Saint Nicholas is an Advent saint. His feast day ( December 6 ) always occurs in the beginning of the Advent Season. The Saint morphed into the Santa of the USA through advertisement campaigns, politicians, and World War Two. The Saints day had its own traditions that were firmly rooted in Christianity. The bishop Nicholas was not a secular phenomenon. A great place to learn about the true Saint Nicholas is the Saint Nicholas Center . Click the link to learn about some of the Advent and Christian traditions that have been lost to secular consumerism.
Well, what did I think of this Sundays’ reading, the story of Lazarus and the rich man? Lk 16:19-31 First, this person noticed that concern for the poor and infirm, notably absent in this story, is a cornerstone of Christianity. It is the religions defining trait, which is Christian charity. It is an outward display of Christian love that is so often the theme of the gospel. It is the alms giving of Lent. It is the Christ centered foundation of the homeless shelter, the reason for Christian education initiative, and the inspiration for the development of Catholic hospitals. Can I suggest the root word hospital is in hospitality or good will towards men? Charity towards the likes of Lazarus, the man begging from beneath a table, is absolutely fundamental to Christianity. It is nothing new today, but it was radical at the time of this story.
My other thoughts towards that story revolve around the details and how they are used. The story takes place at a table, so suggestive of the heavenly banquet mentioned frequently in Old Testament. The story does hint at that heavenly banquet; yet in heaven roles reverse; it is the rich man that begs beneath the table. In heaven Lazarus is granted that cherished seat at the table. As a side note, can anyone ponder the Lords table. That theme of table is common in many of the stories of Jesus. The dinner of the Last Supper , was it set in motion to offer Lazarus a seat at the table? “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Lazarus would have gladly eaten crumbs that fell off that rich mans table, yet he was so far removed even they were a dream. How far can an outcast be cast, how great can a barrier be?
Next I marvel at those purple robes, the color of royalty. It is so much the color of royalty that it was worn exclusively by royalty, for anyone else to wear that color was a crime. Jesus clearly wanted those Pharisees to see how they identified with royalty. They were (in their minds) religious royalty. There also was the royal court, and one should not leave out the King of all creation. Those Pharisees did behave like they were royalty, so obvious as they avoided all who were ritually unclean. At their table Lazarus would not even be granted a seat under the table, he would be pushed out the door. That was the reality of the day, there were clear boundaries between the privileged and the suffering. The gospel story clearly mirrors the society of that era. Lazarus was an outcast, ritually unclean and the definition of a sinner. The illustrated facts of life. Does this paint a picture?
“And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”
The next detail comes from the beggar himself, Lazarus and his name translates “God is my help.” With him is the call for society to change. In the “next” world he is the one rewarded, and the rich that behaved as royalty is sent to hell. That, to put it bluntly, is in direct opposition to the common belief. To those Pharisees, those who were suffering or cursed on earth were cursed for eternity. To make matters worse, that condemnation was as contagious as influenza is today. A vision of heaven and hell should be interpreted as the Ancient’s would have envisioned it. Heaven resided beyond the firmament ( a tangible physical barrier) and the place of the stars. Hell that frightening tortious place beneath the earth. Jesus, in His story, clearly argued for a call to change. That change is the good news of Jesus Christ, it is the essence of Christianity. To Christ the fear could be replaced with compassion, and compassion meets its reward in heaven. Christian compassion, and Christian charity, they begin with Jesus Christ.
Much of the world in my opinion has taken the lesson of this story to heart. That does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. I think of those hospitals Christian religious orders set up throughout Europe in the middle ages. I think of the charitable work with youth carried out by the likes of John Bosco’s Salesian order, I think of the outreach efforts off the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities. I think of the parishes St. Vincent De Paul Societies, and of the generosity of a country, and a churches citizens. Christianity in action, a table turned over and a world upside down.
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat … .? “ Jn 6:52-59
There are people questioning Christianity, and they obviously do not get it. They have not a clue, and this gospel passage makes this painfully obvious. They do not understand Christ as the second person of the trinity, they do not understand God as man, they do not understand a crucified God, and I doubt they can comprehend the resurrection. Easter. Paul, Saul; that apostle to the gentiles; is one of the clueless. The first reading is testament to his ignorance to Christ, and also leads into his persecution of the followers of the way. “The Way” the earliest title of this new religion. Something to be examined in the future.
But that is not the point. The point is the misunderstanding of the religion established by Jesus Christ. Two thousand plus years ago they could not comprehend it. Paul, aka Saul, eventually got it. He figured it out, or it was brilliantly revealed to him. Acts 9:1-20
He then spent a tortious lifetime explaining “the way” to others. Part of this discussion is just about that. At first Paul did not get it, and then he got it. Once he got it, he was radically transformed. So radically transformed, he explained his discovery for the rest of his life. That, my friends, is profound. Christianity was the revelation of Paul’s life. Don’t neglect the impact Paul’s revelation had on him, please put that thought into contemporary terms. Please!
Look around the world today, how many eyes have been opened to the extent of Paul’s? So many on the television proclaim their transformation. I think fat people, and I am a fat person; but is that the same as Paul’s transformation? The transformative power of diet, people speak of it as a new religion. New Age, blah! Paul was martyred, how many willing endure martyrdom for a healthy lifestyle?
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.
I can think of those who today die for Christ’s name, and there are many. I pray for them, and that I might be granted their strength. I look today for examples from popular society, and with a reason. The noblest martyrs of today are on a different page, a different discussion not to be diluted by todays thought.
My point, which I have taken long enough to get around to is this: If people could not understand Christ in the yesterday of 2000 years ago, how well do our contemporaries understand it today? How many view us as cannibals, or crazies today? How many view us as the outsiders, the fringe of society? How many understand our theology, our doctrines, or our sacraments? How many today can even understand what a sacrament is? The world has changed. How do we explain to our contemporary “new age” world who we are? How do we explain so that they might have the experience Saul had? The world has changed. Christians have endured a stealth persecution they rarely noticed. Their doctrines were diluted, and their identities assimilated. They were declared by the populist irrelevant, antiquated, backward, and unintelligent. How then do we explain to the self proclaimed decorated intellectuals who “the Man who gave us His Flesh” to eat is? That was the task of the first apostles, how does one approach that task today?
One can think back a couple decades, and even a few decades more. Christianity, popular and preached and proclaimed. Accepted and even promoted. “The Way” was good. But today? On the defensive and under attack. Defiled by modern social movements. Under attack by the press. Negated, villainized, ostracized. Separated from polite society. Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me rings aloud today. Christian social-persecution is here, in our society, today. There then is the question. How do we explain the risen Lord? How do we explain a God that demands we eat His Flesh to a self-described enlightened society? They don’t get it. Worse still is that they think that THOSE WHO DO should be stopped. Stopped, put in their place, silenced. How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Preposterous they exclaim! How do we explain?
Friday of the Third Week of Easter
Somewhere in the world a crèche is built, somewhere in the world a nativity scene is being played out. In Bethlehem people are afraid to visit for fear of the violence. There is a wall built for safety, to keep warring factions apart. In Syria someone is giving birth amid the ruins of war, the same is true in Mosul, the same in Libya. The inn is not simply full, it has been destroyed by bombs, its walls riddled with the spray of bullets. There are no lights other than the stars, the power went out long ago. The Ox and the Ass have been replaced by a few stray dogs. Somewhere in the world a crèche is built, somewhere in the world a nativity scene is being played out.
In the war torn mid-east certainly there is a child being born, and certainly there are at least a few people gathered around marveling at life’s joy amid all of the horror. Joy to the world a Child is born. How different reality is from marketing. Some gather around the Child with joy, and others view the same child with fear and contempt. It is of the wrong religion, from the wrong country, the wrong ethnicity and their forefathers bowed to the wrong King. Herod and the Christ Child, Syria today. Others though see something different, a joyous event amid an unpleasant backdrop. Joyous and lively souls, like those of the shepherds.
Somewhere in the world a crèche is built, somewhere in the world a nativity scene is being played out. Past, present, and future. Joy to the world, let the earth reveal its King. In the Advent of this Christmas, scenes similar to the Nativity’s have most certainly taken place. A joy in a warzone, a flight for safety, and comfort needed in uncertainty and conflict. Christmas is an emotional time. A joy amid uncertainty. Christmas today, in a land where Christ was born. Who will attend to those children’s needs? What are the parents emotions as they huddle in their crèche in the war zones of today? Silent night, holy night. Its the first new day.
Jesus is again on the shores of the sea of Galilee, now at Capernaum, a prosperous Jewish town (Mk 1:21-28). Here He teaches at the synagogues, it is the beginning of his public ministry, and the people are astonished at the authority by which he teaches. Not only does He explain the scriptures, but he drives out a demon from amongst them, and people are astonished. The demon exclaims I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said,“Quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus teachings in this region at first are greeted with applause, but ultimately he is rejected and I wonder why. This was after all people of a similar background and they can not come to accept the healing that they themselves witness. When the demon calls Jesus “the Holy one of God,” He rebukes that demon, “Be Quiet”.
That command “Be Quiet! is common throughout the gospel healings. When Jesus heals He does not wish to be proclaimed as the Son of God, instead he wishes people to grow in their knowledge of him. In this town Jesus is known. He is known to be Mary’s son, and the son of a carpenter. It is precisely these people’s knowledge that will ultimately stand in their way. For them to accept the authority by which he teaches is the greatest of challenges. He must go against the authority of the Scribes and the Pharisees, both political members of society. Jesus also challenges their demons, and not the demons of others. It is always easy to spot the flaws of others, but how easy is it to admit our own? It is easy to have authority over another, but how easy is it to give authority to another? They are amazed by Jesus teachings, but eventually they will grow fearful.
In the first reading (Dt 18:15-20) Moses talks of God razing up another prophet who will speak the word of God. Jesus not only speaks the word, but also heals and drives out demons. Jesus has authority that goes beyond those prophets. How easy is it to accept those words, when they go against my opinion or my tradition? How quick am I to rush to judgment rather than grow in the wisdom of God? I should remember to heed those words “Be Quiet.” I should listen rather than speak.
I read the gospel of Jesus teaching at the synagogue with knowledge of how the story continues. I wonder what the outcome would have been had that demon stayed quiet and those people listened and learned. Though the demon spoke the truth, it also ignited fear, and that fear hindered an ability to listen and learn and grow. God can speak, but it is up to me to listen. How wonderful it would be to remain astonished at the word of God, and not mute that sound through my own prejudices or frailties. How wondrous to hear that word without, without it being drowned out by the crowd. The gospel tells of the amazement of Jesus’s words, but it also tells of a demon lurking in the crowd. One would be wise then listen to the word, but also be vigilant to the demon lurking in the room.