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.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

2018/05/06 - Get In the Game

When Jerry was just starting school, he and his buddy Steve would run out to the playground at recess every day to watch the older kids playing kickball.  Y’all know what kickball is? – do they still play it?  The way they would pick their teams was like – two of the best players would be ‘captains’, and they would go back and forth picking their team from all the kids standing around.  Naturally, they’d pick the best players first and then the mediocre players and work their way down.  Well, Jerry wanted so much to be able to play, but he and Steve were so small that they never got picked to be on a team.  Every day, they would sit on the curb and watch and dream of the day they got to play.

The second year, Steve grew almost a foot and looked like a fifth grader, - so he actually got picked to be on a team!  Turns out, he was really good at kicking the ball – so the team captains started picking him to play every day.  Jerry wished he could play, but again, he would just sit and watch.

Until one day, one of the normal team captains was sick, so Steve got to be captain.  Guess who his first pick was…. Jerry.  Jerry didn’t even realize it… he was already sitting on the curb to watch when Steve came over and shouted  – Get in the game!  You’ve been chosen!

Jerry was so excited.  He knew what to do, because he’d been watching for so long – but it turns out, he wasn’t very good at kicking yet…you know, he’d never gotten to practice.  The other kids started to make fun of him and call him names – but Steve stepped in front of the group and said – “He’s my friend, leave him alone”.  And that was that.

Jerry felt so proud to have Steve as a friend who would stand up for him – and really proud that he had CHOSEN him as a friend.  He asked Steve – what did I ever do to make you want to be my friend?  Steve said, nothing…  you don’t EARN friendship – you just ARE my friend.

Jesus said today, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”.   Jesus wants you to be His friend – to be on His team.

What did you do to make Jesus want to be your friend?  Nothing.  Before you did anything at all, Jesus had already chosen you to be on his team.  Think about that….
You may feel like all your life, you’ve had to try real hard to be good, just to get Jesus to like you so you would be worthy of being on His team – but, he already chose you as His friend.  We’re not good to make Jesus love us – we’re good BECAUSE Jesus loves us.

There’s a word in today’s Gospel that really bugs me – it’s a big and complicated word, but at first glance, it appears to change one of our most basic understandings of Jesus.  The word I’m talking about is ‘if’.

Jesus says, “ You are my friends if you do what I command you.”   It sure SOUNDS like Jesus is  setting conditions …  Like – if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I won’t be your friend!  Anybody else read it that way??  Is he like the bully at school who says, I’ll be your friend, IF you give me all of your lunch money.  Is THAT a friend who only likes you if you do what they tell you to do?  Not at all!   And that’s why it bugs me, because we all KNOW that Jesus loves unconditionally –there is nothing we can do to earn Jesus’ love - so how can we make sense of this statement?  

Well, that  word ‘if’  can be used another of way…
Let me give you a couple of examples – like if I say:  “If I have a fever, I am sick.” Having a fever is not a condition for being sick – but the fever is PROOF that I’m sick – the fever makes it OBVIOUS that I’m sick.  Do you see the difference?  It’s not a ‘condition’ – it’s proof.  Here’s another example:  “if the water is boiling, it is hot”.  Again, boiling is not a requirement to be hot – but If I see steam rolling off the top of the pan of water, It’s OBVIOUS that it is boiling hot.  Do you see the difference?

So when Jesus says, you are my friends if you do what I command you – he’s actually saying – if you do what I’ve told you to do, you will make it OBVIOUS to the world that you are my friends.  When you Love one another, that will be PROOF that you’re my friends.

Jesus is the kind of friend who will stand up for you – when the devil is picking on you – calling you names, tempting you to be bad - Jesus will step in front and say, “He’s my friend, leave him alone”.  In fact, that’s what he did 2000 years ago when he was nailed to that cross – he was standing up for you and me.  A true friend, Jesus said, will give his life for his friends.  Obviously, we can’t have a better friend than Jesus.  Jesus wants us to get in the game - to join him in His mission - The readings make it very clear that Jesus’ mission was all about Love - and OUR part of that mission is to ‘Love one another’.  That’s your job… Love one another.  Think about that when you receive communion:   we are receiving His Love so that we can go out and SPREAD his love.

For those making your first communion today – it’s like you’ve been sitting on the curb for your whole life –watching the big kids play.  You’ve only been coming up for a blessing – but you won’t do that anymore.  Today, Jesus is stepping up and shouting at you, “Get in the game!  You’ve been chosen!”

Saturday, April 14, 2018

2018/04/15 - Time to Get out there!

Before Mass:
What does an Evangelist look like?   If you’re like most people, the first thing you think of is somebody standing on the street corner yelling – The END IS NEAR!  You are all doomed to the fires of hell if you don’t Repent!!  Or you might think of somebody in an expensive suit on TV with a perfect smile asking you to send money.

Is THAT Evangelism?  Maybe – but in my opinion those people actually HURT Christianity more then they help.  No – there’s a line at end of the Gospel:  You are Witnesses to these things.  An evangelist is a witness – we witness to what God has done in our own lives and invite others to the same joy.  We evangelize best by how we live. 

A couple months ago I mentioned that we’re forming an Evangelization Team.  Listen to the homily today and if the Holy Spirit convicts you of wanting to help, join us this Wednesday, April 18th at 7 pm at Celestine.

I need to set the stage for today’s Gospel, because it starts at the end of an important story.  Remember the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaeus and Jesus showed up and explained the scriptures to them – then he came in to have a meal with them and as he blessed the bread, they finally recognized him.  Great story – but we don’t hear it today – but keep that in mind as the first sentence of the Gospel is read.
In all of the readings, we hear how this ragtag group of disciples tried to make sense of what Jesus had told them and exactly what they were supposed to do with it.  They knew one thing:  they had witnessed the most important event in the history of the world – and they couldn’t keep it to themselves.

(Thanks to Fr. Mike Schmitz for sharing this true story)
In the late 1700’s, a group of concerned citizens in Boston were concerned about the number of people being killed in ship wrecks off their coast.  They did something unprecedented….they formed what was called the Humane society – not the humane society we know of today who take care of animals.  Their mission was to save lives from ship wrecks.  First, they built these survivor huts on Nantucket island – stocked with firewood and food – so if there was a wreck, the survivors could get out of the weather until the townfolk could get there to help them.  18 of these huts were built – dotting the coast every mile or two.  Eventually they thought – we could save even more lives if we would actually go out there after a wreck to find survivors, so they commissioned the building of the first rescue boat in America.  Whenever there was a storm or gale force winds, the humane society would send people to stay in each of these huts with the sole purpose of watching for shipwrecks on the rocks.  If it happened, they’d ring a bell and everybody would come running and launch this wooden rowboat into the stormy sea to try to save lives.  Imagine that – this storm just sunk a SHIP – and now they’re going to risk their own lives in this little rowboat.  Yet they thought if there’s even a chance of saving a life, they HAD to risk their own lives for that chance.  They had a saying, “you have to go out – you don’t have to come back”.  Their mission defined who they were… they were there to save lives…. And Many lives WERE saved – it was a truly heroic organization.  Eventually, the Coast Guard was formed and it became their job to save lives – so the humane society no longer does that.  Saving lives became the job for the “professionals”….so the Humane society lost their sense of mission.  Now they’re just a group of nice people who get together once a year to have a big dinner and honor somebody who showed selfless bravery in the last year.  They’re not bad people – but without a sense of mission, they’ve lost their identity….they’ve lost their calling.

Compare that to another organization started centuries before that..started by a fellow named Jesus who sent twelve men into the world with the Mission of “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..  “  The mission was clear:  bring all people to know Jesus…. And they took that calling seriously.  They went out!  The Church grew leaps and bounds – why – because the disciples of Jesus lived differently.  Some of the worked miracles.  All of them witnessed to the world what they knew. They told people about Jesus!  Because of them, OUR lives were saved because we know Jesus. 

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, fulfilling that Mission became the job of the professionals… the priests and nuns and deacons and bishops…. For the average Catholic, saving lives wasn’t our job anymore, so religion became more about -seeking personal growth and fulfillment and -getting to heaven.  Without our Mission, religion became about being a ‘nice person’.  If we think that religion is about being a 'nice person' or getting myself to heaven, we have missed the point!  But it didn’t stop there…. The church grew so big and required so much administration that the people in charge got pulled more and more into just keeping the church running.  We preach, we baptize, we put on programs and such – but somewhere along the line even us professionals lost our sense of Mission:  The Mission that Jesus gave us!  Without that mission, we are just a group of nice people who come together once a week and tell some stories and share a meal, but we’ve forgotten our very reason for existence…. The very essence of what fulfills us as human beings….  In short, without a Mission, we’re dead.

Pope Francis recognized this problem and wrote a document:  Evangelli Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel.  It’s long – but it’s one of the most readable documents we’ve ever gotten from a Pope.  There’s a bunch of good stuff in there, but let me give you just a couple of short but VERY STRONG quotes:

we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”;[17]
“Mere administration” can no longer be enough.[21] Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.[22]
This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church...

Can it be any clearer?  We have to get back to our Mission.  Personally, I think that’s the reason the church has been losing people… I mean, why belong to something that doesn’t seem to have a purpose?  If we realize we’re in the business of saving lives, we will ATTRACT people rather than boring them until they walk away.

I believe Jesus is calling us – you and me – to re-engage in the battle to save lives.  There are many ways we can do that:  prayer, study, helping others.  Every one of us should already be doing that.  But – I think it’s time we do more than that – it’s time we build a rowboat and GO OUT.  We have people in the surrounding area who have never heard of Jesus – we have people in neighborhoods who don’t know why this church sits here on the hill – we have people in our pews even who don’t really know Jesus.  The field is ripe for the picking – it’s time for us to go on the offensive.

Friday, March 30, 2018

2018/03/30 - Good Friday - Couldn't Jesus have died without Nails?

Ever wonder why Jesus had to die – and not only THAT he had to die – but why he had to die THAT way?  I mean- couldn’t he have been drugged or drowned or decapitated?  No – He had to endure the most gruesome, painful, humiliating, excruciating death possible… WHY?

And wasn’t being hung on a cross enough?   Couldn’t they have skipped the crown of thorns at least – geesh – I can’t imagine having all of those needles piercing my scalp and forehead and into my eyeball sockets.  And couldn’t they have just tied him to that cross instead of nailing him to it! 

Seems like overkill. 

I remember watching the Passion movie several years ago – and one of the scenes that just hit home with me and stuck in my heart was after they had nailed Jesus to the cross, they flipped over the cross and bent the nail.  My heart jumped – why would they do that!!!  I mean - when I bend a nail like that, I expect never to be taking it out again.  It seemed so permanent.  I know – it’s kinda silly to focus in on such a small detail when Jesus was put through so much – but that scene more than any other still my heart cries, ‘WHY’!?

There was a hurricane that hit North Carolina several years back, and whole neighborhoods were wiped out by the winds.  This one neighborhood was hit particularly hard – all mansions and ½ million dollar houses – every one of them was leveled.  Yet – just one street over were a bunch of less expensive houses built years before, and they were all still standing.  As the crews came in to start the clean-up, they were puzzled – and went to the folks who had built the houses that were still standing.  What did you do that made your houses stand while ours were destroyed?  Simple – where you used staples – we used nails.

Seems if you want to build something to last through the storms, you gotta use nails. 

In a way, that answers our question about why Jesus died the way he did.  See – part of His purpose coming here was to establish His Church on earth – he came so that 2000 years later, you and I would be here today.  We are the mystical body of Christ – we are the representatives to the world that this is not some fairy tale.  No – Jesus was real – He IS real.  We know what happened on Good Friday really DID happen and fortunately, we also know how the story ends.  We are here to take that message to the whole world both now and into the future.  Jesus needed to build a church that would last.  In order to do that, he had to show beyond a shadow of a doubt how deep his love is for us.  He had said himself that there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life – so he HAD to die because that was his purpose:  to show us how much He loved us.  He also had to have those nails bent – overkill we might think – but if that’s what it takes to get MY (your) attention, that’s what He had to do.  He knew his church would face storm after storm, heresy, scandal, relativism, and perhaps worst of all – apathy.  Any one of these storms could tear apart a church.  But that’s why Jesus died like He did.

Because if you want to build something to last through the storms, you gotta use nails.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018/03/25 - Palm Sunday: Choose Your Jesus

Before Mass:
When you pray to Jesus, how do you picture him?  Is he a teacher?  Healer?  Is he bloodied on a cross or standing piously pointing to heaven?  Does he demand anything of us, or does he just say, I’m OK, you’re OK?  Jesus has many faces – which do you choose?

We start today’s Mass with the crowds going wild welcoming their king… a parade ushering into Jerusalem the son of David come to restore greatness to Israel.  We end with a parade of people led by that same son of David carrying a cross on his back as he leaves Jerusalem.  A lot changed in one week.  Jesus had two paths – a choice of which kind of king He would be… and the people had a choice of which kind of King they wanted.  He had to be tempted by the Palm Sunday parade… we all want to be loved – we all want the path to power and fame.  But Jesus knew that what awaited him was the path of humiliation, pain, and feeling abandoned even by God the Father.  Put yourself into the crowd as we listen to these highlights from the last week of Jesus’ life on earth and ask yourself – which Jesus do I prefer?


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… these phrases describe the state of the world in Charles Dickens’ classic book “A Tale of Two Cities” – but it could just as well describe what we hear today in our scripture readings.  Jesus has two paths before him… the path to the throne of Earthly Kingship …and the path to the throne of the cross.  Jesus had to choose:  which Jesus he would be.

There’s a scene from the movie Talladega Nights, where they get into a fight over their meal prayer because Ricky, the guy leading grace, keeps praying to the “Dear Lord Baby Jesus”.  Others argue that Jesus grew up and had a beard, so it’s weird to be praying to the infant Jesus.

Ricky responds:  “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace.  When you say grace, you can say it to the Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”

What follows is a bit of a theological free-for-all.  Everybody in the family votes for a favorite Jesus.  “I like to think of Jesus like a Ninja, fightin’ off evil samurai,” says one of the boys. 
Ricky’s race partner adds:  “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt.  ‘Cause it says like, I wanna be formal but I’m here to party, too.  I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

I’m NOT recommending this movie to teach us theology of how to pray.  But Ricky’s family is at least  willing to do openly what most of us do without even really thinking about it: We choose our own Jesus.

We might like our Jesus all cleaned-up and proper – little or no blood.  We take away anything that might make us uncomfortable – for example – that loin cloth was not part of the Roman execution.  The victim was stripped completely naked – as part of their public humiliation.  But we choose a Jesus who we can look at without shame and without horror.

We might like Jesus the healer, preferring the stories of how he healed the blind, the lame, the raising of Lazarus – now THAT’S the kind of Jesus we want around – our own personal genie in a bottle just waiting to grant our wishes.

We might like Jesus the teacher, as we picture ourselves sitting on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee listening to Jesus teach about ‘Blessed are the poor’…  His words seem to contain a deep, eternal truth in them.  I mean, we wouldn’t actually want to “be” poor, but Jesus the teacher sure makes it sound virtuous.  We like thinking about virtue.

We might prefer Jesus the table-turner – as we point our fingers at everything and everyone around us who has strayed from the path of Truth.  And most of us doing the pointing think that we’ve got THE truth on our side; we can even point to documents and dogmas and doctrines to support our claim to be right…so we join Jesus turning over tables.

Nobody in their right mind would choose Jesus the weak, humiliated, poor, bloody, hated revolutionary from nowheresville, Nazareth.
But every one of has to do it:  We choose our Jesus.

Which takes us to the Gospel reading… At a glance, the choice seemed straightforward.  Pilate presented two prisoners: a convicted felon named Barabbas and a teacher from Galilee named Jesus.  He declared his intention to set one free.  Which one would the crowd prefer?

Barabbas was what you might call a celebrity terrorist - a brave patriot or nationalist revolutionary who had had the guts to do what a lot of other people had only dreamed of doing: he had stood up to the despised Romans.  Luke tells us that he had committed murder, presumably of someone sympathetic to the empire.

But there’s one detail left out of most manuscripts which in a way, adds a whole ‘nother dimension to the story.  In some of the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew, we discover that Barabbas has a first name.  His first name is…. Jesus.  Yeah – kinda weird ain’t it?  I guess that’s why the translators left that part out – out of respect for Jesus Christ.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"
It is a dramatic moment:  Which Jesus do you want?  This Jesus or that Jesus?

The two prisoners stood before the crowd.
It may have seemed as if they were on trial.  But in truth, it was now the crowd that was on trial.  Which of these two figures held the greater promise for the nation of Israel?  Was it Jesus Barabbas, who would hit the Romans hard, make something important happen, and inspire the masses to revolution?  Or was it Jesus of Nazareth, whose primary weapons were trusting God, refusing to worry, and loving one's enemies?

Every day, like those in the crowd that day, we must decide which Jesus we want. 
Perhaps I want the Infant Baby Jesus who doesn’t challenge me about my bad habits.  Maybe I want a Jesus who approves of my political views.  Or the Jesus who, amazingly, can't stand the very same people I can't stand.  Or the Jesus who understands me and doesn’t insist that I change my way of life.

It comes down to this: Am I only wanting a Jesus who promises to REMOVE the thorns and suffering from my life here?  Or do I want a Jesus who takes the thorns into his flesh to show me the path to true joy WHILE He suffers with me? 

Choose your Jesus.
** (I need to give credit to Glenn MacDonald – a Presbyterian Minister from Indianapolis.  He has a knack for opening up the scriptures with new insights and inspiration, and I want to credit him with inspiration for my homily today.(but if you don’t like it, I’ll take the blame))

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018/03/04 - A Vision for the Church

Before Mass:
(note:  we are using the Cycle A readings which are just a couple pages later in your missalette)

Have you ever thought about what you think our parish should be like 10 or 20 years from now?  Probably not – see we just kinda think the way church is now is how it’s always been and how it always will be – that’s normal to think that, but it’s not true.  The church – including our parish – is changing fast.  Whereas 20     years ago, most of our neighbors belonged to this parish, today, that’s not the case.  Now –I’m not worried about it necessarily, because I know God is still in control – however, I do think we need to plan ahead.  Ask ourselves, what would we LIKE our parish to look like in 20 years?  More importantly, What would GOD want his church to look like in 20 years?  Once we answer that question, then we need to put plans in place to work with the Holy Spirit to make that vision a reality.

The most important line in the Gospel might actually be the line right BEFORE the Gospel! 

"Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee. (and) He "had to" pass through Samaria. "

See – Jesus had been up near Jerusalem at the Jordan river when He heard that the Pharisees were getting uncomfortable with how He was growing in popularity.  Since it wasn’t yet his time to die, he high-tailed it north back to Galilee, where he would spend most of his ministry.  To get there, he either had to go around Samaria or go through it.  Any pious Jew would have gone around, because Jews HATED Samaritans – they were half-breeds, impure, outcasts, lower than dogs!  But it says Jesus “had to” go through it.  Nothing Jesus did was incidental… He purposely crossed the border and went through Samaria to give us a vision of what His kingdom would be like. We get to eaves drop on his conversation with the woman at the well in today’s Gospel.  Pay attention to what this encounter tells us about the Kingdom of God.  And in case you're wondering, put yourself into the shoes of the woman at the well.
That was a long reading, so let’s cut right to the core of the message.  Jesus “had to” go through Samaria to meet this woman.  He went against all of the common sense of the day:  nobody travels THROUGH samaria, no man talks to a woman, no Jew talks to a Samaritan, no Jew would consider drinking from something a Samaritan TOUCHED!
Jesus had to go through Samaria to give us a vision for his Kingdom; that it would reach out to all of the outcasts.  EVERYBODY was to be included – even a Samaritan woman who’d had 5 men.  Everybody…even a Catholic sinner from Dubois County 2000 years later…yeah… even you and me.
Jesus invited this woman to a relationship.  Notice that!  ‘Who’ she was, ‘where’ she was from, and ‘what’ she had done were afterthoughts in this reading – the conversation started with an invitation.  Jesus went to where SHE was just to meet her and offer her fellowship in the Kingdom…  Before talking about her sin, without even mentioning her religious upbringing or whether she followed all the rules in their religion.  That didn’t matter.  Jesus crossed all of those borders to find her.
That’s a vision we can apply to our own parish.  We should be crossing borders… going out to the outcasts to invite them into the Kingdom.  We shouldn’t care about their religious affiliation, gender, race, political party, marital status… that’s all incidental.  We start with the invitation.  We go where they are – meet them in their mess – to offer them the same living water we’ve found in Jesus.
That’s nice to talk about – but what would that really look like?  Here are some concrete ideas I have – a vision for our parish.  We should be reaching out to the outcasts of our community.  First, I’d like to see us be even more welcoming.  See - We are such a close community that it’s easy to talk to our friends and family before and after Mass, but outsiders coming in find it hard to feel at home with us sometimes because they’re not included.  Nobody is to blame here – we just may never have noticed the problem.   I have some ideas how we can reach out to them.  Even people who have been here for a while never know how to get connected – how to get involved.  My vision is that everyone would be involved in ways they enjoy and build-up the kingdom.  Second – there are a lot of folks from our community who no longer join us – maybe because they didn’t feel welcomed?  Maybe they felt judged?  Maybe they never got invited to personally get involved?  We can reach out to them and personally invite them back – and re-build those personal relationships.  Third – there are a lot of non-Catholics in our area – which is different that it was 25 years ago.  We need to review our Mission as a church – we need to be like Jesus and go out of our way to meet them where they are and invite them to be part of our family.  Fourth – there is a community that springs up at the lake every Summer which is another vineyard waiting to be harvested.  What creative ways can we use to invite them to be part of our family even on a temporary basis. 
We have to cross borders:  It might mean we have to come out of our pews, come out of our comfort zones, come out of our houses, even drive a bit out of town – but like Jesus ‘had to’ go through Samaria, we ‘have to’ go out to where the people are.  We have to believe that they WANT to be invited… they’re just waiting at the well for us to offer them the Living Water.
Would you like to help make this vision a reality?  I propose to finally start an Evangelization team.  April 18th will be our first meeting – so watch the bulletin for details – and, if this really interests you, talk to me.  I’d love to start kicking around ideas.  We’ll have some great opportunities this summer as we help celebrate the 175th.
Maybe the Evangelization team isn’t for you – but everybody has a need to feel like part of the parish.  We do that best by getting involved. 
After the 10 am Mass, we’re having a brunch for EVERYONE – yes – everyone is encouraged to come.  We’ve got a couple dozen of our outreach ministries queued up to talk for just a couple minutes about what their ministry does.  For example, I’ve had a couple of young ladies approach me in the last year saying they want to get involved in the parish but don’t know how – so I spent a little time finding out what interests they have – and got them connected with a ministry.  Now, not only are they active, invaluable members of those groups, but they now have a personal ownership in our parish.  We have so many ministries that you may not even know what they are:  Grace Co-Op, Hospitality Committee, SVDP, Helping Hands, Parish Nursing, St. Anne’s Sodality, KofC…and bunches more – for men and women of all ages.  Whether you enjoy making food or cutting firewood, talking to people or praying or driving…you name it, we need your gifts.  I’d say everyone here WANTS to feel a part of the parish –  This brunch is a simple way to get some ideas where you’d best fit.  There won’t be any pressure to sign up for anything – this is informational. 
Jesus has crossed the border and is sitting at the well waiting for you – inviting you to come closer.  Will you give Him a drink?


Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018/02/11 - If you wish

Before Mass:  Pay attention to the first reading, because it really sets the stage for the Gospel.  You’ll notice it talks about how Lepers are to be treated… then in the Gospel Put yourself in the shoes of the Leper who comes to Jesus.  The whole homily is on only two phrases In the Gospel, the first line and what the Leper says to Jesus.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Lectionary: 77
    Reading 1 Lv 13:1-2, 44-46
    Responsorial Psalm Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11
    Reading 2 1 Cor 10:31—11:1
    Gospel Mk 1:40-45

One Friday morning this past November, Mary went to Celestine church to setup for Mass like she always does.  After setting up, she went back to her car to get a book – and noticed something sitting next to her rear bumper that wasn’t there when she arrived 10 minutes earlier.  It was dark yet, so her eyes couldn’t make out what it was – it sorta looked like a cat, but it was bright orange on top.  Finally getting close enough, she could tell it was indeed a cat with it’s head stuck in a Cheetos bag.  As she got close, the Cat heard her approaching and meowed pitifully, as if it was asking Mary for help.  Mary reached down and pulled off the Cheetos bag, and the cat meowed a bunch as if to thank her – rubbed against her a bit – then trotted away.  What’s interesting about this is, how did that cat know Mary was there?  Since it couldn’t SEE, how did it manage to get up to the parking lot from wherever it had been?  And why did it come to the church?  My guess is that he heard the sound of her car pull in and heard her get out, so he make his way up the hill toward the sound – that sound was the cat’s only hope – he knew he needed a human to help, since he had been unable to help himself.  One human hand made a difference.

That cat is similar to the Leper in today’s Gospel.  Let’s look at two phrases of the Gospel which will make my point.

Like that very first line:  ‘A Leper came to Jesus’.  We could stop right there – it’s packed with meaning.  Based on what we heard in the first reading, a Leper should NEVER have approached Jesus.  They were publicly shunned and forced to live apart.  If anybody did come close, they were to shout UNCLEAN just to keep anyone from accidentally touching them – because if anybody touched them, they immediately became unclean and would be forced out of town as well.  But this guy CAME TO JESUS.  It shows a remarkable faith he must have had that he would endure the public humiliation of moving through a crowd of people – think about that – there was always a crowd around Jesus – so in order to get close to Jesus, he would have had to shout UNCLEAN over and over – and people would have recoiled – grabbed their children and ran away – it would be like somebody coming in here with Ebola – we’d all be scared to death that we were going to get it, we’d be shouting at HIM to go away!!!.  So this guy endured the public humiliation and ridicule in order to get to his last source of hope:  Jesus.

He only says one thing, but it’s powerful:  ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’.  If you wish… most translations say ‘if you’re willing’ or ‘if it is your will’ – which ought to remind us of a prayer we pray all the time… “thy kingdom come, THY WILL BE DONE”.  Like the Leper, we cannot DEMAND that God do anything for us.  No – we simply go to the feet of Jesus, tell Him our need, and say ‘if it is your will, you can make me clean’.  Two places I can think of off the top of my head where we already do that.  First – just before Communion we pray a little prayer which sounds very similar:  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”.  We ARE the Leper in the story, approaching Jesus so that we can be made whole again – so that we can be brought back into the community – back to our family.  Leprosy meant loss of all relationships – but Jesus can restore those relationships if we come to him.  I’d say more than anything, Jesus DOES will to restore relationships…with each other, and with God.  That’s why we call it Communion…  because it restores the relationship of the whole community with God.

The other place we are just like the Leper is in the confessional.  We come to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to heal us spiritually.  Now – in case you don’t know where the confessional is in our church, let me point it out.  A lot of people are nervous about confession, but let me assure you Fr. Eugene is great at this Sacrament.  He is a vessel of God’s mercy, waiting to pour out on all of us.  During Lent, there will be multiple options for going to Confession.  If you’ve not been in a while, just tell Father that and he’ll very nicely guide you through it.  Or – if you’d rather, contact me and I’ll walk you thru the process once so you might feel more comfortable.  Oh –something else somebody asked me just the other day – how do I know if Father is in there- and how do I know I’m not walking in on somebody?  Well – if the green light is on, it means Father is in there – and if the red light is on, that means somebody else is in there, so you should wait.

Now here’s some great news:  you do not have to confess your sins to a Priest!  Did that wake anybody up?  Don’t leave – I have to explain.  You do not have to confess your sins to a Priest.  A lot of people think that Catholics are blaspheming to force everyone to confess to a Priest – why – only GOD can forgive sins!  And I’d say, they’re right!  Only God can forgive sins!!  Fortunately for us as Catholics, every time Father puts on his stole, which is the sign of his office, when he does that, he is acting ‘in persona christi’ – which is latin for ‘acting in the person of Christ’. What that means is, when you confess your sins to Fr. Eugene, it’s not Fr. Eugene you’re confessing to – but it’s Jesus himself!  Fr. Eugene is simply allowing Christ to use his body to perform the Sacrament.  When Father raises his had and says “I absolve you of your sin”, it’s actually Jesus saying those words through the mouth of Fr. Eugene.  Jesus says, “I do will it – be made clean.”

We are all like the cat in my first story.  We all have our head stuck in a Cheetos bag – we all have leprosy – we are all sinners in need of spiritual healing.  We try as long as we can to fix ourselves – imagine that cat pawing at his head all night long, trying desperately to get the bag off – probably scared to death.  But once he came to his senses and realized he couldn’t save himself, he knew he needed a human touch – so he sought that human touch at our church.  Likewise, we try to fix ourselves – buying self-help books, thinking ‘if I just pray harder’, I can handle this myself.  At some point, we all have to admit, this sin disease we have is not something we can cure.  When we are as desperate as a cat with his head stuck in a Cheetos bag, we will risk humiliation to get the help of a human hand.  When we really want to get cleansed of our sin, we will realize the only option is to do what the Leper did – Come to Jesus.
One other thing about that cat story –That morning, Mary was a conduit of grace for that cat.  Not only did the CAT feel good about that encounter, it filled Mary with the Grace of God to be able to reach out and help someone.  Mary has told this story a dozen times or more.  It made a difference for both the Cat and for Mary….and maybe this weekend, that little story will make a difference in your life as well.

See – we are all called to reach out with our own human hand to touch others.  WE are supposed to bring the Grace of God to others – and when we do that, not only are those people helped, but it makes us feel good as well.  That’s how the Grace of God works… the more we give it away, the more we get.  Would YOU like to feel the Grace of God in your own life?  We all can, just by doing something to make a difference in somebody’s life. 

I want to challenge everybody to find a way at LEAST once a week to go out of our way to make a difference for somebody.  How about taking on that challenge instead of giving up chocolate for Lent this year!?  Maybe you can send a card to someone to lift their spirits – or do a random act of kindness like paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line.  Maybe you know somebody who REALLY needs help – like an older person who just needs somebody to stop in and talk once in a while – or take out their trash –or help with grocery shopping.  Maybe you know somebody with a lot of medical bills – don’t we all know somebody like that?  The more we give of ourselves, the more Grace of God that comes back to us.  God cannot be out-given.

This challenge is for everybody.   We ALL should be looking for opportunities every day to BE the hand of God.   However, I want to offer an incentive to our students – everybody age 5 through college raise your hand – Those hands are the hands of God.  I want to give you $5 to use to make a difference in somebody’s life.  Can you imagine the impact on our community with this many people all making a difference at the same time!  It COULD be awesome!  You can decide how much time you want to put into it:  send a card, buy a box of chocolates and take it around a nursing home just to spend time talking with people, Pick your favorite charity to support.  We’ve had some creative ideas over the years from our students from simple to big.  Be creative, and if you need ideas – look for these colored binders in the back of church.

Now- I know a lot of parents kind of discourage their kids from participating in this, because it becomes something the parents have to do, since the kids won’t take initiative to do it on their own.  So – students – read my lips - make this YOUR Lenten project that YOU do.  You can ask your parents for help, but don’t make them have to nag you!!  Remember, It doesn’t HAVE to be a big deal.  Ask God what HE wants you to do!  There are only two requirements:  1) you can’t keep the money and 2) you should share with me a short description of what you did.  Anyone interested can catch me after Mass to sign up and get your $5.

Everybody - Go out there and BE the hand of God in our community.  Go make a difference.