INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this Easter Tuesday is, “What Do You Want? Whom Do You Want?” THE GOSPEL OF JOHN As you know we get a lot of the Gospel of John at Easter time. Last Saturday when I was putting together a homily for Easter Sunday I noticed something without looking for it. That happens. I noticed sort of accidentally that the Easter Sunday Gospel from John, Chapter 20: 1-9, has a similar scene in Chapter 1: 35-39 of John - the scene where Andrew - a disciple of John the Baptist has Jesus pointed out to him - and Andrew goes right up to Jesus who says to him, “What do you want?” It’s translated that way and a few other various ways in English from the Greek - but that’s the basic meaning. “What do you want? What are seeking? What are you looking for?” Last night as I was preparing a homily for this morning I noticed that today’s gospel text is a continuation of Sunday’s gospel - John 20: 11-18. Having more time than last Saturday I did some further research on the text. My first question was whether the Greek had the same word for “wanting” or “seeking” in both those texts: chapter 1 and chapter 20. It does: the Greek verb is “ZETEO”. Then I wondered if the Greek was different for “What” and “Whom”. It is. The difference is, “TI” and “TINA”. In John 1:38 we read, “TI ZETETE” “What do you want?” and in John 20: 15 we read, “TINA ZETEIS” “Whom are you seek?” I checked commentaries on the Gospel of John. Nobody comments on the nuance I just mentioned. That makes me nervous, because I neither a Greek scholar nor a Biblical scholar. However, I dabble and babble in both. I have no clue if anyone of you is interested in these tiny tidbits. Next I did notice that several commentaries did compare both texts - John 1 and John 20 when in both scenes we spot the word “Rabbi”. However, it’s more intimate or friendlier here in John 20 when Jesus is called “Rabbouni”. So that was a nice discovery for me. We were taught to read the scriptures and look for parallels. I finally spotted this one after all these years. What else is in the scriptures that I haven’t noticed yet? WHAT OR WHOM? So I noticed that Chapter One has the question: “What are you looking for?” - the question of Jesus to Andrew and Chapter 20 has the question Jesus asks Mary, “Whom” are you looking for?” Now I began wondering if the author of John is making a point here: that some people ask what and some ask whom. Is it true that some people are searching for a what and some people spend their life searching for a whom - a person? Is it the “Subject vs. Object” topic or the “It vs. The Thou” question that Martin Buber was off on.? I don’t know. It’s something that hit me last Saturday and again last night - so I have to keep reflecting upon all this. CONCLUSION The title of my homily is, “What Do You Want? Whom Do You Want?” In this homily, I’m asking several questions: “Is everyone a wanter? Do some people want a what and do some people want a whom? Do men want a what and women want a whom? Do men want a religion, a system, a plan, a blueprint and women want a person? Do some people want a person who will give them a what? I don’t know. I’m throwing these questions out to you as well. Maybe one of these questions will hook you - which the question mark is crafted into: a hook? Maybe some of you are thinking these are all “What” questions and “What comments”. Maybe some of you are thinking about what you are going to do today; maybe some of you are thinking about whom you are going to meet or be with today. Maybe one of you is thinking: “What is he talking about today?” Maybe one of you is thinking, “Whom is he talking about today?”
The title of my homily is, “Faith! It Takes Time!”
Is the Easter message in the gospel we just heard exactly that: Faith! It Takes Time.
Mary of Magdala - on that first day of the week - is the first one - according to The Gospel of John - who goes to the tomb early in the morning - while it was still dark - and sees that the stone has been removed from the tomb. The tomb is empty.
Uh oh! Now what? This is stuff of story. This is the stuff of mystery. What’s next?
As we look at our life - our faith life - what have been the moments just like that - when we expected the obvious - or the regular - and we came around the bend or into a room or into a place and - uh oh, surprise is there. Now what? What’s next?
It might have been an upper or it might have been a downer - a mountain top experience or a desert moment - and agony or an ectasy.
What would it be like to go to cemetery three days after the funeral and the grave is empty? There is a big empty hole in the ground?
Uh oh? Now what? What’s next?
In today’s gospel story - Mary of Magdala runs to the men - to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved - and tells them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb….”
Peter and the other disciple run - and if you listen carefully to all the tiny details in the story - the other disciple gets there first - but lets Peter who gets there second - go into the tomb first - but the other disciple is the one who sees and is the first to believe.
Then today’s gospel ends with the words, “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
Is the message the obvious: “Faith! It Takes Time”?
Next Sunday’s gospel - which for centuries was called, “Doubting Thomas Sunday” - we’ll hear the story about Thomas needing time till he gets it. It being faith.
Next Sunday is now also being called, “Divine Mercy Sunday.” Some people stay back - can’t open the door for the Lord - can’t knock on God’s door - because of mistakes - sins - hurts - disasters - my own or others towards me. Their script is: “I can’t forgive ________.” Fill in the blank with “God”, “another”, or “myself.”
So some doubt that God or that Christ is God - besides being human and rose from the dead. Or some doubt that they can forgive or be forgiven and experience mercy.
Life - love - forgiveness - faith - mercy - learning how to driver a car, picking up the ability to type or text or Skype or Wii or understand each other. All of the above. All take time.
Faith! It Takes Time.
Some get it before others.
MY QUESTION AS PRIEST
My question as priest has always been: what are the hooks?
What would get people to run to this church?
If you come to church every week, what is it that you have discovered? What grabs you? What do you find here? “If you say, ‘I’m hooked”, what hooked you?
I keep hearing that we have about 15,000 plus folks - about 5000 families - registered in this parish - on the books - as they say - but obviously - all don’t come every Sunday - and we have visitors every week, praise God. What have you found? What are you still looking for? What are you running after? What have you caught? Where are your graves? Where do you feel fulfilled? Where are you empty places? What stones have to be rolled back for you? What have you found in your emptiness which is filling you?
I know some of the reasons why people stop coming to church: boredom, laziness, hurt, it doesn’t make sense - or there’s the better. Breakfast with a New York Times, a good bagel, toasted - with strawberry cream chess and two good cups of coffee. They taste better than a letter from Paul to the Corinthians, or a tiny tasteless piece of bread - unleavened - and a sip of wine sometimes.
I know the horror stories. Somebody yelled - or denied - or didn’t listen. I know the priest abuse stories have not helped. Worse: they have solidified some of those who have dropped out so they stay out.
When I was still in my late 20’s - a long time ago - I took course on TV on propaganda - every morning at 6 AM - for about 3 months. What I learned the loudest was this: propaganda is not about getting new converts - as much as it is to solidify those who are already in one’s camp or one’s party.
I assume that those of you who are in politics know this loud and clear. I assume that those of you who are in sales know this loud and clear. Some people buy Chevrolet’s for life. They are satisfied with what they got - and they want it again, and again, and again. I’ve heard people swear by Camry’s - so I wondered when they were having trouble there a few years ago - did some other brand take over for some folks? Why do you buy what you buy?
Why don’t you buy what you don’t buy?
I read Andre Papineau’s book, Sermons for Sermon Haters. I read David Burchett’s book, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. I read several times, Juan Arias’ book, The God I Don’t Believe In. I read Patricia Barbernitz’s book, Parish Ministry for Returning Catholics. I read Paul Wilkes book, Excellent Catholic Parishes - The Guide to Best Places and Practices - and obviously I hoped that St. Mary’s Annapolis would be featured. Nope.
Yet we were happy to notice that in the latest issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, St. Mary’s Annapolis is listed as a Megaparish here in the United States. St. Ann Parish in Coppel, Texas is listed as having 8,971 families, 16 Paid Employees, 7 Weekend Masses, and an annual budget of $1.3 million; St. Matthew Parish in Charlotte, North Carolina is listed as having 8,703 families, 8 weekend masses, and an annual budget of $6.1 million; St. Mary’s Parish, Annapolis, Maryland is listed as having 4,735 families, 37 Paid Employees, 13 Weekend Masses, and an annual budget of $14 million.
I didn’t notice if the first 3 had schools. I do know Catholic schools are expensive - and a priest friend of mine told me he was pastor of a parish that had a lively school. He finished up there - the school was closed - and ten years of so later - he got stationed there once again. The parish had gone down big time. His learning: Catholic Schools can help a parish big time. Father Andrew Greeley has been saying that forever.
I liked what I read about St. Matthew’s in Charlotte, North Carolina. The pastor, Monsignor John McSweeney is quoted: “McSweeney says the secret to getting parishioners to overcome the feeling of anonymity is to put the parish’s resources into welcoming new members. ‘There were 25,000 here at Christmas. That can scare some people,’ he says. ‘The size can be intimidating to people when they first come here, but because of our ongoing sense of welcoming and reaching out to each other, it breaks down the barriers real fast.’”
Welcome! I hope all of you feel welcome here at St. Mary’s when you come here. I hope you feel welcome by the priests, ushers, the office, the parishioners - especially at the ends of benches. Surprise. People at ends of benches sometimes have very smart reasons to sit on their ends. I hope our Hispanic brothers and sisters feel welcome. Last night at the Easter Vigil - the group who came into our church were a goodly number of Hispanics - equal to our non-Hispanics. I love the hymn, “All Are Welcome. All are Welcome in this place.” I hope all feel the truth of that - not just in song. I would hope some are singing that in their car on the way home or in the shower.
As one of the priests here, I hope you feel welcome by the Redemptorist priests here. The lists in the U.S. Catholic magazine article don’t list the number of priests in these big parishes - except for us - in a quote from our pastor, Father John Tizio. I assume with the priest shortage, they get priests from nearby seminaries or universities -or retired priests for weekend helping out.
I know the old rule about anyone: 1/3 like you; 1/3 don’t like you; 1/3 really don’t care. Having 8 different priests who say Mass and hear confessions here certainly better help. There’s more than 1 channel on every TV set the last time I looked. And we put who has what Mass and who is hearing confession on line. I hope several click for you.
CONCLUSION: WHAT WAS MARY LOOKING FOR?
As I reflected up all this - and often do - today’s gospel hit me loud and clear. On Good Friday evening I mentioned in my homily that I accidently found an article about a conference on preaching and in the article there was the key comment on what the goal of preaching is. I thought it was, "No coughs! Nobody falls asleep! Nobody looks at their watch." Nope. The article said: “The goal is to get someone in the parish to say, ‘I know myself in that story.’”
“I know myself in that story.”
When you heard today’s gospel story of Mary of Magdala, did you sense down deep, “I know myself in that story.”
If your story is Mary of Magdala story - I would hope when you come into church - you would not experience it as an empty tomb - or an empty tabernacle - or an empty ritual - or empty chalice and empty ciborium - or empty readings with empty words - or and empty pulpit or empty preacher, altar, or parish - but you would experience what happened to this Mary of Magdala.
Today’s gospel ends at verse 9 - Chapter 20 of John: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
Then John says in verse 10: “The disciples then went home again.”
That’s how today’s gospel ends - kind of empty - but it has a few hints of what is to come.
But the story doesn’t end there. John tells us that the men went home. Then in verse 11, we read that Mary didn’t. She stayed there outside the tomb weeping. Then she hears messages, angels, voices, something, asking her why she is weeping. Then she turns and there is someone there. She thinks the man is a gardener. He asks her the big life question, “Who are you looking for?”
In the beginning of the gospel of John, Chapter 1, Jesus asks Andrew and an unnamed disciple of John the Baptist, “What are you looking for?” Andrew or the other disciple answers, “Where do you live?” Jesus answers, “Come and see!” And they do. They experience this in Chapter 1 of the Gospel of John - the beginnings of Jesus in their lives. Andrew goes to his brother Peter and says the next morning, “We have found the Messiah - which means the Christ”. And Andrew brings his brother to Jesus.
By Chapter 20 - today’s gospel from John - Peter is not there yet - but he’s about to become the Peter we hear in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles - proclaiming Jesus - the Risen Lord - to our world.