Sunday, August 28, 2011

Be Transformed

Today we hear something interesting from St. Paul "be transformed by the renewal of your mind. For St. Paul this renewal is something that takes place even after our initial conversion.

This passage from the letter to the Romans takes place in the 12 chapter. Most scripture scholars call this passage the bridge between the theology section of the early part of the letter and the moral teaching found in the later part of the letter. In other words, even those who have accepted Christ need to be continually renewed and transformed by this renewal of our minds. This putting on the mind of Christ becomes essential part of our lives, and it leads to our moral living: faith turns into action. St. Paul tells us that this transformation will allow us to know the will of God. Isn't that what we all want?

We see a perfect example of this in the Gospel today. Today's gospel passage begins where we left off last week. Last week Saint Peter gave his great proclamation of faith. Jesus asked Peter, "who do you say that I am?" Peter responds "you are the Christ the son of the living God." This proclamation of faith by Peter changes his identity. Simon becomes Peter. Peter becomes a Christian, the rock of the Church. When we make that proclamation of faith that's how we become Christian, we echo the words of Saint Peter "you are the Christ the son of the living God."

But to acknowledge Christ as Lord is not the end of the Christian story, in fact it is only the beginning. This should fill us with some hope. Look at Saint Peter, he just said you are the Christ the son of the living God. Today he opposes the Lord and is called Satan. Peter still needed to learn, he still needed to grow. Peter needed to be renewed by the transformation of his mind. Jesus truly is the Christ, the son of God. But, as he tells us today, he is the Christ will suffer, the Christ who will die, the Christ who came to offer his life for all of us. Peter had some different Christ in mind. His idea of Christ needed to be transformed, needed to be renewed. The same is true for us I'm sure.

How do we get there, how do we get to this transformation? The second half of our gospel message today tells us how this happens. If you want to follow Jesus, you must pick up your cross and follow him. The cross is the school of transformation. In the cross we find new life. In our sufferings and our trials, we grow closer to Christ. This is the very paradox of Christianity. Life comes through death.

The transformation from death to life is central to the gospel, and should be central to our lives. This explains why life can be hard. Sometimes we feel like Jeremiah. Sometimes we feel like saying you duped me oh Lord and I let myself be duped. Sometimes we feel like I'm abandoning the whole thing, but the last passage from Jeremiah is warm and sweet. The word of God so filled him that it was impossible for him to keep it in: it was a burning fire in his heart. Even during the difficult times of his life, even when being a prophet meant pain and persecution, Jeremiah's love of God kept him going.

Let's return to Peter for just a second, we all hear today that he needed some renewal, transformation. And, we know that he gets it. He becomes a great saint, the leader of the early Church. His transformation will become complete when he meets the risen Jesus. The same is true for us. Today and every time we come to Mass we meet the risen Jesus as he comes to us in the Holy Eucharist. We have in the sacraments all the divine assistance we need to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, so that we may discern the will of God and know what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2011:

At the heart of our gospel today is the question of identity: the identity of Jesus on the one hand and the identity of Peter on the other hand. The question begins in general terms, even Jesus says: who do people say that the Son of Man is? Son of Man was a phrase Jesus uses quite often in the gospel to note the common bond he shares with all of us. Jesus is fully human, this is a category that he shares with all of us. And, the responses of the people are as general as Jesus' own question: some say John the Baptist, others Elijah. In other words, some people say you are a great preacher who is traveling around preaching repentance just like John the Baptist. Others are saying even more, you are a prophet like Elijah who was the man of God. Neither of these answers is wrong, Jesus was a preacher who spoke of repentance; he was a prophet who spoke about and for God. But, while these people who said Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah might not have been wrong, they weren't correct.

After this question of generalities, Jesus makes it alarmingly concrete: who do you say that I am? What an uncomfortable question! Imagine that someone walked up to you and asked: who do you say that I am? Even if it was your spouse or your child, it would be a hard question to answer.

Jesus really puts Peter on the spot here. Who am I? Do you know me better than those others who think of me as just another prophet or preacher? Am I more than that? But, Peter doesn't even hesitate: you are the Christ the son of the living God. This answer is vastly different from the previous answers. The previous answers were generic and they spoke about the things that Jesus did. This new answer gets to the very identity of Jesus: you are not just some preacher, not just another prophet: you are the Christ, the son of God. Recognizing Jesus' true identity causes a change in Peter's identity: blessed are you Simon, you will be called Peter from now on.

How is Peter able to see Jesus and identify who he really is? There is no doubt that Peter heard Jesus preaching, that he thought of him as a prophet, but how did he get past the generalities? Peter knew Jesus. It is just that simple. Peter had a relationship with Christ, he spent time with him, spoke with him, followed him, etc. He got to know Jesus on a personal level. He was able to move beyond generalities because he encountered Jesus in the specifics of his life.

Here is another way that Peter is a great model for us. Wouldn't we all love to hear the words Jesus addresses to Peter: blessed are you, for God has revealed to you my true identity. And, make no mistake: Jesus is addressing every single one of us: who do you say that I am? Again it is an uncomfortable question. What answer do you have? It is easy to speak in general terms about Jesus: he was a prophet, he was a preacher, he is God, he is the Messiah, all of which is true: but who do you say that I am? In other words, do you know me? If we do know Jesus, it changes who we are. If we have a relationship with Jesus, if we follow him, listen to him, speak with him, then we live as Christians. We take on the identity of Christ, and if we do so we are truly blessed.

All too often however we can mistake knowing a lot about Jesus, for actually knowing Jesus. Every time we come forward to receive Jesus here in this Holy Eucharist he asks us that uncomfortable question: who do you say that I am?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time:

Every Sunday when we gather here at Mass we profess our faith together. This creed contains the core of our belief in God and Jesus. At the end of the creed there is the part on the Church, which we often breeze right through: we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Yet, these 4 marks of the Church are of great importance. These 4 marks must be present in order for the authentic Church of Christ to be present. One, holy, and apostolic are terms that are quite familiar to us. The Church is one, because it was founded by Christ, Holy because it is guided by the Holy Spirit, and apostolic because it is founded upon the Apostles whose missions is carried out now through their successors, the bishops. But, what does Catholic mean? Many of us think of Catholic as an adjective to describe ourselves or the Church: I'm Catholic, I belong to the Catholic Church. But, the word catholic has an ancient meaning, it is a Greek word that means universal. The church is catholic precisely because it is open to everyone. Nowadays we just assume that the church should be open to anyone, but we see in the gospel that this was a new and radical concept.

We have to try to put ourselves into the biblical mindset. Remember where Jesus was coming from. He was born into the house of David, he came as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. God chose Israel to be his own special possession. The woman from the gospel was a Canaanite, these were the people who inhabited the Land before Joshua led the chosen people into it. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Israelites and the Canaanites in conflict. The biggest issue that divided them was their belief in God. Canaanites worshiped their own pagan God, while the Jewish people worshiped the Lord. So, while it seems that Jesus is pretty harsh to this woman, there was good reason to do so: the Canaanites did not worship God: Jesus was God. But, we notice that when the woman worships Jesus and shows her faith in him, Jesus instantly grants her request. Jesus came first to the Lost Children of Israel. But, while this salvation came first to the Jewish people, it also came for the whole world. This Canaanite woman shows us that faith in Christ is the pathway to salvation, not genealogical heritage. We should all be quite grateful for this, since most of us are not biological descendants of the Hebrew people.

The Church, therefore, must be as universal as Christ. Jesus came as a human being to save all of humanity. Therefore, the only requirement for becoming a Catholic is humanity. The Church is the community for any human person who wishes to worship God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This might come as a surprise to many, because the Catholic Church has the reputation of being somewhat closed to outsiders. This often comes from our practice of Holy Communion. Under normal circumstances we only share the Eucharist with those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church (see canon 844 if you are reading this at home). But, this law of the Church does not mean that we do not want everyone in the world to share the Eucharist with us. Rather, it says that in order to come to Christ we must all be like the Canaanite woman who fully professed her belief in Jesus.

There can be no question that the Church is open to absolutely everyone who wishes to follow Jesus. But, it is also true that not every person in the world is in full communion with the Catholic Church. This is a true shame. We should be praying for unity every day. All of us should see ourselves like St. Paul, who was the apostle to the gentiles. He saw it as his mission in life to bring the good news of salvation to everyone in the world. We should be reaching out to others. Is there anyone you know who is not Catholic but might be interested in learning more about the faith? St. Matt's will soon be beginning our RCIA program. You never know, your invitation might bring someone closer to Christ. Also, this year we are beginning a RCIA program specifically for teens who are interested in becoming Catholic. Keep an eye on the bulletin for more details.

But, the best way for us to carry out this mission of bringing Christ to others is through our example. If people see us living joyful lives of Christian service they will want to know more about us and about the Church. They will want to know what gives us the strength to follow Jesus, and we will be able to tell them: every Sunday I gather with others who worship Christ to celebrate the Holy Mass, and I receive my strength from the Holy Eucharist.