“He’s Out of His Mind”

“He’s Out of His Mind”

10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B); 6-10-18

Gn 3:9-15   Ps 130   2 Cor 4:13-5:1   Mk 3:20-35

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

Being misunderstood is never a pleasant experience, especially those to whom were close. Prior to this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus had formed a ministerial/apostolic community which would be the means by which He would proclaim the Good News. After he’s formed this prayer/friendship community, His natural family misunderstands and rejects Him—indeed, upon listening to His teaching, they said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21b).

Not only does His family misunderstand Him, but the religious establishment consider Him possessed; He’s not communicating a respectable message of an orthodox Jewish believer, but is speaking from a different authority; therefore, He must be in league with the Devil.

Why did Jesus’ natural family (we can safely presume that the latter did not include our Blessed Mother who is conceived without sin nor Joseph who was most likely deceased when Jesus began His ministry) and the religious authorities so misunderstand Who Jesus is and what His mission is about? The Word made Flesh, Immanuel is right in their very midst and their response is that He is crazy and that He is operating under Satan’s influence. How can this be? A Jewish aphorism offers us a clue: “We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.”

            Our first reading from the book of Genesis offers us an insight as to how we can distort reality. The third chapter of Genesis explains the beginning of Salvation History with the Fall of our original parents. While they were in the Garden, Adam and Eve were in full communion with God—they walked in the lush, life-giving Garden openly conversing with their Creator—and in fellowship with each other, symbolized by their nakedness. There was no barrier between themselves and God and each other: naked, “yet they felt no shame” (Gn 2:25).

Adam and Eve, like all of us, asked the question: “Is God enough?” Through their subsequent choices, they answered “No,” as they rejected the unconditional love of God and, in so doing, rejected their identity as God’s children. Rather than to gratefully receive God’s love, they chose instead to grasp, to take eternal life from the Tree of Knowledge and to do so without God. They inappropriately used their freedom, not to be in communion with God or fellowship with each other, but to embark on a way of seeking happiness through having the goods of the world. They tried to create their own identity, their own world based on the illusion of separation. This Original Sin necessarily led to the universal condition of sin and death. Only God redeem this loss by re-creating the Garden through the death and Resurrection of the only begotten Son of God.

With that frame of reference, let’s get back to today’s Gospel reading. Jesus formed his apostolic community not drawing from family members because He knew that his natural family would reject Him. Why? Jesus is not some respectable, traveling guru who’s offering comfortable, easy to digest platitudes. While we tend to domesticate Jesus’ teachings, His message has radical, transformational power because He challenges us to become poor, detached from the goods of the world, so that we can BE in right relationship with God and our neighbor through self-gifting love. His Way to realize our destiny is through self-denial (rejection of the False Self), taking up our Cross, and following Him no matter where He may lead us. In other words, our life is no longer about us, but is about Him. Jesus’s message then and now is not respectable, safe, or conventional; indeed, it’s a radically “new wineskin” and that’s why His family was convinced that He was crazy.

Not only does His family misunderstand Him, but the religious establishment, the custodians of the Jewish tradition, the Law of Moses, consider Him possessed by Beelzebul because He is not communicating a respectable, safe message that has already been established. Jesus is calling them to go beyond the external observance of the Law to its underlying spirit and fulfillment. Jesus speaks with authority because He is the author of the Law. How so? Jesus is the Word of God, which means that He teaches and acts in the person of God. They got that, but they didn’t believe, which is why they thought He was a blasphemer and was possessed.

As the Gospel reading concludes, we continue to see his family have confusion and disagreement. Jesus is redefining the family not in terms of blood but in terms of Spirit. Obedience to our heavenly Father as revealed through the life and teachings of His Son, is the criterium for being a member of the family of God. Jesus is saying that unless we do the will of God, family doesn’t mean anything to me.   In a kinfolk society of ancient Israel, family-clan-tribe was everything. Jesus is relativising an absolute, which the family can become. But, Jesus says that “Whoever oves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worth of me”

(Mt 10:37).  Besides the goods of the world—the 4 Ps: property, prestige, pleasure, and power—there is another thing that that can keep us from the Truth, namely, the family. That’s hard to talk about because we identify so much with our family. In some cases, family has probably kept as much people from the Truth as the 4 Ps. It’s very hard to buck what everybody within the family or my tribe is telling me to do and think. If my family is embracing the affluent, success-trip and you do not fit that worldview, it’s very hard to resist, let alone challenge. Indeed, in a recent article in The Atlantic, it describes The Birth of a New Aristocracy (June 2018) in which “The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children.”

            In today’s Gospel Jesus is questioning the conventional family thing. In our highly individualized culture in which I am the center of my universe, life is about me, and I am in control, children are often extensions of one’s ego. To love our children can be merely an extension of loving yourself. The point that Jesus is making, are we capable of loving those who aren’t related to us–who aren’t part of our natural family, of our little enclave and tribe in which “love” rebounds back to us. Jesus is calling us to love those who aren’t like us, even our enemies—now, we are talking about genuine, self-gifting love.

Brothers and sisters, charity begins at home; indeed, the family is the domestic Church where we learn to love and forgive. But, charity does not end there. Jesus talks the way that He does in order to relativize the family so that even it is not the Center, but God is. We can easily idealize the family, which can become a protective cocoon. It’s very socially acceptable, even a pious way of running away from and surrendering to the Gospel and the Kingdom.

And looking around at those seated in the circle (of inclusivity of the universal, Catholic Church) he said, “Here re my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (vs. 34-35). That’s it: anyone who does the will of God is Jesus’ family. As members of His mystical Body, the Church, do we concur?

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Real Blood Brothers

Body and Blood of Christ (B); June 3, 2018

Ex 24:3-8   Ps 116   Hb 9:11-15   Mk 14:12-16,22

Deacon Jim McFadden

As kids growing up we had ways of solidifying our bonds of friendship. We had secret handshakes, coded language, and the one we learned from Western movies: we’d make a small cut on our thumbs and then mingle the blood with our buddies to signify that we had a special bond as “blood brothers.”   That bond didn’t survive the passage of time; indeed, it didn’t even endure beyond grammar school. Today’s readings bring to mind this symbol of blood bonds, but in this case the bond is enduring; indeed, it’s eternal.

In the first reading, Moses sprinkles the blood of a sacrificed animal on the altar and the people. Using our imagination, it’s a rather strange, somewhat gruesome ritual. If you think we duck a bit when we get sprinkled with baptismal water during the Easter season, think about the reaction if Father was using ox blood! And, yet it was a sacred ritual, one they entered into willingly because they understood the significance of sharing blood, which was a symbol of life. Since God is the source of life, the ritual connected them with God and with each other.

In the same way, Jesus sharing of his body and shedding his blood, reaffirms God’s unbreakable bond with us and our fellowship with each other. When Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples to eat, he did this within the context of Passover; but, just as the Old Testament foreshadows the New, Jesus was going to infuse this ritual with extraordinary meaning that will last for eternity. What is different about the Last Supper is that by his own words, this broken bread is now his own body that will soon become broken for us. The cup contained his blood, the life-blood that he would pour out in unconditioned fidelity on the Cross for our salvation. When we share the bread and cup, we are now bound to him and to one another in a way that we could never imagine. This bond is meant to be eternal!

Therefore, it is not enough to state that Jesus is really Present in the Eucharist.   We must give thanks that Jesus is giving His life to us and that we’re invited to partake in His very Being: His soul and divinity enters into our body, which is meant to be transformative. When we take and eat the consecrated Bread, we are associated into the life of Jesus, which is one of radical self-gifting love. In so doing, we commit ourselves to be in communion with our brothers and sisters, to transform our ordinary lives into a gift for others, especially to the poorest, which we hear in Matthew 25.

Brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is the basis of our solidarity; indeed, that’s what it means to be Catholic—to be an integral member of a living organism in which we are connected to others in Faith. When we receive Communion, we are being invited by Jesus to convert ourselves completely to Him—to give Him our absolute allegiance. That promise of surrender means we embrace service to others in very concrete, steadfast, and regular ways. We put Eucharistic love into action and we forgive one another no matter how grievous the offense may be.

Our Eucharist celebration challenges us to become with our life, imitators of the One Whom we celebrate in the Liturgy. The Christ Who comes to us in the consecrated bread and wine, is the same One who comes to us in our ordinary experience. He is the poor person who holds out his hand, in the suffering of one who begs for our help. He is the convict who asks us to walk with them and treat him as a human being. He is the brother or sister who asks for availability and awaits us to share our gifts and talents with them. He is the unborn child who depends upon our protection and the defense of her life. He is the young person who knows nothing about Jesus, who does not have faith, but yearns for communion and fellowship. Through the Incarnation, Jesus is present in every human being, even the smallest and defenseless. As Jesus said to Peter, “If you love me, tend and feed my sheep.”

Brothers and sisters, how great is our Eucharistic celebration: it is the source of love for the life of Holy Mother the Church; it is the school where we learn how to love, to be self-gifting; it is the basis of our solidarity.   That’s why those who are nourished by the Bread of Christ cannot be indifferent to those who do not have daily bread.

People of God at St. John the Baptist, let me ask you: if we don’t minister to others, are we fully participating in the Eucharist? As Evelyn Underwood, the great early 20th century spiritual writer put it, “As Christ gives himself to feed us so we have to incarnate something of his all-loving, all-sacrificing soul. If we do not, then we have not really received him. That’s the Plain truth.” Her insight: there is no real presence that does not demand real commitment.

Church, on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we share Life at the table, which brings with it responsibilities and duties towards God and each other.   We remember that we are truly “blood brothers and sisters” at a very profound level of being. We remember that we are connected with God and with each other and we are called to continually feed one another. We become Bread of Life to the world! Amen.

 

 

 

We Believe in a Communion-God

The Most Holy Trinity (B); May 27, 2018

Dt 4:32-34   Ps 33   Rom 8:14-17   Mt 28:16-20

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

           It’s difficult enough to believe in a single God, but have you ever tried to explain the Trinity to a non-believer? It’s not easy. Believing in three persons who is one God is quite a leap!

There’s a charming story of St. Augustine trying to make sense of the Trinity.   One day, worn out from his long study of the mystery, he decides to take a walk on the beach to clear his mind. Along the way, Augustine comes across a little boy patiently pouring water into a hole in the sand. He cups seawater in his hands and empties it into the hole. Augustine watches him do this, run back to the shoreline, and repeat the process over and over again. After a while, Augustine asks the boy what he’s doing. “I’m trying to fill this hole with the ocean,” the little boy said.

“But, that’s impossible,” says Augustine. “You will never fit the ocean in that little hole!”

“Nor will you be able to fit the mystery of the Trinity in your mind,” replies the boy, and Augustine realizes he is speaking with an angel (cf. James Martin, My Life with the Saints, pp. 356-357).

Nonetheless, we keep trying.   St. Patrick’s three-leaf clover is a clever image, but still far from adequate.   From the earliest centuries of Christianity, theologians have painstakingly struggled to find the words to explain the relationship of three persons sharing this divine mystery. The councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon may have succeeded in giving us precise definitions, but these statements have not really clarified the mystery of the triune God.

My belief in the Trinity is a totally personal response: My response to the Most Holy Trinity does not occur at the top three inches of my body, but it occurs within my heart. I believe that God is three-in-one because I experience the Risen Christ sacramentally, especially in the Eucharist, and ecclesially within the Church community. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we believe that he is divine; that belief enters us into a shared life with the Risen Christ. To believe in Jesus is to share what Jesus is sharing in, which is a communal life of giving and receiving with his Father and Holy Spirit.   So I could never explain the Trinity to a nonbeliever; I can only share what is in my heart.

Neither do the readings from today offer a philosophical explanation of the nature of God; rather, they point to how God is at work within our lives. Its the activity of God that reveals Who God is.

In the passage from Deuteronomy, God reveals the divine name, LORD

(YAHWEH) to Moses. God is the great I AM. God is not a particular being, like we are, but God is the fullness of being. And, what is God’s being? According to John the Evangelist, GOD IS LOVE (1 Jn 4:8)! That is not an attribute of God, but it is God’s very nature: Love is Who God is. Love involves the giving and receiving of life. God the Father, who is Lover, sent Jesus, the Beloved Son, into the world for our salvation.   And, when Jesus returned to his Father at the Ascension, he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the shared loving energy between the Father and the Son. It is within that communal relationship that the divine revelation resonates.

God is “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Ex 34:6). Though not a definition, this might well be the best description of God to be found in our entire religious tradition. God is a loving Being.

When we say that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit we are proclaiming belief in a community of Persons who surrounds us, embraces us everywhere, and loves us unconditionally exactly the way they love themselves.   The Son, Who is the perfect Thought (Logos) and image of the Father, knows us better than we know ourselves. Because there is no limit to the mystery of His being, he can go deep down into our heart and find a home there. God is someone who knows the secret of all mysteries and where all roads lead because His Son is the Way.

Believing in the Trinity means that truth is on the side of communion rather than exclusion—everyone is invited to share in Trinitarian life, which is realized in and through the Church. A shared life means that consensus, collaboration, and the sensum fidei (sense of the faithful) works hand-in-glove with the hierarchical governance of the Church.   Believing in the Trinity means accepting that everything is related to everything and so makes up one great whole, and that unity comes from a thousand convergences that come together in Christ : “…in him all things hold together” (Col 2:17).

Church, we never simply live, we always live together as we participate in Trinitarian life.   Whatever favors a shared life is good and worthwhile. Hence we live in this community style of living of God’s existence by being especially attentive to the most vulnerable.   Jesus reveals to us in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of his brethren we do to him. Therefore as we proclaim our belief in the triune God, we take the side of the poor, who are a constant reminder that there should not be oppressors and oppressed. They are true bearers of hope, because they live on the hope that life is really a shared life of giving and receiving. They challenge us to live that Trinitarian truth.

Believing in the triune God means that there exists an ultimate tenderness, an ultimate bosom, and infinite womb, in which we can take refuge, move and have our being. Brothers and sisters, we are not alone in this universe with all our questions which no one offers satisfactory answers except Jesus because He is the Truth. We can finally have peace in the serenity of love that is shared between the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.