Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

I once knew a Twelve Steps counselor, (I’ll call him Daniel), who had many years experience helping people who suffer from various types of addiction. He told me an interesting story once about an experiment he tried one night with a man who was spending time with prostitutes, and who had reached out to Daniel for help with what he thought might be a sexual addiction.

Daniel got an idea. Arranging one night to accompany this man into town, they approached a prostitute, and Daniel asked her what they might offer her for two hours of her time. She told him, he paid her, and then invited her to supper with them at a nearby restaurant. They settled into a booth, Daniel asked the woman her name, and how long she had been in the city. After they had ordered, and supper came, and they’d begun to relax, Daniel engaged the woman in friendly conversation. He asked her how things were going. How long had she been working the streets? Did she have friends in the city? How was her health? As she grew more comfortable talking to them, they ventured to ask her “What sort of plans did she have for the future? Did she ever think about getting into another line of work?” They talked this way for more than an hour, until they had finished supper.

Daniel asked for the check, paid for the meal and standing, told the woman they appreciated very much the opportunity to talk and get acquainted with her, shook her hand and said “Goodnight”. The woman looked surprised. and a moment later, realizing, this actually was the conclusion of their evening together, she got really, really angry. It seems that, in her line of work, she was accustomed to being related to as an object, but for more than an hour she had been engaged by Daniel as a person; a child of God; a creature endowed with an innate and inalienable dignity. She didn’t mind chatting with the two men, but assumed that she would conclude this encounter as an object the way she did with different men every night. But now they were saying goodnight and leaving her standing there feeling like a person, which is to say, in a frame of mind that made it completely impossible for her to go back to work. The two men had inadvertently caused her to lose a full night’s earnings. When Daniel apologized but assured her that their meeting was concluded, she was furious, cursed them angrily, and walked away.

For the man suffering from an addiction the evening was a healing experience. Daniel had proclaimed to him a vitally important gospel truth: the truth that a prostitute is made in the image of God, and this was a healing insight for the addict. It was as if, through Daniel, Christ himself had performed a healing. But, at evening’s end, the score between Satan and Christ was tied: Christ had made exactly one friend and one enemy. Christ assures us in this morning’s gospel: “Everything hidden will be made known” and so “What you have heard me whisper to you in the darkness, proclaim in the daylight , and do not be afraid.” Be afraid? Why would we be afraid to proclaim the word of Christ out there in the world? Here’s an interesting question to ask yourself: What has Jesus Christ whispered to me in secret that I’m afraid to say in public?The truth? The truth about what? Have you heard Jesus say that a woman who sells her body in the street is a child of God? Why would we be afraid to say that out there? Any prostitute would be overjoyed to hear these words. Right? And if she might not be – does that make us afraid? Have you heard Jesus whisper deep in your heart that a human being is a soul and a body indivisibly and forever united such that a person with a man’s body is immutably and forever a man, and a person with a woman’s body is immutably and forever a woman? But this question of gender identity is right now being hotly debated on college campuses all over the country, and quite inconclusively.

A new tower of Babel: an absurdly rickety construction made out of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue, popularly called “gender theory” is rising up on the contemporary landscape and there are young people inside. That thing could fall on them, if they don’t discover the truth soon and get out of there. Why don’t we tell them the truth? The truth of gender identity whispered to us by Jesus in secret is such a beautiful truth. Surely those young people will be overjoyed to learn the truth. And maybe they won’t. What are we afraid of? You may be familiar with the famous teaching of Mother Theresa in which she exhorts us again and again: “Do it any way”. If she were here today, she might say to us: “Tell them the truth – and, yes, they may curse you to your face. Tell them the truth anyway.” And, you may recall, how that teaching of Mother Theresa concludes: The good you do today”, she says, “will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the very best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the end, it’s between you and God. It was never about them.”



Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Zech 12:10-11; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24 ]

Today Jesus first describes the great suffering He is about to undergo, and then invites all who are listening to face their own suffering. “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

The crowd thinned out very quickly. Those who stayed with Him were young and aspired to heroism. They were men and women like us, who, when we were young, heard these words and said,“YEAH! That's what I want to do! I want to take up my cross and follow! On that to which everything is owed, EVERYTHING must be spent!” We had a deep, personal, inner experience of who we were and of what our mission was. So we entered the monastery. In the Fall of 1963, at the age of 16, I entered the Passionists. Many of you, brothers, entered here in your late teens and twenties.

In the early years of our monastic life we learned what the “everything” that must be spent meant. We began to pinch pennies! The penny-pinching brought on a more mature re-appraisal of ourselves in the light of this inner experience and of the cross.

Jesus had said, “If anyone wishes…” It was a matter of the will. We all had a good will, but not necessarily a strong will. It seemed to have been strong enough in our pursuit of material things, but not in pursuit of principles.

He says specifically, “If anyone wishes to come after Me…” In other words, make a decision about the direction your life will take and who will take you there.

We decided on Jesus Christ. He tells us how to direct our will. First, “he must deny himself.” We must forgo a valued thing, such as the will to control and personal accomplishment, for something that has a pressing claim on us: an experience of God's love. Strength of will was not the controlling factor in our response; it need only be a good will. The call is to forget self.

Secondly, we were to “take up your cross daily.” This is that part of “everything” that caused us to pinch pennies. “The Cross” is usually one's own personality, ones anxieties, insecurities, and inadequacies. These were a cross because we were headed toward the Kingdom of God. These were also inner experiences that affected our attention and will, but they were in the shallow part of the heart and concern for them blocked access to our deeper heart. Our sensitivities are aimed precisely at obscuring this deep sense of mission and of monastic identity. They weigh us down with self-preoccupation. And they could not be simply willed away. We had to find something more important than them. This is why Jesus first says to “deny self”; when we forget self we simply live toward what is most important. As the psalmist says, “It is for your sake that I suffer taunts… zeal for your house consumes me” (Ps 68:8, 10). We take up the cross for the sake of the kingdom of God. We do this because the essence and entirety of Jesus Christ is that He was “FOR.” So His third condition is “Follow Me.” We have a mission. Spending everything meant to forget self and live for the Church community. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Paradoxically, having a mission requires us to forget self and yet makes us a person. “Following” gives our life a certainty of direction and an order. Rather than protecting self, we find the Spirit protects us not from external circumstances, but from those internal offenses that would discourage us.

In this gospel, the monk is called to go inside himself, into his deepest heart where he will find the Father, the only thing more important and more powerful than his sensitivities. As St. Bernard said, “You have only to descend into yourself to find Him.” And Isaac of Stella summed up the whole course of self-forgetfulness for the sake of God: He wrote: “So, Brother, make for yourself a hidden place within yourself, in which you can flee away from yourself, and pray in secret to the Father.”

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41]

Today’s gospel is a drama that is played out in the life of every man and woman as they live out their vocation. It is a spiritual drama that separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. We can see the story of the storm on the lake in each of our monastic vocation stories. Doubtless our neighbors and guests can see it in their vocations to marriage and the single life.

First of all, it is Jesus’ idea that they begin this journey. He calls them to leave a familiar place and way of life and go to some place new and strange. They obey him. They would seem to have confidence in him.

We did the same when we decided to leave home and enter the monastery. We thought we had confidence in Jesus and felt assured that all would be well.

The disciples were obeying Jesus when they set out to cross the sea. A trip across the sea is supposed to go smoothly and pleasantly, but instead a storm came up at night terrorizing the disciples. Wind was a sign of God’s power and waves indicate a restless heart. Wind and waves were powers over which the disciples had no control and the strength of that power and the lack of control made them fearful. They were experiencing adversity.

When our monastic formation began we had a “honeymoon.” Things seemed to go smoothly and pleasantly. But eventually the dark night settled in and an unexpected storm we didn’t know it was the power of God struck and shattered our notions of a smooth and pleasant monastic life. It shattered our notions of who we were and where we fit and how the world would go. We experienced adversity. Adversities are any experience that diminishes us, that dash our dreams and expectations and exceed our developed coping abilities. They are unpleasant reminders of our limits and our dependence. We didn’t know back then, that adversities are only adverse to those whose love is wrongly directed.

It was in this adversity, this storm that we began to notice something important. In the midst of the storm the disciples noticed Jesus sleeping, a sign of total trust, of a quiet, content heart. It was hard to believe. When they awakened him they didn’t ask him for help; they just asked him to panic with them!

He asked them two questions; the first is, “Why are you terrified?” The word he used for “terrified” does not refer to a reaction to obviously frightening external circumstance. The Greek word, delios, refers to an inner defect in the person. It denotes a lack of trust or confidence … to cowardliness.

In our monastic formation our own inner defects were exposed to us by the storms. In our fear, we looked to the seniors of the community. They rested peacefully during a storm. But their rest was not because they had “been there; done that.” Like the disciples, in the midst of the storm, and as a result of it, the seniors had faced the question of Jesus about their fear. Then they faced the second question about the solution to their fear: “Do you not yet have faith?” To deal with this they had first to face the truth of their fear. They came to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as they had been living it. Then they recalled the sleeping Jesus and saw that faith in the Father’s care and protection really worked in him. It is facing up to these two realities that separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls.

In facing this we came to believe not in a proposition, but rather we believed a person and in a person. That person was Jesus. He had what the disciples and we lacked. When we believed the person of Jesus we became able to have faith in the Father he always pointed to.

Jesus calmed the storm for his disciples, but as the seniors will tell us, it did not make for a “happy ending.” A sailboat on a calm lake where the “wind has ceased” cannot go anywhere! The storm was calmed, their hearts set at rest, not for their comfort, but so that they could accomplish the mission to which Jesus had called them: announcing the kingdom of God by being a self-gift to others. It was time for them to grab an oar and start to work.

Brothers, guests, and neighbors, let us now offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise and then, emulating those who have gone before us, grab an oar and start to work!

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-41]

Please indulge me for a few moments while I read a short selection from a poem by Marianne Moore entitled: “Keeping Their World Large.

“A noiseless piano, an innocent war, the heart that can act against itself. Here,

each unlike and all alike, could
so many – stumbling, falling , multiplied
till bodes lay as ground to walk on –

“If Christ and the apostles died in vain,
I’ll die in vain with them”
Against this way of victory.
That forest of white crosses!
My eyes won’t close to it.

All laid like animals for sacrifice –
Like Isaac on the mount,
Were their own sacrifice.

Marching to death, marching to life?
“Keeping their world large”
whose spirits and whose bodies
all too literally were our shield,
are still our shield.

They fought the enemy,
We fight fat living and self-pity.
Shine, o shine,
Unfalsifying sun, on this sick scene.”

I did ask you to indulge me for a few moments. There is something of luxury, indulgence and waste in poetry. Maybe should could have said what she meant in a more efficient way, more to the point and less time-consuming. She is speaking of war. Why doesn’t she just come out and say if she is for or against it? Everyone would understand what she meant then.

There is something deliberately elusive about poetry. We easily become impatient at is laborious process, at the effort it takes to understand. And we come to an understanding only if we engage ourselves in the questions it probes, in the emotions it sparks. It summons us and puts demands on us, rather than our more normal way of reading and listening in which it is we who make the demands and pose the questions from an objective and detached stance.

We are annoyed at the way it plays with words and with grammar. It takes our familiar language, grammar, and syntax and makes them speak in a foreign tongue, makes us feel like outsiders in our own country. The familiar is used to take us into another world, to “cross over to the other side” lying under our feet. The familiar is less sure, less stable, gives less support. Something challenging and threatening has been there all the time, but we had been able not to notice.

It is when the familiar suddenly loses its stability and security that we are most at a loss. Terrorism is the injection of violence into the normal and familiar: shopping in a market, eating in a restaurant, a bus ride to work or school. We become paralyzed and unable to function with normal responses. The disciples crossed a small and innocuous lake, one they had crossed many times as professional sailors and fishermen. The “normal” suddenly became a confrontation with violence and excess. They were being submerged in every sense. How can this be happening to me? It violates all boundaries of justice and what I had a right to expect. And then we realize that what is normal and just is perhaps not so normal and taken for granted. Most of us live lives in which we assume great security and comfort. Gas may be expensive, but we expect to be able to fill up our tanks. We consider it normal to have housing, food, jobs, water — but for many, many people in our world, those items are not normal, not available. Maybe the poetic wisdom of faith summons us to live a bit more on the edge of contingency than we do.

God spoke out of the storm to Job. Is it only in tranquility that we can hear God or that it is His function to maintain us in calm and peace? God seems to be at home in the violent storm, where creation is refashioned with an excess of energy. He spoke as a poet: “I fastened the bar of the sea’s door” and tamed “your proud waves.” Maybe we need to appreciate God’s presence as a poet in His creation. He is not a mechanic or a puppet master, but a creative agent who summons us to engage our lives in His new creation.

I am suggesting five ways of appreciating God’s poetic action in our world. Perhaps one day these will replace St. Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways of Knowing God. We’ll see.

1) Life is a work of patience and labor. The acceptance of an unfolding process of time in which reality is to come to its full maturity means that our integration into this reality involves waiting and suffering. It is not clarity of vision or results that will motivate us, but an inner reality: “the love of Christ impels us.We find our own egos being displaced and that we “are living no longer for ourselves but for Him who died and rose for us.” Belief is an engagement in historical creation with a readiness to risk everything. The poetry of God’s plan only slowly reveals itself to those willing to cross from where they are to the other side.

2) Poetry dares to confront the deepest forces of destructiveness and evil. A life which screens out the disruptive and disturbing simply suppresses for a time urges and forces which will become uncontrollable when the unconscious wells up into awareness. There is “another side” within us which we need to address in faith. The harshness of life leads us into a wholeness unavailable in any other way.

3) The poet and creator works with the material that is given. Sometimes, the most difficult discipline is simply to see and relate to things AS THEY ARE. God asks us to cooperate with Him in accepting the limitations offered by our situation in life. He does not function as a deus ex machina nor does He import foreign elements. Pope John Paul II said that human life is the way to God and Benedict in his Rule said that the ladder to heaven is our life in this world. This is already the new creation in process. The disciples took Jesus in the boat “just as He was.” Christ takes us just as we are.

4) Only a vision of the whole reveals and restores each part to its real significance. Our penchants for self-evaluation and self-justification cut us off from the whole. All the boats were traveling together. Each word or phrase in a poem is interconnected with each other word and the whole. This is a new way of knowing. “If we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we know him so no longer.” The spirit of Christ communicates itself as a bonding energy.

5) To read a poem is to let oneself be moved by the energy and effective power of its words. All words uttered from the depths of personal being have this power, although we fail to speak and listen from these depths. God has uttered his Word and creation has come into being. The words of Christ are in utter harmony with his Father and in utter harmony with the whole of creation. They are words which create harmony: “be still.” It is our lack of faith which denies and submerges this identification we have been given with Christ. This new identification is the locus of our prayer—the capacity to utter words which flow from the depths of Christ into the depths of our own hearts. “They were filled with great awe.” A new consciousness, a new appreciation of the Lordship of Christ transforms our fear, our terror into a personal response of faith. The world is no longer a storm of impersonal forces. It is a milieu in which we meet a personal God. Who is this who molds and forms his new creation as a potter, as a poet? Who is this who probes all things with His care?

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33]

I want you to relax and sit comfortably on your seat, but do not fall asleep. Popcorns and sodas will follow later. Today we will watch an imaginary film. Imagine a wide screen that falls before you now. We turn on the video set to E-channel, that is, “Evangelium,” or the Good News channel. The title of the presentation is “The Inside Story of a Prophet and an Apostle: Up Close and Personal.” It is a two-part program that gives us an inside look into the lives of the ones chosen by God. Jeremiah by MichelangeloThere is usually a different profile, often in contrast, between the public life of a herald of God and his private life. From the figure of self-confidence before the assembly, he turns fearful before the Lord with all the challenges that confront him simply because he had to preach the word of God.

Now that the show begins, we see a bearded man, feeling tormented and in great anguish. He is restless in his bed and could not sleep. As the Lord has commanded him, he preached boldly against the powerful king and his compliant people for their idolatry and infidelity to the Lord. He was fiery in his speech, and it should have moved their hearts to penitence to avoid the Lord’s judgment on them. Instead of being listened to, this prophet named Jeremiah was arrested, beaten, imprisoned and subjected to disgrace by the priest of the royal court. He did his job well, but now he is being persecuted. He did not expect this to happen and he did not deserve it.

The prophet was going through a crisis in his life, in his faith and vocation. Jeremiah was further tortured by depressing thoughts. “I hear the whisperings of many: Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!(Jer 20:10). Now his friends have become his enemies. They all wanted his downfall for being so harsh and uncooperative with them. At one point when everybody was against him, he also felt abandoned by God. No one has come to his rescue. He begins to curse his mother, the one who brought him into the world and even the day of his birth, (Jer 15:10-18; 20:7-9). How he wished that his mother’s womb could have been his tomb then so that he would have been spared all these senseless torments in his life! (Jer 20: 14-18).

While he was in agony, a flashback on his younger days is seen. He was energetic then, serene, and determined. He was living a quiet life. Soon he heard the call of the Lord in the most beautiful fashion. Like a baby being lullabied by his mother, Jeremiah heard the Lord say to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you,” (Jer 1:5). The Prophet JeremiahHe felt awkward for being so young and inarticulate in speech to be entrusted with a tremendous mission. But the Lord assured him of his support and deliverance. “Fear not before men because I am with you to deliver you,” said the Lord, (Jer 1:8). Despite the torments that Jeremiah experienced in his agony, it was this consoling event of his vocation, and the peak moment of his life, which enabled him to swing back in the pendulum of his crisis. From being depressed as he languished in persecution, he became hopeful again at the Lord’s assurance of his presence and support in his ministry. He professed, “The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph,(Jer 20:11). He was never alone in his trials, after all. Now the first part of the film winds up. Jeremiah is shown, back to his feet courageously proclaiming the Lord’s word as it was commanded him.

The second part of the film, we see Jesus with his twelve apostles gathered around him. He was about to send them on a mission to the whole of Israel, (Mt 10:6). These men would perform wonders as he did, by curing the sick, raising the dead and expelling demons. They had to proclaim the kingdom of God. He warned them though that persecution would be their lot. They would be accused unjustly in courts and tortured in synagogues. Trailing his destiny, their lot would be to suffer even to the point of death. Jesus consoled his chosen men as he said, “Fear not.” Three times this phrase was repeated. First, they need not be afraid to speak out the truth of the Gospel. “What you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops,” Jesus says, (Mt 10:27). Their opponents will intimidate them to silence in proclaiming God’s word. They will even be threatened with death. But the Spirit of the Lord will defend and inspire them with the right words to say at the opportune time. Second, the magnitude of the threats on the apostles is nothing compared to the power that they possess. They have God with them and in them. Jesus teaching his disciplesThe body may be killed, but the soul remains alive in God. Only God can kill both the body and the soul, (Mt 10:28). Lastly, there is nothing to fear, since these apostles are precious in the Lord’s eyes, (Mt 10:29-31). By all means, they would be protected and saved. They may not be spared from harm or insults. But they will always be ultimately saved to show the ultimate power of the word they proclaim. It is a saving word for men, beginning with the herald of the Good News. With this encouragement from their Master, the apostle is strengthened to go and fulfill the Lord’s mission in his life. Faith in the Lord overcomes all fear.

The film concludes with an overlapped dynamic presentation of the mission works of Jeremiah and of the apostles. Relentlessly, they went to various peoples and places. They courageously proclaimed God’s word as the Spirit guided and defended them. “Fear not; have faith in me,” says Jesus. Despite the persecutions, they spread God’s word in season and out of season. “Whoever acknowledges me before men I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven,(Mt 10:32).

As the imaginary film’s main program closes, the epilogue opens. This time it depicts our own lives. We see ourselves as the characters in the film. We have heard God’s word and His call. Now we are challenged to live and proclaim His word. But with all the obstacles we encounter in our life, who would not be confronted with a crisis? We begin to fear and feel overwhelmed by the forces that tend to suck us in. We begin to doubt whether we could make it. Where is the Lord, after all? Where are the people I helped and relied on? I am left all alone.

Fear not. Have faith in me. In the face of a crisis, the Lord tells us, “Fear not. Have faith in me. I am with you to deliver you. You are worth a precious treasure to me.” In this anatomy of fear and faith, the process is that fear, be it real or imaginary, knocks at the door of our life. But when faith comes to open it, there is no one there. Faith is the antidote to fear. When we rest secure in the Lord, there is nothing to be afraid of. With deep faith in the Lord, we can fulfill the mission the Lord entrusts to us. In doing our tasks, fear surfaces anew with the tension that occurs between our vocation and ministry. We always need to do a balancing act. Married couples must keep nourishing their lives with the marriage commitment before the Lord and the gestures of love for one another. A father upset by the trials of providing for his family needs to nurture his idealism as God’s steward. A religious or a monk maintains the balancing act with Benedict’s rule of “ora et labora,” (Pray and work). Through sincere prayers to the Lord, we never feel afraid to do the work we ought to do. In discovering more how much God loves us, we are inspired to deepen our faith and keep moving on. We gather here in this house of God to freshen up our faith. The Eucharist is the greatest prayer and intimate encounter with the Lord. It leads us to live our faith courageously amidst trials.