Sunday, January 21, 2018

Off to Nineveh again!


We hear today the well-known story of Jonah. As a child, I had one of those illustrated children’s Bible’s that I’m sure many of you had. In addition to the Scriptures it was filled with amazing artwork to help bring the stories to life. To this day, I can call to mind the image of Noah’s Arc being tossed by the storm. I remember the dramatic image from Mark’s gospel of the story of the man who was lowered through the roof of the house by his friends so that Jesus could heal him. And I remember Jonah with the dramatic picture of him thrown on the beach from the belly of the whale that brought him to Nineveh.

Our passage from Jonah today picks up in the next chapter of his story. It’s an understatement to say that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. In fact, that is the whole point of the whale. Jonah will not go where God is sending him and it takes a God-directed whale to bring him there. The city of Nineveh represented the worst of everything – it was a place of godlessness, immorality, and corruption. Nineveh was the capital of the empire that had conquered the kingdom of Judah. They looted and destroyed the Temple, and carried people into exile and slavery. For religious Jews like Jonah, Nineveh was a literally godforsaken place, and there was no hope it would change. As far as Jonah was concerned, announcing God’s message in Nineveh was a complete waste of time. Of course, the great surprise in the story is that as soon as the so-called “godforsaken” people heard the Word of God, they received it with eagerness, repented with sincerity, and regained God’s mercy and forgiveness. They found God in their lives again. And, they were a reminder to Jonah and to us that “nothing is impossible with God.”

My friends, the message for us today is that what God asked of Jonah, God asks of us. God wants each one of us to be His witnesses, His servants, His messengers. He wants us to be the deliverers of His message that no one is beyond His love, no one is beyond His forgiveness; no one is beyond the ability to be changed from darkness into light, from sorrow to joy, from sin into glory – all by the loving mercy of our God.

It doesn’t matter what education we possess, or how dedicated we may be, or what we have to bring to the mix; it doesn’t matter what others think of our ability to be holy; or even the sins we have committed. God doesn’t look at what we have done, but rather God sees who we can be. God doesn’t worry about who or what we are; His concern is what we can become when we follow His will for us. If God calls us, it is only because He knows that we can accomplish what He asks. After all, remember what our Gospel shows us today – that in and through God, fishermen are transformed into fishers of souls. Their work is transformed from self-centered to God-centered, from self-seeking to seeking only the glory of God and the benefit of all people.

My brothers and sisters, God is still sending each of us on mission to Nineveh today. He wants us to bring His Word to any and all of the places where it is missing; even to the places that seem the farthest away from Him. God invites us to be the Good News spoken to unimaginable places and “impossible” situations. The good news for us is that these “hopeless” cases are not hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can any situation we encounter in life. Nothing – no difficulty, no hurt or pain, no illness, no broken relationship – nothing, is beyond the power of God to heal, to change, to turn into glory.

God once again today wants to form us into His disciples making a difference in the world, just like the Apostles and just like Jonah. All we need to give Him today is our humble, open and willing hearts.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What are you looking for?


Tim was driving down the street looking for a parking space anxious because he had an important meeting that he was soon to be late for. Looking up to Heaven he said, “Lord, take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of my life and even give up my Irish Whiskey.” Miraculously, a parking place appeared right before him. Tim looked again to Heaven and said, “Never mind, Lord, I found one.”

Jesus asks a poignant and direct question in our Gospel today, “What are you looking for?” Of all the things that Jesus says throughout the Gospels, this is the foundational question that every follower of Jesus has got to ask at some point in their journey with the Lord. What are you looking for? It’s a profound question and I think John’s Gospel wants us to hear it that way. John wants that question to hang in the air a bit to let it do its work on us.

There is an interesting, and even humorous, pattern in John’s Gospel. In John, Jesus often makes deep and profound statements, and those He speaks to just as often miss the point. For example, Jesus tells Nicodemus that to see the kingdom, “you must be born again, from above.” Nicodemus misses the point as he tries to figure out the logistics of being physically reborn, “How can a person once grown old be born again?” he asks. Or when Jesus says to the woman at the well that He can give her living water springing up to eternal life, she responds, “Where are you going to get that water? You don’t even have a bucket!”

Similarly in today’s passage, when Jesus asks the disciples, “What are you looking for?” he’s asking them the deep, profound question of faith. Their response, “Where are you staying?” It reminds me of the early days of St. Francis of Assisi’s conversion. In a spectacular and miraculous moment, Jesus spoke to Francis from the cross in the chapel of San Damiano. Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my church which you can see has fallen into ruins.” St. Francis physically and literally rebuilt four churches before he realized that Jesus was calling him to lead a renewal of the universal church, not become the church’s new contractor.

It is easy to miss the incredible experience of the living God that is presented to us over and over. Just think of the Eucharist. This is the most incredible encounter possible on Earth. God miraculously transforms mere bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of His Son, and more incredibly invites us into the same transformation by our reception of the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, how often do we come to Mass with eyes that are not fully open to this miracle before us? We come from the busyness of our lives; we come consumed with our cares and concerns; we come with a sort of boredom because even this miracle can become ordinary. And yet, God will come down upon this altar once again today; and He wants to enter our lives once again today. What are you looking for?

Today, Jesus puts that same profound question before us, “What are you looking for?” Let us not be so dulled to the question that we miss the invitation that it represents. When Jesus asked the first disciples, “What are you looking for?” it was His way of seeing what they think is important, what matters? Because if they are going to follow Him, they will have to discover what is important to Him. Their response, simply because they don’t seem to grasp His deeper meaning, is to ask, “Where are you staying?” Although they don’t understand the question, it isn’t really a bad answer. It says that they are willing to learn. They are willing to spend time with Jesus. Jesus responds, “Come and see,” and they go stay with him. There they begin learn from Jesus what really matters. They learn what it means to be invited into His kingdom of love, compassion, joy, and forgiveness.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday on Monday, it is fitting that we reflect on what his life taught us about what matters. He showed us that what matters is the unity of humanity; what matters is peace, dignity, justice, and love. He said, “Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

So Jesus places the question one more time before us: what are you looking for? If you are looking for a life of meaning; a life that really matters; a life that can change what ails our world; a life centered in love, and centered in Christ: then you can find it and in fact have found right here as God reveals Himself to us all. Let God transform you once again by His presence, and into His presence and then go from this place to live that truth out as a disciple of the Lord.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Home by another way


Our Christmas season is quickly coming to a close. It will be all over on Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I hate to see all of the Christmas music go for another year. I love singing all of our Christmas songs. There are wonderful Christmas hymns for this day, the best known, of course, is We Three Kings. But my favorite song for Epiphany is one you may not have heard of. It is by James Taylor and is called Home By Another Way. It is a song about the dream that the wise men had following their visit with Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dream that told them to avoid King Herod and seek a different route home.

This notion of moving in a new direction serves as a good image for Epiphany. Epiphany is about our call to change course in our lives and set our direction clearly on Jesus. Just like the Magi, we have seen the star that called us to move towards Him. When the Magi saw that star they had no idea who Jesus was or what He would mean to the world. They were literally far from Him and made a choice to move in His direction. We too might find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we have always desired to know Jesus more intimately, more powerfully, more personally in our lives and yet have not come close. The star again calls us today. Maybe we have been hurt, wounded, or are sad or grieving and feel a great distance from Jesus today. The star calls to us. Maybe our relationship with Jesus feels stagnant, like it isn’t growing or moving or changing, and we don’t know what to do to make it better. The star calls to us again today.

Jesus wants to reveal Himself to each one of us today, just as He did to the wise men so long ago. And, He wants that revelation to change the course of our lives. Whatever parts of our lives have been distant – perhaps we have been full of anger or fear, anxiety or judgment. Perhaps we have old wounds and broken relationships that we’ve not tended to. Jesus wants to be the healing for all of the broken places in our lives.

Pope Francis said of the wise men, “[The Magi] had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere. In the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be love. For only under the banner of freedom is it possible to realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals us. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned.”

The story of the visit of the Magi opens our eyes to the fact that God shows Himself to us in so many ways. The shepherds came to know of Jesus’ birth through a vision of angels. The Magi came to know through a reading of the stars. King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures – very different ways that communicated the same truth – that God is in our midst and is calling us to come to Him.

Today, as always, God invites us into renewed and deeper relationship with Him through His Son. God is revealing Himself to us in Word, in our hearts – and so powerfully in the Eucharist. In just a few moments, there will be another kind of Epiphany of the Lord – this one will take place on our altar. God will reveal Himself to us in the Body and Blood of His Son. At that moment we will be invited once again to “come and do him homage?”

My friends, this is the “other way” that a living encounter with Jesus sends us. If we once again alter our course and head straight toward God, we too will be sent forth by another way. We too will be called to not take a road of selfishness, but instead take a road of empathy, care and concern for others; a road of forgiveness, healing and hope.

The star shines brightly today guiding us to change our course and head again toward Jesus – so powerfully here in this Church as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament. And, when we leave this encounter, Jesus tells us as a dream told the Three Kings to have the courage to go home by another way, to embark on the path that opens our eyes and our hearts, our minds and our lives, to the presence of Jesus that we will suddenly see is all around us.

Let us be the mercy, the forgiveness, the healing, the joy and the hope that the Baby Jesus came to bring to our world.

May the Lord give you peace!

For those who would like to hear the James Taylor song:

Changing the impossible

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