Tuesday, May 31, 2016

See More Than You See

See More Than You See
 Wednesday: Ninth week of the Year
June 1, 2016

Mark 12:18-27, 2 Timothy 1:1-12; Psalm 123:1-2.

The first of the last three hostile questions Jesus is asked in Mark’s Gospel before his passion dealt with the Christian stance toward government. The proper concern of the state is to protect and promote the common good of all its citizens on this earth. And Christians’ conscientious participation in this endeavor should give a special character to all our activities and relationships in this world.

The second question raises the issue of life after death. If there is none or, as Plato observed, if there is no God, then the highest of all human occupations is to seek the greatest good for the greatest number through politics. But if life has a higher ceiling than that, we need to know it. So we are interested when “some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question.”

Not believing in resurrection, angels or spirits (Acts 23:8), the Sadducees could not believe in much of an after life. “Less devout than the Pharisees and more politically-minded” (Bible of Jerusalem, Matthew 3:7 note), they were the priestly aristocracy. Not surprising. Those who live for this world frequently rise high in it.

Their question, meant only to make resurrection look ridiculous, was about seven brothers married successively to the same woman. “In the resurrection whose wife will she be?”

Jesus just told them they didn’t have a clue about what life after death was like. “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” When people rise from the dead they don’t pair off in marriages. They “are like angels in heaven” — not, we should note, because they don’t have bodies, but because they are not limited by them.

Is that a clear answer? No. What it does make clear is that there are some things beyond human comprehension, and if we are interested in truth we should seek it without restricting it to what we see. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Paul said of heaven, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Corinthians 2:9).

Do we really think God enters into relationship with persons on this earth, just to let them drop into non-existence after a few years? Simply giving them life is already a covenant. Jesus said God is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [add names you know]. He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” We know that.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Open your eyes. Myopic, yes, but what you see reveals what you don’t.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Who Am I…?

Who Am I…?
Tuesday, May 31: Feast of The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Responsorial Psalm gives the theme of the readings: “Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:2-6). The wonder of God’s special presence among his people will be acclaimed twice in the first reading, four times in the Responsorial Psalm and once in the Gospel.

Zephaniah 3:14-18 (alternate: Romans 12:9-16): recalls us to awareness that we should not take for granted the great mystery that “the Lord, your God, is in your midst.” The prophet is not speaking about the fundamental presence of God throughout creation, the “omnipresence” of his being, his knowledge and his power. That is a metaphysical truth and a basic human insight accepted to some degree by every human society on record.  A distorted education has duped the metaphysically challenged minority of “relativists” in recent Western culture into denying it, but to do so they have had to separate themselves intellectually from the rest of the human race as well as from the deep perceptions of their souls.

What Zephaniah is exulting over is God’s special relationship with Israel. God is “in their midst” — healing, restoring, turning away their enemies, guiding, saving and renewing them. God is not just their Creator; he has entered into an interactive relationship with them in history. He who is the “King of Israel” is the “Lord,” their “God.” This is a reason to sing and shout for joy, to be glad and exult. God has drawn near: “Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
To find deep joy and exultation in this, we need to enter consciously into something our society may be deficient in: awe and reverence rising from the realization of what God is. He is not just one of us, or even a level above us. He is the great and Holy One infinitely above and beyond everything and everyone created. His special dealing with us is something to rejoice in, but with recognition of it as awesome love.

In Luke 1:39-56: When Elizabeth cries out, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” she is revealing this reverence and awe. She recognizes, however dimly, the presence of the divine in Mary’s womb. In proclaiming her “blessed among women” she knows that this blessing is not something enclosed, restricted to Mary. It is a blessing planted in her to bear fruit for the whole human race. It is our blessing. We need to rejoice in it as well.

The feast of the Visitation is a “recognition” feast. It calls us to recognize and celebrate God’s presence — the presence of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit — in every member of the redeemed body of Christ. Like Jesus, we too are the fruit of Mary’s womb, for she brought forth Jesus Christ and we have become his body.

This is the essential mystery Paul preached: “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (see Colossians 1:15-27). In every human encounter, something within us should leap for joy.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Point out always how the Lord’s word to us being fulfilled.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Matter of Focus

A Matter of Focus
 Monday: Ninth week of the Year    May 30, 2016
Mark 12:1-12. Year II: 2Peter 1:2-7; Psalm 91:1-16.

After the confrontation in the temple, Mark’s Gospel presents one hostile confrontation after another between Jesus and his enemies. We are approaching the end, when Jesus will come into his glory by being crucified.

Jesus now presents another parable. Mark specifies that he is “addressing the chief priests, scribes and elders,” the power structure of Israel, the same ones who “were seeking a way to put him to death” (11:18).

Up to now Mark has reported three parables, all concerned with the sowing and growth of the Kingdom (4:3, 26, 31). This one is about active resistance to the Kingdom, still presented as a living, growing thing: a vineyard.

The parable is about a man who “planted a vineyard, put a fence around it… then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.” He sent one servant after another to them to collect his share of the produce, but they rejected them. “Some they beat; others they killed.” Finally the owner sent his “beloved son,” saying, “They will respect my son.” But they didn’t: they killed him too, thinking “This is the heir… the inheritance will be ours.” So Jesus asks, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

But the real point of Jesus’ teaching is not the defeat of his enemies. It is the victory of God. He turns to the promise of Scripture: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the keystone of the structure.” Jesus is experiencing rejection. He is going to be killed. But the new temple he has spoken of (see Friday above, 11:17, 20) is going to replace the old, and he will be its cornerstone. Instead of looking at his human enemies and what they are doing in the present, he looks at God and how things will be when he has finished his work: “It was the Lord who did it, and we find it marvelous to behold.”

Imagine yourself camped out with Jesus and the Twelve at this time, sleeping next to him. You are worried by the way things are developing. You hear Jesus stirring and you ask him: “Are you awake? What is going to happen?” He answers, “They are going to kill me; probably very soon, during Passover.”

How would you feel? How would you think Jesus was feeling? How could he sleep? How could you?

We know the answer. He gave it when the plot began: “Have faith in God” (11:22). Just trust.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Change your focus. When worried, look up and ahead, not just around.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Appreciating Abiding Presence

Appreciating Abiding Presence
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ: Sunday, May 29, 2016 (Year C)
(No Ninth Sunday of Y ear C 2016).

Ask yourself...
What is the main blessing Eucharist has for you? What do you look forward to on the way to Mass? How do you feel afterwards? If there were no Eucharist, how much would you miss it? Why?

Consider this...
The Entrance Antiphon declares: “The Lord fed his people… their hunger was satisfied.” We “hunger” for many things. But Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…. I am the bread of life…  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (John 6:35-51). If we really believe that, we should experience a deep satisfaction in Eucharist; a satisfaction synonymous with peace.

In the Opening Prayer(s) we ask to “experience” the “salvation” Jesus won for us and the “peace of the kingdom.” And we say that through the Eucharist we are making two pledges: we “offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love,” and to “our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service.” If we make these pledges consciously at Mass, we will experience both salvation and peace. Our experience of God at Mass depends on our awareness of what God is pledging to us and we to him.

In the Prayer over the Gifts we say that the bread and wine we present for the sacrifice “signify unity and peace.” And they do, if we see them as symbols of ourselves placed on the altar in re-affirmation of the gift we made when we “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice” at Baptism (Romans 12:2). We conclude the Presentation of the Gifts by standing and declaring out loud our personal involvement in what is going on: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice… for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church.” If we all do this consciously, meaning what we say, we will experience unity and peace.

The Prayer after Communion specifies that receiving the body and blood of Christ in Eucharist is “a sign that even now we share your life.” If we use the time of silence after Communion to be aware of Christ’s presence within us, we will experience this. Communion is a physical sign or experience of what “grace” or “salvation” is: the favor of sharing in the divine life of God. With his life in us, we have inside of us, as our possession, all we need to be perfectly happy for all eternity. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:56).

Abiding Presence
Genesis 14:18-20 is inserted into the story of how Abraham went out to rescue Lot, his nephew, who had been captured in a revolt by four kings. When he returned, the king of Sodom went out to meet him with King Melchizedek of Salem, who “brought out bread and wine” and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth… who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” Abraham gave him a tenth of all the booty he had taken.

The focus of the story is on the victory God gave to Abraham. The same theme appears in the only other mention the Jewish Scriptures make of Melchizedek: God promises the Messiah: “The LORD says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’ …The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:1-4; see Matthew 20:1-45). This last line is quoted in Hebrews (5:6-10) to say Jesus is both priest and king, and that through the victory of his sacrifice on the cross he “became the source” forever of a salvation that is eternal. The abiding presence of Jesus in Eucharist is an abiding sign of that. As long as he is present, God’s promise is visible.

“You give them…”
 The words, “taking the loaves… he looked up to heaven, blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples” make it clear that Luke 9:11-17 is intended as a preview of Eucharist (see Luke 22:19, 24:30; 1Corinthians 11:24). What does it tell us?

First. it shows Christ’s love. Eucharist is called “the sacrament of love.”

Jesus shows his love by feeding people. Eucharist is called the “Bread of life.”

He feeds them in “a deserted place.” Jesus can provide for our needs even when no resources are available (see Luke 9:3). By reminding us of this, Eucharist sustains our hope.

Jesus did not feed the people with bread that “fell from heaven” like the manna (Exodus 16:11-15). Nor did he change stones into bread to show his power, as the devil had tempted him to do (Luke 4:3). When the apostles told him the people had no food, he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” He didn’t just work a miracle as God. He required the people to share what they had. Then he multiplied what they contributed. In Eucharist we feed each other.

This is important, because centuries of misguided and misguiding liturgy have distorted our understanding of the Mass. And discouraged “full, active, conscious participation” in it. Eucharist came to be perceived as a time when we gather to watch God do something awesome. Or to watch the ordained priest do something awesome with God while we sit spellbound (hopefully) in the pews. As good as this is, it is not what the Eucharistic celebration is meant to be.

Eucharist is a communal celebration. The closest thing to it is a communal meal. It is a time when people interact with each other. And God is present, blessing what they do. St. Paul describes this vividly in 1Corinthians 12:7-11; 14:26-33). We read his description of Eucharist and cannot relate to it at all. At our Masses “each one” decidedly does not have “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” to offer. Anyone who tried to do any of that at Mass today would be asked to leave! And Paul himself called for more control (14:26-33). But the guiding principle he appeals to throughout is: “Let all things be done for building up.” We are at Mass to “build up the Church in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Every person present should make “manifest” his or her gift of the Spirit: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” And why? — “for the common good.” We come to Eucharist to share our experience of God and so “build up the Church.”

During the liturgically skewed period before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the ordained priest did everything by himself! The laity were kept silent in the pews. This fostered reverence and a sense of mystery, but falsified the true nature of the Mass. It became something the ordained priest did. The laity were encouraged to immerse themselves in adoration, but they were excluded from the action.

Adoration is good, always. But when a focus on adoration distracts us from the action taking place, — an action we need to participate in “consciously, actively and fully” — the “good has become the enemy of the better.”

“Every time…”
 In 1Corinthians 11:23-26 St. Paul tells us what the “ better” is. He goes to the heart of the mystery of Mass. The essential action of the Mass is that Jesus becomes present in the act of offering himself on the cross. The sacrifice of Calvary is not repeated, but made present. It is happening now. We are there. Jesus is saying, “This is my body which is for you…. This… is the new covenant in my blood.” We need to say that with him.

On the cross Jesus offered his body for us, his “flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). At Mass that act, that offering, is made present to us as an act that is continuing to form and seal a covenant between God and us: “the new covenant in my blood.”

A covenant is a two-way agreement. In Eucharist we renew the two-way pledge summarized in the Opening Prayer(s): Jesus pledges “the salvation he won for us and the peace of the kingdom” (see Luke 24:36; John 20:19-26: Jesus proclaimed ”peace” as the fruit of the Resurrection). We pledge “undivided love” and a life “offered to our brothers and sisters” and “poured out in loving service of that kingdom.” We echo Jesus’ words to every living person: “This is my body, given for you.

The essential reason why we go to Mass is to “make present” — in a mystical remembering— the covenant Jesus made with us “in his blood” and to renew it with him in flesh and blood: his and our own. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Every Mass is an experience of the Body and Blood of Christ.

What is the one central reason why we participate in Eucharist?

Initiative: Give God’s life: At Mass offer yourself with Christ and in Christ for the “life of the world.”

"Lovers of Wisdom" Course offered by Immersed in Christ

Father David Knight is teaching “Lovers of Wisdom”

What he will teach is based on the philosophy of the “pagan” Aristotle, which St. Thomas Aquinas learned with the help of commentaries by the Jew Moses Maimonides and the Muslim Ibn Rushd, Latinized as Averro√ęs. As explained and developed by Thomas and others, Aristotle’s philosophy supplies the rational underpinning and traditional terminology for the theology of the Catholic Church. There are many doctrines you can’t understand without it (e.g. “consubstantial,” “transubstantiation,” and “the one true Church of Jesus ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church”).  Come and let your thinking enter a new dimension.

Location: "His Way House" - 1306 Dellwood Ave, Memphis

Cost: The class is free - or make an offering if you would like to. But we would appreciate it if you let us know you are coming so we can prepare appropriately in advance. 

Class dates: June 06, June 13, June 20, June 27, July 25, Aug 01, Aug 08, Aug 15

Two options: Monday mornings: 10:30 AM until 12:00 PM  or   Monday evenings:  6:30 PM until 8 PM

To register, please send an email to: Info@immersedinchrist.org with the following information: Name, Mailing address, Email address, Phone number, Indicate if you plan to attend morning or evening class. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Silence Is A Sign Of Death

Silence Is A Sign Of Death
Saturday: Eighth week of the Year            May 28, 2016

Mark 11:27-33. Year I: Sirach 51:12-20; Psalm 19:8-11; Year II: Jude 17:20-25; Psalm 63:2-6.

This reading teaches us a very important lesson: Jesus cannot deal with people who refuse to enter into dialogue.

The “chief priests, scribes and elders” ask Jesus a legitimate question. He has just thrown out the merchants they allowed in the temple. They demand, “By what authority are you doing this?”

Jesus knows they are closed to the answer, so he tries to help them get in touch with their own hearts: “Was John’s baptism of divine origin, or was it merely human? Answer my question, and I will answer yours.”

They got in touch with their hearts, and fast. They realized, “If we say ‘divine,’ he will ask, ‘Then why did you not put faith in it?” But they knew that if they said, “Merely human,” the crowd might turn on them, because the people “all regarded John as a true prophet.” So they took the coward’s way, and knew with crystal clarity they were doing it: They answered, “We do not know.”

Jesus made them face the fact that they were insincere. In thinking how to answer him they didn’t ask what was true, or even what they themselves deeply thought was true. They were not looking for truth and never had been, even when listening to John. All they were trying to do was defend their position — their power, their prestige, the status quo of doctrine that called nothing of theirs into question. So they refused to discuss the issue.

And in response, so did Jesus. He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Every teacher and preacher in the Church who openly asks what authentic Catholic doctrine is meets the same opposition. Sometimes it is from authorities blindly defending the status quo. Sometimes from the perennial “Pharisee party” who cling to the simple and static religion of uncontextualized rules and unexamined catechism answers. If asked whether a rule, observed to the letter under particular circumstances, will “do good or evil” (3:4), they refuse to answer. They are not interested in the intention of the lawgiver or the mind of the Church. Nor do they want to know the source or limits or direction of the Church’s current teaching. Stagnancy serves their purpose and they cling to it. Even Jesus cannot talk to them.

The Good News is that eventually Jesus wins. At first the prophets are stoned. But eventually the “pilgrim Church” catches up with them.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Distinguish between the teaching of the Church and teaching in the Church.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Prayer Enables Witness To Faith

Prayer Enables Witness To Faith
Friday: Eighth week of the Year    May 27, 2016

Mark 11:11-26. Year I: Sirach 44:1-13; Psalm 149:1-9; Year II: 1Peter 4:7-13; Psalm 96:10-13.

This is an “overturning” Gospel. It overturns assumptions, customs and values. But the key to it is prayer.

It begins with “Palm (Passion) Sunday.” Jesus entered Jerusalem with people shouting, “Hosanna!” (11:1-10). Then he “went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything” he “went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”

He must have thought about what he saw, because the next day he went back and “began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers.” He said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer…’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Apparently the priests didn’t want to alienate business interests by keeping priorities pure — just as we often give athletic events and fundraising priority over spiritual activities. Jesus overturned their triviality together with their tables.

Prayer is the key to this reading. Going into Jerusalem Jesus wanted figs but found “nothing but leaves” on the tree. Disappointed, he said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The next day “they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” When the disciples asked Jesus about it he said, “Have faith in God…. I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and it will be yours.”

Jesus was fighting discouragement — in himself and in his disciples. The crowd had acclaimed him as Messiah, but when they realized the kind of Messiah he really came to be they were going to turn on him and shout “Crucify him!” (15:13). The “chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to put him to death.” Their religion was all show: leaves without fruit. The travesty of the temple was a sign of it. It was not the “house of prayer” it was meant to be. His Chosen People were not responding. They were doomed to wither.

Jesus’ response was to call his disciples, to be a true “house of prayer” and “for all nations.” He would replace the temple in Jerusalem with the living temple of his Church, his risen body on earth (13:14; 14:58; 15:29,38). He would have to “move mountains” to do it, but he said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.’”

The work of the Kingdom is the work of God. We have to believe that and show it by prayer that bears witness to faith.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Rethink your priorities. What keeps you from giving time to prayer?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Either Different or Defectors

Either Different or Defectors
Thursday: Eighth week of the Year           May 26, 2016

Mark 10:46-52. Year I: Sirach 42:15-25; Psalm 33:2-9; Year II: 1Peter 2:2-12; Psalm 100:2-5.

The disciples are blind to what Jesus is telling them about his death and resurrection — and about not seeking power and prestige. Jesus is patient. These are hard lessons to learn. They are the root mystery of God’s way to establish a Kingdom “of justice, love and peace.” It is not the way of our human culture. But it is essential that we accept them, as Jesus pointed out forcefully to Peter (8:33).

So now Mark shows us a blind man recognizing Jesus. It is the first time he is publicly acclaimed with the messianic title (“Son of David” — see 2Samuel 7:12-16) by anyone who is not a demon (see 1:24, 34; 5:7). And Jesus does not tell him to be silent as he told the demons. The time for recognition is at hand, even if his disciples are slow to see what he is trying to teach them.

Jesus calls the blind man over and asks him the same question, using identical words, that he asked James and John when they wanted a favor (10:35-36): “What do you want me to do for you?” But the blind man asks for the right thing: “Teacher, I want to see!” The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) remarks that the contrast between what he asks and the apostles’ request for seats of honor “shows the blind man has seen better than they the nature of Jesus’ kingly authority: it stoops to serve.” Bartimaeus is asking for physical sight, but by giving Jesus the title Rabboni, “my teacher,” he is asking, whether aware of it or not, for spiritual vision as well. He wants to see the truth.

Jesus told his disciples, “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students” (Matthew 23:6-10). Jesus alone is Teacher. We teach only as pupils repeating what we have learned from him.  Fr. John McKenzie, S.J. (under “Rabbi,” Dictionary of the Bible, 1979), after pointing out that “Jesus finds fault with the pride which demands exaggerated respect” comments with uncharacteristic restraint, “The practice of Christians toward honorific titles has from early centuries treated this saying [of Jesus] as a pious and somewhat impractical hyperbole.” So much for the radical witness we should have been giving!

The Good News fails to impress people as good because Christians fail to live it as news. Paul VI said to “witness” means to live in such a way that our lifestyle “raises irresistible questions” that only the radical words of Jesus can answer. When we interpret his words to make them fit our cultural assumptions, we betray the Gospel. If we are not different, we are defectors.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Look at your lifestyle. What does it tell people about the Gospel?