”DO NOT BE AFRAID…OF THE STORM!”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, 19th Sunday, August 13, 2017
Years ago, Catholic parishes celebrated the annual “Forty Hours Devotion.” The Blessed Sacrament was exposed for three days, parishioners came to adore and pray, and each day ended with an evening devotion, often with a visiting-preacher, ritual prayers, and benediction. Too bad we lost that liturgical treasure! In many places, Perpetual Adoration has replaced the Forty Hours. The Blessed Sacrament is continually exposed in a church, and people always come to pray. Where this devotion exists, many blessings come to the parish, including religious vocations. I mention this in the hope that YOU can talk this up with your pastor, if you haven’t already. Or, seek out a church nearby that has Perpetual Adoration and take advantage of those blessings.
Anyway, in the “Forty Hours,” one ritual prayer was the Litany of the Saints. Among the invocations, I remember “From rains and floods, deliver us, O Lord,” and “From violent winds, deliver us, O Lord.” I’m not sure I’m quoting accurately, but people were asking God to deliver them from storms.
Today, we hear of floods washing away homes and storms that destroy entire cities. In California, wildfires add to the scourge. People who don’t believe in global warming surely notice changing weather patterns which are very destructive.
Last weekend 6000 flights were cancelled or delayed in the U.S. due to heavy rains and storms. I know. I spent a whole night in an airport because I missed my flight connections.
Besides bad weather, we also have personal storms no less destructive than hurricanes or tornadoes: illness, unemployment, violence, family problems, addictions, and the like.
Today’s Gospel tells of St. Peter in a storm (Matt 14). After feeding the crowds, Jesus goes to pray while the disciples get on a boat. A storm arises with winds so strong and waves so high that the disciples are terrified. Jesus appears and tells them “do not be afraid.” Impetuous Peter (“the Rock”) wants to walk to Jesus – on the water. Jesus says, “COME.” With his eyes on Jesus, “the Rock” walks on water. When he takes his eyes off Jesus, he sinks just like a Rock will.
And that’s the point: while his eyes are on Jesus, his faith is strong and he does the impossible. When he takes his eyes off Jesus, he feels the wind, he weakens, and begins to sink.
That’s the story of faith and prayer. When we keep our eyes on God, we can do miracles. When we focus on the storms around us, our weakness, and sins, we go down.
Sometimes we expect God to respond immediately and when He doesn’t, we get discouraged. “God isn’t here for me,” we complain. Yet, when we go to a doctor, we don’t expect our pain to subside instantly. We describe our symptoms, submit to tests and medications, and we keep coming back until we are cured. Why expect something different from God?
We have to be persevering in our faith and prayer. Keep your eyes on the Lord, rather than on your problems, and God will be there to help.
Some years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It was all about what the title says, and his own response to the unexpected death of his young son. In the book, he says: “If logic tells you God doesn’t care, don’t give up on God; give up your logic.”
I wish I would have said that. I believe it. Jesus says that whatever we ask the Father in His name will be granted. So pray, and pray with faith. Keep your eyes on the Lord. His eyes will meet yours: “Do not be afraid.” Whatever the storm, God will be with you to stop it, to clean up after it, even pull you out of the water so you can walk with Him. He said it. He’ll do it. Ask Peter, the Rock who didn’t sink!
“O GOD, LET ALL THE NATIONS PRAISE YOU!”
Fr. Alex’s Corner, 20th Sunday, August 20, 2017
As I write this, all news outlets are focused on Charlottesville and last week’s tragic deaths and injuries. Every time someone opens their mouth, be it the President or the press and everyone in between, it gets worse. Have you ever wanted to get up on a giant soap box in the middle of the country and yell, “S-H-U-T U-P EVERYONE!” Ok, ok, I know! We are not to say “Shut up.” It’s not nice! But all that is being said isn’t so nice either. It might be good for everyone to CHILL, to quiet down, and take a few deep breaths. Let’s grieve all that is grieve-worthy, pray for the healing of those hurt by all of this, and give serious thought to WHAT we say and HOW we say it. I think we all need a spiritual sedative and time to reflect.
Then I read this Sunday’s Gospel and Jesus seems to refer to a foreign woman as a “dog.” Oh, how I wish He would not have said that. Especially this week! But He did, and so we need to understand “why.” I tried and I’d like to share it with you.
As always, the First Reading provides insight to the Gospel. In our First Reading (Isaiah 56) the prophet reminds Israel of its unique destiny as God’s chosen people, but clearly predicts a time when ALL PEOPLE will be called to friendship with God, and the sacrifice of ALL FOREIGNERS will be accepted in the Temple. This was a revelation to Isaiah’s audience, because Temple law made it clear who was allowed where. Priests had their place, men had theirs, and women still another place. At that time, foreigners could not enter the Temple precincts under pain of death. It was what it was.
Israel had to be reminded over and over again that the Messiah and all of God’s plans for a redeemed human race would come first to Israel and then to all others through Israel. The nation had to bring God to the world and the world to God. That was their mission and it was serious stuff.
When Jesus came, He made it clear that He was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus, THE WORD OF GOD, had to make clear all the previous words of God. The people to whom He spoke would have to make a choice to believe or not to believe, to accept or not to accept.
Once Jesus would die on the Cross and rise again, He would then send His very own Spirit into the Apostles and they would be sent to “go, therefore, and make disciples of ALL NATIONS (Matt 28).
That was The Plan! That was the prescription!
Now this nice foreign lady comes along. She is a Canaanite. The Jews didn’t like Canaanites! She was also a Mom with a very sick daughter. She heard of Jesus the Healer, and she needed help. When this foreigner approaches, first the disciples, and then Jesus, ignore her. But how do you say “no” to a Mom. Even Jesus couldn’t do that!
At the time, foreigners were referred to as “dogs.” Other names, too. Jesus simply says that it’s not right to give family food to a dog. (My Mom said that too, but we still fed the pooch under the table.) The lady insists and persists. Jesus praises her faith and her persistence, as confirmation that God will bless and heal Canaanites. Foreigners, too!
Why did Jesus engage in that discussion? I’ve read that “even Jesus needed some sensitivity training.” And, from “a woman.” No, no, no! Jesus did not need sensivity training. It’s we who need sensibility training.
This very dramatic story fulfills what Isaiah said 500 years before Jesus. EVERYONE IS INVITED TO BE PART OF GOD’S FAMILY. Every human being is not just created equal, but treasured in God’s eyes. Jesus died for every one of us. And we deny that to our own peril. That is God’s law. That is God’s plan.
Our politics need to conform to our faith, not the other way around. May God bless America – and the rest of the world, too. It’s His planet, you know. LET ALL THE NATIONS PRAISE GOD!
PEACE! Please, God, PEACE!
Blessed are those whose help is in the Lord,
their God, who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them….
Fr. Alex’s Corner, 21st Sunday, August 27, 2017
As we prepare this reflection, Hurricane Harvey is approaching the Texas coast. I have family there, as well as our young friars at our house of studies in San Antonio. So I am scared. Terrified, really! Please pray with me that “the Lord who made the sea and all that is in (it)” will watch over those people. We know that Jesus can calm storms. Please, Jesus, do that now…!
In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt 16:13-20), Jesus is in intimate conversation with his disciples. They have seen so much, heard so much, and now it’s time for them to say what they think about it all. Jesus asks: “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples respond the easy way: what others think of Jesus. Not Peter. Peter doesn’t always think what he says, but he always says what he thinks. And he’s seen enough. “You are the Christ (the Anointed One), the Son of the living God.” He is equating Jesus with God!
For a Jewish man, whose belief in ONE God is the foundation of his life and faith, this is quite a statement. Jesus assures Peter that this is not a consequence of his own thinking. He has received this insight from God Himself. Jesus calls Peter the rock, and confirms that “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the nether-world shall not prevail against it.” Jesus then entrusts Peter with the “keys to the kingdom” of Heaven.
This is quite a conversation. (Remember: Matthew is writing about 20 years after Peter’s death. The “keys” were not buried with Peter, so Matthew recalls the role of Peter – and his successors – who hold the “keys to the kingdom” as they pass on the story and meaning of Jesus and His mission.)
Once Peter called Jesus “Son of the Living God,” everything that Jesus said or did had a profoundly new significance. No wonder that at times Peter got tongue-tied, at one point saying, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man….”
This is a long introduction to my question to you. (I ask it of myself every day!) “Who do YOU say Jesus is…?” Take your time. No need to rush or say what “others” think. Who do YOU say Jesus is?
Is He some epic historical figure you respect and admire? Is He a person of consequence in a nation or a culture? Is He a clever speaker, with good insights and unusual powers? All that would be good. But if you, like Peter, see Him as the Son of God, well, that makes every word Jesus speaks an invitation – a command – to action. This is God speaking. So, if it is God speaking, we had better listen and listen well!
To trap Jesus, the Pharisees asked Him which was the greatest law and commandment. By Jesus’ time the Ten Commandments evolved into 613 rules and regulations, most saying what NOT to do. Jesus did not say what NOT to do, but rather what we should do: Love God with all your heart and soul, AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. He did that. They told Him NOT to heal on the Sabbath, but He did. Do NOT touch the leper, but He did. Do NOT talk to the Canaanite woman, but He did. Do NOT eat with tax collectors and sinners, but He did. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
With all today’s talk about who is our neighbor, or who we’d like living on our street, or in our city, we need to listen to Jesus very carefully. Our social and national problems are complex. As they say, “it ain’t easy.” But anyone who spreads hatred, violence, and ill-will is just not on the same page as Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed so hard that “they all may be ONE.” You know what I’m talking about.
So: WHO DO YOU SAY THAT JESUS IS? Be careful, because your answer will make a difference. A big difference in how you see – and treat – the person on the other side of the street!