Saturday, April 20, 2019

2019/04/21 Resurrecting Hope

The whole world seems to be falling apart and becoming more violent, more hateful.  It would be easy to despair if we focused on all the negativity.  But Easter is THE ultimate day of hope…  and I want to share a story about Lenny  – A TRUE story – although I changed some details to protect his real identity.

Lenny was what we would call a “hardened criminal” – and he looked the part:  muscular, tatoos everywhere, a thick beard and a scowl told you to give him plenty of room.   His mom had died when he was 6 – his Dad had done some bad things… unforgivable things.  By the time he was 12, Lenny was fending for himself on the street, joined a gang, got messed up in doing and selling drugs, and at 18 was sentenced to life in prison for a brutal murder.

From all accounts, Lenny was a hopeless case… a sorry excuse for a human being.  The system wrote him off.  His family wrote him off.  Counselors wrote him off.  He was as good as dead.

Lenny survived all these years in prison by doing two things:  He was purposely mean, thinking it would  ‘earn’ the respect of everyone on the yard – and second: every day he fed his anger.

See – Lenny blamed his dad for how his life had turned out.  If his dad hadn’t been such a loser, Lenny might have stayed on the path of a normal life.  Not only that, for reasons I can’t explain, Lenny blamed his Dad for his Mom’s death.

To put it mildly, Lenny hated his Dad.  That hate and anger fueled Lenny to pull further and further away from people – to scowl harder – cuss more violently – becoming ever meaner.  Every day, Lenny would wake up with this anger, and lay there feeding it like you’d feed a pet dog -  Lenny’s anger was his backbone.
But then a group of men showed up to put on a Kairos retreat.  In case you’re not familiar with Kairos, it is a three-day retreat based on the Cursillo method, but it was developed specifically for prisons.  Upon hearing that Kairos was coming, Lenny rolled his eyes… whatever – ain’t no blankety-blank, blankin’ Christians blankety blank gonna save me! 

But when the retreat started, Lenny was sitting at the table.  That’s not totally surprising – I mean – at least for those three days he’d get fed REAL FOOD – and he got to be out of his cell three times as long.  He wasn’t there to find Jesus – not a chance - he was just there for a break in the monotony and the cookies.
On the third day of the retreat – at 10 am – Lenny spoke up for the first time all week without cussing.   “I want to give my life to Christ”.  And this big bear of a man put his head down and sobbed.  Amazingly, all these other men who had been avoiding Lenny circled around him and prayed with him – yeah – it’s hard to even imagine the scene.  37 hardened criminals gathered around one bawling gangster talking to Jesus.

Somewhere through the three days, the witnesses that were shared by the team and the other offenders at the retreat led Lenny for the first time to realize that his anger wasn’t his strength – it was his weakness.  His unforgiveness of his Dad wasn’t his backbone, it was a poison killing him from the inside.  His unforgiveness was his own personal prison in which he had locked his heart.  Jesus was able to reach down into that prison – into the hardened heart of a man who had spent his life avoiding letting anybody get close.  For the first time since his Mom died, people showed Lenny what love looks like! 

I share this true story because – it’s a great sign of hope.  Regardless of how hopeless things can seem, the Grace of God can ignite hope from the smallest kindling.
Every one of us here has something in our life that seems hopeless… our marriage, our relationship with a brother or sister or parent, a dead-end job, a teenager on drugs, a spouse addicted to alcohol, an injury or illness that has us sidelined.  Every one of us experiences these seemingly impossible situations and it would be so easy to fall into despair…. Yet we dare to keep hoping.

If God can reach into the stone tomb to raise his Son from the dead, God can change ANY hopeless situation.  If God can reach into the stone tomb of the prison to touch the heart of a hardened criminal, He can reach the heart of OUR hopeless relationships.  Really…

What do we have to do?  Obviously pray – but then just BE the instrument for God to show love to that person.  Just like the team that went into the prison to put on Kairos, you and I can be the arms outstretched to show love to even the un-lovable.  By showing Lenny what love looks like, his heart melted.  We may still have to give tough-love to avoid enabling our drug-addict teenager – but we can’t lose hope that somewhere – perhaps when they’re in the tomb of a prison for 3 days or for twenty years – God will resurrect their hearts…

And if you and I would drop whatever anger or pride or unforgiveness we’re holding onto, he can even reach into the prison we’ve made for ourselves and resurrect hope.

2019/04/19 Good Friday - The EROS of Christ

We hear the story of the Passion twice a year – on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  Do you ever feel like – Jesus – why don’t you say something?  Why don’t you defend yourself?  I mean – we KNOW you have the power to convince Pilate and the other leaders – but you say almost nothing.  Why don’t you try to save yourself? 

I think the answer is ‘Passion’.  We normally use that word Passion to refer to the suffering and death of Jesus – but let’s look at it from another perspective.  Where else do we use the word Passion?  In the love between a man and a woman, for example, they can experience a passionate kiss.  They are said to ‘have a passion’ for each other.  This may seem weird to be talking about this kind of Passion on Good Friday, but stick with me.

In the Theology of the Body, the word Eros is used a lot – and as you all know, Eros is one of the four Greek words for Love (whereas English just has one) - Eros normally what we think of as erotic love – maybe better translated as ‘passionate love’ - like the passion between and man and woman.  Christopher West, in reflecting on the teachings of St JPII, goes a little deeper – Eros is our DESIRE – it is what MAKES us Passionate – it is the fuel that drives us to do anything in life.  Eros calls us out of our SELF to seek to be with another person.  That’s the key – Eros is what makes us come out of our selfishness for the save of someone else.  Eros IS our Passion - think about it.  If you and I have a Passion for something, it means we love something – for example, 

- a firefighter has a passion for firefighting… and doesn’t mind getting out of bed – sometimes more than once in a night – for the chance to help someone. 
- Maybe you’re a student learning to be a nurse or engineer or plumber – what drives you to spend all those hours studying? 
- Everyone with a job – what gets you out of bed to drag yourself to spend yet another day in drudgery? 
- Parents – what drives you to stay up all night with a sick child – and to provide for these little rug-rats who don’t even seem to appreciate what you do for them?

I suggest – if you can answer that question for yourself – you’ll identify your passion – the one thing in your life which drives you to act – to study – to get off the couch or out of bed – to willingly put yourself through the pain. 

Jesus didn’t try to save himself because the cross WAS his passion.  His greatest desire, his Eros, was to establish the Kingdom of God – and the path to do that led right through the cross – so to try to save himself would have been going against his passion.

So – on this Good Friday – yes, we glorify Jesus and we’re thankful for all he went through for us – but don’t stop there.  Think about what DROVE him to do it… think about how madly he loved us – how madly he loves YOU.  Think how passionately He must have wanted to bring us ALL into the kingdom…

Can we love Him as much as He loves us?  Can we seek the kingdom with the same unwavering intensity that led him to the cross?  The message of the cross is that we only find true joy in life when we identify our deepest desire – our Eros – our Passion.

Our life is complete when we find something – or more likely – some ONE to give our life to.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

2019/03/31 - Admitting We are Blind (or 'Whattayaknow?')

Before Mass:
As you listen to the story in today’s Gospel about the man born blind, think about this question:  What do you and I ‘know’ about God?  Some people admit they know nothing of God – some of us pretend to know a lot about God – and others think we know it all! … or at least… we know all we need to know.   That’s a dangerous place to be – thinking we know it all. It sets us up to judge everyone around us – and we may even find ourselves judging God himself.

When Jerry was in high school, like most young people, he wasn’t sure he believed in Jesus – or even in God for that matter.  It just seemed like with all the scientific evidence out there for evolution and the age of the word and the big bang theory – the stories in the bible seemed like irrelevant old-fashioned tales that grandmothers use to keep their kids in line.  Like most people his age – and truthfully – like many people of all ages – he didn’t see a ‘need’ for God anymore.  Science explained it all.

So he decided to stop believing.  He called himself an agnostic – but he lived more like an atheist.  See – an agnostic is somebody who thinks we can’t prove God exists… but an atheist ‘knows’ there is no God.  Yeah, atheists can be good, moral people – but without God, everyone decides for themselves what is right and what is wrong… again, because without God, there’s no objective morality.  Jerry started living that way – doing what HE wanted to do - doing things which got him into trouble – and he hurt people – and even hurt himself more than he even knew. 

In college, Jerry had sunk to the lowest of his life – he was doing all the things he was expected to do at college.  At first it was fun – something new – he felt like an adult when he did those things.  But one night, his girlfriend broke up with him – You’re just no fun to be around anymore.  You use people – you’re always drunk – and all you think of is yourself. 

It was a kick in the gut… The next night, Jerry said ‘no’ when his roommates invited him to go partying again – he thought – is this really fun?  Getting so drunk that I can’t remember the evening – then throwing up and dealing with a hang-over the next day?  He was also cut to the core by his ex-girlfriend’s accusations.  Jerry had been a good kid his whole life – and to think that he was now known as a ‘trouble-maker and a ‘user’ – that was a wake up call for him.  He realized if he continued down this path, he would live a lonely life because he would hurt anyone he came close to.  For some reason, he had a vision of his grandma sitting in her rocking chair praying the rosary.  It was a common sight as a kid…but something made it come to his mind this morning.  His grandma was a saint... and he wanted more than ever to be like her.  He wanted to be the person he used to be.

One of his high school friends was also on campus – she was involved in the campus ministry.  He’d regularly made fun of her with his buddies as she would invite them to the Sunday evening Mass.  But she never let it phase her… she just kept asking.  Thinking of how he’d treated her, he regretted it – and he could see what an absolute jerk he had become.

He texted her and asked if he could go to church with her that afternoon… and they talked for hours afterward.  He told her how he realized that living life without a moral compass was leading him to be a person he didn’t like.  He admitted to her he still didn’t really know if God existed or if Jesus was the Son of God – but he envied the life he saw that she had – the life he used to have with his grandma - so I want to know Jesus again – I want to have the faith I had as a kid – I want to like myself again.

Jerry was like the blind man in the gospel today -  notice that he was born blind – so he didn’t even know what it MEANT to see!  To him, the world had no light in it – he’d never seen light, so he didn’t even know what light was!  But Jesus met him where he was and touched him.  Notice the guy only had to do two things:  he had to let Jesus touch him – and he had to wash in the pool of Siloam… it’s an act of faith… a stepping away from his past in order to grasp the grace that Jesus was giving.

His eyes were opened immediately – but his faith in Jesus took a bit more time – notice his Progression of faith:
- When he was first being questioned by his neighbors, he just referred to the man who cured him as “the man called Jesus”;
-Then when being questioned by the Pharisees about the cure, he admitted, “He is a prophet”;
-When the Pharisees question him a second time, he progressed to say Jesus was “a man … from God”;
-But after getting thrown out, he met Jesus who asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  After a brief exchange, He made his profession of faith: “I do believe, Lord.” 

Notice too how all through the reading, people ‘know’ everything – for example: the apostles asked if  this man was blind because of his own sin or his parents sin.  They ‘knew’ that anybody with a physical handicap only had it because of sin.  Jesus says – hogwash.  OK – that’s not a direct translation, but it’s pretty close ;)

The Pharisees say – we ‘know’ this man can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.  See – in the day – you were not allowed to heal anything on that day… so if you sprained your ankle, you couldn’t even pour cold water over it to stop the swelling.  They were so stuck in their ‘knowledge’ of right and wrong that they didn’t seem to care that the laws of the universe had been bent to heal a man born blind!  Their knowledge blinded them.

The only person who was NOT secure in his knowledge was the man who had been blind – he made this profound statement:  “If he is a sinner, I do not know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

HE was the only one who actually KNEW anything.  Where did he get this knowledge?  It wasn’t anything he learned from a book or a sermon… his knowledge came from his EXPERIENCE.  He had been touched by Jesus and it changed his life.

How’s this apply to you and me?  We all are born blind, but gradually our eyes adjust and we can make out shapes – then we recognize mom’s face – and gradually we see the world around us as it is.  We are also born spiritually blind – but fortunately for most of us, our parents introduced us to Jesus.  As kids, we had a childish faith – not a bad thing – in fact, we should all be blessed to have the faith of a child – but at some point, we start questioning… why do we go to church?  Is this really the body and blood of Jesus?  Does God exist?  Questions are good – let me reiterate – we all NEED to question.  Because until we question, our faith is really just a matter of acting out what our parents taught us.  We might learn our prayers and receive the Sacraments and ‘think we know’ all the answers, but knowing answers is not the same as knowing Jesus.  It’s only in looking back at our EXPERIENCE of Jesus that we realize our eyes have been opened.

But here’s the thing –Jesus can’t open our eyes – He can’t touch us - until we admit we’re blind.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

2019/03/17 - Counting Stars

Before Mass:
How’s your Lent going?  I have a confession to make – I ate ice cream Thursday – I know, I know, I gave up sweets for Lent but – well – it seemed justified at the time….but I wish I had better will power.

Anybody else having trouble?  I heard something this week which gave me another perspective – we are SUPPOSED to have trouble keeping our resolutions.  Really – if we DON’T struggle – if we get through Lent Easily, then we’re not doing Lent right.  In order to gain the fruits of this time of penance, we have to feel the weight of the cross – and the main thing we’ll learn is that we CAN’T do it.  If we rely solely on ourselves to persevere through Lent, we will fail – but that teaches us perhaps the most important lesson of all:  we ALL need a savior.  We all need Jesus to take part of the weight of the cross we voluntarily pick up.

Why do we do this?  We are being changed – transfigured – like Christ.  But before we can be glorified, we must carry our cross.

So – if you’re having an easy Lent – step it up a notch – don’t leave your cross standing in a corner.  If you’re having a tough Lent, congratulations – get back up and pick up that cross again but rely on Jesus standing right beside you helping to carry your cross. 

What’s the point of the Gospel – the Transfiguration?  Matt, Mark, and Luke all tell us this story – so it’s obviously important – but Luke gives us a detail the others omitted.  It says, ‘while he was praying’… Big deal, right – Jesus prayed all the time – why is this note-worthy?  Because Prayer was the context for when he was transfigured.  It was in prayer that he would light-up.  It was in prayer that he was changed.  It was in prayer that he was glorified.  It was in prayer that he conversed with the law and the prophets – connecting himself with the roots of the Faith.

This is what can happen to us through prayer:  It can light us up – we can connect with the law and the prophets…most importantly, it can change us.  In the second reading it says, ‘He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body ‘ for us – God promised to glorify US as well – but how do we tap into that Glory?  By following Jesus’ example – go to a private place and pray.

I know – sounds too simple  - but that’s the genius of Christianity – tapping into the very depths of God’s promises is as simple as raising our minds to God – allowing His Word to light us up.

Does that happen to you and me?  Do we ‘light up’ when we pray?  I’ll admit, most of the time, I’d have to say ‘no’.

Perhaps if we all had a clue just how big God’s promises are to us… maybe then we would shine like Jesus did.  How big are the promises?  God tried to give Abram an idea by saying – see the number of the stars – and count them if you can – just so will your descendents be. 

If you were to stand outside on a particularly clear night away from all the city lights, you would be able to make out around 6000 stars.  Is that how many descendents Abram was going to have?  Take a guess for yourself how many stars there are… go ahead, pick a number.

In his show Cosmos, Carl Sagan stood on a seashore.  He reached down and scooped up a double handful of sand. 

He said – if you counted the number of grains of sand in his hands, it would be close to the number of stars that you could see with a naked eye on a clear, moonless night.  But he made the claim that there's at least one star for every grain of sand on planet earth.  Think of the billions of trillions of grains of sand in the world's sandboxes, beaches, and deserts. 

Impossible… No way, people said… There's just no way that can be true.
And they were right – Scientists now know that there are at least 10 stars for every grain of sand on our planet.  And since we likely haven’t seen the whole universe yet, even that number may be low.

For example – Y’all know the Big Dipper – if you just look at the scoop part of the dipper, Astronomers have so far identified more than five million galaxies lying just within that little square part of the sky.  Think about that – just that small part of the sky has 5 million GALAXIES, each of them having 100-400 billion stars. We can’t even imagine a number big enough to count all the stars.

Who cares… well I do.  This show that God’s blessings are more than abundant – or even super-abundant – it says that God’s blessings are not just un-countable…. But His promises are beyond our wildest imagination.  God made a promise to Abram that his descendants would be more than the stars….  Let it baffle your mind that when God makes a promise to you, he will fulfill it beyond your wildest imagination.

And you can count on that.

*special thanks to Glenn McDonald, Director of Mission Integration for the Ascension Ministry Service Center in Indianapolis, Indiana for the inspiration/information about the stars.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

2019/02/24 - Unexpected

Before Mass:
There’s some back-story to the first reading which we all need to have in mind – Saul was the anointed King of Israel – but he was doing a bad job of it, so Samuel anointed David as the next king.  It’s an odd situation where two can rightfully claim the throne.  Saul was threatened by David – he was popular – a great warrior – and everybody loved him.  Saul was afraid he’d take his throne, so he set out to kill him.  David was on the run for like 15-20 years – living in the wilderness with a ragtag group of supporters – basically waiting for Saul to die so he could step into the throne.  Today’s Gospel picks up somewhere during that time when David was on the run.  The important thing to note is that by every right – David could have killed Saul – remember that.  He was anointed by God to be the king, Saul tried to kill him, and apparently God delivered Saul directly into David’s hand… any sane person would agree that David had EVERY right to kill Saul. 

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 81
READING 1 1 SM 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
RESPONSORIAL PSALM PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
READING 2 1 COR 15:45-49
GOSPEL LK 6:27-38

We all have someone in our lives who has done us wrong.  Picture that person in your mind right now. 

Amanda’s Ex cheated on her for over a year before she found out – then he blamed her for the marriage falling apart and in a messy divorce, he left her with almost nothing.

George’s boss has a bad attitude – he constantly demeans him and gives him the least desirable jobs…. Passing him up for promotions and raises.

Don’s classmate bullied him for years – and spread rumors about him so that nobody in the school wanted to be friends with him anymore.

Clare’s mom told her years ago that when she died, she wanted Clare to have her wedding ring – but her sister took it – claiming she had a right to it since she was older.

A drunk driver ran over Jerry’s youngest kid on her bike – leaving her crippled for life.  Every day Jerry has to help his daughter deal with the aftermath.  Jerry is bitter and angry and simply cannot forgive the man who did this to his daughter.

In all of these scenarios, and the one in your own life, you have every RIGHT to be mad – to hold a grudge – to wish that they would rot in hell.  Nobody would blame you one bit for being bitter and withholding forgiveness…. They don’t DESERVE forgiveness.

David was in that kind of situation.  He had every right to kill Saul and, in fact, when he passed up the chance, I’m sure the other men were making fun of him for passing up this chance:  Besides, maybe this WAS God’s plan that David should kill Saul so he could take his rightful throne.  But David did the unexpected:  he showed mercy.

Jesus says – “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

We’ve heard these phrases throughout our lives – they’re nice Christians sayings - - but do we live them?  Don’t read them as some general ‘love everybody’ statements – let them touch you specifically.  Love your enemies – yes – even that person you thought of a few minutes ago – your ex, your classmate, your boss or co-worker, your brother or sister – let this teaching get personal.

You, no doubt, have every right to be angry at that person – they hurt you – and likely are not even remorseful about it.  They don’t DESERVE your forgiveness.  You have every right to wish them harm – to curse them.  Seriously, nobody is going to blame you for striking back at them – because that’s what any other person would do.
But – we aren’t just any other person, we are Christian.  Christians do the unexpected.
See – we are called to be Holy – which is simply to try to live like God – to try to act like Jesus.  When Jesus met the woman at the well, he could have condemned her as a sinner – but instead he loved her and she became one of the first evangelists.  When Jesus met the woman caught in adultery – by every right of the law, he could have joined in stoning her – but he did something unexpected and refused to condemn her.

When you and I sin – and we do that every day – by every right, God can smite us – but God does the unexpected – he shows mercy continually.  If God can forgive us, we can forgive others.  In fact, if we don’t forgive others, not only are we not reflecting God to the world, but we will live in misery.

Think of a time you had harsh words with someone close to you – how did you feel afterward?  Many people feel a pit in their stomache as long as there is unforgiveness.  The obvious cure to that stomache pain would be to forgive and move on – but instead – we hold a grudge, don’t we?  I know families who have been torn apart for decades because nobody will make the first move to forgive.  In our righteous indignation, we conjure up unforgiveness by recalling how RIGHT we are and how wrong they are – ‘well she said this or he did this and they never even felt sorry about it and if they think I’m just gonna forgive them for that then they got another thing coming!’…..and the pit in our stomache grows – and we’re miserable – and people around us are miserable because of us.  I heard somewhere that unforgiveness is like drinking poison in hopes that the other person dies.

Long before Jesus said these words, David set the example for us – instead of grasping at what was his right – he waited for God to deliver the throne to him.  Vengeance belongs to God.  Notice – there's something else about David we can learn from:  if there’s somebody that is dangerous to us or our children -somebody who is toxic to us – be like David and get out of there.  We may not be able to have a relationship with everyone – but we can still do the unexpected… we can forgive them.  It may seem hard or impossible for any normal person to forgive…
...but we’re not just any normal person – we are Christians.  We do the unexpected. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

2019/02/01 - What's Love Got to do with it?

Before Mass

For our homily today - I met with the Junior Religious Ed class to help me get ideas.
I’ll warn you the homily is mainly going to focus on the 2nd reading-  and it’s one most of us have probably heard many times in our lives – and mainly at weddings.  So often, perhaps, that as soon as we hear ‘love is patient’, we either can finish the reading in our heads, or our minds immediately turn to focus on something else.  It’s a great reading about love and yes – it does fit very well with weddings – but, that’s not why it was written…. Paul wasn’t intending to write to newly married couples.  He was writing this for you and me – and the message is a lot stronger than any of us might remember after hearing it several times.

So I invite you to listen with fresh ears.  Ask yourself as Paul speaks – how does this apply to me?  How should this impact my DAILY life?  In fact, how should this impact every moment of my life, including this very second?

Some people complain that religion is too black and white – that life is made up of a lot of gray area and religion is just too strict and becomes pious, irrelevant babble.
On the other hand, a lot of people complain that religion is too wishy-washy – that so many things are a ‘mystery’ and we can’t really KNOW anything, so religion is TOO gray to provide answers in the hard questions of life.

And to those people, I’d say, “you’re right!”… and I’d like to apologize if that has frustrated you and pushed you away from Christianity.  See, a lot of Christians just kind-of go to church on Sunday and religion doesn’t really impact the rest of their week.  In fact, you might not even KNOW they were Christian.  The outspoken Christians – the ones you KNOW are Christian – usually fall into one of two sterotypes:  there’s the staunch doctrinal self-righteous finger pointer who declares everything is black and white and to hell with anyone who steps out of line!  At the other end are the nice guys who always have a smile and never have answers and anything goes because God is all about Love, so why can’t we all just get along.  Again – these are just sterotypes – doesn’t describe anybody in here - but these are how much of the world views us!

Given those two options, is it any wonder so many people reject Christianity?
Jesus was about more than doctrines and butterflies.  He came not just to teach us, but to SHOW us how to Love.  That is the heart of Christianity.  The purpose of our religion – the purpose of our LIVES, is to become more like God – and God is Love, so the more we Love, the more we’re like God.  They’ll know we are Christians by our …Love, so the song goes.  It’s not just a catchy tune or phrase, this is the heart of what it means to LIVE as a Christian.  It’s more than doing Christian things, it’s about being the hands and feet of Love.

Paul gives several one-liners about how we fail in that.  If I speak without Love, I am a noisy gong.  If I do anything to boast, but don’t have love, I gain nothing.  This reading is not just a nice reading for weddings… it instructs us how to live as Christians.
This is VERY practical advice here…   if I speak without love, I am a noisy gong.  How many people do we know who keep beating their drums without love and we just stop listening to them?

Know anybody who does great things, but they only do it so they can brag about it?  Paul says, if I give away everything but don’t do it for love – it gains me nothing!
Let this scripture instruct you personally… An easy way to do that is to change-out the word Love with YOUR name.

So, instead of Love is Patient, Love is Kind….   Bill is Patient.  Susan is kind.  Greg is not Jealous.  Eugene is not pompous.  Maggie is not rude.  Cayden is not quick-tempered.  Dave does not brood over injury.  Tammy does not rejoice over wrongdoing.  Keep going… this is an instruction booklet for how we should live!  Hmmm… we could also use this as an examination of conscience.  When we’re preparing for reconciliation, read it and think – when was I NOT kind…NOT patient…when did I speak without love?

Hopefully you can see that Christianity is way more than finger pointing and way more than “let’s all get along”.  The early Christians were known for one thing:  “See how they love one another”.  That love was – and continues to be – a magnet, drawing people to Christ. 

In all things we do… in ALL things we do… let Love be our guide.  Love never fails.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019/01/20 - Christian Unity

* Note: Readings are not the standard readings for the week.  Scroll down below homily for the readings. *
I need to warn you, today's readings are NOT in the books.  We were encouraged to offer a Mass for Christian Unity this weekend, so the readings are completely different.  That’s exciting, actually, because some of these readings you may never have heard before – especially the first reading from Ezekiel – he uses some great imagery – but you might need just a bit of back-story for it to really make sense.
You may remember that King Solomon as wise– but you may not remember that in his later years as King, he did some pretty stupid stuff… so bad in fact, that Israel split into two countries – there was Israel in the north, made up of 10 of the 12 tribes – and Judah in the south – made up of the other two tribes.  This division was not from God – it was because of human weakness – and in our reading, we’ll hear God promise to remove that division.
This is symbolic of the Christian unity we're praying for today.

Imagine if your greatest enemy became your friend… impossible?

I love that story from Ezekiel – those two sticks represented the kingdom of Israel which was split into two – and God promised to bring them back together.  It was a division that never should have happened – it was due to human failings that the tribes became enemies in the first place.  But divisions are not of God… so God promised to remove that division.

So it is with ANY divisions we create among ourselves.  Any time it’s us vs them, we are not of God – Dubois vs Celestine, democrats vs republicans, Catholic vs Protestant, even Christian vs Islam… divisions are not of God.  Yet – how can God possibly remove these barriers between us?

A wise man once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.”  Let that sink in - “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

That wise man, whom we celebrate in this nation tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr, saw the injustice and harm to society that came from divisions.  He saw that these divisions were not from God and therefore these enemies were like two sticks which God would bring back together – but not without a struggle.  Humans have a hard time giving up prejudices with which we were raised.  Besides that, we all have experiences in our lives which TEACH us to distrust “them” – whichever group we blame for the current ills of society.  In the 30’s in Germany it was the Jews.. in Mexico 100 years ago – and even in this country – the Catholics were the enemy.  Today ‘they’ might be the muslims or the Mexicans or for some people sitting here today ‘they’ might still be blacks.  We learn these divisions from our culture, our parents, or from personal experience.  Once those wounds are inflicted, it becomes hard – almost impossible for enemies to become friends. 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

Love is of God – and anytime we allow Love to enter into a relationship, God can transform ANY relationship into friendship.

The same holds true for our religious differences.  Any divisions are not of God.  This country is still primarily Christian, but the numbers are dropping fast.  Part of the reason for that is the in-fighting among Christians.  When we don’t have a common message of Love to take to the world, the world will turn away.  Christ prayed that we would all be ‘one’.  But again, human failings – this time among Christians – splintered the body of Christ.  The two biggest splits came between east and west 1000 years ago – and then in the reformation 500 years ago.  Inside of that, we can find stories of individuals who decided they knew better than the Church – like maybe they wanted to marry someone and the Church said ‘no’ – so they started their own church… creating yet another division.  Over 30 thousands divisions of Christianity in this country alone…

Divisions are not of God.

Even in our own community, there are several divisions of Christians – many of which have walked away from the Catholic Church for one reason or another.  What’s really alarming is the number of un-churched people now in our area.  Somehow, even though we are here – we have not been the light on the hill drawing all people to Christ.  How can this be? 

Perhaps it’s our divisions.  Why belong to Christianity when Christians can’t even agree on what they believe?

Divisions are not of God.

Today we pray specifically that Jesus’ prayer be fulfilled – that we would all be one.  We pray that the Spirit would reach into the hearts of all Christian leaders to work toward unity.  There’s actually been amazing progress made already – just a few years ago, the Lutherans and Catholics signed a document which ended the disputes over Sola Fide – salvation through faith alone – coming to a common understanding and ending 500 years of fighting about it.  There are still other differences that separate us – and they may ‘seem’ impossible to overcome – but so was Sola Fide!  The Holy Spirit can do it- and that’s what we pray for - God can change hearts.  This Ecumenical service we’re having on the 10th to pray for our schools is another sign of our coming together as Christians.

We pray too on a personal level that we could each be convicted of the prejudices, discriminations, bickering – anything is not of God – anything that causes divisions.  God can change our hearts.

I want to end with a very short story.
In WWII, there was a band of soldiers fighting their way across Germany and one of the platoon was killed.  They saw a small church nearby and asked the priest if they could bury their friend in the church's cemetery, but he insisted that only people belonging to THEIR faith could be buried in this cemetery.  If you want, you can bury him outside the fence, though.  The guys were kind of put-off, but what else could they do - they buried their comrade outside the fence.  The next morning, they passed the church one last time as they were leaving the area, and their friend's grave was now inside the fence!  During the night, the priest had moved the fence!!

God can heal our divisions - He can change hearts - and He can even move fences.

(867:3) Ezekiel 37:15-19,21b-22, 26-28
15* Thus the word of the LORD came to me: 16As for you, son of man, take one stick and write on it, “Judah and those Israelites associated with it.” Then take another stick and write on it: “Joseph, Ephraim’s stick, and the whole house of Israel associated with it.” 17Join the two sticks together so they become one stick in your hand. 18When your people ask you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by all this?” 19answer them: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will take the stick of Joseph, now in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with it, and join to it the stick of Judah, making them one stick; they shall become one in my hand.f 21b I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms.g
26j I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever. 27My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.k 28Then the nations shall know that I, the LORD, make Israel holy, by putting my sanctuary among them forever.

(869) Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13
R. (see 10c) Lord, gather your scattered people.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.

(868:7) 1 Timothy 2:5-8
  There is one God.
  There is also one mediator between God and men,
  the man Christ Jesus,
  who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time.
For this I was appointed preacher and Apostle
  (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying),
  teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
  lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

GOSPEL   (871:8)  John 17:20-26
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:
"Holy Father, I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them."