20 September 2021

Like St. Matthew

 Solemnity of St. Matthew

    Probably we take for granted that each church building is named after a saint, or after a mystery of our Lord’s life.  As we look around Genesee County we think of churches and parishes and immediately go to the name of the holy one or holy ones associated with it: St. Pius X, St. John Vianney, Holy Redeemer, Sts. Charles and Helena, etc.  But have you ever stopped to think why we do this?  
    Naming churches is not simply to distinguish one church from another, though that is helpful.  As a young child (some may still think I’m a young child), I was confused for a bit that every town had a First Baptist Church.  How could every town have the first one?  But we name our churches to put that church and the people who enter it, the people of the parish, under the patronage or protection of that mystery of our Lord’s life or that saint.  So we gather to worship God under the protection and with the assistance and intercession of St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist.  He is, in the apse of the church (the rounded part of the sanctuary), looking down at us each time we gather, and looking out at us through the statue at the high altar.  
    We also talk about patron saints.  Certain saints are associated with certain professions or hobbies, and their intercession is sought for those particular needs.  St. Matthew is the patron saint of accountants, bankers, bookkeepers, security guards, and stockbrokers.  The money aspect makes perfect sense because St. Matthew was a tax collector, which was at best as popular then as it is now, perhaps even less popular because St. Matthew collected taxes for a foreign, occupying power.  
    But we also look to our patron saints to inspire us to live like they did.  We are not to “ape” them, just doing everything that he did (collect taxes, move to Israel, write a long story about Jesus’ life, Death, and Resurrection, etc.), but we are to live in our own day in our own vocation following the pattern that St. Matthew set out for us.  And it is on that aspect of our heavenly patron that I want to focus today.
    In our Gospel today we heard Jesus call St. Matthew to follow Him, and St. Matthew did just that.  He abandoned his profession, held a banquet for Christ and his disciples, and then abandoned everything to follow our Lord.  For most of you (but perhaps not all), Christ is not asking you to quit your job.  But He does desire that we make Him the most important thing in our life.  And that is something that we can all do.  Today our Lord is inviting us to follow Him; to put in second (or third or fourth) place the things that usually vex our mind, and to focus on Christ.  
    Notice that our Savior does not call St. Matthew because of Matthew’s perfections.  We don’t know anything about St. Matthew’s moral life explicitly, but if other tax collectors and sinners came to his house for dinner, there was likely some affinity with those who sinned.  Matthew didn’t have it all together, and our Lord didn’t make that a prerequisite for following Him.  All Christ required was a willingness to do what He said.  
    And if we want to be saints, Christ calls us to do the same, under the patronage of St. Matthew.  Christ is not calling us to follow Him because we are perfect.  If Christ waited for our perfection in order to call us, He would be waiting for an eternity.  But He calls us and comes to us because He came “‘to call [not] the righteous but sinners.’”  He wants to heal us as the Divine Physician of any wounds or sicknesses that afflict our hearts.  He knows we need Him, and He hopes that we, like St. Matthew, can recognize that and follow Jesus’ call.
    But following St. Matthew doesn’t stop at simply following our Lord, just as St. Matthew didn’t just follow Him until the crucifixion.  After the Resurrection and Pentecost, St. Matthew went, by tradition, to Persia and Ethiopia.  Having been transformed by Christ’s healing love, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, St. Matthew could not help but share that Good News, the Gospel, with others.  He did so in writing in his account of the Gospel, written especially to a Jewish-Christian community, and by word of mouth in foreign lands.
    Again, we are not to ape St. Matthew.  I’m not telling you to go to Iran (modern-day Persia) or Ethiopia, though you are most welcome to do that if God is calling you to do so.  But right here in Genesee County, right here in Flint, are people who need to hear the Gospel.  In writing and by our speech, St. Matthew should inspire us to share the Good News with others, and not to keep it to ourselves like a lamp under a bushel basket.  
    I am new here, and so far only a small part of St. Matthew’s long, proud history.  I have heard from parishioners about times when the church would be filled, or at least be fuller than it is today.  And I know people want that again.  We may not ever have a high school again, but we want to have families so that we could.  We would love to have more Masses here like in days gone by, needed simply to accommodate all the people who seek God’s salvation in this church through the intercession of St. Matthew.  It is not impossible.  It’s not even improbable.  But it will take each of us becoming an evangelist, each of us becoming a sharer of the Good News of Christ.  There are so many people who need it, and the beauty of this amazing church draws people to our Triune God who is Beauty Himself.  But they will never get here if we don’t invite them.  And I’m not talking simply about stealing other Catholics from other parishes.  I’m talking about reaching out to those who are not Catholic, those who may be connected to Christ through baptism but who do not have the fullness of God’s revelation which is present in the Catholic Church.  Or even those who are ignorant of God and His ways, those who are unbaptized.  If we really believe that God is such an important part of life, then we are required, as an act of charity, to share it with them!  They may accept or reject it, but at least we have done our part to make sure they know it.
    When was the last time you invited a fellow Catholic and especially a non-Catholic to come to church with you?  Sometimes it takes just one time of entering a gorgeous church like this and hearing the Gospel for the heart to be moved to convert one’s life.  True, only Catholics can receive Holy Communion, but let the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood be the goal that the visitor desires and which draws them to convert their life and join the Catholic Church.  
    Today we ask St. Matthew, not only to intercede for us with God to make us saints, which is very important, but also to help us spread the Gospel.  If we truly want to be sons and daughters of so great an intercessor, if we truly want to call ourselves members of St. Matthew, then may our lives demonstrate that same zeal that St. Matthew had.  Today, let us recommit ourselves to inviting a friend to come to church with us, and sharing with them the Gospel, so that more and more may hear and obey the invitation of Christ to follow Him.

13 September 2021

Adjusting Our Seating Chart

 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  I saw a meme on Facebook that said something to the effect of: When I was 18, my father didn’t know anything.  When I turned 30, I was surprised to see how much he had learned in twelve years.  I later learned that this was based upon a quote by Mark Twain, who said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”  No matter how you say it, they are both very clear examples of the hubris of youth.
    Today our Lord talks about humility in the Gospel.  He teaches us that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted, using the example of a seating chart at a wedding.  Pride is one of the most ancient sins.  In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas says that Original Sin is truly a sin of pride, since Eve (and then Adam) seek to take the place of God and have what God told them they did not need.
    And how familiar is it that we feel we know everything when we are young!?  I remember in college seminary feeling like my classmates and I had the answers to all the Church’s problems.  I think I still felt that way in Major Seminary, and probably even in the first year or so of my priesthood.  The passage of time, the (hopeful) gaining of wisdom, and the increased responsibilities of being a pastor have tempered my own youthful hubris.  
    But pride does not necessarily cease as one takes more and more trips around the sun.  Pride is the temptation lurking like a roaring lion in the grass throughout our life, against which we need to be on guard.  
    Pride is the elevation of our self above others, up to and including God.  We end up making ourselves a false god, the one who determines all things, or around whom the universe needs to rotate.  Again, going back to Adam and Eve, they wanted to know good and evil even though God had told them they did not need to.  St. Thomas Aquinas calls this a coveting of a spiritual good above measure.  Satan’s own words tells Eve that she will be as God.  And into this temptation first Eve, and then Adam, fall.  
    In the parable of the wedding, the person is seeking the higher place, the place of greater honor, which is exactly the sin of pride.  The person, and how many times does this apply to us, thinks he is better than he truly is.  In response to this, our Lord invites the person to take the lower seat, so that, should that person be worthy of higher honors, another will recognize it.  Now, this isn’t some backwards way of achieving the goal of looking better than everyone else.  If we treat it that way, then we’re still falling into pride.
    Instead, our Lord invites us to humility, to think not that we are better or more worthy of honors than others.  Humility is not undervaluing ourselves, but valuing ourselves rightly.  We talk about false humility when we talk about not recognizing gifts or talents that we have.  Indeed, Christ condemns not using our talents and investing them in another parable.  But humility gives an estimation which is accurate, not inflated or deflated.  
    It is so easy to overvalue ourselves, or even to undervalue ourselves.  But if we had to choose the most likely, it is probably overvaluing ourselves.  We live in a world where the ego rules supreme.  I am always right.  My wishes and desires are the most important.  You need to agree with me.  We see this in our inability to dialogue with others, whether on a local or even a national and international scale.  If someone questions our point of view (whether it be our opinion or based upon facts we know), we immediately write that person off and no longer have anything to do with them.  We see it in school systems which no longer provide a wide-education of many disciplines (what we have called liberal arts), but where we only teach one thing to people, and that’s what they want to do.  Unfortunately, so many feel that if they are experts in one area of life, then they are experts in many or even all areas of life.  
    I have seen this happen first hand in the parishes in which I have served.  Every city where I have served as been the home to a university of college.  And there are people who are much smarter than I am when it comes to non-theological disciplines.  But those same people sometimes think that they are experts in the faith, when they haven’t actually studied the faith beyond a few articles from their favorite religious magazine each month.  
    And I can even struggle to avoid those same temptations from seminary days, to think that I know best how to run things on a diocesan, national, or even worldwide level.  Certainly, I have studied the faith.  And even as someone who has been pastor I have gained some very practical experience.  But I am not qualified to second-guess decisions that include information to which I am not privileged, nor do I have the charism to lead a local, national, or international church that is given to bishops at their ordination.  Does this mean that bishops always make the best decisions?  No, and good bishops, like our own, will admit that they make decisions based upon their own experience and the information that they have at the time.  We can certainly dialogue (either externally or internally) about whether or not we think that decision was wise and/or prudent.  But how often do we immediately jump to the conclusion that we know best and Bishop So-and-so or the Pope is automatically wrong?  We’re taking the head of the table at the wedding party, and it’s very likely that we’re going to get moved back a seat or 5.  We are exalting ourself, and so we will be humbled.  
Bishop Carl Mengeling
    Bishop Mengeling, our bishop emeritus, has said a few times that humility is a virtue that often requires others to help us.  Those are our humiliators (in a good way).  They remind us that we are not always right, and that we are not God or the best at everything we do.  They are the equivalent of the slave riding in the chariot of the great Roman general in his triumph through the streets of Rome whispering, “Memento mori,” “Remember you will die.”  Generally, we do need to go looking for our humiliators; they usually make themselves known.  In case you’re wondering, I have mine, and I’m pretty sure I don’t need any more, though I know I always have people ready to step in in case I short a humiliator or two.  
    But we shouldn’t be afraid of being humbled, as it helps us grow in holiness.  And as we are humbled, God looks upon us in love, and exalts us in His way, which, more often than not, is not the way we would be exalted.  Still, stay humble; don’t seek the place of honor or to put yourselves above others.  Humble yourself, that God the Father may raise you on high, where with the Son and the Holy Spirit, He reigns for ever and ever.  Amen. 

Saints Like Us

 Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
 

St. Teresa of Calcutta
   In 2006 when I was studying in Rome on a study abroad, I was required to work with the Missionaries of Charity, the order that St. Teresa of Calcutta founded, each month at a shelter where they fed the hungry and housed the homeless.  Before we started to work with them, though, a priest from Minnesota, who was our chaplain for the study abroad program, who had worked with Mother Teresa, told us about her.  Most of what I heard was not surprising: her love for the poor, her encounter with Jesus who told her, “I thirst,” and how she was to quench Jesus’ thirst through her care for the poorest of the poor.  But he also mentioned that, for most of her adult life, she didn’t receive any good feelings in prayer, what we call consolations.  This was a huge shock for me!  How could someone so holy not feel good about praying!  Not long after my study abroad, a book came out called Come, Be My Light, which detailed how Mother Teresa, after her encounter with Jesus to found the Missionaries of Charity, rarely had any experience that God was even present, let alone good feelings in prayer.
    When we think of the saints, we often think of the finished product.  We think of the incredible stories that are told of the saints doing marvelous things.  We often gloss over the struggles and the ups and downs that they had in their life, even while trying to be a saint.  But throughout the Scriptures, and throughout the stories of the saints, we see people who were very much like we are, prone to the same temptations, who, the vast majority of the time, chose God over self, but who, nonetheless, sometimes struggled.
    Our Gospel today is the perfect example of the similarity of the saints to us.  We hear St. Mark’s version of the commission of St. Peter to be the first pope.  We have heard the story before: Jesus asks His Apostles who others say that He is, and they give the common understanding at the time.  Some say that Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead.  Others say that Jesus is Elijah, or another one of the prophets.  But then Jesus puts the question to them, and St. Peter, not on his own, but by the grace of God, proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, in Aramaic he would have said something like messhichah, in English we say Messiah.  Matthew’s account is the one with which we are more familiar, and fills out that, after that proclamation, Jesus tells Peter that Jesus will build His Church on Peter, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, and gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is the great moment that we are used to encountering with the saints!  
    But then, Jesus tells the Apostles that He will suffer, be rejected, and be killed, but then rise on the third day.  St. Peter takes Jesus aside to tell him that this is not what should happen.  Jesus gathers all the Apostles, and rebukes Peter in the midst of them, and calls Peter, the one upon whom Jesus had just said He will build His Church, Satan.  This is not the image of our first pope upon which we like to dwell, or that we are used to sharing with others.  But St. Mark (like St. Matthew) does not hide it, or make Peter seem better than he is.  In fact, by ancient tradition, St. Peter helped St. Mark compose this account of the Gospel, so St. Peter doesn’t even hide his failure.
    The saints were people just like ourselves.  It would be easy to think of them as people who had superpowers, like the Avengers, because we do hear many amazing stories of how they witnessed their faith in word and deed.  But superheroes are easy to honor, but easy to write-off, because they are not like us.  I can excuse myself for not doing the things Captain America does because I didn’t get an injection that increased my muscle mass (despite my hopes that the COVID vaccine would do exactly that!).  I don’t worry about not doing what Captain America does because he and I are so different.
    But the saints are not different than we are.  They are exactly the same, except they end up responding to God’s grace, whereas we often reject those same graces.  But still, they don’t have any super-human advantages that we don’t have.  They are exactly like us.  They, though, did what Jesus said: they denied themselves, took up their crosses, and followed Jesus, in a myriad of different ways.  Some, like St. Boniface, were great missionaries.  Some, like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, taught in schools and founded religious orders.  Some, like Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, quietly helped the poor.  Some, like Sts. Louis and Zelie, the parents of St. Thérèse, became saints as parents.  And the list goes on and on.  They had some different challenges, based upon the times in which they lived, but they had the same kinds of temptations that we have.
Sts. Louis & Zelie
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
    

Living as a saint always takes work; it doesn’t happen through osmosis or simply by letting each day pass by as normal.  To be a saint means that we “set [our] face like flint” to the challenges that approach us each day, “knowing that we shall not be put to shame,” as we heard in our first reading.  When we choose to follow God, we choose to take up our cross, our death, but God sustains us, and will always raise us up to new life; He will never abandon us, even if the whole world does.  But it’s possible, and the saints show us, through their ups and downs. that if we follow Christ, even if we do not do it perfectly (as St. Peter didn’t do it perfectly), if we remain faithful to God and do everything we can to follow Him, then we can be the saints that we are all called to be, just like St. Peter and St. Teresa of Calcutta. 

05 September 2021

Foreshadowing

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  If today’s Gospel were a work of secular literature, we would talk about this passage as a great example of foreshadowing.  Think about it: a son had died, the only child of his mother, who was a widow.  If that doesn’t describe Jesus and Mary at the crucifixion, then you haven’t payed enough attention to the passion narratives.  I can’t help but think that our Lord’s own Passion was on His mind as He came upon this scene, and how it tugged at His Sacred Heart.  The resurrection of this boy is a great act of mercy for a woman who would be in a similar position as the Blessed Mother some time later. 
    But our Lord has the same desire for us, even if we are not a widow or if we have not lost a child.  The Lord desires to raise us up with Him, to raise us to new life, not just a second chance at life on this earth, but a chance at life in a world that will never end, where there is no sorrow, no weeping nor pain, but the fulness of life as we contemplate God for all eternity and worship Him in heaven.  And all of the rituals and practices that the Church has, some, like the Sacraments, given to us directly by our Lord, and others, like sacramentals and devotions, given to us through the Church, are ways that the Lord raises us to new life.

    Think about Baptism, the first Sacrament which opens to the door to the rest of the sacramental life of the Church.  As the water is poured over our heads, we die with Christ, so that we can be raised up with Him.  The old man (to use a Pauline term), Adam, is put to death so that the new man, Jesus, can live in us.  And as Christ lives in us, it is meant to configure us more and more each day to be more like Him, each in our own vocations and avocations.  In fact, this is the way that we rise to new life with Christ: we make His life our own more and more, doing the things that our Lord would do as we go through our day, and putting behind us things that our Lord wouldn’t do. 
    When we don’t quite live that our perfectly, Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance to raise us from the squalor that we have let infect our souls through sin.  St. Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death, and so, as we take upon ourselves death through our sinful actions which we freely choose, we need to be raised to new life, which is done through confessing our sins, being truly sorry for them, having a firm purpose of amendment to not sin again, and receiving absolution from a priest.  In that moment, we are raised from the dead.
    Likewise, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Sacraments, allows our Lord to enter into us.  We are, quite literally, consuming life Himself, which helps us to live that life of Christ each day.  That is why saints, like St. Pius X, recommended frequent reception of Holy Communion (assuming that we are in a state of grace): so that we can more and more receive life, which casts out death.  Without the Eucharist, it is impossible to live the life that Christ desires for us as Catholics, which is why it is so painful when Catholics fall away from the faith, even if they attend other ecclesial communities.  They are depriving themselves of opportunities to receive within themselves, in the closest and best way possible on this side of eternity, eternal life which is given to us through Christ’s Body and Blood.
    But we, too, are called to participate in Christ’s action of raising others from the dead.  We can do this, as St. Paul mentioned in the epistle today, through helping others to know and choose the good, doing so gently, and bearing one another’s burdens.  Fraternal correction and encouraging others to live as our Lord desires is often difficult, because we can seem to be boasting or taking a position of superiority to others (even if we don’t intend that, it can often be perceived that way).  One of the best ways to avoid this is to help others know that we are not perfect ourselves, and that we will help them.  Our Lord condemned the Pharisees for imposing burdens on others, but not lifting a finger to help them.  Let that never be said of us as we seek to help others live a Catholic life!
    But raising others to new life also extends to those who are not Catholic, who are not part of the “family of faith.”  Raising up Catholic children is one wonderful way of spreading the faith, but here in our beloved City of Flint and in Genesee County, there are literally thousands of people who do not know Christ, and who are caught up in works of death.  Homicides are up 50% in the City of Flint from last year to this year.  And one of the many ways to curb that horrible statistic is to spread the Good News about Christ, to be evangelists.  Because people who love Jesus don’t kill other people, don’t take the law into their own hands in violent acts of revenge, don’t sell illegal drugs.  If we truly wish to see change in our city and county, then we have to share with others the life that we have received. 
    Again, it is important not to be sanctimonious in our approach, or even to be perceived this way.  Yes, we have “the way, the truth, and the life,” in our Lord.  But we are working with and walking with others on the path to daily increase in holiness, rather than standing above others.  But the key is that we are, in fact, inviting others to the new life that Christ desires for all mankind.  It can be done through a kind word, through a warm smile, through a cup of water given to a person in need, all the while sharing not just the word, the smile, or the water, but also the reason why we are doing it: to share the new life of our Lord and help raise people from death. 
    We may not seem to be doing much.  Our efforts may not seem to be effective or making any real difference.  But, I would suggest we look at St. Dominic as our model.  While the Order of Preachers was still very young and very small, only with a few friars, and the nuns praying for their success, St. Dominic sent the few out friars to the major universities of Europe to share the Gospel.  What started off small, and often times was not received well (even by local bishops!), soon became a large community that continues to spread the Gospel to this day.  The Lord is inviting us to sustain our own new life in Him, but also to spread that new life to others.  Can we look upon our brothers and sisters who are dying and dead, and not feel pity for them as did our Lord with the son of the widow of Nain?  Will we walk past as the spiritual funerals of so many pass us by?  May we instead share the new life that we have received of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Gollum

 Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gollum (aka Smeagol)
    Many of you know how much I love the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy.  And in the Trilogy there is an intriguing character named Gollum (also called Smeagol).  When he was younger he went by the name Smeagol, and he was one of the river folk, not unlike a hobbit.  But then he killed his brother, who had found the Ring of Power (an evil talisman), and then was banished to live on his own.  During this exile, he used the name Gollum, reflecting his change from a good-hearted lad to a man closed in on his desire for the Ring.  Eventually Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, takes the ring from him, which he later gives to his nephew, Frodo.  Gollum, still closed in on his desire for the Ring, which he treasures above all things, seeks out Frodo to take the Ring back.
    J.R.R. Tolkien, the author, was a man throughly surrounded by his Catholic faith.  And so you see signs of the Catholicism throughout his work, and the screen adaptations that followed much later.  The Ring, as something evil, can be seen as a cross, as Frodo, who is one Christ-figure, carries it to Mount Doom.  Gollum can easily be understood as what happens when one closes oneself in on evil desires and on oneself.  
    I bring this up because in our Gospel today, Jesus cures a deaf man with a speech impediment.  Imagine being deaf and mute during the time of Jesus: it was a life in many ways, closed in on oneself, not because of sin, but because of the lack of ability to communicate in any great way with the outside world.  Indeed, it is the man’s friends who bring him to Jesus.  And Jesus, to heal him, says to the man, “‘Be opened!’”  Jesus opens this man up to new life, especially physically, as his ears are opened and his speech impediment removed, but even interiorly, to the life of grace.  
    God wants us to be open to His grace and His life which He desires would flow through us like a spring of water.  The life of grace irrigates the desert of life that is ours when we are closed in on ourselves and our desire for sin.  Grace makes us more alive, and allows us to interact with the world in new and spectacular ways.
    Tolkien depicts this in the person of Gollum.  As Gollum tries to steal the Ring, Frodo catches him, and slowly wins Gollum’s trust, even calling him by his old name, Smeagol.  As this happens, Smeagol is re-created, and becomes not a wretched, hacking despicable creature, but a joyful, fun, and even serving individual.  Even Frodo’s choice of a new name, really the original name, is a return to Smeagol’s original youth and innocence, before he was corrupted by the evil Ring and turned in on himself.  Frodo, again, a Christ-figure, is the one who frees Smeagol from his past darkness and restores him to the light.
    Sin turns us toward ourselves and away from God.  While we have a specific sin of selfishness, every sin is selfish.  Love is selfless, and so as we serve God we become less concerned about ourselves and more concerned about others.  Sin, which is opposed to God, is therefore opposed to love of others and cares only for the self, which makes one a shadow of how God created us, and exiles us from God, from others, and even from our true self.  Think about any sin, and you can see the effects of selfishness in it.  Greed is fairly obvious, and we care more for money than God; pride is where we care more for ourselves than for God and others; hatred is where we are more concerned with our injuries caused by others and getting back at them (thus, making us feel good because we got our revenge), rather than being concerned about forgiving the others; lust seeks to use the other person for our own sexual desires and pleasure, whether that person physically close to us or on a screen.  Even smaller sins like gossip are about making sure that we are in control of a narrative, or even that we attempt to make ourselves look better by putting others down.  In all those sins and more, we are closed in on ourselves rather than being open, first and foremost to God, and then also to the people He loves, our fellow human beings.
    Jesus wants to open us up.  He desires a fuller life for us than we can provide when we only concentrate on ourselves.  But the choice to accept God’s grace to open rests with us.  God’s grace always does the first and most important work, but our response is also part of the process.  We have to come to God, or our friends need to bring us to Him.  
    But Smeagol also serves as a good warning, that this process of being opened to God is not a once-for-all event; the choice to allow God to open us is a choice we need to make every day.  Smeagol, who later (wrongly) feels betrayed by Frodo, reverts to his old self.  He turns back in on himself and on his desire for the evil Ring consumes him again, eventually leading to his demise.  So for us, each day we have the choice to open ourselves to God or not; to be a desert and burning sands, or a stream and spring of water.  Ephphatha!  Be opened!

30 August 2021

Like Fr. Mulcahy

 Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  One of my favorite TV characters, for reasons you might guess, is Fr. Francis Mulcahy from the TV show “M*A*S*H.”  As the seasons progress, they really develop his character into a leading role in the show.  He often is known for his dry humor and his witty one-liners.  But one of my favorite episodes with Fr. Mulcahy is when a soldier who is AWOL (absent without leave) decides to claim sanctuary in the mess tent, which is serving as the chapel.  Though other, higher-ranking officers, the Judge Advocate General corps (think military lawyers), and even the head chaplain of the Army all say that the protection of sanctuary does not apply, Fr. Mulcahy is very serious about providing the soldier with the protection that is needed.  However, when the soldier, who is pressed in by the MPs (military police), grabs a rifle, Fr. Mulcahy is just as serious about rebuking the soldier for claiming sanctuary on the one hand, but then taking up arms in the same “house of God” on the other hand when things don’t seem to be going his way.  He bats away the rifle, almost on instinct, while scolding the soldier.  And then, when the soldier is visibly upset and penitent, Fr. Mulcahy is just as serious about comforting the soldier and getting him the help he needs.
    As Catholics, we could all learn a thing or two from Fr. Mulcahy; not just me as a priest and a chaplain for the State Police.  And I want to focus on his seriousness, because there are two things we should be very serious about: our sins and their effects on the one hand, and God’s mercy on the other.  
    St. Paul reminds us today that there are certain actions which are inconsistent with going to heaven: “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.”  Some of the English words don’t need an explanation.  But for a word like immorality, in Greek porneia, we could say any type of sexual activity outside of marriage (and this Greek word is the word from which we get the word pornography); impurity is also broad and has a sense of any physical act of lust; licentiousness has the meaning of an unbridled lust or excess of sexuality (no restrictions on sexual activity); the words that underline idolatry (false worship) and sorcery are fairly clear.  
    The word hatred is connected to the Greek word for enemy.  Rivalry can also mean strife or fighting.  Jealousy is pretty obvious, but fury could also be translated as rage or intense anger.  Acts of selfishness can also mean selfish ambition or selfish rivalry, and dissensions is about dividing.  Factions is connected to the word for heresies, which means a separate (and false) teaching.  The definitions for the rest seem fairly obvious.  
    In any case, St. Paul is clear that these types of behavior are not only opposed to the Holy Spirit, but “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  That’s very serious!  And so should we take them: seriously; we might even say “gravely.”  Some on that list are not surprising as keeping one out of heaven: sexual immorality and the like, outbursts of fury, drinking bouts, etc.  But others, perhaps like jealousy, envy, and even dissensions might not seem as serious.  And yet, if we take the Word of God as given to us by St. Paul seriously, then even those things can keep one from heaven.  
    And yet, we also have to be as serious about the mercy of God, not undermining the evil that can keep us out of heaven, but also not giving more power to sin than to God’s grace.  The Galatians included probably many people who, as pagans, had lived in such a way as St. Paul describes as contrary to the Spirit and part of the works of the flesh.  But they had turned away from such things, at least for a while.  The fact that St. Paul is writing to remind them about not living according to the flesh leads one to believe that at least some had fallen back into old habits, and they needed a little encouragement and admonition about living according to the Spirit.  God’s mercy is more powerful than our sins, and can restore us to a right relationship with Him, no matter what we have done.  
    But, we want to respond to the grace of God, which is the source of any good we do, and not try to serve two masters.  Our Lord talks about the choice between God and mammon, which means money or wealth.  But the choice of which master we serve can also go for any of the sins which St. Paul lists out.  If the master we serve is not God, then it makes sense why we would not go to heaven, because we would not want to go there.  If we prefer to indulge our illicit sexual appetites, or our passions, or even our own self-importance or the superiority of our intellectual positions, then we have made no room for God.  We should take seriously whom we wish to serve, because the small choices we make daily can determine our eternity.
    At the same time, we should take seriously God’s mercy, and his patience with us if we are trying to repent.  In times such as these, while it doesn’t excuse sexual immorality of any kind, sex is ubiquitous and it is very easy to get snared, sometimes even unwittingly at a young age.  Are we turning to the mercy of God, not presuming on it, but truly seeking to do better, doing our best to cooperate with God’s grace, and returning, sometimes even time-after-time, to the confessional?  Going to confession is our part in asking the Lord to re-establish Himself as the Master of our life.  That is why exorcists say that the best way to avoid demonic oppression or possession is to make regular confessions.  And we have a good amount of times here and at St. Pius X where the Sacrament of Penance is available.  As those times consistently fill-up, I can look to add other times.  
    But do not despair of God’s mercy, or take it lightly.  God desires our salvation, and, as as Jesus told us, He will seek us out like a lost lamb or a lost coin.  “God already proved His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, he died for us,” St. Paul writes.  There is no place God will not go to rescue us from our sinfulness.  So take courage and ask for God’s mercy.  Ask for God’s help to put to death the works of the flesh (which is impossible to do by ourselves) and to live, guided by the Holy Spirit.  When we call upon God in true sorrow for our sins, moved by God’s grace, we can have confidence that God will help us to live by the Spirit, who with the Father and the Son is God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

23 August 2021

Being Restored to Worship and Family

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  One of my professors at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit was Fr. Earl Muller, SJ.  Now, I know the Jesuits get a bad reputation, sometimes very much earned, but Fr. Muller, even with all his quirks, was a very faithful, orthodox professor.  I remember him preaching on this Gospel, and approaching the account in a way that I have never considered.  We usually dive right in to the fact that we should say thank you, and those other nine lepers who were healed were simply rude.  But Fr. Muller had us examine our Lord’s words.  What did He say?  “‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’”  That’s it.  Nothing more.  Never did Christ say, and then come back to me and say “thank you.”  In fact, the Samaritan doesn’t even make it to the priest, as our Lord commanded him, but runs back to Christ and thanks Him.  Yet, our Lord praises the Samaritan’s faith, and seemingly puts down the other nine. 
    As I first sat down to compose this homily, I immediately went to gratitude.  After all, the Samaritan is praised for returning to thank Jesus, whom the Samaritan acknowledges as God.  And I’ll likely get back to that point.  But first, we should look at what was happening, which would have caught the attention of any early Christian who had any knowledge of the Jewish law.
    Leprosy was not only a skin disease (it may not have been Hansen’s disease, as we now call it, but could have included any number of skin maladies).  Leprosy, besides being an illness, also made one unfit for any kind of temple worship.  If you could not be around people, there was no way you could go to the temple and worship God.  You were cut off from the practice of your faith in its greatest sense.  You were also cut off from your family, which, to any Jew, was everything.  After all, the Jewish people themselves were, first and foremost, the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, aka Israel.  The nation was basically the twelve tribes.  And yet, as a leper, you had no share in that family, and so you really had no people, no nation, to which you belonged.  You were totally cut off from the main ways in which people found belonging.
    The old law had given the priests the authority to determine if the leprosy was truly cured, to act both as those in charge of worship, as well as members of the tribe of Levi, the family of Israel.  The priests were the ones who could re-attach the leper both to worship and to family/nation.  So our Lord, as one who came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, sends the lepers on their way so that they could be returned to worship and family.
 

   But this Samaritan, who had no share in either the worship or the family of Israel (recall that the Samaritans were, as far as worship goes, heretics, and as far as family goes, the crazy uncle that you don’t invite to family gatherings or even talk to anymore), he returns to thank Christ for what had been done.  And the Savior praises him for it.  As my old professor, Fr. Muller, said to us, rhetorically, “What was Jesus’ problem?”
    Christ, throughout the Gospels, is creating a new law (see Matthew 5); redefining family (“unless you hate father and mother you cannot be my disciple”); and claiming to be the object of worship (“the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”).  And it is this Samaritan who gets that, somehow, even though he was separated from the Chosen People.  Somehow, this Samaritan recognizes that it is Christ who will restore him to proper worship and make him a part of a new family, those who follow the Lord.  Perhaps he had spoken to the Samaritan woman from Sychar, who had dialogued with Christ and heard Him that that the day was coming when true worshippers would not worship in Jerusalem or at Jacob’s well, but in spirit and truth.  Perhaps he had heard of our Lord saying that whoever hears the word of God and observes it is a mother, brother, and sister.  But however it happened, the Samaritan came to recognize that the belonging that usually was found in temple worship and being restored to the family of Israel was possible through this man, the God-Man.
    God is the one who gives us belonging through Christ.  Christ is the one who broke down, as St. Paul says, the old barriers between Jew and Gentile, making them both one through the Blood that Christ shed on the cross.  Christ restores us to worship through His forgiveness, which we receive in the Sacrament of Penance.  In that case, the priest, acting both in the name of Christ the Head and the Community, restores us to worthy worship and to belonging to the family of God. 
    And for that, we should be thankful (I told you I’d get back to this point).  Thanksgiving should come as naturally to us as breathing.  It doesn’t necessarily, but that’s the goal, because everything is a gift.  Nothing that we have has not come from God, either willed purposefully or allowed.  The only thing that we can claim ownership of is our sins.  And so we are invited to give thanks to God, for His mercy endures forever.  Psalm 136 (135 in the Douay-Rheims) is the perfect example of this.  The Psalmist praises God for His work of creation and redemption, and after each word of praises says, “for his mercy endures forever.”  So for us, we can and should go through our day or week, thinking about what God has done for us, “for his mercy endures forever.”  Maybe it’s our family and friends; maybe it’s our job; maybe it’s an easier drive to an appointment than we expected; maybe it’s a vacation; for our parish; for our opportunities to grow; for God’s strength when we avoid sin; for God’s mercy when we fall into sin and repent.  Even for our crosses we should thank God, because they draw us closer to Him if we unite them to the Cross of Christ. 
    When we recognize what God has done for us, it should lead to thanksgiving, like the Samaritan, who does not follow our Lord’s word to the letter, but understands that what the priests were supposed to do, not of their own power but as a way of recognizing what God had already done, our Lord did.  Today I invite you to give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

16 August 2021

Mary, The Ark who Leads Israel into Battle

 Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
 

   In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  In 1981, Steven Spielberg produced a movie that introduced to the world the great archeologist, Indiana Jones.  “Raiders of the Lost Ark” continued Harrison Ford’s connection with action movies that had been started with the “Star Wars” franchise, but was also one of those feel good movies about American beating Nazis.  It also raised this question about where the Ark of the Covenant was.  It reminded people that the Ark of the Covenant was “lost,” as it were.  Contrary to the movie, it has still never been found and is not sitting in a Smithsonian warehouse somewhere.  The two main theories that are prevalent now are: that the Ark is in Ethiopia, brought by Jeremiah to Egypt when the Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem, and then made its way south to the great Ethiopian kingdom when the Chaldeans went to expand the empire to Egypt, and is now protected by Ethiopian Orthodox priests in a shrine; or that the Ark is buried under rubble of the Solomonic temple, which is currently located under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
    But for us Catholics, the Ark of the old covenant is not important, anymore than the Temple building would be important.  And it’s not important because we have a new Ark of the Covenant: Mary.  Our first reading from the Book of Judith described a woman who led Israel into battle and gained, victory, just as the Ark was often taken into battle, like at Jericho.  The Book of Revelation describes the ark in the temple, and then goes on to describe this woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” who gives birth to a son who rules the nations.  You don’t have to be a Scripture scholar to know that this refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  
    Usually as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we focus on how Mary, at the end of her life, was assumed, body and soul, into heaven.  But our readings also draw us to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.  And it’s not simply in the Book of Revelation.  The Gospel account of the Visitation is chosen for today’s celebration (as Mary’s Assumption is not directly explained in Scripture) bears striking resemblance to the account of King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who lives just outside of Jerusalem, in a village we now call Ein Kerem.  The new ark is on the move, just as David had it brought to him.  As David brings the Ark of the Covenant with him, he dances before it.  John the Baptist, in the womb of Elizabeth, leaps for joy before Mary, the new Ark.  Elizabeth says at the Visitation: “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  David says, after God promises to raise up a dynasty for him, “‘Whom am I, Lord God, and what is my house, that you should have brought me so far?’”  So Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant.
    Think, too, of what the Ark of the Covenant contained: not sand (like in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), but a golden pot with manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the tablets of the Law.  Think about what (or better, whom) Mary carried with her: not the law written on stone tablets, but the author of the Law, who was God’s law made flesh; not the budding staff of the first high priest, but the Eternal High Priest Himself; not the manna which God had given the people in the wilderness, but the True Bread from Heaven, as we have heard over the past few weeks in the Gospel according to John.  Mary is this new Ark.  In fact, when I was in Israel as a seminarian on pilgrimage, I remember visiting a church in Abu Ghosh called Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, and is said to have been built around the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested until King David took it to Jerusalem.
Statue of Mary in Abu Ghosh
    Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption reminds us that God will raise up, not just our souls, but also our bodies, at the end of time.  What Mary shares in now, we hope to share in when God re-creates the heavens and earth.  But in order to do that, we, in our own way, need to become arks.  God also invites us, and Mary shows us it is possible, to carry the Law within us, written on our hearts, the new law of love that Jesus gave us that does not annul the Ten Commandments, but helps us to live it out more fully.  God invites us to be priests according to our baptism, those who offer our daily sacrifices to God.  We offer God our joys and sorrows, our successes and our failures, our work and our vacation.  Each day we can call on God, just as Aaron, the first priest of the Law, did.  I know that sometimes this is used to distort the ministerial priesthood, but we are truly priests who can "dare to say" (audemus dicere as I say before I say the Our Father) that God is our Father and offer our daily sacrifices to Him.

And God invites us to be sustained, no longer by the old manna that decayed, but the new manna, the bread of life, the Eucharist, which is food for our pilgrimage from this vale of tears to the true Promised Land of heaven.  We are invited to worthily receive the Eucharist so that the Bread of Life can be within us, just as it was within the Ark of the Covenant.  In that way, we become arks of the new covenant, like Mary was and is.
    We don’t need to go to Egypt to find a secret cave that is filled with snakes (“I hate snakes!”) in order to find the Ark.  We don’t have to worry that “we’re digging in the wrong place!”  Following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can be arks of the covenant, the covenant made in the Precious Blood of the Spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is Lord for ever and ever.  Amen. 

Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant

 Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
 

   In 1981, Steven Spielberg produced a movie that introduced to the world the great archeologist, Indiana Jones.  “Raiders of the Lost Ark” continued Harrison Ford’s connection with action movies that had been started with the “Star Wars” franchise, but was also one of those feel good movies about American beating Nazis.  It also raised this question about where the Ark of the Covenant was.  It reminded people that the Ark of the Covenant was “lost,” as it were.  Contrary to the movie, it has still never been found and is not sitting in a Smithsonian warehouse somewhere.  The two main theories that are prevalent now are: that the Ark is in Ethiopia, brought by Jeremiah to Egypt when the Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem, and then made its way south to the great Ethiopian kingdom when the Chaldeans went to expand the empire to Egypt, and is now protected by Ethiopian Orthodox priests in a shrine; or that the Ark is buried under rubble of the Solomonic temple, which is currently located under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
    But for us Catholics, the Ark of the old covenant is not important, anymore than the Temple building would be important.  And it’s not important because we have a new Ark of the Covenant: Mary.  In our first reading today, the Book of Revelation describes the ark in the temple, and then goes on to describe this woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” who gives birth to a son who rules the nations.  You don’t have to be a Scripture scholar to know that this refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  
    Usually as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we focus on how Mary, at the end of her life, was assumed, body and soul, into heaven.  Our second reading talks about how Christ has been raised, and will bring all those who belong to Him to that same glory, “each one in the proper order,” which means Mary as first, since she is the perfect disciple.
    But our readings also draw us to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.  And it’s not simply in the first reading from Revelation.  The Gospel account of the Visitation is chosen for today’s celebration (as Mary’s Assumption is not directly explained in Scripture) bears striking resemblance to the account of King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who lives just outside of Jerusalem, in a village we now call Ein Kerem.  The new ark is on the move, just as David had it brought to him.  As David brings the Ark of the Covenant with him, he dances before it.  John the Baptist, in the womb of Elizabeth, leaps for joy before Mary, the new Ark.  Elizabeth says at the Visitation: “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  David says, after God promises to raise up a dynasty for him, “‘Whom am I, Lord God, and what is my house, that you should have brought me so far?’”  So Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant.
    Think, too, of what the Ark of the Covenant contained: not sand (like in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), but a golden pot with manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the tablets of the Law.  Think about what (or better, whom) Mary carried with her: not the law written on stone tablets, but the author of the Law, who was God’s law made flesh; not the budding staff of the first high priest, but the Eternal High Priest Himself; not the manna which God had given the people in the wilderness, but the True Bread from Heaven, as we have heard over the past few weeks in the Gospel according to John.  Mary is this new Ark.  In fact, when I was in Israel as a seminarian on pilgrimage, I remember visiting a church in Abu Ghosh called Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, and is said to have been built around the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested until King David took it to Jerusalem.
    Today’s Solemnity of the Assumption reminds us that God will raise up, not just our souls, but also our bodies, at the end of time.  What Mary shares in now, we hope to share in when God re-creates the heavens and earth.  But in order to do that, we, in our own way, need to become arks.  God also invites us, and Mary shows us it is possible, to carry the Law within us, written on our hearts, the new law of love that Jesus gave us that does not annul the Ten Commandments, but helps us to live it out more fully.  God invites us to be priests according to our baptism, those who offer our daily sacrifices to God.  We offer God our joys and sorrows, our successes and our failures, our work and our vacation.  Each day we can call on God, just as Aaron, the first priest of the Law, did.  And God invites us to be sustained, no longer by the old manna that decayed, but the new manna, the bread of life, the Eucharist, which is food for our pilgrimage from this vale of tears to the true Promised Land of heaven.  We are invited to worthily receive the Eucharist so that the Bread of Life can be within us, just as it was within the Ark of the Covenant.  In that way, we become arks of the new covenant, like Mary was and is.
    We don’t need to go to Egypt to find a secret cave that is filled with snakes (“I hate snakes!”) in order to find the Ark.  We don’t have to worry that “we’re digging in the wrong place!”  Following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can be arks of the covenant, the covenant made in the Precious Blood of the Spotless Lamb, Jesus Christ. 

Am I at the Right Movie?

Vigil of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
    When I was a child, I went to a movie with my dad.  We were going to see the new “Star Trek” move that had just come out.  Not long after we arrived, the lights went down, and we got ready for the beginning of the movie.  The music that started to play was different than I expected, but I thought maybe it was on purpose.  And then, as images started to display on the screen, there was the image of two babies that had just been born.  Again, not what I expected, but I thought maybe it was doing a flashback to some character’s birth.  In fact, they had put the wrong movie in the theater, and we were being shown “Twins” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito; very different from “Star Trek.”
    Perhaps you had a similar feeling as you sat down and started to listen to the first reading.  What does David and the Ark of the Covenant have to do with the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?  And that confusion was likely continued in the psalm response, and we sang, “Lord, go up to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your holiness.”  Then, as the second reading started, you probably felt like we were back on track, as we spoke about Jesus taking away the sting of death.  And our Gospel at least indirectly mentions Mary when it talks about the womb that carried and the breasts that nursed Jesus. 
    But the first reading and psalm response have everything to do with Mary, at least in a spiritual sense.  The literal meaning is that David had taken the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites had made on their sojourn to the Promised Land, and kept as they entered the Promised Land, even taking it into battle during the reign of some of the Judges.  But it had really been left out of the newly developed kingdom that Saul ruled.  So David brought it into his newly captured capital city of Jerusalem, and then has the priests and people offer worship to God.  Eventually, that Ark would end up in the Temple that Solomon would build after the death of his father, King David.
    What was in the Ark of the Covenant?  There were three things that God commanded Moses put into the Ark: a golden pot with manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the tablets of the Law.  They were still in there as the Levites carried the Ark on their shoulders with poles into Jerusalem.  But what does this have to do with Mary?
    The early Christians understood Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant.  Think about what (or better, whom) Mary carried with her: not the law written on stone tablets, but the author of the Law, who was God’s law made flesh; not the budding staff of the first high priest, but the Eternal High Priest Himself; not the manna which God had given the people in the wilderness, but the True Bread from Heaven, as we have heard over the past few weeks in the Gospel according to John. 
    And even the first reading is, in some sense, duplicated in the Gospel of the Visitation.  Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, who lives just outside of Jerusalem, in a village we now call Ein Kerem.  The new ark is on the move, just as David had it brought to him.  As David brings the Ark of the Covenant with him, he dances before it.  John the Baptist, in the womb of Elizabeth, leaps for joy before Mary, the new Ark.  Elizabeth says at the Visitation: “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  David says, after God promises to raise up a dynasty for him, “‘Whom am I, Lord God, and what is my house, that you should have brought me so far?’”  So Mary has everything to do with our first reading and psalm, because she is the Ark of the New Covenant.  In fact, when I was in Israel as a seminarian on pilgrimage, I remember visiting a church in Abu Ghosh called Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, and is said to have been built around the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested until King David took it to Jerusalem. 

Statue of Mary at Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant
    

While Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, par excellence, we, too, are invited to be arks of the new covenant.  Yes, Mary is the New Ark because she carries Jesus, the new Law, the Eternal High Priest, and the Bread from Heaven within her, but we are called to hear the word of God, and carry it and observe it in our daily lives.  In that way we become arks of the covenant.  Mary both carries Jesus in her womb, but also hears the word of God and observes it, so she is doubly blessed, most blessed, in fact, among women and men. 
    So no, you weren’t hearing the wrong readings.  David and the ark have everything to do with Mary.  As we celebrate this Mass, we join David and the Blessed Virgin Mary in heaven, as heaven joins with earth in every Mass, and we sing and make music and worship God, uniting ourselves to Christ’s one perfect sacrifice, that truly took away the sins of the world, and instituted a new and everlasting covenant that is not only celebrated in Jerusalem on earth, but the Jerusalem that is above: heaven.