Saturday, March 07, 2009

Do you really want to be the beloved Son?

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit who calls us this week to the mountain be with you all. Last week, Fr. Ev very eloquently walked us through that place of testing that is the desert. He reminded us that each of us walk through the desert in one way or another in our daily lives. The desert is a rough place to have to walk. And Lent is nothing if not a desert. Yet, this week, I was relieved to hear that my readings were the mountain, the place of encounter with God. The mountain is where Moses encountered God in the form of the burning bush. The mountain is where, upon his return from Egypt having freed the people of Israel from slavery, God gave them the law. The mountain is where Solomon built the temple, that perennial place of encounter with God for our Jewish brothers and sisters. And, yet, there is a tradition about the place where Solomon built the temple, a tradition that this place was also the scene of the first reading, the sacrifice of Isaac.
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is, for me, one of the most perplexing stories about God in the Old Testament. In order to test the father, you order him to kill his son. What was God trying to test in Abraham? His faith? I’d think there are better ways to test Abraham’s faith than telling him to kill Isaac. Try not hanging around for a while and see if he still acts like you matter, that’s what God did with Christian mystics like John of the Cross and Teresa of Calcutta. That can’t be right. Was he trying to test his trust? Abraham was a man who went for a very long time without having children. He trusted when God told him that he would be the father of many generations of believers. Abraham was nothing if not a person of faith and trust. What about his obedience? That seems more plausible, given the particular test that is offered. And, yet, I can’t help but feel that there is a more sane way of doing this than offering first-born sacrifice. I know that, if a father today were to approach me with the same assertion that Abraham is making in the first reading that God told him to kill his first-born son, I would be certain of one thing: God did not do that. God doesn’t want us to kill. God doesn’t need us to kill to show our obedience. God gave us life and wants us to live. So, what is happening here?
The question that surround this story is shared by our Jewish and our Muslim friends, by the way, though I suspect the conclusion we come to is slightly different than theirs. One thing we do know is that first-born sacrifice was much more common at the time of Abraham and Isaac than it was at the time of Christ and certainly than it is now. Most of the peoples surrounding Abraham and his tribe would have sacrificed their first-born son to appease gods. So, part of what his happening here is an open declaration that human sacrifice is not going to have a place with the followers of the one true God. And, yet, I couldn’t help but notice something from our Christian perspective that caught my ear. Isaac is called, “your only one, whom you love” which is kind of weird because Abraham had another son by his maid named Ishmael and, as any father will tell you, he probably loved both Isaac and Ishmael, even is his older son was a bit wild. It makes you wonder if Sarah had some kind of suspicion about Abraham’s intentions Such a suspicion, in fact, that she followed them up the mountain and hid behind a rock pretending to be God. Probably not but that would be a better sitcom explanation. As Christians, we hear this phrase “whom you love” and the phrase from the gospel, “my beloved Son” and we hear a connecting identifier, beloved. Both sons are loved by their father. Both sons are ordered by God to be sacrificed, Isaac to test his father’s obedience and Jesus to free the world from its sin. And, yet, even as we set up this comparison, we can hear our own hypocrisy. We cannot understand why God would order the death of Isaac and call it off at the last minute and we spend millennia trying to understand it. Yet, when God’s son was sent before humans to be judged, we had no clemency. Humanity collectively shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We needed Christ’s sacrifice because of our own iniquities, the beloved for the sake of those who forgot how to love.
On this Lenten mountain, we once again encounter the God who gave his life for us out of love, the just for the sake of the unjust. Let us remember that, all our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is intended to make us more loving, intended to give us a heart closer to the beloved who gave his life for us.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A homily that is very late in coming

I preached this a week and a half ago, before Lent even began. But, I think it was good to help people prepare for lent?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ be with you in the power of the Spirit that draws us all close to him who made us. Have you ever had one of those experiences in life in which God seemed so close to you that it almost felt like you were being embraced by pure love? For some of you it may have been receiving one of the sacraments, maybe in the midst of confirmation, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation or perhaps during your wedding ceremony. For others of you, it may have happened in the midst of an especially difficult time in your life such as a health crisis or a difficult relationship or work situation that forced you to turn to God who gave you peace in the midst of a storm. Still others may have experienced God on a retreat of some kind like the Antioch retreat that some of our students are on this weekend. In my own life, there have been many such times when God seemed so close that I could only feel privileged at being invited into the relationship. From the high of my ordination to the lows of times feeling like a failure with some grades in seminary, to the great retreat experiences I’ve had at Conception Abbey and St. Meinrads, I do feel blessed because of how close God was to me.
And, yet, if I were to look over my life, and I imagine most of you would say the same thing, there have been more times when God seemed an aloof, remote concept than times when God seemed so close that I could get a hug. It seems to me that our scripture passages want us to focus us in this mystery of transcendence and immanence. In some way, each of the readings warn us against attitudes that can get in the way of our relationship with God. Starting with the first reading, we hear the prophet Isaiah say something remarkable. The job of the prophet is to call people back to holiness. I’ll say this till I’m blue in the face. A prophet usually doesn’t predict the future inasmuch as tell people that if they don’t change, the future will be bad. The prophet usually wants to remind people of how good things were in the past so that they’ll stop doing what they’re doing in the present. But, in the passage we just heard, Isaiah tells his people not to think purely in terms of the past. In fact, something new is happening here! He says that in the past, people still grew weary of God, people still sinned. Isaiah even ties it into the Exodus event by reminding the people that, as their ancestors were being freed, they still complained that God wasn’t giving them enough food or good enough food. But, don’t we all have the tendency to do that; to make the past seem so much better than the present. It was so much easier to be holy in the past. We didn’t have the complexities that we do now. But, if we are honest with ourselves, it’s not the complexities that make it difficult to have a close relationship to God. It’s our use of those things. We cannot use an idealized view of history as an obstacle to God.
Next we hear from Paul in the second reading, a reading that took me a couple of times to understand what he was saying. I kept asking myself what he was talking about with all the “yes’s” and “no’s” and Jesus was all “Yes”. Well, Paul had promised to visit the Corinthians in the first letter and this letter is, in part, answering critics there that are basically calling him a liar. Paul is acknowledging that things didn’t go the way he was expecting but also acknowledging that, if he was supposed to get there, nothing would have stopped him from getting there. In some ways, Paul is having to get past past faults in order to evangelize to the people. Our past has a way of handicapping us from living in the present. We let past failures and regrets stop us from living life fully in the present. And, at times, we can feel most frustrated that, when we were failing, when it felt like we most needed God in our life, God was not there. It was like we were on that beach in the footprints poem dragging ourselves along instead of being carried by God. But, if that’s what happened, it’s only because we couldn’t let go of past hurts in order to have a good relationship with God.
Lastly, we reach the gospel. Last week, Fr. Schatz pointed out to us that we were going to hear another healing and so we did. I couldn’t help but ask this week: which is easier to forgive someone or heal someone. And, of course, it’s easier to forgive someone. But, this question that Jesus asks is really tricky for the scribes who knew the bible in and out. On the one hand, only God can forgive sins. But, on the other, in several places throughout the Old Testament, healing the lame is a sign of God’s presence among us. So, which is easier, something that only God can do or something else that only God can do? Then, Jesus goes on to do both of them. The scribes would have been infuriated! But, the amazing thing is that we know that the scribes view is the real problem. Forgiveness is the desire of God, God wants us to forgive one another. And, God doesn’t desire for us to be sick. He wants people to be healthy so that we can glorify him. The scribes were all too willing to put restrictions on God and what God wants. I think we do the same thing in our relationship to God. We wonder why God would want to love us, and demand a sign from him. Or, we think that prayer and holiness are the job of a few, not the vocation of all the baptized. We cannot let our own limited understanding of God stop us from loving God either.
As we draw closer to the great Lenten retreat that we begin this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, let us not let an idealized view of history, all our regrets, or our limited understanding of God stop us from feeling God’s love but, instead, let us once again turn away from sin so that we can turn towards God.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Olberman on children

I like Keith Olbermann. I listen to his show each morning while working out. I agree with him on finances. I think that a flat tax would be terrible for this country and that trickle down economic theory is why this country is bankrupt. I'm not a socialist but I don't think democrats are either. They just believe those with more need to contribute more and those with less...well you follow right.

Okay, then he starts talking about moral issues and I get uncomfortable. In particular, last night he said, "...and yes, oh ye Puritans among us! Americans will pay for CONTRACEPTIVES. Taxpayer dollars for evil condoms and horrible birth control pills. Contraceptives for states that already have the option of providing for low income fornicators, fornication that would otherwise lead to untold, unwanted pregnancies, unwanted babies, unwanted abortions, unwanted drains on families, unwanted drains on the national economy. Yes. The congressional economic office estimates two hundred million dollars saved over five years for contraceptives and family planning...."

Here's my issue. I'm not being puritanical when I worry that contraceptives will destroy the world. I'm being Catholic. And I worry when children are seen as "unwanted". A child isn't some thing that you want or don't want. A child is a person that you get the privilege of raising. But, let's not miss the most insidious part. He said, "Contraceptives for states that already have the option for providing for low income fornicators..." You may have thought he was deriding the Republicans for their dislike of the poor. But, what I heard him saying is that the best thing the poor can do to be rich is prevent the expense of children and contraceptives will do that.

Margaret Sanger, founder of planned parenthood, thought that the way to get rid of minorities was by having them kill their babies. That's why planned parenthood is so abortion happy. Their founder was, why wouldn't they continue that on. I think Olbermann is echoing the sentiments of a lot of liberals, and it's what annoys me. To get rid of the poor, we need to have THEM kill their babies so they don't have a second generation.

Until we learn to see sex in its appropriate place within marriage and confined to that relationship and that marriage is the only place where new life should be introduced, we will continue to get this wrong. Sex isn't just one aspect of dating and abortion isn't the only way we've managed to hurt life. It all started when we devalued sex to the level of a recreational sport.