joseph’s blessing

Posted By on Mar 19, 2018

(for the Solemnity of St. Joseph) There was an interesting article in the New York Times last month by the comedian, writer, and actor Michael Ian Black, entitled “The Boys Are Not Alright.” [i] He starts by saying that, “If you want to emasculate a guy friend, when you’re at a restaurant, ask him everything that he’s going to order, and then when the waitress comes … order for him.” I suppose this applies to human beings in general but men especially hate to be robbed of their sense of agency, to be able to make up their minds and make choices for themselves. And yet, in the stories we hear about Joseph in the gospels, that is what Joseph gets robbed of, or gives away! Jesus reminds him that he is not his real father, he gets chased out of his homeland and, worst of all, his wife is pregnant by someone else. At some point in the spiritual life this is what happens though––we give away our agency to the benevolent Power Greater than ourselves, to God and entrust ourselves to his mercy. A few years back I gave a homily about Saint Joseph based on a phrase from the German therapist Alice Miller. In her famous book The Drama of the Gifted Child, she taught that a child needs a “usable self-object” (in other words, a parent) that can survive its own destruction. Healthy parents and mentors need to be secure enough to let their children rebel, to allow the child to be angry, to not-like something, to separate from them without it being a negative reflection back on the parent or mentor. Not that I am expecting anyone to remember that homily (or I would just give it again!), but I want to look at that theme again in regard to Saint Joseph. At the risk of being chauvinistic, whenever I think of Joseph I always think too of specifically male spirituality. We unashamedly call Joseph the “just man” because he was the father figure for Jesus. Why I think that is maybe even more poignant in 2018 is because suddenly folks have started to notice, after the last school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that what these atrocities have in common is that they are being committed by young men, and for the most part by middle class young white males––not by those we normally first think of––black kids in the ghetto, illegal immigrants, or Muslim terrorists. In that same article I mentioned earlier, Michael Ian Black writes that, “America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us.” And Black thinks that’s because “Too many boys...

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the pool of healing waters

Posted By on Mar 15, 2018

(How embarrassing: someone pointed out to me I had conflated the pool of Siloam with the pool of Beth-za-tha in the title. Fixed now. CC) Of course heading into Easter, when the catechumens are to be baptized and the rest of us are to renew our baptismal vows, whenever we hear something about water we ought to pay attention. That is especially so today, when we hear about it in both the readings and the responsorial psalm.[i] This phrase from the prophet Ezekiel––I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple––is one we sing a lot for the sprinkling rite during Eastertide, as a matter of fact it is supposed to be sung during the renewal of the baptismal promises at the Easter vigil. But we are supposed to be remembering a few other texts while we sing it too. First of all, just two days before we will have heard the Passion of Our Lord from the Gospel of John during which John tells us that one of the soldiers thrust a lance into [Jesus’] side and immediately blood and water flowed out. That in turn is supposed to remind us of earlier in the Gospel of John when Jesus had declared ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again,’ about which the evangelist tells us He was speaking about the temple of his body.[ii] In Jesus, the Temple has been relocated. It’s no longer a building; it’s a body, the body of Jesus. And here we have a foreshadowing of that: this poor man who had been ill for thirty-eight years and has not been able to get himself to the pool, now doesn’t have to go to the pool of Beth-za-tha (or Bethesda). Beth-za-tha has come to him! The real pool, the stream of life-giving water, is in Jesus, the stream of life-giving water, which is, of course, again as John tells us in chapter 7, none other than the Holy Spirit. But remember too that in that context Jesus is not speaking about himself but about all who believe in him, that ‘from out of the believer’s heart would flow streams of life-giving water.’ The temple gets relocated again with our baptism. As Paul exhorts his readers in Corinth: Do you not know that you are God’s temple by the Holy Spirit the dwells within you?[iii] Now we carry that healing pool, that life-giving water, the Spirit of Jesus, within us. The lectionary ends this section of the Gospel of John a little early. There are two more verses to this section of chapter 5[iv] that tell us...

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(Thomas — 3SunLent-A, John 4:5-42) As we began today’s liturgy, I mentioned that for today we have chosen to hear the readings of the “A” cycle in the Sunday lectionary, with its strong symbolism of water, pointing to baptism. A long gospel reading does not require a long homily, but let us just see if the reading as a whole, or any phrases within it, can enhance our understanding of life in general and of our personal lives. First, this gospel story is about a meeting of two persons, with no one else present. The Samaritan woman stands before Jesus, sola cum solo, “alone with the alone,” and in this case, she does not know him, while he clearly knows her. The time of day is noon. Sunup is the usual hour when women go to fetch water, because they need it for cooking and early chores. So there must be something wrong with this woman, a reason for which she avoids her sisters. And the reason comes out in the conversation with Jesus — she has been married five tines and now is living with a man who won’t or can’t marry her. Jesus is sitting by the well. He is tired. The tiredness of Jesus reminds me of a great 13th-century hymn called the Dies Irae — “Day of Wrath”, written by Thomas of Celano, a Franciscan. The hymn is addressed to Jesus, in the “I-Thou” language of the Bible. In it there is a line that says, “Quaerens me sedisti lassus.” Let’s go through the Latin. Quaerens: You were searching, seeking — for what? For me: Quaerens me. And then: Sedisti, You sat down. And finally: lassus: tired — Jesus, you were tired, but not tired of seeking me. You kept walking until you could go no farther, and you had to sit down. On his ascent of Mount Calvary, Jesus got very tired: he was carrying his cross, and he fell three times under the weight of it. When he got to the top, they nailed him to the cross. As he hung there, he pulled himself up to breathe, and he gasped, “I am thirsty!” To the woman who came to fetch water Jesus says: “Give me a drink.” But the woman warns Jesus that he is in trouble. First, he is alone with a woman who is not of his family. Second, she is a Samaritan, a people excommunicated by the Jewish authorities. Third, when she gives him some water from her own jar, she renders him ritually impure. Jesus takes the cup of water from her hands, and promises her a different kind of water,...

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overcoming tempatation

Posted By on Mar 6, 2018

(Thomas, 1SunLent-B, Mark 1:12-15) On the ordinary Sundays of the year — like last Sunday, for instance — we bless water and sprinkle it on the assembly, a sacramental that reminds us of our baptism. We do not do this during Lent, because the whole liturgical season is baptismal. The lenten readings and prayers often speak to those who are preparing for the sacraments of Christian initiation. From the First Testament we hear stories that the Church understands as prophecies of the waters that make us members of the mystical body of Christ — for example, today’s first and second readings tell the story of Noah and the Flood. The reading from Genesis gives us words that God spoke to Noah, after the flood had ceased and those in the Ark were saved. The First Letter of Peter teaches us that this “salvation through water” is accomplished for us in the sacrament of baptism. The Sundays in all liturgical seasons offer three cycles of readings. This is true of Lent, but with one special characteristic: The gospel themes for the first two Sundays of Lent are the same for all three cycles. The first Sunday narrates the temptation of Jesus in the desert, as given in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Today we heard Mark’s brief account. The gospel readings for the second Sunday of Lent tell us of the Transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. There, three of the disciples saw Jesus transformed, and they heard God’s voice, revealing Jesus as God’s beloved Son. But when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he was alone. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus was tempted, and that after the temptation, angels came and served him. The fact that he was tempted reveals his full humanity and what is called his passibility — more about this in a moment. Matthew and Luke tell us more of the story: they narrate three specific kinds of temptation. Where did these stories come from? Peter was not there in the wilderness, nor James nor John. Maybe Jesus himself told them that Satan challenged the Son of Man to change stones into bread. Or we could say that Matthew and Luke themselves were tempted, and because of this they understood what Jesus suffered in the desert. Next Sunday we will see Jesus bathed in divine splendor on Mount Tabor, but this Sunday we see his humanity, exactly like ours in everything but sin. He was tempted; we are tempted. He did not sin, but sometimes we give way under temptation and we do sin. But sin is not our nature, and if we live according...

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(Fr. Robert, 3/5/18) In the Gospel, Jesus laments that “no prophet is accepted in his native place.” Indeed, he is in his Nazareth, and the people want to kill him! It has always been risky being a prophet. In the Old Testament there are some seventeen books of prophets, which constitute a very significant portion of the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, the Gospels Mark, Luke and John begin with the towering prophet, John the Baptist, who directly prepares the way for Jesus. The priests in the Old Testament, and the New, presided over the cult of the temple, and offered instruction regarding the law. They were essential to the institutional side of Israel’s religion. But the prophets offered another, very important kind of ministry. They were regularly in conflict with the priests, but not always. For the prophets attended carefully to messages from God, coming to them personally, in the now, about today and tomorrow regarding Israel, or the King, or indeed the priests. And kings and priests and people regularly did not accept their prophetic messages. Jesus identified himself with this prophetic heritage. And in fact the people of the synagogue of his hometown were furious with him and sought to kill him. And of course the high priests and crowds later on did hand him over to Pilate to be killed, in the horrendous manner of crucifixion. The Letter to the Hebrews represents Christ as High Priest, but according to the mysterious, pre-Levitical priesthood of Melchizedek. But Christ is also prophet; in fact, for us Christians he is the Prophet, fulfilling the prophets. Isaiah’s sublime suffering servant passages, for instance, were fulfilled in Jesus, who himself suffered for and supported the poor, the oppressed, the anawim, as did the prophets before him. Unlike the priests, he associated with the poor, with women, with Samaritans, with lepers, tax collectors, etc. And he did prophesy about the upcoming destruction of the temple, for instance, and decisively about his own suffering and death, and resurrection—the heart of the Paschal proclamation. We Christians are baptized into Christ. And since Christ is the High priest, thus we all share in the priesthood of all believers. And since Christ is the Prophet, each of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called to listen to God’s voice within, and, if called, to proclaim it to others. This gets tricky, however, because there are the false prophets all the way through the prophetic ages, to our own time. We are all called, therefore, to very carefully “discern the spirits,” to see if they are of God, and hopefully with the help...

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breaking the infernal circle

Posted By on Feb 27, 2018

‘Be merciful as your heavnly Father is merciful.’ There are so many variations of this saying that we hear at the beginning of the Gospel today (Lk 6:36-38), but perhaps they all fall together in Jesus. The Book of Deuteronomy asks us to be blameless–tamin; in Leviticus instead it’s qedosim–‘Be holy as I am holy.’ Matthew’s Gospel uses teleios, usually translated “perfect”––‘Be perfect as I am perfect.’ Of course for the Greek to be perfect means being conformed to the divine ideal, to be like God. And that’s where the Gospel of Luke comes in. What’s God like? What is the divine ideal? Just before this in Chapter 6 of his Gospel, Luke ties his version of the saying in to the difficult teaching about loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute you. That section ends with Jesus saying, ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.’ That’s what it means to be perfect––it means to be merciful! That is what conforms to the divine ideal! That’s what it means to be like God, who rains on the just and the unjust. ‘Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.’ The rest of the passage spells out what that means practically: don’t judge; don’t condemn; forgive others. We might think our telos, our ultimate goal, our perfection, is union with God, or a stilled mind (or great abs), or saying our mantra for a half an hour without interruption. But Jesus tells us that our telos, our perfection and ultimate goal is to be merciful as God is merciful. That is the proof of our perfection. The fulfillment of the law is mercy. The Jewish Scriptures still allow praying for the defeat of our enemy, but we Christians are not allowed to do that anymore. (This is one of the reasons we have had such debates over using an integral psalter liturgically.) The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote that Jesus “first died for the victims and then died for the executioners,” and in so doing he revealed not just a new kind of justice, but a new justice, one that “breaks the Infernal circle of hatred and vengeance, and creates from both the victims and the executioners a new human race endowed with a new humanity.” That’s what we are called to do and to be in this violent world. We’re supposed to be the ones who finally break the Infernal circle of hatred and vengeance, and that applies to our petty little squabbles as well as in grand gestures. Saint Benedict thought this was a pretty important teaching for monks, too. In chapter 13 he instructs...

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