“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.

 

 

 

The Spirit Breathes Life

The Solemnity of Pentecost (B); 5-20-18

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

         The meaning of the feast of Pentecost is richly complex: it’s like a multi-faceted diamond whose brilliance takes different nuances when examined from different angles. Today’s readings offer us multiple dimensions of meaning for this Solemnity.   The gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is one more facet of the awe-inspiring mystery that encompasses Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.

Indeed, Pentecost is the capstone of these solemnities because Jesus himself announced that the whole purpose of his mission on earth is brought about at Pentecost. On the way to Jerusalem he declared to his disciples, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49).

These words became graphically alive fifty days later after the Resurrection at Pentecost, which was an ancient Jewish feast; in the Church it has become the feast of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. “There appeared to them tongues as of fire…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4).

The real fire, the Holy Spirit, was brought to earth by Christ so that we could stay in communion with Him and be empowered to continue his mission: to proclaim the Good News and help bring about the salvation of the world. So that Jesus’ mission may be extended throughout history, he says to the Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” These words were expressed as “he breathed on them” (Jn 20:22). It’s not that the Church has a mission but the mission of Christ has a Church, which is the Way that God brings about his salvific plan in the Risen and Ascended Christ.

Sisters and brothers, we are not merely called to imitate Jesus. We are challenged to become the Risen Christ—to be the second Coming of Christ. Sounds farfetched? Jesus Christ has constituted his Church as his Mystical Body according to St. Paul and brilliantly reaffirmed by Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church). And, who is the Church? We are, the People of God, who were initiated into the Church at baptism. That means that Christ permeates every member of his Body. That’s what Communion means: to be in Christ…to participate in Trinitarian love.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? He was communicating to us his Spirit—the same Spirit that is the loving energy shared between Him and his Father. God completely gives Himself away to us: We are so blessed!

Now, People of God, as we live in the Spirit, our church community will be formed in a unique way that differentiates from any other institution. What way is that?   As John the Evangelist describes the event of Pentecost, he recalls that the disciples “were all gathered in one place.” That place was the “Upper Room” where Jesus had eaten the Last Supper with his Apostles, where he had appeared to them Risen. This room had become the “headquarters” of the nascent Church. The Acts of the Apostles, however, insists that this physical place was special because it reflected an inner attitude of the disciples: “ All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Notice that the harmony of the community is conditioned by prayer. Unless we enthusiastically embrace public and private prayer, we won’t be “in one accord” with one another.

Brothers and sisters, what was true of the early Church is just as true for us today who are gathered here at St. John the Baptist C.C. If we want Pentecost to be a true celebration of our salvation, we must always be preparing ourselves in devout expectation for the gift of God. God does not come to us by sprinkling pixie dust over us, but he is received by those who humbly and silently listen to his Word; he is received by those who stay at all times with the love that is in their hearts.

At this time in history, we have a particularly difficult challenge, since our increasingly secular culture is pushing God, the source of all life, out of the picture and asserting itself as the center of the universe.

In the hands of such men and women, “fire” becomes very dangerous, which can backfire against life and humanity. Just witness the 100 million lives lost during the wars of the 20th century, the 500 million worldwide lost to abortion since 1973, and the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic energy was used to kill civilians en masse. We can use “fire” to sow death at an unheard scale, which is a perennial reminder that the only “fire” that can give life is grounded in the Holy Spirit. Like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel parable who believes that he can fulfill himself by distancing himself from his father’s house, the modern person has given into the conceit that one can make oneself happy without God.

The Solemnity of Pentecost reveals that the energy that is capable of transforming the world is not a mindless, anonymous, blind Force, but the loving action of the “Spirit of God…moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Jesus Christ “brought to the earth” not the vital force that was already there, but the Holy Spirit that is the loving energy of the Triune God, Who “renews the face of the earth,” purifying from evil and selfishness and setting it free from the dominion of death” (Psalm 104). Let the Holy Spirit speak to you so you can change the face of the earth and bring God alive to all who touch you.