Christians: Stand Up To Be Counted

12th Sunday of O.T. (A); June 25, 2017

Jer 20:10-13   Ps 69   Rom 5:12-15   Mt 10:26-33

Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB

 

            Ringo Starr once sang that “If you want to sing the blues, you’ve gotta pay your dues, and you know it don’t come easy.” Applied to today’s readings, especially Jeremiah and Matthew, if we’re going to follow the strange Way of Jesus, we better be prepared to accept the consequences, which will come hard and often.

Jesus has predicted that his disciples will be flogged, dragged before governors, delivered up to councils, made to flee from town to town, ostracized, and hated—all this because they are associated with Jesus. Why should they be surprised because “they” have done the same things to Jesus. The servants, who are members of his Mystical Body, the Church, will go the way of their Master; the disciples will go the way of their teacher; those in the house will go the way of the master of the house. The cross of Jesus will be the cross of his followers. Persecution is inevitable. As someone once said “If you’re going to follow Jesus, you’d better look good in wood!”

            Why? Put simply, a Christian is a sign of contradiction because our vision which is grounded in sacrificial, self-giving love that promotes justice and peace, will call into question the prevailing values of the dominant consciousness of our society. The False Kingdom of this world is based on the illusion that we can be happy by obtaining the goods of the world; so, we pursue the deities of money, status and acclaim, control and manipulation, and hedonistic pleasure. In our society we see this displayed in over-the-top consumerism, nationalism, militarism, and a warped sense of freedom that puts choice above human life. In the False Kingdom, which is the collective extension of the Ego, does not try to destroy the Good News, it must die; it knows that: that’s why Jesus’ followers are persecuted.

At this prospect we shake with fear. The prophet Jeremiah felt the heat: “Yes, I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us Denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped, then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him” (Jer 20:10).

Confronted with such hostility anger, and resentment, we may wonder, “Geez, I go to church, I play by the rules, why aren’t I loved and admired? Why all this negative blow-back?” We may think to ourselves that it would be better to soft-pedal the truth about ourselves. Why should I put myself and those whom I care about through such an ordeal? Why don’t we settle for a domesticated Christianity in which we get along with the dominant consciousness of our society by going along with its secular values?

Yet, if we don’t speak—if we don’t denounce the idolatrous practices of our culture—the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy and powerful, the toxicity of racism, the lies and deceit of those who exercise temporal power, can we live with this cowardice? Can we be true to our baptismal promises in which we were anointed priest, prophet, and king? As members of the Body of Christ we are called to witness to Christ in our here and now situation. Each one of us is called to give witness to the Gospel values by word and example and that may mean, at times, being a “sign of contradiction,” in our families, in our working places, in the wider society .

If we fold, if we become homogenized, safe, comfortable Christians, then we will become T.S. Eliot’s people, “living and partly living.” The choice we have is living the life in which I am the center of my life, my life is about me, and I am in control. Or, we embrace the Way of Jesus in which He is the center, our life is about Him, and He is in control. We can’t have it both ways. As our Lord says quite clearly, “You are either for me or you are against me” (Mt 12:30).

            Today’s Gospel reminds us that we do have a responsibility to stand up and be counted. And, Jesus will be there with us: “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of others, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).

Many of us are afraid of losing our lives if we give witness that Jesus is Lord. In parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, Christians are losing their lives for their faith. Indeed, there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th and 21st centuries than in any other time of our Church history. But, some will be willing to make compromises to survive physically.

There is, however, a greater danger. As Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (v. 28). The greatest fear is not that we may be killed but that we may be seduced into betraying those Gospel values and our relationship with Jesus on which our integrity as human persons depend. To save our “bodies” at the expense of denying the Truth who is Jesus, at the expense of rejecting Love, at the expense of Justice, at the expense of genuine freedom, at the expense of Communion with God and human Solidarity, this is the real danger. That is the real death.

Brothers, the way a seed withstands the scorching heat of the sun is by developing roots. Developing roots means knowing and holding onto the deeper realities of faith, which can only be cultivated by a deep and abiding prayer life, by a daily reflection of Sacred Scripture, by active participation in the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, and by serving others, especially those who are most vulnerable.

These deeper realities of faith always have to do with knowing who we truly are: namely, a beloved child of God, who is meant to be in communion with the triune God and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. The only people who can accept the consequences of following Jesus are those who are in touch with their own souls and who have grounded themselves in the energy of God’s love. Only they will have the courage and resolve to persevere in the face of persecution. Amen.

 

 

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We Become What We Eat

Most Holy Body and Blood (A); June 18, 2017

Dt 8:2-3,14-16; Ps 147; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB

 

            Most Americans don’t know what it’s like to go hungry. But, even in a country where obesity is a serious health concern, millions of people do in fact go hungry. Throughout the Third World, where two-thirds of the world reside, gnawing hunger is a fact of life. How many of us have experienced that kind of hunger?

In the first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land, that their ancestors knew real hunger when they were in the wilderness for forty years. Their hunger was so intense that they wanted to return to Egypt where they would be enslaved again, because at least they would have something to eat. Moses reminded them that God provided for their ancestors by sending them manna, then quails when they still complained, but apparently that wasn’t enough.

Moses clearly states that God did allowed them to feel hungry in order to show them that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord

(Dt 8:3).  In other words, there is a hunger that only God can satisfy. Do we experience that kind of hunger so beautifully conveyed in Psalm 42: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Ps 42:2).

The craving for God is grounded in who we are because we are made in the image of God, which is our essential identity. But, this basic drive for communion with God and fellowship with each other can be supplanted by unintegrated desires. The frantic search for meaning can take desperate forms. Unbridled consumerism, obsession with success, the domination of others in order to be in control, the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure are examples of this anxious search. As misplaced as these desires are, at their heart, they may be a search for God.             Furthermore, I think many of us are like the Jewish crowds in today’s Gospel. They are good people who are not prepared to accept the claims made by Jesus. They are searching for God according to their terms, their concepts: namely, the Law; Jesus, on the other hand, claimed that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:51). This is a bold claim; moreover, it goes to the heart of our Catholic Faith. We don’t think our way to Jesus; we simply fall in love with Him.

If we’re going to do that, if we’re going to be fully human, we must eat Jesus’ flesh. We must enter into that personal, communal relationship with him in order to know Who He is. The wisdom of the Eucharist is that it is the essence of incarnational religion. Jesus has moved religion from the verbal and conceptual to the non-verbal level. The center of our Catholic religion is the altar—the symbol of non-verbal language.   Preaching, while important, is not the central statement of who the Church is, but somehow the Eucharist is.

When we share a meal with each other, we don’t analyze what we’re doing; we simply sit down and eat altogether. We enter into the experience, which is primary; the relationship we have with one another is primary; the doing is primary.

It’s the same thing with the Eucharist: we simply have to allow God to come into our mouth and we have to take him in like we do 3x/day with food. We have to allow that to happen. And when we do, something awesome happens. When we eat ordinary food, we turn it into our own body. But, when we eat His body and drink His blood, we are transformed by it: we become what we eat. We become the Mystical Body of Christ. We become the Bread of Life to the world. We remain in him, and he remains in us. Furthermore, as members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, we are bound together with all others who partake of this food and drink. As we “fully, consciously, and actively participate” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium) in the Eucharist, we enter into communion with God and solidarity with each other, especially the vulnerable. As Saint Pope John Paul II once wrote, “How could it be otherwise, since the Christ encountered in contemplation is the same who lives and suffers in the poor?” (Via Consecrata, n. 82).

Brothers and sisters, there is a thread that begins with the Incarnation—the Word became Flesh in Jesus—the transubstantiation of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and service to mankind, especially the poor. At the Holy Mass, we do give praise and glory to God in a very profound way. But, if we, each one of us, do not help the needy, it does not suffice. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear “There was not a needy person among them” (4:34).

Put simply, we will be judged not by our praise but what we have done to Jesus. “But Lord, when did we do it to you? As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:39-40).

That, I believe, is the litmus test as to whether we truly believe that Jesus is really Present in the consecrated bread and wine. And, when we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood with genuine faith and conviction, we then become Bread of Life to the world, especially to those most in need. In so doing, we have eternal life here and now! We will have so entered into the really Real, we will be so sharing life at such a deep level that Life cannot be taken away from us. We will be liberated at the very core of our being and we will come to the knowledge that we will exist forever because we’re tasting eternal life now. We will enter into the plane of the eternal.

Sisters and brothers, at the heart of the mystery that we celebrate today is the fundamental mystery of God’s love for us. We have been created with a craving for God. As St. Augustine famously put it, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you” (Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1). While we wait for our final transformation in God, we have the Body and Blood of Christ to satisfy our hunger and our thirst. He is the real staple of life. Nothing else even comes close.

 

 

 

 

The Trinity and Solidarity

The Most Holy Trinity (A); June 11, 2017
Ex 34:4b-6,8-9 (Ps) Dn 3 2 Cor 13:11-13 Jn 3:16-18
Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB

In the aftermath of our current president’s foreign trip, two of his top advisors wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in which they said: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

That passage struck me like a thunderbolt as it seemed to assert that selfishness, looking out for Number One, whether it be I as an individual or by extension the tribe with which I identify, is the sole driver and purpose of human affairs. In this worldview, morality, the Common Good, trust, cooperation—in short, being in solidarity with other human beings is foolishness in the struggle of all against all. It’s all about competing self-interests.

Is that what it means to be a human being fully alive—that life is nothing more than a fierce and competitive struggle for the goods of the world?; that the end game is dominance in which there are “winners and losers and you best not be on the wrong side?” to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen (cf. The River).
But as Christians, we only have to look to the model of the Trinity, which are celebrating today, for answers to those questions. We believe in a Communitarian God, The Most Holy Trinity, which teaches us who God is. Since we are made in the image of God, it teaches us what it means to be fully human. It means to live together in solidarity with one another.
What does it mean that God is a Communitarian God? What does it mean to proclaim that God is three-in-One? We’re not referring to three individual gods. We don’t believe in the Father-god, the Son-god, and the Holy Spirit-god. If God were three separate, independent, self-contained individuals, there would be no creation and no you. Why not? Because if God were independent and isolated, he would not want to create, to share Life. Why should he? God has himself and doesn’t need you or anyone else.

But, when we say that God is three-in-One, we are saying that God is a community, a family of three persons sharing one divine nature which is Love. Unlike an individual who is isolated and independent, a person necessarily is in relationship to other persons. When we say that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we are proclaiming a belief in a community of Persons who surrounds us, embraces us everywhere and loves us unconditionally exactly the same way they love themselves.
So, God the Father would not be Father unless He as Lover pours himself completely and totally into His Son, the Beloved. The Son receives everything from His Father and gives it all back! And we call that unending Loving between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit. Lover-Beloved-Loving: complete giving/complete receiving.

Giving and receiving is not only the basis of God, but is the underlying reality of all creation; it is the foundation of all meaningful relationships. We don’t live to “compete for advantage” over one another; we don’t live to dominate and control others. NO! We never simply live, but we always live together as we participate in Trinitarian life. Whatever favors a shared life of giving and receiving is worthwhile. Hence we live in this community style of living God’s existence by cooperating with one another, by forgiving and reconciling, by promoting the Common Good even at the expense of our personal self-interest.

Rather than fighting tooth and claw in the jungle, this communitarian style of living makes us attentive to the most vulnerable because as 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, those on the margins, who are a constant reminder that human relationships should not be based on a dynamic of oppressors and oppressed, winners and losers.
Through the perfect Revelation of our Lord Jesus, we joyfully accept that the Trinity is the very heart of Reality as it reveals Who God is, who we are, and the significance of the universe. We can know in our hearts the triune God when we do what God does: when we pour ourselves—our life—into others. In so doing, we don’t seek advantage or dominance, but help build community and solidarity grounded in the God, who is Love.