flower in rocks

Wasteful Miracles

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11 OR Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

With two millennia of practice, Christians have nearly perfected the art of explaining away Gospel demands. Excuse-making is, after all, a human strong suit, and it’s not easy to stop doing what you’re really good at.

A modern variant of the “that’s nice, but it doesn’t apply to me” excuse stresses how different our lives are from those of first century peasants. Farmers, shepherds, and fishermen are, for many of us, abstractions invisibly at work somewhere beyond our personal experience, black boxes in the grocery store supply chain, while the few among us who farm or fish for a living know better than to throw precious seeds along a rocky path, leave ninety-nine percent of the stock loose and unwatched while searching for a stray, or toss nets over the oarlocks and hope for the best without benefit of engines, fishfinder, or radio.

In contrasting my busy, technologically sophisticated modern life to sentimentalized myths of agrarian simplicity, I construct all the distance I need to miss the point – and missing the point is, after all, the unacknowledged point of much contemporary scripture study. I like to imagine that I would never be so wasteful and inefficient as the benighted peasantry of Jesus’ time. Read more

GiottoTriumphalEntry

(Mis)Remembered Words

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011. -

Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 11:25-30

In an October 13, 1813 letter to his former political rival, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson described his work on a short book, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. This was Jefferson’s own distillation of gospel texts, in which he meant to include, “the very words only of Jesus,” while eliminating all elements Jefferson deemed irrational.  Jefferson assumed the parts he found superstitious were simply the result of ignorant men who misremembered or misunderstood Jesus’ “pure principles.”

When he was done with his editing, Jefferson wrote, “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

He later completed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, a unified narrative of Jesus’ life cut from the New Testament with all mention of miracles, angels, prophecy and resurrection edited out. Jefferson privately shared his compilation with friends, but declined to have it published in his lifetime. Read more

Painting of disciples at Pentecost

A Quieter Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12: 3-13; John 20:19-23

 

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011.

The Catholic Church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is, ideally, a process lasting many months, during which unbaptized catechumens and baptized but unconfirmed candidates learn from and discern with sponsors and other members of the church community they hope to become part of. My home parish takes this seriously. While the rite is meant to lead to reception into the church at the Easter Vigil, there’s no rushing, no shortcuts, no simply going with the flow. The rigor and probing reflection often make me wish I hadn’t completed my own initiation so young.

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Emmaus

A Same Kind of Different

Third Sunday of Easter


Acts 2:14-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

If our hope is even remotely true, what will the resurrected body be like? Assuming the gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances offer clues, what little we learn there might best be summed up as “different, but the same.” Mary found Jesus so changed, at least from a distance, that she mistook him for a gardener. Thomas learns that even if doors can’t stop Jesus, the scars of his execution abide. Cleopas and his companion are clueless until they recognize Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.”

For all of those – including me – who come after the original disciples and know no Jesus except as the resurrected Christ, there’s a particular sweetness in today’s gospel, as there was in last week’s Thomas story, where we heard, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) It’s helpful to hear from those who’ve gone before that discerning Jesus in this world doesn’t come naturally, but as second nature, formed over time by grace and shared practice. But even that sweetness, passed too often and too formulaically through frail human hands, may grow stale or leave one feeling like they’d devoured too much Easter candy.

I trust that, even after years of homilies and essays on the subject, there’s much, much more for me to learn from today’s gospel seen through the lens of Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. I, however, was raised American in the late twentieth century, so I have the attention span of a Mayfly who’s misplaced his ADHD meds. I require novelty, something different enough to keep me engaged.

Perhaps it’s time, then, to ask what it would mean to break the bread and refuse to know the risen Christ? God knows I’ve been there. Read more

rope

Bonds Unbroken

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

At the start of an interview with America magazine last year, Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” The Pope paused a moment before saying, “I am a sinner,” and then went on to clarify: “…but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

Perhaps you, like me, take heart at these words, which sound like the fruit of hard experience, not the stale repetition of some pretty formula. Perhaps you, like me, know the wounds – many of them meticulously concealed – of broken relationships, the compounded result of a willful and persistent alienation from God and God’s Creation. Yet the maker of the Universe regards Francis, me, and you, and mercifully refuses to let our “no” be the final word. Though we’ve devoted much time and energy to severing our bonds of connection, God has not, does not, will not. Read more