Do you ever worry that the world is a little out of control???
Weren’t we all feeling this way a little over a year ago as we were confronted with some pretty unsettling things – especially the onset of a deadly virus about which we knew nothing --- and the outbreak and widespread unrest and violence in our nation’s streets??
Either one of these events by themselves would have caused many of us to be worried – but both at the same time was especially troubling.
Add to that the economic turmoil that set in, and many, many people worried the world was just a bit out of control. . .
We began to wonder if the way things were then – were going to be the way things were going to be for a very long time. We were worried that things were NEVER going to get better. And wonder if all of this was the “NEW NORMAL.”
“They woke Jesus and said to him: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’”
So asked the disciples as they were faced with a very unsettling situation.
It’s interesting, I think, that St. Mark does not say the disciples were waking Jesus and asking him for help. Just that they woke him and wondered why he seemed to NOT care about what was happening to them.
It’s important to remember that were reading from chapter four in Mark’s Gospel --- so it’s early in Jesus ministry. So the disciples had seen a few healings and had heard a few parables --- but their understanding of who Jesus was --- was still very limited at this point. The disciples really had not yet experienced the full force of Jesus’ divine nature. . . they just wondered how he could remain so calm while there was danger all around them. . .
And Jesus question to them reveals his answer: Do you not yet have faith??
As we sang last week: No storm can shake my inmost calm – while to that rock I’m clinging. . .
The disciples thought they were in a pretty bad situation – their world was a little out of control --- and they were not quite sure things would get better. They weren’t yet that trusting in God looking out for them – weren’t hopeful in a better outcome – and therefore could not begin to understand how Jesus wasn’t just as scared as they were.
And that makes perfect sense. We would probably be thinking the same thing. It’s NOT that the disciples completely lacked hope, or trust, or faith. It’s just that when things got really tough – they allowed the storm around them to take control – allowed the present moment to take over and dominate and overshadow their minds, hearts, and thoughts.
Their world was out of control – and they could not do a thing about it!
But we know how the story turns out. Jesus stepped in and made things better – calmed the storm – took what was chaotic and frightening and transformed it into something much different – something filled with calm, and peace, and safety.
Since Christ is lord of heaven and earth – how can I keep from singing??
So do we fall into the same trap as the disciples did? Do we get overwhelmed by the difficulties of life (either those outside of us or those inside of us)?
And then do we presume things will never get better, that things CAN never be better – that God is somehow asleep at the switch – oblivious to our concerns – no longer really in charge of and watching over the universe or us?? Do these continual challenges and sorrows and obstacles and heartaches become our ‘NEW NORMAL’?
OR do we hope and trust and have faith that every single thing in this world can be made better, and that no hurt or wrong or injustice or danger need remain? Today is simply today – tomorrow can be whatever God wants it to be – and what we are willing to do our part to help bring about.
Injustices can be righted.
Our wounded planet can be healed.
Relationships can be strengthened.
Hungry people can be fed.
Despair can become hope.
Pride can become humility.
Sin can be acknowledged and overcome by the grace of God.
There are no limits to the good God can bring about from any challenge or struggle we are having – whether that be something happening around us or within us.
Because that is the power of the resurrection –
the power that renders power-less whatever death we are currently suffering through. For when our faith is truly alive within us – when we are growing the seeds of God’s kingdom --- we will never consider anything as the “new normal”. Rather, each day will be seen as an opportunity to work with God to calm the storms around us and within us – helping bring about a peace that only God can give.
After the celebration and joy of the Easter season, followed by the feasts of the Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ – we finally settle back into the green of Ordinary Time – and the methodical reading – Sunday after Sunday of Mark’s Gospel.
We begin counting on this 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time all the way up to the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – followed by the Feast of Christ the King and then the beginning of Advent. So time marches on. . .
And as we march through time – I think the Gospel today gives us a very simple question to answer along the way: are we growing the seeds of God’s kingdom ---
and the love, joy, peace, forgiveness, and grace of that kingdom --- as we mark this sacred time week after week – are we growing into the best person we can be ---------- OR----------- just stumbling along, being the same old people we have always been???
Since the day we were Baptized – the seeds of God’s kingdom were sown in us: the seeds that help us grow more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.
But along with these seeds of the kingdom of God sown in us – are also weeds of sin, sown by the evil one. These weeds will try to choke the seeds of love, so that there is not only no growth, but also will cause the seeds of love to wither and die.
So every choice we make and every decision – is one small step toward growing the kingdom within us and around us – or choking off its growth. . .
With this in mind, two related stories:
World War II produced many heroes. One such hero was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.
One day his entire squadron was sent off on a mission. And after he was airborne, O’Hare looked at his fuel gage and noticed the crew had failed to top off his fuel tank.
He would not have enough fuel to complete the mission AND return to the ship – so he reluctantly signed off on the mission and headed back to the fleet.
As he was returning he noticed something that made his blood run cold. Off in the distance, he saw a squadron of Japanese bombers speeding toward the American fleet.
All the other fighters were off on mission – so the fleet was defenseless. Somehow, in order to save the fleet, he would have to divert the incoming bombers.
And so setting aside thoughts of his personal safety – he divided directly into the Japanese squadron. He charged in with guns blazing, weaved in and out of the formation and fired on as many planes as he could.
Completely surprised, the exasperated Japanese took off in another direction.
This took place on February 20, 1942 – and for his action Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare became the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. And today, O’Hare airport in Chicago is named in tribute to this courageous man.
The second story also takes place many years ago – when the crime boss, Al Capone, virtually ran the streets of Chicago.
Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie” whose skill at legal maneuvering kept Capone out of jail for a long time. Which is how Eddie received his nickname – because life became pretty easy for him as he was greatly rewarded for his legal efforts.
In his comfortable life – Eddie saw to it that his only son had everything – including a good education.
And despite the way he earned his living – Eddie also
tried to teach his son right from wrong – wanting his son to be a better man than he was.
Yet with all his wealth and influence -- there were two things Easy Eddie could not give his son in his present line of work: he could not pass on a good name, or a good example.
And so Eddie decided to change. He decided to renounce his ways in order to clean up his tarnished name – and show his son the meaning of integrity.
But to do this, he would have to turn against Al Capone, and he knew that cost would be great. And it was. Within a year Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.
So what do these two stories have to do with each other?
Well, Butch O’Hare, the heroic fighter pilot – was Easy Eddie’s son.
And so a point for us -- every choice we make and every decision – is one small step toward growing the kingdom within us – or choking off its growth.
And another point: perhaps THE strongest example children receive in their lives – is from their parents.
As we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day next weekend – I just ask parents of young children and grandparents to reflect this week on what kind of values you are – or are not – passing on to your children and grandchildren through your example.
And for the rest of us not blessed with children – what type of role model are we being for others? By our words and actions – are we taking the small steps we need – to grow the kingdom within us and around us – or not? Are we letting the weeds of sin to choke the seeds of love, so there is not only no growth ---- but also causing the seeds of the kingdom to wither and die? Because whether or not we know it – people, especially the young – are watching us – and learning from our example.
“The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown and springs up – becomes the largest of plants.”
Let’s go plant some seeds this week.
The covid pandemic and the lock down of last year---- was an introvert’s dream!
For me, I still got to do what I really enjoy doing – celebrating Mass every Sunday --- but without a lot of the other things that often fill my life and can drain my energy: like meetings, phone calls, trips to the hospital and to nursing homes --- the greetings and goodbyes at the beginning and the end of the school day to our students. . . to name a few. All things that need to get done – but slowed down – or stopped completely – during the lock down.
But celebrating Mass with just a few people present when we were taping every week – was not an easy thing to sustain. There was no energy in it –
because a very important part of the celebration was constantly missing – and that was all of you. . .
When I ask people what THEY missed in their faith lives during the pandemic – it was consistently two things: it was receiving the Eucharist – somehow just seeing Mass was not quite enough – AND --people missed being in the midst of a community – just being with one’s family didn’t quite cut it.
Yes, most of you continued to ‘GO’ to Mass – you just needed to bring it up on our website or on You-Tube ---
and even though watching Mass in one’s pajamas may have been convenient – it just wasn’t the same as being here.
Everyone, it seems, missed actually receiving the Body of Christ – and missed being a part ---of the Body of Christ in the midst of this faith community.
These two go together – they are intimately connected – receiving the Body of Christ and being the Body of Christ. These two go together so much – that the laws of the Church prevent a priest from celebrating Mass all by himself – there needs to be at least one other person present ----- the Mass is a communal prayer – not a personal or individual prayer ----
We may come up as individuals to receive the Body of Christ in our hands – consume the Body of Christ as individuals ----------- but it is done in the midst of a community ---so that we can become the Body of Christ for others.
That’s what Catholic writer Fr. J. Glenn Murray means when he says: “What difference does it make if the bread and wine ON the altar are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ ----- IF THOSE AT THE ALTAR remain the same?
As I often tell our students at school Masses – WE BECOME WHAT WE EAT: and if we eat the Body of Christ in the Eucharist week after week at Sunday Mass – then little by little, week by week – we become more like Christ: we become what we eat.
When I am asked what I hope we learned because of the pandemic – what are the things I hope people take away from it – I hope for two things.
First, my hope is that we all come away with a greater appreciation for what we do here in this sacred place, at this sacred time every week: that we have the opportunity to receive the Lord of heaven and the King of the Universe – in our very hands. >>
We have the opportunity to receive that very presence within ourselves – and the Eucharist is the means, the strength, the motivation we have every week to become more like the one we are to follow with all our minds and hearts. That we no longer take this opportunity for-granted – because we never know when that opportunity may be taken from us.
And so the second thing I hope we can all take away from the pandemic – is that we don’t have to go back and live the way we did before March of 2020. That we remember how much extra time we had to spend with our families – or spent as individuals in quiet and relaxation ------- because we weren’t running around here and there and everywhere
Because of the commitments and responsibilities that we so easily stack higher and higher on our plates. That it is possible to live life a little slower, and with our hearts set on the things that really matter the most to us --
like attending Mass. . .
spending time with our families
refreshing and renewing ourselves with a day of rest on Sunday.
Like writer Liz Kelly says – “I hope Mass becomes THE excuse for missing all those other things in our lives -------rather than those things --- becoming an excuse for NOT coming to Mass.”
And that is basically what Bishop Johnston is writing about in his pastoral letter: Keeping the Lord’s Day: intentionally not making Sunday just like any other day of the week. Copies of that letter are available for you in the gathering space as you leave.
“While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘take it, this is my body.’”
So Sunday after Sunday, week after week, we do important stuff in this sacred place at this sacred time --- we do what Jesus told us to do in order to remember him. It is what we come together to celebrate on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ:
our NEED for the real presence of Christ to come into our lives and hearts --- to take up a dwelling there – to change us more and more into the image and likeness of Christ --- so that we can become the Body of Christ for others. . .