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.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

20170219 - Be Holy

Before mass: 
I worked with the Juniors at SR this Wednesday to help write this homily, so I’m placing ALL the blame on THEM if it’s no good.  Actually, It was quite fun – brainstorming ideas together.  So, I’ll be using a couple of example today which they helped me find.

The theme for today comes through loud and clear in the readings:  Be Holy as God is Holy.  I’ll give you the punch-line in a nutshell: since we are made in the image of God, we should try to be as much like Him as possible – and that means we should be Holy.  Easy to say… but what does that mean?  That’s what the rest of the readings are about, in fact, There are some VERY specific examples in the readings, so listen for the answer:  how are Christians called to BE HOLY?  How am I called to be Holy?

Homily:

Be Holy as God is Holy.  What’s it mean to “Be Holy”?  It means “set apart”.  I’ll put that in my own terms… to be Holy is to be different than everything else…reserved for God.  Kinda like the china that grandma kept away in the curio cabinet for special occasions, you and I are reserved, set-apart, different.

ARE we any different?  Look around at the rest of society:  all of the negativity, violence, vengefulness, lying, cheating, slandering.  ARE you and I any different?  If not, we’re not “set apart”.

Did you notice the descriptions of Holiness that are offered in the readings were not about following a law…or praying… they’re about relationships:  Did you hear it? 
* hold no grudge, * take no revenge, * love your neighbor, * love your enemy.  Wait – did you say ‘love your enemy’?  Yes – this is what should “set us apart”.  The rest of the world loves those who love them back… but we set ourselves apart when we love our enemies.  Is that even possible?

The girls’ basketball team was playing one night, and there was this one player on the other team who was really good – in fact, they nick-named her “Torpedo” because she took so many shots outside the three-point line…and that name seems appropriate because she was hitting three-point shots seemed like every time they came down the court.  Our coach (Coach Chinn) called a time-out to regroup to figure out how to shut her down before they walked away with a blow-out.  She made a couple of adjustments on defense – putting our best defender on her - and sent the team back in.  It worked… For the next 12 minutes of play, our defenders pressed Torpedo so hard that she was forced to take a quick shots and she missed 6 in a row.  At first she was embarrassed – but then she got mad – and after the 5th time missing a shot, she tripped the girl who was defending her.  Our girl got up mad, but shook it off quickly and kept playing… then after missing another shot, Torpedo once again tripped her defender.  Our entire Jeeps bench and crowd were on their feet, shouting to the ref to call the foul, but he had his back turned and didn’t see it.  Two minutes later, a 7th missed shot, and once again, she tripped our girl as she was going after the rebound… this time the bench emptied and our girls were ready to run onto the floor and PUMMEL this girl. 

Fortunately, the whistle blew…This time, the ref saw it and called the fowl.  Our girl  – the defender who had been tripped three times now saw the reaction of her teammates and called a timeout– in the huddle, some were talking about how to retaliate…  but our girl held up her hand.  No – we’re not like that – we don’t take revenge.  If we beat her up, then we’re no better than her.  If we have poor sportsmanship, we’re no better than anybody else.  No – let’s treat her like one of our own players.  We’ll go out of our way to help her up off the floor if she falls.  We’ll tell her when she took a good shot or makes a nice pass. 

Back on the floor, the game was tense for a few minutes as the crowd waited to see what would happen.  The next time Torpedo dribbled down the court and was headed for a layup when she ran head-on into our girl near the free-throw line.  Both of them went sprawling and the whistle blew for the charging foul… the crowd was on their feet… was someone going to take revenge??  The crowd WANTED to see a fight!!  But our girl jumped up right away and reached out a hand to help the other girl up.  If you could see her face in that moment… it was filled with rage… she was red with exertion and anger… at first she refused to take the hand, but reluctantly grabbed it and stood up.  Our girl made the comment – you know, this is a tough game, but fun:  you’re probably the best player I’ve ever had to defend.  Torpedo’s face suddenly changed…. Instead of rage, she felt pride… and something else… maybe it was shame… in fact, she almost felt like crying.  How could this Jeep girl be so nice to me….after I’ve been so mean to her?  She’s been playing the best defense I’ve had to play against and I let my anger get the best of me… how come she’s not angry with me? 

The whole game changed after that…. These two superstar players were a joy to watch as each one did their jobs the best they could.  After the game, they hugged and congratulated each other on a job well-done.  Yeah – it was a sweaty hug, which is kinda gross – but the point is that what ALMOST turned into a gang-fight ended up in a hug.  Why?  Because our girl was HOLY.  She was “set apart”.  The wisdom of the world told her that she had every right for revenge against Torpedo.  She had every right to trip back – or worse.  The whole bench had a right to pummel this girl.  They were on a trajectory to having a REAL fight in the parking lot afterward… but it ended in a hug.  WHY?  Because our girl was Holy.  Our girl was like God.  Our girl didn’t follow the wisdom of the world.

Every one of us has an opportunity to be like this almost every day.  When somebody cuts you off in traffic, do you flip them a finger, or say a prayer for them?  I’m not joking…start a new habit:   next time somebody ticks you off, think – God, I don’t know what cross they’re carrying, so I can’t condemn them for this.  Please bless them and help them to be more joyful.

See what difference that would make?  First, it keeps you from brooding over it for the next 10 minutes – or letting it ruin the rest of your day even.  Second – it keeps you from lashing out with curses or gestures that just would just add to the angry situation.  Road Rage gets ramped up quickly if we retaliate.

On the basketball court, our girl had that habit – whenever she got tripped, she simply said, God, I’m not going to take revenge because I don’t know what she’s dealing with.  Bless her please and keep me from getting angry.  We can all pray that prayer.  In our families, in our workplace, even in church… people do things which just seem like they’re trying to make us mad.  Don’t let them.  Start a new habit:  whenever you feel slighted or angry, turn it into a prayer. 

Set yourself apart – Be Holy….and you’ll make a difference
… Be Holy and you will change the world.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2017/01/15 - What's your purpose?

A couple times a week, I’ll sit down with a cup of coffee and take a look at what’s been posted on Facebook... and honestly, I usually get into a bad mood when I look at Facebook – seems like it has become the battleground for liberals vs conservatives.  So much slander, half-truths, and outright lies.  Everyone is slamming each other.  Everyone is sharing this story or that opinion or trying to defame someone.
So I was really pleased to see this post on there this morning, and it made me throw away the homily I had prepared and write a new one.  Let me share it with you:

Last night the Jeeps played Paoli at home and I just wanted to give a shout out to one of their players...#12!! I don't know who this kid was and I don't even remember his name but I was very impressed with his behavior on the court!! A loose ball flew into our crowd and hit a lady and he walked over to make sure she was okay, then on several occasions I saw him walk over to one of our players on the floor and help them up...you don't see the opposing teams players do that very often!! He was a great ball player and I just thought his attitude needed to be recognized!! So if any of my Paoli friends or family know him...please give him a pat on the back from me!
Wow –it was like a light in the darkness…  if there wasn’t so much negativity out there, this might not have caught my attention.  But the fact that we don’t see this often enough tells me we need to be the ones to change our culture.  Two things impress me about this post:  first – the young man’s actions were obviously a great example to all of us for how we should treat one another.  Second – I think the parishioner who posted this deserves a pat on the back for NOTICING the young man and for POINTING IT OUT so we can ALL be inspired by his actions.

Can you see how the readings relate to this?  First the Gospel:  What was John the Baptist’s purpose?  He told us, “the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel”.  John knew his purpose in life… it was to point out Jesus.

In the first reading: Isaiah said that God “formed me as his servant from the womb”.  And also God told him, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  Isaiah knew his purpose…to point to God.

Paul also knew his purpose – He was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” – plus – he has something to say about who WE are:  “to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy”.

I propose to you today that every one of those purposes is also OUR purpose. 
> We are servants of God like Isaiah… called to do His will.
> God will make US a light to the nations… meaning we will point out to the world what God has done.
> We are called to be holy – which means ‘set apart’.  We are in the world, but we’re here to CHANGE the world…to bring God’s presence to everyone.
> We are called to be apostles… betcha never thought of yourself as an apostle

We ARE apostles… which literally means – “one who has been sent on a mission”.  What is our mission?  There are a lot of answers to that, but let me offer two which directly relate to our readings:
We are called to point out Jesus and we are called to BE JESUS.

First – just like John pointed out Jesus, WE can point him out when we recognize Him.  Like the facebook post I mentioned, this parishioner pointed out someone who showed Love.  Where there is Love, there is God.  If we point it out when we see it, we start to change the culture.  By telling others about it, WE become a ray of light in the darkness.  We become that light to the nations.

Second - Like the young man in the Facebook post, we can BE Jesus every time we show love and respect to one another.  We have a great example right here in our parish:  one of our religious education teachers – well I’ll tell you her name even though it will embarrass her:  Kim Butler has challenged her students to create a “lollipop moment” for someone each week.  I admit I hadn’t heard of a lollipop moment, so I had to learn… Let me briefly explain:  There is an inspirational speaker Drew Dudley who tells the story of a young lady who is leaving home for the first time to go to college and she is scared… so scared she is ready to leave on registration day… but just then Drew came out with a crazy hat on and was passing out lollipops to everyone and just trying to make everyone feel welcome.  He came to this young lady and could tell she was scared – and he handed a lollipop to the young man next to her in line and says, “you need to give some candy to this beautiful woman in front of you”.  Then he turned to her parents and said – look – your daughter’s first day away from home and she’s ALREADY taking candy from a stranger!  It was just what was needed to break the tension and make everyone laugh.  Four years later, that young lady went back to Drew and explained how that moment had changed her life.  She had been ready to give up on college, but now she was close to graduating.  She had wanted to go back home to her comfortable, familiar life, but she stuck around and made new friends (and was still dating that young man who was in line with her).  And what’s really interesting is that Drew couldn’t even remember that incident.  He had done something to change this woman’s life, but for him, it was just one thing of the million things he did in his life.
You and I have the chance to do that.  We can lift people UP with the smallest of actions:  a smile, a sincere “how are you doing?”, maybe passing along an inspiring scripture verse or and encouraging word to someone on a text message, or maybe we can hand a lollipop to someone just to make them feel more comfortable.  If you and I can get into the habit of doing this, we’ll do it without even thinking about it… we’ll change people’s lives and not even remember that we did it.  Can Christians really change the world – uh- yeah!
The other thing we can do is to TELL others when THEY have done something that changed OUR lives.  Can you imagine how Drew felt when he found out that what he did was so impactful on this young lady?  How did that make him feel?  Do you think it made him want to do that even more?
He uses the term “lollipop moment” to describe this, but I like to call these “Grace moments”, because when we do something nice for someone, they get to feel the Grace of God – and we also get to feel good about it – which is the Grace of God.  The more Grace we give, the more we get back.
When we do this, we are BEING JESUS in the world.

What’s our purpose?  You and I are Apostles, Sent by God to Be Jesus and point out Jesus to the world.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

20170108 Epiphany - Clouds Cover the People


Before Mass:
Did you remember your Mass Journals?  I know – it’s a new habit, and it’s hard to form new habits, but don’t give up!  It will be worth it!  In case you weren’t here last week, let me briefly explain. 
Last week we passed out these journals – and there are plenty left the door, so you can grab one.  Everyone old enough to write should have one.  Bring it with you each week.  As you enter your pew, pray the prayer on the back:  God show me one way in this Mass I can become a better version of myself this week.  Then listen:  to the music, the readings, the homily, the prayers…. Listen for God to reveal ONE THING to you – and write it down.  Simple as that… but it will change you.
Oh – and everyone:  Don’t forget to go to our website and post your one thing – and – check out the one thing that other folks have posted. 
Today is the feast of the Epiphany.  I’m sure you all know that an Epiphany is a ‘revealing’…when God revealed Himself to humanity as the God of ALL humanity, not just Israel.  You’ll hear that them in all the readings, but especially the 2nd reading.   You’ll notice the first reading is a prophecy and the Gospel is a direct fulfillment of that Prophecy.  We see that a lot – but today is it OBVIOUS.  Matthew’s main concern was to show how Jesus was the Messiah by showing how He fulfilled the prophets. 
Listen today specifically for signs of epiphanies.  What does this Epiphany have to do with us, anyway?  There’s another definition of epiphany which might be easier to apply it to our own lives:   “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or become aware of, something that is very important to you.”
That’s what we’ll discuss in the homily.
Let’s pray together the prayer on the back of the Mass journals: 
God, show me one way in this Mass that I can become a-better-version-of-myself this week!”
Homily:
Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people….
Our first week camping in Alaska was very memorable… notice I said ‘memorable’ not ‘awesome’.  For the entire week, the clouds were hanging low so that we never even SAW any mountains.  The temperatures stayed right at 52 degrees… which is better than 22 degrees, but since it was mid-July and we were used to 95 degrees here at home, so it FELT like 22 degrees to us…. Did I mention we were camping?  The only place we were warm was in the tent in our sleeping bags.  Imagine a full week living outside in 52 degree, damp, dreary, rainy, misty weather… and we were there to camp for three full weeks!  That’s what today’s first reading reminded me of:  “Thick clouds cover the people….” We were getting pretty discouraged with Alaska…let’s just go home…this is no fun.  But – on the 12th day of the trip,  when we were in Denali park, suddenly the sun came out and the clouds parted on the mountain so that we could SEE the peak of Denali!  That may not sound too exciting to you, but after a travelling so far and spending so much time shivering, that is the moment when our trip went from ‘memorable’ to ‘awesome’!  That was our Epiphany.  We would never be the same after that moment.
What would have happened if we had just stayed in our comfortable sleeping bags that day instead of venturing out into the dreary cold?  We would have missed that moment… that moment of epiphany… when the mountain revealed itself.  Alaska never would have been ‘awesome’ to us.
 “Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people….“
The Magi were part of the world which was covered in darkness – and that darkness was the fact that God had not yet revealed himself to the other nations… only to Israel.  In spite of that, they left their comfortable homes to travel – possibly for several months – to seek out the light.  Somehow, God had revealed to them that this strange star in the sky was the sign they had been looking for…. The sign of a great event happening in the land of Judah… a new king.  Now, you gotta wonder – didn’t EVERYBODY see this star?  Why was it that just the Magi followed the star?  The Magi were the only ones LOOKING for that sign from God.  See – the leaders in Jerusalem had the scriptures which foretold the coming of the Messiah – but they were comfortable in the positions of power and didn’t want to rock the boat.  Many others would have seen the star, but they were so comfortable in their pews at church that they didn’t even look UP to NOTICE the star or wonder about the significance of it.
Isn’t that you and me?  This is why these Mass Journals are important… we have gotten so comfortable with our religious practices that we think that’s all we need.  If I go to church and sit in my pew for 45 minutes, I can get on with life.  Don’t ask me to come out of the comfort of my pew… don’t ask me to step outside of the comfortable religion I’ve developed for myself… don’t try to redefine who Jesus is, because I’ve already created him in the image that works for me!!!
“Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people….“
Every one of us here has darkness – we all have pain – either physical pain from illness or disease or age creeping up on us – or pain in our hearts from what others have done to us – or from loss of loved ones – or well, you get the idea:  every one of us has a cloud hanging over our head. 
But that’s not the end of the story… the prophecy goes one:
“Thick clouds cover the people… but upon you the Lord Shines”
God is trying to break through the clouds of our hearts – right now!  Just like he sent the star to announce His coming into the world, every day, He sends light in some form to give us hope.  If we’re not looking for the star, if we’re not willing to step out of the tent, if we’re so fixated on how dull and drab and painful life is, we won’t NOTICE that the sun came out – or that God has sent a Star to light our way.  If we don’t ASK God to speak to us, we won’t notice the One Thing He’s trying to tell us.
Talking to a friend this week, he was talking about the major struggles he has had in the past year… and I mean MAJOR struggles.  2016 was one of the darkest times in his life.  At one point he was flat on his back in bed and completely dependent on people around him… he had no money… he couldn’t work… and no matter what he did, his health just seemed to get worse. 

But listen to what he said – and this is the punch line:  It was in those darkest times that I realized how blessed I really am.  Friends and parishioners stepped up to help him and support him.  If it wasn’t for the thick clouds, he might not have noticed those blessings.  And you know, those friends and parishioners might not have realized that THEY were the star that shone into the darkness for him.
Hopefully, our challenge for the week is obvious by now:  Keep looking for God.  Keep searching for the star He sends to lead your way.  He IS speaking to every one of us today.  Keep moving out of your comfort zones and SEEK God.  Let God to lead you to the Epiphany…. Look for the star.
Just like the Wise men, Once you’ve met Jesus…. Once God has revealed himself to you… can cannot go home the same.