Predicting the Weather

A special person in my life is a six-year-old boy named Anthony. Anthony and his three brothers have adopted Charlotte and me as “Ama” and “Papa,” honorary grandparents, and since we are part of the same parish and live only a couple blocks apart, we get to see them often.

Back to Anthony: this little boy has an uncanny ability to “predict” the weather. He will look out of the window or go outside and tell you that it is going to rain, or that there will be a storm, and will insist upon it even when it doesn’t seem likely. Then sure enough, right on cue, the rain or the storm will begin. Not only does Anthony have an awareness to all things meteorological, he is deeply connected spiritually. How I love to watch him in the Mass. He takes in everything from the procession of the Cross, the altar servers, and the priest celebrant to the final benediction. You can hear Anthony’s childish voice singing the “Gloria” and the “Alleluia” over those around him. And he actively recites the “Our Father” and the Creed. And when Mass is over the first thing that Anthony does is go see “Father,” the priest who celebrated the Mass that day.

I thought of my dear Anthony when I heard the Gospel reading this morning from St. Luke’s chapter 12:54–56, a most interesting and perplexing chapter.

Signs of the Times. He also said to the crowds, “When you see [a] cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain—and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot—and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Little Anthony may have his eyes on the clouds in the sky, but he also models for me a “little one” who has his eyes on Jesus and the wonderful gifts available for us to be most effective for our Lord in the present time.

Of all people Christians, as Jesus said, should be those who are alert and aware and are able to interpret the present time. That is a challenge for all of us. We live, breathe and ingest our milieu. It is difficult to separate ourselves from influences, opinions and attitudes that we share with the rest of our culture. In some cases Christians have been shamed into believing that they have to march in lockstep with the prevailing attitudes, because to do other, is insensitive, unkind, even hateful. Try to express a conviction that you hold because of your commitment to the Church and Sacred Scripture and watch the fur fly and the insults begin.

That, of course, does not mean Christians should not exercise compassion and kindness, yes we must. We are called to love, yet we are also called to speak the truth. All love and no truth makes us insipid and useless in a world that desperately needs a dose of salt and light. It makes me realize that I can be an expert, or up to date, on all the trivia, all the gossip, even that the Duchess of Sussex forgot to remove a price tag from her dress, and be of no good to the world around me, because I would have failed to “interpret the present time.”

I hear Jesus say, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 NABRE). We don’t know when the time will come to speak a word, share a material resource with another, give witness of our faith, be confronted with a trial or a temptation, or most importantly to go to meet our Lord. Be watchful. Be alert. Read the signs of the present moment you are in. May the Holy Spirit guide us! Thank you little Anthony for teaching me!

We Have Been Given a Trust

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where yesterday’s reading left off. Jesus tells a parable about a home invasion. He says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:39–40 NABRE).

Then Peter, speaking for all of us, asks, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus then teaches an important truth that is universal for all of us: the more we are entrusted with from God, the more is required of us. In fact, he says:

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48).

At this point we can echo Peter’s question: “Lord, is this…meant for us or for everyone?” I know my mind went immediately to those in Christian ministry, especially after spending more than 30 years in evangelical pastoral ministry. In my present circumstances I think of my priests, the bishops and cardinals, even the pope. They are the ones who have been entrusted with much and even still more.

Let me pause here for a moment and say that it is incumbent upon us to pray earnestly for those who are responsible for our spiritual care. There is a string of passages in Hebrews 13 that speak to this:

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect. 19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.

At the same time that we pray for our spiritual leaders, we have to recognize that we too have been entrusted with much: life, health, talent, treasure, family, time, and especially as Christians, the call to make a difference with our lives. How are we stewarding that trust?

A. W. Tozer, an American evangelical pastor of the past century was fond of challenging his listeners and readers to “live with eternity’s values in view.” I quote him:

“The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and Church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served. And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him. No man can become spiritual by himself. Only the free Spirit can make a man spiritual.”

I know of no better way to recapture eternity’s values than participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as in that moment in time we on earth are united with heaven celebrating the timeless sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out:

“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13–14 NABRE)

With a full and grateful heart join with the angelic chorus today! You have been entrusted with much!

Gird Your Loins

Do what? This morning’s Gospel reading in the Mass is taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition and uses terminology that is not common in our everyday vernacular. When was the last time you “girded your loins?”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:35–38 NABRE)

Still not sure what it means? I took at look at other translations and found these options:

  • “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (NRSV)
  • “Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit” (GNT)
  • “Be ready and keep your lamps burning” (CEV)

That helps, doesn’t it? Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and that includes us. He is speaking of a future event, particularly of his Second Coming. He will come unannounced. He will not send a two-weeks’ notice. He will appear suddenly, and therefore he is cautioning us, instructing us, even warning us to be ready.

Jesus says we should be like servants that are awaiting the return of their master. In Middle Eastern world in which Jesus lived, it was not appropriate for a master to arrive home and have to wake up his servants in order for them to serve him. Their responsibility was to be alert and ready at a moment’s notice to open the door and let him in and wait on him. Jesus says that the servants who are vigilant for the return of the master are to be blessed.

If Jesus is speaking to us, how are we to be vigilant for his impending return? At least seven times in the New Testament we find the answer to this in a three-word phrase: “Watch and pray!” Another five times we are told to “be alert.” How are we doing? It seems Jesus was concerned about our tendency to nod off and get distracted. In Luke 18:8 he asks this question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (NABRE).

We don’t know when Jesus is coming; that’s the point of this teaching. We do know that Jesus will return for a second time “coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30 NABRE). We should also know that Jesus could come for you and for me at any moment. Will he find us ready?

As a life-long evangelical and now Catholic convert I look our readiness from an interesting perspective. I grew up in a church that gave great credence to the Second Coming of Jesus. Perhaps that is why we were “busy” with the things of the Lord. Part of our practice as Christians was to be in church every time the door was open: Sunday school, morning worship, evening service, midweek prayer meeting, monthly missionary service, reading Scripture and family prayer. Little by little though those practices became cumbersome and even a little “legalistic.” One by one these expressions dropped off until we were focusing solely on a Sunday morning worship celebration with lively music and well-honed sermons. Now we ask why people are not engaged in Scripture and why the lives of so many evangelicals resemble the lives of the pagans around them.

I have learned that there have been many changes in the Catholic Church as well. I have written about some of these in earlier blogs. In the Catholic Church, as well as in the evangelical communions, the past fifty years have been lean in spiritual expression. For Catholics there has been a precipitous drop off in Mass attendance, in participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), praying the Rosary, and in many shortcuts and “modernizations” of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The St. Michael prayer was placed on the shelf by many American churches in the 1960s, and only recently is being prayed again as we find ourselves in the worst crisis American Catholicism has ever faced.

And we wonder, Christians of all stripes, why our culture has lost its way and has become so opposed to true Christianity! Jesus’s words ring in our ears today: “Gird your loins and light your lamps!” “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

And what will Jesus do with those he finds watching and praying? “Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.” Wow! and Amen!

For by Grace You Have Been Saved…

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10 NABRE).


Today’s first reading in the Mass is Ephesians 2:1–10. In this passage St. Paul powerfully describes how once we were dead in transgressions and sins,  and in following the ruler of this world we were children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy and who loves us so much, brought us to life with Christ through grace and has saved us.

The final three verses of the passage quoted above reminds us that by grace we have been saved through faith, but not by what we have done, it is through the gift of God, so that we cannot boast.

We are his handiwork. We are created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God had prepared in advance for us to participate in. Our good deeds are free acts of love and gratitude. This is good news! This is the gospel! Thanks be to God!

Christ Is King!

“These [the kings of the world] are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:13–14 NRSV).

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ctkyonkers.org

It seems our Lord even has a tattoo on his thigh and a monogram on his robe. In Revelation 19:16 we read: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords'” (NRSV).

Since 1925 the Roman Catholic Church has celebrated the Feast of Christ the King, and in 1970 it was moved to the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. This year it will be November 25. The feast has the highest rank of solemnity. This feast is also celebrated by the Anglican communion and many mainline Protestant denominations.

Back on October 7, a young blogger from the Diocese of Broken Bay (Australia) tweeted: “Most people want Jesus as a consultant rather than a king.” The archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, responded to him saying: “Not too sure I want (or have) him as either.” Many have made much of his tweet. Many have asked for clarification. Then he wrote a few days later:

I worship Jesus reigning from the Cross, whose “kingdom is not of this world” and who “casts the mighty from their thrones”…I don’t favour royalist ideologies “of this world” which make Christ remote, the Church triumphalist, the Pope and bishops princely etc. (Tweet on October 10).

Twitter is probably not the best place to lay out your theology, even though now you have 240 characters instead of 120 to make your point. I don’t in any way pretend to know what Archbishop Coleridge means by his first or second tweet. Yet it does raise some concerns, not the tweet alone, but the other comments that this prelate has made in these times of fuzzy theology.

Back in 2015, after the Synod on the Family, Coleridge took exception to several phrases that are common and current in the Catholic Church and suggested that should be rethought:

  • The “indissolubility” of marriage
    “Keeping Church teaching intact can still open up a vast field of pastoral creativity…. Our danger, and not just the bishops but others in the Church, is to think that we’re condemned to dance in chains unless we can change the Church’s teaching.” (Crux)
  • The “intrinsically disordered” nature of homosexual acts
    In the case of the Church calling homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered” and homosexuality itself “objectively disordered,” for instance, he said that way of putting things leads to a “sense of alienation.” “Can the synod find a language that is in fact positive, less alienating, less excluding?” (Crux)
  • Calling divorce and civil remarriage “adultery”
    As for adultery, Coleridge argued that “to say that every divorce and remarriage situation is adulterous is perhaps too sweeping.” (Crux) He has also argued that using the word “adultery” for remarried divorcees needs to end. (LifeSite)
  • The old maxim of “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
    He stated that the Catholic saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” with reference to homosexuality no longer holds since the distinction “no longer communicates” “in the real world” where sexuality is “part of [your] entire being.” (LifeSite)

Heading back to the kingship of Christ,Cardinal Raymond Burke said the following to the Rome Life Forum: “Catholics must consciously place themselves under the ‘Kingship of Christ’ in the face of enemies of the Church today attempting to ‘infiltrate the life of the Church herself and to corrupt the Bride of Christ by an apostasy from the Apostolic Faith’.” (May 2018) He added, “Christ as King reigns over his Bride the Church, over the world, and must also reign over human hearts.”

I find myself brought up short when I pose the question to myself: “Do I recognize Christ as King over the Church, the world and my heart?” if I answer in the negative. I have to do a systems check against Colossians 1:15–23, as does every bishop, priest and layperson in the Church.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everythingFor in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Christ is King! Christ is Lord! And if you, I, or anyone cannot express that with confidence, we have to ask, “Who is lord in His place?”

What Did Paul Say to Peter?

Last evening our Forty Hours of Prayer came to its conclusion with a procession of the Holy Eucharist through the church. It was a beautiful and moving experience at the close of a time devoted to praying for reparation, healing and reformation in the Church. Fr. Alexander Poccetto, an oblate of St. Francis de Sales, gave a short, but powerful homily that succinctly brought together the call to all Christians, especially Catholics, to be faithful to our Lord in these difficult times.

This morning the first reading at Mass was from Galatians 2. In the Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he describes his call by Christ and his loyalty to the gospel. He makes it very evident in the first chapter that he did not venture out on his own, but went through the proper channels to validate his mission. In 1:11-12 he writes: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

On that basis, I might be tempted to print up my business cards, start a website and begin a public ministry. After all, what I have to share is a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. But not Paul. He went out into the wilderness for three years and allowed Jesus to further prepare him. Then after three years he tells us, “I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas (Peter) and remained with him for fifteen days” (1:18). Why is this important? Paul recognized the authority of Peter (Cephas is the Aramaic equivalent, meaning “rock” and the name that Jesus would have actually given to the apostle, upon whom he would found the Church). It was not only important, but vital that Paul be commissioned by the vicar of Christ, the one we recognize as the first bishop of Rome, the first in the long succession of popes in the Church.

It is interesting that Paul uses the Aramaic version of Peter’s name throughout his writings, even when writing to churches in the Greek world (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14). It’s not that he never calls him Peter, he does (Galatians 2:7, 8), but the use of Cephas seems to affirm even more his authority as the “rock.”

The passage that was read this morning refers specifically to Peter’s inconsistency at Antioch. Paul writes the following:

And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul, as one of the apostles, saw the importance of “calling out” Peter regarding an inconsistency in his life and practice–something that would hinder the proclamation and practice of the gospel. Peter, even with his direct commission from Christ to be head of the Church, accepted Paul’s rebuke and later speaks highly of him in his second general epistle.

What can we learn from this Scriptural encounter? Paul never denied Peter’s leadership role, he honored him as the head of the Church. Yet when the very integrity of the Church was threatened, when other leaders close to Peter veered into potential error, Paul spoke up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We may be uncomfortable with recent calls to our Holy Father to state succinctly the faith that has been passed on to us, from the “dubia” cardinals and more recently from Archbishop Viganò, however, when these concerns are addressed by Pope Francis, the Church and the our witness to the world will be confirmed. Let’s pray faithfully for the Vicar of Christ and the College of Cardinals that together we will rebuild Christ’s Church through reparation, healing and renovation.

“Scaring the hell out of me”

Mother Angelica foundress of EWTN used to say, “My intention is to scare the hell out of you.” She minced no words as she spoke the truth in love.

I have my own story of  a sermon I heard at church camp when I was 12 years old. The preacher was an “old-fashioned” man of God who wasn’t afraid to talk about hell. In the message he talked about the danger of missing heaven and if one did so, the eternal destiny was hell. The central point that I remember was how he described someone going to hell for all eternity. He painted the picture of a iron sphere the size of the earth and a tiny bird like a sparrow. The sparrow began his trek of circumnavigating the world walking without stopping. The bird’s little feet didn’t make a dint on the sphere, but who knows after how many eons the sphere begins to show some wear and a little path is carved into the ball. Eons more pass and the bird has made quite a dent in the sphere. Finally the bird is able to wear a path clear through the iron ball (remember it’s the size of the earth) and it breaks into two. And then God says, “Eternity has begun!” All the time I’m sitting there trembling, thinking about the absolute endlessness of the eternal torment one would never see the end of. He scared the hell out of me!

We might take issue with the preacher’s tactic, but I will tell you I am thankful! I learned that day there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. During the 30 plus years that I served as a pastor I preached my share of sermons, but I never preached one like that, perhaps to my shame. Hell was not something we talked about in “polite company.” We tend to focus more on God’s love, but to be honest, we don’t talk much about heaven either. Our focus seems to be more on making the world a better place. Now there’s nothing wrong with that—that too is our call as Christians. But unfortunately, that’s only part of the story—eternity is a long, long, long…

Jesus talked about a lot about heaven, but he talked even more about hell. The fact that there is more to life than what we know in the present helps us keep perspective. At the end of our life we will either spend eternity with God or separate from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this biblical truth:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

I believe when we lose the vision of eternity, or believe that it really doesn’t matter how we live now, we lose our moorings, we lose restraint, and we decide what is right for us. Proverbs 29:18 says,

Without a vision the people lose restraint;
but happy is the one who follows instruction.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives that instruction that will make us truly happy.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

I venture to say in light of our current challenges in the Church there is a need to recover the teaching on eternal destiny—that there is something that follows our life here. I can’t help but think that when we have a healthy fear of hell, it will also increase our love for God and for the promise extended to those who love and serve Him.

You know what, I am thankful for the preacher that “scared the hell out of me!”

Verses You Never Hear in Church

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I made an interesting discovery this week and decided I would share it with you today. To give context there are several things that I need to point out.

  1. I spent almost 60 years of my life in Protestant evangelicalism.
  2. I entered the Roman Catholic Church a little over two years ago.
  3. The vast majority of my ecclesiastical life in Protestantism was not centered on daily and weekly liturgical readings. We were more free-style in our Bible reading in church.
  4. Since coming into the Catholic Church the lectionary dictates all Scripture read in public worship.
  5. During the last 10 to 15 years in evangelical circles there has been and continues to be a lot of conversation around several Scripture passages that speak to the issue of homosexuality.
  6. The recent Archbishop McCarrick scandal is revealing a likely connection between homosexuality and the abuses that took place in Catholic churches and seminaries.
  7. In light of this most recent sexual abuse scandal some laity and some Catholic media are making that connection, but there has not been any recognition from the Church hierarchy to that regard. In fact, one could say there has been a rather laissez faire view of homosexuality among average Catholics.
  8. The final point, and the discovery that I made this week: none of the passages that I referred to above in #5 are included in the lectionary readings that the Catholic and major Protestant denominations use. We’re talking about the Revised Common Lectionary for Protestants which in turn is based on the Ordo Lectionum Missae a three-year lectionary produced by the Roman Catholic Church following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

I found this very interesting when I compare my findings with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states:

Chastity and homosexuality
2357 
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity (Genesis 19:1-29; Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:10), tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona humana 8). They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358  The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359  Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Please hear me! This is not meant to be a “heavier burden of condemnation” to those who experience and struggle with same-sex attraction, but a call to our pastors and bishops to give us the “full counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and help us toward “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).