Reflection - March 29, 2020

“And Jesus wept.”

I went through two times in my life, both relatively short, when I didn’t cry. The first was after my parent’s divorce where the pain, even as a child, seemed too great and I imagined that I was Spock from Star Trek (because he didn’t have emotions) or a robot (for the same reason). So much did I identify with Spock that I practiced, over and over again, raising one eyebrow. You may catch that expression on my face to this day. It worked, for a time, but by trying to avoid pain, I also avoided healing. Eventually, I couldn’t bottle it all up anymore and I had to deal with it. Thankfully, from healthy examples in my life and a support group at St. Polycarp for children of divorced parents, I would learn to embrace or enter into the pain so as to pass through it and find a new beginning. Much later, I would discover this is the pattern of the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, which is repeatedly at work in our lives. It is only by bearing our crosses that we can reach new life. It is only by losing our life that we find it. And, it is only in dying that we are born to eternal life. There is no short cut, escape, or avoidance. We may use those to cope for a while, but in the end, they only lead to problems greater than the original pain. No, I couldn’t pretend not to hurt and, for me, that also meant tears—real, healing, and cleansing tears. 

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Reflection - March 15, 2020

“But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”

Some interpretations of this passage (beginning in the 17th century) saw it as a rejection of ritual worship. It meant for them, and has come to mean for others, that the form that congregational worship takes is unimportant because it is really about the interior disposition of the worshiper, not about the particular actions.  Clearly, Jesus is disconnecting worship from the physical location of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (or, for that matter, the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim). Jews would have prayed anywhere: at the city gates, in their homes, or in the synagogue. Worship, however, was tied to the ritual sacrifices at the temple. Worship was always about sacrifice or offering, about atonement for sin or thanksgiving for blessings. In this interpretation, those things are unimportant, but sound doctrine and emotional conviction become the hallmarks of “real” worship. Distilled through the centuries, we see this today as a Sunday service with 30-45 minutes of singing (to capture the emotional conviction) and 30-45 minutes of preaching (to present sound doctrine). Other ritual is understood to be dead or legalistic and traps the participants in a merely outward system of empty religion. 

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Reflection - February 16, 2020

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This saying of Jesus flips expectations. To get a sense of this, think of other areas of exceptionalism: unless your power surpasses that of the President of the United States; unless your knowledge surpasses that of the MIT researchers; unless your talent surpasses that of the Renaissance painters; or unless your skill surpasses that of the NBA All-Stars. The scribes and the Pharisees dedicated their lives to righteousness. They were at the pinnacle of holiness. The average Jew, the hearers of Jesus’s words, had no hope of achieving greater righteousness. The conditions of their lives simply did not allow the opportunity, time, or study to fulfill all the requirements of righteousness. It was not possible. How can we do that? It is harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle, so the saying goes. 

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Reflection - January 19, 2020

“It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant,

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the survivors of Israel;

I will make you a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”


Ancient population numbers are difficult to estimate. Records from the time are notoriously unreliable and greatly overestimate the numbers, while modern estimates are far removed from the reality of the time and can tend to underestimate the numbers. It seems that great academic debates occur regarding these varied estimates. In any case, with almost no sense of accuracy, it may be said that Israel was a small kingdom, but not altogether insignificant. In Jesus’s day, it may have been as large as 0.5% of the world population and close to 3% of the population of the Roman Empire. Again, not very large, but also not totally insignificant. The Jewish population outside of Israel was probably as large as the population within or as much as double. So, a decidedly geographic religion, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center, could have accounted for 1% to 1.5% of the world population and 6% to 9% of the Roman Empire. Small, but not insignificant. 


Today, adherents of Judaism represent roughly 0.2% of the world population. Christianity has grown from its inception out of the Jewish tradition to about 31% of the world population with Catholicism representing nearly 17%. The vast majority of nations, languages, and people groups have at least some adherents to Christianity, and many to Catholicism. Although, as I have mentioned previously, we are facing a great challenge in the United States from the reality of those who are choosing to leave the church (the growth of the “unaffiliated”), the Church continues to grow, especially in Africa and Asia. Beginning in Jerusalem, the Church has spread to the ends of the earth. 


Numbers are, of course, numbers. What they represent are human hearts open to the message of God’s love and responsive to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God had big plans for a small, though not totally insignificant, people. He wasn’t just concerned with a few tribes or a small nation, but with the whole world. He planted a seed that began to grow. A constricted horizon based on national self interest gave way to an infinite horizon encompassing every human heart. For a small people, it was a big vision. It is the same dynamic, however, within each of our own lives. God constantly expands our horizons. From my own personal well being, to that of my family, to those in my community, to the needy and hurting, to the far flung seeking and searching, God moves us out of ourselves. Every person is significant to God. Every person becomes significant to us. God’s vision for us, here and now, is not small. It encompasses everything.  


The kingdom always starts small and grows, like a mustard seed. It starts in our own hearts and minds. Is our understanding of God too small? Is our view of our own potential too small? Are the possibilities of what we can accomplish as a community too small? Is my heart too small? Is our vision too small? God has planted something in us that will grow. Are we ready for something large? For everything? For God? David Crowder, a Christian musician, has some lyrics that get at this idea:


“I'm so bored of little gods

While standing on the edge of something large

While standing here, so close to You

We could be consumed”

Reflection - March 8, 2020

“And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.”

When I was only two, we lived in Germany because dad was stationed with the army in Ansbach. While there, my dad bought a “pop-top” VW camper bus, orange, that we would take for family camp outs. My memories are so fond of that camper bus that just a few years ago, my mom gave me a custom Christmas tree ornament of the same, orange and all. It even came back with us to the States. One of my earliest memories is of a camp out at a farm, gathered with other families near a barn.

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Reflection - February 2, 2020

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The day I arrived at seminary, I was still quite naive about what it meant to be a priest. I pulled into the parking lot in my Mercury Sable packed to the roof in the back seat and towing an 8’ by 5’ U-Haul trailer with all of my accumulated belongings. The welcome committee was more than generous in helping me transfer everything to a third floor 10’ by 17’ room. I brought too much stuff. The next morning as we headed to pray morning prayer, someone asked me if I had a breviary. “A what?” I asked innocently. They found an extra one in the sacristy (2000+ pages long) and handed it to me saying, “It’s the book of psalms and prayers we use to pray morning, evening and night prayer.” They added, “You’ll have to pray these prayers every day for the rest of your life.” “I’ll have to do what?” I was in shock. “I’ll take you to the theology bookstore later and and you can get the single book to hold you over, but you’ll probably want to get the four volume set some day.” “There’s a four volume set?” 

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Reflection - January 12, 2020

“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying, 
‘l need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’”

There is a recognition by John that Jesus does not need to be baptized. John’s baptism, a ritual cleansing with water signifying repentance for the forgiveness of sins, was not a necessity for Jesus. Jesus was sinless. So, if he didn’t need to do it, why did he? First, and this is an essential point, Jesus didn’t need to do any of the things he did. He didn’t need to be incarnate, do miracles, teach, suffer, or die. Jesus chose to do all of these things. Out of love, he did them for us. It wasn’t a need. It wasn’t for himself. It was love. It was for us. Jesus wasn’t baptized because he needed it, he was baptized because we needed it. The short answer is that Jesus was plunged in the waters of the Jordan for us. This is expressed poetically by the Eastern fathers of the Church, “I am trying to find the lost Adam, let me go down and look for him.”

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Reflection - February 23, 2020

“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well...
You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

My particular specialization as an intelligence officer in the Air Force was target intelligence. After a hiatus of a few years, when the Air Force decided to renew specialized training for targeting, I was an honor graduate of the first class. Within six months, half of our class had been assigned temporary duty in the Middle East and I had been sent for my targeting skills to King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dahran, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Southern Watch. I became adept at analyzing target systems, determining critical nodes, and calculating the application of force to achieve various objectives. Give me a communication system, an air base, an oil refinery, a power plant, a rail yard, a port, a fifty foot deep bunker, any type of bridge, or a host of other target systems, and I could tell you how to inhibit, disrupt, damage, or destroy them, although my knowledge now is certainly outdated. I will still occasionally catch myself, when crossing the Ohio River, for example, thinking about the bridge design, construction techniques, elements of vulnerability, weapon accuracy, impact points, blast yields, etc. As I was preparing to leave the Air Force to go to seminary, I was offered an assignment to the first Air Force cyber warfare squadron, which would have used my same analytical targeting skills in a different realm of force application. 

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Reflection - January 26, 2020

“He said to them,

‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”


Metaphors can be powerful. They catch the imagination and provide piercing insights. They have their limits, however, and usually break down if taken to the extreme or held as the primary or only perspective. They can illuminate, but can also obfuscate by eliminating other perspectives or models of an issue or idea. Jesus used similes and metaphors for the positive value of insight while being little concerned about the limitations. Really, that’s how we all use them. It’s only under analysis that we can explore the positive and negative aspects of a particular metaphor. The process of analysis can provide greater clarity as we wrestle with an issue. We can even learn something when a metaphor breaks down. 


The metaphor “fishers of men” has, of course, been tied to the call of the first disciples, but it has also been connected to missionary activity, vocations to the priesthood, and evangelization. Many have been inspired to leave their homes, travel to far off lands, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Many have also been inspired to change the direction of their lives and discern a call to ordained ministry and service in the church. Likewise, many have been inspired to overcome fear and witness about God’s love and work in their lives to family and friends. Some scholars have begun to question the universal application of this metaphor. Perhaps it was meant only for Peter and Andrew, they posit. If they had been farmers, perhaps Jesus would have said, “I will make you sowers of the word.” Or, if they had been carpenters, maybe he would have said, “I will make you builders of the kingdom.” It could have applied only to Peter and Andrew because of who they were. Nonetheless, as with so much of scripture, the meaning can be revealed on multiple levels, at various times, and in deeply personal ways. Even with its limitations, I think it can speak powerfully to us here and now. 


The metaphor is important, but more important is the first part, “Come after me.” Most translations use “follow” or “come, follow” for this verse. “Come after me” gives a bit more of the imperative original in the Greek. Do this! Come after me! Pursue me! It is not so much of a polite invitation, but a passionate plea or, even, command. There is transformational energy to it. Let go of what lies behind and press in to what lies ahead! The metaphor is dependent upon the changed life, new direction, and passionate encounter with Jesus. Becoming a fisher of men is the result of going after, following, Jesus. More than that, it is Jesus who does the work, “I will make you.” We see here an essential dynamic: Jesus calls, we respond, Jesus works, and we are given a mission. Invitation leads to decision, which leads to grace, which leads to purpose. Jesus calls us, pleads with us, invites us, commands us, and loves us. He is yearning for us. Come after me! Will we? How do we respond? Can we let go? Chart a new direction? Change? Move? Trust? This is our part, our first part. God never forces our hand. It’s up to us. 


Once we say yes, God’s work begins in earnest. God’s transforming grace comes to us in our prayer, study, action, and relationships. Personal prayer and the sacraments open our hearts more fully to God’s love. The scriptures and tradition enlighten our minds to God’s truth. Serving the poor, wounded, naked, and imprisoned conform our lives to God’s mercy and justice. Being part of a community supports us on the journey and challenges us to be authentic. All of this work in us, however, isn’t just for us. We have a purpose, a mission, a direction, and a goal. We live for others. We live for the lost, lonely, searching, seeking, confused, abused, troubled, and forgotten people on God’s heart. “He cries, he weeps, he bleeds” for them. This is our part, too. We are sent. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”