Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sacramentality, Lavish Worship, and the Transforming Power of Beauty


When John the Revelator looked into Heaven, he saw liturgy.

He saw white-robed priests and worshipers ministering in the sanctuary. He saw candles and incense. He heard voices lifted in hymns of praise. A scroll was unrolled to read God’s Word. And the whole thing climaxed with the appearance on the altar of the Lamb, slain but living still, and the wedding feast celebrating the joining of heaven and earth. If that doesn’t sound familiar, you must never have been to Mass before.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Night Fishing and Breakfast on the Beach: 3rd Sunday of Easter, 2013


John’s Gospel is dense with symbolism and layers of meaning. There are certain things that are always meaningful. Numbers - especially things that happen in threes and sevens. Light - and darkness, time of day, sunrise, noon and sunset. Repetition - the recurrence of seemingly minor details that link things together. Meals - especially as related to the Eucharist. A constant reference to Genesis and Creation - John’s first words, after all are “In the Beginning.” All of this and more is brought into focus in this passage. It’s my favorite chapter in the Bible. I wish I could preach on this passage for the next three weeks, or more.

The Lord has died and has Risen, and has already appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection. But those are exceptional moments. Most of the time he isn’t there, at least not in physical appearance. So what happens next? 

Always one to leap into action, Peter stands up and announces he’s going fishing, and the others follow him. Remember this is not a hobby for Peter, but his trade. Some have said that Peter is being stupid, that he’s missed the point of the Resurrection and is going back to his old life as though nothing had happened. That’s one theory. If you want my opinion, it’s a lousy theory. Another interpretation is that Peter is setting up a symbolic action: Jesus called them to be “fishers of men,” and the act of fishing is a sign of their mission after his Resurrection. That may be. I’ll let the professors argue about this as theologians; I prefer to relate to it as a fisherman. I imagine what Peter had been through, what they’d all been through, and if ever there were a time to spend some hours on the water, this was it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013


It’s not that we didn’t know about God’s mercy until the 20th century, but that’s when the devotion as we know it really took off. It followed what I think must easily be the worst 50 or 60 year period in the history of the world. The warring kings of the ancient world, at their most bloodthirsty, were amateurs by the standards of the last hundred years. Europe, who had thought of herself as the light of reason and civilization in the world, provided the opening act in a barrage of artillery and mustard gas and trench warfare. They didn’t call it “World War I.” One of the things they called it was “the war to end all wars,” partly because it was so awful that it couldn’t possibly be allowed to happen again. But it did happen again, incredibly quickly and incredibly worse. In the same half-century span, half the world fell under the shadow of Communism, which wasn’t any good at bringing prosperity or equality, but which boasts unrivaled supremacy in the production of mass graves. And even in my own childhood, as for most of the last half of the century, it seemed quite possible that the last thing we’d all see was two suns in the sunset, the hot wind and the mushroom cloud.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter 2013


There are tales of people who have been near death, even who’ve been what we may call “clinically dead,” who can relate their experiences. The latest that caught lots of attention was the story told by a 4-year old boy named Colton, the son of a pastor in Nebraska. They put a book out called “Heaven is for real” which I haven’t read, but a lot of people apparently have. The story goes that after a life-threatening operation, Colton talked about having been in Heaven. He spoke of meeting his sister who had died in miscarriage and whom no one had ever told him about. He knew details from meeting his grandfather, dead 30 years, that he couldn’t have known in any explainable way. He also talked about a horse that only Jesus could ride and God’s really, really big chair.

It’s a neat story. These stories are actually pretty common. My Dad is a doctor and once in awhile he would ask a patient if it was okay if our family prayed for them. We prayed for one lady for a long time. I came to feel a special spiritual bond to this woman I’d never met. One day Dad was sitting with Mom on the patio behind the house enjoying the Shawnee Forest. What happened next was something pre-cognitive; Dad sensed a particular presence at some instinctual level. It was so powerful and so immediate that before he’d even thought it through he spoke her name: “Emma?” A few hours later he got the message that she was dead. She’d said goodbye on her way. It was a gift.

Holy Thursday 2013


Holy Thursday is a particularly special day for priests because it’s the day Christ instituted our vocation. When he said “do this in memory of me,” that was the ordained priesthood. This wasn’t a task he gave to the whole community of disciples, but as a calling within the Church. I want you to know that priesthood lived with fidelity and zeal is a life of great joy and great sacrifice. Like any other life, the depth of joy is directly caused by the depth of sacrifice. 

Priests, like everyone, become unhappy and bitter when they haven’t given enough. I’m at a stage in life where my sister and many of my friends are raising young children. I look at the complete self-gift involved in that and I think, “that’s the standard.” To put others ahead of yourself in that absolute way. To allow yourself to be spent, used up, poured out, that’s the calling of every Christian, priest or lay, married or unmarried, every one of us.