Sunday, May 9, 2010

2010 May 9 - Mother Knows Best

Young kids - Who makes the rules in your life? You know – brush your teeth, get ready for bed, eat your vegetables. Who makes the rules? For most of us, Mom makes the rules. Do we follow Mom’s rules? Most of the time – but why…because we know our Mom loves us – and that she has OUR best interest in mind. Mother knows best.

Growing up, when it was time for supper, my main concern was – what’s for dessert. I don’t know what difference it would make – I was a dessert-a-holic, so I would always have room for dessert. There was one rule about dessert normally – you only get one helping. One piece of cake, one piece of pie, maybe two cookies – but there was a limit set. Who set the limit? You guessed it – Mom. Mother knows best.

There was one exception to the dessert rule though – we would make a six-quart or eight-quart freezer of ice cream – and the rule was – eat it all if we can. For some reason, DAD made the rules when it came to eating homemade ice cream, so the standard procedure was to finish it off. We’d have contests to see who could eat the most. That habit has stuck with me all of my life. I remember the first time I went to a friend’s house to make some, he dished me out a small bowl of ice cream started putting the rest away in the freezer! Until that moment, it never OCCURRED to me that it wasn’t Everyone’s standard rule to eat until you go into a sugar coma.

That got me thinking – why WAS it OK for us to eat a bunch of homemade ice cream, but only one helping of any other dessert? Besides the fact that Dad made that rule, I figured out there was a decent reason. Our recipe growing up was pretty much milk, egg, and sugar…and of course, vanilla – LOTS of vanilla. We didn’t use cream, so it wasn’t all that fattening. So, Mom must have decided it wasn’t necessary to try to enforce the single-helping rule.

However, as I grew up, somewhere along the line I discovered that if you put cream in the ice cream, it tastes good – REALLY good. The problem is –I still have that habit of eating four or five bowls. Maybe I should re-consider… maybe I should take another look at MOM’S rule about single helpings and see if it might make me healthier and happier in the long-run. Mother knows best.

Apply that to your own life. What laws did Mom make that really made a lot of sense?

For some reason, when we reach our teenager years, we tend to start rebelling against the decisions that Mom made. We seem to think that her decision that we should be home at 11 pm is just a willy-nilly random decision. In fact, - Mom KNOWS how teenagers work – and if she didn’t set a limit, we would stay out all night with our friends. That might sound like fun, but Mom knows we need sleep so we can do our school work, our job, or even just to stay healthy and not become crabby. Mom’s rules are there for our own good. When Mom tells us to brush our teeth, she’s trying to build a habit in us so that we’ll do it all our lives and hopefully avoid having to get dentures as we get older. When Mom tells us to help with the dishes, it’s so that we develop a sense of responsibility and cleanliness that will keep us healthy – and more socially acceptable. You know – who wants to marry somebody who doesn’t help with the dishes? Mother knows best.

You’re probably wondering by now what any of this has to do with today’s readings…: In the first reading, there’s a dispute over circumcision. Now – for those who don’t know what circumcision is, let me just say it has to do with cutting off a flap of skin from a man’s private parts. Normally, we all get it done as infants, so the pain and danger to us is minimized. Anyway – the Apostles and early Christians had a debate about whether Circumcision should be required to join the Catholic Church. This was a BIG deal – it had the potential of splitting apart the church when it was only a few years old. The reason it was such an issue is that it was part of God’s law…He had TOLD the Israelites that all males shall be circumcised. It became one of the founding principles of their Faith that separated them from the people around them. They still considered this to be an irreversible law of God even after Jesus came. As you can imagine, however, if you were a Gentile and considering becoming Christian – and one of the requirements of being a Christian was that you had to allow somebody to take a knife to your private parts, you might be a bit reluctant to want to join the Church.

So, the leaders of the Church had to decide – is this important or not? They decided it was NOT a showstopper. What’s important is belief in Jesus. We didn’t need to follow all of those old prescriptive laws that the Pharisees prided themselves with following.

Most of us today are still circumcised though…is it because it’s the law of God? No – it’s because it’s a matter of hygiene – that flap of skin tends to hold dirt and germs, so getting rid of it is considered to be healthier for everyone. We do it because it’s the smart thing to do – not because it’s the law.

For example, let’s say you’re driving out to the lake and you’re coming to the top of a tall hill and there’s a tractor chugging along …so you slow down…but you’re getting impatient because he’s moving so slow. Would you pass him? No way – you can’t see if anybody is coming over the hill, so you do the smart thing and stay behind him until you get over the top of the hill. Now - God never told us not to pass somebody on a hill, did he? It’s not like one of the 10 commandments – but we all KNOW it’s the smart thing to do. Same with circumcision – it’s not required to be a Christian – but it’s the smart thing to do.

Here’s a question for you …Who gave the leaders of the Church authority to decide what was required to be a Christian? Jesus did – several times in the Gospels he gave them His authority – AND He sent the Holy Spirit to “guide them to all truth”. Our Mother, The Church, continues to guide all of us. Mother knows best.

But – like teenagers – we sometimes want to rebel against the rules that our Mother Church has given us. Fasting is a perfect example. It used to be a RULE of the church, so every Catholic followed the practice of fasting on Fridays religiously. At Vatican II, they changed the RULE – because they recognized that we were fasting for the wrong reason. Fasting is supposed to help us to pray better – to offer up some self-denial as a prayer – to practice self-discipline of our bodies so that we can carry that discipline into our spiritual actions as well. Instead, we were just eating Fish on Friday – but never giving thought to why. So – just like the first reading – the leaders changed the rule. The new rule is that everyone is supposed to perform SOME act of fasting or self-discipline of Fridays. We get to choose – but we should be doing SOMETHING to make The point is – just like circumcision – it has nothing to do with earning our salvation, but it is still a solid, healthy spiritual habit.

Let me take that one step further – the Church’s teaching on sex outside of marriage. I think every one of us can logically see how our society would be better off if we all followed that rule… Because so many ignore the rule, families are broken up, lives are ruined, kids grow up without both parent. Our Mother Church gives us the rule because it’s the right thing to do. Same thing goes for all other rules we want to rebel against: reconciliation, abortion, contraception, and tithing….I mean, who gives 10% to God like we’re supposed to?

What’s the challenge for the week? To seek the Peace that Jesus promised in the Gospel today – but remember he said ‘not as the world gives do I give it to you’. The world would tell us that we would have the most happiness and peace if we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. But Jesus knows that we’ll actually be happier, healthier and more peaceful if we follow the rules that he gave us. Like passing on a hill – there are two ways to look at it. We could get upset because we don’t want anybody telling us when and where we can pass. Or – we can thank God we live in a society where, for the most part, people follow the rules… so we can safely drive over a hill and trust that there won’t be somebody else coming at us on the other side. Only God and Mom know what will hit us if we don’t follow the rules. Mother knows best.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Homily April 25, 2010 - My Sheep Hear My Voice

“My Sheep know my voice – I know them, and they follow me.”

Before we can really understand this phrase, we gotta answer one very important question…who are the sheep in this passage? We just heard it in the psalm, ‘We are His people, the sheep of His flock’. Hopefully, it’s you and me. Hopefully, every one of us can say that WE recognize the voice of Jesus and we follow him.

But is it true? Do we recognize Jesus’ voice?

Most of us are sitting here thinking – well – I dunno – he doesn’t talk to me really, so how would I recognize his voice? Isn’t that what we’re all thinking?

Tom is a taxi driver in Phoenix. About a year ago, he got called to pick up a lady and he got tied up in traffic and got there about 30 minutes late. She was ticked off…and she let him know it. She was rude and tried to make him feel bad. Now – most taxi drivers would simply say a few choice words right back and never give it another thought. However, for the next 6 months, this lady called for a cab the same time every Tuesday afternoon – and EVERY time, Tom got the call. He was always professional, trying to make pleasant conversation – but the lady just kept up her sour attitude. Tom got to wondering if the reason for her mood might not be HIM at all – but maybe it has something to do with the fact that he was dropping her off at the Kidney Treatment Center, so the next time, he asked her – and she reluctantly shared some details that she was on dialysis and was hoping for a kidney transplant – but all of her family members had already died. So Tom said – what’s it take to donate a kidney…could I give you mine? Yeah, right…she thought… She thought it was a sick joke, but then realized he was serious. I mean – even though the odds of him being a match are astronomical, just the fact that he would seriously CONSIDER it touched her heart. Her attitude toward him started to warm as she realized she had been unjustly rude to this man. Tom went in the next day and got tested and to everyone’s surprise, he was a perfect match. They said he couldn’t have been a closer match if they had been brother and sister. So – the surgery got scheduled – and the TV news picked up the story and it broadcast around the country just a few months ago. Tom said he didn’t really see himself as anything special. God just me it was the right thing to do, so I did it. He didn’t expect anything in return…which made the next thing even more of a surprise. Tom had a daughter living in Kentucky whom he hadn’t seen in 30 years. She had run away from home, and they lost track of each other. But she saw Tom on the news and called him up immediately. Wow – what a blessing from God! Not only that, but his cab company has agreed to pay him during his recuperation – and the employees took up a collection so he can fly to see his daughter in KY. Though he had asked for nothing in return, This man got his family back ….and all he had to do was listen to God’s voice and follow him.

Do you and I recognize God’s voice in our own lives? He IS speaking, you know…we just have to tune our ears to hear it.

For example, as I was writing this homily, I said – “I need a good real-life story about listening to God to include in my homily”. That very evening, my prayer was answered: I heard the story of Tom the taxi driver on my drive home. If you ask, me, THAT is an answer to a prayer. But God wasn’t done yet…The next morning, a co-worker stepped into my office and started telling me all the awesome things that God is doing in His life! I wish I could share the details, but basically, he and his wife were having some rough times, but they both made a retreat recently and have both decided to start listening to God and following His way. He said his marriage has turned around – they feel like they’re teen-agers dating again! Wow – who wouldn’t want that kind of Love in their marriage? And all he had to do was listen to God and follow.

Now…I know what you’re thinking… Mike – maybe Tom hears God and maybe this other guy hears God…but I don’t hear God talking to me. Are you sure about that? Are we remembering to listen? To Ask God to speak? Remember the journals – our little notebooks - for us to collect our One Thing? You all know the question – say it with me: “God, show me one way in this Mass I can be a better person this week. “ How many of us actually ASK that question when we come into church? I admit I even forget quite often, so I’m preaching to myself…but Somehow, we have to TRAIN ourselves to seek the voice of God.

Have you seen one commercial on TV where the guy walks into the kitchen with a winter coat on and sets a can of green beans on the counter next to his wife and says, I got the beans you wanted! She just turns around and gives him ‘the look’…you know, the look….I can’t do it as good as she did – but she says one word, CORN. The guy stands there for a second then starts to put his coat back on because he KNOWS he’s headed back to the store, and he says, Corn…..I gotta start making a list.

Guys – can you relate? I know I do. There’s something about the way men and women communicate that is a constant struggle for many of us. This is a generalization, but it seems like Men tend to cut to the chase – just give me the facts…but for women, it’s all about the details. You ask a woman how her day was, and you may as well sit down, because you’re going to hear about every person she saw, what they talked about, what they ate while they were talking…. But you ask a Man how his day was, he’ll say: “Fine”. Or – if he’s REALLY feeling talkative and TRYING to SHARE his feelings, he’ll say, “I had a good day…got a lot accomplished…gee, I feel hungry!” Seriously, why don’t we remember what our wives tell us? I think it’s “selective hearing”. We hear everything she’s telling us, it’s all going in this ear - but our “man’s” mind automatically tries to glean out the important stuff. In that process of gleaning, some important details get lost….like: I remember I’m supposed to go to the store, but I have no idea why I’m there: Corn.

I think we do the same thing with God. He is constantly speaking to us, but we have “selective hearing”. He’s telling us to …well, I don’t really have to tell you what he’s telling us…you already know. Our conscience is our guide. We know we shouldn’t be doing this or that. We know we SHOULD be doing this other thing….but. There’s that word – BUT. IF We KNOW we should be doing something,…THAT is God telling us to do it….but we want to stick that word ‘but’ after everything God tells us to do. I know I do it… I know I shouldn’t cut grass on Sunday, but…. I know I should spend more time with my wife, but…. I know I should really sing along in church, but…. I know I should be doing my homework, but… our ‘buts’ get in the way!

We have an amazing capacity to deceive ourselves. When God tells us something, we make excuses and choose to ignore it, because we know better than God!

Oh – and after we throw buts around, Then we say – God isn’t speaking to ME. Well – maybe the reason he’s not speaking to me is because I’ve refused to listen to what he told me. He’s speaking, I just ain’t listening!

Our challenge for the week - should be obvious by now: Try – really try – to hear the voice of God in our lives. Pray that prayer today and every day – God show me one way in this Mass I can be a better person this week. This journal is just supposed to be our training wheels…because for some reason, it’s easier to hear God speaking in Church…here in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. But he’s speaking to us ALL the time. We gotta train ourselves to ask him the questions: God – I’m having trouble with this problem: what do you think I should do? God – this person is really hurting me - how do you think I should handle it? Then – when God answers – and you know He will – recognize who it is. Then – like Tom the taxi driver, we’ll be able to say, “God told me it was the right thing to do…so I did it”.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Homily May 2, 2010 "Are we There Yet" or "You must be as tall as I AM..."

Are we there yet?

You may remember that I come from a family of 10 kids. There are many great memories that come from being in a large family, but one of them that sticks out is the family station wagon. Now…for those of you who don’t know what a station wagon is – before there were mini-vans, if you had a big family, you had a car with a long back-end. Just imagine 12 people packed into a station wagon…no air conditioning…no seat belts…no vcr. Of course, you know what that means….we fought a lot. Mom did everything she could to keep the peace, but she constantly had to intervene to stop world war III because ‘Mom, she’s touching me’! Of course, I never did that…but I saw the others do it. No trip would be complete without Mom pulling out the Ultimate Threat – “you want Daddy to stop this car and come back there?” I don’t know how my parents stayed sane. Trips seemed to take forEVER – and within 30 minutes, Dad would have to start dealing with us kids constantly asking, ‘are we there yet’?

That’s what the second reading reminded me of. God told us he will make all things new…He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. Sounds Great! So - Are we there yet?

Obviously not… we’re still crying…some of us here today have cried in the last 24 hours. The pain is fresh. We’re dealing with the failing health of parents, the rebellion of our teens whom we love, the stab in the back from somebody we thought was our friend, the alcoholic parent, …the death of a child. No…we’re not there yet…the pain is all too real.

The first reading reminds us that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. The pain we endure now is somehow necessary, somehow it’s leading us to a better place – to the new Jerusalem…heaven…but do we believe it? Do we really believe heaven will be better?

I think the first major trip our family took, I was probably 7 years old. We went all the way to Opryland. I didn’t have a clue what to expect – I just knew it was supposed to be awesome. Without an idea of what it would be like, it was easy to forget that it was worth going there. So, when Mom woke us up at 3 in the morning to start the drive to Nashville, I would just-as-soon have gone back to bed. Opryland surely can’t be as good as my bed right now. On the drive down, dealing with us kids fighting and noise, Mom probably wondered herself whether Opryland could POSSIBLY be worth all this hassle: The constant requests for ‘I gotta go to the bathroom’ or ‘can we stop for ice cream?’…and then there was the smell! 12 people in an un-a/c car…need I say more?….

But then we got there…naturally, we were one of the first cars in the parking lot because, well, when you’ve got 10 kids, you want to squeeze every minute out of any money you pay…so we had to be first in line! Standing there on the outside, waiting for the gates to open, we could watch the rides come to life as they ran through their safety checks – for the first time, I could SEE what it might be like – and we all got very excited! We could see the log ride coming down and splashing – the ferris wheel, roller coaster, and hear the music. The anticipation was almost unbearable for a young kid like me.
That’s what it’s like for us here today. We have a vague idea of what Heaven will be like, but it’s too hazy and undefined…we don’t REALLY know what to expect. It’s easy to question whether Heaven could possibly be worth the kind of pain and suffering we’re put through down here on earth. We have to keep reminding ourselves that God promised to make all things new – and as we stand on the outside looking toward heaven, we can almost see the log rides and the roller coasters. We have to keep reminding ourselves of how great it will be, so THAT belief will carry us through the trials and build our anticipation. No – we’re NOT there yet.
Ahhh…but one of the prophecies in that second reading HAS been fulfilled, and this should speak directly to our young ones who have just made or are about to make their 1st Communion. “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race…God himself will always be with the human race.” This prophecy is already happening in a couple of ways. First, God came to us in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and has remained with us….remember where Jesus saide, “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am!!” God also remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament – the Eucharist – Holy Communion….AND In each one of us .

There was something cool I just noticed last week. Been to Mass thousands of times and this is the first time it really hit me. You know how Fr. Ron holds his hands over the bread and wine and asks the Holy Spirit to change them into the B&B of Jesus – well, in the third Euch Prayer, there’s a line where he calls down the spirit to change US into the B&B. . That reminds me of the explanation Fr. Tom used to give sometimes: we ask God to change this normal bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, so that when WE come forward and receive, we BECOME the Body and Blood of Christ. If you have your journals with you, that would be a good one to write down and think about.

You boys and girls making your first communion – for all these years, you’ve been coming up in the communion line and receiving a blessing – and you keep wondering – am I there yet? Can I receive Jesus today instead of a blessing? Last week, you got your last blessing...Today, for the first time, you’re there. Why couldn’t you receive communion before today? You had to grow to be a disciple of Jesus. Your younger brothers and sisters aren’t old enough to UNDERSTAND that this bread really is Jesus…but YOU’ve grown up now. Have you ever been to Opryland or Kings Island or maybe Disney? Did you ever notice -
… right outside of every ride, they have some cartoon character with a sign that says – you must be at least as tall as I am to ride this ride. I remember the first one of these signs I saw. I thought – no way- you’ve GOT to be kidding! We came all this way and suffered all these trials only to be rejected at the door!? I’m thinking that’s kind of like Purgatory. We’re not rejected from the ride forever, just until we’ve grown a bit. I had to grow a few inches to ride the roller coaster. All of us have to grow into being disciples of Christ. How will we know when we’ve grown enough? At Opryland, we just had to stand next to the little cartoon character to measure-up. I remember standing there stretching my neck to try to make myself taller than the character. As Christians, Jesus told us that They’ll know we are Christians by our Love…THAT’s how we’re measured. Through all of our hardships, we grow in Love. THAT is how we enter the kingdom of God. When we get to the pearly gates, instead of a cartoon character standing there for us to measure ourselves, there’s a cross standing there. We have to measure ourselves against THE CROSS!! We must be as tall as I AM to enter! Our love is measured against Jesus himself! It’s just not possible for us to love THAT much… so we start to get worried – like we’ve come all this way only to be turned away at the door. Then Jesus steps up and picks us up and raises our heads above the cross so that we’re tall enough to go in. Then, we'll never have to ask that question again: “are we there yet?”