Saturday, August 12, 2017

2017/08/13 Comfort Zones

Before mass:
In order to really understand the connection between the first reading and the Gospel, we need to understand a little bit of the back story…like why is Elijah in this cave?  Well – he is being hunted down by Queen Jezebel’s men.  He had had a sort-of dual with like 400 of the prophets of Baal and God had destroyed them all… Note to self:  if you ever want to tick-off a queen, kill all of her prophets.  Elijah is running for his life and hides out in this cave.  As long as he stays in there, he’s safe… to step out of the cave, he risks being seen by Jezebel’s army.  So keep that in mind as you listen to the first reading.
Homily:
I want you to imagine where you are most comfortable.  Maybe it’s a beach… maybe it’s on a boat on the lake… Maybe you’re picturing yourself in your Lazy-Boy or the couch with a TV remote in your hand and a bowl of ice cream sprinkled with chocolate chips.  Ahhhh…sounds like heaven.

For some people, staying at home is most comfortable – for others, they have to stay busy all the time, so they’re most comfortable when they are working.   We might work 40 years in the same job because it’s comfortable… because we know what’s expected of us.

Wherever you’re thinking of … That’s your comfort zone – where nothing out of the ordinary is required of us – we have all we need – and most importantly, there’s nothing to be afraid of… and nothing to be nervous about. 

Elijah would have preferred to stay in his cave – I mean – stepping out could have cost his life. 

Then there are the apostles in that boat.  Why in the world were they in the middle of the lake during a storm?  I mean, they were Fishermen… they would have recognized the signs that a storm was coming.  Jesus is God so surely He KNEW there was a storm coming.  Why not leave the boat on the shore where it’s safe?  Maybe Jesus sent them out BECAUSE of the storm coming.  If they had stayed at the shore, their boat could have been dashed against the rocks and broken apart.  Jesus purposely pushed them out of their comfort zone of the shore in order to save them.  But then he pushed one step further – as the apostles were being tossed about by the storm, the boat had become their new comfort zone – it was their safe place.  To fall out of the boat in those waves would have been instant drowning.  But Jesus wanted to move beyond even this new comfort zone, so He invited Peter to step out of the boat and walk to Him across the water.  That’s an important point…Jesus invited Peter to come closer to him. 

I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands  - but I wonder – how many of us really WANT to see God?  How many WANT to get closer to Jesus? 

The trouble is, no matter where you are, you CANNOT get closer to Jesus by remaining where you are.  Think about that a second – I might think I’m a pretty good Catholic – praying my rosary, going to Mass, and I’ve never killed anybody – at least on purpose…  That could easily become my comfort zone.  Even in our spiritual life, we get into a comfort zone and don’t push ourselves to grow any more.  I’m “good enough” – no sense doing anything crazy like taking a step out of that comfort zone and actually FOLLOWING Jesus as a disciple!

What do you think – are YOU ready to leave your comfort zone?  Let me make this real… what if I asked everybody to get up from the pew you’re in and move to a totally different spot?  Most of us kinda get into a groove – sitting in the same spot every time at church – it’s our comfort zone:  we know the people around us – and just to ask everyone to move to another seat would send a dozen people into cardiac arrest.  What if I told you to find someone you don’t know and introduce yourself?  Does that make you a little nervous?  What if I asked you to invite your non-Catholic neighbors to come to the parish Social or Shoot coming up in October?  What if I asked you to invite them to come to church with you?  Are you nervous yet?  What if I asked you to participate in a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood?  What about speaking up when the conversation at work turns ugly.  Scary stuff!  That’s just a glimpse of how scared Peter would have been to step out onto the water in that storm.

Trouble is – if you and I stay in our comfort zones, nothing changes.  We cannot remain where we are and move closer to Christ.  If you and I do nothing, the Church will continue to be buffeted by the storms.  The world will not become more Christian if WE don’t live our faith… if we don’t speak out against injustice, if we don’t do something as simple as praying before meals even at a restaurant.  The secular world is like a storm raging around us – threaten to destroy the Church.  Jesus is in the middle of the storm, beckoning us to follow him… ready to make great things happen. 
But in order to get closer to Jesus, we gotta step out of the boat.

Once there was a king who received a gift of two magnificent falcons. They were peregrine falcons, the most beautiful birds he had ever seen. He gave the precious birds to his head falconer to be trained.

Months passed, and one day the head falconer informed the king that though one of the falcons was flying majestically, soaring high in the sky, the other bird had not moved from its branch since the day it had arrived.

The king summoned healers and sorcerers from all the land to tend to the falcon, but no one could make the bird fly.

He presented the task to the member of his court, but the next day, the king saw through the palace window that the bird had still not moved from its perch.
Having tried everything else, the king thought to himself, “May be I need someone more familiar with the countryside to understand the nature of this problem.” So he cried out to his court, “Go and get a farmer.”

In the morning, the king was thrilled to see the falcon soaring high above the palace gardens. He said to his court, “Bring me the doer of this miracle.”  The court quickly located the farmer, who came and stood before the king. The king asked him, “How did you make the falcon fly?”

With his head bowed, the farmer said to the king, “It was very easy, your highness. I simply cut the branch where the bird was sitting.”  (story author unknown)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

2017/07/16 How is it that you DON'T hear?

Before Mass:
Every month I get 10 copies of a new CD – and several of them in the last year have been great – so great that I think everybody should listen to them.  So, we have three hundred copies of each to give away.  Today I’ve got Religionless Spirituality –it’s timely because you hear people say – well, I’m spiritual but not religious – or – I can pray without going to church – I don’t need religion.   This CD is the best I’ve heard to help those people.  Pick one up on the way out.  I’m not taking donations for it today because I want everybody to listen to this CD – and if this goes well, I plan to continue to get three hundred copies whenever a particularly good one comes along.  If this sounds like a ministry you’d like to support, talk to me – or – make a donation in the CD rack.
I think it’s important what we listen to – and actually that is the theme for today.  It may not sound like it at first… Today’s Gospel is the familiar story of the Sower and the Seed.  We’ve heard it enough that we might think we know the story and not really listen to it.  I’d ask that we all simply try to focus all of our attention on listening this morning.  There are a couple of themes you might notice: The most obvious theme is that WE are the dirt in the story.  You might also pick up on the fact that God is a bad farmer.
But then, Jesus says something odd after that parable:  “whoever has ears ought to hear”.  Who is he talking about?  Anybody here NOT have their ears with them today?  Then He is speaking his word directly to you today…..  Listen.


Homily:
So – you probably noticed the first theme of the Gospel:  we are the dirt.  How much the word of God sinks into us depends on whether we are good soil. 

You might also have noticed that God is a horribly wasteful farmer.  He spreads the seeds of His Grace and Love all over creation… letting it drop wherever it will – so that most of it is simply wasted, never bearing any fruit.  Picture a tractor with a seed spreader driving down the highway with the feeder wide open…. That’s how extravagant God is with his word.

But the main theme is actually about Listening:   God is always speaking His word to us.  Always.  Every situation – every moment.  Do we hear Him?

I was standing outside last night talking to someone – and suddenly she mentioned the sound of the crickets – and it amazed me that until that moment, I hadn’t even noticed how loud they were.  That is like God talking to us – because He is speaking constantly, His voice becomes background noise and we don’t hear it.

God is speaking His word to us in every situation of our lives.  How is it that We often don’t recognize Him speaking –
- It’s part of the background noise
- It’s drowned out by the “important” things in life
- Or we just don’t WANT to hear Him
- Or maybe nobody ever taught us how to hear Him

Every week we come here and hear the Word proclaimed – and a homily to follow.  God is OBVIOUSLY speaking to us here at Mass… but how much of it falls on good soil?  If the parable is a good representation, then at best, 25% of the people in the pews are actually listening AND changing their lives.

Many people have lost the skill of listening.  Part of it is too many distractions:  for example:  I cannot have a serious conversation if the TV is on in front of me… my eyes and mind keep wandering back to it.  I know myself well enough that if I need to concentrate on what somebody is saying, I have to turn off the TV.

Likewise, most people with cellphones have a hard time listening to anyone if they’re holding their phone…  a text comes in and you glance at it and all you can think about is how you’re going to respond. 

Also – if somebody starts talking to us and we think we already know where they’re going with it, so we only half-listen.  Oh – and then there’s the fact that most people really just want to talk about themselves –so while they’re pretending to listen to you, they’re really just thinking of what they want to say next….waiting for you to shut up!

God is always speaking His word to us.  Anyone with ears ought to hear!  But listening doesn’t come easy – we have to train ourselves to become effective listeners. 

There was a TV show back in the 70’s called Kung Fu.  I know most of you never heard of it, so let me give you the back story:  it was about a Chinese man named Caine who moved to the US in the old wild west.  He was a shoulin priest – and a master of kung fu.  He was always having flashbacks about his training in the monastery as a boy.  The scene I remember more than any other was when Caine first met Master Po who was to be his teacher.  This old man was blind from cataracts, and he insisted that Caine fight him… Caine refused – I can’t fight a blind man, it wouldn’t be fair!  The Master insisted, so Caine took a swing at him and was quickly knocked to the ground three times.  This is the conversation that took place right after that: 

Master Po: never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

2017/07/02 - Disciples for Dinner

Before Mass:
We are continuing our walk thru Matt chapter 10 – picking up where we left off last week.  Jesus continues his instructions to the Disciples and he’s trying to get them to sign on the dotted line to be His disciple…and he has some strong words for them:
"Whoever loves father or mother … (or) …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What’s He talking about?  We’ll touch on that in the homily.
The common theme between the first reading and the Gospel today seems to be “how do we treat our prophets and disciples”.   The first reading shows Elisha the prophet being welcomed into the home of a couple in Shunem.  They didn’t have to be hospitable… the guy could have gone to an Inn to get food and lodging.  So why invite him to stay?

Then Jesus also talks about hospitality in the Gospel, and this time He seems to be encouraging US to treat his disciples with hospitality.  So listen for that theme – and you might ask yourself – what have I done for God’s prophets?

Homily:
Picture this Gospel as a Disciple Boot Camp – where these potential disciples are trained hard, instructed about how to be disciples, and you might say, the men are separated from the boys.  Jesus sees several issues which they will face and here he addresses a couple of them:
"Whoever loves father or mother … (or) …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;

Is Jesus saying we should not Love our families?  No – I think he’s just overhearing the excuses being made in the crowd and he’s addressing it. Everybody had their excuses – some had families and jobs and some had to take care of aging parents.  I can just hear it – well – the 10 commandments tell us to honor our father and mother, so I need to stay here and take care of them.  If I don’t I’m breaking God’s law!

Do you see what’s wrong with that argument?  Yes – honor your parents is one of the 10 – BUT – it’s number 5.  What’s number 1?  There is one God and you shall love Him alone.  Is the order really important?  Jesus thinks so – he said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  That’s the GREATEST law – which means everything else takes at best second-place.  Our PRIORITY is to love God.  When we put anyTHING or anyONE in front of him, our priorities are messed up.

If Fr Eugene had used that excuse – “well , I need to stay at home and take care of Mom and the farm”, he wouldn’t be the disciple he is!  He would not be here today!  That’s a scary thought, because it seems to me he is right where God needs him to be.

Then Jesus said something perhaps even more perplexing:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We could read that literally and say that we all have to become Martyrs to please God…. But I don’t think that’s the message for us today.  See – Jesus is still talking to these potential disciples, and trying to convince them to sign on the dotted line – trying to get them off of the fence.  Either you ARE my Disciple or you’re not.. which is it?
Again, using Fr. Eugene as the example, he didn’t give us his life physically – but in every other way, he did – he left his entire life, lifestyle, and livelihood – all his friends and family – everything he was comfortable with – when he left for the seminary to become a Priest.

This is a perfect example for every one of us.  We are ALL called to be disciples – Jesus wants US to sign on the bottom line.  But in order to REALLY be a disciple, we gotta be all in.  Either we ARE His disciple, or we are not..which is it?  We have to surrender everything in our life at the feet of Jesus and allow Him to use us as He sees fit.  Everything?  Yes – Everything.

Jesus, I give you my time, my abilities, my money, my family, my job, my sex life, my property, my relationships… everything…where do I sign? 

That’s our first challenge for today – but there’s a second challenge:  How do we treat the Disciples of Jesus?  Our media and movies like to make Christians look like bumbling, backwoods, stupid folk – or like inflexible, dogmatic, self-righteous, secretly-evil people.  Do we treat Disciples like that?  Do we support them, or call them Jesus Freaks and stay away from them?

I think that’s why Jesus raised the issue today – to encourage US-   Like the woman in the first reading, to seek out the Men and Women of God and take care of them. 

What’s in it for us when we do that:  God WANTS to reward those who take care of his prophets.  Notice –t he Shunemite lady didn’t ask for a baby – but she was blessed.
Jesus says “he who receives a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward”.  What is that reward?  Think about what would happen, for example, if you invited Fr. Eugene over for supper every month or two… what would happen to your home?  First, you might notice anything in your house which you’d be embarrassed to have lying around when Father comes over – and you might just realize you’re embarrassed about it at all – and get rid of it.  Second – the conversation around the dinner table will be different than you normally experience – and your kids will get to see and hear you talking to Father about Church matters, and they’ll realize this is important.  Third – your kids will get to know Father as a person – not just a Man of God – but a Man’s man… his love of sports, his humor,  - and he’ll get to talk to them one on one – which makes THEM feel important… and just maybe light the initial spark to consider a religious life.  (I remember as a kid we’d have priests out to the house all the time – and I wonder if that’s part of why I felt called to ministry)

Perhaps one of the reasons we have less men seeking the priesthood and women seeking to be nuns is because we’ve gotten away from inviting our local Prophet into our home?!   In short – a righteous man’s reward is simply the reward of having a righteous man in your midst!  Our parish is a better place because of his presence… just imagine bringing that home… it can change your life and make your whole family more righteous.  Also, notice what Jesus said – "Whoever receives you receives me” – so when we invite Father over, we are inviting Jesus himself into our home!

Finally – our hospitality is directed to more than just Father.  Every one of sitting here are called to be Disciples – and to reach out to everyone else.  Think about your own actions:  how can I reach out to fellow disciples better?  How can I help our Parish to be more welcoming?  How can I personally be more welcoming? 

We get a lot of visitors here – just like Elisha the prophet – passing through our town.  What is Jesus calling you and me to do to welcome them?

In summary, let me repeat our challenges today:  First – sign on the dotted line – either I’m all in as a disciple, or I’m not really a disciple.  Second – go out of our way to take care of God’s servants.

When we put discipleship ahead of everything else, the rewards will be out of this world.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

2017/06/25 - Modern day Prophets and Disciples


Before Mass:
In order to understand the first reading, let me tell you what happened right before this.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah.  He was constantly warning the country of Judah that they were going to be destroyed because they had turned away from God.  This made Jeremiah very unpopular.  He was constantly mistreated – and right before this reading he had actually been locked up for a day.  He struggled with God – not wanting to say anything to the people because of the treatment he received.  And that’s where this first reading starts.

Also, there is one line in the Gospel I want to focus on:
“do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. “

What’s Jesus talking about?  Who ARE we supposed to be afraid of that can “destroy both soul and body”?  I always read that as talking about the Devil… he can seduce us into giving up our soul.  But – if God can forgive any sin – and He can – then the devil doesn’t really have the power to destroy our soul….  So are we supposed to be afraid of God?
  
Think about it.

HOMILY
Let me ask you – and you can answer quietly to yourself – ARE you a disciple of Jesus?  Are you a prophet? 

We hear about prophets and disciples constantly in scripture – but we might never have realized that WE are called to be prophets and disciples.

Do we even know what a disciple is?  It comes from the same root word as discipline – so a Disciple is someone who takes on the discipline of a master.  For example, if you wanted to become an electrician, you might be an apprentice to one for a few years until you learned the ropes.  So as a disciple of Jesus, we are trying to take on his disciplines… to do what he did, so we can be like Him.  Think about if you wanted to be a disciple of Peyton Manning, you’d eat what he eats, use the same exercise program he uses, wear the same clothes maybe even… a disciple wants to be like their master, so we take on the disciplines of the Master.  Do we want to be like Jesus?
To be a prophet simply means to speak the truth.  Anytime we encounter lies, we are called to be the witness to the truth.  And just like Jeremiah in the first reading, we are not going to be popular if we do that. 

For example, Abby Johnson (see footnote) used to run a large Planned Parenthood office in Texas.  Up to the point that she took the job, she considered herself to be pro-life – but she bought into the rhetoric and propaganda and lies that this was OK – in fact, it was a good service they provided for the “poor women”.  For years, she worked there – becoming fully indoctrinated into their business, she herself often shared that “wisdom” with everyone as she personally helped encourage thousands of young women to have abortions.

But slowly the blinders came off…as she moved up in the organization, she found out that abortion was indeed the way they made money, so she was directed to double her abortion quota.  She tried to brush that off until one day, a visiting Doctor broke protocol and actually used an ultrasound in order to do a “safer abortion”.  Apparently standard procedure is to just stick a tube in blindly and suction away.  Abby was asked to hold the ultrasound while this was done, and for the first time, she got to see that child recoil when the tube got close to her – struggling in fear and pain as –well – it’s too graphic to explain here.  It was at that moment she realized the truth.  The blinders came off, and she immediately quit her well-paid job and became one of the most active Pro-Life advocates in the world.  She explained that Planned Parenthood is very particular about what words are used to describe things.  Like instead of calling it a baby, it is “products of conception”….by hiding it in the dark behind less obvious words, you can pretend it’s not what it is.  Also, instead of  “pro-abortion”, they use the “pro-choice”….trying to redirect it to be a woman’s right issue rather than a right to life issue.  Pro-choice sounds so much nicer –But it’s the same thing – either way – the baby dies…. That truth convicted Abby.

Because she is so outspoken now, she has been constantly under attack.  Her exposing of the truth makes a lot of people angry.
That makes her like Jeremiah the prophet in the first reading… “Denounce, let us denounce him!” 

Same thing goes for the disciples in the Gospel – Jesus is warning them that they will be hated.  Actually, that warning carries forward to you and me.  WE will make enemies if we are disciples.

Does that ring true to you?  When your friend wants to go out and get drunk – if you remind him or her that’s not a good idea… you get harrassed.  If you take their keys away from them, you will likely be called names – and next time they’re going out to party, they’ll leave you behind.  People don’t like when the light is shone on their bad habits.  We prefer to remain in darkness, so we chase away the prophets.
Thing is, we don’t even have to Say anything necessarily to anger people… just our presence… doing the right thing… will shed the light on what they are doing. 
So – why would anybody WANT to be a prophet or disciple?  Doesn’t sound like much fun.  Because God calls us all to be one.  We may think we are already – you know – I live a pretty good life and go to church most of the time – surely I’m a disciple, right?

Not necessarily.  See – These readings make it clear that prophets are persecuted.  If there is nobody upset with me because of how I live our Faith, then maybe I have allowed myself to be blinded to the truth – I’ve put the blinders over my own eyes so that I don’t recognize the propaganda and lies of the enemy.  If we think about it, we’ll all recognize times in our own lives where we should have spoken up, but didn’t. 
See – there is the answer to the question:  who should we be afraid of?  Who is it that can kill both body and soul?  It’s actually ourselves.  Only we can make the decision to NOT shed the light on the lies and deceit of the enemy.  The enemy WANTS to remain in darkness.

God can forgive any sin – and He does – but if we’re not willing to shine the light of Christ into the world and expose the lies, then we have chosen to stay in the darkness.

Be a prophet – speak the truth.  Be a disciple – and shine the light of God into the world.  Be the ultrasound in the hand of God – I mean – just by our presence we can help people realize the pain they are causing to others around them. 

The good news is that as we shed the light on them, we also remind them that they are worth so much to God that he knows the number of hairs on their head.
* footnote:  https://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/store/speaker/abby-johnson

Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017/06/18 - Corpus Christi - Every Word

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

What’s it mean?  Well the obvious answer is “ice cream”… if we don’t have bread AND ice cream, we’re not really living, right? 

Here’s how I would seriously interpret it:  The most important thing we need to live is not bread.  The most important thing we need is every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.  What is this “word of God” that is so important, anyway?  I have a true story to tell to answer that.

Back in 1995, I was working on a retreat team with a bunch of non-Catholic men – all great Christian men whom I am glad to call my brothers.  But – when they heard I was Catholic, one of them decided to set me straight… to save me from the errors of my ways.  And he started my “lesson” with a line from today’s Gospel:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

Was Jesus really meaning for us to eat His flesh? , he asked.  Then he flipped to our first reading and read this line:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”

See right there… it says it is the word of God that we must eat… it’s the Bible.  And when Jesus says we have to eat his flesh, he’s really meaning we have to chew on his word… read the bible and really take it into ourselves.  Then to support his argument, he went just a little further down in John’s Gospel where Jesus said,

"It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. "

See right there?!, he said.  Jesus is saying the flesh isn’t important, so he’s not really saying we should eat his physical flesh, he’s really meaning it’s the Bible that is important!  It’s the scripture he wants us to devour!

Does that make sense to anybody here?  Well, yeah – it’s actually a pretty well-presented argument.  I remember sitting there thinking – that ‘sounds’ logical – but something’s not quite right with it.  It’s this kind of faulty logic that pulls many people out of the church.  So – let’s all understand right now the true understanding…first so we can explain to others, but mainly to keep ourselves from falling for this faulty logic.
Go back to the first reading…
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

What is this “word that comes forth from the mouth of God?”  My friend said the word is the Bible…but Let’s look at the first four verses of John’s Gospel – chapter 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be 4through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race
What was the Word that was with God in the beginning?  Was it a Bible?  Not a chance… the Bible didn’t exist until around the 4th century after Jesus was born.  The Word was with God and the Word WAS God – seems pretty clear this is talking about Jesus.  Jesus IS the Word of God.  God spoke his Word and all creation sprang into being.  It was through His Word – Jesus – that the whole world was created.  He is the source of all life.

Now – if we understand Jesus is the Word – how does that change our interpretation of our quote:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

Suddenly this means we don’t just live by eating just bread, but by eating the living Word – Jesus, who comes from the mouth of God.  That matches up pretty clearly with what Jesus himself said – “unless you eat my flesh, you have no life in you”. 
Also look at it this way:  Man does not live on bread alone… another way to translate that his “Man does not live on JUST BREAD”.  When we come to the altar and receive what looks like a wafer of bread… It is NOT “bread alone”.  It’s not JUST bread – it IS the body of Jesus. 

Jesus really meant we must eat his flesh.  This is NOT symbolic speech.

And the best proof that this is true comes just a few verses later in John chapter 6… most of Jesus’ disciples actually walked away from him because of this teaching.  They said, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”   “this is a hard teaching” – they couldn’t handle it – so they left.  If Jesus HADN’T meant what He said, he could so easily have said – wait, I was just using a metaphor – you know, hyperbole…. It’s just a figure of speech – I really meant you have to study my words.

He didn’t say that. 

Instead he asked the apostles if they wanted to leave too.  Jesus was willing to lose EVERY person following him over this one crucial teaching.  He really DOES want us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  In doing so, we are consuming the very source of life in the universe.  As we consume him, he consumes us from the inside out - changing us into little Christs… You and I are sent out into the world to continue to spread His love.  As a member of His Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth – He sends us out to continue to bring life to the world. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017/05/28 - Feast of Ascension: Marching Orders

Before Mass:
We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension today.  For a lot of people, myself included, it doesn’t feel like a reason to celebrate – I mean – Jesus is leaving us, right?  Sounds more like a reason to grieve rather than to celebrate.  This just seems unimportant.

All three readings today would tell us that this IS important – although I admit it’s not immediately obvious.  Listen for answers to these questions:  Where did Jesus go?  Why did he go there?  And can that possibly have anything to do with us?

Today as we also look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit next week for Pentecost, let’s pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the world, and upon our parish in particular.  If you know this prayer, pray along with me – you may remember this is the prayer John Leonetti prayed before each night of the mission when he was here.
Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.


Homily:
Did the readings clear it up at all what this feast of Ascension is about?  For many, it simply means Jesus was taken up into heaven.   Yeah, it means that, but I don’t think that’s the message we’re supposed to take away today.

There’s another way to look at it – there is a purpose for why Jesus is ascending.  Paul gives us a good clue in the second reading…listen...  He says God seated Jesus at His right hand in heaven – and He put all things under his feet.  These words may not mean much to us, because they are “kingdom” words…and we don’t live in a kingdom. 

The person sitting at the right hand of the King was the Prime Minister… the person who directed the affairs of the kingdom….both internal and external.  In other words, Jesus has ascended or “moved-up” to the highest position in the Kingdom….kinda like a prince or princess ASCENDS to the throne when their parents die:  they take their rightful seat upon the throne.  Because Jesus ascended to his throne of power, He is in charge of EVERYTHING.  That’s great news for us, because we know He is fair and just.  He is in charge of the treasury – from where he dispenses Grace upon Grace.  He is in charge of the Justice system, where He dispenses Mercy.  He is in charge of all military endeavors – you might say, he is commander-in-chief.   Jesus gave the apostles their marching orders in the Gospel – “go out and make disciples of all nations”.  You could say that Jesus is sending out his armies to colonize the whole world… just like kings in Europe sent armies to the new world 5-600 years ago to start colonies…. Jesus wants to bring every land and person into the kingdom of God.

Has the mission been accomplished yet?  While much of the world does know ABOUT Jesus, but too much of the world doesn’t KNOW Jesus.  Even in our own area, probably everybody has heard about Jesus, but few are actual Disciples of Jesus… so the mission has not yet been accomplished.  What’s missing?  Why haven’t the armies of the Kingdom of God been successful?  I propose that it goes back to what Jesus told them in the first reading:
“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, …and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus was sending out the apostles to evangelize the whole world – and those marching orders belong to us as well.  “…YOU will be my witnesses...”  Pope Paul VI said:  “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.”  Lots of big words there so let’s pick it apart just a bit – what does it mean that evangelization is essential to the Church?  Think of a glass of chocolate milk – what are the Essential ingredients of chocolate milk?  Chocolate and Milk.  Can you make chocolate milk without chocolate?  Can you make it without milk?  No!  Both ingredients are essential – required.  So the Pope is saying that if we’re not Evangelizing, we are not being the Church.  The reason the Church EXISTS is to “make disciples of all nations”.  I’ve often speculated that the decline of the Church in recent years is due in large part to the fact that we have taken our focus off of our central mission… we’ve disengaged from the battle … we’ve concentrated on all sorts of other stuff and forgot that the reason we’re here is to introduce the world to Jesus.

At a parish level, we reworked our Mission statement a year ago… it’s probably not perfect, but it SHOULD show how WE as a parish are fulfilling this very mission that Jesus gave to the Church.  Let’s read it together – pick up your bulletins and read with me on the front page. This is the only time I want to see anybody looking at the bulletin during the homily!  

    We, the parish of St. Isidore,
    witness to the world the love of Christ

          we have received in  the Sacraments,
    and we invite others to personally experience

          the Grace of  God through Prayer,
          Acts of Service, and Spiritual Formation.

Does this connect with Jesus’ command?  Yeah!  Jesus said we would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth –and our Mission statement says we will witness to the world the love of Christ… wow… that’s amazingly similar.  We invite others – we show them the love of Christ, we pray, we do acts of service, and we form ourselves spiritually. 

All in all, I think our Mission statement is pretty solid – it is a roadmap for what we are all about – why St. Isidore exists.  If we do anything that does NOT fit into that Mission statement, we are going off course…we are disobeying orders from our commander-in-chief.   We have to continually re-visit our marching orders.

Now – here’s the thing.  It’s all fine and good as a Church and as a Parish to have this mission statement, but what does it mean to you and me?  I mean – is this mission just for Father and the Deacon and our religious ed teachers?  Hopefully we all recognize this mission is for each one of us. 

Pope Paul VI had some strong words to say about this:
“it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it”
In other words – if we really become a Christian and count ourselves among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, there is no way we could NOT tell the world about it.  I guess the reverse would also be true:  if I’m not witnessing to the world about my Faith, maybe I’m not really Christian.??

If you feel compelled to join the battle – to witness to the world about Jesus, and to fulfill our mission to make disciples, there is a boot-camp you can go to which TEACHES how to do that.  If that interests you, contact me and I’ll answer any questions and hook you up.

Also, I feel compelled to kick-start our Evangelization team – it sort-of faded a bit over the summer a couple of years ago – so I’m planning to re-start this September.  Let me know if you’re interested.

When you and I follow the marching orders that Jesus gave us – we WILL change the world… And since Jesus is directing the battle from his throne of power, we can be assured of victory.  Christ is counting on you and me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

2017/05/14 - Revealing the Face of God

**Note: for youtube video go to https://youtu.be/RP_kJzv76Rc

BEFORE MASS:
Three things I want to mention about today’s readings –the first reading from Acts describes the ordination of the first Deacons of the church… listen for that…and what is the purpose of the Deacons?  (I ask that all the time :)

The Gospel hits on two familiar themes which I personally think don’t explain themselves… Jesus say, I am the way, the truth, and the life…. That ‘sounds’ important – like it is a great revelation of some sort – but what does it really mean?  Finally, Jesus says WE will do the works that he did and even GREATER!  Great – what are those works – and how can we mere mortals possibly do something greater than Jesus did!?  Pay attention to the context of the reading…what are the works that Jesus was referring to?

HOMILY:
The world will tell us that there are many paths to God – and none of them is better than any other… as long as we try to live a good life and be a good person, then God, who is good, will welcome us all into heaven.

Sounds good.  Sounds politically correct.  Sound fair even… but just one problem – it’s not the truth.
….Jesus says, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life”. 
He had the nerve to say that nobody comes to the Father except through him.  Is He REALLY saying there is only one WAY to heaven?  In short – yes.  If we never become the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are missing out – not just on heaven – but missing out on joy in THIS life as well.  Jesus is THE Way.  There are no shortcuts… we must all go through the cross.

Jesus also says we will do the works that he did and even greater.  How can that be?  I have a story to help us understand:

A young mother, I’ll call her Susan, moved to town a couple of years ago with her two young boys, because she found a job working for a local utility company.  She thought the job would be the answer to all of her prayers, but soon learned how hard it is to live in a strange place where you don’t have the support of friends and family.  They found a decent house to rent in an older part of town – not great, but not run-down.  It was all she could afford on her salary…but she couldn’t afford any furniture – so she had one matress on the floor of the master bedroom, and the boys shared a mattresss on the floor in their bedroom.  In the living room, they had a card table and four chairs they had picked up at St. Vincent De Paul – plus a small book shelf to hold the books she had brought from her home.  It was sparse, but she did what she could to make a life for the boys there…. That is, until the flu hit one of the kids – so she had to stay home to take care of him- then the other boy caught it – and just as she got them well enough to go back to school, she came down with it.  Her boss called every day asking when she was coming back to work – it had been 2 ½ weeks and she was hoping to be back to work the next Monday.  However, on that Friday, her boss called and explained they couldn’t hold the job any longer – they hired someone that day.  What!?!  She was going crazy – how will we live?

She tried to keep things normal at the house as she searched for another job.  The kids would go to school – and the family would go to Church every Sunday like normal.  A month later – and a couple dozen No’s later, she was going through the stack of overdue bills when she noticed the one from the electric company said the power would be cut 3 days from now if they didn’t receive payment.  Then the landlord called to ask for the rent money, which was now two months behind.  She had a choice – she could either empty her savings account completely and that still wouldn’t cover the bills – or she could move out and use that remaining money for food.

She had nobody to turn to.  Her parents were a 1000 miles away and living in a nursing home, so moving back with them wasn’t an option.  She went for a walk so the boys wouldn’t see her crying… and she ended up at the church, where she walked in and just sat there praying “God, show me the way!  Is this the life you want us to live?”  She heard some voices talking in the cry room – and could see some women in there talking.  She remembered hearing at Mass about some of the Cursillo small groups that met every week, so she assumed that’s why they were there.  She decided to slip out the side door so she wouldn’t bother them- but as she turned to leave, she noticed a lady had sat down next to her.  It startled her, because she never heard anybody else come in… It was obvious Susan had been crying, and the other lady asked what was going on…. That’s all it took for Susan to spill out the entire story to this stranger…  it was the first time since she had moved to town that anybody seemed to care at all!  The lady said she knew the landlord – who was actually somebody from our parish – and she would see about getting her an extension to give her more time to find a job.  They prayed together before hugging and Susan walked back home feeling uplifted, although the problems were still weighing heavy on her. 

The next morning, those four ladies she saw in the cry room showed up at her front door at 8 am with several bags of groceries.  At first, Susan tried to resist – she didn’t like the idea of taking charity – but then the weight of all those problems came back to mind and she let them in.  The ladies were all talking a mile a minute at the same time (I have seven sisters, so I fully understand how that could happen).  The house, which had been filled with despair just an hour ago was filled with joy and uplifting conversation – it was as if somebody had walked into a dark room and opened the shade letting the sunlight in.  They fixed pancakes and bacon for breakfast and kept filling the boys’ plates until they could eat no more.  It was such a joyous visit, something that Susan missed so much – to have friends – even though these ladies were still strangers, she felt attracted to them somehow.  Before leaving, they held hands and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to bless this family and relieve their burdens. 

After they left, she was putting away the rest of the groceries, when she found an envelope sealed in one of the bags.  Inside were receipts – the first one was from the Electric company and said ‘paid in full’… WHAT!!!  She quickly pulled out the next paper – from the water company which said ‘paid in full’…WHAT!!!  The next one actually made her knees weak and she had to sit down…. It was from her landlord.  It was also marked ‘paid in full’ and said he would give her the next month free!  She could hardly catch her breath, she was so excited – She and the boys were jumping and dancing around the kitchen – WHAT A BLESSING!
That Sunday, she looked to the other side of church and saw the lady she talked to that past week.  After Mass, Susan walked up to her with a tear in her eye and gave her a hug and said, “I have a question for you…. Are you Jesus?”.

Jesus promised – “you will do the works I do and even greater”.  What are those works?  Yes, Jesus was going around healing and such – but look at the context of this reading.  He’s saying if you have met ME, you already KNOW God the Father.  THAT is the work of Jesus… He is revealing the face of God to the world.  That may not ‘sound’ like a big deal, but to the Jews, who believed that if they ever looked upon the face of God they would instantly die… they could never be worthy to look at the face of God.  In a way they are correct – for any of us to look at the face of God would be like trying to look directly into the sun after living in a dark cave… it would hurt our eyes so bad, we would go blind.  The Jews saw God as far off and unreachable…They wouldn’t even carve an image or paint a picture representing God – that would be idolatry and was liable to stoning.  For somebody to call themselves God like Jesus did – well - that was too far out to be believed.  So they kept their faces down – never looking up to see God.  But picture Jesus lifting our chins up – raising our eyes to look into His – saying “look at me”…and we resist because it’s painful.  But Until we look there, we won’t see the face of True Love….we won’t see the very face of God  … Jesus makes God approachable – he gives God a face and a name… In short, God was glorifying His name through the works of Jesus’ hands. 

Catch that?  Yes – Jesus was healing and turning water into wine and forgiving people… those are ‘how’ He performed the work He was sent to do – but the overarching WORK He was doing was to Glorify God – to make God accessible – to reveal the very face of God.

These are the works that Jesus promised that WE will do – and even greater works.  Because you and I are part of the Body of Christ – every time we reach out our hand to help someone – it is actually Jesus reaching out using our hands.  The WAY we live should make Jesus present; the TRUTH we share should make Jesus present; and the LIFE we share with others should make Jesus present. 

When people see US – they should see the face of God – so don’t be surprise when they ask, “Are you Jesus?”.