Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017/10/15 - Free Food

I can’t resist free food.  I can blame my Dad, because I’m a chip off the old block.  Anytime we go to a dinner of any sort where there is “all you can eat”… I do… eat all I can.

I’m guessing it’s because my Dad grew up in a fairly poor home who had a mentality born of the Great Depression…I’m sure many of you are familiar with this mentality.  Hunger was a way of life.  Food was hard earned… you didn’t waste what you had – and you by-golly NEVER turned down free food.  And if there are left-overs, always be first in line to take some home…
                              …and be last in line to take whatever is left!!

That’s probably not TOO far off of how people would have felt in Jesus’ time.  Food would have been their main preoccupation of every day… tilling soil, taking care of livestock, picking food, preparing food, and still you would go to bed with a growl in your belly. 
That’s why that first reading uses the imagery of a great banquet as the promise that God was making to bless His people.  When you’re starving, nothing sounds better than “The Lord…will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines,”.  Nothing could BE better than that – and if you were invited to that feast, there ain’t NO WAY you would turn it down.

Which is one of the reasons the Gospel is perplexing… OK, there are a lot of reasons the Gospel is perplexing….but let’s start here.  Jesus uses a lot of exaggerations to drive home a point.  First – the people standing in front of him would have been shocked that the people in the parable had rejected a feast.  That’s just plain silly.  In fact, remember when Jesus fed the 5000 and the next day the crowds came back… maybe even bigger crowds – because they were HOPING he would do it again!  They weren’t necessarily wanting more of what Jesus SAID – but they were looking for the free food – just like my Dad… and me.

Jesus’ exaggeration is pointing out that the King had offered the people the greatest blessing possible… this wasn’t just free food – it was the best food – and it wasn’t just ANY feast – this was a banquet for his Son!  This would have been the social event of the Decade… everybody would have been stumbling over each other to be invited to such a prestigious event…and they had rejected it.  Do you see how silly that is?!

Yet, God has prepared the great banquet for all of us – but many who were invited didn’t come.  He has prepared the BEST of food for us on this altar here – the body and blood of His only son – the Bread of Life.  The invitation has gone out to the world – but where is everybody?  As it says in the Gospel:
- “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”
- I just felt like sleeping in this morning
- I’ve got plenty of food in my refrigerator at home, I don’t need communion
- My kid has a soccer game today, so I just can’t make it to church
The parable foretold that this would happen.

But the GOOD news is that God keeps inviting…that’s good news for us because when the Jews rejected the invitation, WE got invited.  God will stop at nothing to fill His great banquet honoring His Son.

He has continued to invite throughout the centuries.  100 years ago, He sent Mary to three young kids in Fatima, Portugal to invite everyone to the feast.  Interestingly, the name Fatima was an Arabic name meaning “the shining one” and was the name of the prophet Mohammed’s daughter.  Do you think it’s a coincidence that Mary chose this spot to appear?  In the book of Revelation, Mary is the woman “clothed with the sun”... She IS Fatima: the shining lady.  One of the things that made this vision unique was the miracle of the sun, which was seen by tens of thousands, including non-Christians.  God was pulling out all the stops to get the attention of the whole world:  the Catholic world, the secular world, and even the Muslim world.  He WILL fill His banquet hall –and He invites the whole world to come to his altar for the great feast of His Son.

Now – if I were writing the Gospel, I would have stopped after verse 10:
“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall                       was filled with guests. “  Matt 22:10

We LIKE that kind of God… he invites both the good AND the bad to his banquet.  It means nothing is expected of us… we can be Bad and still get invited.  It makes sense… God is Love… God doesn’t want anyone to suffer, right?  That’s a great message – one we’d all like to hear – and one I’d like to deliver to you today…
Unfortunately, the reading continues – and we get to the part of the reading that NONE of us like…the King finds a guy who’s not wearing the right clothes and throws him into the night where “there is wailing and grinding of teeth”!  What gives, God? 
Well, true-enough, God DOES invite the good and the bad to His banquet, but I think this last part is to remind us that this banquet is not just free food…there are still expectations for everyone approaching God’s table.  At first glance, it might seem like a reminder for us to dress up when we come to church.  This is NOT the central message of the Gospel, but still we need to ask: does God really care what we wear to church?  I think each of us has to decide that on our own… on one hand, I remember the people in Haiti who have nothing – but they still show up to Mass in the best clothes they have.  I can’t help but think of Ruth, who used to sit right there, God rest her soul… even with her body failing, she would be dressed for Mass as if she was headed to a great wedding banquet.  I wonder: did she dress up so people would respect her?  Or was this an outward sign of her respect for Jesus?  In the end, we don’t dress up for God – He doesn’t need that… we dress up for ourselves!  How we dress impacts our attitude and the attitude of the people around us.

We can all take that to prayer –– but like I said, that’s not the central message here…I think the deeper message  is that when we come to eat at this banquet, there ARE requirements.  We aren’t just “showing up”.  We aren’t just standing in line for free food.  Maybe this is Jesus’ way of reminding us that we must be clothed with the Grace of our baptism.  You’ve probably heard of the phrase to be “in the state of Grace” – which means we have no mortal sin upon our soul.  We are SUPPOSED to approach the altar in that state of grace every time – and as Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth, when we are not clothed in that Grace, we eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves. 

Here’s the biggest challenge of all:  We each have to consider where WE are in this parable.  Are we the ones who rejected God’s invitation?  Are we the ones who got invited because the first group didn’t show up?  Or…are we the guy who just showed up for the free food and ends up thrown into the darkness? 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

2017/10/01 - Destination of Our Choice

Before Mass:
If you remember from last Sunday, the Gospel was about how the workers hired last got paid the same as the workers hired first.  Every fiber of our being screams – it’s not fair!  Well today’s readings pick up where that left off.  God’s ways aren’t fair!  We’ll hear some explanation in the readings about how WE actually decide what God gives us.  So listen for that.

Also, in the Gospel today there are two sons – one says yes and one says no, and they both did the opposite of what they SAID.  Think about why they might have answered like they did – and why they changed their minds.  There’s a lesson for us to learn.

If someone gave you and me the directions for the quickest, surest route to Holiness, would we take the advice?  If God told us how to be happier…  if God told us how to experience the joy of His kingdom in this life and the next… would you do what He told us?

There’s a Harvard psychologist, M. Scott Peck who wrote a book familiar in the psychology circles called The Road Less Traveled.  He tells the story of a particular female client who had been stuck in a deep depression for a long time.

One morning on the way to her appointment, as if to compound her misery, her car broke down.  When she called to reschedule, Dr. Peck suggested that he might drive by and pick her up.  On the way to work that day he was planning to stop and make a hospital visit.  Would she mind sitting in the waiting area during that time?

When they actually drove up to the hospital, however, he had a better idea…

He gave her the names of two of his other patients who were hospitalized.  He knew they both would enjoy a visit.  Would she be willing to drop in and say hello to these two complete strangers?  “Sure,” she answered.

Ninety minutes later they met in the hospital lobby. 

The woman was animated – even joyful!  Her depression had lifted dramatically. 

Spending time with those two patients, and focusing on THEIR needs, had filled her heart with joy.

Peck was excited.  “Well, now we know one way to help you through your depression.”

The woman was startled.  “You don’t mean I have to do that every day, do you?”
The doctor’s answer was ‘yes’ – you should do this every day.  We have finally found something that makes you feel better, why WOULDN’T you want to do it every day?

The reason this book was called The Road Less Traveled, was from an observation he had made over the years.  One hundred percent of his clients wanted to feel better.  But when they eventually discovered some specific pathway that might lead not just to feeling better for a while but to personal transformation, only about 10% were willing to pursue it.

Only 10% were willing to do what they KNEW would help them.  Doesn’t that sound like our spiritual life?  It’s pretty safe to say that 100% of us WANT to get the most joy possible out of life.  100% of us would like to experience heaven in this life and the next.  But will we do what God has told us to do?
Matthew Kelly tells us in “Four signs of a Dynamic Catholic” that four actions seem to separate serious Christians from others:  Prayer, Study, Action, and Generosity. 
You might say, these are the directions God gave us to get to His kingdom – to experience the joy of heaven in this life and the next.   We hear these things so often: Prayer, Study, Action, and Generosity – and we might even agree that we need to do them… but if we don’t make them a priority, it never gets done…never becomes a habit…. Which means we never get the benefits….we never reach our desired destination.

For example, we have Eucharistic adoration Wednesdays at SR and Fridays at SC.  The people who spend an hour per week praying in the silence in front of Jesus actually look forward to that time.  In some ways, many of them feel selfish for taking that time for themselves to be with Jesus.  But that silence breeds peace in their lives, and the rest of us may SEE that peace, and maybe even WANT that peace… but we don’t turn that desire into action… we never commit ourselves to that 1 hour or even ½ hour per week. 

We know that a daily routine of prayer builds character and forms us into disciples of Jesus – but few make it a daily habit.

Study – each of us should constantly be reading a good Catholic book – or listening to the CDs at the door.  We even GAVE away many CD’s and books over the past few years – but how many actually got used?  In fact, many people wouldn’t even TAKE one when we gave the away!

Action – this is where we turn prayer into action – reaching out to others to share the love of Christ.  This can be service, evangelization, or simply conversation – or even just a smile.  Without action, we are a tree without fruit.

Finally – did you figure out what made the two guys in the Gospel change their minds?  Both did the opposite of what they SAID.  I’m going on a limb here, but I’d say the first one – the one who SAID ‘no’ – was a man of prayer.  I think he reflected on his response and allowed the Holy Spirit to convict him of his need to follow the will of his father.  You might say the Holy Spirit is his GPS unit – when he turned the wrong way, the Spirit said ‘recalculating’ and told him to turn around.

The other guy who SAID ‘yes’ but didn’t follow through:  I’m guessing he was very superficial – always saying the things he knew others wanted to hear.  He probably didn’t have many friends, because it was normal for him to lie to your face.  Without prayer to change his mind, he was stuck in a rut of just making himself look good to the world.  He was given the directions of how to live, but chose to live his own way.

God gives each of us the directions to happiness… you could say, The Bible is our roadmap to heaven.  Prayer, study, action and generosity are the highways to a joy-filled life.  We can to take those roads, or go another way.  If we get to the end of our road and find we’re not in heaven, don’t say God’s not fair! 

He gave us the directions – but we choose our destination.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017/09/03 God Wants us to be Happy

 Jeremiah 20:7–9
  Psalm 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9 (2b)
 Romans 12:1–2
 Matthew 16:21–27

Mark and Sara got the bad news one Tuesday morning in February 1973.  The ultrasound had shown some abnormalities in the baby in Sara’s womb and subsequent testing confirmed… their daughter would be born with Down’s syndrome.  They were devastated.  It seemed all their hopes and dreams had evaporated in that one doctor’s visit.  The nurse asked them to come back the next day to meet with some of the hospital staff to “discuss options”.  Numbed by the news, they stumbled home and came back the next day… hoping that “options” meant there was some hope that the test was wrong or some new treatment was available for their baby.  They were shocked when the doctor and nurse started the conversation by bringing up the Roe vs Wade decision which just a year prior had made it a legal option to end this pregnancy. 

They were very convincing in their arguments… this child would suffer horribly… never leading a normal life – always being a social outcast…and she would place an ENORMOUS UNNECESSARY BURDEN on Mark and Sara, since their daughter would require constant care for her entire life.  As distraught as they were by the news about their daughter, the thought of ending her life was abhorrent to them.  When they objected, the nurse explained that termination was really the only humane option to avoid suffering – and to avoid “placing this burden on society”.

What!?  Mark and Sara walked out of that doctor’s office never to return.  What had the world come to that anyone would seriously consider ending the life of their child?  And what’s worse, it made it sound like THEY were being irresponsible and selfish NOT to have the abortion.  What’s the world coming to??

Abby was born 4 months later…and is now 44 years old – still living at home with Mark and Sara – and she is the JOY of their lives.  In talking with Mark one night over dinner, he was explaining some of the difficulties they’ve had to deal with to take care of Abby – but he also talked about the unconditional love that Abby gave every day.  When asked whether they considered Abby to be a blessing or a curse, Mark didn’t hesitate… with a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat, he immediately said, ‘blessing’.

That tear in his eye was because he remembered sitting there listening to the logical reasons for abortion, and feeling the temptation to accept what the world was telling him to do… how for just a moment he actually had even considered killing what had become the best source of joy in his life.

The world will tell us to get rid of anything that makes our lives difficult.  If your wife no longer thrills you, discard her and get a new one.  If your religion asks too much of you, find a different church that doesn’t’ require so much.  If life gets hard, kill the pain with drugs or alcohol.  We shouldn’t have to suffer!  God would not WANT us to suffer!  Pain is unnecessary.  Suffering is just stupid… God WANTS us to be Happy!  Right?  What’s Jesus say to that?

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Peter had bought into the world’s view that suffering was un-necessary.  And you can’t blame him really… from the Jewish perspective, God BLESSED those who lived holy lives… and you don’t get more holy than Jesus, so He SHOULDN’T have to suffer.  All this talk of the cross is nonsense, Jesus…

But Jesus says “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”.  Notice that he said to take up our cross… there’s no if/and/or but in that… he doesn’t say, take up your cross if you have one… it’s a given.  We ALL have a cross.

There’s a classic, well-known book called “The Imitation of Christ” – written by Thomas a’ Kempis.
I couldn’t find the exact quote, but he basically says, Structure your life however you want…and sooner or later you’ll be face to face with the cross.  In other words, fill your life with whatever you THINK will make you happy:  job, family, house, power, whatever… no matter how you fill your life, you WILL run into the cross.  We ALL have a cross.  Kempis writes that if we carry the cross willingly, it will lead us to our desired goal, but on the other hand if we carry our cross grudgingly, then we  turn it into a heavy burden and if we should throw off one cross, we will surely find another, which is perhaps heavier. By ourselves we cannot bear the cross, but if we put our trust in the Lord, He will send us strength from heaven.(Chap. 12)

Think about your cross.  You have one – maybe more than one.  Would you get rid of it if you could?  Think hard about that… because like Kempis says, if you drop one, you WILL find another.  Is there another cross you would LIKE to have?  Look around at the people around you… think about the crosses THEY have.  Is it possible their cross is lighter than yours? 

The thing is, the heavier your cross, the greater the blessings that flow from it.  It doesn’t feel like it when the cross is digging into your shoulder.  Life can be SO hard – and our cross can feel impossible to carry.  That’s when our Church family steps up to help each other carry the really heavy crosses.  God provides strength both through prayer and through the Church.

We all have a cross…If we try to discard it, we WILL find a heavier cross... we cannot avoid it, so embrace it and follow Jesus. What's that look like…to “embrace” your cross?

A good friend of mine is in federal prison because he was framed for a crime and the justice system failed him.  We are all still in shock that this could have happened – especially to this man.  But watching him has taught everyone who knows him a lot about life.  He could have become bitter... he has every RIGHT to lash out at the world... he'd be totally excused if he fell into a deep depression... instead he embraced his cross.  He's been given 8.5 years. At his age, he'll get out after age 70. Yet, this man knows God has him there for a reason. He has a spirituality about him which leaves the rest of us in awe.  He approached prison as a man entering a monastery... when someone enters a monastery, there is a set of rules they need to live by – so my friend adopted the rules of St. John of the Cross.  I don’t have time to discuss each one, but an example is to “Choose the more difficult task to ease the burden of co-workers.”
He lives this rule every day:  he avoided volunteering to work in the kitchen, because so much theft takes place and he wanted to avoid that culture.  Instead he volunteered to work in the vegetable garden and go to the place where the weeds are tallest where nobody wants to go.  On one hand, that’s great – he gets to be outside a lot.  On the other hand, it is often 100 degrees and very humid there, so he has lost a lot of weight from sweating…and from the nasty, unhealthy food they’re fed.  He doesn’t even eat the produce out of the garden… in case it could be considered stealing.  That food is intended for the inmates, so it’s not his.  My jaw dropped hearing that…. I mean, this is a matter of self-preservation… nobody would blame him for munching on a handful of lettuce as he picks it!  But he’s not willing to risk any action that might lengthen his stay in prison.  This gave me a new appreciation for what Jesus said - What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  He doesn’t want to do anything which could make him spend one more day in prison – away from his REAL life.  Likewise WE should do nothing that would risk our eternal life.

His integrity has caught the eye of others in prison.  His fellow inmates and even the guards recognize a peace in him that most people never attain.  He doesn't let the culture change him, but his very presence IS changing the culture in that prison – even if it is so slightly.

That's you and me everyday. Sometimes our job feels like a prison... our marriage feels like torture... our financial situation seems unfair... every day we have the choice to act like the rest of the world: We could become bitter or mad or mean.   We could lose our integrity.

But Paul exhorts us to renew our mind... don't think like rest of world. The world thinks like Peter... ‘there’s no need to suffer’... in fact if you just have enough faith you will always be happy!  That is garbage. It's called a prosperity gospel, where suffering is not only unnecessary but a sign of your lack of faith. GARBAGE.  Jesus says pick up your cross... not choose your cross, not push it off on someone else,... not drink your self into a stupor to numb yourself to the pain... but embrace that cross. Whatever prison you are in... know that once you pick up that cross you'll find you are free. Even with four walls and barbed wire surrounding you, you can live a joyful life and show the rest of the world how to live.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

2017/08/13 Comfort Zones

Before mass:
In order to really understand the connection between the first reading and the Gospel, we need to understand a little bit of the back story…like why is Elijah in this cave?  Well – he is being hunted down by Queen Jezebel’s men.  He had had a sort-of dual with like 400 of the prophets of Baal and God had destroyed them all… Note to self:  if you ever want to tick-off a queen, kill all of her prophets.  Elijah is running for his life and hides out in this cave.  As long as he stays in there, he’s safe… to step out of the cave, he risks being seen by Jezebel’s army.  So keep that in mind as you listen to the first reading.
I want you to imagine where you are most comfortable.  Maybe it’s a beach… maybe it’s on a boat on the lake… Maybe you’re picturing yourself in your Lazy-Boy or the couch with a TV remote in your hand and a bowl of ice cream sprinkled with chocolate chips.  Ahhhh…sounds like heaven.

For some people, staying at home is most comfortable – for others, they have to stay busy all the time, so they’re most comfortable when they are working.   We might work 40 years in the same job because it’s comfortable… because we know what’s expected of us.

Wherever you’re thinking of … That’s your comfort zone – where nothing out of the ordinary is required of us – we have all we need – and most importantly, there’s nothing to be afraid of… and nothing to be nervous about. 

Elijah would have preferred to stay in his cave – I mean – stepping out could have cost his life. 

Then there are the apostles in that boat.  Why in the world were they in the middle of the lake during a storm?  I mean, they were Fishermen… they would have recognized the signs that a storm was coming.  Jesus is God so surely He KNEW there was a storm coming.  Why not leave the boat on the shore where it’s safe?  Maybe Jesus sent them out BECAUSE of the storm coming.  If they had stayed at the shore, their boat could have been dashed against the rocks and broken apart.  Jesus purposely pushed them out of their comfort zone of the shore in order to save them.  But then he pushed one step further – as the apostles were being tossed about by the storm, the boat had become their new comfort zone – it was their safe place.  To fall out of the boat in those waves would have been instant drowning.  But Jesus wanted to move beyond even this new comfort zone, so He invited Peter to step out of the boat and walk to Him across the water.  That’s an important point…Jesus invited Peter to come closer to him. 

I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands  - but I wonder – how many of us really WANT to see God?  How many WANT to get closer to Jesus? 

The trouble is, no matter where you are, you CANNOT get closer to Jesus by remaining where you are.  Think about that a second – I might think I’m a pretty good Catholic – praying my rosary, going to Mass, and I’ve never killed anybody – at least on purpose…  That could easily become my comfort zone.  Even in our spiritual life, we get into a comfort zone and don’t push ourselves to grow any more.  I’m “good enough” – no sense doing anything crazy like taking a step out of that comfort zone and actually FOLLOWING Jesus as a disciple!

What do you think – are YOU ready to leave your comfort zone?  Let me make this real… what if I asked everybody to get up from the pew you’re in and move to a totally different spot?  Most of us kinda get into a groove – sitting in the same spot every time at church – it’s our comfort zone:  we know the people around us – and just to ask everyone to move to another seat would send a dozen people into cardiac arrest.  What if I told you to find someone you don’t know and introduce yourself?  Does that make you a little nervous?  What if I asked you to invite your non-Catholic neighbors to come to the parish Social or Shoot coming up in October?  What if I asked you to invite them to come to church with you?  Are you nervous yet?  What if I asked you to participate in a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood?  What about speaking up when the conversation at work turns ugly.  Scary stuff!  That’s just a glimpse of how scared Peter would have been to step out onto the water in that storm.

Trouble is – if you and I stay in our comfort zones, nothing changes.  We cannot remain where we are and move closer to Christ.  If you and I do nothing, the Church will continue to be buffeted by the storms.  The world will not become more Christian if WE don’t live our faith… if we don’t speak out against injustice, if we don’t do something as simple as praying before meals even at a restaurant.  The secular world is like a storm raging around us – threaten to destroy the Church.  Jesus is in the middle of the storm, beckoning us to follow him… ready to make great things happen. 
But in order to get closer to Jesus, we gotta step out of the boat.

Once there was a king who received a gift of two magnificent falcons. They were peregrine falcons, the most beautiful birds he had ever seen. He gave the precious birds to his head falconer to be trained.

Months passed, and one day the head falconer informed the king that though one of the falcons was flying majestically, soaring high in the sky, the other bird had not moved from its branch since the day it had arrived.

The king summoned healers and sorcerers from all the land to tend to the falcon, but no one could make the bird fly.

He presented the task to the member of his court, but the next day, the king saw through the palace window that the bird had still not moved from its perch.
Having tried everything else, the king thought to himself, “May be I need someone more familiar with the countryside to understand the nature of this problem.” So he cried out to his court, “Go and get a farmer.”

In the morning, the king was thrilled to see the falcon soaring high above the palace gardens. He said to his court, “Bring me the doer of this miracle.”  The court quickly located the farmer, who came and stood before the king. The king asked him, “How did you make the falcon fly?”

With his head bowed, the farmer said to the king, “It was very easy, your highness. I simply cut the branch where the bird was sitting.”  (story author unknown)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

2017/07/16 How is it that you DON'T hear?

Before Mass:
Every month I get 10 copies of a new CD – and several of them in the last year have been great – so great that I think everybody should listen to them.  So, we have three hundred copies of each to give away.  Today I’ve got Religionless Spirituality –it’s timely because you hear people say – well, I’m spiritual but not religious – or – I can pray without going to church – I don’t need religion.   This CD is the best I’ve heard to help those people.  Pick one up on the way out.  I’m not taking donations for it today because I want everybody to listen to this CD – and if this goes well, I plan to continue to get three hundred copies whenever a particularly good one comes along.  If this sounds like a ministry you’d like to support, talk to me – or – make a donation in the CD rack.
I think it’s important what we listen to – and actually that is the theme for today.  It may not sound like it at first… Today’s Gospel is the familiar story of the Sower and the Seed.  We’ve heard it enough that we might think we know the story and not really listen to it.  I’d ask that we all simply try to focus all of our attention on listening this morning.  There are a couple of themes you might notice: The most obvious theme is that WE are the dirt in the story.  You might also pick up on the fact that God is a bad farmer.
But then, Jesus says something odd after that parable:  “whoever has ears ought to hear”.  Who is he talking about?  Anybody here NOT have their ears with them today?  Then He is speaking his word directly to you today…..  Listen.

So – you probably noticed the first theme of the Gospel:  we are the dirt.  How much the word of God sinks into us depends on whether we are good soil. 

You might also have noticed that God is a horribly wasteful farmer.  He spreads the seeds of His Grace and Love all over creation… letting it drop wherever it will – so that most of it is simply wasted, never bearing any fruit.  Picture a tractor with a seed spreader driving down the highway with the feeder wide open…. That’s how extravagant God is with his word.

But the main theme is actually about Listening:   God is always speaking His word to us.  Always.  Every situation – every moment.  Do we hear Him?

I was standing outside last night talking to someone – and suddenly she mentioned the sound of the crickets – and it amazed me that until that moment, I hadn’t even noticed how loud they were.  That is like God talking to us – because He is speaking constantly, His voice becomes background noise and we don’t hear it.

God is speaking His word to us in every situation of our lives.  How is it that We often don’t recognize Him speaking –
- It’s part of the background noise
- It’s drowned out by the “important” things in life
- Or we just don’t WANT to hear Him
- Or maybe nobody ever taught us how to hear Him

Every week we come here and hear the Word proclaimed – and a homily to follow.  God is OBVIOUSLY speaking to us here at Mass… but how much of it falls on good soil?  If the parable is a good representation, then at best, 25% of the people in the pews are actually listening AND changing their lives.

Many people have lost the skill of listening.  Part of it is too many distractions:  for example:  I cannot have a serious conversation if the TV is on in front of me… my eyes and mind keep wandering back to it.  I know myself well enough that if I need to concentrate on what somebody is saying, I have to turn off the TV.

Likewise, most people with cellphones have a hard time listening to anyone if they’re holding their phone…  a text comes in and you glance at it and all you can think about is how you’re going to respond. 

Also – if somebody starts talking to us and we think we already know where they’re going with it, so we only half-listen.  Oh – and then there’s the fact that most people really just want to talk about themselves –so while they’re pretending to listen to you, they’re really just thinking of what they want to say next….waiting for you to shut up!

God is always speaking His word to us.  Anyone with ears ought to hear!  But listening doesn’t come easy – we have to train ourselves to become effective listeners. 

There was a TV show back in the 70’s called Kung Fu.  I know most of you never heard of it, so let me give you the back story:  it was about a Chinese man named Caine who moved to the US in the old wild west.  He was a shoulin priest – and a master of kung fu.  He was always having flashbacks about his training in the monastery as a boy.  The scene I remember more than any other was when Caine first met Master Po who was to be his teacher.  This old man was blind from cataracts, and he insisted that Caine fight him… Caine refused – I can’t fight a blind man, it wouldn’t be fair!  The Master insisted, so Caine took a swing at him and was quickly knocked to the ground three times.  This is the conversation that took place right after that: 

Master Po: never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

2017/07/02 - Disciples for Dinner

Before Mass:
We are continuing our walk thru Matt chapter 10 – picking up where we left off last week.  Jesus continues his instructions to the Disciples and he’s trying to get them to sign on the dotted line to be His disciple…and he has some strong words for them:
"Whoever loves father or mother … (or) …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What’s He talking about?  We’ll touch on that in the homily.
The common theme between the first reading and the Gospel today seems to be “how do we treat our prophets and disciples”.   The first reading shows Elisha the prophet being welcomed into the home of a couple in Shunem.  They didn’t have to be hospitable… the guy could have gone to an Inn to get food and lodging.  So why invite him to stay?

Then Jesus also talks about hospitality in the Gospel, and this time He seems to be encouraging US to treat his disciples with hospitality.  So listen for that theme – and you might ask yourself – what have I done for God’s prophets?

Picture this Gospel as a Disciple Boot Camp – where these potential disciples are trained hard, instructed about how to be disciples, and you might say, the men are separated from the boys.  Jesus sees several issues which they will face and here he addresses a couple of them:
"Whoever loves father or mother … (or) …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;

Is Jesus saying we should not Love our families?  No – I think he’s just overhearing the excuses being made in the crowd and he’s addressing it. Everybody had their excuses – some had families and jobs and some had to take care of aging parents.  I can just hear it – well – the 10 commandments tell us to honor our father and mother, so I need to stay here and take care of them.  If I don’t I’m breaking God’s law!

Do you see what’s wrong with that argument?  Yes – honor your parents is one of the 10 – BUT – it’s number 5.  What’s number 1?  There is one God and you shall love Him alone.  Is the order really important?  Jesus thinks so – he said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  That’s the GREATEST law – which means everything else takes at best second-place.  Our PRIORITY is to love God.  When we put anyTHING or anyONE in front of him, our priorities are messed up.

If Fr Eugene had used that excuse – “well , I need to stay at home and take care of Mom and the farm”, he wouldn’t be the disciple he is!  He would not be here today!  That’s a scary thought, because it seems to me he is right where God needs him to be.

Then Jesus said something perhaps even more perplexing:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We could read that literally and say that we all have to become Martyrs to please God…. But I don’t think that’s the message for us today.  See – Jesus is still talking to these potential disciples, and trying to convince them to sign on the dotted line – trying to get them off of the fence.  Either you ARE my Disciple or you’re not.. which is it?
Again, using Fr. Eugene as the example, he didn’t give us his life physically – but in every other way, he did – he left his entire life, lifestyle, and livelihood – all his friends and family – everything he was comfortable with – when he left for the seminary to become a Priest.

This is a perfect example for every one of us.  We are ALL called to be disciples – Jesus wants US to sign on the bottom line.  But in order to REALLY be a disciple, we gotta be all in.  Either we ARE His disciple, or we are not..which is it?  We have to surrender everything in our life at the feet of Jesus and allow Him to use us as He sees fit.  Everything?  Yes – Everything.

Jesus, I give you my time, my abilities, my money, my family, my job, my sex life, my property, my relationships… everything…where do I sign? 

That’s our first challenge for today – but there’s a second challenge:  How do we treat the Disciples of Jesus?  Our media and movies like to make Christians look like bumbling, backwoods, stupid folk – or like inflexible, dogmatic, self-righteous, secretly-evil people.  Do we treat Disciples like that?  Do we support them, or call them Jesus Freaks and stay away from them?

I think that’s why Jesus raised the issue today – to encourage US-   Like the woman in the first reading, to seek out the Men and Women of God and take care of them. 

What’s in it for us when we do that:  God WANTS to reward those who take care of his prophets.  Notice –t he Shunemite lady didn’t ask for a baby – but she was blessed.
Jesus says “he who receives a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward”.  What is that reward?  Think about what would happen, for example, if you invited Fr. Eugene over for supper every month or two… what would happen to your home?  First, you might notice anything in your house which you’d be embarrassed to have lying around when Father comes over – and you might just realize you’re embarrassed about it at all – and get rid of it.  Second – the conversation around the dinner table will be different than you normally experience – and your kids will get to see and hear you talking to Father about Church matters, and they’ll realize this is important.  Third – your kids will get to know Father as a person – not just a Man of God – but a Man’s man… his love of sports, his humor,  - and he’ll get to talk to them one on one – which makes THEM feel important… and just maybe light the initial spark to consider a religious life.  (I remember as a kid we’d have priests out to the house all the time – and I wonder if that’s part of why I felt called to ministry)

Perhaps one of the reasons we have less men seeking the priesthood and women seeking to be nuns is because we’ve gotten away from inviting our local Prophet into our home?!   In short – a righteous man’s reward is simply the reward of having a righteous man in your midst!  Our parish is a better place because of his presence… just imagine bringing that home… it can change your life and make your whole family more righteous.  Also, notice what Jesus said – "Whoever receives you receives me” – so when we invite Father over, we are inviting Jesus himself into our home!

Finally – our hospitality is directed to more than just Father.  Every one of sitting here are called to be Disciples – and to reach out to everyone else.  Think about your own actions:  how can I reach out to fellow disciples better?  How can I help our Parish to be more welcoming?  How can I personally be more welcoming? 

We get a lot of visitors here – just like Elisha the prophet – passing through our town.  What is Jesus calling you and me to do to welcome them?

In summary, let me repeat our challenges today:  First – sign on the dotted line – either I’m all in as a disciple, or I’m not really a disciple.  Second – go out of our way to take care of God’s servants.

When we put discipleship ahead of everything else, the rewards will be out of this world.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

2017/06/25 - Modern day Prophets and Disciples

Before Mass:
In order to understand the first reading, let me tell you what happened right before this.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah.  He was constantly warning the country of Judah that they were going to be destroyed because they had turned away from God.  This made Jeremiah very unpopular.  He was constantly mistreated – and right before this reading he had actually been locked up for a day.  He struggled with God – not wanting to say anything to the people because of the treatment he received.  And that’s where this first reading starts.

Also, there is one line in the Gospel I want to focus on:
“do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. “

What’s Jesus talking about?  Who ARE we supposed to be afraid of that can “destroy both soul and body”?  I always read that as talking about the Devil… he can seduce us into giving up our soul.  But – if God can forgive any sin – and He can – then the devil doesn’t really have the power to destroy our soul….  So are we supposed to be afraid of God?
Think about it.

Let me ask you – and you can answer quietly to yourself – ARE you a disciple of Jesus?  Are you a prophet? 

We hear about prophets and disciples constantly in scripture – but we might never have realized that WE are called to be prophets and disciples.

Do we even know what a disciple is?  It comes from the same root word as discipline – so a Disciple is someone who takes on the discipline of a master.  For example, if you wanted to become an electrician, you might be an apprentice to one for a few years until you learned the ropes.  So as a disciple of Jesus, we are trying to take on his disciplines… to do what he did, so we can be like Him.  Think about if you wanted to be a disciple of Peyton Manning, you’d eat what he eats, use the same exercise program he uses, wear the same clothes maybe even… a disciple wants to be like their master, so we take on the disciplines of the Master.  Do we want to be like Jesus?
To be a prophet simply means to speak the truth.  Anytime we encounter lies, we are called to be the witness to the truth.  And just like Jeremiah in the first reading, we are not going to be popular if we do that. 

For example, Abby Johnson (see footnote) used to run a large Planned Parenthood office in Texas.  Up to the point that she took the job, she considered herself to be pro-life – but she bought into the rhetoric and propaganda and lies that this was OK – in fact, it was a good service they provided for the “poor women”.  For years, she worked there – becoming fully indoctrinated into their business, she herself often shared that “wisdom” with everyone as she personally helped encourage thousands of young women to have abortions.

But slowly the blinders came off…as she moved up in the organization, she found out that abortion was indeed the way they made money, so she was directed to double her abortion quota.  She tried to brush that off until one day, a visiting Doctor broke protocol and actually used an ultrasound in order to do a “safer abortion”.  Apparently standard procedure is to just stick a tube in blindly and suction away.  Abby was asked to hold the ultrasound while this was done, and for the first time, she got to see that child recoil when the tube got close to her – struggling in fear and pain as –well – it’s too graphic to explain here.  It was at that moment she realized the truth.  The blinders came off, and she immediately quit her well-paid job and became one of the most active Pro-Life advocates in the world.  She explained that Planned Parenthood is very particular about what words are used to describe things.  Like instead of calling it a baby, it is “products of conception”….by hiding it in the dark behind less obvious words, you can pretend it’s not what it is.  Also, instead of  “pro-abortion”, they use the “pro-choice”….trying to redirect it to be a woman’s right issue rather than a right to life issue.  Pro-choice sounds so much nicer –But it’s the same thing – either way – the baby dies…. That truth convicted Abby.

Because she is so outspoken now, she has been constantly under attack.  Her exposing of the truth makes a lot of people angry.
That makes her like Jeremiah the prophet in the first reading… “Denounce, let us denounce him!” 

Same thing goes for the disciples in the Gospel – Jesus is warning them that they will be hated.  Actually, that warning carries forward to you and me.  WE will make enemies if we are disciples.

Does that ring true to you?  When your friend wants to go out and get drunk – if you remind him or her that’s not a good idea… you get harrassed.  If you take their keys away from them, you will likely be called names – and next time they’re going out to party, they’ll leave you behind.  People don’t like when the light is shone on their bad habits.  We prefer to remain in darkness, so we chase away the prophets.
Thing is, we don’t even have to Say anything necessarily to anger people… just our presence… doing the right thing… will shed the light on what they are doing. 
So – why would anybody WANT to be a prophet or disciple?  Doesn’t sound like much fun.  Because God calls us all to be one.  We may think we are already – you know – I live a pretty good life and go to church most of the time – surely I’m a disciple, right?

Not necessarily.  See – These readings make it clear that prophets are persecuted.  If there is nobody upset with me because of how I live our Faith, then maybe I have allowed myself to be blinded to the truth – I’ve put the blinders over my own eyes so that I don’t recognize the propaganda and lies of the enemy.  If we think about it, we’ll all recognize times in our own lives where we should have spoken up, but didn’t. 
See – there is the answer to the question:  who should we be afraid of?  Who is it that can kill both body and soul?  It’s actually ourselves.  Only we can make the decision to NOT shed the light on the lies and deceit of the enemy.  The enemy WANTS to remain in darkness.

God can forgive any sin – and He does – but if we’re not willing to shine the light of Christ into the world and expose the lies, then we have chosen to stay in the darkness.

Be a prophet – speak the truth.  Be a disciple – and shine the light of God into the world.  Be the ultrasound in the hand of God – I mean – just by our presence we can help people realize the pain they are causing to others around them. 

The good news is that as we shed the light on them, we also remind them that they are worth so much to God that he knows the number of hairs on their head.
* footnote: