My name is NEDI: which is short for: Ned-i-voot – which means generosity in Hebrew. And you will find out why I was named very appropriately by my parents. . .
I lived a happy life down by the Sea of Galilee. Living on a farm with my parents – we grew barley, oats, and wheat for the baking of rolls and bread.
My parents always baked a lot – even more than we needed or could sell – because Dad always said, “What we don’t eat ourselves or sell to the villagers, we can give it away – for the poor will always be with us.”
“But why are some people poor, and some people aren’t”, I asked my Dad. “It isn’t fair that we have what we need – and others have nothing.”
“You’re right, son,” my Dad said. “It isn’t fair. All I know though – is that someday the Messiah will come, and he will be our king. And in his kingdom there will be no slave or free person, no rich and no poor, no hungry or thirsty. Or as the Prophet Isaiah foretells: ‘heed me, that is listen to me – and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare --- and you will have life!” So that’s why we await a Messiah!”
Mom and Dad were always telling me about the coming of the Messiah – one who would bring peace to our often-times war torn country. Especially during our times of oppression – it seemed like the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. . . Oh how we longed to be set free!
One warm summer day, a neighbor stopped by to buy a loaf of bread. “I’m on my way to see the King. He’s right nearby,” he said.
“A king,” I said. “Right nearby? You must be fooling us!”
The neighbor shook his head. “I would not be fooling around about something as important as a king,” he said. “Why some people say that this one is the Messiah – here at last! Why don’t you come with me and see?”
“Is this the one the call Jesus?” asked my dad with a smile. “Because if it is – I certainly want Nedi to have a chance to see him – maybe even hear him talk.”
“The very man!” the neighbor cried. “You have heard of him then??”
Dad said, “I’ve heard he’s kind and loves the Lord. That’s good enough for me.”
“If you are going Nedi, ” my mom said, “you had better take this lunch along – I’ve packed two fish and five small barley loaves.”
“Oh, I won’t need that,” I cried. “Why, the king will feed the poor.”
But dad insisted that I take it – so I did.
So up the road, with lunch in hand – the two of us went. We soon came across a noisy crowd which seemed to stretch out for a mile or so – so we must have been getting near the King.
“That’s Jesus there!” Someone cried out. So I pushed ahead to see --- and there was a man who looked to be as plain and poor as everyone else in the crowd.
I ran up close where I could see better – and possibly hear what he was saying. And I thought to myself – I’m glad I did bring my lunch a long – because this guy doesn’t look much like a king. . .
Then Jesus spoke and his voice was strong: “bring all the sick to me.”
And I saw a bunch of people go to him – and miraculously – the lame who limped up to him – could walk just fine on their way back – in fact, some did so with a skip – and all with a spring in their step. And those who were blind – came back seeing!
As the sick were made whole and well and strong – a shout rose from the crowd: “Our king! Our Messiah! Our Lord!!”
Then Jesus turned and raised his hand and spoke out loud and clear: “The kingdom of heaven which you seek – is already here! This kingdom, God’s kingdom – is full of love and joy ---
why it’s as exciting as someone finding a buried treasure in a field – or after years of searching – finding a peal of great price now safely in their hands!”
The day grew short, and someone said: “I wish we had something to eat.” And so one of the men with Jesus said: “These folks are hungry – but how are they to be fed??”
When I heard that, I ran right up to Jesus and said, “I have some fish and bread – I will gladly share them with the crowd – if that’s what you want.”
That same man with Jesus said with a tone of disgust: “Five loaves – two fish? What good are they for all of these people??”
But Jesus said, “have everyone sit down.” Then he looked up at the sky and prayed: “Thank you, God in heaven, for the generosity of this young boy. May all of us always realize the gifts you constantly shower down upon us – and have hearts generous enough to share what we have been given.”
Then he told those near him: “Feed the crowd” and somehow, and in some way – all the crowd was fed! And there were even leftover -- which filled 12 baskets!
The crowd was impressed by Jesus’ powers. They wanted to make him a king to satisfy all their daily needs.
But Jesus could tell they were misunderstanding the power of God’s kingdom – so he went off by himself to pray.
So, I am Nedi: short for Ned-i-voot – which means generosity in Hebrew. And at least the lesson I learned that day, the point I think Jesus was trying to make – is that God loves each one of us so very much. And God has given each one of us gifts and talents – food and fishes – not to keep to ourselves – but to share. And it is in the sharing – when we can think and act beyond ourselves – that the kingdom of heaven is made present. It’s not something we have to wait for – it is something we can help bring about.
Jesus said it so well in that prayer of his: “May all of us realize the gifts you constantly shower down upon us – and have hearts generous enough to share what we have been given.”
So treasure those who think of you when everyone else is just thinking of themselves.
And may each and every one of you touch people with your gifts. Sometimes may know you have had an effect on them – others times you may not. Either way – you have something to give. And it is in the giving to one another that each of our lives becomes meaningful --- and the kingdom of heaven is made present in our midst. . . [continued]
At the end of Mass, Fr. Matthew had the following to say:
Our 2nd Collection today is for debt reduction. . .
Before Covid hit and the shut down occurred – we were having a great year financially at St. Patrick – our expenses were right at budget along with our income. . . and we even managed to get the parking lot resurfaced – thanks to your generosity through the matching funds earlier this year --- and then of course the bottom fell out of everything – just as it did for you.
With a PPP loan (that is pay roll protection plan loan) and with your continued giving – we were able to finish the fiscal year not as strong as we would have liked – but still, a pretty good year. So thank you for your continued generosity!
A short version of our story is – if you still want us to be around – when you feel safe to return – then please continue to keep current with your giving. I think it is safe to say that a few parishes in our diocese will not weather this storm – but we don’t want to be one of them.
School is set to open on August 19 --- with a larger enrollment than what we ended with last spring – please keep our faculty in students in your prayers over the next few weeks as they prepare to return to school. We are very optimistic about this coming year as a parish and school community.
We continue to miss all of you who cannot join us in person – and look forward to the day when we are all back together agiain.
Outside of flipping on the news when I get up in the morning – and again when I am usually eating dinner. And besides watching Jeopardy faithfully every day --- I really don’t watch a lot of television.
I am perfectly fine with my antennae tv – without a 1,000 cable channels at my fingertips – most of which I would not have an interest in anyway.
I do enjoy watching things on PBS – like the great documentary on Ulyses Grant done back in January – or more recently the series on Franklin Roosevelt and on the National Parks.
Another PBS show that sometimes snags me – is the Antiques Roadshow – I guess I am always amazed at how much something pulled out of someone’s attic can really be worth.
Out of curiosity I googled “top selling items on the Roadshow.”
First was a watch made in 1914 by a well-known Swiss watch maker. The watch had been handed down to a man from his great-grandfather – who, when he took it to an edition of Antique Roadshow in Minneapolis discovered the watch was worth $2 million!
Second a man had been collecting rhinoceros horn carvings and had a particular affinity for a certain cup – and ended up purchasing an entire set.
Carved around 1700 --- the ornate collection was originally purchased by the owner for $5,000 – but an appraiser on the show gave the owner a surprise when he told him the collection could be sold at auction for $1.5 million!
It doesn’t take long for us to search for the answer to the question – not what’s in your wallet – but what’s in your attic!!! Perhaps when my siblings and I reconvene to continue cleaning my mother’s house out – we will be a bit more cautious of what we send off to the thrift store
I suppose we all know that there is sometimes investment and sacrifice in pursuit of such treasures – but when great value is there and almost within your grasp --- how could you possibly give up and turn away??? And that is precisely the point which Jesus is making in the gospel parables we hear today.
It is not a parable that requires all that much explanation or interpretation. The point is all too clear: the gospel that Jesus came to preach – the story about God in heaven and God’s unconditional love for us all – and all the opportunities God provides for us – are like buried treasure.
Only the coward, the incompetent, the fool would turn away from the possibilities which Jesus offers in the name of God.
How can it be that the pearl of great price, the buried treasure in the field, the pocket watch handed down from generation to generation – are pursued vigorously //// and yet the opportunity that Jesus provides with the offer of God’s love is pursued somewhat lackadaisically – if at all??
Obviously the Good News of Christianity does not look like the glittering gold of buried treasure. We may claim that it does, but in fact we can take this particular pearl of great price or leave it alone – and mostly we leave it alone.
Treasure hunting novels and movies are still pretty popular. The story of buried treasure has lost none of its appeal since the day of Jesus. The problem for us today is rather to believe that the truth revealed to us by Jesus, that the God disclosed to us through Jesus’ words and deeds --- does, indeed, represent something at least as valuable as buried gold, a rare Swiss watch, or a carved rhinoceros horn.
We have heard this parable so often, we take it so much for granted – that it really doesn’t hit us the way it ought to. We cannot quite accept the fact that the knowledge of God’s love should transform our lives every bit as much as a buried treasure transforms the hard life of a laborer.
We can understand such things as wealth, power, and leisure – we can realize that they do transform the life of the one who acquires them --- but we can’t quite comprehend how the same thing happens to us when we accept the message of salvation from Jesus.
Wealth, leisure, and power – lessen if not eliminate such things as fear, anxiety, worry, uncertainty – and all the harshness of our daily struggles.
Jesus is telling us quite definitely in today’s parable that accepting the vision of God will accomplish the same thing for us –
indeed would accomplish it more effectively and more decisively than would the treasure in the field or the watch in the drawer.
But we find it hard to believe -- we might agree when we hear the parable read to us – as we have through all the years since we first heard it. . . But still, we don’t take it seriously – we do not believe that our life is an adventure – and that the buried treasure which ought to give us power and energy and drive to our life is a treasure that is ours simply for the asking – costing us nothing --- when we realize that God loves us that much. . .
Today, and for the next two weeks – we will be reading from Chapter 13 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. In this chapter Jesus tells seven parables – or stories -- about the kingdom of heaven. . .
Next week we will hear how the kingdom of heaven is like weeds an enemy sows in their neighbor’s wheat field.
The week after that we hear how the Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field or like a merchant’s search for fine pearls.
If the crowds gathering to hear Jesus have come expecting academic lectures on the kingdom– then they are disappointed for what they get are more like dreams or poems –
in which images of God’s kingdom are given to them – as familiar as crops in their own fields and pearls in a market place. And Jesus is saying these very ordinary things have something to tell us about God’s purpose for us. . .
So today – it is the parable of the sower --- that is what we call it right? “A sower goes out to sow.”
If this is the parable of the SOWER – why do we always seem to have the same response ---- we start to worry about what kind of ground we are on with God.
We start worrying about how many birds are in our field, how many rocks, how many thorns.
We almost immediately and consistently turn it into a parable about how we can clean the messes of our lives up – how we can turn ourselves into the well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s word.
We start worrying about how the odds are three to one against us – those are the odds in the parable after all --- and we begin to think about how we can beat the odds, or at least improve on them – by cleaning up our act. . .
Isn’t that our usual response to this parable? We hear it as a challenge to be different, as a call to improve our lives, so that if the same parable were ever told about us – it would have a happier ending – with all the seeds falling on rich, fertile soil.
But today, I want to suggest there is something wrong with that reading of the parable. . . because if improving the soil of our lives is what this parable is all about – then it should be called the parable of the different kinds of ground. . .
Instead, it has been known for centuries as the parable of the SOWER – which means there is a chance, just a chance, that we have got it all backwards.
We hear the story and think it is a story about us – but what if we were wrong? What if it is not about us at all ---- but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns --- but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such mundane concerns as rocks and birds --- who flings seed everywhere – wastes it with holy abandon – who feeds the birds – whistles at the rocks – picks his way through the thorns (maybe looking for a few blackberries along the way) – who shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing – confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty --- and that when the harvest comes at last – the grain will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters????
If this really is the parable of the SOWER and NOT the parable of the different kinds of soil --- then it begins to sound quite different.
The focus is not on us and our shortfalls and our rocky and thorny hearts --- but on the generosity of GOD – the prolific sower who does not obsess about the conditions of our fields – who is not stingy with the seed --- but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad --- who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical ---- but who seems willing to keep reaching into the seed bag for all eternity –
covering all of creation with the fertile seed of God’s word – the values of the kingdom – like the dewfall, falling on the good and bad alike. . .
Being the cautious, thrifty people we are --- we certainly wouldn’t do it that way of course.
If we were in charge, we would devise a more efficient operation: a neater, cleaner, and certainly a more productive one that did not waste seed on birds and rocks and thorns – but concentrated only on the good soil and what we could make it do.
But if this is the parable of the SOWER, then Jesus seems to be suggesting that there is another way to go about things, a way that is less concerned with productivity and plenitude:
The kingdom of God is like a sower who went out to sow. . . God’s way – which must become our way --- is to throw the seeds of truth, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, acceptance, encouragement, and joy as lavishly and recklessly as we can – out of a sense of abundance, not scarcity – with the hope – the deep, profound, faith-filled hope of the kingdom – that some of the Gospel and its values -- will take root in the people and situations of our lives --- in order to make the kingdom of God present – that is, to make the world a better place because of us – we sowers of God’s word – who have passed through these times and places. . .
A sower went out to sow. . .
I hope you don’t find it a surprise that people ask me all the time to pray for them --- and hopefully people ask the same of you, as my prayers are no more powerful than yours. . .
A friend of mine always says that whenever someone does ask you to pray for them – you should do it as soon as you can – right there on the spot as you walk away from them or hang up the phone --- otherwise you are likely to forget about as soon as you get back to work, or play, or whatever it was that you were doing or going to do.
I’ve had a lot of people lately ask me to pray for them because they are going through a difficult time. Often people ask me to pray for them because they are sick or suffering in some way and need the healing touch of God in their lives.
There are many people these days who are going through pain, and anxiety, and frustration: in our parish, in our state, and in our country who need our prayers.
On this weekend when we celebrate the gift of our country, the freedom we enjoy and the opportunities that are given to us – we need to be aware that there are many who struggle amid an uncertain economy – and living and working conditions that are challenging with mask wearing and social distancing, >>
and the possibility of businesses not coming back as strong as they were before all of this began. . .
One friend of mine is used to the extra income from the work she does at Kaufman stadium during baseball season – and we know how that is working out for her this year. . .
The people of Israel in our first reading today would understand the feelings of those who are struggling in today’s world.
At the time the prophet Zechariah was writing to the Israelites – around 520 B.C. – the Persians had conquered Israel and were occupying their land and lives.
The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed – and all the people of Israel wanted more than anything else ---- was to get things back to normal – in their day to day lives – and in their worship ----SOUND SOMEWHAT FAMILIAR????
In the midst of their anguish, hope-less-ness, and despair : Zechariah was writing to remind them that God would NOT abandon them. Zechariah was telling them to just “hold tight” because God will never desert the people that God loves so very much:
“See, your king will come to you, and he is a just savior. The warriors bow shall be banished and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. HIS dominion shall be from sea to sea”
God’s dominion – not the dominion of the Persians, or the Babylonians, or the Romans who will come along later --- and not the disruption caused by a pandemic such as the covid virus. . . GOD’S dominion shall be from sea to sea. . . we might want to say from sea to shining sea. . .
And Jesus echoes that message so well in the Gospel: “Come to me, to me -- all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Faith teaches us that Christ walks with us and carries us in those difficult moments that bring us to the brink of despair – and should bring us to our knees. >>
Christ is saying to us: “Trust in me. I will lead you through this valley of darkness and of fear. We will get through this together.
WHO DOESN’T NEED TO HEAR THESE WORDS TODAY???? IN OUR TIME AND IN OUR PLACE???
GOD IS WITH US – AND WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER!
The problems which we face as individuals and as a nation reflect the character of our country at this time in history – just as they did for the Israelites in 520 BC. While we celebrate our country this weekend with both pride and hope –
we should be clear that it is prayer and the action of God in our lives that is the most important element in our celebrations on the 4th of July and every other day.
We pray for those who have no work. May they find labor soon.
We pray for those who struggle and who live in fear because they do not know what the future holds. May the light of God’s love direct their efforts and guide their actions.
We pray for our country which seems to struggle in its efforts to be a beacon of hope to the world. May God bless our nation. >>
And my God bless our leaders. May God bless all of us who live in this great country. And may we never take it for-granted.
And may we realize that no matter what our struggles, pains or fears – we are all in this together. And together we seek God’s guidance in our future – and the future of our country. God’s dominion shall be from sea to shining sea. And may God bless America.
I think Jesus is telling us two things in the Gospel today.
FIRST: that it’s easy to get distracted by our fears. It’s possible to spend too much time thinking about our mistakes and our missed opportunities.
We can dwell on how people have treated us unkindly – and waste our energy deliberating on things that out of our control.
Jesus doesn’t want us to think about, or obsess over or waste too much time doing these types of things: fear no one – Jesus tells us – and consequently, I think, fear nothing.
So the SECOND thing I think Jesus is telling us --
what he wants us to do, more than anything else – is to shift our mindset – to have a conversion –
To encourage us to focus on what we love:
The purpose we find through our work.
On all the things that we are grateful for.
And most especially to focus on the God who loves us more than we can ever imagine:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid – you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Now, thinking about all those things we love – let’s just smile. Because it’s hard not to, isn’t it?
This is where we should be spending the majority of our thoughts and our time and our efforts – we need to focus on what we love!
Jesus knows that it’s very easy to incite FEAR. We live in a world where far too many people are pointing fingers, calling others names, and cursing their enemies – sometimes in the very name of God.
And there are too many people just stirring the pot – moving people to new, dangerous levels of violence, hatred, and suspicion.
Fear is one of our most primal emotions and it doesn’t take much for it to become one of the most influential feelings in our communities – driving important decisions and dominating our airwaves.
Again, Jesus wants us to make a shift in our mindset – he wants us to have a conversion ---
Jesus wants us to know that just as it is possible to incite fear – it is just as possible to incite LOVE:
By seeing the best in each other.
By embracing our differences rather than being afraid of them.
By finding ways to make each other thrive.
So as follower of Jesus Christ – we need to replace the scowls with smiles, the derisive comments with encouragement, and the suspicion with mutual respect.
Yes, it is possible to incite love. . .
So in between doing our work.
And the taxi driving for the kids.
And the exercise.
And the writing.
And the reading.
And more work.
And watching tv.
And the shopping.
And the cooking.
And all the mundane tasks around the house.
And all the busyness of life.
Don’t forget to love.
Give it to others
Speak it regularly.
Surround yourself with it.
Find a way to incorporate it in all the activities of your life.
That’s the one change, the one conversion – Jesus wants to accomplish in us more than anything else.
Because Jesus knows if we can shift from all the things that we fear, or all the things that distract us, or all the things that suck the energy and the life right out of us – most of which we have no control over – TO think about, to grow and to expend our time and energy on THE THINGS WE LOVE --
If Jesus, through his grace, can make that shift within each one of us -- -then Jesus knows that we can change the world.
Throughout the Easter season – Jesus was busy feeding us and satisfying our deepest longings. . .
Jesus appeared to the disciples who were locked behind closed doors on the 2nd Sunday of Easter – and he offered his gift of peace: to satisfy their longing, and ours -- for security and freedom from fear. Something we can really use these days as much as the Israelites needed God’s guidance and protection --dodging the serpents and the scorpions in the vast and terrible desert.
On the 3rd Sunday of Easter – Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus – he sat down at table with them and broke bread –
to satisfy their longing, and ours, of having their hearts burn within them with the presence of the risen Lord – in word and in sacrament.
Jesus then told his sheep, that he, himself, becomes the gatekeeper – protecting all of us from harm and satisfying the need to be led in the right direction and to have life – and have it more abundantly.
For Thomas, and the other disciples – including us – Jesus proclaimed he is the way, the truth, and the life – satisfying the hunger for a way to the Father and to the Father’s house that has a room prepared for each one of us.
For anyone who feels alone, unloved, or uncared for – Jesus offers the gift of an Advocate to satisfy the hunger for companionship, help, and a sense of direction.
And then Jesus gave his followers the great commission on the feast of the Ascension: to baptize all in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit – satisfying the hunger for mission and a purpose.
And then Jesus did send that gift of the Advocate, a helper, the Holy Spirit to empower all his followers to be his hands and feet in a world which desperately needs his compassionate presence.
All good gifts – given freely and abundantly –
But, surprisingly, there were and are those who would rather remain hungry and unsatisfied –who refused the offer of Jesus to be fed.
There were the scribes and Pharisees to whom Jesus offered not just once, but many times –the bread of conversion or change – but they refused to eat even a crumb of it.
There were the people in his beloved city of Jerusalem to whom, with tears in his eyes, Jesus offered the bread of peace, but they refused it with the result that their city was eventually destroyed.
There was Pilate to whom Jesus offered the bread of truth, but Pilate had no appetite for it because it meant putting his position, and his reputation, at risk.
Jesus shared himself with others in many different ways, and under many different forms – long before offering himself to them as food and drink at the Last Supper.
Jesus nourishes us in these same ways, and of course ESPECIALLY nourishes us in the Eucharist.
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist only becomes a problem when we have lost our sense of his presence in all those other ways he chooses to come to us –
Those who have a deep sense of the presence of God in the whole of creation – will not have great difficulty in believing that Christ is present in a very special way in the Eucharist: where the bread we break allows us to become the very Body of Christ.
God alone can satisfy all the longings and hungers and thirsts and desires of our hearts – because God alone can give us the bread of eternal life.
This is the bread we receive in the Eucharist. Without it -- we would not have the desire, strength, or stamina to follow after Christ. So let us receive this gift with open hands and hearts which Jesus gives us today: the one loaf that allows us to become one body.
From time to time, people ask me, “what’s your favorite part of being a priest?”
There are many things I like about being a priest – and it is hard to say which is my favorite.
Although I never would have thought this as I was going through seminary – actually – PREACHING is one of the things I enjoy ---- I like the opportunity of Sunday after Sunday trying to make the Scriptures interesting and doing my best to set hearts on fire with their message.
I like working with a staff and together – trying to achieve a common vision and goals.
Likewise, I enjoy working with the faculty and students of a school – doing my best to shape them little by little into the image and likeness of Christ.
I enjoy celebrating the Eucharist and making the body of Christ available to people so they can become the body of Christ themselves.
And then I really like celebrating --- BAPTISMS.
There is this small green book that priests and deacons use for the rite of Baptism. It has everything spelled out in it – all the readings and prayers: what you are to say in black, what you are to do in red. . .
On the last page of my own copy – which has long since fallen apart because of use –
I wrote the name: Mary Margaret Voerster – May 24, 1987.
That was the first baby I ever Baptized, one week after my ordination as a deacon.
Little Margaret was very well behaved – she did not cry – she was very calm and quiet – I, however, was a nervous wreck hoping that I was saying and doing everything correctly.
Baptisms are typically joyous occasions. It’s a celebration of tremendous possibility and hope – even more so, I think, than weddings.
I really do enjoy having weddings too – although I might have a tendency to deny that --- weddings – more often than not –
become all about the dress, and cake, and the reception venue. BUT BAPTISMS -- are all about the baby. About a new life being welcomed into the Church.
And there is something very particular, very specific, found in that black lettering in the Baptism ritual: the words that must be spoken for validity – that is for the Sacrament to be properly celebrated.
We call it the Trinitarian Formula. Which is: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
When people come to the Church from another faith tradition and want to become a Catholic – it is probably one of the first questions that is asked: have you been Baptized???? And how were you Baptized – because if those words were part of the ritual, then the Catholic Church recognizes those Baptisms.
So on this Trinity Sunday, if you want a reminder of how important the Trinity is – THAT is it.
From the very beginning of our lives as Christians, we are sealed in, claimed in, chosen in ---marked with the sign of the faith in: THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT.
This signifies the extraordinary importance the Church places on this singular belief – this one great teaching – one God, three persons.
It all comes down to the Trinity: which is one of the reasons we celebrate this particular feast – one week after Pentecost – because the Trinity has just recently been revealed to a waiting and anxious world – Father, Son, and Spirit –
and why we remind ourselves of this teaching every time we enter into a Church --- whenever there is NOT a pandemic that keeps us from doing so!!
You may have noticed that the words in the second reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians sound very familiar. I often use them at the beginning of Mass: calling upon Christ’s grace, God’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship to be with us in this place as we gather to celebrate – in person, or remotely.
But that’s not the first time we have mentioned the Trinity at this Mass – today we began with something that most of us probably take for granted, and hardly think about – but we use it very often:
It’s the sign of the Cross – used not just as a gesture as we enter or a church or to begin and end our prayers – and not just a sign of our Catholicity -------------- but it is a restatement of our BAPTISM.
The words I spoke over Mary Margaret all those many years ago --- the words spoken over each one of us as water was poured over our heads –
the first words that made us members of the Body of Christ. Those words we speak again and again and again – as we in effect re-Christen ourselves.
We brand ourselves with God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit --- and whatever we do or say after---- is done in their name.
Each and every time we use that Trinitarian formula --- we become icons, images, representatives – of the Blessed Trinity.
What an incredible gift.
What an incredible responsibility.
Just think of what that simple gesture – which we most likely do automatically – really means. . .
We touch our heads for the Father – the one whose mere idea, whose smallest thought, brought us into being. This is where we all began – in the mind of God.
We touch our hearts for the Son – the one whose unceasing love took him to the cross, and the one who taught us as well –how to love--- through his own Sacred Heart.
We touch our shoulders for the Holy Spirit – the one who gives us strength, and who enables us to be God’s hands and feet – working to make God’s kingdom present.
When we make the sign of the cross, and pray the sign of the cross --- we make ourselves an offering and a prayer. We embody what the Trinity represents, and we seek to bring that presence with our lives and with our actions to all those we meet. We do it in the name of God: all that God is and all that God does: we do it in the name of the Trinity.
Near the end of the Baptismal ritual, a small candle – lit from the Easter candle -- is given to the newly Baptized child. The priest or deacon says: “receive the light of Christ.”
Let us pray to live in that light – to always be drawn to it, and to always strive to give it to others. In the name of God in three persons –
---in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN!
Many of you may remember one of Chicago’s more colorful mayors: Richard Daily. He ruled the Windy City with an iron fist for 21 years from 1955 to 1976. Those who worked for him often found his abrasive personality hard to take.
The story is told that one day, one of His Honor’s speechwriters sheepishly made his way to the mayor’s office to ask for a raise – which he had not had in several years.
Mayor Daily responded to the request by saying: “I’m not going to give you a raise. You are getting paid more than enough already.
The fact that you are working for a great American hero like myself should be reward enough for you.” And thus ended the conversation.
A few weeks later, Mayor Daley was on his way to give a speech to a convention of veterans. The speech was scheduled to receive national attention. In order to seem a bit spontaneous, Daley made the practice of never reading his speeches before the event – this one was no exception.
As he stood before a vast crowd of veterans, and nationwide press coverage, the mayor opened his speech for the first time and began.
“I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m concerned for you and for your families. My heart goes out to you because I am deeply troubled by how our country fails to take care of you. So today, I am proposing a 17 point plan that includes the city, state, and federal government on how to better care for our veterans.”
By now, everyone was on the edge of their seats to hear what the proposal entailed. Mayor Daley turned to the next page of the speech and saw only these words: “Now you are completely on your own-------- you great American hero. . .”
No matter how great or how small we are – no matter how important or how insignificant ---- none of us can go it alone --- we all need help. We need advocates who work behind the scenes to make us who we are. We need people who motivate us, guide us, sustain us and lift us up – especially in moments of fear and frustration.
Here in this parish of St. Patrick – I do get to work with lots of people who, when we all work together -- make this parish great – and yes, sometimes working with such gifted people is reward enough. . .
I minister alongside our Deacons: Mike Lewis and Jim Koger. Our principal, Kaci Monaghan and the wonder faculty and staff she has gathered together to make our school an awesome place – even when we have to do distance-learning.
Lily Winklejohn, who is new to our Early Childhood Center and doing wonderful things.
Robin Lamb, our liturgist and business manager keeps us humming along at liturgy and financially – making sure our bills are paid, and music is played.
Lisa Angotti puts out the bulletin, works on keeping our website updated, and keeps our team happy with their salaries and benefits.
And Mindy Lehman helps to make sure the young church is ready to receive sacraments, and others are formed in our Catholic faith.
No one of us does this alone. . . We all work together to ensure St. Patrick is a place people want to belong to --- these are the advocates I have ---and you have---- to make all that happens in this parish possible – especially during the challenging times we have had during the covid pandemic.
Jesus says in the Gospel today: “I will not leave you orphans – I will ask the Father to give you an Advocate – to be with you always.
On our journey through life as a Christian – none of us has to be alone – no one of us has to do everything – we have a community of faith that uplifts us – the Holy Spirit that empowers us --- and a God who loves us so much – God sent his son to free us from our sins and gain for us eternal life. . .
Let us always rely on our Advocates – in our families, in our Church, within our faith – and also the saintly men and women who have gone before us – to motivate us, guide us, sustain us, and lift us up – especially in moments of fear and frustration.
And now a true story of one who learned well the power of an Advocate. . . a woman by the name of Sheila Walsh who tell us:
The first weeks of my pregnancy were a blur of absolute joy. I told complete strangers that I was pregnant. I read books to the wee one I was carrying and played an assortment of songs to see if he or she was more country or pop.
At our sonogram, we learned the baby was a boy and we were so happy.
Then one phone call interrupted our happiness. I would be 40-years-old when the baby was born – and my doctor had asked for some additional tests.
When the results came back, she asked us to come to her office. My husband, Barry and I, sat on one side of her desk as she sat on the other with a brown folder in front of her.
I don’t remember everything she said, but I remember this: “Your baby is incompatible with life.”
I stared at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. This was a phrase I had never heard before. Neither Barry or I said anything. We were stunned.
The doctor went on to explain about “markers” and “abnormalities” and what my results showed. I could see her mouth moving, but I felt as if I had a glass dome over my head and I could not hear her.
Then she said that she recommended a termination of the pregnancy – the next day! I heard that, and her words snapped me back to reality. “NO”, I loudly said. “Absolutely NOT. This little one will have every day God has planned for him to live.”
We drove home in silence. There was really nothing to say.
For the next couple of weeks, I was tormented with one thought: I had begged God to give me a child – and now God was going to take him away before we had a chance to love him. . . why?
I felt as if I were falling into a dark hole. Some days I felt angry, others I was overwhelmed with sorrow. One day turned the tide for me.
I woke up early and drove to the beach. The beach was deserted; my only companions were seagulls.
I took off my shoes and walked to the edge of the water and prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed before, out loud to the wind and the waves and the gulls.
Jesus. I said. My heart is aching. I don’t understand this at all, but I just want to declare here and now that we are in this together. I’ve always needed you, but I know right now that I need you more than I ever have. I don’t know how this will end, but I’m not letting go of you for one moment. You did not promise me happiness, but you did promise you would never leave me. I’m not letting go. I’m not giving up – we are in this together!
From that time on, something inside me shifted. I had no idea how long I could carry our son, but I became relentless in my prayers, not for a perfect outcome but for the presence of a perfect Advocate.
At 35 weeks, my doctor called. I held my breath.
She told me that the day MY results had come back – so had the results of another 40 year old patient. My results had gone into her chart and hers into mine.
There had NEVER been anything wrong with our son. I fell to my knees and thanked God, but then I prayed for the mother who would be getting a very different phone call.
I believe in the sovereignty of God – and I’ve often wondered if I was allowed to carry this other mother’s burden for a while. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that when my heart was breaking, I learned to hold on to God as I never had before in my life.
Mrs. Sheila Walsh concludes: I don’t know what battle you are facing right now – what burdens you are carrying. It may be for your child, your marriage, your health, you sanity, your family or community – but I do want you to know this: no one has to carry those burdens alone! Pray and don’t give up – cling to those you love – rely on those who sustain you and lift you up. Know that you are not alone! Know that you have Advocates cheering you on. . .
If last week was considered good shepherd Sunday – a Sunday on which priests are traditionally recognized as the shepherds of their parishes – than this week should be considered servant Sunday – or a Sunday on which we recognize the service that DEACONS give to our parish and Church. . .
Because in that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the young Christian community in Jerusalem choosing the first seven deacons to serve the needs of the community.
So I want all of you, to join me – in recognizing and thanking the service our two deacons – Mike Lewis and Jim Koger do for our community of St. Patrick – and the outreach of ministry they do beyond our parish boundaries.
Those first deacons were chosen because they were reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom. We won’t dispute the point that our two deacons are also!
So, two men were walking through the woods when they came across a very large, deep hole.
They wanted to see how deep it really was – so they tossed in some small rocks and waited to hear the sound of them hitting the bottom. But they heard no sound.
So then they decided to throw in some bigger rocks. And, again, they heard no sound.
Looking around they noticed a rather large log at the edge of the woods. They went over and dragged the log to the hole and threw it in. Not a sound came from the hole.
But suddenly, a goat appeared, running like the wind. It rushed toward the two men, went right past them, running just as fast as it could. Suddenly, the goat leaps into the air and into the hole.
The two men just looked at each other, totally astonished – trying to figure out what they had just seen . . .
Soon after their unsettling experience, out of the woods came a farmer who spotted the two men and ran over to them. He asked them if they had seen a goat.
“You bet we did,” answered the two in unison. “and it was the craziest thing we ever saw. It came running out of the woods and just jumped into that big deep hole over here.”
“Well, that would not have been my goat,” the farmer said. “My goat was chained to a big log.”
So unfortunately for the goat – the only reason it ended up in the big hole – was that it was tied to the log that the two men chose to throw into the hole.
The question for us today and throughout our lives is --- what are we tied to and where is it pulling us??
Oh we all have something we are tied to. . . for some it is work, for others possessions, and others it is wealth or a lifestyle.
For some it is an addiction: drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating or shopping.
For others they are tied to an emotion, like anger or revenge. . . or tied to something in their past they just can’t turn loose of.
For far too many of us it is being locked into one’s own life – with little or no concern for others – like those whose needs were being neglected in Jerusalem.
Jesus reminded the disciples in today’s Gospel – and so reminds us – that the only thing we should be TIED to, with any kind of unbendable or unbreakable commitment --- is Him.
Jesus says, “You have faith in God: HAVE FAITH ALSO IN ME!
And if we are tied to Jesus, if we have faith in him – then we need not be afraid because we will abound with God’s love.
If we are one with Christ, our hearts will not be troubled because Christ will touch our hearts and lead us in our journey of life. To be one with Christ, to remain in Christ, to have faith in Christ – is not to be dragged down – for in Christ we can only be raise up!
In life it is so easy to be tied to THINGS that can ultimately only destroy us. Christ asks us throughout this Easter season to not let that happen to us. Rather let us be tied to Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ in whom our hearts find rest and our lives discover the new life that God offers to us each and every day.
Or, as St. Peter tells us in his letter today:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own --- so that you can announce the praises of Christ: who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
And to that we say: Alleluia!
It is odd, I think --- that on these Sundays following Easter during the year we are to be mostly reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew – we don’t read St. Matthew’s Gospel. . .
We did read Matthew’s account of the Resurrection on Easter, then we have 4 Sundays in the Easter season when we read from John’s Gospel, one Sunday from St. Luke’s Gospel – and we will read again from St. Matthew’s Gospel on the feast of the Ascension.
But then it is back to St. John for Pentecost and the two feasts that follow – then, finally back to St. Matthew when we get to the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time on June 21st – which seems like a long way off (maybe we will be back together by then!).
But that’s just the way--- not--- just this Easter season works – but also other Easter seasons in other years –we always read a good dose of St. John’s Gospel.
St. John structures his Gospel around seven statements of Jesus – which all begin with Jesus saying “I AM” – which of course gives us insight into who Jesus is.
In the course of this year – when we celebrate Sunday Mass – we hear five of these seven statements –
We already heard one – back on the 5th Sunday of Lent when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the grave – and Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha: “I AM: the resurrection and the life.”
Next Sunday we get one – when Jesus tells the apostle Thomas: “I AM: the way, the truth and the life.”
On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ on June 14th: we will have another of these sayings, when Jesus tells the crowds: “ I AM: the living bread come down from heaven.”
And, as you may have already figured out – we heard two of Jesus’ I AM sayings in today’s Gospel:
“I AM the sheep gate // and // I AM the good shepherd.”
So every 4th Sunday of Easter, no matter what the year -- is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because in each of the three years of the lectionary – we read a part of John’s Gospel in which Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd.
Over my 30+ years of preaching, without fail, that is the image I have always focused on and preached about – that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep, following obediently after him.
But this year, I wanted to pay attention and focus on the other I AM saying we hear today – the one that is so easily passed over:
when Jesus tells us: “I AM the gate to the sheepfold – and whoever does not enter through the gate, is a thief and a robber. . .”
In addressing the rural folk gathered to hear him speak that day – Jesus knew the image that would come immediately to the minds of his hearers when he said, I AM the gate.
In Jesus day, a shepherd was literally the gate or the door to the sheepfold. . . When sheep were kept in a town or village, there was a pen with a real gate.
But when the sheep were grazing out in the fields and on the hillsides – at night, for protection – the shepherd created a makeshift sheep fold with branches and brambles.
Once the sheep were safely in the fold, the shepherd himself (as shepherds were always men) would lie across the opening – so the shepherd was literally the gate – and as the gate, the shepherd could control the coming and going of the sheep and keep the flock safe from wolves and other predators.
So, what do we know about doors and gates? And I include doors because in Greek – door and gate are the same word. . . they are portals: exothrya
We know, for instance -- that there are all types of doors and gates – all sizes, all materials, some are warm and welcoming – others are cold and frightening.
We know that doors and gates keep us safe. We know they always lead us somewhere. We know that they indicate movement in our lives – when we pass through a door or gate we are going from one place to another – the portal connects us to what is next.
We know that doors and gates might reveal a mystery on the other side – as we never know for sure what we may find on the other side.
If we do understand that doors and gates, portals – lead us somewhere and indicate movement in our lives then---- education, is certainly a door. . . so is opportunity, and even sheltering in place can be a portal – leading us somewhere we may not have expected – because we would have never chosen it on our own. .
If we understand that portals lead us somewhere, and indicate movement in our lives – then should we not also consider prayer a door or gate – or service, or faith, or baptism, or Eucharist?? Because all lead us somewhere. . . helping us to become someone we weren’t before. . .
Last week we used the power of our imaginations to understand the Emmaus story just a bit better – let’s do the same with the image of a door or gate – the portals of our lives:
If I allow my mind to wander, some of the images that come to my mind are:
--The door to the house where I grew up-- in Southern Indiana – it was black, and had three windows across the top. An image for me of home/warmth/acceptance/love/safety.
--I picture the gate to one of our barnyards that a bull once tried to jump over – but didn’t quite clear --- and so it bent the gate down in the middle.
My mom took a picture of my little brother in his superman cape with his hands on the gate – as if he bent it down! So an image of strength/destruction/ and family frivolity. Maybe even of abandon/curiosity/and recklessness if we focus on the bull. . .
--I picture the doors of the churches I have belonged to or have led. So images of faith/belonging/community/peace and serenity.
--I can imagine the little doors of an Advent calendar – images of surprise/assurance/anticipation/ presents – s-e-n-t-s and presence – s-e-n-c-e.
--I can picture a prison door – so an image of being frightened/locked in/confined.
--I can imagine a friend of mine who is a bouncer at a bar – so a human gate, like a shepherd – allowing some to come in while keeping others out –
Fortunately I never picture Jesus as a bouncer– for Jesus is always welcoming us into the fold. . .
Although, unfortunately, I can picture some Church officials with their rules and regulations as bouncers: allowing some in – and keeping others out. . . If the Church strives to be a field hospital as Pope Francis calls us to be – then everyone should at least get their foot in the door of our Churches. . .
So if portals: gates and doors – indicate movement in our lives – and lead us somewhere – where does Jesus – who says I am the gate to the sheepfold: lead us?
Well, Jesus leads us to God – and to the Father’s house (as he will tell us next week).
Jesus leads us to abundant life. To eternal life. To a better life than we could ever dream of.
Only when we live in Christ – only when we enter through him – who is the gate to the sheepfold – does life on this earth truly become worth living, and life in the world to come is truly fulfilled.
There is no easy way into the sheepfold – if we think we are just going to hop over the hedgerow – then we are thieves or robbers – we don’t really belong. . . The only way in is through Jesus – and as Jesus told us many times in the course of his earthly life – the way to follow him – is to take up our cross – daily. May God give us the grace we need to do this – so that we can walk clearly and confidently --- in the light of Christ.