Saturday, February 2, 2019

2019/02/01 - What's Love Got to do with it?

Before Mass

For our homily today - I met with the Junior Religious Ed class to help me get ideas.
I’ll warn you the homily is mainly going to focus on the 2nd reading-  and it’s one most of us have probably heard many times in our lives – and mainly at weddings.  So often, perhaps, that as soon as we hear ‘love is patient’, we either can finish the reading in our heads, or our minds immediately turn to focus on something else.  It’s a great reading about love and yes – it does fit very well with weddings – but, that’s not why it was written…. Paul wasn’t intending to write to newly married couples.  He was writing this for you and me – and the message is a lot stronger than any of us might remember after hearing it several times.

So I invite you to listen with fresh ears.  Ask yourself as Paul speaks – how does this apply to me?  How should this impact my DAILY life?  In fact, how should this impact every moment of my life, including this very second?

Homily
Some people complain that religion is too black and white – that life is made up of a lot of gray area and religion is just too strict and becomes pious, irrelevant babble.
On the other hand, a lot of people complain that religion is too wishy-washy – that so many things are a ‘mystery’ and we can’t really KNOW anything, so religion is TOO gray to provide answers in the hard questions of life.

And to those people, I’d say, “you’re right!”… and I’d like to apologize if that has frustrated you and pushed you away from Christianity.  See, a lot of Christians just kind-of go to church on Sunday and religion doesn’t really impact the rest of their week.  In fact, you might not even KNOW they were Christian.  The outspoken Christians – the ones you KNOW are Christian – usually fall into one of two sterotypes:  there’s the staunch doctrinal self-righteous finger pointer who declares everything is black and white and to hell with anyone who steps out of line!  At the other end are the nice guys who always have a smile and never have answers and anything goes because God is all about Love, so why can’t we all just get along.  Again – these are just sterotypes – doesn’t describe anybody in here - but these are how much of the world views us!

Given those two options, is it any wonder so many people reject Christianity?
Jesus was about more than doctrines and butterflies.  He came not just to teach us, but to SHOW us how to Love.  That is the heart of Christianity.  The purpose of our religion – the purpose of our LIVES, is to become more like God – and God is Love, so the more we Love, the more we’re like God.  They’ll know we are Christians by our …Love, so the song goes.  It’s not just a catchy tune or phrase, this is the heart of what it means to LIVE as a Christian.  It’s more than doing Christian things, it’s about being the hands and feet of Love.

Paul gives several one-liners about how we fail in that.  If I speak without Love, I am a noisy gong.  If I do anything to boast, but don’t have love, I gain nothing.  This reading is not just a nice reading for weddings… it instructs us how to live as Christians.
This is VERY practical advice here…   if I speak without love, I am a noisy gong.  How many people do we know who keep beating their drums without love and we just stop listening to them?

Know anybody who does great things, but they only do it so they can brag about it?  Paul says, if I give away everything but don’t do it for love – it gains me nothing!
Let this scripture instruct you personally… An easy way to do that is to change-out the word Love with YOUR name.

So, instead of Love is Patient, Love is Kind….   Bill is Patient.  Susan is kind.  Greg is not Jealous.  Eugene is not pompous.  Maggie is not rude.  Cayden is not quick-tempered.  Dave does not brood over injury.  Tammy does not rejoice over wrongdoing.  Keep going… this is an instruction booklet for how we should live!  Hmmm… we could also use this as an examination of conscience.  When we’re preparing for reconciliation, read it and think – when was I NOT kind…NOT patient…when did I speak without love?

Hopefully you can see that Christianity is way more than finger pointing and way more than “let’s all get along”.  The early Christians were known for one thing:  “See how they love one another”.  That love was – and continues to be – a magnet, drawing people to Christ. 

In all things we do… in ALL things we do… let Love be our guide.  Love never fails.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019/01/20 - Christian Unity

* Note: Readings are not the standard readings for the week.  Scroll down below homily for the readings. *
BEFORE MASS:
I need to warn you, today's readings are NOT in the books.  We were encouraged to offer a Mass for Christian Unity this weekend, so the readings are completely different.  That’s exciting, actually, because some of these readings you may never have heard before – especially the first reading from Ezekiel – he uses some great imagery – but you might need just a bit of back-story for it to really make sense.
You may remember that King Solomon as wise– but you may not remember that in his later years as King, he did some pretty stupid stuff… so bad in fact, that Israel split into two countries – there was Israel in the north, made up of 10 of the 12 tribes – and Judah in the south – made up of the other two tribes.  This division was not from God – it was because of human weakness – and in our reading, we’ll hear God promise to remove that division.
This is symbolic of the Christian unity we're praying for today.


Homily:
Imagine if your greatest enemy became your friend… impossible?

I love that story from Ezekiel – those two sticks represented the kingdom of Israel which was split into two – and God promised to bring them back together.  It was a division that never should have happened – it was due to human failings that the tribes became enemies in the first place.  But divisions are not of God… so God promised to remove that division.

So it is with ANY divisions we create among ourselves.  Any time it’s us vs them, we are not of God – Dubois vs Celestine, democrats vs republicans, Catholic vs Protestant, even Christian vs Islam… divisions are not of God.  Yet – how can God possibly remove these barriers between us?

A wise man once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.”  Let that sink in - “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

That wise man, whom we celebrate in this nation tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr, saw the injustice and harm to society that came from divisions.  He saw that these divisions were not from God and therefore these enemies were like two sticks which God would bring back together – but not without a struggle.  Humans have a hard time giving up prejudices with which we were raised.  Besides that, we all have experiences in our lives which TEACH us to distrust “them” – whichever group we blame for the current ills of society.  In the 30’s in Germany it was the Jews.. in Mexico 100 years ago – and even in this country – the Catholics were the enemy.  Today ‘they’ might be the muslims or the Mexicans or for some people sitting here today ‘they’ might still be blacks.  We learn these divisions from our culture, our parents, or from personal experience.  Once those wounds are inflicted, it becomes hard – almost impossible for enemies to become friends. 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

Love is of God – and anytime we allow Love to enter into a relationship, God can transform ANY relationship into friendship.

The same holds true for our religious differences.  Any divisions are not of God.  This country is still primarily Christian, but the numbers are dropping fast.  Part of the reason for that is the in-fighting among Christians.  When we don’t have a common message of Love to take to the world, the world will turn away.  Christ prayed that we would all be ‘one’.  But again, human failings – this time among Christians – splintered the body of Christ.  The two biggest splits came between east and west 1000 years ago – and then in the reformation 500 years ago.  Inside of that, we can find stories of individuals who decided they knew better than the Church – like maybe they wanted to marry someone and the Church said ‘no’ – so they started their own church… creating yet another division.  Over 30 thousands divisions of Christianity in this country alone…

Divisions are not of God.

Even in our own community, there are several divisions of Christians – many of which have walked away from the Catholic Church for one reason or another.  What’s really alarming is the number of un-churched people now in our area.  Somehow, even though we are here – we have not been the light on the hill drawing all people to Christ.  How can this be? 

Perhaps it’s our divisions.  Why belong to Christianity when Christians can’t even agree on what they believe?

Divisions are not of God.

Today we pray specifically that Jesus’ prayer be fulfilled – that we would all be one.  We pray that the Spirit would reach into the hearts of all Christian leaders to work toward unity.  There’s actually been amazing progress made already – just a few years ago, the Lutherans and Catholics signed a document which ended the disputes over Sola Fide – salvation through faith alone – coming to a common understanding and ending 500 years of fighting about it.  There are still other differences that separate us – and they may ‘seem’ impossible to overcome – but so was Sola Fide!  The Holy Spirit can do it- and that’s what we pray for - God can change hearts.  This Ecumenical service we’re having on the 10th to pray for our schools is another sign of our coming together as Christians.

We pray too on a personal level that we could each be convicted of the prejudices, discriminations, bickering – anything is not of God – anything that causes divisions.  God can change our hearts.

I want to end with a very short story.
In WWII, there was a band of soldiers fighting their way across Germany and one of the platoon was killed.  They saw a small church nearby and asked the priest if they could bury their friend in the church's cemetery, but he insisted that only people belonging to THEIR faith could be buried in this cemetery.  If you want, you can bury him outside the fence, though.  The guys were kind of put-off, but what else could they do - they buried their comrade outside the fence.  The next morning, they passed the church one last time as they were leaving the area, and their friend's grave was now inside the fence!  During the night, the priest had moved the fence!!

God can heal our divisions - He can change hearts - and He can even move fences.


READINGS FOR MASS OF CHRISTIAN UNITY
FIRST READING
(867:3) Ezekiel 37:15-19,21b-22, 26-28
15* Thus the word of the LORD came to me: 16As for you, son of man, take one stick and write on it, “Judah and those Israelites associated with it.” Then take another stick and write on it: “Joseph, Ephraim’s stick, and the whole house of Israel associated with it.” 17Join the two sticks together so they become one stick in your hand. 18When your people ask you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by all this?” 19answer them: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will take the stick of Joseph, now in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with it, and join to it the stick of Judah, making them one stick; they shall become one in my hand.f 21b I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms.g
26j I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever. 27My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.k 28Then the nations shall know that I, the LORD, make Israel holy, by putting my sanctuary among them forever.

(869) Responsorial Psalm
1.
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13
R. (see 10c) Lord, gather your scattered people.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.

SECOND READING
(868:7) 1 Timothy 2:5-8
Beloved:
  There is one God.
  There is also one mediator between God and men,
  the man Christ Jesus,
  who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time.
For this I was appointed preacher and Apostle
  (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying),
  teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
  lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

GOSPEL   (871:8)  John 17:20-26
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:
"Holy Father, I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them."

Sunday, December 23, 2018

2018/12/23 - Whatever Love Requires


Before Mass:
Paul’s making an important point in the second reading:  He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire’.  What he’s talking about is the old testament Law – where if you sinned, you had to sacrifice a dove or goat or something else depending on what the sin was.  The reading says God did not desire that kind of sacrifice… OK that’s good since we don’t do that anymore…. so what DOES God want from us?  He says, ‘I come to do your will’… so what IS God’s will? 

Homily
Some people think Catholicism is all about “following the rules”.  You HAVE to go to Mass every week AND holy days, you HAVE to go to confession, you have to save sex for marriage and you have to get married in the church and get your kids baptized and confirmed.  You have to tithe your 10%.  You can’t eat an hour before Mass.  Then there’s all the Lenten days of fasting and abstinence… lots of ‘rules.

Yet – if truth be told – most people don’t ‘follow the rules’.  Why is that?  I vaguely remember a quote from years ago: it’s human nature that when we’re faced with a rule, we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule…. when we’re faced with a rule, we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule.  We come up with excuses why this rule doesn’t apply to me.  Like I know the sign says STOP, but I don’t see anybody coming, so I can blow right through this one.

Imagine living in Jerusalem back in the day – they had rules on top of rules on top of rules.  No way the average Josephus could follow every one of them….unless you were a Pharisee who prided themselves in being perfect followers of the law.  But – the bad news for them and the good news for us is:  it’s not about following rules, but rather doing the will of God.  Everything – EVERYTHING we do we should be seeking to do the will of God.  What is God’s will?  Let me give you another phrase them might be easier to understand.  Since God is Love, we could say, do whatever Love requires.
Do whatever love requires – what’s that look like?

Jerry was walking with his grandsons in the woods – they were super excited because they were going to hike to the stream and look for fossils.  Plus, they’d get all dirty and wet and Mom wasn’t there to get mad at them!  As they got close to the stream, the boys couldn’t contain their enthusiasm, so they ran ahead of Jerry.  But a minute later, one of them let out a blood-curdling scream and didn’t stop.  Jerry could see his arms flailing in the air as he danced around on the rocks. 

Immediately, Jerry sprinted to the boys and saw they were being swarmed by yellow-jackets.  Jerry instinctively grabbed the younger boy and pushed him toward the shore with a command to run toward the house.  Then he grabbed the other boy by the collar and pulled him out of the water where he had sought refuge, and carried him to shore with the same command to run.  Jerry followed, but he was being bitten and he noticed the yellow-jackets were following them, so he purposely hung back so the boys might get to safety.  Ended up, Jerry was bitten multiple times and miraculously, the boys had escaped any injury.

Was Jerry following a rule that says grandfathers must allow themselves to be bitten to protect their grandchildren?  No – Jerry was just doing whatever Love requires.

Similarly, when we come to Mass  or follow any of the other Catholic ‘rules’ – it’s not out of obligation – but we’re doing whatever love requires.  Let’s take that one rule and think about it:  why is it a big deal if we miss Mass on Sunday?  Think of it as a relationship.  Say you and your spouse decide that Saturday evening is your Date night.  It’s on the calendar and you both keep that open religiously.  So what if one Saturday your buddies say let’s play cards tonight… should you go?    Depends on your priorities, I guess.  Perhaps your spouse would agree to move Date night to Friday night that week so you can spend an evening with your buddies.  Not a bad idea!  But if that becomes a habit – what does it say to your spouse about how important your relationship is?  Likewise, when we decide that sleeping in is more important than Mass, we’re telling God he’s not at the top of our priority list.
Just like we have to invest time on our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with God requires time – and the best way to do that is to build habits like I’ll pray every day when I get up and I’ll go to Mass every weekend.  Is that a rule?  No – it’s whatever love requires.

Look at Mary in the Gospel – was she following a rule that said she must go take care of her cousin Elizabeth?  No – but she gives us a great example of what we’re supposed to do.  Once she received Jesus inside her body, she immediately thought of others.  That’s what we’re called to do to – once we receive Jesus here in the Eucharist, we should go outside ourselves to help others.

In fact, this time of year, when it is darkest of all and people can easily become depressed, this would be a great time to follow Mary’s lead.  Let’s all find someone in our neighborhoods who is stuck at home.  Take them some cookies or soup or just stop by to talk.  It will make their day – and likely make your day as well.

Do Whatever Love requires.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Homily 2018/10/21: Ask Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

2018/09/30 - Cut it off


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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

2018/09/09 - Speech Impediment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ephphatha!  Be Opened.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

2018/08/18 - The Days are Evil


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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