other religions religions have been blessed with truth.

But the uniqueness of Jesus comes from the fact that God approaches us.  He sends us his Son. Jesus is his Word to us. His revelation is something we couldn’t arrive at on our own. We didn’t earn it. “This is my beloved Son, hear him,” God says from the heavens when Jesus is baptized. God takes the initiative and calls us into friendship with him, eternal friendship. It’s a promise beyond what we could dream of.

And Jesus not only promises new life, but he takes away what hinders us from enjoying a life with God. He takes away sin. He took away the unclean spirit that was there in the man in the synagogue.

I think there are other factors today that contribute to the rejection of Jesus, particularly in our western world. We’re proud of our individuality and there’s a fear following Jesus causes us to lose our own personalities and dreams. Jesus will take over our lives and impose on us a mold of his own.  We don’t like losing our individuality–not at all.

There’s a fear too that a code of morality will be imposed on us that will deaden our lives and make us scared to love and to live. For many Christianity appears to be a religion of cold moralism, but it isn’t.

The man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit may not be too far from us, then. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus cried out. We may need that healing ourselves.

Palm Sunday

We call this week “Holy Week,” because it’s the week the church follows Jesus closely to his death and resurrection. Today we go with him into Jerusalem where people clapped their hands and shouted out his name and sang his praises; a few days afterwards they put him to death by crucifixion.

This is a week to ask “Who is this?” and “Why did this happen to him?” We ask these questions because they answer the great questions of life. “Who are we?” and “Why are we here?”

Jesus Christ came upon earth, not just to teach us but through his death to take away the death we all face, and through his resurrection to give us the promise of life, eternal life.

The first few days of Holy Week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the gospel readings follow Jesus as he prepares to die. He stays away from the temple area in Jerusalem where he spoke previously to mostly hostile listeners. In these first days of Holy Week he looks for the company of “his own,” his friends in Bethany and the disciples who have followed him up from Galilee.

On Thursday of Holy Week Jesus goes with his disciples into the city, to an upper room near the temple, and at that meal he offers himself to his Father as a new sacrifice for the life of the world.

On Good Friday he faces death on a cross in a drama that has never been equaled and has hardly been understood.

Holy Saturday is a day when the world is silent. Like the disciples of Jesus before us, we wait with the little faith and hope we have for the light that will come from the empty tomb.

Easter Sunday Jesus Christ rises from the dead.

This week at Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach, Florida, I’m preaching a mission for the first three days of Holy Week. My reflections will be mostly from the Gospel of Mark, but they will include the other scriptures that speak of the mysteries of Holy Week.

On Monday, I’ll speak about the supper at Bethany and the Last Supper in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday I’ll speak about the Passion narrative of Mark from the arrest of Jesus in the Garden to his burial in the tomb.

On Wednesday, I’ll speak about his Resurrection from the dead as the scriptures describe it.

Ponce de Leon

Just down the road from Immaculate Conception Parish here in Melbourne Beach is a small park on the beach commemorating the spot where the Spanish explorer and 1st Governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon (1475-1521) touched down in Florida in April 2, 1513. He came with three ships and over 200 crewmen, looking for gold and new land for Spain–not for the  “Fountain of Youth” as later legend claimed.

He called the land “Florida” because it was the Easter season, in Spanish “Pascua florida,”  “Easter of the flowers.”

There’s going to be a big celebration here next April, 2013, 500 years after his arrival.

Certainly, that day brought grief to the native peoples, many of whom suffered death and enslavement at the hands of the newcomers. The Spaniards who came were battle-hardened veterans of the recent triumphant campaign against the Moors and they used the tools of war to get their way.

So what’s to celebrate? Can we say this was in God’s plan that his kingdom come through Jesus Christ. The conquerors were Christians who came here, and  like their Jewish predecessors who invaded Canaan from the Sinai desert centuries ago,  they came by way of the sword. Unfortunately, we learn the teachings of Jesus slowly, “Put your sword into its place, for those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”

Religion, in spite of what many think, looks to the future more than the past. It’s about what is to come and how we can get there. Our nation is dedicated to Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception. She was free from the sin that marked her ancestors and ours. The dedication expressed a hope that this new land be unmarked by the old rivalries, ambitions and sins of the Old World.

That hope may still be unfulfilled, but it’s interesting that close by the site where Ponce de Leon came ashore, where the 500th anniversary celebration will occur next Easter, is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, dedicated to the humble woman who carried no sword.

Can our Catholic faith offer that noble hope for the years to come?

Resurrection Thinking

I spoke today, the final day of  our mission at Immaculate Conception Church, Melbourne Beach, Florida, about the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus, a crucial mystery of our faith. Each of the gospels presents it in its own way. Here’s a summary from a previous blog of mine.

A recent presentation on the Resurrection by Bishop Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, to the Catholic bishops of Italy, is particularly interesting. I put it on my blog last month.

I began my presentation talking about Harold Camping’s prediction from last spring that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. It didn’t, of course. But Harold’s thinking probably reflects the widespread gloom in our western world, in particular, about where the world is heading.

Our belief in the Risen Christ affects the way we see our church, ourselves and our world. We learn from this mystery to trust in the Risen Christ who King of all creation, our Way, our Truth and our Life. We need Resurrection Thinking.

Here’s a visual meditation on the Passion of Jesus from Rembrandt:

Mission at St. Thomas More: Tuesday Evening

Tuesday evening at our mission in St. Thomas More Parish, Sarasota, Florida, we’re going to reflect on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Those who can’t attend our service at 7 PM (and maybe some who attended too) may find this great presentation by Rembrandt something to study. He’s a great visual teacher of scripture.


Here’s some thoughts on it:

Rembrandt’s Crucifixion.

Light from above falls on this dreadful scene, falling first on Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World, even in this dark hour.

The same light bathes those on his left (Is it because blood and water from his pierced heart flows on them?). The thief, his face turned already toward Paradise, has a place among those who followed Jesus from Galilee. Some of them sit on the ground overwhelmed by it all; some comfort Mary his mother; some stand looking on. Mary Magdalene comes close to kiss his nailed feet.

The centurion kneels before Jesus and cries out his confession of faith, “Yes, this is the Son of God.” But his soldiers look ready to leave their grim duty for the barracks and dinner.

On the left, Jesus’ enemies are heading home too, into the darkness. The other thief’s face is turned to them, as if he wished he could go with them, away from this place.

But I notice some light seems to reach out to them too. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


Mission: St. Thomas More Parish, Sarasota, FL

I preached at all the Masses on Sunday at this vibrant parish which is now expanding its church. Wonderful music ministry and a large congregation, some fleeing from the cold of the north.

During the mission from Monday to Wednesday, I’ll be preaching in the morning after the 8 AM Mass and at an evening service at 7 PM.

You can find a  summary of the morning homily on this blog and a video outlining the evening service.

Here’s  video for the evening service:

Cleansing the Temple

3rd Sunday of Lent

John 2,13-25

All four gospels report this key incident in the temple of Jerusalem when Jesus drives out those who buy and sell things there. Keep in mind how important the temple was to the Jews and their spirituality at that time.

It was the center of Judaism. You can see how important the temple was by reading psalms like Psalm 27, one of many psalms that spoke of it:

There is one thing I ask of the Lord,

This I seek:

To dwell in the house of the Lord

all my days.

To gaze on the loveliness of the Lord,

to inquire in his temple.”

Psalm 27,1-4

The loveliness of God was in the temple; God was present there. You inquired about God in the temple precincts where the learned Jewish teachers taught.

John’s gospel, our reading today, says that Jesus went into the temple and drove out those who were buying and selling there, and unlike the other gospels that say it happened just before Jesus was arrested and tried and crucified, John’s gospel places it early on in Jesus’ ministry, some years before his passion and death.

John’s gospel may be more historically correct and it certainly explains an opposition to Jesus at the highest levels that began early in his ministry. If he came into the temple, the center of Jewish worship, and overturned the tables of those buying and selling in the Court of the Gentiles, what would he do next? As he became more popular, could he destroy this great building? The alarms went off; Jerusalem’s leaders were going to keep an eye on this troublemaker from Galilee.

When Jesus was finally put on trial, remember, one of the key charges against him was he said he was going to destroy the temple.

The question comes up: why did Jesus overturn the tables of the money changers and drive out those selling sheep and doves and oxen? Was it because there was a lot of corruption there. Someone was stealing the bingo money. But that reason doesn’t seem adequate. The temple was a place of sacrifice, you needed sheep and doves and to exchange money, especially tainted Roman money.

A few scholars say that Jesus secretly belonged to the Zealot party. The Zealots wanted to overthrow the existing order by violence.  In other words, Jesus was a terrorist. But that picture doesn’t match the picture the gospels give. On Palm Sunday he enters Jerusalem, not as an armed warrior in a chariot, but riding in a  humble donkey, unarmed, unprotected.

The most likely reason behind this incident is a symbolic reason. As so many of the prophets did before him, Jesus used prophetic gestures in his ministry. Here in the temple he turned over the tables to say “there’s a change coming! A radical change!”He turned the tables over in the Court of the Gentiles, that large expanse in the Jewish temple where gentiles, outsiders, non-Jews were permitted to come, to say “the gentiles are coming.”

The prophet Isaiah and other prophets before him had said, “all the nations shall come to this holy mountain. God wants all his people together, to know him and to live in peace. Jesus says “This is the time. All the nations are coming. Get ready for this great change. I am the new temple of God.”

In his recent book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict chooses this explanation for Jesus cleansing of the temple. A wonderful book on Jesus, by the way.

Drawing on that explanation, the pope urged recently that all of our churches have a Court of the Gentiles, where we welcome others, outsiders, to our church. We need that openness to others that Jesus had when he said “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

So if we are looking for a practical lesson from this gospel today, how about this:: Is the church we belong to open to everyone? Are strangers welcomed here? People who are different than we are, of a different race, a different culture, a different economic background?

The scriptures are challenging, aren’t they? Following Jesus Christ through Lent means being challenged by him again.

This week we’re beginning a Passionist Mission at St. Thomas More Parish, Sarasota, Florida.