Wednesday, April 30, 2014

27 April 2014 - The Second Sunday of Easter

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Acts 2.42-47
Second Reading:
1 Peter 1.3-9
Gospel Reading:
John 20.19-31

During the Easter Season, people who went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, commonly known as the RCIA program, enter the final stage of the RCIA process, called Mystagogy. Mystagogy is the period after Baptism meant to be one of spiritual growth where the newly baptized learn ways to strengthen their faith and apply it to their daily lives. But this time is also a special time for us; a time to recommit to metanoia, that is, to our ongoing transformation and conversion-- individually and communally.

The early Christians in the First Reading present the picture of practices that bring about mystagogy and metanoia. They faithfully continued in the Apostle's teaching, they socialized and shared everything with each other, practised neighbourly love, broke earthly and sacramental bread together and prayed together. We get the picture that they were a joyous people. They were confident in their Messiah's love and had each other for support in good times and bad. It appears also that their discipleship was magnetic and sustaining.

Even though the Church has fractured into denominations and factions within denominations, there still exists across the fragmentation, those who, whether they know it or not, are closely connected through their faithfulness in discipleship. From the distance of time, we can see this enduring faithful discipleship speaks to the truth of what Peter is saying in the Second Reading.

To put it in down-to-earth terms. Rome, which saw itself as the all-powerful ruler of the world, we know, as an empire, has indeed perished from the earth. Yet these two thousand plus years later, the name, words and works of the One they crucified lives on. Although we have not seen Him, we love Him and to the best of our abilities, try to follow him.

Following Jesus, for us means trying to understand the Scriptures and today's Gospel contains an element that has been used to exercise the type of religious tyranny that Jesus spoke out against. I'm talking specifically about this part, verse 20.23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

The Holy Spirit, breathed upon the disciples by Jesus, is given in turn through Baptism to all believers. Hence, the power to forgive sins is meant to affect all believers. Regarding this verse, the late Roman Catholic priest and biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, wrote

... we doubt that there is sufficient evidence to confine the power of forgiving and holding of sin, granted in John 20.23, to a specific exercise of power in the Christian community, whether that be admission to Baptism or forgiveness in Penance. These are but partial manifestation of a much larger power, namely, the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father and given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commissions. It is an effective, not merely a declaratory, power against sin, a power that touches new and old followers of Christ, a power that challenges those who refuse to believe.1

Brown is saying this power is not exercised by some incantation said by a priest. It is a power that should bring about a change of heart. Discipleship entails helping each other and our neighbours persevere in the ways of love, justice, and peace-- and forgiveness. Forgiveness has two aspects, inward and outward. We practice the inward aspect when we seek to reestablish right relationship because we have failed to act with love or when we have hurt or harmed someone in any way. When someone fails to act lovingly with us, hurts or harms us, we practice the outward aspect of forgiveness when we are willing to forgive and graciously accept attempts at reconciliation. When this outward aspect of forgiveness is too hard for us to do alone, we can pray for God to forgive them until we can do so ourselves.

Living a way of life according to the will of God is not exclusively Christian, just as Christianity is not devoid of those who love power, money and position. Those who are addicted to power, money, position, will misunderstand, ridicule or despise lovers of compassion, justice and peace. Therefore, the retaining of sin is not something God does, or a priest does or that we do, sin is self-retained by anyone who refuses to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. This is not an “us and them” scenario because in varying degrees there are parts of “them” in “us.” We are called to love them as ourselves-- and the “them” in ourselves. We are called to pray for unity and oneness with the Creator's will, and just maybe by living lives of constant conversion, all “themness” will be transformed into Godliness. Alleluia Alleluia!

Please add your own thoughts/reflections
1 Brown, Raymond Edward. The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI, Vol. II). New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008, p. 1044.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

19 April 2014 – Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil Reflection

Tonight's readings recall for us our salvation history from our creation in the image and likeness of God. We recall God's hand in delivering the Israelites from the tyranny of Egypt to remind us of the tyrannies of our own lives, which we can overcome with God's help. Throughout our history, God makes covenants with us and we break them. God sent us prophets to teach and we ignored them. Yet God does not forsake us. Jesus, the Son of God, God's embodied Word came to teach us, to make us whole, and to make a lasting covenant with us. Jesus started his public ministry by gathering disciples and forming a community. This disciples in turn would gather others around them forming a community of communities.

A few things came together this week that for me reinforced the importance of community for Christians in life and in thinking of the Resurrection. In the West we don't often think of the communal aspect of the Resurrection. First, earlier this week, I read an article by John Dominic Crossan entitled, TheCommunal Resurrection of Jesus. The article talked about a banner he saw in one of the chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that depicted the Resurrection as a communal event. Second, I remembered part of the Matthew's account of the Passion that we read last week: “...The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” Lastly, I thought about the words of the Apostles Creed that state: He descended into Hell or He descended to the dead.

These musings coalesced to remind me that our tradition holds that before the resurrection, all the dead would go to Sheol or Hades, which we mistakenly call hell. It was a place characterized by darkness and death. After Christ was laid into the tomb, he descended into Hades and broke the bonds of death and set all death's captives free. In coming back to the living, Christ released humanity from the bonds of darkness and death. The Resurrection makes possible God's New Covenant with us, which is the promise that everyone may share in eternal life with Christ.

Have a look at this Icon, called, TheResurrection Icon of Victory ...

In the Icon, Jesus Christ stands victoriously in the centre. Christ is robed in and surrounded by a mandorla, the oval shape of star-studded light, which represents the Glory of God. Christ is shown pulling Adam from the tomb. Eve is to Christ’s left. Her hands are held out in supplication. She is waiting for Jesus to act. This humble surrender to Jesus is all Adam and Eve need to do, and all they are able to do. Christ does the rest, which is why He is forcefully pulling Adam from the tomb by the wrist, and not the hand. Surrounding the victorious Christ are John the Baptist and the Righteous from Hebrew Scriptures. Abel is shown as the young shepherd-boy on Christ's left, just above Eve.

Those who predeceased Christ’s crucifixion descended to Hades, where they patiently waited the coming of their Messiah. Now they are freed from this underworld, and mingle freely with Christ and His angels.1

This Icon is similar to the banner that Crossan described in his article. His point was that the resurrection, like Jesus' teaching is a communal affair.

Before the resurrection, death was the ultimate fear inducing enemy. It led people to compete for food, money, power instead of cooperating. Before his death, Jesus taught us “be not afraid”. He taught that cooperation, caring and being good neighbours to all who need us is the way of life for members of God's household. All through the Gospels, we hear that the disciples did not yet but would ultimately understand. After the resurrection the disciples understood and, in turn, we understand that not only has Christ conquered death but that salvation is communal and that as Paul says, we share in Christ's life, death and resurrection. Jesus shared his life in community with the twelve and more by sharing His gifts and service with anyone who came to him. His words and actions were an example for His disciples to follow, His disciples then and those to come. Tonight we celebrate His resurrection, which He shared and still shares communally. Jesus Christ, our Light and our Life, is risen today, alleluia!, alleluia!




Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday – 17 April 2014

Shared Homily Starter

The Community is invited to share after the foot-washing


First Reading:
Exodus 12.1-8, 11-14
Second Reading:
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
Gospel Reading:
John 12.1-15

Tonight's readings calls us to reflect on the meaning of the sacraments that we receive. The reading from Corinthians recalls the institution of the Eucharist. Some of us may remember the old Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament as “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace”. I don't think we are given grace so that we can get time off for good behaviour from purgatory or to fill up some heavenly milk bottle or egg that represents our soul. We are given grace so that the grace we receive can bear fruit. By that I mean that we are nourished through the Eucharist, so that we may be nourishment for others.

John's Gospel shows us that in living in the daylight of grace, we are to help accomplish the intent of the Gospel, the Good News. The Fourth Gospel is full of double meanings but the Evangelist makes one thing clear, this Gospel was written to encourage belief in the reader. He or she wrote it so that we may believe and so that we may continue to believe what is written. For example, the Evangelist tells us Jesus loved them to the end! That also means, He loves us to the end! That is, Jesus loved them and us to the very last moment and that Jesus loves us totally, completely, with the full extent of his love. John wants us to understand that Jesus' love is a love that at its core is incomprehensible in its fullness. God's love for us is the reason that Jesus came. Jesus' mission was to teach us to have confidence in Him as the revelation of God's love. He would be put to death because what he taught could free people from the oppressive structures and life-ways that kept them captive. But as that famous film line from the Mummy says, “Death is only the beginning.” Jesus knew, the Evangelist tells us, that he had come from God and was going to God. But we can see, Jesus wanted to give the disciples one more comprehensive lesson before his ordeal.

As is typical with Peter, he did not understand what Jesus was doing. He did not understand that unless we let Jesus wash away what separates us and what keeps us from becoming whole, we cannot share the unifying love that God gives us. The washing of the disciples feet is not only an act of service but one of love for them and for us. As we read and hear it today, the foot-washing serves as a reminder of the ethical grace of our baptism.

Ethical grace is the grace of the essential goodness of earth and all its inhabitants combined with our responsibility for sustaining it. Jesus knows the disciples are not really getting it. If we were to put what Jesus was saying in today's terms, it would go something like this. Yes, I'm your teacher but your seminary days are almost over. I have washed your feet as a symbol of ethical grace in action; as an example that I want you to follow. I washed your feet to show you that you are to follow my example by your humility, love and generosity in your communities, in caring for all who have need, in healing the sick, in your appreciation for all life, by confronting the powers of injustice and exploitation, and in advocacy for freedom of the imprisoned.1 In essence that is what Jesus was saying to them and to us.

At the Easter Vigil liturgy, we will renew our baptismal vows. So let us reflect on the meaning of the sacraments that we receive. When we are baptized, we join a community whose mandate is discipleship. The book of Genesis tells us the world that God created was “very good”. We do not have to belittle other faiths or try to convert people. Our Baptismal discipleship does not set us apart from or make us better than our brothers and sisters of other faiths or no faith. Our baptismal vows do call us to imitate Christ in reflecting God's love.

When we receive the Eucharist, which means, Thanksgiving, we give thanks that Jesus loved us so much that he gave his life so that we might learn love and justice as the life-sustaining will of God. At the same time, when we receive the body and blood of Christ, we commit to following the same example of discipleship Jesus instituted along with the Eucharist on the night before he was crucified. Jesus modelled that attending to the bodily needs of people is not divorced from caring for the needs of their souls. The practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are derived from the Jesus teachings and example. So during these holy days and beyond, let us pray that the phrase, “They will know we are Christians by our love” becomes a fact not just a lyric to a song. Let us pray that our actions reflect the words we profess. So in memory of that holy night, I will wash your feet as a symbol of my love for and service to you.

1Brock, Rita Nakashima, and Rebecca Ann Parker. Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.

13 April 2014 – Passion [Palm] Sunday

A Few Thoughts

Let him be crucified! Or in our case, we are saying, “Let them be crucified!” During Lent some of us have been participating in a Lenten Program called, “I thirst”, which focused on Earth's dwindling fresh, clean water. But water is not the only gift from God that we are crucifying.

For example, we know that the Earth is suffering. Water and air are being routinely polluted and the lungs of the Earth are being destroyed through deforestation. Most of this is devastation is perpetrated to support corporate profits. Let's look at just one corporate example, Coca-Cola, which has operations in China, Colombia, El Salavador, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Turkey.

In Guatemala and Colombia, advocates for fair labour practices at Coca-Cola bottling plants, are systematically intimidated through kidnapping, torture and murder. People in areas of India and Kenya are getting sick and dying because Coca Cola has obtained the water rights to potable water sources. It is cheaper for the poor to buy a Coke than Coca Cola's bottled water. So free, clean, safe drinking water, is unavailable to the people.

Unfortunately, we participate in this crucifixion of the Christ in creation. Unfortunately, we are caught up in a system from which it is almost impossible to disengage. We can, however, become responsible neighbours. We can familiarize ourselves and those in our circles with information on companies like Coca-Cola and their record on human rights, social justice and, environmental sustainability. We can use our purchasing power to demand greater corporate responsibility. We can purchase environmentally safe and human rights violation free products.

When it comes down to it. If we crucify them, that is God's people and God's Earth, we die with them. So let us not just look to our celebration of Jesus' resurrection at Easter, let us work with Christ for an Age of Easter for our world.

Please share your thoughts.

2014-03-16 ─ Second Sunday of Lent

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Genesis 12.1-4
Second Reading:
2 Timothy 1.8-10
Gospel Reading:
Matthew 17.1-9

Whether we think this story is a religious fantasy or accept that it all actually happened, the important point is that this story presents us with a mystery beyond what science or history can prove. This story attempts to draw us into the mystery of Jesus’ as that mystery was experienced by his followers─ the Jesus community.
This story is not one of proof that Jesus was God; a Jewish community would have rejected this out of hand. Rather, it is a manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is presented as a transformed human being, the new Moses, who will lead us on the way to wholeness as members of the family of God.
In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah was carried to heaven before he died and Jewish tradition says the same of Moses. Peter’s offer to build three dwellings, while not putting Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus, suggests that Peter perceived all three as “heavenly” human beings. In any case, Peter’s statement shows the scene can’t be fully understood without divine help.
Peter’s voice is interrupted by the voice from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ The heavenly voice declared this when Jesus was baptized just at the beginning of his public ministry. Now, following the first prediction of the passion, announced in the previous chapter, the voice from the cloud confirms that Jesus is what he said he is, a suffering Messiah. However, ‘with whom I am well pleased’ has the added meaning this time that God is pleased with Jesus’ acceptance of the suffering to come. “Listen to him” confirms Jesus’ role as Teacher, sent by God. Biblical scholars point out the priority given to word over vision in Jewish tradition. For example, Douglas Hare, writes
Mystical experience of heavenly reality in the form of visual images has its place, but a very healthy emphasis is placed upon God’s will communicated through word. Seeing Jesus transfigured has value as only if it leads the disciples to listen obediently to his divinely authorized teachingi.
We, like the disciples, fear. We fear because we know that to listen to Jesus and do what is asked of us may not be easy. We too may be called to suffer because we chose to follow Christ by obedience to God’s call for love, mercy and justice. Again, like with Peter, James and John, Jesus is with us. The Jesus in us is the Jesus with us. We are to be the comforting touch of Jesus to each other so that we too can get up and not be afraid. But our imitation of Christ does not stop there to stagnate in some super in-group. We are to be each other’s support and encouragement in co-creating a just and peaceful world for everyone and a healthy, life-filled and verdant Earth.
Therefore, Lent should be viewed, not as a time of penitence, but rather as a time of replenishment as we reflect on the life, passion and death of Jesus. Some of our religious upbringing may have led us to think that we are a people stuck in the crucifixion; but we are a resurrection people and are to be secure in the knowledge that the crucifixion was not the last word. The resurrection of Jesus is a reminder that, ultimately, all of creation will be transformed into the Beloved Community that God intended.

What are your thoughts?

i Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993. p. 200.