Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Carver/Plympton, MA

Homilies

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 16, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Isaiah 55:10-11

Psalm 65:10-14

Romans 8:18-23

Matthew 13:1-9

          Jesus spoke in parables to heighten our awareness of the kingdom of God.  But it seems we tend to let parables wash over us like waves at the beach.  For a moment that wave attracts the swimmer’s attention, but once it has passed, it’s quickly forgotten.  That’s okay, because we’re at the beach to relax.  But when it comes to our Lord’s parables, hearing a parable as Jesus intended it demands attentiveness.  This means we must work to understand it.  But many are not ready to do that work.

Now, we might excuse ourselves from this work because parables are “too hard to understand.”  But each of Jesus’ parables was meant to astound us, not to confound us.  They were simple stories meant to prompt surprise which, hopefully, might lead the listener to new insight about God. 

Today’s parable of the sower and the seed is one so familiar that we hardly note its challenge.  It is so familiar that we may not hear its power.  But it must have been particularly memorable, as it found its way into all three synoptic gospels: Matthew (which we read today), Mark, [1] and Luke [2] who include it nearly word-for-word the same.  Remember, the gospels were written late, based on the oral memories of the first believers.  And like the kid’s game “telephone,” stories morph as they get passed from person to person.  But this parable is even found in other early, non-biblical Christian writings like the so-called gospel of the Apostle Thomas, appearing word-for-word the same. [3] So this parable is certainly Jesus’ own story. 

What’s notable about the writings attributed to Thomas is that this parable stands without explanation, while the synoptic evangelists insert Jesus’ explanation of the parable.  I did not read that part today, because I suspect Jesus did not actually explain the parable to his apostles.  Rather, these “explanations” reflect the inferences made by various Christian communities over time.   

I propose this for three reasons.  First, parables by definition are stand-alone stories intended to startle and prompt new thought.  Second, an explanation of a parable weakens its startling aspect and dampens the challenge to discover new insight, like a stand-up comedian trying to explain a joke.  Sometimes people “get” a joke, others don’t.  But if a joke has to be explained, it’s not much of a joke.  Sometimes people are spiritually provoked by a parable, others are not.  If a parable needs to be explained, it’s not much of a parable.  And third, the “explanations” of this parable are different in each of the gospels.  Each evangelist received or “remembered” differently the explanation Jesus gave.  (And remember, Luke admits he never heard Jesus, but was relying on research.)

As for the sowing of seed, unlike today’s farmers – or even amateur gardeners – who plough their ground and make neat furrows in which seeds are planted carefully at intervals, farmers of Jesus’ time simply “broadcast” their seed on ploughed ground, hoping that some of it would implant and grow, full knowing that some seed would land on rocks or be lost in the bushes and brambles or some people would walk on them.  While some seed would bear fruit, other seed would wither and die. 

          So people of that time understood the context of Jesus’ parable.  They understood that what Jesus was trying to do would have a variety of outcomes, as seeds do when thrown upon soil rocky, cluttered by brambles, walked on, or fertile. 

But though the agricultural imagery is the same, the gospel writers’ explanations vary.  Two are similar.  Mark writes, “The sower sows the word.” [4]  Luke is a little more specific, “The seed is the word of God.” [5]  But Matthew’s recollection is subtly and significantly different.  It’s the message we heard today.  And it requires some introspection on our part. 

As Matthew relates Jesus’ explanation of the parable, the seed is not the word or the word of God.  The seed is the listener.  “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word … without understanding it.”  “The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word … but has no root and lasts for only a time.”  “The seed … among thorns … hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word….”  “But the seed … on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it [and] bears fruit and yields a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold.”

          The seed is the listener.  According to Matthew, the seed is you and me.  His understanding of the parable places responsibility for the fruitfulness of God’s gifts to us squarely on how we listen to Jesus.  This requires some honest introspection from each of us.  We must each ask of our self, how do I listen to God? 

          This question makes a better examination of conscience than running through the Ten Commandments before bed each night or before going to confession. [6] Am I someone who has heard the message but doesn’t care?  I don’t find God relevant to real living, so I pay God little heed, thus making myself easy plucking for “the evil one.” 

When tribulation or persecution pops up, am I rootless and so turn from faith?  As with the Church sex scandals:  people who thought themselves pillars of the parish just wandered away.  Tribulation, certainly; but the abandonment of sacrament and worship exposes the rocky ground, the rootless-ness that had always been there.  We meet persecution from Muslims martyring Christians, or the ridicule of our neighbors, or the resistance of government as we attempt to live a Christian life.  And so some may decide it’s easier just to blend in with everyone else. 

Perhaps the most disconcerting evidence of the lack of deep, faithful roots is when teaching a moral truth I have observed the look of utter mystification on the faces of some teenagers: how could the Church possibly think that, for example, marriage is only between a man and a woman.  (“Where do you get this stuff, father?”)  And these teens’ parents are not far behind.  God is facing a world-wide field of rocky ground – people who are ready and willing to hear not authentic truth in the teachings of the Church, but only a confirmation of what they already believe because of their immersion in secular humanism rather than in the gospel.

Did some thorns in my life drive me away?  Is it money or sexual license that I love more than God?  There are many thorny people to deal with even in this Christian community; are they the weeds choking me?  Or perhaps I am the weed, teaching my children and others in word and example that Christian discipleship is not important. 

Or do I, rather, truly listen to God by preparing fertile ground through my prayer life, my study of today’s issues, my reading of scripture, my collaboration with other Christians, my celebration of the sacraments, my service to neighbor?  It is in listening to God in these ways that I may become fertile soil and my life will surely bear fruit yielding “a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold.  Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

[1]  Mark 4:3-8, 14-20. 

[2]  Luke 8:5-15. 

[3]  Marvin W. Meyer (trans.), “The Gospel of Thomas or The Secret Sayings of Jesus” from The Secret Teachings of Jesus – Four Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1984), Saying 9.

[4]  Mark 4:14.

[5]  Luke 8:11.

[6]  Edward F. Steiner, “Homily Backgrounds,” The Priest (June 2014).

 

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

2 Kings 4:8-11 14-16a

Psalm 89:2-3, 16-19

Romans 6:3-4, 8-11

Matthew 10:37-42

          Some years ago, in a homily to children I showed them a tray of beautiful fruit.  The fruit was artificial, but it looked quite real and some of the children even reached up to grab some.  Then I turned the tray upside down.  I had Crazy-Glued the fruit to the tray.  This was to illustrate how Jesus often placed before his hearers many wonderful things, then turned expectations upside down.  We hear that theme echoed in today’s gospel:  love of parents and children and life itself (which are prime values) must be secondary to one’s love of Jesus.  Weeks later these children were drawing pictures about Jesus and several drew upside down fruit, remembering that tray.  So, sometimes children really are listening and do understand.

            A wise man reminded parents of this:  “From the day your baby is born, you must teach him to do without things.  Children today love luxury too much.  They have detestable manners, flout authority, have no respect for their elders….  What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?”  So said Socrates, in 399 BC!

            We’re not here to talk about children – not exactly.  However, the prophet Elisha gratefully rewarded the Shunemite woman’s hospitality this way:  “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”  His blessing surpassed mere sentimentality about an elderly couple enjoying their firstborn.  In those days Jews had no concept of eternal life.  To die childless was to disappear into oblivion.  One only lives on through a child and its descendents.  So Elisha bestowed on this couple the gift of eternity!

            By the time of Jesus, many Jews had come to accept the possibility of life after death and even to believe in the resurrection of the just.  But, as now, it still would have been emotionally and culturally disturbing for Jesus to command his apostles to love their children less.  It doesn’t sit well with his listeners even today. 

But here we find Jesus turning the tray of fruit upside down, asking us to reassess the priorities in our life.  He is using Semitic exaggeration to remind you and me of the centrality of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Jesus talks of losing one’s life for his sake in order really to find one’s life.  To those without faith this is so much gibberish.

Jesus gets to the point:  “whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  This Shunemite woman staked a lot on openness to God’s messenger.  I suspect it was not easy for her elderly husband not only to abide this holy man’s intrusions, but to build him an in-law apartment as well!  Just so, their generosity to the prophet Elisha opened for them the prophet’s reward of eternity.  And when you read further in this story, Elisha’s gift becomes even more miraculous.  (I’ll leave that as a tease.) [1]

So, what is at stake for you and me to welcome Jesus into our own lives?  Jesus proposed that to value our beautiful children less, or our beloved parents less, or even our own life less than our valuing Jesus means we’re really staking our future on him.  The prophet’s reward is granted to those who do this.  Now, in a practical sense, Jesus is not placing before everyone an either/proposition.  Love me or love your mother.  Love me or love you kids.  No.  But Jesus is asking each of us to be more intentional and active about our relationship with him and with “the one who sent” him.

Saint Paul speaks this more plainly (and plaintively).  “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … [and that ] just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too might live in newness of life?”  Don’t you know?  (Don’t you know?)  Don’t you know you were transformed by baptism into Christ?  Don’t you know your baptism is the beginning of eternal life?  Don’t you know you were called to walk in the footsteps of Christ – even to taking up a cross? 

Do we ever think seriously of the transformation that occurred when you or I were baptized?  I came across a startling comparison.  Someone wrote that our baptismal transformation is more radical than sexual reassignment surgery! [2]  That’s very graphic, but it speaks this truth:  “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”

And this living with Christ is not delayed until life in eternity.  We begin to live in Christ even now.  The first step in living in Christ is to free ourselves from whatever divides religious things from everyday things.  In a reflection near the climax of World War II, one man proposed, “Instead of thinking about religious things we should think about ordinary things in a religious way.  Instead of living a spiritual life which is separate from and in opposition to our material life we should live our ordinary life spiritually.  Instead of believing in the idea of God, we should seek and find God in this world – a God who does not depend on us … but on whom we depend.” [3]

Like Socrates, many of us decry not only the social slippage in the young, but the apparent decline in our public morality and the drift of our fellow citizens away from the Judeo-Christian faith.  We may assign blame to atheists or Progressives or the ACLU or the sexual abuse scandals in the Church.  But the real reason is that too many Catholics – even many Christians – do not live as people transformed by baptism into Christ Jesus. 

If religious faith seems inconsequential to a lot of people these days, if our Catholic faith seems to be easily nudged toward the margins of our national conversation, we may have to look at ourselves as being partially responsible.  Do we boldly live as transformed by baptism into Christ Jesus?  If Christians worship only to console themselves about life’s futilities or their own fears, rather than to celebrate the power of God’s love, then we have misunderstood what living in Christ means. [4] 

Being a disciple of Christ may cost you and me.  Even so, Jesus invites us to place him first in our priorities.  There is time for loving parents and children and life itself.  But the most robust way to live – even unto eternal life – is to love God first.  You and I must unveil our life in Christ by speaking and acting and living as Jesus did.  The most robust way to live is to follow in the footsteps of our Lord.

[1]  2 Kings 4:5-ff.

[2]  Sr. Mary M. McGlone, Celebration (homily service), June 2017.

[3]  John Macmurray, “Idealism Against Religion,” Essex Hall Lecture, 1944, pp. 18-19.

[4]  John Macmurray, Ibid.

 

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

(Corpus Christi)

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a

Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20

1 Corinthians 10:16-17

John 6:51-58 

          There was a time when the feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) surpassed even Easter in importance in the minds of common folk, who held the deepest reverence for and belief in the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  When St. Juliana of Liége announced a vision of Christ instructing her to advise the pope to establish a feast focused only on the Eucharist, Pope Urban IV agreed and in 1264 decreed the feast of Corpus Christi.  Still popular in some parts of Europe and gaining a smattering of interest in the U.S., Corpus Christi processions on the public streets display the Eucharist in the monstrance, with candles and incense and sometimes a marching band.

            All this seems to me rather flamboyant and smacking of triumphalism.    But this custom might serve to restore some Catholics to our authentic belief in the True Presence of Jesus in the bread and wine consecrated at Mass.  Most Protestants only see the bread in their churches as symbolic reminders of Jesus.  And it seems sometimes even Catholics have succumbed to that very non-biblical error.  The bold words of Jesus seem to them unconvincing:  “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him….  This is the bread that came down from heaven.”

            It’s unlikely this decidedly non-Catholic and un-Orthodox view of the Eucharist by some contemporary Catholics is a product of their deep theological study.  Rather, it’s part of a general drift away from the centrality of the Church in many people’s lives.  Sociologists identify that people for a while now have viewed religion as something useful for some personal or social purpose rather than as an expression of devotion to God. [1] They view religion as a “solid foundation for the children” or “a moral barometer for public policy.”  As a group, Americans seem committed strongly to family, career, a high standard of living and good health [all of these good things], but in this context religion is seen as one among several tools for attaining these values, assisting people to make decisions and gain success, wealth, health, security and happiness. [2]

            Without making a value judgment about that, religion in general and receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus weekly at Mass (in particular) may seem helpful to people, but missing Mass is on the same level as choosing not to go to the gym today.  “It’s disappointing that I’ve chosen not to work out.  I know I should.  I’ll go tomorrow.”  “It’s disappointing that I’ve chosen not to bring the family to Mass.  I know I should.  I’ll go next week.”  What is missed is awareness that the Lord becomes physically present in this gathering.  The opportunity to encounter Christ is avoided.  O yes, the Lord is present in our lives in other ways too.  But in the Eucharist we do what Jesus said to do, and we encounter him sacramentally in his Body and Blood.  Here we are nourished by Jesus spiritually and physically within his community, supporting one another and worshipping the Father, as is God’s due.

            The Lord willingly comes to us sacramentally.  Years ago I was called to the Jordan Hospital on a Sunday morning for a woman who was to undergo serious surgery and wanted to receive Eucharist before she began the pre-operative fasting.  So I squeezed in a visit between Mass and baptisms, only to discover the patient was Greek Orthodox.  “You know I’m a Catholic priest, right?”  “O yes, father.  But this is the Body of Jesus, don’t you believe?”  “Of course I do,” I responded.   And I gave her Holy Communion.  And in chatting afterward I asked if she didn’t have a parish of her own.  “O yes, we belong to Saint Something’s in Somewhere.”  “And you didn’t call your pastor?”  “O no, father, we wouldn’t think of bothering our pastor on a Sunday.  Father’s much too busy.”

            Although we priests and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion try to show due reverence and respect when bringing the Eucharist to the sick, containing the Eucharist in a golden pyx, offering appropriate prayers, etc., the Orthodox take very seriously the True Presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread.  While in college I worked in a hospital and one day an Orthodox patient requested the Eucharist.  This time the family did call their own pastor, and their priest arrived in black robes with the veiled head covering he wears.  Before him was an altar boy ringing a small bell, followed by a man with a candle flickering in a lantern that hung from a pole.  It was obvious they knew the True Presence of Jesus was actually entering that hospital room.

            This True Presence has been clear to Christians ever since they first gathered for the breaking of the bread as Jesus bade them do at his Last Supper.  Jesus is no further away from our lives than is bread.  We know Jesus in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist. [3]

            Jesus’ physical body was broken on the cross.  But after the Resurrection, Jesus continues to donate his body for our sake.  Today the substance of his body is given us within the appearance of bread.  What a powerful and mysterious linking of bread (for our body) and bread from heaven (for our spirit)!  We Catholics connect with God not through some chanting or incantation that has little to do with everyday survival, but through a meal.  We need to eat.  This is a sacred meal.  Admittedly there are insufficient calories in these wafers to maintain our physical being.  But in this Eucharistic gathering we are nourished more profoundly than by mere calories when we bless bread, eat and then depart refreshed.

            In receiving the Body of Christ, you and I become more conformed to Christ.  We call this “Communion” because we become united to Christ.  Jesus, the man from Nazareth, the teacher, the innocent Victim, the Risen Messiah becomes truly present in this bread.  And in our taking the Eucharist we are made holy, connected to the Lord and to one another.

            But even as we savor the miracle of this union, we may miss that last part of this sacred meal: we depart refreshed.  Eucharist is not just about our self-improvement because our lives are more conformed to Christ’s.  There is also a mission for us.  Eucharist commissions you and me to bring Jesus – not in a monstrance with a big procession – but a mission to bring Jesus to our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, our society.

So the Church each year celebrates Corpus Christi, so that this might serve to restore Catholics to our authentic belief in the True Presence of Christ in the bread and wine consecrated on this altar.

[1]  Jackson Carroll, et al., Religion in America, 1950 to the Present (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), quoted in The Gallup Report 236, p. 4.  (Although this study is quite dated, it seems to reflect a continuing trend, in my opinion.) 

[2]  Raymond Potvin, “The Privatization in Religion and Life,” in Bishops’ Assembly for Prayer and Reflection: Background Paper, p. 152. 

[3]  Jim Forest, Making Friends of Enemies (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 1988), p. 20.

 

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

June 11, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9

Daniel 3:52-55

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

John 3:16-18 

            Christians believe in One God; we share monotheism with Jews before us and Muslims after us.  But Christians have experienced God in ways richer than “one.”  “One” is too small and lonely an intellectual concept for the way we know God. 

Christians have discovered that the nature of God is dynamic.  Like the popular song from years ago, “one is the loneliest number that I ever heard,” Christians have never experienced God as lonely or sterile or rigid.  On the contrary, the nature of God is relational and creative and generous.  So, it has been revealed to the Church that the one God is of Three Persons:  Father, Son (or Word) and Spirit.  But how can one be three?  

I cannot fully explain the mystery of the Trinity.  Partly this is because of my own inadequacies, but mostly this is just the nature of mystery.  There is a story that Saint Augustine of Hippo, the great fourth century bishop and theologian, was reflecting on this very mystery as he walked along a North African beach.  There, he seemed to meet a boy digging a hole in the sand and pouring sea water into the hole.  Augustine inquired what he was doing.  The boy answered, “I’m going to pour the ocean into this hole.”  Augustine explained, “The whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made.”  The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity into your tiny, little brain.”  With that, the “boy” vanished, and Augustine realized this had been an angel from God.

            We will never grasp fully what Three Persons in One God means.  But we may be able to perceive what difference the reality of the Trinity makes in our life.  Fundamentally, God is the Creator.  What is amazing about our Creator is that God is not aloof, in some divine “otherness.”  The Creator actually reaches out to the creatures – us.  So, our belief in God does not happen because you or I or even humankind has taken the initiative.  Rather, God takes the initiative.  Whether to Abram, the first person to whom God spoke and called to wander toward an unnamed land that one day would be his home, or to Moses on Mount Sinai where God wrote the Law upon tablets of stone, or to you and me today, God calls people to faith by God’s own initiative.  God spoke to Moses through the Burning Bush.  God sent his Chosen People judges to lead them through difficulties.  God spoke through the prophets to scold and encourage the people.

            When all these miraculous initiatives failed, God sent his own divine reflection, his beloved Word, to speak God’s love to humankind.  The Word of God reached out in the most profound way, in becoming flesh like us.  He was given the name Jesus.  Jesus spoke of God as Father, an human analogy that might help humankind to understand God’s love.  So Jesus is like a Son, the Son who called us to follow in his Way of living and serving.

            Now the Son is gone from our sight, and still Christians experience God still reaching out, in fact reaching into us.  One spiritual writer expressed it this way: “Why go on searching for God beyond the stars when God is so close to us, within us?” [1]   

            Sometimes we humans fail to apprehend God’s initiative, God’s reach toward us.  We either don’t hear the summons: the distractions of life drown out the call.  Or pride convinces us that we can believe on our own, without God’s initiative.  The classic example of this is found in our reading from Exodus.  It records the fourth time Moses had climbed that mountain to talk with God, this time sheepishly carrying some blank stone tablets.  Moses had destroyed the tablets God had written upon, because when he brought them to the people he found the Israelites dancing around a molten calf, as if it were a god.  The people were determined to worship God the way they wanted to worship God.  And Moses, in a fit of fury at their apostasy, threw down God’s commandments, shattering them.

            And what response did Moses find in God?  Not wrath.  He found what the Hebrews called ḥesed, an untranslatable word that means something like “loving kindness” or “covenant love.”  This ḥesed made a new beginning possible for the Israelites.  They had turned to an idol for solace, but a merciful God called them back to himself.  Rather than wrath, God actually revealed his name – his being – to Moses, here translated as “LORD.”  Emboldened by God’s intimacy, Moses begged God to “come along with” us.  And this was what God did.  And does even now.

            Saint John’s gospel celebrates God’s coming along with us in a new way, in the person of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity.  Someone put it this way: “… God’s love becomes flesh and blood in the person of Jesus.  In him it receives hands and feet, a face and a voice so that we can see and hear it.” [2]  In Jesus, ḥesed takes on the human experience, because “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” 

            Our Creator revealed his very image in Jesus, who is therefore called God’s Son.  Jesus contains the very being of the Father and is therefore not a “son” in the way human fathers beget sons, but is actually God’s Word.  And God’s ḥesed, this divine love, is experienced in each of us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit sent from the Father and the Son. 

God is not merely some transcendent being beyond our knowing.  God reveals loving kindness, a covenant love toward his creatures.  God is not an idea or philosophy or concept.  Rather, in Jesus God has opened for us the mystery of God’s nature by becoming human like us, and showing us how to live and even how to vanquish death.  God is not some historical encounter from ancient times, but enlivens each of us from within through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. [3]

            And so, Christians know God in the deepest ways, as three persons in one God.  God our Creator loves us, and always takes the initiative in seeking us and engaging us in a faith relationship.  Especially in the person of Jesus we experience this ḥesed, God’s loving kindness, God’s covenant love, in a way that is manageable to our small minds – because Jesus is one like us.  And empowered by the indwelling Spirit to know God as a Trinity of Persons, you and I approach life with purpose and even hope for eternal life.

[1]  Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1972). 

[2]  Peter G. van Breeman, Certain as the Dawn (Denville, NJ:  Dimension Books, 1980), p. 54. 

[3]  Where the problems of the world may overwhelm others with pessimism, the Trinity is the expression of the believer’s ultimate optimism, because faith helps us to see meaning in our fallen world.  And the sacrificial love of Jesus and the power of the Spirit within us allow us to experience the wholeness and unity of God.  This Trinitarian experience calls forth a response that you and I live our lives with a similar love and wholeness in us.

 

 

Confirmation

June 10, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Cardinal O’Malley sends his regards and his regret that he had to call Bishop Uglietto away suddenly for an important mission.  I was glad the Cardinal trusted me with this pivotal moment in your Catholic life. 

I’m not a complete novice at confirming.  I have confirmed new Catholics at Easter Vigils.  And it happened in 1989 that I was called to a hospital for a baby whom the doctors said would probably die.  I not only baptized but also confirmed the baby as is usual when death seems imminent, making the baby a full member of the Catholic faith.  Was I surprised 10 years later to find that young person living in Carver!

When deployed overseas, I was delegated to confirm several soldiers who had taken catechism classes scattered all over Iraq and Kuwait.  One I had coached weekly in a tent.  For a variety of reasons when the soldiers were in high school, they had not kept up their religious education.  Now in those austere desert environs, these soldiers re-discovered their Catholicism and wanted to celebrate their Catholic faith by being confirmed. 

In 2009 a Carver resident who had drifted from worshiping at Mass was suffering a terminal illness.  He called me to his home for the Sacrament of the Sick.  As we conversed, he asked how he could be fully initiated into the Church.  He hadn’t been confirmed.  In the waning days of his life this became very important to him.  So I administered Confirmation in his home days later.  Soon thereafter he returned to God. 

In a pediatric intensive care unit, in a theater of combat, in the living room of a Carver home, the Holy Spirit descended onto these Catholics and into their lives through the imposition of hands and anointing with Sacred Chrism.  I was privileged to be the instrument through which God embraced these children of his, bestowing on them the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And I am privileged today to be the instrument through which God sends you the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In the olden days, as when I was confirmed, this would be the place where the confirming bishop would pause to ask the candidates some catechism questions.  (Should I?)   Well, perhaps I’ll just remind you of the Gifts you are about to receive.

Wisdom.  This is something that comes more easily with age, from patient reflection on the experiences of one’s life.  The elders around you have had the opportunity to make many mistakes.  And we’ve learned from them… sometimes.  If we’re wise, it’s because, over time, we’ve acquired skills from our many experiences with people and things. 

But wisdom can also be taught.  Look for models around you.  By absorbing their experiences, you can integrate their wisdom without, perhaps, needing to make all the mistakes that made them wise.  I know we elders seem to you to be “out-of-it,” but learn from us.  But I encourage you to select models prudently.  Do not imitate them uncritically.  For even if your model exhibits wisdom, that person is not perfect… yet. 

The Holy Spirit is the truest source of wisdom.  Through staying open to the Holy Spirit, you can learn about your own self and your relationships with others.  Discern the difference between the wisdom of this world, which can be so alluring, as over against the wisdom of God.  Though the wisdom of the world speaks of riches and fame, the wisdom of our faith speaks of the Cross of Jesus.  Build your way of living on love and self-sacrifice, not on seeking power and security.  This is the wisdom the Spirit gives you.   

Understanding.  Understanding seems like knowledge, but it is quite different.  Do you know the name Helen Keller?  She published her autobiography in 1902.  In 1957 “The Miracle Worker” was a play produced in the early days of television, based on her book.  So provocative was that play that it went from TV to the Broadway stage in 1959. 

            Helen was born both deaf and blind.  She had been born into a loving family, but her deprivation of sensory stimuli left her in a primitive, near savage state.  Finally, a gifted teacher named Ann Sullivan was hired by Helen’s family hopefully to connect her to the world.

Most of us know her story from the 1962 movie that earned Anne Bancroft as Ann Sullivan the Best Actress Oscar and Patty Duke as Helen, Best Supporting Actress.  Ann Sullivan had been teaching Helen to embrace the world around her by patiently tracing words on the palms of Helen’s hand, and then making her feel objects that those traces represented.  Months later, in one of Helen’s tantrums Ann poured a bucket of water over Helen’s head and traced the word on Helen’s wriggling hand.  And in that magical moment young Helen finally broke through the barriers that imprisoned her, and she suddenly understood “water.” 

It turned out that Helen was a brilliant child, and she became famous worldwide.  Once, as Helen was being led to her waiting car, she paused and turned her face lovingly to the sky.  With her sightless eyes, she seemed to be watching the great masses of white billowy clouds rush for the horizon.  Finally, she gave a deep sigh, and allowed her companion to help her into the car.  As it pulled away, she said: “The greatest calamity that could befall a person is to have sight and fail to see.”

For the Christian, the greatest calamity is to have the Holy Spirit within one’s self and fail to see what that means.  The Spirit is God’s gift so you will understand that God is active in your life, supporting you, strengthening you, being close to you, loving you.             

Counsel.  This word brings me back to my days in the seminary.  A couple of times a year we seminarians were called to “counsels.”  This meant we gathered outside our various spiritual directors’ rooms, sitting on the floor of those long corridors or nervously pacing as each awaited his turn.  Called in individually, we heard all the criticisms of the priest faculty members.  These comments were not comfortable to hear, but we needed them, corrective actions we needed to take.  We learned from these counsels.  It was humbling. 

The Gift the Holy Spirit gives you is the ability to take counsel and to learn from what you hear about yourself.  Sometimes the Spirit sends a friend to give counsel.  There was a musical play back in the 1960’s called “Mame,” about a woman free-spirit living a raucous life while learning to raise her recently orphaned nephew.  She had a BFF named Vera.  Once, Mame asked Vera, “How old do you think I am?”  Vera answered “Oh, somewhere between thirty … and death.”  And they go on to sing about friendly counsel: “Who else but a bosom buddy will tell you the God’s honest truth?” 

God’s providence will send many into your lives:  family, friends, supervisors.  And they will give advice.  Be open to learning from their counsel.  The Spirit girds you with humility to learn from their counsel.  Of course, choose counselors wisely.  The Spirit will help you to discern whether their counsel is godly.  Not all advice is of equal value; not all criticism is true. 

Fortitude.  When I was deployed overseas our post was supported by many civilians who had been hired by a logistics contractor.  Our cooks were from India, our food handlers were from the Philippines.  And our carpenters and electricians were from Egypt.  These Egyptians were Christians, of the Coptic tradition.  They were proud of their faith and every one of these men had small crosses tattoo-ed between their fingers.

Now that might seem a silly thing to do.  But in Egypt Christians are persecuted.  Many have been killed by the Muslim Brotherhood and recently by ISIS, including a busload of Coptics going to Mass.  So those tattoos are acts of defiance, showing fortitude, strength in their faith, courage in the face of danger.

One of the Gifts received today is fortitude.  Fortitude isn’t needed here because someone plans to shoot up your church bus.  But many in our contemporary America disdain your faith.  You will be different from them.  The absence of many high school classmates from their own Confirmation today shows that you have made a choice different from theirs.  Your Catholic values and practice will clash with your neighbor’s.  The Holy Spirit gives you the courage to be faithful to your beliefs and steadfast in all opposition.  No tattoos needed, just fortitude.

Knowledge.  This is the Information Age, we are told.  But knowledge

is more than the accumulation of data.  Some will wrongly convince you that faith and science must contradict: You “know” from science; but faith makes you believe “without knowing.”  Actually there is no contradiction between faith and knowledge.  

In the Respect for Life presentation, for example, you heard that science can now observe within the womb the gestational growth of an embryo into a full-term child.  Within my lifetime the existence of the double-helix of DNA was discovered.  Yet faith has always proclaimed that life begins with conception, or as the Old Testament said of God even centuries before Christ, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.  I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!  My very self you knew….” [1]  Truth cannot contradict truth.  Knowledge will lead you deeper into faith.

Piety.  Piety is about duty to God.  Piety is not fawning, showy religiosity that makes other people notice how “holy” you are.  Piety does include devotion to religious duties and practices, like worship on Sunday, like charitable giving of money and time.  But at its root, piety is about obedience to the will of God.  When Jesus accepted the cross, he obeyed his Father’s will.  “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him….” [2]

Fear of the Lord.  This fear is not like the terror in a slasher movie.  Fear of God is founded on your most profound respect.  God is not like us.  Though you are in God’s image, God is totally “Other.”  So you bow in awe and respect.  In that sense, you fear God.  But you also know that God has proved his love for you, in sending his only son to die for you. [3]  In your profound clarity about God’s otherness, you confess that God is God, and admit you are not God.  At the same time you rejoice that the One who is totally “Other,” the Supreme Being and Creator of the universe, actually loves you!

 

[1]  Psalm 139:13-14.

[2]  Hebrews 5:8-9.

[3]  Romans 5:8.

 

Pentecost

June 4, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34

1 Corinthians 3b-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

            Saints John and Luke in their respective writings describe different details of the descent of the Holy Spirit.  Both of them agree that the disciples were gathered together; and that these disciples would soon understand they had received a mission.  The differences between John and Luke are obvious:  John described the descent of the Spirit as coming from the breath of Jesus on Easter.  Luke understood that the Spirit had arrived in a strong, driving wind fifty days after Easter on Pentecost.  These differences are understandable, since John, now elderly, had been a teenage eyewitness to this event, while Luke, on the other hand, was not even born then.  Luke was sharing his careful research based on the testimony of others and the oral traditions of the earliest Christians.   

            So let’s concentrate on the key facts.  Fundamentally, the Holy Spirit was a communal experience.  The Spirit descended on community groups, not on individuals.  People were gathered together, even huddled together.  The Spirit invaded their gatherings and made changes in people, giving them a purpose, a direction.  According to Luke, the disciples hadn’t been doing much since the Resurrection.  They were still gathered “in one place together,” hunkered down.  But when the Spirit arrived, the community was suddenly enflamed with a mission, and they went out into the marketplace to proclaim the good news of Jesus to whomever they found.  And each person they met, no matter his race or language, was touched by that good news.  The focus had turned away from the inner circle of disciples.  The focus now turned toward the people of the entire world.  The horizon of God’s word became limitless, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

            According to John, the disciples were locked in a room together, scared to go out and scared to let anyone in.  The locked doors signified their lack of faith, certainly their lack of courage.  Then Jesus appeared and breathed on them, and gave them the Holy Spirit, telling them, “I send you.”  The disciples now had a mission.  It is not clear that the mission was to preach.  In John’s recollection, the mission was to forgive.  The community born on Pentecost was a community of the forgiven who were commissioned to forgive.  And the horizon of God’s forgiveness became limitless, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

            “Disciples in Mission” is the vision Cardinal O’Malley has for the Church of Boston.  As those early Christians embraced their mission to preach and forgive, to get beyond their circle of friends, to be loosed from locked doors to share the good news of Jesus Christ, you and I are also called to be that kind of disciple.  We form a community, the Church.  And the Holy Spirit has breathed into us good news to share.  We have forgiveness to give, because we have experienced God’s forgiveness. 

            The most significant part of “Disciples in Mission” is the re-commissioning of every parish member to undertake the mission of preaching and healing.  This was our mission from the start, because we were baptized and confirmed.  Sadly, throughout history it has been too easy for the Church to forget that from our beginnings our community knew no boundaries.  “So I send you,” Jesus said to you and me as we were washed in the waters of Baptism.  Each one of us has unique gifts for accomplishing the mission of Jesus Christ.  As Saint Paul wrote, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  While the Church community lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, each member of the Church has to exercise that power in a variety of ways.

            The Holy Spirit, I believe, is nudging each of us toward exercising our individual giftedness for the sake of the gospel of Jesus.  One way we’re being nudged is by the shortage of priests, on whom we have come to rely for so long.  The many great priests in our experience made it easy for the average Catholic the stay locked up in our room and to let someone else do the preaching and forgiving. 

            Now, given today’s shortage, a small but dramatic part of “Disciples in Mission” addresses this situation by reconfiguring parish structures. Our mission is fundamentally still a communal experience of the Holy Spirit.  The strategy is to help each one of us within a parish structure to hear and accept the mission on which Christ sends each baptized person.  It recognizes the changes that become necessary because there are fewer priests.  In the Cardinal’s estimation, there is no need to close parishes.  But there is a need to husband parish resources and priestly ministry into groups called collaboratives.

            The Cardinal will soon announce in The Pilot that Our Lady’s Parish will join in collaboration with St. Peter’s and St. Kateri’s Parishes in Plymouth.  Some time in the early months of 2018, the Cardinal will appoint a pastor for this collaborative.  Over succeeding months the new pastor will form and train his leadership team.  Our collaborative will become effective around June of 2018. 

Each parish will remain distinct, having its own finances and controlling its own property.  So there will be a Parish Finance Council in each parish to advise the pastor about each parish’s assets.  However, there will be one, joint Pastoral Council with representatives from each parish to advise the pastor about the collaborative.  Hopefully, this will lead to cooperative programs and planning, which ideally should lead to efficiencies and economies of scale, while maintaining the unique identity of each parish.

            But more important than finances and programs is the message of that first Pentecost.  Christ has become present in each one of us through the Holy Spirit.  Even so, let’s be honest, there is a tendency to stay locked in a room with a close circle of associates.  But the Holy Spirit beckons us to leave that place of comfort and security to get out and do the mission of spreading the message of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit can enflame our community with that mission.  The Holy Spirit can enflame you with that message! 

            The good news of Jesus is an attractive message, because it is about forgiveness and peace.  Over time and with good leadership each parishioner will discover that the Holy Spirit touches every person within our faith community.  The spiritual gift in each of us has been “given for some benefit.”  When every Catholic is committed to using his or her gifts for the benefit of all, the horizon of God’s message of mercy and peace will truly be limitless.