Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018/03/25 - Palm Sunday: Choose Your Jesus

Before Mass:
When you pray to Jesus, how do you picture him?  Is he a teacher?  Healer?  Is he bloodied on a cross or standing piously pointing to heaven?  Does he demand anything of us, or does he just say, I’m OK, you’re OK?  Jesus has many faces – which do you choose?

We start today’s Mass with the crowds going wild welcoming their king… a parade ushering into Jerusalem the son of David come to restore greatness to Israel.  We end with a parade of people led by that same son of David carrying a cross on his back as he leaves Jerusalem.  A lot changed in one week.  Jesus had two paths – a choice of which kind of king He would be… and the people had a choice of which kind of King they wanted.  He had to be tempted by the Palm Sunday parade… we all want to be loved – we all want the path to power and fame.  But Jesus knew that what awaited him was the path of humiliation, pain, and feeling abandoned even by God the Father.  Put yourself into the crowd as we listen to these highlights from the last week of Jesus’ life on earth and ask yourself – which Jesus do I prefer?


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… these phrases describe the state of the world in Charles Dickens’ classic book “A Tale of Two Cities” – but it could just as well describe what we hear today in our scripture readings.  Jesus has two paths before him… the path to the throne of Earthly Kingship …and the path to the throne of the cross.  Jesus had to choose:  which Jesus he would be.

There’s a scene from the movie Talladega Nights, where they get into a fight over their meal prayer because Ricky, the guy leading grace, keeps praying to the “Dear Lord Baby Jesus”.  Others argue that Jesus grew up and had a beard, so it’s weird to be praying to the infant Jesus.

Ricky responds:  “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace.  When you say grace, you can say it to the Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”

What follows is a bit of a theological free-for-all.  Everybody in the family votes for a favorite Jesus.  “I like to think of Jesus like a Ninja, fightin’ off evil samurai,” says one of the boys. 
Ricky’s race partner adds:  “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt.  ‘Cause it says like, I wanna be formal but I’m here to party, too.  I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

I’m NOT recommending this movie to teach us theology of how to pray.  But Ricky’s family is at least  willing to do openly what most of us do without even really thinking about it: We choose our own Jesus.

We might like our Jesus all cleaned-up and proper – little or no blood.  We take away anything that might make us uncomfortable – for example – that loin cloth was not part of the Roman execution.  The victim was stripped completely naked – as part of their public humiliation.  But we choose a Jesus who we can look at without shame and without horror.

We might like Jesus the healer, preferring the stories of how he healed the blind, the lame, the raising of Lazarus – now THAT’S the kind of Jesus we want around – our own personal genie in a bottle just waiting to grant our wishes.

We might like Jesus the teacher, as we picture ourselves sitting on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee listening to Jesus teach about ‘Blessed are the poor’…  His words seem to contain a deep, eternal truth in them.  I mean, we wouldn’t actually want to “be” poor, but Jesus the teacher sure makes it sound virtuous.  We like thinking about virtue.

We might prefer Jesus the table-turner – as we point our fingers at everything and everyone around us who has strayed from the path of Truth.  And most of us doing the pointing think that we’ve got THE truth on our side; we can even point to documents and dogmas and doctrines to support our claim to be right…so we join Jesus turning over tables.

Nobody in their right mind would choose Jesus the weak, humiliated, poor, bloody, hated revolutionary from nowheresville, Nazareth.
But every one of has to do it:  We choose our Jesus.

Which takes us to the Gospel reading… At a glance, the choice seemed straightforward.  Pilate presented two prisoners: a convicted felon named Barabbas and a teacher from Galilee named Jesus.  He declared his intention to set one free.  Which one would the crowd prefer?

Barabbas was what you might call a celebrity terrorist - a brave patriot or nationalist revolutionary who had had the guts to do what a lot of other people had only dreamed of doing: he had stood up to the despised Romans.  Luke tells us that he had committed murder, presumably of someone sympathetic to the empire.

But there’s one detail left out of most manuscripts which in a way, adds a whole ‘nother dimension to the story.  In some of the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew, we discover that Barabbas has a first name.  His first name is…. Jesus.  Yeah – kinda weird ain’t it?  I guess that’s why the translators left that part out – out of respect for Jesus Christ.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"
It is a dramatic moment:  Which Jesus do you want?  This Jesus or that Jesus?

The two prisoners stood before the crowd.
It may have seemed as if they were on trial.  But in truth, it was now the crowd that was on trial.  Which of these two figures held the greater promise for the nation of Israel?  Was it Jesus Barabbas, who would hit the Romans hard, make something important happen, and inspire the masses to revolution?  Or was it Jesus of Nazareth, whose primary weapons were trusting God, refusing to worry, and loving one's enemies?

Every day, like those in the crowd that day, we must decide which Jesus we want. 
Perhaps I want the Infant Baby Jesus who doesn’t challenge me about my bad habits.  Maybe I want a Jesus who approves of my political views.  Or the Jesus who, amazingly, can't stand the very same people I can't stand.  Or the Jesus who understands me and doesn’t insist that I change my way of life.

It comes down to this: Am I only wanting a Jesus who promises to REMOVE the thorns and suffering from my life here?  Or do I want a Jesus who takes the thorns into his flesh to show me the path to true joy WHILE He suffers with me? 

Choose your Jesus.
** (I need to give credit to Glenn MacDonald – a Presbyterian Minister from Indianapolis.  He has a knack for opening up the scriptures with new insights and inspiration, and I want to credit him with inspiration for my homily today.(but if you don’t like it, I’ll take the blame))

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018/03/04 - A Vision for the Church

Before Mass:
(note:  we are using the Cycle A readings which are just a couple pages later in your missalette)

Have you ever thought about what you think our parish should be like 10 or 20 years from now?  Probably not – see we just kinda think the way church is now is how it’s always been and how it always will be – that’s normal to think that, but it’s not true.  The church – including our parish – is changing fast.  Whereas 20     years ago, most of our neighbors belonged to this parish, today, that’s not the case.  Now –I’m not worried about it necessarily, because I know God is still in control – however, I do think we need to plan ahead.  Ask ourselves, what would we LIKE our parish to look like in 20 years?  More importantly, What would GOD want his church to look like in 20 years?  Once we answer that question, then we need to put plans in place to work with the Holy Spirit to make that vision a reality.

The most important line in the Gospel might actually be the line right BEFORE the Gospel! 

"Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee. (and) He "had to" pass through Samaria. "

See – Jesus had been up near Jerusalem at the Jordan river when He heard that the Pharisees were getting uncomfortable with how He was growing in popularity.  Since it wasn’t yet his time to die, he high-tailed it north back to Galilee, where he would spend most of his ministry.  To get there, he either had to go around Samaria or go through it.  Any pious Jew would have gone around, because Jews HATED Samaritans – they were half-breeds, impure, outcasts, lower than dogs!  But it says Jesus “had to” go through it.  Nothing Jesus did was incidental… He purposely crossed the border and went through Samaria to give us a vision of what His kingdom would be like. We get to eaves drop on his conversation with the woman at the well in today’s Gospel.  Pay attention to what this encounter tells us about the Kingdom of God.  And in case you're wondering, put yourself into the shoes of the woman at the well.
That was a long reading, so let’s cut right to the core of the message.  Jesus “had to” go through Samaria to meet this woman.  He went against all of the common sense of the day:  nobody travels THROUGH samaria, no man talks to a woman, no Jew talks to a Samaritan, no Jew would consider drinking from something a Samaritan TOUCHED!
Jesus had to go through Samaria to give us a vision for his Kingdom; that it would reach out to all of the outcasts.  EVERYBODY was to be included – even a Samaritan woman who’d had 5 men.  Everybody…even a Catholic sinner from Dubois County 2000 years later…yeah… even you and me.
Jesus invited this woman to a relationship.  Notice that!  ‘Who’ she was, ‘where’ she was from, and ‘what’ she had done were afterthoughts in this reading – the conversation started with an invitation.  Jesus went to where SHE was just to meet her and offer her fellowship in the Kingdom…  Before talking about her sin, without even mentioning her religious upbringing or whether she followed all the rules in their religion.  That didn’t matter.  Jesus crossed all of those borders to find her.
That’s a vision we can apply to our own parish.  We should be crossing borders… going out to the outcasts to invite them into the Kingdom.  We shouldn’t care about their religious affiliation, gender, race, political party, marital status… that’s all incidental.  We start with the invitation.  We go where they are – meet them in their mess – to offer them the same living water we’ve found in Jesus.
That’s nice to talk about – but what would that really look like?  Here are some concrete ideas I have – a vision for our parish.  We should be reaching out to the outcasts of our community.  First, I’d like to see us be even more welcoming.  See - We are such a close community that it’s easy to talk to our friends and family before and after Mass, but outsiders coming in find it hard to feel at home with us sometimes because they’re not included.  Nobody is to blame here – we just may never have noticed the problem.   I have some ideas how we can reach out to them.  Even people who have been here for a while never know how to get connected – how to get involved.  My vision is that everyone would be involved in ways they enjoy and build-up the kingdom.  Second – there are a lot of folks from our community who no longer join us – maybe because they didn’t feel welcomed?  Maybe they felt judged?  Maybe they never got invited to personally get involved?  We can reach out to them and personally invite them back – and re-build those personal relationships.  Third – there are a lot of non-Catholics in our area – which is different that it was 25 years ago.  We need to review our Mission as a church – we need to be like Jesus and go out of our way to meet them where they are and invite them to be part of our family.  Fourth – there is a community that springs up at the lake every Summer which is another vineyard waiting to be harvested.  What creative ways can we use to invite them to be part of our family even on a temporary basis. 
We have to cross borders:  It might mean we have to come out of our pews, come out of our comfort zones, come out of our houses, even drive a bit out of town – but like Jesus ‘had to’ go through Samaria, we ‘have to’ go out to where the people are.  We have to believe that they WANT to be invited… they’re just waiting at the well for us to offer them the Living Water.
Would you like to help make this vision a reality?  I propose to finally start an Evangelization team.  April 18th will be our first meeting – so watch the bulletin for details – and, if this really interests you, talk to me.  I’d love to start kicking around ideas.  We’ll have some great opportunities this summer as we help celebrate the 175th.
Maybe the Evangelization team isn’t for you – but everybody has a need to feel like part of the parish.  We do that best by getting involved. 
After the 10 am Mass, we’re having a brunch for EVERYONE – yes – everyone is encouraged to come.  We’ve got a couple dozen of our outreach ministries queued up to talk for just a couple minutes about what their ministry does.  For example, I’ve had a couple of young ladies approach me in the last year saying they want to get involved in the parish but don’t know how – so I spent a little time finding out what interests they have – and got them connected with a ministry.  Now, not only are they active, invaluable members of those groups, but they now have a personal ownership in our parish.  We have so many ministries that you may not even know what they are:  Grace Co-Op, Hospitality Committee, SVDP, Helping Hands, Parish Nursing, St. Anne’s Sodality, KofC…and bunches more – for men and women of all ages.  Whether you enjoy making food or cutting firewood, talking to people or praying or driving…you name it, we need your gifts.  I’d say everyone here WANTS to feel a part of the parish –  This brunch is a simple way to get some ideas where you’d best fit.  There won’t be any pressure to sign up for anything – this is informational. 
Jesus has crossed the border and is sitting at the well waiting for you – inviting you to come closer.  Will you give Him a drink?


Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018/02/11 - If you wish

Before Mass:  Pay attention to the first reading, because it really sets the stage for the Gospel.  You’ll notice it talks about how Lepers are to be treated… then in the Gospel Put yourself in the shoes of the Leper who comes to Jesus.  The whole homily is on only two phrases In the Gospel, the first line and what the Leper says to Jesus.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Lectionary: 77
    Reading 1 Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
    Responsorial Psalm Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11
    Reading 2 1 Cor 10:31—11:1
    Gospel Mk 1:40-45

One Friday morning this past November, Mary went to Celestine church to setup for Mass like she always does.  After setting up, she went back to her car to get a book – and noticed something sitting next to her rear bumper that wasn’t there when she arrived 10 minutes earlier.  It was dark yet, so her eyes couldn’t make out what it was – it sorta looked like a cat, but it was bright orange on top.  Finally getting close enough, she could tell it was indeed a cat with it’s head stuck in a Cheetos bag.  As she got close, the Cat heard her approaching and meowed pitifully, as if it was asking Mary for help.  Mary reached down and pulled off the Cheetos bag, and the cat meowed a bunch as if to thank her – rubbed against her a bit – then trotted away.  What’s interesting about this is, how did that cat know Mary was there?  Since it couldn’t SEE, how did it manage to get up to the parking lot from wherever it had been?  And why did it come to the church?  My guess is that he heard the sound of her car pull in and heard her get out, so he make his way up the hill toward the sound – that sound was the cat’s only hope – he knew he needed a human to help, since he had been unable to help himself.  One human hand made a difference.

That cat is similar to the Leper in today’s Gospel.  Let’s look at two phrases of the Gospel which will make my point.

Like that very first line:  ‘A Leper came to Jesus’.  We could stop right there – it’s packed with meaning.  Based on what we heard in the first reading, a Leper should NEVER have approached Jesus.  They were publicly shunned and forced to live apart.  If anybody did come close, they were to shout UNCLEAN just to keep anyone from accidentally touching them – because if anybody touched them, they immediately became unclean and would be forced out of town as well.  But this guy CAME TO JESUS.  It shows a remarkable faith he must have had that he would endure the public humiliation of moving through a crowd of people – think about that – there was always a crowd around Jesus – so in order to get close to Jesus, he would have had to shout UNCLEAN over and over – and people would have recoiled – grabbed their children and ran away – it would be like somebody coming in here with Ebola – we’d all be scared to death that we were going to get it, we’d be shouting at HIM to go away!!!.  So this guy endured the public humiliation and ridicule in order to get to his last source of hope:  Jesus.

He only says one thing, but it’s powerful:  ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’.  If you wish… most translations say ‘if you’re willing’ or ‘if it is your will’ – which ought to remind us of a prayer we pray all the time… “thy kingdom come, THY WILL BE DONE”.  Like the Leper, we cannot DEMAND that God do anything for us.  No – we simply go to the feet of Jesus, tell Him our need, and say ‘if it is your will, you can make me clean’.  Two places I can think of off the top of my head where we already do that.  First – just before Communion we pray a little prayer which sounds very similar:  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”.  We ARE the Leper in the story, approaching Jesus so that we can be made whole again – so that we can be brought back into the community – back to our family.  Leprosy meant loss of all relationships – but Jesus can restore those relationships if we come to him.  I’d say more than anything, Jesus DOES will to restore relationships…with each other, and with God.  That’s why we call it Communion…  because it restores the relationship of the whole community with God.

The other place we are just like the Leper is in the confessional.  We come to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to heal us spiritually.  Now – in case you don’t know where the confessional is in our church, let me point it out.  A lot of people are nervous about confession, but let me assure you Fr. Eugene is great at this Sacrament.  He is a vessel of God’s mercy, waiting to pour out on all of us.  During Lent, there will be multiple options for going to Confession.  If you’ve not been in a while, just tell Father that and he’ll very nicely guide you through it.  Or – if you’d rather, contact me and I’ll walk you thru the process once so you might feel more comfortable.  Oh –something else somebody asked me just the other day – how do I know if Father is in there- and how do I know I’m not walking in on somebody?  Well – if the green light is on, it means Father is in there – and if the red light is on, that means somebody else is in there, so you should wait.

Now here’s some great news:  you do not have to confess your sins to a Priest!  Did that wake anybody up?  Don’t leave – I have to explain.  You do not have to confess your sins to a Priest.  A lot of people think that Catholics are blaspheming to force everyone to confess to a Priest – why – only GOD can forgive sins!  And I’d say, they’re right!  Only God can forgive sins!!  Fortunately for us as Catholics, every time Father puts on his stole, which is the sign of his office, when he does that, he is acting ‘in persona christi’ – which is latin for ‘acting in the person of Christ’. What that means is, when you confess your sins to Fr. Eugene, it’s not Fr. Eugene you’re confessing to – but it’s Jesus himself!  Fr. Eugene is simply allowing Christ to use his body to perform the Sacrament.  When Father raises his had and says “I absolve you of your sin”, it’s actually Jesus saying those words through the mouth of Fr. Eugene.  Jesus says, “I do will it – be made clean.”

We are all like the cat in my first story.  We all have our head stuck in a Cheetos bag – we all have leprosy – we are all sinners in need of spiritual healing.  We try as long as we can to fix ourselves – imagine that cat pawing at his head all night long, trying desperately to get the bag off – probably scared to death.  But once he came to his senses and realized he couldn’t save himself, he knew he needed a human touch – so he sought that human touch at our church.  Likewise, we try to fix ourselves – buying self-help books, thinking ‘if I just pray harder’, I can handle this myself.  At some point, we all have to admit, this sin disease we have is not something we can cure.  When we are as desperate as a cat with his head stuck in a Cheetos bag, we will risk humiliation to get the help of a human hand.  When we really want to get cleansed of our sin, we will realize the only option is to do what the Leper did – Come to Jesus.
One other thing about that cat story –That morning, Mary was a conduit of grace for that cat.  Not only did the CAT feel good about that encounter, it filled Mary with the Grace of God to be able to reach out and help someone.  Mary has told this story a dozen times or more.  It made a difference for both the Cat and for Mary….and maybe this weekend, that little story will make a difference in your life as well.

See – we are all called to reach out with our own human hand to touch others.  WE are supposed to bring the Grace of God to others – and when we do that, not only are those people helped, but it makes us feel good as well.  That’s how the Grace of God works… the more we give it away, the more we get.  Would YOU like to feel the Grace of God in your own life?  We all can, just by doing something to make a difference in somebody’s life. 

I want to challenge everybody to find a way at LEAST once a week to go out of our way to make a difference for somebody.  How about taking on that challenge instead of giving up chocolate for Lent this year!?  Maybe you can send a card to someone to lift their spirits – or do a random act of kindness like paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line.  Maybe you know somebody who REALLY needs help – like an older person who just needs somebody to stop in and talk once in a while – or take out their trash –or help with grocery shopping.  Maybe you know somebody with a lot of medical bills – don’t we all know somebody like that?  The more we give of ourselves, the more Grace of God that comes back to us.  God cannot be out-given.

This challenge is for everybody.   We ALL should be looking for opportunities every day to BE the hand of God.   However, I want to offer an incentive to our students – everybody age 5 through college raise your hand – Those hands are the hands of God.  I want to give you $5 to use to make a difference in somebody’s life.  Can you imagine the impact on our community with this many people all making a difference at the same time!  It COULD be awesome!  You can decide how much time you want to put into it:  send a card, buy a box of chocolates and take it around a nursing home just to spend time talking with people, Pick your favorite charity to support.  We’ve had some creative ideas over the years from our students from simple to big.  Be creative, and if you need ideas – look for these colored binders in the back of church.

Now- I know a lot of parents kind of discourage their kids from participating in this, because it becomes something the parents have to do, since the kids won’t take initiative to do it on their own.  So – students – read my lips - make this YOUR Lenten project that YOU do.  You can ask your parents for help, but don’t make them have to nag you!!  Remember, It doesn’t HAVE to be a big deal.  Ask God what HE wants you to do!  There are only two requirements:  1) you can’t keep the money and 2) you should share with me a short description of what you did.  Anyone interested can catch me after Mass to sign up and get your $5.

Everybody - Go out there and BE the hand of God in our community.  Go make a difference. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

2018/01/21 - The Word of the Lord came ...

The word of the Lord came to Jonah…  we hear that kind of phrase VERY often in the scriptures… in fact, (unscientifically), I counted 126 times in the Old Testament.  The Word of the Lord still comes to people today – in fact, I guarantee He’s trying to speak to every person in here.  I mean that. 

Did God speak to you last year?  Most of us would honestly sit here and think, "I don't think so."
Remember these little Mass Journals which we passed out at the beginning of 2017?  I know – most of us have forgotten them or thrown them away or they’re stashed in a drawer somewhere – but I know SOME people are still diligently using them.  Imagine if you had that – you could look back and see what spiritual insights you found throughout the year….you could say it would be a book of 52 times that the Word of the Lord came to ME this year.  See – without a journal, we might sit here and think God hasn’t really spoken to me at all in the last year… but if we force ourselves to pay attention enough to write it down, then we NOTICE the Spirit speaking to us.  Find your journals.  Make that your new year’s resolution to replace the ones you’ve already given up on.  If you’ve misplaced your journal or if you’ve filled yours up, we have more at the doors of church.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah…  like I said, we hear that kind of phrase 126 times in the Old Testament …. What’s interesting is we don’t hear that phrase once in the New Testament.  Obviously, the word of the Lord stopped coming to people after Jesus arrived, right?

Actually, In the New Testament, it took on a new way of being expressed.  After Jesus’ resurrection, the Paraclete came – which of course, is the Holy Spirit.  MANY times in the new testament, in fact so many times I didn’t bother counting, it refers to someone being ‘filled with the Spirit’ or ‘the Spirit said to them’.  The Word of the Lord still comes to people – but we recognize it as the work of the Holy Spirit.

What’s supposed to happen to people when the Word of the Lord comes to us?
Same thing that happened when Jonah did what the word of the Lord told him to say.  Ninevah – which was in the modern day Mosul in Iraq, repented.  Jonah didn’t even want to BE there, but after just one day of delivering the word of the Lord to them, the entire country repented!!  Jonah was ticked off that God forgave them.  To understand why, let’s say that God threatened to destroy Isis.  Now from our perspective, that would be a great thing… it’s about time they get what’s coming to them.  OK – let’s say the word of the lord came to you to go to Isis and tell them that God is going to destroy them in 30 days if they don’t change their ways.  You and I would be like Jonah – no way – I ain’t going.  Let them be destroyed!!  Jonah went so far out of his way to avoid going – that’s when he got swallowed by the whale.  So you can imagine that even when Jonah finally got there, his heart likely wasn’t into it.  That actually makes it even more amazing that they listened.  BUT it also proves a valuable point to us:  the word of the Lord is powerful and fulfills its purpose regardless of the worthiness of the messenger.

Let me repeat that, because it’s an important point and we’ll come back to it:  the word of the Lord is powerful and fulfills its purpose regardless of the worthiness of the messenger. 

But that was the Old Testament – again – a long, long time ago in a country far, far away. 
Well in the New Testament … remember, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.  So now instead of talking about the Word of the Lord coming to people, we have Jesus –THE WORD - coming to people.  – and today’s Gospel is a great example of that.  Jesus says to Peter and Andrew – Come – and they dropped everything and went – then he saw James and John and said Come – and they dropped everything and went.  The Word of God fulfills its purpose. 

If you think about it, you and I would not be here today if those fishermen had refused to follow the word of the Lord.  The entire Church was founded on the Word and expanded leaps and bounds because the disciples were open to not only HEARING the word of the Lord – but DOING what the Word of the Lord told them to do.

That’s where it comes back to you and me.  The Spirit continues to speak to and through anyone who will listen.  Trouble is, many of us, myself included are not very good at listening to the Word of the Lord.  Several issues – first is busy-ness.  We’re not good at stopping doing doing doing… even when I go to the chapel to pray, I usually take a book, or work on a homily… not bad things  - in fact, often the Spirit will speak to us through a book we’re reading.  BUT – there’s a type of message the Lord can only deliver to us when we’ve removed all distractions and just let Him speak.  The silence is the first necessity, and the chapel is perfect for that.  Next problem – if the Spirit does speak to me, I’m not sure I’d recognize it.  I mean – I’m not accustomed to the Spirit speaking to me.  But – maybe you’ve had an experience like this:  someone comes up to you or calls you or sends you a card which says EXACTLY what you needed to hear…. There’s a good chance the Spirit prompted them to deliver that message.  I  had a perfect example last month… I sent a text to one of our college students to invite her to the retreat at the end of December, and she replied immediately that my note was perfect timing – she’d just had a major event occur within the past couple hours and felt like God knew that this retreat was EXACTLY what she needed!  Is that a coincidence?  No way…The Word of the Lord came to her through me!!  But there’s a second reason I tell that story – because the very next thing she asked was ‘how long do I have to decide?’.  I was like ‘ WHAT’!  You just said that God knows this is EXACTLY what you need – and you have to WAIT to decide?!  Are you waiting for something better to come along!?!?!   She got the point – and immediately committed – and it really was exactly where she needed to be on that retreat with us. 

What message is God trying to tell you?  What message is He asking YOU to deliver?
Remember last week, Father had us kneel in adoration 1 minute at the end of his homily so we could practice listening?  Did you hear anything?  See we’re not accustomed to actually EXPECTING God to talk to us at Church… think about how crazy that sounds:   we come to God’s house, listen to His words in the scripture, and receive His body/blood in the Eucharist, but we don’t EXPECT him to actually speak to us!!!  or Maybe you didn’t know what you were listening for… so I’d like to suggest being a little more specific in your prayer.  We’ll take a minute of silence at the end of the homily to practice listening again – try Thinking about the people you’ve talked to in the last day or so.  Ask God – is there a message you want me to deliver to one of these people?  Maybe someone is struggling with something and as you think of them, God puts it on your heart to say something.

I’m hoping some of you share some interesting stories with me this week of what message God asked you to deliver. 

My point is, we have to EXPECT the Word of the Lord to come to us – we should EXPECT the Spirit to speak to us in prayer – especially in church!!  That’s why we need a journal to write it down – not ‘if’ but ‘when’ He does speak to us.  Jesus told us today the Kingdom of God is at hand!  That means it’s here, in our midst, all we gotta do is tap into it!  We don’t have to do anything special – like the fishermen in the Gospel, we just go about our daily business – but when the Word of the Lord comes to us, we should be detached enough from our worldly possessions to walk away when we hear him say ‘Come Follow’.

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.