Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017/12/17 - Rejoice Always - even when we feel like we're losing

There’s an episode of the Twilight Zone from 1960 where this guy named  Rocky is shot by the police while robbing a pawn shop.  He wakes up seemingly unharmed and wondering where he is.  There’s another guy there named Pip who welcomes him.   Rocky gives him a threatening look and says – ‘hand over your wallet’.  Pip’s like – ‘is that all you want?  Here – it’s yours’.  Rocky’s taken aback by how easy that was and he opens up the wallet and it is loaded with cash and credit cards.  He tells Pip – ‘take me to your house’ – so Pip takes him to this huge mansion.  Rocky starts casing the joint as soon as he walks in, looking around at all of the expensive stuff – this place is amazing – Rocky asked – ‘is this YOUR house’?  Pip says – ‘no silly – this is YOUR house’.  Rocky can’t believe it.  Pip says – ‘look in that drawer right there and you’ll find the title to the property with your name on it – AND – there’s $2 million dollars in the next drawer down.  Anything you want, you’ve got it.’

Rocky can’t believe his luck… he takes some of the money and heads to the casino where he starts gambling – and to his great surprise, he wins!  In fact, he wins EVERY time.  Rocky is so excited – raking in the money. 

Flash forward 6 months and Rocky is going crazy – he’s bored.  Pip visits him to see how he’s doing and Rocky says – ‘it’s just not right – I shouldn’t win EVERY game’.  Pip says – ‘well what percentage would you like to lose?  We can adjust it to whatever you want!’  Rocky says – ‘that’s not the way it’s supposed to be!!  Look – there must be some mistake – I shouldn’t even be in heaven anyway…I want to go to the other place’.

Pip looks at him and say, ‘what gave you the idea this was heaven?  This IS the other place!’.

The point of the story is that if we got everything we wanted, life would lose its joy.  If we won every time we played a game, we’d quickly be bored.  It’s the losing that makes the idea of winning so attractive.  Likewise if we could buy everything we wanted, we’d still get bored – look at the celebrities who go and steal insignificant things just to add some excitement to their lives.  If our loved ones never died, we would take them for granted and never appreciate them or the loved ones we still have.  As hard as it is to imagine…Somehow, the ‘losing’ is part of Joy.  It’s in losing that we recognize there MUST be more to life.

As much as you and I think it would be awesome to have everything we want – God knows better.  God knows that it is the longing for something that actually is the source of joy.  There’s a quote from C. S. Lewis which seems to confirm this idea…  “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be'.”    
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

He says Joy is when we long for something…not possessing something.  Doesn’t that seem backwards?  Surely joy is getting that perfect gift we wanted for Christmas!  Yet we all know that the perfect gift loses its glamour within a short amount of time.  We placed all our joy into one thing, and we end up feeling Melancholy as we realize what we wanted is NOT fulfilling us like we thought it would.

Christmas time is nostalgic – especially in our culture.  We’re always dreaming of the white Christmas – just like the ones we used to know…  Christmas as a child was magical, other-worldly, almost heaven.  Yet as we get older, we constantly look back to that memory, and Christmas just doesn’t measure up anymore.  Maybe because our parents or siblings or our children are no longer around.  This time of year just makes us miss them even more. 

How, with all of these depressing thoughts, can we possibly follow Paul’s words to “rejoice at all times” and “give thanks always”.  At a glance, that’s unrealistic.
Depression and melancholy are almost constantly taking swings at us…punching us in the gut.  But – if we look again at what C.S.Lewis said about Joy: – All Joy reminds…. It is a desire for something long ago, far away, or still about to be…  Joy is what gives us those memories – Joy is what fills us with that sense of longing. See – even in our depression, God is reaching out to us with Joy.  These stabs of pain are a tug from God.  He’s reminding us that our joy is not to be complete this side of heaven.  God is the hound of heaven – constantly pursuing us….but we often ignore him.  Instead, We keep pursuing that one thing we long for – graduation, a perfect  job, the perfect spouse, the dream house, that 22 point buck, that next beer, or another bowl of ice cream – whatever it is that we THINK will bring us joy… and we devote all of our energy into pursuing that – ignoring God who is constantly breathing down our back as He pursues us.

Fortunately, God will not be ignored…We suddenly see a beautiful sunset, and there’s a feeling in our heart… like we recognize that there is a source to this great beauty and this brief moment is just a taste of something bigger and better.  It’s a passing feeling… this temporary joy doesn’t last and we’re left with an ache in our heart.  But if we can change our thinking about these moments and recognize that they are just peep-holes into the grandeur of God – These pangs of longing are the breath of God breathing down our neck - designed to create that desire in our hearts to come closer to God.  Yes – what I’m saying is that our LONGING FOR JOY is actually a gift from God to pull us closer to him.

Not easy to believe, not at all! – but think about my story – Rocky had everything he could dream of.  He HAD nothing to long for… there was no sense of longing, because in Hell, God is not present.  That sense of longing is a sign of God’s presence!!!  That’s my punch-line:  the sense of longing in our hearts is actually a sign of God’s presence!!  Joy is reaching out to us.

Not easy to believe… but recognizing God’s presence is the first step to being able to do what Paul told us to do: “rejoice at all times” 
          ...even when it feels like we’re losing.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

2017/11/26 - Thy Kingdom Come

Before Mass:

There’s a connection between the first reading and the Gospel which might not be evident to us, so I want to point it out ahead of time:  Notice in the first reading how many times God says “I will” do this and “I will” do that.  God makes all of these promises, saying he personally will make a bunch of things happen.  Then in the Gospel, Jesus says we will be judged based on whether WE did those things that God promised to do.  If God said he’ll do it, why should WE have to do anything?


We ask for it every time we pray the Our Father…. ‘thy kingdom come’.  Do we mean it?  Do we really want Jesus as our King?  Are we helping to bring about that kingdom?

We’re stuck in the middle of “already but not yet”, where the kingdom of God IS present – and yet not fully present.  How do we know the kingdom is not yet fully established?  Just look at the headlines.  The powerful use and abuse the weak.  Homelessness and drug use and crime keep escalating.  Mass shootings seem to be an almost daily occurrence – even in church.  The world is divided in so many ways:  Men vs women;  Black vs White;  Liberal vs Conservative;  Catholic vs Protestant;  Christian vs Muslim;  Pro-Life vs Pro-Death.  No – the kingdom of God will not be fully present until we are all ONE.  One body of Christ.  Obviously, we ain’t there yet.  Thy Kingdom come.

But – there are signs of hope.  How do we know the kingdom IS already partially present?  We can see Christians doing all of those things Jesus mentioned in the Gospel:  feeding the hungry, water for the thirsty, ministering to the sick and imprisoned.  Let’s just look at one example of each of those:

Feed the Hungry:  our Grace Co-Op has delivered thousands of meals to folks in need over the last several years – many thanks to Sander Catering and the many volunteers who do the deliveries – and also to Denise Hohler for coordinating that for such a long time. 

Water for the Thirsty:  one of the things Gary and Cathy Boice have done in Jeremie, Haiti is to build water purification systems at 5 schools in the area.  The children then have clean water while at school and they’re allowed to take home 2 gallons per day so their family can also have clean water.  And just this week we got pictures from Dupity – a group came in and trained thirty ladies how to use a bucket filter to filter water for 90 families.

Ministering to the sick:  you don’t have to look far to see people visiting, taking food to the sick, taking communion to our parishioners at home, sending cards, visiting in the hospital and nursing homes.  It’s such an easy way to bring the Love of Christ into their lives.

Visiting those in prison:  Honestly, I’ve never felt called to prison ministry – but there’s a ministry called Kairos which is amazing.  It is a retreat that is held in the state and federal prisons to let the offenders know they are not forgotten – and that somebody on the outside loves them – and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.  Many lives have been changed inside the walls of prison.  The men I know who go into the prison to put on these retreats inspire me.  They’re not priests – they’re just ordinary men from the pews – doing an extraordinary service. 
We could talk all day about how Christ’s Kingdom is already being established – but you get the idea.  Whenever we do any of these things, we do it for Christ.

Today, we are invited to be part of the story…. We are called to participate in the kingdom of King Jesus.  Remember in that first reading how God said ‘I will’ so many times…. I will tend my sheep.  I will rescue them; I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest; The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal.  GOD himself is doing all of these things… so where do you and I come in?

WE don’t do anything.. . but Christ works THROUGH us.  When we’re open to the Spirit, God can use us to do these kinds of works.  Notice again, we don’t do these things to earn our right to enter the kingdom… we do these things to ESTABLISH the kingdom.

I think it’s interesting that in the Gospel, both the sheep and the goats seem surprised.  Lord, when did we see you and minister to you?  They hadn’t done those works as a way to earn Jesus’ Love – they did it BECAUSE they were loved.  Doing those corporal works of mercy were just part of who they were.

That’s how we know we’re in the kingdom – when we visit the lonely – when we comfort the mourning – when we reach out to the least of these – who ARE the least of these anyway?  Anyone who cannot pay us back.  Anyone who has no prestige.  Anyone who doesn’t bring honor to me… they are the least of these.  We don’t help others because of who THEY are or what we can earn… we do it because of who WE are.  We are the ones Blessed by the Father.

There’s a quote Glenda has on her emails which speaks volumes…
We don't serve people because they are Catholic or we expect them to be Catholic. We serve them because we are Catholic.

Long Live Christ the King!  Thy Kingdom Come!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017/11/19 - It's not about the Money

Before Mass
We’ve got another one of those parables from Jesus to stretch our brains today.  This is the one about the Talents.  Remember – the Master gave 5 talents to one guy, 2 to another, and 1 to another.  I’m sure you all know that a ‘talent’ was a measure of weight – for example pounds.  It was somewhere between 75 and 125 pounds – so for argument sake we’ll say 100 pounds… so assuming the Talent they’re talking about was in gold, it would be worth over $2 million at today’s price for gold.  The thing is – this parable is not really about money.  I give you the value of a talent just to help us all realize that even the guy who only gets one Talent STILL is given a fortune…don’t think of him as mistreated.  The question for all of us to ponder as we listen is:  if it’s not about money, what’s Jesus trying to tell US with this story?  You might also focus on “what did the last servant do wrong”?

Homily –
Everybody understand what Jesus was trying to say?  It’s not about money – so what IS it about?

We know the Talent was a way to measure wealth – so if the parable ain’t about money, It must be a metaphor for something… but What does the Talent represent?  What is it that we can invest and immediately double – but if we fail to invest it, it is taken from us?

How about Love… Love only grows if it is given away.  Here’s an over-simplified example:   if I GIVE a hug, I RECEIVE a hug… so one hug becomes two.  If instead, I bury my hugs in the ground… I actually have no hug at all.  If I don’t give my love away, then none comes back to me.  If I smile, it increases the smiles around me… but if I bury my smile in the ground, then not only have I missed a chance to bring joy to the world, but I have lost my own joy.  Love only grows when it is given away.  It also applies to our Faith – if we never actually USE our faith – if we never actually put our trust in God – then it’s like a muscle that never gets exercised… it withers.  Faith only grows in the measure in which it is exercised.  So my suggestion is that the Talent represents everything God gave us – our life, faith, abilities, charisms – and the parable implies that God wants us to invest it into something – but what are we investing in? 

What is this “Master’s Joy” we're invited to share in?
Think about that – what gave Joy to the master in the parable?  To see his kingdom growing…  Same for God – his Joy comes from seeing His kingdom of Love growing.  That is the joy of the Master which we are invited to share in… so when we HELP to spread the kingdom, we feel good about it…seriously… that is how we “share the master’s joy”.  Notice, it’s not a reward … it’s not something we EARN… it’s simply an invitation to join the Mission that Jesus gave us to ‘share the good news with the whole world’.  When we invest ourselves in that Mission, it gives purpose to our lives… it gives meaning to suffering… it energizes us and makes life worth living. 
What did the final servant do to deserve being thrown into the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth?

Nothing – he did nothing wrong… but that’s the trouble:  he did nothing.  The master in the parable calls the servant lazy – and that’s why he lost his Talent and ended up in darkness.  Laziness…another word is Slothfulness, which is one of the seven deadly sins.  You’ll recall, there are two kinds of sin:  sins of COMMISSION, where we do something wrong and sins of OMMISSION where we fail to do what is required.

What is this place of darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth?
I think at the end of our lives, we’ll look back and see all the opportunities we missed to share the love of Christ with others – we’ll recognize the joy we passed up and the harm we caused to the kingdom of God – and our regret will be so intense that we will wail and gnash our teeth, because we regret that when given the opportunity to spread love… we did nothing….we failed to invest ourselves… we failed to give it away.  Now it’s very important to notice that this is NOT a punishment!  God doesn’t THROW us into that darkness… we choose to go there by burying what He gave us.

Here’s how I would summarize this parable – we have a choice:  we can share everything God gave us to spread his kingdom of Love – and thereby share in our Master’s Joy… or we can bury our Love and continue to live in darkness.

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)