Saturday, October 20, 2018

Homily 2018/10/21: Ask Not?

Before Mass:
Do you and I really know how to pray?  You know, we’ve all walked into church and to prepare for Mass, we kneel down to pray.  What’s in that prayer?
Imagine if we knelt down and said, Jesus, I want you to do this, this, this, this, and this.  Amen.
When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound much like prayer does it – yet – for many of us, that might be the only type of prayer we do…asking for stuff.  We’ve never been taught how to pray – or what prayer is all about.  Myself included. 
There’s so many different things going on in the reading, but what I noticed was a lesson on prayer.  So – first listen to the Gospel:  John and James are walking with Jesus and can ask him anything they want… Pay attention to what they asked for – how they asked – and what was Jesus’ immediate reply.  What does this tell us about prayer?

READING 1:  IS 53:10-11
PSALM 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
READING 2:  HEB 4:14-16
GOSPEL MK 10:35-45

Homily:
Jesus – we want you to do whatever we ask.  Well – yeah – don’t we all wish that?   Jesus isn’t some genie in a bottle ready fulfill our every wish.  Listening to James and John ask it, it seems so obvious that is NOT the right way to ask God for anything.  Or is it???

Notice Jesus’ response – it wasn’t, “well you ungrateful little snobs, that’s not how you talk to God” – instead Jesus asked ‘what do you wish me to do for you’.  That implies that Jesus DOES want us to tell him what we want….even if it’s not something realistic or good…. Put our desires into words and lay them before Jesus.  That basic action can change our lives IF we let it.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’…. Imagine if Jesus asked YOU that.  We all have dreams and goals.  Maybe it’s as simple as getting a gold star on my test today – or having that pimple disappear off of my face – some of us dream of getting the big buck – or a promotion at work – or accepted into the nursing program as school.  Maybe our dream is for that popular, good-looking person to take notice of us.  Dreams are important – they drive us to move beyond our current circumstances toward something better.  Dreams are ‘important’... but not all dreams are ‘good’….as we’ll soon find out about James and John’s request.

But – by just by putting our dreams into words, we define it for ourselves – maybe for the first time – and often, like listening to James and John, we’ll immediately convict ourselves and realize how shallow or self-centered the request is.  If I pray for my wife to change, just by putting into words exactly what I wish  for, I’ll realize that I have a part to play in that change.  If I pray to get a 22 point buck so people remember me, I’ll realize that while getting a buck for the record books might bring temporary fame, what really makes someone memorable is how they treated other people..... how they served God and others. **

What do you want me to do for you?  By taking our dreams to prayer – putting them into words – and then allowing God to speak back to us, we are changed.  See – we’re not praying to change GOD’S mind, but we’re praying so that OUR mind can be changed to be more like God’s mind.  We don’t pray to get what WE want, we pray so that we will want what GOD wants.

Jesus encouraged James and John to go ahead and make their request – but taught them they were seeking the wrong thing.  They asked to be on his right and left when he entered his glory….  Think about that – when DID Jesus enter his glory?  ON THE CROSS!  THAT was the throne of His kingdom – and who was on his right and his left?  The two criminals crucified with him!  James and John REALLY didn’t know what they were asking for!!!  Looking back later, they could clearly understand how their prayer was for the wrong thing.

This was a teachable moment… so Instead of praying for power, Jesus taught them they were most powerful when they became the servant of all.  In His kingdom, the Slave is the greatest.

Many of us weren’t really taught how to pray – but here are some ideas which might guide us.

First – prayer is about relationship.  How do you know you have a relationship with your spouse or friends:  you talk to each other, right?   Is it possible to have a relationship without talking to the other person?  Prayer is not how we WORK ON our relationship with God…. Prayer IS our relationship with God.  Relationships fall apart when people stop talking.  If we don’t pray, our relationship with God falls apart.

Second - we MUST have silence.  I learned a long time ago that if my wife wants to talk to me, that TV had better be off – and that phone had better be turned upside down.  I’m just too easily distracted!  Same with talking with God:  remove all distractions.

Third – Speak – yes, we should share our thoughts, wishes, praise, hunger, heartache, and even anger with God.  Relationships are strengthened when the level of sharing is deep.  Superficial sharing makes for a superficial relationship.

Fourth – Listen - if our prayer consists of US doing all the talking and not allowing time for God to speak back, we don’t have a relationship.  None of us would like to be around a person who only talks about themselves and never tries to learn from the other person.  God can teach us so much if we just listen.

Fifth – and I think this is the big learning from today – pray ‘thy will be done’ – and then ask God to show you how to make YOUR will align with His will.  Get this:  Every time we ask God for something that is His will, He WILL grant it!!  Jesus even struggled with that in the Garden of Gethsemane – trying to make his human will line-up with what he knew he needed to do to fulfill God’s will.  Maybe that’s the bottom line with these suffering-servant readings:  when we have prayed enough so that we’ll seek God’s will even when it means suffering for us, THEN we have reached the point of true glory.

Paraphrasing a quote from J. F. Kennedy:  Ask not what your God can do for you, but ask what You can do for your God!

** this is a nod to our buddy, Tim Friedman who proceeded us to heaven 3 years ago this month

Sunday, September 30, 2018

2018/09/30 - Cut it off


Before Mass:
There are at least two themes in today’s readings – the big one has to do with how we see people who are not part of the in-crowd, and I have a story to tell which you’ve probably heard something similar before, but I want to give it a new twist.  But first, I want to touch on the 2nd reading – James seems to be speaking out against Wealth – but I think it’s deeper than that – and I think it actually pulls a deeper meaning out of all the readings.  It’s about stumbling blocks or obstacles.  As you listen to each reading, consider what it tells us about how we block or try to block God from working.
Homily:
Imagine you’re going into battle back in the days of sword and spears.  What kind of armor would you wear?   The lightest option is leather armor – which would provide ‘some’ protection against a sword but not much help against a spear.  You can upgrade to chain-mail – which is like a shirt made of chains – which improves our defenses, but is a bit heavier – or we can go all out and wear plate armor – like the typical knights used to wear – the full body steel suit which would repel most weapons of the day.  Yeah – if we wanted to play it REALLY safe, we’d go with the plate armor.  On the other hand, those suits weighed like 45-50lbs, SO you’d expend a bunch of your energy just moving around.  You wouldn’t be able to turn your head much to see dangers coming at you – you wouldn’t be able to move as quickly to avoid a hit from a spear – you’d get really hot and sweaty in the suit – come to think of it, If I were going to battle, a plate armor suit might be the worst option.
That’s like all of the securities we fill our lives with…and I think that’s what James refers to in the second reading.  We build up our bank accounts and insurance – we have our freezers full and our canned goods stashed up – we exercise and eat right to maintain our health – in all these ways, WE are in control – we have put on our heaviest armor to protect ourselves from whatever life throws at us.
But James is saying that all of our man-made safe-guards will actually be our stumbling block.  By maintaining total control of our lives, we effectively push God out of the picture.  He can’t save us – or at least we can’t RECOGNIZE that he’s saving us, because we think our defenses and our armor are what saves us.
That’s what James means when he said “your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;”.  The gold and silver aren’t bad, but God gave us that wealth so that He could bless others through us.  The greatest joys in life come from sharing what God gave us – so when we hold it close and put our trust in the wealth instead of God, not only are others missing out on the blessings, but WE miss out on being the instrument of God’s action, so we don’t accept the blessing God is trying to give US!
We are all going into battle – the battle for our own soul.  Take a hard look at what we have in our lives that is a stumbling block – things that will trip us or others – things that prevent God’s Spirit from acting in our lives – whatever we’re carrying into battle which is a liability, drop it here – cut it off, as Jesus says….  Better to enter battle without it.

To tie that idea to the other readings, let me tell a story:
Imagine you’re walking along and accidentally fall into a well.  You’re not hurt too bad, but you’re like 10 feet underground and the sides are too slick for you to crawl out, so you do the only things you can do – you lift a silent prayer –God help me!   And then you shout at the top of your lungs – HEEEELLLLP!
A minute later, an Islamic man comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – your people attacked out country – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
This time someone of a different race comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – my parents told me never to trust your kind.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
Next, a person of another Christian faith comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – you’re not a in the real Church – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
You’re getting really weak now, but you keep shouting – the next day, a Catholic comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you recognize him as from a family who your family doesn’t get along with for political reasons – you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  But you’re too weak to shout for help again.

Next thing, you wake up in front of the pearly gates – and you realize where you are and you’re ticked off – God – how could you let this happen?  I trusted you to help me!  God said – I sent help four times, but you wouldn’t take the help.  Who in the world COULD I have sent that you wouldn’t have had a prejudice against?  

Obviously, my story is exaggerated, but the point is that God can and does act through every person in the world – and any time we try to draw boundaries around ourselves about who is In and who is Out – we are blocking God’s action.  If we continue drawing those boundaries, they’ll get smaller and smaller until we are the only one left in the IN crowd and we’ll even find fault with God and block Him as an outsider. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

2018/09/09 - Speech Impediment

Before Mass:  I have a message to deliver today which I don’t WANT to deliver.  It is a hard topic to talk about – and at least two people have helped me to see I didn’t communicate it well the first time – so I’m offering some tweaks to hopefully be clearer.  First – know that I acknowledge the scandals recently brought to light are evil – and the handling with cover-ups was also wrong.  While that’s not really the key focus of this homily, any mention of the scandal MUST acknowledge the evil that was done, because so many are hurting.  This homily is an attempt to start to explain just one reason how we got here.

Homily:
I have a theory – The Gospel says that after Jesus cured him, this man could speak plainly.  I think that implies this guy was not deaf from birth… see – if he had been deaf from birth, he wouldn’t know what speech was – if he’d never heard a word spoken, he wouldn’t know how to put the sounds together.  Yeah – you could argue that maybe Jesus’ miracle was a super-miracle because it also gave him the ability to speak plainly – I’ll grant you that might be – BUT – it also says before he was healed, he had a speech impediment.  That implies to me that he knew how to speak – like maybe he USED to have hearing and was able to speak, but lost his hearing somehow.  I’m told it’s typical for someone who cannot hear themselves speak to speak with an impediment.  When you have a speech impediment, it means no matter how hard you try to speak the truth plainly, others cannot understand you.

Who cares, right?  Well – I think this man represents all of us.  In one way or another, we’re all deaf to the voice of God and we cannot speak plainly.  There are the obvious reasons why we don’t hear God:  a) some of us aren’t even listening, b) all of us are surrounded by noise – and c) any moment that’s not noisy, we put in our earbuds or flip on the TV or pick up the cell phone to talk to somebody because God forbid that we would actually be SILENT for a few minutes.  Those are the obvious reasons we’re deaf to the voice of God – and perhaps that explains why Jesus had to take the guy AWAY from the crowd – so he could hear.

But I think most of us have a more personal reason why we don’t hear God anymore.  For most of us, somewhere along the line someone spoke a lie to us – and we believed it.  You’re not good enough – you’re unlovable – you’re unforgivable – you can never live up to what God expects of you.  Can you see that in your own life?  Think about that addiction or sin which we just can’t get past – and we won’t even bother going to confession because we know we’ll just do it again… With that kind of problem, it’s easy to see how we fell for the lie,… “you’re not good enough”.   And since we won’t take it to Jesus for healing, we have not EXPERIENCED the mercy and healing of God, so we cannot SPEAK to the world about it… we have a speech impediment.
This man also represents the Church.  Today, our Church has woke up and realized that we’ve been deaf.  For years, we turned a deaf ear to the wrong-doings of a few – and as a result of that, we have a speech impediment because we can no longer speak as the moral compass for the world.   But this problem didn’t “just happen” – it was a long slow slide into deafness.

The world has told us that we have to be politically correct so we don’t offend anyone – and we fell for that lie.  Now – we certainly should be compassionate and not cause un-necessary offense, but if we avoid speaking Truth which will save someone, we’re doing Christianity right!  I mean – look at our brother – he didn’t get nailed to that cross because he was a nice guy – no – he would tell it like it is – plainly pointing out where the religious leaders had gotten it wrong.

If he were here today, what would he speak out against?  First of all, obviously, he’d point out where the religious leaders have done evil.  The actions themselves were worse than sinful, but the handling of them was perhaps equally as bad.  But - I think he’d point out that the recent scandals are actually a result of a process that started a long-long time ago.  We stopped calling sin ‘sin’.  As a result, it became easier for these leaders to rationalize their actions somehow.  We stopped being the moral compass when:

 We  (the Church)  stopped speaking out against contraception because the vast majority of the people in our pews think the Church is wrong in their teaching – well, if we would actually HEAR the prophecies of Pope Paul IV in Humanae Vitae 50 years ago, we would see that the Church is RIGHT.  He predicted that if contraception became the norm we would see:
o Marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards
o objectification of women’s bodies
o Public authorities imposing use of contraceptives

 We  (the Church)  stopped speaking out against homosexual acts because we didn’t want to offend anyone.  The world would tell us that by speaking out against the sin, we’re inciting hate – but we all know that we are called to love the sinner but hate the sin…regardless of what sin it is.  But it’s not homosexual acts by themselves!  It’s ANY sex outside of the Sacrament of Matrimony… homosexual, heterosexual, and by those vowed to celibacy!  We lost that moral high ground when We stopped speaking out against pre-marital sex.  I can’t bring it up because whether you’re Catholic or Christian or no religion at all – EVERYBODY is doing it – so let’s not talk about it and offend anyone. 

 We  (the Church) have been bitten by the modern-christian mentality of free-grace where we no longer have to work on anything wrong in our lives because God will forgive anything – so we don’t even TRY to fix our short-comings.  We’re told that if we TRY to work on improving ourselves - we’re saying that the sufferings of Jesus weren’t enough.  So – don’t put pressure on anybody to actually CHANGE their lifestyle – you might offend somebody.  

And let me assure you that as a preacher, I don’t LIKE offending anybody.  Besides, who am I to tell anyone to repent when I’ve got my OWN sins to deal with.  I’m in as much need of God’s mercy as any other person here – maybe more.  There are things I still can’t bring myself to say from this pulpit because I KNOW there will be backlash and consequences from those who take offence.  Either there will be an outcry – or worse – they’ll just stop listening – and convince others to stop listening. 

I remember in the lead-up to the Gulf war, there was all the talk about weapons of mass destruction and it just never was clear that we should go to war – but we had to just trust that our government had access to information which we were not allowed to see – so we couldn’t really speak out against the war…. And anybody who DID speak out was immediately charged with “you’re not supporting our troops – the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country”.  I never did feel right about how that charge was twisted like that… it had the effect of silencing people who our country NEEDED to speak up.  I don’t know the whole story – but one of my favorite music groups basically lost their career for speaking out against the war because they were labeled as “anti-american”.  It was an all-on boycott which collapsed their careers. 

Our country was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Our leaders only heard what they wanted to hear – and anyone who spoke up was shamed into silence – they were given a speech impediment.

That mentality has impacted every one of us – even in the Church (now I’m speaking to individuals including myself).  We have become deaf to the voice of God and we can no longer speak to the world about the Mercy of God because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves.  Go back to one of the greatest Christian Hymns of all time – Amazing Grace – study the words – this man recognized that he was the worst kind of man –  While he was trading slaves, he filled his life with noise so he wouldn’t hear the voice of God – that little voice of conscience in his mind which was screaming at him to stop!  When he finally stopped to listen, he started studying Christian Theology and recognized himself as a wretch and repented – catch that?  He recognized that he was a sinner and he asked God to save him.  Because of that, he was able to speak plainly – or shall I say – SING plainly about the mercy of God.  (sing it)

    Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
    that saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost, but now am found,
    was blind but now I see.


Does that touch your heart?  Not because they sang it at your grandpa’s funeral – but does it touch your heart PERSONALLY because you have LIVED it?  If we don’t connect with the words personally – that I was a wretch or I AM a wretch – then we are still deaf.  The world needs to know first of all that God loves every one of us… that’s the main message.  We are NOT here to present the world with a bunch of rules to make their lives miserable – not at all – we’re here to SHOW the world the path to joy – to show them the compass which points the WAY.  The most effective way to do that is to give our personal witness of mercy and love.  WE are the moral compass of the world – and if we’re witnessing to the Joy we’ve personally found, the world will follow.   Like the crowd in the Gospel, once we’ve witnessed how God can change us, we can’t help but tell everyone.

Ephphatha!  Be Opened.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

2018/08/18 - The Days are Evil


What’s Paul mean when he said ‘the days are evil’? 
           Brothers and sisters:
           Watch carefully how you live,
           not as foolish persons but as wise,
           making the most of the opportunity,
           because the days are evil.

I have a friend from India who came to the States to work.  She had been here for a couple of years before she decided to go back to India for a visit, and she was excited to see home again.  It was going to be a great visit – she would be there for 30 days – enough time to do everything she wanted to do and visit all of her family and friends.  But, when she got back here a month later, she said she didn’t get everything done – because the first three weeks, she kept thinking, I’ve got 30 days, no need to rush around – so instead she would let hours and even days just slip away doing nothing in particular.  Finally, the last week, she realized that time was short, and she tried to pack in all of her visits and to-do’s in the last week.  Afterward, she was kicking herself because she hadn’t used her time wisely.
You see the problem?  Whenever you and I think we have time to spare, our tendency is to just let it slip through our hands. 

That is what I think Paul means when he says, ‘watch carefully how you live because the days are evil’.  He’s recognizing that most of us live as though we have all the time in the world.  The days are evil means with every passing day, we are lulled into complacency about when our life will end.  No need to take care of that sin or that bad habit today, I can worry about it tomorrow.  No need to get out there and do the corporal works of mercy today, there will be plenty of time for that.  No need to forgive that person who wronged me – let them stew on it another day – I can forgive them tomorrow.  That’s where the evil comes from – we live unwisely because we think we’ve always got more time to live. 

But notice Paul is insisting that we ‘watch carefully how we live’ and ‘make the most of the opportunity’ – I think he’s saying – be wise about how you use your time – don’t waste it.  Be intentional with your time.  You’ve heard me use that word Intentional a lot – and you can count on me saying it a bunch, so let’s make sure we all understand it.  What’s it mean to be intentional?  Let’s say I’m going to drive to Colorado…. That doesn’t  just ‘happen’.  No – I have to plan ahead, cancel the mail, get somebody to care for the pets, rearrange my schedule, pack my camping gear, make sure the car is serviced.  But even that’s not enough – I have to pick a day and time that I’m leaving so the people travelling with me will be ready to go.  I can’t just keep thinking – I’ll wait until tomorrow to leave.  When we do get on the road – I need to get on the highway going West.  If I turn East, I’d be going in the wrong direction and never get to the place I wanted to go to. As I’m driving along, I can surely take my time, enjoy the trip, and stop once in a while at something that looks interesting – but if I spend too much time on side trips, I’ll never reach my destination before I run out of time and have to turn around to come home.  See what I mean?  Every trip has a destination and every trip will eventually come to an end, so while travelling, we HAVE to be intentional about how we use our time.  In other words, we have to do things ‘on purpose’ or ‘deliberately’.  To be intentional, means I to choose where I want go, then make a plan for how to get there – and then actually DO the things I need to do to get there.

Trouble is, when we’re NOT on vacation, we don’t have an explicit deadline.  In our everyday lives, it’s easy to be complacent about our time.  We might be intentional about some things in our life – like getting to work or school on time – but when we get home, we sit down for some well-deserved rest and often waste the rest of the day by flipping through the channels or surfing the web.  Is that the best use of our time? 
Paul says we should seek to understand and do the will of God.  God gives us 24 hours in a day to DO something FOR HIM….that’s right, our time belongs to God - But how much do we actually give to him?  Sure we’ve all got excuses – I’ve got mine too… I gotta sleep, I gotta cut grass, I gotta check my emails and facebook and oh – there’s another text just came in, and I gotta watch the news…  We let ourselves be distracted constantly… living as though we have all the time in the world.  We rush around doing all of the urgent stuff and never get to the important stuff.

Paul says, “Make the most of the opportunity because the days are evil.”
The days are evil, because we are supposed to do God’s will every minute…  every SECOND – but when we think we have all day, we will let those seconds and minutes slip away until  - until the days are gone….wasted.

This week, about 50 of us from around the diocese went to Branchville prison where we got a totally different perspective on wasting time.  We go up there every February and August for a ‘Reward Day’.  Whenever an offender goes an entire year without getting written up for misconduct, they are invited to attend our reward day where we serve them cookies and burgers and ice cream and watch a current movie – all stuff they rarely get in prison.  There are 1200 men locked up in that one prison.  Can you imagine putting your life on hold for that long?  Not being able to see your family, earn money, build a life, accomplish something?  For many of the men, they just get defiant and blame everyone else for their situation.  As a result, they cause trouble or they just simply exist – looking out only for themselves looking forward to the day they will finally be free.  The question is – free for what?  Most of them will likely fall back into the life they lived previously – addicted to alcohol and drugs.  But some of the men – many of whom were the 157 we got to feed Thursday, have taken Paul’s advice.  They are ‘watching carefully how they live’ – keeping their nose clean, so to speak.  They decided not to continue to live in ignorance… many of them are taking classes, getting certificates in skills that will help them earn a living when they get out.  For example, Brian told me he gets out October 21st, so he has gotten a certificate in culinary arts – hoping to get a job in a restaurant.  He recognized that his life was messed up because he was in construction and travelling all the time – and all the other guys would go out drinking and such every night – and that kind of lifestyle is what landed him in prison.  He doesn’t want to waste another minute of his life.

We also talked to several Catholic men who get together daily to read the daily readings, pray a rosary, and do book studies.  These guys could teach all of us something about the Bible and the Church!  What makes the difference?  They know that spending their time in prayer and study is what energizes them.  I talked to Randy who is worried that he won’t take that time to pray when he gets out… he’s afraid he’ll be like the rest of us who get so busy with work and life that we don’t take the time to do the prayer and study which he KNOWS he NEEDS to energize himself.  That is Wisdom.

These guys know something every one of us needs to know – the days are evil – we DON’T have all the time in the world, so we need to use what we have wisely.
Make the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil…  every one of us in on a journey – and that journey is to God.  Watch carefully how you live.  If I had one day left to live – what would God want me to do with it?  If I was freed from whatever holds me prisoner, how would I invest that time for God?
Be Wise.  Be intentional.
(P.S.  to see pictures of the Reward Day at prison, go to

Sunday, August 5, 2018

2018/08/05 Daily Bread (or 'Manna-burger Helper')

Before Mass -
"Give us this day our daily bread."
Ever wonder what this ‘daily bread’ is?  Today we hear part of the story – but once again, we don’t hear the whole thing, so I want to summarize.  Remember God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt – well, in our first reading today we’ll hear how God fed them with manna in the desert.  Literally, manna means ‘what is it’, because it was something they’d never seen before.   Exodus described it as ‘like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey’.  Based on that description, I’d say it looked something similar to ‘this’… (hold up host wafer).  It’s not a coincidence that this manna resembled what we use on our altar even today!!! 

The Hebrews were instructed to collect their ‘daily bread’  - literally – they would go out each morning to collect a specific amount of bread for their family to eat that day.  If they took too much and tried to keep it until the next day, it would rot and get stinky overnight – except on Friday, they could collect twice as much so that they wouldn’t have to collect on the Sabbath day.  So quite literally, this was their ‘daily bread’. 
So – today pay attention to the context of the first reading – it starts out with grumbling, which is where the homily begins.

Readings:     http://usccb.org/bible/readings/080518.cfm

Homily
Was God upset that the Hebrews were grumbling?  At first, it would seem like it – those ungrateful brats, I just brought them out of Slavery and defeated the greatest army on earth – I led them thru the Red Sea, I provided water in the desert – surely by now they would trust me to take care of them!  But NOOOO… they’re hangry….  Is that what God would have thought?
At first it seems that way – but – God made us and He knows how we human react to discomforts.  These people had been pulled from slavery, yes, but it was also a stable way of life – they knew what to expect every day – they knew where their next meal would come from  - they knew that Pharoah and the gods of the Egyptians would provide their daily bread.  Yeah they were slaves – but shucks – that’s a minor inconvenience compared to walking in the hot sun of the desert all day without food and water – and they weren’t even sure where they were going….there was no light at the end of the tunnel.   There was no hope left… Any one of us would be grumbling right along with them….  I think God knew that – but He knew he had them right where He needed them:  hangry in the desert.
See – getting them out of Egypt was the easy part.  Now He had to get Egypt out of them.  God had to wean them away from all of the support systems they’d grown accustomed to in order to get them to place their trust in Him…. Because as long as they were still addicted to the gods of Egypt, they weren’t really free.
This was hard – really hard.  Worshipping the gods of Egypt was attractive… it involved gluttony and drunkenness and lustful pleasures… notice those are the same activities that all of us get addicted to.  That was surely sounded a lot more fun than eating manna in the desert.  God KNEW they would grumble because that’s normal when ANYone is breaking free from the slavery to an addiction.  They’re always looking back thinking, this pain I’m experiencing now is WAY worse than the pain I experienced in that slavery… I prefer the pain of my chains over the pain of my freedom.
It makes me think of a woman who is beaten by her husband… she may think of walking away, but the fear of the unknown stops her… where would she live, how would she get food, and if there are kids involved, it’s that much harder to make the move.  This is not a judgement at all – but often for any of us, the chains on our wrists are easier than the chains of fear:  Slavery looks easier than freedom.   Can we relate to that?  If you’ve ever tried to walk away from addiction, you know how the Hebrews felt… Any major change in life requires leaving something behind…and that means pain.
I was talking to someone from another parish this week who said the merging of their parish with another has NOT gone well.  This guy was really depressed, because it seems like the people in charge don’t even admit there are problems, so nothing is being done to help people with the change.  As a result, “lots” of people have left the parish…and even this guy, one of the most faithful Catholics I know, was considering abandoning his parish.  People want to go back to the way things were… back to when things were predictable and fair and they had their own priest –
Any journey toward something requires a journey away from something else.
College students leaving home for the first time will experience this in another couple of weeks… they’re taking a huge step in their journey toward freedom, which requires a journey away from home – away from parents – away from the family, food, laundry, vehicle – whatever things were provided at home.  Most will reach the point where they finally appreciate all the things that their parents did for them – and they’ll wish they could go back.  That’s not a bad feeling in this case – it’s a normal feeling anytime we take a step toward freedom.
The question is – for all of these situations – in what or in whom will we place our trust going forward?  The Hebrews placed their trust in the gods of Egypt… the alcoholic puts his trust in the bottle… the college student put his trust in home life… but the journey away from any of those things is a journey toward something – or toward someONE – in every case, the journey is toward trusting God.
How does God get us to trust Him?
First He needs us to recognize that we need Him.  As long as we’re comfortable in our slavery, we take things for granted.  Until we recognize our need – we won’t recognize when God provides for us.  So, in a way, God HAD to lead them into the desert – away from all that is familiar – so they could FEEL their hunger – He NEEDED them to be ‘hangry’ and only then could He step in and fill that need. 
The manna became their main source of food through the next 40 years in the desert.  Can you imagine – eating the same thing day after day – surely they took it for granted – surely they got tired of it.  They worked up every recipe they could find:  “Mannacotti”, “Mananabread”, “Mannawhich”, “Mannaise”, “Mannaburger helper”.   (thanks to Jeff Cavins for the joke idea)
Seriously – this manna was a tangible sign that God was providing for them.  This was very literally their ‘daily bread’ to remind them that God was the one they should trust.  The Manna was the sign…
Remember last week, Jesus led the crowd up a mountain – away from their homes – away from town – in order to teach them.  Perhaps the most important lesson he taught that day was that He, as the Son of God, was the one in whom they should place their trust.  Remember how He did that?  He fed the 5000 with the loaves and fishes.  This miracle wouldn’t have happened if they were in town and could have run over to McDonald’s and grabbed a bite to eat…. No, they had to FEEL their hunger before they could recognize and receive the sign. 
Here’s the challenge for us:  What signs are in your life?  Spend a day in the desert – maybe fast for a day and look for the signs – the evidence that God is working in and through you.  Recognize Who provides YOUR daily bread?
 Jesus IS the bread from heaven who feeds us his own body and blood.  Jesus is our ‘daily bread’. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

2018/07/15 - Nothing but a Walking Stick

Before Mass:
I’ve got some GOOD news and some GREAT news!  You know how twice a year, we have our Youth Appeal where one or two of our youth get up here and ask for your support to send them to all sorts of special learning opportunities?  Well the good news is Today is not that day… we’re not asking for money!  The GREAT news is that today is when you get some return on your investment!

We had 19 parishioners at CHWC in Kansas City all week.  We had 29 students and several adults at Rock Your Faith – the middle school retreat at St. Joe.  And we had 120 youth plus a bunch of adults helping at our VBS for four days.  That means including volunteers, we had over 200 people from the parish actively involved this week in Faith activities for our young folks.  I did a random sample of our students asking what kind of things they learned this week, and I’d like to share just a few with you:

VBS:  we learned everyone has a Mission.  We’re all called by God to do SOMEthing.  (which really fits with the homily today)
RYF: You can be mad at God but God still loves you. We are called to be Saints.  Like Saint John Bosco who sacrificed himself for others – we’re called to do the same.
CHWC:  We echo Jesus’ love when we serve others.  God gives us what we need when we need it – not necessarily when we want it.  The story of the two lakes. If you stay in your comfort zone, it is like a stagnant lake, warm, full of algae and bad stuff grows. If you get out of your comfort zone, it is like a cold, mountain lake where the water is clear and water flows through it and passes your faith on.
You’ll hear even more in the homily today. 
Now – a note to our youth – you know how excited you were coming back from your events?  Some of you experienced Mass like never before.  I want to give you permission – in fact – I beg you – bring that experience back to this parish.  Don’t be the stagnant lake and keep it to yourself… Let US feel the joy that you experienced.  You are not the same as you were when you left here last week – we NEED you to help all of US to have a new experience at Mass.  Pray along, sing along, get engaged in the Liturgy.
OK – very quickly – I need to quickly give you some back-story on the first reading.  You may remember that the country of Israel was broken into two a long time before Jesus came – the north was called Israel and the south was called Judah.  That’s important because Amos, in that first reading is FROM the south kingdom, but God called him to be a prophet to the NORTH kingdom.  He had been a ‘dresser of sycamores’ which was a type of fig tree… so he was a farmer, called to be a prophet.  Does that remind you of anybody else we know?  (Fr. Eugene)


Homily
Take nothing with you but a walking stick…  you can just see the look on the Apostle’s face when Jesus said that.  They’d be like, “you mean I can’t take my iphone so I can stay connected with all the people that I’m important to?”.  You mean I can’t take a suitcase full of clothes so I can wear the perfect thing at just the right time to impress people?   You mean I can’t take a backpack full of my favorite food so I don’t risk getting hungry?

A walking stick… a walking stick… what is Jesus thinking sending us out with NOTHING?!?!?!

Actually – a walking stick is NOT ‘nothing’.  It gives you something to lean on as you start getting tired.  It gives you a tool to remove cobwebs and snakes from the path.  It gives you a pole that could be used to build a makeshift shelter from the sun.  It could be used as a weapon,… just in case you come across some teenage mutant ninja turtles.  ;)

Yeah – a walking stick DOES have some purpose – but what Jesus is really saying is – lower your expectations of what you really ‘need’ to take along.  You don’t need ANYthing.  If you have nothing but a stick to lean on, you’ve got all you need…. How can that be?
Notice, he sent them out two by two…. So not only do you have a stick, you have a buddy!  And Jesus said at another point, wherever two are gathered in His name, He is there with them…. Aha!  So even though they’re sent out with ‘nothing’ – they have Jesus with them, and what else could they possibly need?
Part of being sent out was to build the Apostles’ faith – they needed to EXPERIENCE the fact that God would provide for them in order that they PERSONALLY would have a witness of how great God is!  God will give us what we need when we need it – but – if we fill our backpacks with all the stuff we could possibly need, we never give God the CHANCE to fill our needs.  As long as WE stay in control, God is NOT in control… so we gotta leave it all behind
Our young people left it all behind for a week – and they are no longer the same people who came to church with us last Sunday.  Their experience changed them.  I’ve asked two of our older ones to come forward right now to share just a two minute story that highlights their experience.  They have a LOT more to share, but I’ve asked them to tell a specific story which actually fits nicely into our homily today.
(stories different depending on who comes to Mass... here are two examples)
Story 1:  There was this woman at the lowest point of her life. She was on drugs, she was an alcoholic, could not hold a job, and was not financially stable. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she found out she was pregnant. She had nowhere to go and was considering aborting the baby. With no support system or any way to have this baby and give him a good life, she turned to her brother for help asking him if he would want her baby. Her brother was married, and him and his wife had been trying to have a baby for 10 years but never could. Of course he said he would love to, but he needed to ask his wife first. His wife is what changed everything and gave the woman hope. She said she would take in the woman and her baby and let them live in their house if she quit drinking and doing drugs. 2 months into the agreement, the woman was clean off of the drugs and alcohol. Now she has been off of drugs for 30 years. 5 years after having the first child, she had another baby of her own and was financially stable. Then she went back to school to become a financial planner which she always had a gift for but never knew it. Then she found God and became a teacher at a college for adults who are going to college now when then couldn’t before. 8 years ago she stood by her son and watched him become a priest. That priest was Father Ed from Virginia. He was the first child in the story and he was sharing this story with us. He would not be here without his mom having hope from her brother and his wife. It is important to give hope to others. 
Story 2: One group went to a man named Mike’s house. His daughter has aspergers disease. She’s 34 years old, has no social skills, and doesn’t talk to anyone but her dad Mike. She gets all of her information from reading books, which she does every day. The Hope Builders, which is the organization that was in charge of what needed to be done at the site, had been to the house to repair it four times before this group of Catholic Heart Work Campers came to work on the house. She never made any contact with any of the helpers, she didn’t even come out of the house. But this group of kids bonded with her, and talked to her about her favorite books. Once they broke through the first barrier she had up, she began to help improve the house by painting and holding ladders. She made connections with multiple campers, and really cane out of her shell. Before the group left she asked for contact information from the kids she had bonded with, and they will now be keeping in touch.
WOW - obviously they were changed by this week's experience!
Can you see how those fit in with the readings?

Amos was pulled out of his comfort zone as a fig farmer and sent by God to the Northern kingdom.
Fr. Eugene was pulled out of HIS comfort zone as a pig farmer and sent by God to Northern Dubois County.
200 of our parishioners went outside their normal routine this week to give God the chance to act in their hearts… and they were changed because of it.
What's the lesson for the rest of us?  Is MY faith strong enough to step out of my routine –will I go with Jesus  to a deserted place – to go wherever God sends me to make a difference in somebody’s life?  That’s when God can really make a difference in OUR lives… and all we need is a walking stick.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

2018/05/20 - Pentecost - It's Happening.

Just about everybody has one of these nowadays (hold up smartphone)… we all hold in our hands more computing power than was available in the whole world 60 years ago.  This little device has changed the world – literally – not too many years ago, if you wanted to research something, you had to get an encyclopedia.  Now – the library of the world is available through this device.  If you wanted to listen to music, you had to carry a stack of heavy black phonographs and a record player – now – every song ever recorded can be downloaded and listened to anywhere.  This has a camera on it that rivals the big 35mm cameras.  There are apps for just about anything:  navigation, work-outs, guitar tuner, level, on-line banking… and so much more.  All that in one little black box… Not to mention the fact that you can actually use this to talk to someone – although even that is becoming less common – instead – you just TEXT someone. 

It’s happening.  This phone is changing the world.

But – this little device is only as good as the battery inside of it!  Without power, it’s just a paperweight.  Eventually though, you gotta have one of these… a power cord…something to connect you to the power source.
Let’s pretend for a minute that this phone is the Church.  When Jesus was here, he wanted to change the world – and to do that, he  gave us this thing…the Church.  He gave it to us with a purpose:  to change the world!  And if you look back over the centuries, you can see that this device (The Church) continues to change the world. 
But it was a rough start – the twelve dudes he left in charge were scared to death – and they had good reason to be.  People were out to destroy this church before it ever got turned on.  If the Apostles had stepped out into the streets to spread the good news, they likely would have been afraid to speak up – they likely would have said things like, ‘who am I to force MY beliefs on somebody else’? 
The Church never would have been very useful, because the Good News never would have been spoken to anyone.  The Church was like a phone without a battery… lifeless – talking to nobody.  The Church was silent and useless UNTIL -  it got recharged….  The Church was stuck in a room upstairs somewhere, cowering.  Until – IT happened.
How do we know IT happened?
Because IT made a noise like a strong driving wind – IT lit up the place like tongues of fire – and most importantly – IT propelled the church OUT of the upper room and into the world to tell everyone about Jesus.  We don’t hear it in today’s reading, but right after this reading, Peter gave a sermon that was so powerful, 3000 people were baptized.  3000…in one day… obviously, SOMETHING was happening.  What did he say that was so powerful?  You can actually read it yourself in Act chapter 2.
What was IT that happened, that propelled that lifeless, cowering Church to go OUT into the world!?  Power!  Not just any batteries – DIVINE BATTERIES…Supernatural, supercharged power:  The Holy Spirit.
St. John Paul II said,  the “Holy Spirit Enlivens and Animates Church”
I like that word ANIMATE – it means to bring to life – this is a weird analogy, but think of it like Dr. Frankenstein as he shocks Frankenstein into life… one moment, he was a lifeless collection of body parts and the next, he was up and moving and talking.  IT’S ALIVE!!!  I know that’s a bad analogy – but THAT IS THE CHURCH!  …A lifeless collection of body parts until – shazam! – shocked into life- ‘animated’ by the Holy Spirit.
Maybe a better analogy would be a lifeguard doing cpr on someone who drowned… God reached down to breath life into the Church.  The breath he breathed into the Church is the Holy Spirit.
It was the Holy Spirit that ANIMATED the church – giving it not only LIFE, but the will and courage to share the joy that Jesus had given them.  Once they plugged into the power source, they sprang to life.
You and I can plug into that same power source!  Imagine if when your phone is going dead, all you had to do was close your eyes and think real hard about electricity – and that would re-charge your phone instantly!  That would be GREAT  - we wouldn’t need this little cord.  We could go anywhere – as far from civilization as we care to go – and never worry about being away from our power source.
Well – with the Holy Spirit – that’s all it takes.  “Come Holy Spirit”… a simple prayer, and we are plugged-in to the very source of supernatural power.  The same power that raised the dead, healed the blind, forgave sins, and brought the Church to life is IN US!!!  This Spirit animates US – it drives US out the doors of this church building to share the joy we’ve found in Jesus.  We’re no longer cowering or embarrassed about our faith.  The world IS WAITING for the joy you and I are sent to share.  We have to believe that.  3000 people in one day?  It just took one sermon.  Imagine if every one of US got animated. 
The Holy Spirit continues to animate the Church – in fact, I’m told that in Africa, on average 3000 people come into the Christian faith EVERY DAY!  Think about that – a Pentecost EVERY DAY.  The Spirit is still at work.
Look at This community of Faith – we are ALIVE!  VIBRANT!  Great things are happening!
Did you know we now have two young men from St. Isidore entering the Seminary this Fall? 
Did you know we already have had like 10 priests ordained from this parish?   Three are still alive.
Did you know we have had MANY nuns from our parish - at least 7 are still living. 
Did you know we have two Discipleship groups:  one aimed at college and young adults – and the other for anyone!? 
Did you know that other parishes look up to OUR kids because they are more well-formed in their faith than other kids?! 
We have a great pastor, two great church buildings, a community of volunteers…
This parish is ALIVE!  The Spirit continues to animate us – to propel us into the world to fulfill our purpose:  to share the joy we’ve found… to change the world.  If you don’t personally feel animated, maybe you should check your power cord.  Plug yourself in and hold on, because…  IT is happening.