Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017/06/18 - Corpus Christi - Every Word

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

What’s it mean?  Well the obvious answer is “ice cream”… if we don’t have bread AND ice cream, we’re not really living, right? 

Here’s how I would seriously interpret it:  The most important thing we need to live is not bread.  The most important thing we need is every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.  What is this “word of God” that is so important, anyway?  I have a true story to tell to answer that.

Back in 1995, I was working on a retreat team with a bunch of non-Catholic men – all great Christian men whom I am glad to call my brothers.  But – when they heard I was Catholic, one of them decided to set me straight… to save me from the errors of my ways.  And he started my “lesson” with a line from today’s Gospel:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

Was Jesus really meaning for us to eat His flesh? , he asked.  Then he flipped to our first reading and read this line:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”

See right there… it says it is the word of God that we must eat… it’s the Bible.  And when Jesus says we have to eat his flesh, he’s really meaning we have to chew on his word… read the bible and really take it into ourselves.  Then to support his argument, he went just a little further down in John’s Gospel where Jesus said,

"It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. "

See right there?!, he said.  Jesus is saying the flesh isn’t important, so he’s not really saying we should eat his physical flesh, he’s really meaning it’s the Bible that is important!  It’s the scripture he wants us to devour!

Does that make sense to anybody here?  Well, yeah – it’s actually a pretty well-presented argument.  I remember sitting there thinking – that ‘sounds’ logical – but something’s not quite right with it.  It’s this kind of faulty logic that pulls many people out of the church.  So – let’s all understand right now the true understanding…first so we can explain to others, but mainly to keep ourselves from falling for this faulty logic.
Go back to the first reading…
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

What is this “word that comes forth from the mouth of God?”  My friend said the word is the Bible…but Let’s look at the first four verses of John’s Gospel – chapter 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be 4through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race
What was the Word that was with God in the beginning?  Was it a Bible?  Not a chance… the Bible didn’t exist until around the 4th century after Jesus was born.  The Word was with God and the Word WAS God – seems pretty clear this is talking about Jesus.  Jesus IS the Word of God.  God spoke his Word and all creation sprang into being.  It was through His Word – Jesus – that the whole world was created.  He is the source of all life.

Now – if we understand Jesus is the Word – how does that change our interpretation of our quote:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

Suddenly this means we don’t just live by eating just bread, but by eating the living Word – Jesus, who comes from the mouth of God.  That matches up pretty clearly with what Jesus himself said – “unless you eat my flesh, you have no life in you”. 
Also look at it this way:  Man does not live on bread alone… another way to translate that his “Man does not live on JUST BREAD”.  When we come to the altar and receive what looks like a wafer of bread… It is NOT “bread alone”.  It’s not JUST bread – it IS the body of Jesus. 

Jesus really meant we must eat his flesh.  This is NOT symbolic speech.

And the best proof that this is true comes just a few verses later in John chapter 6… most of Jesus’ disciples actually walked away from him because of this teaching.  They said, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”   “this is a hard teaching” – they couldn’t handle it – so they left.  If Jesus HADN’T meant what He said, he could so easily have said – wait, I was just using a metaphor – you know, hyperbole…. It’s just a figure of speech – I really meant you have to study my words.

He didn’t say that. 

Instead he asked the apostles if they wanted to leave too.  Jesus was willing to lose EVERY person following him over this one crucial teaching.  He really DOES want us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  In doing so, we are consuming the very source of life in the universe.  As we consume him, he consumes us from the inside out - changing us into little Christs… You and I are sent out into the world to continue to spread His love.  As a member of His Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth – He sends us out to continue to bring life to the world. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017/05/28 - Feast of Ascension: Marching Orders

Before Mass:
We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension today.  For a lot of people, myself included, it doesn’t feel like a reason to celebrate – I mean – Jesus is leaving us, right?  Sounds more like a reason to grieve rather than to celebrate.  This just seems unimportant.

All three readings today would tell us that this IS important – although I admit it’s not immediately obvious.  Listen for answers to these questions:  Where did Jesus go?  Why did he go there?  And can that possibly have anything to do with us?

Today as we also look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit next week for Pentecost, let’s pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the world, and upon our parish in particular.  If you know this prayer, pray along with me – you may remember this is the prayer John Leonetti prayed before each night of the mission when he was here.
Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.


Homily:
Did the readings clear it up at all what this feast of Ascension is about?  For many, it simply means Jesus was taken up into heaven.   Yeah, it means that, but I don’t think that’s the message we’re supposed to take away today.

There’s another way to look at it – there is a purpose for why Jesus is ascending.  Paul gives us a good clue in the second reading…listen...  He says God seated Jesus at His right hand in heaven – and He put all things under his feet.  These words may not mean much to us, because they are “kingdom” words…and we don’t live in a kingdom. 

The person sitting at the right hand of the King was the Prime Minister… the person who directed the affairs of the kingdom….both internal and external.  In other words, Jesus has ascended or “moved-up” to the highest position in the Kingdom….kinda like a prince or princess ASCENDS to the throne when their parents die:  they take their rightful seat upon the throne.  Because Jesus ascended to his throne of power, He is in charge of EVERYTHING.  That’s great news for us, because we know He is fair and just.  He is in charge of the treasury – from where he dispenses Grace upon Grace.  He is in charge of the Justice system, where He dispenses Mercy.  He is in charge of all military endeavors – you might say, he is commander-in-chief.   Jesus gave the apostles their marching orders in the Gospel – “go out and make disciples of all nations”.  You could say that Jesus is sending out his armies to colonize the whole world… just like kings in Europe sent armies to the new world 5-600 years ago to start colonies…. Jesus wants to bring every land and person into the kingdom of God.

Has the mission been accomplished yet?  While much of the world does know ABOUT Jesus, but too much of the world doesn’t KNOW Jesus.  Even in our own area, probably everybody has heard about Jesus, but few are actual Disciples of Jesus… so the mission has not yet been accomplished.  What’s missing?  Why haven’t the armies of the Kingdom of God been successful?  I propose that it goes back to what Jesus told them in the first reading:
“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, …and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus was sending out the apostles to evangelize the whole world – and those marching orders belong to us as well.  “…YOU will be my witnesses...”  Pope Paul VI said:  “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.”  Lots of big words there so let’s pick it apart just a bit – what does it mean that evangelization is essential to the Church?  Think of a glass of chocolate milk – what are the Essential ingredients of chocolate milk?  Chocolate and Milk.  Can you make chocolate milk without chocolate?  Can you make it without milk?  No!  Both ingredients are essential – required.  So the Pope is saying that if we’re not Evangelizing, we are not being the Church.  The reason the Church EXISTS is to “make disciples of all nations”.  I’ve often speculated that the decline of the Church in recent years is due in large part to the fact that we have taken our focus off of our central mission… we’ve disengaged from the battle … we’ve concentrated on all sorts of other stuff and forgot that the reason we’re here is to introduce the world to Jesus.

At a parish level, we reworked our Mission statement a year ago… it’s probably not perfect, but it SHOULD show how WE as a parish are fulfilling this very mission that Jesus gave to the Church.  Let’s read it together – pick up your bulletins and read with me on the front page. This is the only time I want to see anybody looking at the bulletin during the homily!  

    We, the parish of St. Isidore,
    witness to the world the love of Christ

          we have received in  the Sacraments,
    and we invite others to personally experience

          the Grace of  God through Prayer,
          Acts of Service, and Spiritual Formation.

Does this connect with Jesus’ command?  Yeah!  Jesus said we would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth –and our Mission statement says we will witness to the world the love of Christ… wow… that’s amazingly similar.  We invite others – we show them the love of Christ, we pray, we do acts of service, and we form ourselves spiritually. 

All in all, I think our Mission statement is pretty solid – it is a roadmap for what we are all about – why St. Isidore exists.  If we do anything that does NOT fit into that Mission statement, we are going off course…we are disobeying orders from our commander-in-chief.   We have to continually re-visit our marching orders.

Now – here’s the thing.  It’s all fine and good as a Church and as a Parish to have this mission statement, but what does it mean to you and me?  I mean – is this mission just for Father and the Deacon and our religious ed teachers?  Hopefully we all recognize this mission is for each one of us. 

Pope Paul VI had some strong words to say about this:
“it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it”
In other words – if we really become a Christian and count ourselves among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, there is no way we could NOT tell the world about it.  I guess the reverse would also be true:  if I’m not witnessing to the world about my Faith, maybe I’m not really Christian.??

If you feel compelled to join the battle – to witness to the world about Jesus, and to fulfill our mission to make disciples, there is a boot-camp you can go to which TEACHES how to do that.  If that interests you, contact me and I’ll answer any questions and hook you up.

Also, I feel compelled to kick-start our Evangelization team – it sort-of faded a bit over the summer a couple of years ago – so I’m planning to re-start this September.  Let me know if you’re interested.

When you and I follow the marching orders that Jesus gave us – we WILL change the world… And since Jesus is directing the battle from his throne of power, we can be assured of victory.  Christ is counting on you and me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

2017/05/14 - Revealing the Face of God

**Note: for youtube video go to https://youtu.be/RP_kJzv76Rc

BEFORE MASS:
Three things I want to mention about today’s readings –the first reading from Acts describes the ordination of the first Deacons of the church… listen for that…and what is the purpose of the Deacons?  (I ask that all the time :)

The Gospel hits on two familiar themes which I personally think don’t explain themselves… Jesus say, I am the way, the truth, and the life…. That ‘sounds’ important – like it is a great revelation of some sort – but what does it really mean?  Finally, Jesus says WE will do the works that he did and even GREATER!  Great – what are those works – and how can we mere mortals possibly do something greater than Jesus did!?  Pay attention to the context of the reading…what are the works that Jesus was referring to?

HOMILY:
The world will tell us that there are many paths to God – and none of them is better than any other… as long as we try to live a good life and be a good person, then God, who is good, will welcome us all into heaven.

Sounds good.  Sounds politically correct.  Sound fair even… but just one problem – it’s not the truth.
….Jesus says, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life”. 
He had the nerve to say that nobody comes to the Father except through him.  Is He REALLY saying there is only one WAY to heaven?  In short – yes.  If we never become the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are missing out – not just on heaven – but missing out on joy in THIS life as well.  Jesus is THE Way.  There are no shortcuts… we must all go through the cross.

Jesus also says we will do the works that he did and even greater.  How can that be?  I have a story to help us understand:

A young mother, I’ll call her Susan, moved to town a couple of years ago with her two young boys, because she found a job working for a local utility company.  She thought the job would be the answer to all of her prayers, but soon learned how hard it is to live in a strange place where you don’t have the support of friends and family.  They found a decent house to rent in an older part of town – not great, but not run-down.  It was all she could afford on her salary…but she couldn’t afford any furniture – so she had one matress on the floor of the master bedroom, and the boys shared a mattresss on the floor in their bedroom.  In the living room, they had a card table and four chairs they had picked up at St. Vincent De Paul – plus a small book shelf to hold the books she had brought from her home.  It was sparse, but she did what she could to make a life for the boys there…. That is, until the flu hit one of the kids – so she had to stay home to take care of him- then the other boy caught it – and just as she got them well enough to go back to school, she came down with it.  Her boss called every day asking when she was coming back to work – it had been 2 ½ weeks and she was hoping to be back to work the next Monday.  However, on that Friday, her boss called and explained they couldn’t hold the job any longer – they hired someone that day.  What!?!  She was going crazy – how will we live?

She tried to keep things normal at the house as she searched for another job.  The kids would go to school – and the family would go to Church every Sunday like normal.  A month later – and a couple dozen No’s later, she was going through the stack of overdue bills when she noticed the one from the electric company said the power would be cut 3 days from now if they didn’t receive payment.  Then the landlord called to ask for the rent money, which was now two months behind.  She had a choice – she could either empty her savings account completely and that still wouldn’t cover the bills – or she could move out and use that remaining money for food.

She had nobody to turn to.  Her parents were a 1000 miles away and living in a nursing home, so moving back with them wasn’t an option.  She went for a walk so the boys wouldn’t see her crying… and she ended up at the church, where she walked in and just sat there praying “God, show me the way!  Is this the life you want us to live?”  She heard some voices talking in the cry room – and could see some women in there talking.  She remembered hearing at Mass about some of the Cursillo small groups that met every week, so she assumed that’s why they were there.  She decided to slip out the side door so she wouldn’t bother them- but as she turned to leave, she noticed a lady had sat down next to her.  It startled her, because she never heard anybody else come in… It was obvious Susan had been crying, and the other lady asked what was going on…. That’s all it took for Susan to spill out the entire story to this stranger…  it was the first time since she had moved to town that anybody seemed to care at all!  The lady said she knew the landlord – who was actually somebody from our parish – and she would see about getting her an extension to give her more time to find a job.  They prayed together before hugging and Susan walked back home feeling uplifted, although the problems were still weighing heavy on her. 

The next morning, those four ladies she saw in the cry room showed up at her front door at 8 am with several bags of groceries.  At first, Susan tried to resist – she didn’t like the idea of taking charity – but then the weight of all those problems came back to mind and she let them in.  The ladies were all talking a mile a minute at the same time (I have seven sisters, so I fully understand how that could happen).  The house, which had been filled with despair just an hour ago was filled with joy and uplifting conversation – it was as if somebody had walked into a dark room and opened the shade letting the sunlight in.  They fixed pancakes and bacon for breakfast and kept filling the boys’ plates until they could eat no more.  It was such a joyous visit, something that Susan missed so much – to have friends – even though these ladies were still strangers, she felt attracted to them somehow.  Before leaving, they held hands and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to bless this family and relieve their burdens. 

After they left, she was putting away the rest of the groceries, when she found an envelope sealed in one of the bags.  Inside were receipts – the first one was from the Electric company and said ‘paid in full’… WHAT!!!  She quickly pulled out the next paper – from the water company which said ‘paid in full’…WHAT!!!  The next one actually made her knees weak and she had to sit down…. It was from her landlord.  It was also marked ‘paid in full’ and said he would give her the next month free!  She could hardly catch her breath, she was so excited – She and the boys were jumping and dancing around the kitchen – WHAT A BLESSING!
That Sunday, she looked to the other side of church and saw the lady she talked to that past week.  After Mass, Susan walked up to her with a tear in her eye and gave her a hug and said, “I have a question for you…. Are you Jesus?”.

Jesus promised – “you will do the works I do and even greater”.  What are those works?  Yes, Jesus was going around healing and such – but look at the context of this reading.  He’s saying if you have met ME, you already KNOW God the Father.  THAT is the work of Jesus… He is revealing the face of God to the world.  That may not ‘sound’ like a big deal, but to the Jews, who believed that if they ever looked upon the face of God they would instantly die… they could never be worthy to look at the face of God.  In a way they are correct – for any of us to look at the face of God would be like trying to look directly into the sun after living in a dark cave… it would hurt our eyes so bad, we would go blind.  The Jews saw God as far off and unreachable…They wouldn’t even carve an image or paint a picture representing God – that would be idolatry and was liable to stoning.  For somebody to call themselves God like Jesus did – well - that was too far out to be believed.  So they kept their faces down – never looking up to see God.  But picture Jesus lifting our chins up – raising our eyes to look into His – saying “look at me”…and we resist because it’s painful.  But Until we look there, we won’t see the face of True Love….we won’t see the very face of God  … Jesus makes God approachable – he gives God a face and a name… In short, God was glorifying His name through the works of Jesus’ hands. 

Catch that?  Yes – Jesus was healing and turning water into wine and forgiving people… those are ‘how’ He performed the work He was sent to do – but the overarching WORK He was doing was to Glorify God – to make God accessible – to reveal the very face of God.

These are the works that Jesus promised that WE will do – and even greater works.  Because you and I are part of the Body of Christ – every time we reach out our hand to help someone – it is actually Jesus reaching out using our hands.  The WAY we live should make Jesus present; the TRUTH we share should make Jesus present; and the LIFE we share with others should make Jesus present. 

When people see US – they should see the face of God – so don’t be surprise when they ask, “Are you Jesus?”.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017/04/23 - Divine Mercy - He's going to kill me!


When he was about 8 years old, the thing Jerry wanted most for Christmas was a Chemistry set.  He’d seen it on one of those commercials during the Saturday morning cartoons and immediately fell in love with it.
Mom’s response was – “you’re too young for that!.”  So, Jerry moped around for a week then sorta forgot about it.  But on Christmas day, to his great surprise, the last package he opened was his chemistry set!  He was beyond excited.  Dad was quick to sit him down and explained that this was not a toy – it was potentially dangerous, so he should never work with it unless he or Mom was around. 
That night, in his bedroom after everyone went to bed, Jerry locked the bedroom door and pulled out his chemistry set – “just to look at it”.  The metal box was smooth and cool to the touch – it was awesome – it made him feel like an adult!  He opened it up and looked at some of the chemicals in there – most of which he couldn’t even read.  Then he saw the test-tubes – the little glass tubes in which he saw them mixing chemicals on the commercial.
He pulled out one chemical and carefully filled half the tube – then he randomly grabbed another chemical and filled the tube to the top.  To his surprise, the tube started getting hot – it was having a chemical reaction which created heat… so much heat that it started to burn his hand, and he dropped the tube into the waste basket.  He hurriedly put away the chemistry set and shoved it back under his bed and crawled into bed, pulling the covers over his eyes.  Then he smelled something… and glanced at the waste can, where smoke was billowing.  He tried to blow on it but that actually made a flame jump up – Jerry jumped back – scared to death – what was Dad going to do to him?!?  He ran and hid in the closet.  All he could think was, “Dad’s gonna kill me when he finds out!”
A couple minutes later, the smoke alarm in the hall went off and he heard the rest of the family shouting over the noise.  Somebody came to his bedroom door and he heard them pounding, telling him to unlock it – but he couldn’t let them in – what would Dad do to me?!  The flames were licking the ceiling now and the room was filled with smoke – then there was a loud slam and the sound of splintering wood.  His dad rushed into the room feeling in the bed for Jerry – under the bed – behind the bed – then he opened the closet door and grabbed Jerry – running out of the house… Jerry had stopped breathing, so as soon as they hit fresh air, Dad laid him on the sidewalk and stooped down to the ground to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation – forcing fresh air into Jerry’s lungs…bringing him back from the edge of death.  He coughed and sputtered and immediately started crying.  Jerry’s dad gave him to his mother and rushed back into the house with an extinguisher stopping the fire – but not before it had destroyed Jerry’s room and filled the whole house with smoke damage.
As Jerry sat in his Mom’s arms crying – he was praying that Dad would make it back out safely – and at the same time thinking, what’s Dad going to do to me?!
Dad came out coughing and rubbing his eyes – “Fire’s out” – was all he could say as he caught his breath.  Walking over to the family, he started crying himself to see all the damage that had been done…but mainly crying tears of joy that nobody got hurt.
He had a stern look on his face as he approached, and Jerry thought – this is it – the fire didn’t kill me, but Dad is about to!  But instead of spanking him or lecturing him, his Dad just motioned for him to come to him – and he picked him up and hugged him so hard – and said – don’t worry about it Jerry.  I forgive you.
But Dad – I did what you told me not to!  Don’t worry about it Jerry, I forgive you.
But Dad – I was bad – you should punish me!  Don’t worry about it Jerry, I forgive you.  Listen:  when I thought you were dead, I realized that none of this matters… I love you so much, that I cannot IMAGINE going through life without you.
I think this is what the apostles were experiencing in the Gospel.  They had blown it with Jesus – every one of them had run away when the going got tough.  There were embarrassed – and this morning they’d heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had risen, they were SURE he was going to hunt them down and make them pay for their mistakes.  While we might think they had the doors locked because they were hiding from the Jews, one could argue that they locked it because they were afraid of Jesus… especially Peter… He could just picture Jesus storming through the door and saying “I’m Baaack… and this time it’s personal!” – and heads would roll.  He could picture Jesus shouting – “I told you so – I told you that you’d deny me – you measly poor excuse of an apostle”.  He could hear Jesus yelling – WHERE WERE YOU GUYS?!  You abandoned me!  You failed as my apostles – so I’m getting new ones.  Jesus was indeed back…back for revenge – starting with the men who were supposed to be his friends.  Heads would roll.
Jesus suddenly appeared – and they all cringed – falling to the floor – scared to death – their hearts racing – this is it – heads will roll. 
Instead, Jesus says ‘Shalom’ – Peace.  Realizing who it was, they couldn’t help but feel joy that it was TRUE – He really HAD risen.  But they still had that lingering doubt – they were SO sure he was coming back to get revenge on them that the word didn’t even reach their brains…so He said again:  Shalom – Peace. 
Their fear had paralyzed them – at that moment, the Church Jesus was trying to start was dead – lifeless – locked in a closet of fear - but pay attention to the next verse: he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”
Like a firefighter breathing life back into a seemingly lifeless victim, Our Redeemer stoops down to the earth to breathe His life into the Apostles – into His Church – bringing the dead to life.  He didn’t seek revenge – He showed Mercy.  He didn’t even seek JUSTICE – instead he dispensed his Grace.  Jesus says – I’m Back – and this time it’s personal.  No more religion based on rules and regulations and trying to earn salvation, Jesus offers every one of us a personal relationship – and through that relationship, we come to know God personally.
This is Divine Mercy – which we celebrate today.  Every one of us has done something to deserve the Justice of God – if God treated us as we deserve, Heads would roll.  Instead God gives us what we DON’T deserve…
Now by definition, Mercy is to forgo punishment that is deserved.  So in the old law, you poke my eye out, I could lawfully poke your eye out.  If I DON’T poke your eye out, that is mercy.  However, Divine Mercy goes a step further… instead of giving us what we deserve, God gives us His Grace.  Grace is a free, unmerited gift of God  - we don’t earn it – in fact, we deserve the exact opposite.  When God could lawfully have wiped us from the face of the earth, instead He gave us His Spirit – he breathed His life into us to allow us to live a totally new life.
That is a big deal – and hard to comprehend this quickly – but let it sink in:  We deserved death – we have all gone against the will of God – but in His Divine Mercy, He has given us the opposite of what we deserve.  Instead of giving us death we deserved – he gives us eternal life.
Why?  Because our Father loves you so much, that He cannot IMAGINE spending eternity without you. 
He will seek you out behind locked doors – He will run through the fire for you – He would give up His own life to save yours… The God of the universe would stoop down to the earth to breath His very Life into you. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

2017/04/15 - Easter - At the end of the rope

Last night at the Easter Vigil, we had three men join the Catholic Church in our parish.  Why would anyone WANT to join a church nowadays?  I have a story which might shed some light on that.

Andre was a mountain climber.  He was in a group of climbers who every summer would head to Colorado and climb the 14-ers… which are the 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet.  All year long, the group would get together every Sunday to plan their trips, to hike together,  and to push each other to maintain their physical fitness.  The older, experienced hikers would show them the tricks of the trade…like how to safely cross a glacier by tying a rope to everyone in the group.  That way if one person falls, the group can pull them back to safety.

After completing the Colorado 14ers, they set their sights on Mt McKinley – otherwise known as Denali – the highest peak on the continent at over 20,000 feet.
The second day of their expedition on Denali, an unexpected blizzard kicked up and they had to spend most of a day hunkered down in their tents.  One of the older guys in the group was suffering from altitude sickness, so the group decided to wait 24 hours to continue.   Andre was getting really impatient with the delay… thinking he’d be better off climbing by himself.  He told the group that he was pushing on ahead without them.  They tried to stop him – pointing out how dangerous the slope was and how he’d never climbed that high before.  Andre wouldn’t listen – he’d made up his mind.  He could do this on his own.  He would show them!

That next morning, Andre was on the trail even before the sun came up.  It was a beautiful morning for hiking – one of only a handful of days with clear skies that Denali ever saw.  The stars were so bright he felt like he could reach out and touch them.  He pushed on all day without incident – he was tired, but he took great pride in having been able to get so far by himself.  One more day and he would make it to the top – alone – He didn’t need the group.

The next day, clouds settled back over the mountain so that at times you couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of you.  That slowed Andre down – but He pushed on… Late in the day, he calculated he was almost there, but as quickly as daylight was fading, he might not make it to the peak before dark.  Andre wouldn’t give up…  he had to cross one glacier near the top of the mountain.  It was a particularly dangerous spot which the experienced climbers had warned about.  The crossing was narrow, and it was like a hundred foot drop on one side and you don’t even want to guess how far down the other side was.  With barely any light left in the sky and a thick fog enveloping him, Andre tied a rope to a rock as a safety precaution and stepped out onto the glacier.  Just then, a gust of wind over 50 mph knocked him off balance and his feet slid out from under him.  He went sliding down the glacier – picking up speed – his life flashing before his eyes – seeing every good and bad thing he’d ever done in his life – thinking of the group of climbers he’d left down the mountain two days ago – thinking of his family whom he’d never see again.  After what seemed like a lifetime of falling, he slid off of a cliff and bracing himself for impact, he thought – this is it - but suddenly he felt the rope go tight and he jerked to a stop .  After catching his breath and realizing he was still alive, his mind raced – looking for options.  It was so dark and foggy, he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face… there was nothing to grab onto – just air all the way around him. 

He thought…If I’d stayed with the group, they could simply have helped me back up.  In fact, if I’d been tied to the group, I wouldn’t have slid down 100 feet.  Now here he was, hanging off a cliff in the dark – and no way to get back up.  He had no choice but to cry out “God, Help Me!”.  He was surprised when a voice came back – “what do you want me to do for you?”  “Save Me, God!”  “Do you really believe I CAN save you?”  Andre quickly answered – “Yes – I really DO believe you can save me!”  Then the voice said – “Cut the rope”.

Andre thought for a moment and said, “You mean THIS ROPE!?  That’s CRAZY – this rope is the only thing keeping me from falling.”  Cut the Rope!  “But - It’s all I have to hold onto!!!”  He decided to just hang on and hope a better option would appear when the sun came up.

The next day, the rest of the group came to the base of the glacier where Andre had fallen and they could see a rope hanging off the bottom.  They hurried out to the edge of the glacier and found Andre still hanging onto the rope – frozen to death – just 3 feet above the ground.

What are you and I hanging onto?  What is it that we simply cannot let go of that is keeping us from falling into the hands of God?

The lesson of this Easter season has two bookends:  the cross and the empty grave – the cross teaches us that the path to the kingdom of God is to completely let go of everything in this life.  It’s going to feel like we’re losing, we will FEEL like we’re falling!  To the rest of the world, the cross LOOKS like utter failure.

But without Good Friday, there could be no Easter.  Without giving up everything; without letting go even of his earthly life, Jesus could not have risen from the dead.   Without the Crucifixion of Friday, the Empty Tomb of Easter would be meaningless.  An empty tomb is only important if there used to be a body in there.  Why is the empty tomb important? Without the empty tomb, the crucifixion would have been just a shameful ending of another false prophet.

This path of life you and I are on is a dangerous one – and we usually can’t see where we’re going.  That’s why we travel as a group – tied to each other – as companions on the journey….learning from scriptures and breaking bread together.  We encourage each other – we push each other to maintain our spiritual fitness - Sometimes we are there to pull each other back from the edge of the cliff –

…and sometimes we’re there to simply tell each other to ‘Cut the rope’.

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017/04/13 - Good Friday: Why DID Jesus come?

Why did Jesus come?  Many would say he came to die in our place.
I guess that’s a true statement… he did come to die – BUT - If he JUST came to die, he could have just let Herod kill him as an infant, remember when Herod sent the soldiers to kill all infants 2 years old or less?  If Jesus just came to die, why didn’t he just die then…mission accomplished!
OR - He could have let them stone him to death in Nazareth when he first claimed to be the Messiah... mission accomplished!

No – there MUST be more to it than that. 
Why did Jesus come?  He told us in the Gospel: 
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”   There it is... Jesus‘ mission wasn’t just to die... it involves being a witness to the Truth. 

??????? And many of us would echo Pilate’s response:
“What is truth?”  Does Truth even EXIST?

Pilate actually came closer to seeing the truth than the Jewish leaders did.  Pilate was intrigued by Jesus... after all this time in the armpit of the Roman Empire, Pilate finally met someone who was interesting.  He WANTED to let Jesus go, but succombed to the pressue of the mob.

Why didn’t the Mob see the truth in front of them?
The reason is kind of deep, so listen:  Human nature leads us to want to hear things with which we agree - what we already believe – and to be skeptical of anything which goes against our pre-existing beliefs.  I’ll repeat that… 
We have selective hearing – we only listen if what we’re hearing doesn’t contradict our beliefs.

Every one of us has pre-existing beliefs which are formed by our upbringing and experiences of life.  That makes us all different… Different is Great - BUT, It is our responsibility to form our consciences so that we believe what JESUS taught.  Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”.  If we DON’T listen to Jesus, then we’re not listening to the truth - so our pre-existing beliefs are formed out of lies – and whenever we DO hear the truth, we’ll quickly ignore it. 

That’s kinda deep, so let me give a silly example to make the point:  Let’s say I’m absolutely convinced that Vanilla is THE best ice cream.  Nothing you say or do could possible convince me otherwise.  Let’s say a news story comes out stating that scientists have measured the amount of pleasure in our brain when eating ice cream and have found that when eating vanilla, the pleasure part of our brain is 32% more active – which implies… no it PROVES… that Vanilla is in-fact the best ice cream.  Now - As soon as I see that story, I’m going to forward it to everyone I know to justify my position and prove to everybody that I was right all along!!!  On the other hand, if scientists showed no difference between vanilla and chocolate, I’d probably just ignore that news story.  Notice that in neither case did I care where the story came from or how reliable it is – my main criteria is whether the story supports my pre-existing belief.

We do that all the time even at church.  If I stand up here and preached that we should do this or that and you agree with it, you’ll likely tell me – “gee deacon mike, that was a great homily- you are so intelligent to believe the way I do”.  But if I say something which goes against your pre-existing beliefs or challenges your lifestyle, you’ll probably just ignore me because the deacon obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about – and if I REALLY get under your skin, you’ll spread rumors in the crowd telling everyone to shout CRUCIFY HIM!

Again – notice in neither case do we care whether the homily was Truth… our main criteria is whether the homily supports our pre-existing beliefs.

What is Truth?

The truth is that you are loved by God – and He loves you so much, He would come down here and let you torture Him and put Him to death… and He will still offer you eternal life – because He cannot imagine spending eternity without you.  THAT is the Truth Jesus came to witness to.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.  In other words, Jesus has told us the way to enter the Kingdom of God.  We don’t enter because we deserve it – we always fall short.  We don’t enter because we’re baptized – we follow Jesus into the kingdom by picking up our cross and following His example.  He showed us the path – and it involves suffering and complete surrender.  Only then is His Mission accomplished.

Truth exists – and his name is Jesus.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

2017/03/19 - Leading us away

March 19, 2017 - 3rd Sunday of Lent;
FIRST READING: Exodus 17:3–7
RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Psalm 95:1–2, 6–7, 8–9 (8)
SECOND READING: Romans 5:1–2, 5–8
GOSPEL: John 4:5–42


Before Mass:
There’s a question in the first reading which I need you to listen for, “Is God in our midst or not?”
Let me set the stage for you.  This is one of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures that is important to understand the theology of the New Testament.  We all know the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years and God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt.  Many, many signs and wonders and miracles were worked to make this possible, so that the Israelites should have NO DOUBT that God was behind this.
 
But today – they get to a spot in the desert where there is no water.  That’s a dangerous, scary place to be.  I’ve not spent a lot of time in the desert, but I have a vivid memory of passing through a desert in Colorado one summer where the air temperature was 113 and the relative humidity was like 11%... that’s dry…. Every breath you take you feel like you need a glass of water. 
Keep that in mind as you hear the story.


Homily:

Is God in our midst or not?
What do you think?  Were the Israelites justified in asking that question?
On one hand, I think if I was there, I’d have been getting worried too… we HAVE to have water.
 
On the other hand, the Israelites had seen all the miracles and wonders – in fact, in the chapter right before this - this is from Exodus chapter 17...in Chapter 16 God provided the Manna – the bread from heaven – which would miraculously appear to feed them when food was scarce.  How could they so quickly forget?

But isn’t that like you and me?  God blesses us every day with countless blessings – and sometimes we remember to be thankful – but as soon as one of our basic needs is threatened, we start questioning “Is God in our midst or not?”

Could it be that God WANTS us to ask that question?  That may sound strange, but hear me out.

I think God pushed the Israelites into a corner to MAKE them question.    See – the whole time they were following Moses in the desert, they were still keeping the Egyptian gods in their back pocket… ready to change allegiance at the drop of a hat.  In fact, the Egyptian god of the Nile – I think his name was Hapi – was the god they had turned to all their life for water….remember, they were slaves for 400 years, so Hapi was the only god they ever KNEW who would provide water… And the Nile never let them down.  They didn’t realize that the whole time it was the Lord God who had provided the water….that thought hadn’t even crossed their minds.  It’s even likely that as they travelled with Moses, they would still do some of the rituals to the god Hapi as they collected water or purified themselves.
 
God needed to lead them AWAY from that behavior…AWAY from that false god Hapi.  He led them to a spot where there was no water and couldn’t possibly be any water, so that when He provided, it would be undeniably HIS doing.  That’s the key point… God needs to prove to each one of us that HE is God…and He does that by blessing us where we least expect it.  Pulling a bucket of water from a creek is not news – but pulling a bucket of water from a rock – THAT is news!  That would get anybody’s attention.
 
God is trying to get our attention.  Every one of us has some false god we’ve gotten comfortable with in our life… something we’re afraid to let go of.  He’ll lead every one of us into a desert of some sort – away from our comfort and peace of mind – so that He can bless us where we least expect it and prove once and for all that He is God.
You see, as long as all of our basic needs are being met, we’ll stay in our unhealthy situation forever, rather than risking the loss of our comforts.  It’s easier to remain a slave near the river than to risk going thirsty. 

What’s your desert?  Maybe you thirst for health.  Maybe your marriage is a lifeless desert.  Maybe your job sucks the life out of you.  Maybe you’re dealing with the recent loss of a friend or family member and you’re questioning, God are you in our midst, or not?

Don’t despair.  If you’re in the desert, God is either leading you TO something or AWAY from something.  Pray about it.  Prayer doesn’t need to be all flowery words and Our Fathers and Hail Marys… true prayer speaks what is in your heart… so go ahead… Yell at God – at the top of your lungs… GOD ARE YOU IN OUR MIDST OR NOT?!!! 

God is hoping you will ask… so He can strike a rock and bless you where you least expect it.