A Homily – The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

First Reading – Deuteronomy 18:15-20 ©

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 94(95):1-2, 6-9 ©

Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ©

Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 11:25

Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 4:16

The Gospel According to Mark 1:21 – 28 ©

(NJB)

The priesthood, any priesthood, perhaps every priesthood that ever was, none of them were ordained by God, but by human beings. Priests and priesthoods, both were ordained to serve the interests of human beings, typically those of the ruling class, most often their own. Even those individuals who are well intentioned serve human motivations, even when they come close to approximating the divine, it is only the pale image of the divine they hold in their hearts that they are attempting and most often failing to approximate.

There are no prophets, there is no prophecy, there are only human beings. Human beings have the innate ability to perceive and recognize what is true. But we are all, each of us compromised; every expression of the truth coming from a human being is conditioned by that compromise, and therefore it is necessarily flawed, and yet despite these flaws we sometimes do good work, but because of these flaws all human works are suspect.

Listen to the psalmist!

It is God who makes us well, who creates in us the possibility of wellbeing. God is our wellbeing, but God is not a king, and there are no other gods.

All of creation belongs to God, all that is good and all that frightens us; everything, no matter how distressing or troubling, everything comes from God and will redound to the good.

It is good to show our respect for the creator and to sing songs in praise of God, remember! Always remember that God is our loving parent, and has prepared each of us for the divine  blessing.

Be mindful!

Even the apostle is liable to asserting his personal beliefs and foibles into the rubrics of the Church. Not everything he says should be accepted on its face as wise and good.

Paul believed that people should withdraw from public life, stop procreation and wait on God to deliver humanity from the miseries of the world. If he could have, he would have had all of us living chaste and celibate lives behind the walls of the cloister, men living with men and women living with women.

The apostle errs, but the church is not obligated to follow him in this error, the more humble thing would be to acknowledge the truth and move on.

This is the truth:

It is the desire of God, the creator of the universe, it is the desire of God that we follow the way that Jesus taught, to be merciful, love justice and walk humbly all the days of our life, to prosper and multiply.

Know this!

The teachings of Jesus cannot be treated like a shell game, though they are, and have been since the beginning, as Matthew’s illustrates.

The way of Jesus is not a long con, it is not a bait and switch, it is a simple teaching that cannot be controlled or owned by any one group of people.

God, the creator of the universe, God has hidden nothing from us. The truth is in the open for anyone to see. The wise and the powerful, the learned and the clever, the weak and the meek, everyone has access to the same truth, to the knowledge of God, of justice, of hope and love.

Who are the wise and powerful, who are the learned and the clever, who are the faithful and childlike? In every generation, you will see a new group labeling the elder group as out of touch, blind, privileged, in the dark, corrupt. It is an endless cycle, and the truth remains the same; love justice, be merciful, do good, serve God through the loving service you provide to one another: your family, your friend, your neighbor, the stranger, even your enemy.

Just because a person may be wise and powerful, learned and clever, or a child of the Church, does not mean they recognize the truth when they see it, or act upon it when they do.

It is not your station in society, it is not how other people regard you, it is not the titles you have earned or the ways that you have been marginalized that give us the tell on how you will fulfill the calling to follow Jesus. What matters is what is in your heart and your willingness to trust in the content of your hope.

When you speak from the scriptures be careful.

When you observe the authors attempting to fit their narrative of the life of Jesus into a picture that makes it look as if he is fulfilling a prediction about the future, be wary; this is always a falsehood.

Even if a prediction had been made, and even if Jesus did the thing that was predicted, it is a false narrative to suggest that Jesus’ actions were in fulfillment of prophecy.

Prophets only speak of the future for two reasons; to engender hope and to warn of danger.

The words of a prophet are always addressed to the people in their own time, in their own place. Prophecy is never meant to guide the lives of future generations, except in the cases when the prophet is addressing an issue of universal truth, such as the nature of justice, which is itself unchanging.

Know this!

The Gospel writers were propagandists; they fabricated many of the details of Jesus’ life. They fabricated those details to suit their narrative about who Jesus was, why he was necessary, and what his life and death meant for the early church.

In this narrative the Gospel writers place Jesus directly in the tradition of John the Baptist, with the words “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is a continuation of that narrative, meant to harness the energy of John’s movement, after his arrest and murder.

Consider the Gospel for today, it is packed with nuance.

Begin by unpacking:

This is the first record of Jesus in his ministry as a public teacher.

He is still in Palestine but he has travelled to the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He is beyond the borders of Judea, half-way between Jerusalem and Damascus.

He gives his teaching in a synagogue, indicating his status as a Rabbi. The synagogues belong to the diaspora, Jewish communities outside of the Holy Land. Synagogues are the seat of the Pharisaic sect of Judaism, and Rabbis are teachers in that movement. Pharisees are a distinct group of teachers; they promulgate the law. They are different from the Scribes, and the priests of the temple. All of these distinctions are communicated in the opening paragraph:

Jesus the Pharisee, Jesus the Rabbi is teaching with authority, unlike the Scribes in Jerusalem.

One man calls him out. Not because he is possessed by demons, but because he afraid of what Jesus’ teaching represents.

He asks a good question, “What do you have to do with us?” This indicates that Jesus is an outsider.

He asks, “Are you here to destroy us?” This indicates that he perceives Jesus’ teaching to be a threat to the established order, and therefore quite possibly to his entire community.

He addresses the claim that Jesus’ followers are promoting, that he is the “Holy One of God.” He asserts this in an unfriendly manner, quite possibly as a charge against Jesus: a charge of hubris at the least, though it is potentially a charge of blasphemy.

By raising this charge he intends to undermine Jesus’ authority in the synagogue. Jesus commands the man to silence, and Jesus prevails. This scene is depicted dramatically in the gospel, as if Jesus were commanding an unclean spirit to come out of the man, a spirit of disobedience and falsehood. It is presented as Jesus casting out a demon or demons, and healing a man who was possessed. Though it should be presented as Jesus commanding his authority to convert a dissident into a believer.

The narrative does not depict a supernatural challenge to Jesus’ authority, but an ordinary challenge from a member of the community. It was not easy for Jesus to convince the man, it was a convulsive struggle, but Jesus prevailed; he prevailed because the community had been ready to receive Jesus’ teaching at the outset, and his victory in the disputation with the man who argued with him, how he managed the situation as a healer bolstered his authority all the more.

Be like Jesus in your ministry, be a healer; it is the best way to serve the interests of the divine.

First Reading – Deuteronomy 18:15-20 ©

I Will Raise Up a Prophet and Put My Words into His Mouth

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 94(95):1-2, 6-9 ©

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;

  hail the rock who saves us.

Let us come before him, giving thanks,

  with songs let us hail the Lord.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come in; let us bow and bend low;

  let us kneel before the God who made us:

for he is our God and we

  the people who belong to his pasture,

  the flock that is led by his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

O that today you would listen to his voice!

  ‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,

  as on that day at Massah in the desert

when your fathers put me to the test;

  when they tried me, though they saw my work.’

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ©

Give Your Undivided Attention to the Lord

I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.

Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 11:25

Alleluia, alleluia!

Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to mere children.

Alleluia!

Alternative Acclamation – Matthew 4:16

Alleluia, alleluia!

The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.

Alleluia!

The Gospel According to Mark 1:21 – 28 ©

Unlike the Scribes, He Taught Them with Authority

Jesus and his disciples went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church

When I finally made it to the university, I went to a school named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, named for Saint Thomas Aquinas; I studied philosophy there, as well as theology and the classics.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the river bluffs nearby. The moment I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

My time at this school was reasonably well spent. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, and I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as our Patron Saint, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas in than for the conclusions that he made.

Saint Thomas bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle et al, and the proto-renaissance period of Western Europe, re-discovering the use of intellectual tools like such as formal logic and discursive reasoning, and re-employing them in a way that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today.

Saint Thomas was Italian by birth and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there, fully cognizant of his fame, knowing that he would become a saint of great renown, they coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, a silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

On his death bed it is reported that he gave an estimation of the value of his own contribution to the doctrine and dogma of the church, of which he said: everything is just straw.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, the same arches that I first walked through my first day on campus, two stories below the offices of the Philosophy Department. I recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God

That I may ardently desire,

Prudently examine,

Truthfully acknowledge,

And perfectly accomplish

What is pleasing to thee

For the praise and glory

Of thy name

In the year 2021 CE, seven hundred and forty-seven after the death of Saint Thomas, the world has become enmired in another kind of dark ages, which is odd and sadly ironic because the current tide of anti-rational, anti-intellectual sentiment that has griped the world has been seeded through the prevalence of digital media platforms that are in themselves a function of our mastery of light, as a means of communication.

We now find ourselves leaving in a cultural milieu that disdains the truth, scientia, science and knowledge, which undermines place of reason in public discourse.

In Western Europe the so-called dark ages are considered to have begun around the year 500 CE, with the reign of the emperor Justinian, roughly the same length of time seven hundred and fifty years after the golden age of the philosophers, and roughly seven hundred and fifty years before Saint Thomas wrote his Summa.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently ominous in the pattern I have articulated, the numbers themselves are arbitrary and it would be unreasonable to suppose otherwise. However, we would be wise to acknowledge this, the descent of darkness has a cycle all of its own. We have fallen into this before and we are susceptible to falling into it again, once we have fallen, it could take centuries to emerge back into the light.

Ursula K. Le Guinn – Author, Hero

It has been three years since this great woman and thinker moved on to the next world; she was a hero of mine.

The first book of hers I read was a novella titled The Lathe of Heaven, a science fiction book, but it was so much more. Through this short piece she spoke to me about the nature of reality, the function of consciousness, of what it means to be a human being.

She took the title from the writings of the Taoist, Chuang Tzu (book 23, paragraph 7):

To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do so will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven ~

Her book, which both dramatized this sentiment and recapitulated this warning took me outside of myself and allowed me to see the whole-world in a different way.

I was fifteen years old at the time, and without realizing it I found that I had been introduced to Taoism (the esoteric tradition), which provided me with a perspective that would subsequently shape the future course of my life.

I read many other books and articles written by this great lady. When I was in the Navy I found great comfort in the Earth Sea Chronicles, a series of four books in which she introduced a hero whose greatest enemy was himself, but not himself exactly; his enemy was the specter and shadow of guilt that most, if not all, human beings carry with them, because we are unable to ask for and accept forgiveness for the things we have done that have hurt or harmed those near to us, even their adversaries, because we are not able to forgive ourselves.

These books were so simple and brief that they could really be seen as fairytales for children to read, and indeed they can be read on that level, but her stories were so masterfully crafted that adults will find them even more engaging for the depth that is present right below the surface.   

Three years ago this great luminaries departed from our world, leaving a legacy of literature to light the way for us.

We need this light more than ever; if we liken our civilization to a garden the garden we live in has been long under shadow. The fruit of our progress has been drying on the vine, fellowship and common purpose have suffered accordingly. We need these heroes, women and men like Ursula Le Guinn to light the way, to bring us to the edge of the cloud of unknowing, to usher us into the mysteries that are hidden in the mist.

The End is the Beginning – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion

01.22.2021

The End is the Beginning

It was with a great sense of relief that I watched Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take their oaths of office, watching in real time as the powers of the executive branch were taken up by a team of people who appear to be genuinely interested in helping our country through the multiple crises that have manifested themselves over the past year.

I was delighted to watch Donald Trump leave the White House and Leave Washington D.C. in keeping with his utter lack of respect for the office he held, and the traditions we hold so dear. I am glad that he didn’t try to pull some last-minute Trumpery to salvage his dignity…he has none.

There is not much more to say about the orange menace, now the toothless tiger except to express my desire to see him wither up and fade away. His legions of fanatics have already begun to turn on him, as well they should, he never deserved their loyalty, he never believed in their causes (not that their causes are worthy of believe and not that their loyalty was anything to covet), the man believes in nothing…not even in himself.

I would like to believe that we have learned a lesson from the past four years, but the election proved otherwise, the enemies of our republic, the foes of democracy have actually been empowered by Trump’s loss. The Trump presidency has given them a blue print, a tested set of tactics and stratagems to use against the American people in the next round…and they have already begun.

There are millions and millions more of us who look to the future of the country with hopeful eyes, and desire to participate in a plan that has us all working together for a better future, but there are still tens of millions of people who are lost in the fever swamps of conspiracy theories and alternative facts, people who get juiced when they participate in the big lie as they walk around in their fantasy world.

Most of us have the instinct to treat these lost souls with some degree of empathy, to feel sorry for them and even try to help them, and that is a good thing we should not stop feeling that way; we should hope for the best but prepare for the worst, because those Proud Boys, and boogaloos Q-publicans see the world in starkly different terms. They see their opponents as demonic, and themselves as the heroes of some kind of apocalyptic conflict, they are willingly being fleeced by a host of conmen and politicians who do not give a jot, not one tittle for their well-being.

The end is the beginning.

We have thrown out the trash but the landfill has become a superfund site and the waste is a toxic mess.

We have to stick together, all people of good conscience, we cannot let our guard down or allow ourselves to be caught up in petty squabbles that divide us from one another.

We have to rebuild America, turn the American dream into an American reality, fulfill the promise this grand experiment…we must.

A successful Biden administration, beginning with a successful first two years are essential to this prospect. If two years from now we have stymied ourselves with internal bickering, allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good, if we let the opposition stalemate us and frustrate our progress, we will lose the argument, the momentum and the opportunity to realize our goals.

We need the people to embrace a new mythology for the twenty-first century, a triumphal mythology of progress and liberty and justice for all, a mythology that denounces fear and embraces opportunity, a mythology that looks toward the infinite horizon with hope and purpose, a mythology that is built on a firm foundation of accomplishment, and the American people must be the focus of this work.

Observation – January 6th, 2021, Wednesday

It is cloudy in Minneapolis, a gray day in America

The capital is occupied by terrorists, insurrectionists

A coup de etat is being attempted in America

Shots fired at the capital

A woman rolls past the cameras on a gurney

Her face bloodied, gravely injured

Terrorists have occupied the floor of the House

The Senate chamber is under their control

Trump supporters flying Trump flags wearing Trump hats

A bunch of brown shirts, chickens come home to roost

The mob is fighting the capital police

Reports of flash bang grenades

The final process of ratifying the presidential election has been upended

The clock is ticking, they have five days to complete their work