Sunday, July 2, 2017

Difficulty with the Cross of Christ


"Whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
- Matthew 10.38-39


I once had a student tell me that Jesus frightened her. She didn’t like some aspects about Jesus. She said the gospels made him sound scary because He drove out demons, calmed storms, and walked on water.

He also sounded like he thought he was God when He said things like: “Come to me all of you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will refresh you for I am meek and humble of heart.”
She said a humble man could not say a thing like that. Only God could say such a thing. And when he forgave people their sins, He acted as if he was the one who had been sinned against. She understood what the Pharisees meant when they said, “Only God can forgive sins!” She wasn’t too sure about this Jesus.


His brandishing a whip made of cords and flipping tables over, spilling coins, and running the money changers out of the Temple – along with letting the animals for sacrifice run free – was wrong. 

The student was unsure whether she wanted to put her faith in this man Jesus because of what he said and did. That would be too exclusive. It would mean that she was placing Christ above Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Muhammad, among others.
By claiming that Christianity was true, she feared that this would offend other religions. She said, “If I say Jesus is Lord, then that means I would have to believe it. Believe in Him, and live like I believed in Him. That would be hard." 

“You mean it would be a cross to bear,” I said.
She replied, “Yeah, that’s it."
Her willingness to ponder the call of Christ and wrestle with the hard questions was the beginning of faith. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Second Sunday of Easter

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER - 3 APRIL 2016

The first Easter Sunday was a day of confusion; the disciples were perplexed in the face of the empty tomb.

The disciples were gathered in the upper room with the doors locked. What happened to him could happen to us.”

But the Risen Jesus broke through their fears and guilt and locked doors declaring: “Peace.”

Note well that Christ does not shame them.

He does not blame.

He forgives.

He extends mercy.


Jesus needed the disciples to be faith-filled. “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them…for the forgiveness of sins…calling them to be Church…forming them into disciples for the world.

He transforms frightened and confused individuals into a community of disciples gathered together in love – called to become His very presence in the world and to continue together the mission the Father gave Him – to reveal the mercy of God and to give life, eternal life.

When we are locked behind closed doors and unable to reach out to others, he comes to us with his message of love and peace.

Some of us have deep wounds, deep hurts, fears, Yet Jesus forgives us for He is wounded as well. He still bears the marks of the nails and spear.

*
BUT Thomas was not with them that first Easter night!
So when the others tell him the good news, Thomas is caught in doubt. He will hear nothing of it. He has to experience it himself.

Thomas ONLY expected death. And when it happened, which he expected, he was still so heartbroken that he had to be alone and suffer and grieve alone, away from the community….

The resurrection story was too good to be true.

Where was Thomas? Why did he not join the others on that Sunday?

He may have needed to distance himself from all the disciples, and from all that reminded him of Jesus and anything associated with him.

Thomas may have even been angry that Jesus had failed.

He may have even been regretting his decision that he had ever followed the preacher from Nazareth.

And now some women claim that Christ is risen! He can’t believe that Jesus would appear first to WOMEN!

Maybe Thomas said to himself: “No, he didn't die…Well, yes, he did die, so there is no way he is alive. And He couldn't have appeared to Mary Magdalene!

“Happy endings just don’t happen.”

Thomas is focused on death and all that is negative. 

Thomas would not believe Jesus has been resurrected unless he could physically verify it for himself, even though he was a witness to the raising of Lazarus.

*
Many people tend to withdraw in difficult situations, at just the time when they need community the most (a symptom of depression)

This closes us off of God’s grace. In spite of our sorrow or disappointment, we should seek out the community of faith.
*
We can all be like Thomas. 

We all resist God's action in our lives and get mad at Him and fail to trust Him. 

We can be like Thomas and live in the past and stew over things in regret…

We can hide in the upper room; we can be like the others and stare into the tomb, we can sit there and obsess over our losses, lamenting what was!

And all the while we miss the joy!!! We fail to witness to the new life that is all about us!

*
Imagine that we were oblivious to the budding trees all around us, the plants and the flowers, and all the color of new life exploding all around us!

In our hearts, we could still be back in the darkest and coldest days of January and February, our hearts cold, still lamenting and mourning how cold that winter was and how cold and how much snow and ice…and how inconvenient it all was and all the misery and problems it caused.

BUT SPRING has sprung!

We have but to lift up our heads and open our eyes!

And we have but only to turn to today’s First Reading to see the transforming power of God upon the church community! 
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke writes of the early church: (ACTS 2:42-47) They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone…All who believed were together and had all things in common….And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

In the Acts of the Apostles and in the Gospels, we see the early Church's commitment to the celebration of the Eucharist and hearing the Word of God – the teaching of the apostles and the breaking of the bread! and the importance of community fellowship, regular church attendance and attentiveness the needs of each member of the community.

The Church is called to joy! Faith and generosity should be contagious! We as Church should be attractive, causing others to want to join!

And there is new life budding forth here! The Lord is adding new members to the Church here!  

In less than a month several visitors have spoken with me, introducing themselves as either new members or they have been so moved by the hospitality among the people and the reverence in the Liturgies that they have decided to join our parish.

I witnessed a new member who invited her entire family to Easter Sunday Mass! What a witness!

There is new life here!

The tomb is empty! Alleluia!

We have a great treasure. And it is ours to share!
Yes, there will be trials, as Peter reminds us in the second reading. 

When we follow Christ, we will experience pain, sorrow, and even death. But life, not death, will have the last word.

As St. Paul wrote: “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.35, 37-39).

Despite the locked doors of our hearts, Jesus will break in and stand in our midst and bring us his Peace and Mercy!

May we, when we are confronted with sorrow, pain, and death, be like St. Thomas, and fall at the feet of our Lord Jesus and cry out: “My Lord and My God!”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jesus Shatters our Worldview

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time     18 October 2015      Deacon John McMullen



James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?”

They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"

"We can,” they answered.


Jesus Shatters His Disciples Worldview



The disciples just don’t get it, do they?



Jesus has repeatedly taught the disciples – and us – that the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected and be killed, and rise after three days. But the disciples didn’t understand him.



Jesus shattered their worldview.

  
And for the past weeks we have also witnessed ambition and jealousy among the disciples while Christ keeps explaining how they must die to selfishness and take up their cross.

Peter rebukes Jesus for mentioning suffering as a pathway of discipleship; Peter wanted Jesus to be a military messiah that would rout the Romans. But Jesus says no. It’s about the Cross.

Jesus shattered Peter’s worldview.


Peter James, and John witness Jesus in his Transfigured glory. They likely felt as if they had a privileged place among Jesus’ followers.


The disciples are discouraged when they are unable to perform an exorcism. And then they become upset that other followers of Jesus who could drive out demons.



The twelve become jealous and begin to pout and tell Jesus to stop the other disciples from performing good works.


Imagine their envy. They admit that they are jealous because those disciples of Jesus are not following them; they try and cloak their envy by saying that these others do not follow them. But the truth is out.



The nameless disciples were following Jesus and that is what gave them the authority to drive out the demons! That had to blow a hole in the twelve disciples’ egos.


But the twelve argue among themselves which of them was the greatest. They want to be seen! The boys have it all wrong about leadership in the kingdom of God. And these men are the first bishops in our church. [Just sayin’.] The Twelve have issues. They were so focused on themselves, their own importance, their own AUTHORITY!


And Jesus shatters their worldview.


The disciples fell for the temptations of the devil. They wanted to preserve everything they had, they wanted positions of power and wanted to be popular. They wanted glory, but they did not want the Cross.



Just last week we heard about the rich young man was possessed by his possessions and wealth and couldn’t let go of them in order to follow Christ. Then Jesus’ twelve disciples become worried about what they’re going to get out of following Jesus.

      

This sounds way too familiar. What’s in this for me? What about me!! Me, me, me! Me, myself, and I – the unholy trinity of selfishness.



Well, today’s gospel is another example of just how dull-edged the disciples were.



Believe it or not, James and John approach Jesus with a request. "Teacher, grant that in your glory we may sit at your right and left."



You read Mark’s gospel and see the stupidity jump off the pages. Was their request coming from selfish motives or a sense of self-importance? Or both?



James and John did not understand the cross, so they wanted to ignore it and go for the glory instead.



When the other ten disciples heard this, they became angry at James and John. Ah, there’s nothing like pride, envy, greed, lust for power, and jealous anger



Jesus said: “You HAVE NO IDEA WHAT you are asking.”



Jesus shatters their worldview.



Some of you might say the same of marriage or a particular profession or vocation in life you have chosen. If I knew then what I know now….



Trust me, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I allowed myself to be ordained as a deacon. If I knew then what I know now….



James and John and the others may have been feeling that tension in their own lives. I can see Jesus shaking his head. He loved them, don’t get me wrong, but they weren’t the brightest pumpkins in the patch.



Some of them, like Peter, James and John may have been a little soft in the gourd, if you know what I mean. But the Lord still worked great miracles through them.



That’s great news. But he can only do that if we humble ourselves.



Those in authority sometimes lord it over others. But it cannot be that way with us. Rather, whoever wishes to be first will be the last.

      

Jesus shatters our worldview.



In the U.S., the idea of success is often based on the need to prove that “I am better than you.” Sometime relationships are based on competition and the need to win fights or arguments [or debates], and dominate others through arguing or violence.



The idea of being last in order to win is an absurd idea according to our world. 

      

But Jesus bore our pains and sorrows, endured our sufferings; was pierced through, nailed to the cross, yet by his wounds we are healed.



So Jesus’ vision for us as a community is one where the rich, powerful, and privileged reach down to help the poor, powerless, and unfortunate. Jesus calls us to be His Church, Members of His Body, where the weak support the strong, and the strong support the weak!



To be first and the greatest according to Christ is to serve the needs of others. Jesus’ challenge is a call for us to “servant leadership”.



Jesus reassembles our worldview.



Leadership in the kingdom is not about power, it’s not about possessions, it’s not about popularity. It’s about emptying ourselves so we can serve others in love.



As I look out, I see devoted, faithful parishioners who so often just show up to do the work necessary for our many minstries; the ladies who quilt, the lectors, the cantors, the servers, the members of who provide meals for those mourning the loss of a loved one and visit the sick and homebound, the many volunteers who assist in the RCIA, the St Vincent de Paul, the parish pastoral Council members, the choir, musicians, and many other volunteers, and the list goes on and on.

But our ministry can sometimes seem invisible. And we don’t always want to be invisible, do we? We want to be seen and heard.



But isn’t that what Jesus meant when he called us to be salt for the earth and the light of the world? Salt disappears once we put it on our food and it serves to bring out the best flavors. So we are called to bring out the best in others as we disappear, so to speak.



Jesus also called us to be the light of the world. Yet light is also invisible; light itself is that which illuminates all things; light enables us to see things, but we don’t actually see light itself. So, again, we get to be invisible as we help others shine.



In many ways you are the invisible members of the church that make this parish work.


So when we quit focusing only on ourselves, and take up our cross, then we will view the world through the eyes of Jesus Christ. He will reassemble our worldview. And we will realize that Jesus has become our worldview. We will only see Jesus


And in taking up the cross and becoming a servant, then we will receive glory.



And then we won’t be arguing about who is the greatest, or who is number one or number two, or at the right or the left.… instead we will seek to embrace the stranger, and love our neighbor as ourselves, being the light of Christ, willing to disappear from view so that others may shine. And therein lies the mystery and the glory of the cross.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Be Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only, For One Who Does Justice Will Live in the Presence of the Lord.

Reflection upon the Scripture readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Be doers of the word
and not hearers only,
for one who does justice
will live in the presence of the Lord.

Today's Psalm is worth pondering in full.

Psalm 15:

Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent
and dwell on your holy mountain?

2 He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart;
3 he who does not slander with his tongue;

He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbor,
4 who holds the godless in disdain,
but honors those who fear the Lord;

he who keeps his pledge, come what may;
5 who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm forever.

Here we see that if we truly dwell with God, we will be changed and will be holy as Christ is Holy.


Be doers of the word
and not hearers only,
for one who does justice
will live in the presence of the Lord.



The Second Reading from James is clear: "He willed to give us

birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits

of his creatures. Humbly welcome the word that has been

planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the

Word and not hearers only."  

(Jas 1:17-27)

Be doers of the word
and not hearers only,
for one who does justice
will live in the presence of the Lord.

This shows that the grace of God comes to dwell within us, not simply to hover above us, or make us "appear" righteous, but truly transforms us, refashioning us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Be doers of the word
and not hearers only,
for one who does justice
will live in the presence of the Lord.


"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the
Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their
affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

(Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27)

This is an important line as well.

TOO MANY well-meaning Christians claim that they are NOT religious, but only spiritual.

Well, religion is mentioned in scripture here and it is a
good thing, especially in how we treat the most vulnerable.

How orphaned can one be when he or she is unwanted in the womb of his or her own mother?!

The same goes for widows and widowers, the elderly, and indeed all persons.

Be doers of the word
and not hearers only,
for one who does justice
will live in the presence of the Lord.

Finally, the Gospel of Mark shows that "Nothing that
enters one from outside can defile that person; but the
things that come out from within are what defile."

Mark 7:1-23

In other words, it is not the outward appearance that
transforms the person, but rather the inward conversion,
the inner transformation, propelled by the Grace of God,
the Love of Christ, and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Be doers of the word
and not hearers only,
for one who does justice
will live in the presence of the Lord.

Deacon John William McMullen
29 August 2015

* I welcome comments.

If you use my material in your own homilies or other writings or blogs, kindly reference my work.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lord, to whom else shall we go?

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B    23 August 2015

Here are the Scripture readings for the day
Twenty-First Sunday readings Year B


“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh….”

It would seem that these are some of the oldest words of wisdom in all of human literature. Who among us has not been affected by a son or daughter or sibling leaving the homestead and moving on to start a new life in marriage?

And yes, there will be sorrow when either we choose to follow the Lord where he calls or those we love choose to follow the Lord where he calls them:

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
those whose spirit is crushed He will save.”

This leaving forth will require us to say to those around us: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” It is countercultural to follow the Lord.

And, yes, it is countercultural and sometimes even counter intuitive to follow the Lord into the depths of marriage, even the difficult days of desperation and heartache. Yet St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is clear:  Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ…. …So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies…..

This teaching of Christ, dying to self, is particularly felt and experienced in marriage. Even Paul himself refers to it as a mystery, indeed as the mystery of our faith, the dying to self as the two become one flesh. Let’s face it: marriage is hard work, and so is parenting. It is so often a series of dyings and risings.

Paul said “this is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.”

In our world today, with the tragedy of Tinder, Ashley Madison, hook-up culture, and rampant pornography, is it any wonder why marriage is so threatened? (* see links below)

St. Paul’s teaching on the holiness of Matrimony in his day was as countercultural as it is today.

And Jesus’ teaching today on the necessity of receiving his Body and Blood is just difficult, as is evidenced by the crowd’s response:  “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?”….

Jesus words in today’s gospel challenge and shock us today just as they did his first century hearers.

In our times, too many people have compromised on the meaning of both Holy Matrimony and the Holy Eucharist.

For too many “Christians” marriage can mean whatever we decide it means, such as a symbol of a union between two persons, but one than can easily be dissolved, and one where children are considered either an option or simply one more consumer good among others.

And as for the Eucharist, many Catholics no longer believe that the Bread and wine are transformed into the very Body and Blood our Christ, but is merely a symbol, a nice token of a bygone era.

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. 
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” (John 6:53-56).

By the way, Jesus did not change the meaning of his words on the Eucharist. He did not say, “Come back, I was speaking symbolically.” He asked "Does this shock you?"

As a result of Jesus’ teaching [on the Eucharist], many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” 

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

When Christ asks each of us today:
“Does this shock you?
Do you also want to leave?” 
How will we respond?


[see the hook-up culture  tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating  and
Russell Brand (yes) on the destructiveness of pornography Russell Brand on the effects of Pornography (short version)   or the longer version: *caution, scenes from Fifty Shades of Grey, longer version ]
Amazingly, both Vanity Fair and Russell Brand are truly insightful on their critique of contemporary culture. Fascinating.