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To anyone who has, more will be given ..." (Matt 13:13).

What would direct contact with God be like? The Scriptures offer several accounts of encounters between people and God. Adam is said to have spoken with God as they walked in the garden in the cool of the evening. This intimacy reflects a relationship before sin disrupted creation and estranged humanity from its Creator. 

Abraham speaks with God; Jacob is described as wrestling through the night with a divine figure; the prophet Elijah sees God from behind while hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb. Moses encounters God in the burning bush and later is invited up onto the mountain to confer with God, an intimacy that causes his face to glow so that he wears a veil to protect the people from the refection of God's glory.  

In today's reading from Exodus, God comes down onto Mount Sinai in a theophany of thunder, dark clouds and earth-shaking power. The people are terrified and only too grateful that Moses is their intermediary, for it was believed that no one could survive seeing the face of God. It would be like being struck by lightning. 

God is also veiled, but in a different way, in the New Testament. Jesus was in fact God incarnate, but people were no more prepared or capable of a direct encounter with God than they were at the time of the Exodus. The identity of Jesus was hidden from their eyes. And like the Exodus story, meeting God in Jesus was so intense and transforming an experience that filters and layers were also needed to protect someone's sense of reality from so powerful a revelation.  Glory is glory. Gradual approaches, stage-by-stage understanding was needed until a person could grasp what they were seeing.

St. Paul was blinded by his conversion encounter with the risen Jesus. The disciples after the resurrection needed time and instruction to see Jesus in the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus. Their eyes were blinded until they were ready to grasp the implications of their encounter wth the mysterious stranger. 

The cloaking was achieved by the way Jesus revealed himself and the divine Mystery within him. He revealed himself in parables, stories with many layers, so that only those with faith could interpret and enter the Mystery.  The experience was like falling in love, which also involves layers of revelation that prepare people for the breakthrough moment in their relationship that shows who they really are. Strangers become friends, friends become beloved companions, glory meets glory, and an intimate bond is formed. 

Jesus is the parable of the hidden God. He is the treasure hidden in a field, the pearl of great price, leaven mixed into the ingredients of life, the seed in search of the good soil of an open heart.  Let us pray for ears that can hear the deeper meaning of these parables, for they lead to a face-to-face encounter with Jesus our God.  

God's Grandparents

"This is the bread the Lord has given you to eat" (Exod 16:15).

Jesus had grandparents, and we acknowledge Joachim and Anne in today's liturgy. How often did Jesus' family join Mary's parents for meals and overnight visits? What did Jesus learn from his grandparents as he was growing up? These questions remind us of the depth of the Incarnation. God became one of us and shared in every aspect of human development. 

Both readings today deal with food.  Once in the desert, the Hebrews turned their attention to survival and their need for food and water. Moses takes their grumbling to God, who provides quail and manna, a mysterious substance that appeared on the ground with the morning dew.  In today's gospel from Matthew, we return to the parable of the sower, which was also about the food security of the community.  The failure to sow and reap an adequate harvest meant famine, so the apparently haphazard way the seed was tossed onto all kinds of unproductive soil was the tension in the story that is resolved by the abundant yield of some good soil. 

Our common humanity is bound together by our obligation to share food, without which millions of members of the family cannot survive.  Our brothers and sisters in the Sudan and in Somalia are now being ravaged by famine and political instability. They cry out to God, but the answer to their prayers involves us, who have more than enough. This crisis is our chance to ask Joachim and Anne to intercede, for grandparents are always alert to hungry children. 

St. James, Apostle

"We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us" (2 Cor 4:7).

The lives of the Apostles after the resurrection are lost to history but rich in legends and stories.  St. James, honored today, was one of the Zebedee brothers, fishermen and firebrands (dubbed the "Sons of Thunder"). Their father gave them up to follow Jesus, but their mother pursued Jesus to gain them key posts in the kingdom. James "the Greater" to distinguish him from another apostle named James, was said to have spread the gospel as far as Spain, where his shrine is a destination for walking pilgrims. 

St. Paul, in today's first reading, gives us a glimpse into the hardships faced by an apostle, "afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not given to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. What made them apostles was sharing in the sufferings of Christ, so as to experience the life of his resurrection, already evident in their faith.  

Paul says poignantly that they were only earthen vessels carrying a treasure -- Jesus Christ, dwelling in them and acting through them. Their apostolic mission was to spread this same pattern of dying and rising with Christ as the way of life all baptized Christians are invited to imitate. 

When James and John were presented to Jesus by their mother as worthy of places at his right and left in glory, Jesus replied, "You don't know what you are asking."  They were slow to understand that the journey ahead would end in glory, but by way of the cross. These two brothers would in fact be favored by Jesus, who invited them with Peter to witness the Transfiguration and to join him as he prayed on the Garden of Gethsemani the night before he died. But, like all the other apostles, they would learn only by crisis and conversion the deeper meaning of their vocations. 

We honor James by imitating him. We, too, are earthen vessels carrying the treasure of Christ. We will know Jesus more and more by conforming our lives to the pattern of his suffering and death in order to know the power of his resurrection. 
 

Don't Be Afraid

"Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today" (Exodus 14:16).

The dramatic rescue by God of the Hebrews fleeing the Egyptian army was the founding event of a group of slaves who became a nation. The memory of that liberation became the basis for their Covenant with God and the annual liturgical celebration of Passover. The Hebrews were God's people because God chose them from other nations and called them out of Egypt.  

The memory was woven into the Bible as a theme of God's trustworthiness. When your backs are to the wall and there is no way out, a way will open before you. Don't be afraid, stand your ground, then go forward, for God will be with you. 

Jesus relied on this assurance throughout his ministry. Even as his enemies surrounded and closed in on him, he trusted that his Abba would show him the way forward. Even when it seemed clear that his obedience would take him to the cross, he trusted that his death would lead to victory. 

The words,"Don't be afraid," are repeated often by Jesus. He knew that fear can drain us of confidence, cause us to shrink from the challenge or become paralyzed when we need to act. When he sensed that someone was faltering in their faith, Jesus said, "Fear is useless."  We have the phrase, "He who hesitates is lost." Some are defeated even before the real challenge appears, and if they had only acted decisively, they would have succeeded. 

Seeking signs or proof before we trust God is one way of hesitating. Grace comes in the form of insight and courage when the moment is right. If we miss the moment by insisting on some condition or miracle, the grace is lost. Timing is everything. 

One of the great Marian prayers to sustain believers in times of fear and doubt is the "Memorare," Latin for the first word to "remember". "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided."  

"Never was it known." "Never."  Whatever the outcome, we can trust that Mary accompanies us through a crisis, representing God's absolute promise to guide and protect us on the journey of life. As Jesus reassured and modeled for us, even suffering and loss become part of the grace of the moment, and the outcome will always reveal the will of God. 

The Patience of God

"Though you are master of might, you judge with clemency and with much leniency you govern us" (Wisdom 12:16).

The patience of God is a mystery to those of us who want results. In three parables, Jesus confounds his own disciples and the early church so eager to show success at any cost.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds was an accurate picture of the frustrations of trying to make community with imperfect people. As in any conflict of views or practice, one group wanted to kick the other group out. Jesus compares them to a farm in which some are eager to weed out the bad and save the good, but the two seem difficult to distinguish and hopelessly intertwined.

The patient owner insists on letting the crops mature side by side until harvest, when judgment can separate them. Exclusion is a familiar temptation. What parish or ministry couldn't be made more efficient with discipline and order, but often the people most eager to weed out the garden are selective in their zeal.  It also becomes clearer to the wise that coexistence and charity are the real harvest God looks for, not success. Charisms are mixed in with the chaos of competing interests and the inefficiencies of collaboration. 

The parable of the mustard seed and leaven likewise held hidden lessons that stretched the early communities.  A farmer who let mustard seed escape his herb garden into his fields was inviting a takeover by the sturdy bushes that spread like kudzu and attracted crows, no friend to a cash crop. The parable of the leaven was about abundant bread but also about the mysterious power of a woman to introduce a dark and mysterious enzyme into the community with pervasive power. These nuances were essential to a gospel intended to grow a church filled with diversity and dynamism, a revolution of attitude and energy that would expand like new wine in the skins of old traditions.   

Jesus told stories that continue to infiltrate and even subvert an organization that prizes conformity over creative dissent, in which some think patriarchy can be preserved by refusing to discuss female leadership, or who believe that Communion should be a reward for obedience instead of medicine for the weak. Jesus, who ate and drank with sinners, preached openness, process and unconditional love. 

The revelation that is postponed for us while we think of ourselves as wise, just and in charge is this: Only when we need mercy, our second chance, will we understand the Good News of Jesus.  When we arrive at the gates late and without excuse or merit, our lives more weed than wheat, only then will we rejoice that God is patient and forgiving. 

Jesus' parables are good news for failures, the poor, hungry, lost sinners like us.  The divine Sower will waste three quarters of his broadcast on rocky, thorny, bird scavenged ground in order to find even a small patch of good soil in our lives. It is the poor day laborer who finds a treasure in the field. The woman toiling in her kitchen multiplies bread for the hungry with her feminine genius. The lost sheep is rescued and carried home, the birds of the air deserve branches for shade and food for their young. Sinners sit down at table with Jesus, and he makes them lovable with his love.  Don't we long to belong to this church?  

How blessed are we that we are not in charge of the universe, or the church or that all our prayers are not answered. God's patience rules and, even when we feel frustrated, we are the beneficiaries of this amazing grace. 

Passover from Law to Love

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Matt 12:7).

The Law of Moses on observance of the Sabbath had become an absolute rule regardless of circumstances. The Pharisees, always looking to find fault with Jesus, accused his disciples of breaking the sabbath by "harvesting" handfuls of grain to eat as they passed through a field.  Jesus cited an incident where David defended his soldiers for eating the bread of sacrifice when hungry.  His disciples were only applying the same standard. 

The controversy was still being played out when Matthew wrote his Gospel, with Jewish critics accusing Jesus of having been a lawbreaker. The point for Jesus and later for Matthew was that something new had happened. The Son of Man gave priority to human need over legal or ritual observance. The old way was one of sacrifice; the new way was one of mercy. 

The precedence of mercy arrives very slowly in biblical history. The first reading about the Passover meal and the blood of the lamb smeared on the door posts to indicate which houses would be spared when the angel passed over Egypt, was part of a larger story of divine revenge. As pharaoh had ordered the killing of every firstborn Hebrew,male, so God would inflict the same penalty on Egypt. Israel's departure from Egypt after increasingly destructive plagues and the despoiling of Egyptian treasure would include the drowning of pharaoh's entire army. It was a contest of power, and the Hebrew God would show prove to be absolute.

The revolution at the heart of the Gospel was that Jesus proposed a different kind of God-- the God of mercy, a God who forgave offenses and loved his enemies. This evolving image of divine compassion was a challenge to established religion based on the power of the clergy to enforce the law. Jesus was recovering the long tradition of prophets like Elijah, Micah and Isaiah who had highlighted the mercy of God as preeminent. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."  The thunder of Mount Sinai was now the tiny whisper of Mount Horeb, or the voice from the heavens: "This is my beloved-- listen to him.."  Passover would find fulfillment in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, hanging on the cross. 

We all can make the journey from sacrifice to mercy, from law to love.  Discipleship leads to an encounter with the God of Jesus, His heavenly Abba is the measure of perfection we grow toward by the gift to grace, the One whose name is Mercy. 

 

Weary and Burdened

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:30).

I have been reading "All the Way to Heaven: the Letters of Dorothy Day." Much in the news these days after Pope Francis mentioned her during his speech to the US Congress as an example of an outstanding American Catholic, Day is also under consideration for canonization for her service to the poor and advocacy for peace. 

Day's letters reveal a long and full life of passionate engagement in issue of justice, first as a journalist and then as the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and first editor of its newspaper. They also show a woman devoted to her daughter and immersed in the full range of challenges as a parent and grandparent. She tried to balance this with her many roles serving the homeless and hungry ot Depression-era New York City and her life as a writer, speaker and protestor for worker rights, the rejection of all war, and as a witness to radical Christianity.

If any contemporary figure fits Jesus' invitation to the weary and burdened, it would be Day, who died at age 83 in 1980 of congestive heart failure after a life emptying herself into the needs of others. 

The title of her collection of letters is part of the longer phrase "All the way to heaven is heaven," which captures the truth that it is the destination of your life that give meaning to the journey. Day's focus on God meant that her days were filled with God, in her devotion to prayer and the sacraments and in her encounters with people in need.  Even when exhausted physically and emotionally and weighed down by criticism and apparent failure, Day never lost her confidence that she was in harness with Jesus, who promises every disciple that the yoke we share with him will lighten our burdens and bring joy to our service. 

Time and Eternity

"The place where you stand is holy ground" (:Exod 3:6).

One way to enter the story of the burning bush is to imagine that Moses, who exists in time, encounters God, whose all encompassing Being is absolute and timeless.  The burning bush is the interface between history and eternity.. The bush is on fire but not consumed because it is happening in a timeless moment-- the eternal Now in which God us revealed as I AM.  Everything that exists, including the bush, the mountain, Moses, the land of Midian, Egypt, the entire universe, is dependent on I AM. 

The first act of God's mercy is to make possible this encounter. The heart of history is God's decision to create a world in which a relationship between Creator and creature could occur. Moses will be known a personal friend of I AM, and his many encounters with God will give his face a glow, for he will burn with intimacy with God but not be consumed. He is a living interface between time and eternity that channels the giving of the Law, God's will for the universe. 

Other prophets will approach God in similar but limited ways.  Elijah will see God from behind-- after the fact-- as the divine Present passes the cave on the mountain. Ezekiel and Daniel will describe theophanies with images of fire and wheels turning within wheels, or countless heavenly beings massed around the Throne in awe.  But all of this is to prepare us for the most direct revelation of all. 

Jesus appears in history in such a way that God is hidden in plain sight.  The face of Jesus is so ordinary, so perfectly human, that the world does not recognize the image and likeness of God where it has always resided-- in a human being. The visible face of Jesus is the encounter with  the invisible face of God. Jesus is on fire with the Love of God, and people, especially the poor. the vulnerable, the humble are drawn irresistibly to him in the way that Moses was drawn to the burning bush.  It is here that Moses receives his call and the assurance that he will be able to fulfill it because God will be with him. 

In todays gospel passage, Jesus thanks his Abba for revealing to little ones the mysteries hidden from the wise and the learned.  We pray to be among these little ones, the pure of heart who see God. For the goal or all prayer and every spirituality is to be able to see the image and likeness of God everywhere and in all things.  
 

The Cry of the Poor"

"In your great kindness answer me" (Psalm 69).

The story of Moses is the beginning of the story of the rescue of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. The God who brought Israel's children there under Joseph is about to make them into the Chosen People with the founding event of the Exodus.  
If there is a discernible motive for God's choice of the Hebrews, it is expressed in the revelation Yahweh makes to Moses from the burning bush.  He has heard the cry of his people, so God will act, for Compassion is God's essence, the divine name. 

The genius of the scriptural account is seen in the early, preemptory expression of this motive as the key to the story. When pharaoh orders the destruction of all male Hebrew babies, the unnamed mother of Moses places him in a floating basket in the Nile for pharaoh's daughter to find. When she sees the crying child, she is moved with pity for him and arranges to adopt him as her own.  

A birth mother's compassion refuses to surrender her child. An adoptive mother's compassion rescues him and takes him into the royal household.  Both women are moved to pity and reject the official policy of infanticide to protect the regime that fears an uprising by its enslaved workforce.  Their compassion lays the foundation for the story of God's decision to save his people from slavery. The founding memory of the nation of Israel will be that God heard the cry of the poor and called his children out of Egypt. 

This principle will also be the heart of the covenant God forms with Israel, the core of the Law and the Constitution that constantly reminded them that as God treated them so they were to treat others.  God showed compassion on you when you were slaves, alien residents, refugees wandering in the desert, so you must show compassion to others.  The failure to care for the poor, widows and alien residents was an affront to God and a failure to live up to your identity as a people chosen by God and rescued from suffering. Other nations will know that you are the People of God if you hear the cry of the poor. 

Is this not also our identity?  Isn't his how God will recognize us as disciples of Jesus?  Have we heard and been moved to pity by the cry of the poor?  Then we are part of the story.  

Total Commitment

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will lose it" (Matt 10:38).

Discipleship is about a relationship with the Risen Christ that is total. By baptism we enter an intimate union with him that encompasses our entire lives, entering our human experience in all its aspects. Our joys and sufferings help us grow to maturity, but grace takes these moments and prepares us to transcend this life as we are bridged in Christ to our divine identity as children of God. 

Jesus made clear to his disciples that their new identity was deeper and more significant than even their blood ties to family or loyalty to tribe and culture. Once united with Christ, we are where he is, doing what he is doing, guided by his mind and Spirit. This is evident in his promise that anyone who receives us will be receiving him. Even a cup of water given to one of his disciples will be regarded as an act of kindness to him

Matthew will extend this identity in a special way to the poor. Whoever gives them food or drink, clothing or comfort will be caring for the risen Christ. HIs mission moves through the disciples into everyone they serve. The unity of Christ with the members of his body in the world is a sign of the ongoing extension of the transforming power og God's grace reclaiming the world.  No small act will be forgotten. 

The challenge of faith is to keep a lively sense of this mysterious and not always evident activity of Christ in our everyday lives. We may feel ordinary and small, but God's redemptive work never ceases where it finds a believer. The life we lose in the service of Christ is the life we will find in him for all eternity. 

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