Saturday, July 20, 2019

2019/07/21 Unum Necessarium

Before Mass:
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, Who are we? – and why are we here?  Pick up your bulletins and let’s pray together the Mission statement on the front.
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.

Today’s Gospel is very familiar – the story of Martha and Mary.  It all hinges on the last few lines of today’s Gospel:  "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.   There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

Probably the most common interpretation of that statement is that Martha is too busy – and Mary is better because she takes time to pray and listen to Jesus.  There may very well be some truth to that – but today we’re going to look at another meaning:  Unum Necessarium – that’s the Latin for ‘the one thing necessary’.  Jesus said – there is need of only one thing…  what IS that ‘one thing’?

As you pray through this Mass and prayerfully listen to the Word of God, be thinking about what is MY one thing?  What is God calling ME to do at this very moment – and with my life? 

A group of over 300 high schoolers descended upon Southridge High School this week, as St. Mary’s in Huntingburg sponsored their 6th annual CHWC.  They came from all around… even as far away as Maryland and Wisconsin.  They came to work – that’s why it’s called a work camp – and indeed they did work.  Among the group they did 30 different projects around our area – and – about 36 of them came to OUR parish this week to help us split firewood.  Yes – we were splitting wood in the hottest weather of the season.  I told them at the finale Thursday night that normally we don’t split wood around here until the temperature is below 50 degrees – so if they died next week and went to hell, at least they’d already be trained!

Why would they do it?  Ask yourself – why would any high schooler, much less 300 high schoolers, give up a week of vacation and drive 8-14 hours to Huntingburg Indiana to sweat like pigs in the nastiest weather of the year?  Well, if you got to spend any time with them, you would understand – and I know several dozen of our own youth over the years have travelled to distant cities to do just the same thing – I think they’ll agree that this experience is likely the highlight of their summer – and maybe one of the pivotal moments in their entire life! 

They start each day with Mass – then head out into the heat to work all day.  Over lunch, they pray together and answer some questions designed to make them reflect deeper on their experience and what God is trying to teach them through this week.  Sitting with them, I was inspired.  At night they share a meal, music, prayer, confession, adoration, fun, laughter.  They are fully alive.

At the closing Thursday night, a couple dozen people from around the area got up and thanked these youth for busting their you-know-whats all week to do things for people they didn’t even know.  But like they said – it wasn’t so much the work – as it was the Spirit they brought with them.  These youth were different from the stereotypical teenager who barely looks up from their phones - and if you try to have a conversation, the best you can muster is a grunt.  People commented – and I saw for myself – how these young people asked questions, sincerely listened, and shared their own thoughts and spiritual insights with all of us.  They are fully alive!

There’s so much you and I can learn from this:  first – Did you ever think – why do kids need to travel 12 hours to work for somebody – why can’t we just have them work here?  I’ve realized there is genius to the method – you see – in order for the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of any of us, we first have to be emptied.  In order for Jesus to get our attention, we have to disconnect from our normal lives – away from the job, family, phone, responsibilities, routine… so it makes sense that they need to go to another city. 

The lesson for you and me is that every one of us NEEDS that kind of experience where we empty ourselves – where we disconnect from responsibilities – where we step into the unknown to allow the Holy Spirit to do something different.  Yeah – I’m going to make another challenge for every person here to make it a priority to go on a retreat… maybe even annually – but for heaven’s sake at least ONCE!  Cursillo, CRHP, TEC are great places to start – or St. Meinrad – Whitehouse, Gethsemane,  marriage retreats…. I’ll help you find one suited to you if you’ll let me.  Jesus is inviting each of us to sit at his feet like Mary.

The other thing we can learn from these youth…more than one person noticed –it wasn’t the ‘busyness’ that made them special – it was how they shared themselves.  They recognized that the work they were doing was only secondary – their PURPOSE was to connect with the people they were working for.  That’s super-important:  Like Martha in the Gospel, we all have a tendency to fill our lives with one thing after another- and we run around doing all the urgent things that gotta be done – but we never get around to the one thing necessary.

What is that one thing necessary for all of us?  Relationships.  We are social people.  We are people of communion – we come together as families, as classmates, as club members, as parishioners – we all want to belong – we all NEED to feel like we belong.  That’s part of the genius of Catholicism… our Liturgy is an invitation from Jesus to come together each week to build a relationship with his people, the Church – and the high point of it all is our Communion with Jesus himself when we come forward for the Eucharist.  Our very lives have as their goal the ‘communion of Saints’ where we become one with God.  Then we will be fully alive.

Mary chose the one thing necessary – and that was to work on her relationship with Jesus.  Martha was not a bad person – in fact, by all accounts she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do.  Like we heard in the first reading, hospitality was one of the hallmarks of the Jewish culture – and the woman took personal pride in taking care of the needs of her guests.  Jesus wasn’t telling Martha to stop – but he was pointing out there is another way.  Martha – you are worried and upset about many things – but only one thing is necessary.

There’s the punch line – don’t let it pass you by.  We are all worried and upset about many things… We try to do it all on our own - but only one thing is required:  to allow Jesus to do it for us and through us.  Jesus invites us into a personal relationship – he wants to consume us –  He invites us to turn over our will, our time, our abilities - everything to him - to allow him to consume our lives... and THAT is when we become fully alive. 

THAT is the ‘better part’ that Mary chose.  See – Martha received Jesus into her home, but Mary allowed Jesus to receive her.  It’s like two ways of coming to communion:  do we consume Jesus or does He consume us?  Martha received Jesus – she literally welcomed him ‘under her roof’ as we say each Mass – but Mary allowed herself to be consumed by Jesus – she chose that personal relationship with Jesus which He invites us all to.

Our challenge for this week:  Ask God to reveal to you the Unum Necessarium – the one thing He most wants in your life.  He may not give you specifics right away – but look for the general signs – maybe it starts with the Mission statement we read at the start of Mass.  How does MY life fit into this mission?  Make a habit of asking God moment by moment – what is the one thing required of me right now?  Sometimes it IS working in the kitchen.  But if we NEVER find time to sit at the feet of Jesus… if we NEVER allow Jesus to consume us, then we’ll miss the invitation to be fully alive.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019/06/09 Pentecost Power

Until the atom bomb was detonated in the 40’s, TNT was one of the most powerful forces known to man.  That’s why the atom bomb is always measured in comparison to TNT… so for example, a 1 kiloton nuclear bomb doesn’t mean the bomb weighs 1000 tons…. it means it has the explosive force equivalent to 1000 tons of TNT.  A 1 megaton nuclear bomb equals the force of a million tons of TNT. 
It’s the most powerful thing created by mankind….
Nature goes beyond that – when Mt St. Helen’s erupted in 1980, the blast was equivalent to 24 one megaton nuclear bombs….  That’s 24 million tons of TNT! 
But there is an energy available to us even more powerful than a 24 megaton bomb…  it’s the power released on that first Pentecost.   It was like a bomb dropped on earth.  Not a destructive bomb – but a creative bomb.  Starting with an intense explosion in the hearts of the apostles in the upper room, it quickly blew out the windows into the streets where the shock blast hit everyone with amazement.  In the following days and weeks, thousands of people were impacted by the fallout – being baptized into the Faith.  Within years, the shock wave had spread east to India, north to Europe, south to Africa, west to Rome.  Tens of thousands were affected by the fallout from that one blast.  Many died because of the impact of that bomb – governments declared that anybody impacted should be put to death… for three hundred years hid to avoid being killed– but all the while, the shock wave kept growing…  going all the way around the world and continues even to this day.  The power of this bomb was not measured in tons of TNT – but instead, those impacted by the fallout are known by their love for each other – These people impacted by the bomb came to be known by one derogatory name:  “Christians”.  The effects were contagious – people couldn’t help being drawn to the Love they saw in those Christians – and they too became carriers of the contagion called Love.
People have died for the name ‘Christian’ continuously ever since that day – and believe it or not – more people are dying right now for being Christian than at any point of history.  Maybe not here, yet – but look at Sri Lanka – or the Middle East – the Far East – India – and several countries in Africa.  Just this week I was reading that right now, an average of 11 people are dying every day for being Christian.

The question that’s gotta enter your mind is – what could possibly make people want to join this group of people?  Why would anybody purposely join a church that could get them killed?  Why would anybody accept a teaching that says we must give up our selfishness to help others – we must give of our time, talent, and treasure for other people rather than simply worrying about our own wants?
The simple answer is the Holy Spirit;  The Holy Spirit is the bomb. Ground zero was the upper room, but the energy released in that single blast has caused a chain reaction of explosions across the earth for two thousand years.

Can you imagine what the apostles said when they ran out into the streets on that day?  How about – “here’s a new creed to believe in!”… no – doctrines are not going to touch anyone’s heart.  How about “repent!  Feel guilty for your sins!  Follow the 10 commandments!”  No way – making people feel bad about themselves is NOT the way to get them to convert to a new religion or to change their lifestyle.
No – the message they delivered was direct from the Holy Spirit.  Our first reading tells us they were speaking of the ‘mighty acts of God’.  Catch that?  They weren’t telling people how to live or what they were doing wrong or what rules they have to follow to join up, or what Doctrines they had to believe… they were telling their personal stories of what God did for ME. 

That’s such an important lesson for all of us.  Too often, we Christians are known to the rest of the world not for what we believe in, but for what we’re against.  We’re seen as intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical… why?  Because unfortunately, that’s often how we present ourselves! 
Instead – the first message we must deliver is Love.  We must love them as they are - and that love will catch their attention, because every human heart is starving for love.  We can feed them and let them know there is a source of Love which is unconditional… we cannot make God stop loving us.
We might think – BUT What about those people… stop – remember – God loves them as they are.  Until that message is accepted, Morality and changing their lifestyle is secondary.  The main message is to make sure they know God loves them.
Second - Always be ready to witness to the ‘mighty acts of God’ in our own lives.  Each of us should be ready to tell people what Jesus has done for me personally.  THAT is the story that can intrigue the world to want to take a closer look at Christianity.  And when they look at Christianity – let them see how we love one another.  Our inner change of heart is visible to the world by how we live:  Self-giving Love is attractive to people.   
What started as a gang of frightened people in an upstairs room in Jerusalem detonated into the largest charitable organization on the planet – ever.  Christians were different because they started hospitals and clinics, schools, nursing homes, nutrition centers, pregnancy support clinics.  Christians give of their own money to help their neighbor – and their brothers and sisters in other countries even.  They give their time to visit the shut-ins and prisoners, to pull weeds at their local parish, to teach, sing, decorate, clean, and help administer the business of their local parishes.  Yes – we ARE the largest charitable organization on the planet… Yet – charity is not our reason for existence….it is simply the fallout from the Love in our hearts.
THAT is the power that made Pentecost so explosive.
There’s a song by Jeremy Camp which I think sums it up nicely – I’ll spare you the singing – but listen to these words.
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in US
HE lives in US, LIVES IN US!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

2019/05/19 - Accused of being a Christian

"This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another."

Before Mass:  For the homily today, we’re concentrating on the Gospel, and I have a little homework for everybody here before Mass.  In the next 30 seconds before we announce the opening song, answer this question:  If somebody wanted you to PROVE that you’re a Christian, what would you say?  If somebody wanted you to PROVE you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, how would you do it?

Not long ago, a country was taken over by a group dead-set against Christianity.  They ordered every Christian to be put to death.  As you can imagine, panic ensued.  Thousands of people were executed in public, setting an example for others.  The choice was clear… give up Christianity or die.  Many people gave up their faith – most weren’t really believers anyway – they just came to church because they felt like they had to.  Others tried to keep practicing – but they couldn’t go to their churches anymore, so they’d meet in someone’s house.  They developed a secret password so that when someone knocked on the door, the Christians would know they were legit.

Before going on with the story - Think about this question:  if the government was rounding up all the Christians here, what would be their criteria?  How would they recognize the Christians?  It's not like we all walk around with a cross on our forehead or something!  (except maybe Ash Wednesday).  Look around you… are the people around you Christians?  What sets you and them apart from the rest of society?

Bob was a faithful churchgoer.  One night, he had attempted to sneak into the church to retrieve some chalices and such for use in their home-church.  However, the new government had spies watching the building and he was quickly arrested and drug off to prison.  He was stuck in a cell with a hundred other people accused of being Christian.  One by one they were led before the court to be officially charged.

As expected, he was charged with being a Christian.  What he didn’t realize was he would be given 5 days to build a defense for himself – and at the same time the government would build their case against him.

This was a dilemma for Bob – on one hand, he knew that he couldn’t deny he was Christian – but he was very tempted since he didn’t want to be executed. 

The day came for the trial – and the prosecutor brought forth all sorts of evidence:
    -  His bible, which was obviously used
    -  A stack of rosaries they had confiscated from his house.
    -  Pictures of him going into church
Then he spent the better part of an hour reviewing how Bob spent his time:
    - How much time he spent on work
    - What he did in his free time – which mainly centered around hanging out with buddies or hunting
    - They looked at how much time he spent with his wife and kids
    - They interviewed people from his workplace to learn what kind of person he was.

He wasn’t sure what all of that had to do with anything.  All of that evidence so far was ‘circumstantial’, so he actually had some hope at this point – until the next few pieces of evidence were presented.
    - They had a picture of him receiving communion on the tongue -  his heart sank – surely that was the nail in his coffin
    - They found his Facebook account where he had posted a couple thousand anti-abortion posts.  Again his heart sank – surely that was proof that he was Christian.
    - The last piece of evidence was a picture of Bob in front of the altar with a crucifix around his neck.  What more evidence do you need?

You could have heard a pin drop as The prosecutor finished and sat down. 

Then, without even waiting to hear the defense, the judge hammered his gavel and declared, ‘Not Guilty’!

What?!  Bob felt a mixture of confusion and relief – but also anger – what do you mean I’m not Christian?!

The judge continued – all the evidence given was circumstantial.  Anybody can go through the motions of being a Christian, but there was no evidence given to show this man actually LIVED like a Christian.  All the evidence points to a self-centered person.  This man never let his Christianity actually change him to be more Loving… therefore, he is not a Christian.

Step down, next case.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

2019/05/12 - Good Shepherd

“My Sheep hear my voice - I know them and they follow me.”
Why do the sheep follow Jesus?  Why do you and I (the sheep) follow Jesus? 
I have a two-part story to try to answer that question.

When Fr. Eugene went to the Holy Land a couple years ago, he was acting as a sort-of tour guide for part of the group.  Just outside of Jerusalem, the bus had to stop to allow a flock of sheep to cross the road.  Fr. Eugene was waiting for this moment and he spoke up so the tour group could hear him.  He said, “Did you notice where the shepherd is?”  Everybody craned their necks out the windows of the bus to watch – and they noticed the shepherd was IN FRONT of the sheep.  Fr. pointed out that the shepherd had a certain unique call which the sheep knew – somehow each sheep knew which shepherd they belonged to – and eagerly followed them. 

He went on to point out that this is what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel when he called himself the Good Shepherd and said – my sheep know me and follow me.  Everyone was rightly impressed that Fr. Eugene knew so much – and seeing this with their own eyes made the Gospel just 'come alive' for them.  Sure enough, three flocks passed them that day and each time they could see the shepherd with his staff leading the flock.

Why do the sheep follow instead of running off?  The sheep depend on the Good Shepherd.  They follow him because they trust him.  He lives with them day and night.  He sleeps with them.  Walks with them.  Leads them to verdant pastures to eat.  He guides them to restful waters; directs them and protects them.  He knows each of them personally. 

But how did the sheep learn to follow their shepherd?  Think about that – when a baby lamb is born, how do they learn which shepherd to follow?  Most likely, they follow their mother… and therefore, they follow whoever their mother follows. 
That’s something to think about on Mother’s Day, since for many of us, our mother played a huge role in introducing us to Jesus.

We may have been introduced to Jesus – But are we following him?  If we follow the Good Shepherd, He will lead us to eternal life… says so right there in the Gospel.
But many of us get distracted – - we get culled from the flock and have lost our contact with the Good Shepherd.  We keep following the rest of the flock – wherever the culture takes us – but one day we look up and realize we’re no longer following the Shepherd… instead we’re being pushed along by the culture. 

What’s the consequence of that?  I’ll finish our story to see where it leads us….
The next morning, again they were travelling out of the city, and once again they had to stop for a flock of sheep to cross.  Everyone looked out excitedly, hoping to get a glance of the good shepherd – but something wasn’t right with this flock.  The sheep weren't following anyone.  This flock was being driven instead, being pushed  along by a man with a staff and a dog. 

Everyone started asking Fr. Eugene why they weren’t following the shepherd…. But he couldn’t explain it.  Since they were parked, he decided to hop off the bus and talk to the shepherd. 

“Why, sir, are you driving these sheep rather than leading them?”  “I have been telling these people that a Good Shepherd leads his sheep.”

“You are quite right, Father,” replies the man.  “The good shepherd does lead his sheep.  But you see; I'm not the shepherd.  I am the butcher.”

Saturday, April 27, 2019

2019/04/28 Divine Mercy Sunday: What could be better?

Before Mass:  It’s Divine Mercy Sunday – big deal, right?  What is this Divine Mercy anyway?  What makes it different than normal Mercy?

Many of us know the basics about this Feast – but if I asked you to explain it, chances are you couldn’t – I mean – it seems so obvious, and yet… what IS Divine Mercy?
Let me get the basics out of the way now, then we’ll try to answer that question in the homily:  in the year 2000, John Paul II set the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.  The teaching centers around Sr. Faustina, a visionary from Poland during WWII.  You may have seen this picture- which shows rays coming from the Heart of Jesus – and the picture includes the phrase, Jesus, I trust in You.  There is a Divine Mercy chaplet which is prayed by millions across the planet, and a special Novena which runs from Good Friday to today.   Even IF you are familiar with most of that, you’d probably still have trouble answering:  what Is DIVINE MERCY – and what’s that have to do with ‘Jesus, I trust in You’?

To understand Divine Mercy – we first need to understand several words: Justice, Mercy, Grace, and Divine Mercy.  These are all words we throw around at church and few of us could probably articulate exactly what they mean, how they’re different from each other- and how they are a part of each other.

Imagine you drive an old junker of a car.  One day, while driving to work, it breaks down…you start freaking out!!!  You’re gonna be late for work…and you’ve already been late twice this month because of this STUPID CAR…. You’re afraid you’re going to lose your job.  So you walk and even jog a couple blocks to a gas station to see if they can help, you are freaking out!  You notice a car sitting at the pump with the keys in it and nobody around.  You know it’s not right to steal the car…but did I mention you’re freaking out!?  You don’t want to lose your job, so you jump in the car and take off.  As you pull away, you notice a bald guy in a suit running up behind you waving his hands and yelling.

As you pull in the parking lot at work, you see the red lights pull up behind you and you’re arrested and taken off to jail.  The next day, on the way to the courthouse, you’re practicing your speech….gee your honor, I’m really sorry…no…I’m SOOO sorry…over and over you practice – but as soon as you enter the courtroom, your heart sinks.  You recognize the judge…it’s the same bald guy you saw in your rearview mirror yesterday….YOU STOLE THE JUDGE’S CAR!

You know your goose is cooked.  You hang your head.  You want to disappear into the carpet.  You know you did wrong and you know you deserve the maximum sentence – and the Judge surely won’t go leniently on you since he has been PERSONally offended.  You decide to just confess and get it over with…  You say, “Judge, I am sorry, I have no excuse – and I ask you to simply give me what I deserve”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I am personally sworn to uphold.  The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Since I am a just judge, I’m gonna give you exactly what you deserve.  …and he hammers his gavel and announces the sentence…20 years in prison.

What do you think – is that fair?  Did you get what you deserve?  That is justice – giving what is owed to you.  The judge didn’t care why you stole it or who you are or who you know – if the law says X then you get X – that is justice.  What could be better than Justice?  How about Mercy...

What is Mercy?  Put yourself back in the courtroom.  Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks.  You simply confess and say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be merciful”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold.  The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  That’s what you deserve, but I can tell that you’re truly remorseful for what you’ve done, so I’m suspending the sentence and you’ll be on 2 years probation with only a $1000 fine to pay for court costs.  And he hammers his gavel.

You’re jaw drops – you’re amazed – this judge is great!  Instead of giving you what you deserved  (justice), he gave you the minimum sentence allowed by law (mercy)!  Notice the judge COULD have sent you to prison for 20 years – but because you were sorry for what you had done, he gave you less punishment than you deserved.  That is Mercy.  Pretty good stuff, right?   What could be better than Mercy?...

How about Grace:  Put yourself back in the courtroom, Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks.  You say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be gracious”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says,  Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold.  You’ve also personally offended me by taking MY car.  However, seeing that you’re sorry for your crime and have begged not just for Mercy, but for Graciousness, I will show you how Gracious I can be.   The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Since I am Gracious, I am dropping the charges.  Not only that, but I realize you’ve been driving an old junker of a car, and that’s why it broke down, so, I’m writing here a personal check for $25,000.  Buy a new car and don’t be late for work again.

You have just experienced Grace.  Grace is receiving what you didn’t deserve.  A favor.  An un-deserved and un-earned gift.    Notice because the Judge was the one who was offended, he has the right to drop the charges!  Whereas Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, Grace is to receive a blessing we didn’t deserve.  The Grace of God is what saves us - notice that there is nothing we could ever do to earn or deserve what Jesus did for us on that cross.  It's pure grace - a free gift.  What could be better than Grace?  Could it be Divine Mercy?

So – what is DIVINE MERCY?  Is it Justice?  Mercy?  Grace?  I think it is ALL of the above.  Divine Mercy is a combination of – because God gives us what we need most.  Sometimes we NEED to spend a night in jail so that we learn from our mistakes.  Sometimes we need to be cut some slack and shown mercy.  And of course, God’s grace is given to us every moment of every day.

God will go to any length to give us what we need... in the Gospel, Thomas needed to stick his finger in the nail holes in order to be able to believe... and Jesus was willing to let him!  In the first reading, there were signs and wonders - and many people needed to see those signs in order to believe.  Some of those signs weren't what we might think - I know at least two people who had fallen dead at the feet of Peter - that was a sign too.  Not all signs and wonders look like blessings.

Divine Mercy gives us what we need.  That’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow – because it might not look like a blessing at the time.  The best example I can think of was when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, death and suffering entered the world and they were thrown out of the garden of Eden…. Now – was that a punishment or a blessing?  I’ve always thought it was a punishment, but look at it this way:  once suffering entered the world, God did not want us to suffer forever – so he took Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life.  Death was actually a mercy of God, as it limits the years of suffering we must endure.

Divine Mercy is mercy – but it may not seem like it at the time.  It comes down to Trust.  Spiritual writers for centuries have tried to say it in many ways, but it boils down to this:  everything that happens to us is either sent by God or allowed by God.  If we trust that God always has our best interest at heart – and He does – then we can trust at any moment that whatever is happening at this moment is Divine Mercy at work.  That can be SUCH a hard pill to swallow.  That’s why the bottom of the picture says, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’.... so we can practice saying that every day.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

2019/04/21 Resurrecting Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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