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Parish Mission, Monday Night, March 30,2009

We Would Like To See Jesus
Lord Jesus Christ,
Once you passed along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and saw some fishermen working at their nets.
You called them and they followed you. You went into their homes and lived with them and their families and you changed their lives.
You call us too to follow you. Be with us where we live day by day. Strengthen our faith in you.
We would like to see you.

Peter, the Apostle

Readings:  St. Mark’s Gospel  1,16-33

Before the New Testament was written, people were telling stories of what they’d seen and heard about Jesus Christ. Peter, the fisherman from Galilee was one of them.

Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew as they tended their nets in the fishing town of Capernaum, along the Sea of Galilee. They followed him. Others soon joined them, mostly uneducated men and women.

They saw what Jesus of Nazareth did, they listened to him teach, they followed him to Jerusalem where he was crucified and died. Then, they saw him risen from the dead.

They came to believe that he was God’s Son, the Messiah sent by God to bring good news of life and hope to all creation.  Then, they went out into the world to tell others. And Peter was their leader.

Our faith rests on their preaching.

Preaching Apostles

Most of the first followers of Jesus were ordinary people from Galilee, with little education and knowledge of the great Greek and Roman world beyond them. They weren’t philosophers speculating about life, or people trying to cash in on Jesus’ celebrity.

They told what they had seen and heard to others. Their experience of Jesus was simple and powerful. From their lowly homeland, they traveled to every part of that world to tell about Jesus Christ.

When these eyewitnesses began to die, possibly from the years 40 to 70 AD, their recollections were written down and then collected into the gospels that we know today. But before we had books, we had people who spoke about Jesus  first hand from their experience of him.

Let’s look at one of them, Peter the Apostle.

The Preaching of Peter

We may be able to capture something of what Peter said about Jesus through the lens of the Gospel of Mark which, tradition says, is a summary of Peter’s preaching. It’s based, then, on what Peter said about Jesus as he went from place to place. Some scholars say the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome shortly after Peter died there by crucifixion around the year 67 AD.
Not all scholars agree with that theory, of course–that’s what scholars do, disagree–but it’s a solid opinion that Mark’s gospel substantially reflects what Peter as an eyewitness said about Jesus. And so it’s possible to read Mark’s gospel, not as the writing of an anonymous author, but as Peter’s account of Jesus.

Let’s consider two sections of the gospel¬– Mark 1, 16-33, which relates their meeting at Caphernaum along the Sea of Galilee and the surprising beginning of Jesus’ ministry in that town, and Mark 14, 17-72 which takes us to Jerusalem and Peter’s painful denial of Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemani.

Can we see in these accounts what Peter might say in his own words if he came into one of our congregations today?

Maybe he would start like this.

“ I’m here to bring you good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Prophet Isaiah said that God would send a messenger in the desert to prepare for the Messiah. Just before Jesus, John the Baptizer appeared in the desert, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He wore clothes of camel hair, with a leather belt around his waist and people came from all over Judea and Jerusalem to hear him. John told them to turn to God and confess their sins. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’
Then, Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the River Jordan and a voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
When Jesus came up from the water, he was led into the desert where he was tempted.
They arrested John, and Jesus came to Galilee– where I lived–saying that God’s kingdom was near, and we should believe.”

I’m sure Peter told his story with honesty and surprise.  I think you can still hear Peter’s excitement in Mark’s gospel.

Memories of Capernaum

Jesus calls Peter and Andrew from their fishing boat to follow him.  They take him to their home and he lives with them. He cures Peter’s mother-in-law. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and teaches there with authority. The people of Capernaum are astounded by his preaching. They’ve never heard anyone like him.

But then a man cries out. “Get out of here, Jesus of Nazareth. You’ve come to destroy us!”  The gospels say the man has an unclean spirit. I don’t know what that means, but someone like Peter would probably see the man as one of the first who would violently oppose Jesus.  Jesus drives the unclean spirit out of the man.

After Peter’s mother-in-law is cured, “That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed by demons. And the whole town was gathered around the door. And he cured many.

In the morning, while it was very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place and prayed.”  Peter and the others went looking for him. “Everybody’s looking for you.” they told him.
Let’s go to the neighboring towns and proclaim the message there too,” Jesus said, “for that’s why I came.” So they went to the towns and synagogues of Galilee.

Peter and the Mystery of Jesus

It was exciting but mysterious. It must have been puzzling to Peter, a simple fisherman used to routine. He believed in God, he believed that God was at work in the world, he believed a Messiah, the Christ, was coming. But how was God’s kingdom to come?

Jesus himself was a mystery, and Peter didn’t always understand him. Their thinking wasn’t always the same. At one point, Jesus called him “Satan”. But there was a bond between them that lasted. They were friends.

Jesus chose Peter, not because he was perfect, or because he was smart, or because he liked international travel, or because he was a good linguist. He wasn’t any of these. Peter mirrors the humanness we find in the church and in the world.

In Peter we see Jesus reaching out to engage humanity so frail and sinful. He’s reaching out to people like us. Peter is the rock on which Jesus builds his church, but he is hardly “rocklike.” He is rock because Jesus makes him so and sustains him.

“Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Peter says to Jesus. But Jesus does not depart from this sinful man. Holiness belongs to God, and he never abandons his church or the world, sinful and imperfect as it is.’

Peter’s Betrayal

The second selection from Mark’s gospel I’d like to consider is Mark 14,17-72, the account of Jesus’ arrest and trial. Peter denies he ever knew Jesus when a servant girl confronts him in the courtyard of the house of the High Priest.

If this section of the gospel represents Peter’s preaching, it indicates that Peter never toned down or omitted or excused himself from betraying Jesus. His betrayal and the entire story of the Passion of Jesus are stated bluntly in the gospel. Evidently, the apostle never omitted the story of his own cowardice during the Passion of Christ.

No doubt, Peter was a good man with natural gifts. He was a loyal Jew, a religious man–probably a good fisherman, a good businessman, a good family man. He seems to have been a natural leader.

But he was a sinner too. He didn’t know everything; he learned through time, and he learned through his own faults.

For him, the Passion of Jesus was a testimony that God forgives.  When they first met at the Lake of Galilee, Jesus invited him to follow him. When they met there after Jesus rose from the dead, after Peter’s betrayal, Jesus’ words were the same: “Follow me.””Feed my lambs, feed my sheep,” Jesus told him. Tell them what happened and tell them to follow me too.

Lessons for us and our world

Can Peter describe our relationship to Jesus Christ for us. Like him, we are unworthy friends, but he continues calling us to friendship. We sin, but he calls us anyway. He comes to stay in our homes, to be our teacher, our guide, our Savior. He is with us as our lives unfold, with mysteries of our own.

Jesus Christ is the image of God who loves the world and reaches to save it.
Can Peter tells us something about the nature of our church? I don’t have to tell you we don’t live in a perfect church. Our church is capable of sublime actions, we have extraordinary saints, but it’s also weak and sinful and sometimes scandalous. “We have to suffer as much from the church as for it, “ Flannery O’Connor, the writer, once wrote.

Can Peter tells us something about how God looks at our world. It’s not a perfect world either. But God loves the world and cares for it and serves it. So should we.

Jesus Died and Rose Again

There’s another reason for the Peter’s stark portrayal of Jesus’ death, which appears also in Mark’s Gospel. It has to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

First of all, the gospel emphasizes that Jesus had really died. Certainly, rumors were circulating at Peter’s time, as they are now in certain books that are popular today, that Jesus appeared to die and his disciples had taken his body away. You can hear that claim in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 28), written after Mark’s Gospel but surely representing an early argument against the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In Mark’s Gospel (chapter 15) Jesus is brutally beaten by the soldiers; they put a crown of thorns on his head, causing him to lose blood; Simon of Cyrene has to help him carry the Cross. They he refuses to take wine mixed with myrrh, a sedative; the soldiers stand guard at his execution, representatives of the Jewish establishment are there. Jesus cries out a cry of death, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When Joseph of Arimathea goes to ask Pilate for his body to bury it, Pilate wonders if Jesus has really died, so he calls the centurion who was at the cross, if it were true. Only when he is assured does he release Jesus’ body for burial.

Jesus really died, Peter says in his preaching, and he rose again–I saw him, I talked to him, I ate with him, and the mystery of his death and resurrection affects us all.

The apostle describes Jesus’ death so starkly because death has been changed by Jesus Christ. In the account of Peter’s preaching at Pentecost, in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1,14-36) we can hear Peter’s most important message: Jesus is “Lord and Messiah.” He comes to destroy death and bring life. He really died; he really rose from the dead. He fulfills what the prophets promised of old. Death does not end life; Jesus has made it the door to a new life.

In his address at Pentecost, which he gave in Jerusalem, the apostle points to the tomb of King David, which all his hearers who came to the Holy City reverenced. His tomb is there; his bones are still there, Peter says to them. Not so, the tomb of Jesus. His body is not there. He has risen.
This is the Good News Peter will bring to the world.

Follow up:

The Gospel of Mark indicates that being a disciple of Jesus can be hard: we’re not sure what it demands. Peter began to be a disciple slowing, over time.  He found the Cross a mystery , which he could not understand or accept.

•    Is that what you feel too?
Peter never omitted the story of the Passion of Jesus in his preaching and, in fact, never omitted his own betrayal of Jesus.  In his Passion, Jesus reveals a surprising love for his disciple, even when he failed.  For Peter, the Passion of Jesus is a promise of life;  death is not our final destiny. If we die with Christ, we will rise with him.

•    Can you see that too?

How about praying the Stations of the Cross every day of the mission? You can find an internet text at http://www.cptryon.org/xpipassio/stations/index.html  A video version: http://www.vimeo.com/user1344343/videos

In the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, Peter introduces readers to the mystery of the church, a rock established by Jesus Christ, yet ever frail and sinful.
•    Can the figure of Peter help you understand your church and your parish today?
You can find a biography of Peter (I wrote it myself) at Bread on the Waters http://www.cptryon.org/holylives/nt/peter/index.htm

Visit some of the churches honoring Peter.  They’re wonderful places to get to know him. I have a video visit to some of them: St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Peter in Chains in Rome.  See  http://www.vimeo.com/user1344343/videos

The Franciscans have an extensive website that features Capernaum, Peter’s hometown. Jesus stayed in Peter’s house through most of his Galilean ministry. Franciscan archeologists have excavated a house pointed out by ancient tradition as Peter’s. http://www.ffhl.org/2006/Capernaum.asp

The Passionists have a good presentation on the Passion of Christ at http://www.cptryon.org

Here’s a description of our world today, from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Sounds like a description of Peter, on a world scale, doesn’t it?

The world today appears both powerful and weak, capable of the best or the worst. The way to freedom or slavery, progress or regression, community or hatred lies before it. We’re aware that we can give direction to the forces that we have awakened, forces we can master or serve. So we question ourselves.
The tensions that disturb our world today are in fact like those that disturb the human heart. There are conflicts within us. We see our limitations, yet we have unlimited aspirations. We know we are called to a higher life.
Many things compete for our attention, and we know we have to choose some and give up others.  In our weakness and sinfulness, we often do what we do not want to do, and fail to do what we should. Therefore, we are conflicted within ourselves, and this causes so many tensions in our society.
Many people, infected by a materialistic way of life, can’t see this state of affairs clearly, or can’t think of it because of their own unhappiness.
Many look for peace in different philosophies. Some look for liberation from human efforts alone.
Some despair of finding any meaning in life at all, or say life means only what they say it means.
Yet, in our world today many are asking fundamental questions: Who are we? What’s the meaning of pain, of evil, of death, which are still with us despite all our progress? What does success bring anyway? What should we bring to society and what should we expect from it? What comes after life here on earth?
The church believes that Christ died and rose for all and can give us light and strength through his Spirit to achieve our high calling–he is the one who saves us.
The church also believes that the center and goal of human history is found in her Lord and Master.
The church believes that underlying all change many things don’t change. They are founded on Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
The Church in the Modern World,  9-10

Losing Patience

The reading from the Book of Numbers in today’s Mass is a classic text describing the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land.  After their miraculous release from Pharaoh’s armies, the people make their way through the desert where miracles are few and their steady march never seems to end.

The people lose patience. They had wished for an easier way. They complain about their food and they probably complained about everything else. Falling into a nest of snakes, they suffer from their poisoned bites. In answer to his peoples’ pleas, Moses fits a bronze serpent on a pole, and those who look at it are healed.

In the reading from John’s gospel, Jesus promises that when he is lifted up, he will heal those who look at him with faith.

The Lord wishes to lift us up by the power of his cross. This holy time is a time to receive healing through this holy mystery and gain patience for our journey.

Losing patience is still one of our greatest trials, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s a long illness that turns our lives into a desert, or a strained relationship, or a marriage that ends without hope for repair, or dreams dashed by years of failure. We grow impatient, and impatience can be a poison.

So we look for signs that lift us up. Besides the cross of Jesus, there are people in our lives who are like him, who follow his example and his love. Look at them; they lift us up. They’re saving signs, strengthening us on our journey.

Morning Masses during the Mission

The Mass texts for March 30th, 31st, April 1st and 2nd  can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/  , the site of the US Catholic Bishops. It’s a good site to bookmark for the future because, besides the readings, it offers daily reflections and podcasts.

For Monday March 30th, I’ll be using the 5th Sunday readings for the RCIA (the raising of Lazarus) instead of the regular daily readings.

John 11:1-43
Here’s a reflection on raising Lazarus:
The blind man sees, Lazarus lives. John’s Gospel links these two figures closely because of the gifts they receive from the Word of God, Jesus Christ. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.” John 1:4

Light touched the blind man, as the Word of God enlightened his spirit along with the gift of physical sight, and he believed in Jesus.

And Life came to the tomb of Lazarus, as Jesus, “the resurrection and the life,” raised him from the dead.

More is known about Lazarus than the nameless blind man. Most likely from an influential family, he and his sisters, Martha and Mary, were friends of Jesus, whom they welcomed to their home in the village of Bethany, a little under two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus often stayed with them when visiting the Holy City.

Jesus was not there, however, when Lazarus died some days before the Passover. Threatened by Jerusalem’s authorities, he had left the area, traveling down the ancient road to Jericho, then to the safety of Transjordan where John had baptised.

Once he heard the news of Lazarus’ death he returned up the same road to be with his friends.

John’s account describes a typical Jewish burial. Wrapped in linen strips, Lazarus’ body was buried the same day he died; his tomb a cave, sealed with a stone, outside the village. His sisters, Martha and Mary then began the customary 30 days of mourning at home, receiving the condolences of their friends and neighbors.

By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead four days, the point the rabbis claimed no trace of the soul remained in the body. Decomposition had set in.

Hearing that Jesus was coming up the road, the two sisters left their home to express their grief. “And Jesus wept.”

Then, deeply moved, he went to the tomb and ordered the stone removed. Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed to his Father and in a loud voice cried, “Lazarus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with linen bandages, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said, “Loose him; let him go.”

The raising of Lazarus, which John’s gospel places immediately before Jesus’ passion and death, made the Jerusalem authorities finally decide to put Christ to death. It is an irony like others the evangelist makes. Jesus, bringing life, is put to death and placed in a tomb.

His death and resurrection are life-giving, the church’s faith proclaims. Dying and rising from the dead, he brings hope of eternal life to all who, like Lazarus, must die. That hope is realized in the sacrament of Baptism:

“Are you not aware that we who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

Lazarus was only a sign of what the Savior of the world, the Resurrection and the Life, would do for all humanity.

like the traveler
lifting the fallen one
on the Jericho road,
healing all his wounds,
you went to Lazarus’ tomb,
and would not let him die
but loosed the bonds of death,
so great was your love for him.

we believe
you weep at every death,
and pray at every tomb,
for all the dead
whose faith is known to you alone.

Like Lazarus,
call us your friends,
stay in our company,
share what we have,
come to our aid when we call.
and grant us eternal life.

Parish Mission: Melbourne Beach, Florida

I’ll be conducting a parish mission at Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach, Florida, from March 29th -April 2nd.  I’ll preach at the weekend Masses and at the weekday Mass in the morning at 8 AM. The main mission service will be at 7 PM.

I’m also offering some material from the mission on the internet these day and will use this blog to do it.

Here’s what I going to do.

I like the approach used in the new United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, (Washington, DC   2006). Written with an American public in mind, the catechism, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, begins each section with a short biography of a saint or a prominent Christian–some Americans, like Dorothy Day and Elizabeth Seton are among them.

People introduce us to God.

The theme of this week’s mission is taken from this Sunday gospel, “We would like to see Jesus,” a request some Greeks made of Philip, as Jesus was going into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Philip, of course, brought them to meet Jesus.

Each evening of the mission we’ll ask one of the saints to help us see Jesus. On Monday, we’ll go to Peter, the Apostle, who experienced Jesus in a very personal way. He was his constant companion and Jesus’ choice to lead his disciples. We’ll look into Peter’s experience as it’s described in the Gospel of Mark.

On Tuesday, we’ll ask Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to help us to know her Son. She kept thinking about him, who he was and what he did. She’s a very good teacher of prayer. We can’t know God or Jesus, his Son, without prayer. We’ll look at her through the eyes of Luke’s gospel.

On Wednesday, I want to look at St. Elizabeth Seton, an American saint. We can’t know God outside of our experience as Americans. Elizabeth Seton thoroughly epitomizes the American experience and I think we can learn from her how to search for God in the world in which we live.

On Thursday, I hope to consider St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of my community, the Passionists. He’s not known well enough. He got to know God through the mystery of the Cross, an unpopular place for most of us to meet God.
We’ll conclude each evening with a prayer. On Monday we pray the Stations of the Cross, on Tuesday we pray and meditate on a decade of the Rosary, on Wednesday we have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and on Thursday we’ll have an anointing of the sick.
Some wont be able to get to church for this mission, of course, but I’ll offer the mission on the Internet for on-liners or mission attendees who want to review what we said in church. That’s at my blog  https://vhoagland.wordpress.com/
Invite your friends and neighbors to join us too, either at church or online.