Friday, December 9, 2011

2011/12/11 Gaudete / Rejoice! (3rd Sunday Advent B)

  If you ever ask me how I’m doing, you’ll most likely get my standard response – AWESOME!  It’s funny, but many people are surprised by that answer….as if… they don’t really expect to hear anyone admit that they’re actually…happy!

I remember when I started saying 'Awesome'.  Back in High School I worked at a bank, so I saw lots and lots of people every day – and especially on Friday evenings – cars would be lined up constantly all evening.  Now – when you work in a service industry like a bank – you have to be ready to make pleasant conversation with people.  Good afternoon and Thank You were the standard things to say – but inevitably, someone would say ‘How you doing?’.  At that point, my standard response was “not TOO bad”.  As if – I’m really doing bad – barely hanging in there… but not bad enough that I’m ready to die or anything.  As if – I wanted to be slightly positive, but not too positive.  I hadn’t even noticed it until one of the young ladies I worked with asked me why I answer that way… and pointed out that it actually sounded very negative.  I was glad she brought it up!  I didn’t want to be a negative person, so I changed my standard answer to ‘awesome’.

Maybe some of you are like me.  Some of us get the wrong message from the world….that the key to happiness is to be busy – really busy – and to make sure everybody KNOWS how busy we are…and how that’s keeping us from getting enough sleep… and how life sure is tough for us… surely nobody could be as busy and worn-out as I am!  We wear our busyness like a badge – thinking it wins us honor and esteem in the eyes of the world.  In the end, it merely chases them away.

Or maybe it’s not so much being ‘busy’… sometimes it just seems like it’s our JOB as a member of society to point out everything that’s WRONG!  We spend so much time concentrating on what’s not right, that we don’t even notice the GOOD stuff when it happens.

The problem with that is – it’s not the Christian way.  Christians are called to Rejoice – not grumble.  Today’s readings say it at least three times:  “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior”.  “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul”.   And Paul had the strongest  statement in the 2nd reading:  “Rejoice always”.  In other words, no matter what’s going on –rejoice and be thankful.

Shoot – today is called Gaudete Sunday – which means REJOICE!  Here in the midst of our Advent, when the sunlight is fading, the temperatures are dropping, the clouds seems to hang around more often, and the nights last longer – the Church dares to tell us to Rejoice.  Get real, Church!  What’s there to rejoice about?

I mean, Have you watched the new lately!?  DEPRESSING!  : the economy, gas prices, political instability, debt crisis in Europe, unemployment.  On top of that, we all have family issues, marital problems, addictions, and health issues.  Even the Church might give us reasons to be grouchy:  changes in the Mass translation, changes in the music, changes in the mass schedule … we don’t have to look far at all to find SOMETHING to Gripe about.  But if we’re always concentrating on the negative, we fall into a rut of despair and negativity which will not only make us a sour Scrooge – but we end up chasing other people away.  But the Church gives us this day of Gaudete to REMIND us… WE HAVE CAUSE FOR REJOICING!  All is not gloom and doom.  Let me give you a perfect example:

Our parishes have had plenty of reason to NOT rejoice for the past 9 years… but things have changed!  We have a MAJOR blessing in Fr. Eugene… I honestly don’t think there is another priest in our diocese who could be a better match for our parishes – HONESTLY!  Have you RECOGNIZED that?  Pay attention to how he spends his time outside of Mass.  His ministry is his life.  He is a light that has risen in our darkness.  In addition to that - Both of our parish councils have started Welcoming Ministries – where some of our members go out to meet new people in our parish, to make them feel welcome in our community.  Our youth ministry at St. Raphael has some new leaders who have lit a new fire in that group.  Our Adult formation team is about to start some new small group sessions and Bible study.  I could go on and on… Great things ARE happening here… but I’m afraid many people might be like I was at the bank – so accustomed to the negativity – thinking things are all doom and gloom, that we don’t raise our heads to realize just how good we’ve got it.  Like John the Baptist, we should be ‘testifying to the Light’. 

Let me give you an Analogy:  When you’re out in the woods deer hunting…. You walk into the woods in total darkness and sit down to wait for the sunrise.  Your eyes get adjusted to the darkness as you scan around and listen for any movement in the leaves.  The sky starts to brighten very slowly then suddenly  you look around and realize that you CAN see… the colors start to show up… the woods come alive as the birds start to sing.  My point is that until we REALIZE that it is light, in our mind we’re still thinking it is dark.  Same goes for our parish.  Things have been in turmoil for so long, it would be easy to STAY in that frame of mind.  But - It’s time to wake up, open our eyes, and realize that THERE IS CAUSE FOR REJOICING!  The dawn from on high has shown on a people in darkness.

This is important.  For one thing, happy people are healthier people.  Somehow our attitude can impact our physical well-being.  But it also effects the health of our church.  You and I are like billboards – we are advertising Christianity to the rest of the world.  What message are you displaying on your billboard?  Catholic and Bored?  Catholic and Ticked?  Or Catholic and Loving Life?

Things are good and getting better here.  It’s time to invite back to the table of the Lord all of our neighbors and co-workers and family members who have stopped coming.  There’s even an article in this week’s Message about a national campaign inviting fallen away Catholics to come back home.  That’s our job.  We were sent to spread the GOOD news.

Before you go out inviting people though, Imagine how that conversation might go: – say your buddy at work  left the Church and you want to invite him back - so you suggest - Why don’t you come to church with me this Christmas?  What’s his response going to be?  “Wait a second – all I ever hear from you about your church is complaints about how the mass changed and the mass schedule changed and we keep changing Priests, and you don’t like the music….doesn’t sound very appealing to me!  Besides, if going to your church is going to make ME be more like YOU, count me OUT!  I’ve got enough misery in my life without adding more things to complain about.

Each of us – myself included – need to check the message on our billboard.  Hopefully the message we share is the GOOD news… the Gospel. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011 November 27 - Clean your House! (1st Sunday of Advent Cycle B)

Some of you, I’m sure, are perfectionists.  You keep your house spotless all the time –so if I was to stop by unannounced, you wouldn’t worry about it a bit.  Now, if you’re like that – you may not understand my homily today… so let me explain to you how the REST of us live. 
See – this week being Thanksgiving, some of us had company coming… so we spent last weekend and Wednesday evening, and probably Thursday morning cleaning – dusting – washing windows – moving furniture and cleaning up dust bunnies so big it’s a wonder the family pets didn’t get lost in them!
It’s not that we’re slobs,… well, most of us aren’t… but well – the clutter just sort-of gathers…it becomes part of the furniture… we don’t even notice it anymore.  That is… until we have company coming.  Then suddenly our eyes are opened to what a royal mess our house is, and we finally get serious about cleaning it. 
I often joke that we need to invite somebody to the house at least once a month just to force us to clean up the clutter!  We like it when the house is clean!  We feel better about ourselves and we’re not embarrassed to invite other people to come on in.
Isn’t it the same with our spiritual life? 
We sometimes go for months – even years – without cleaning up our act.  Bad habits and sins gather in our character and just become part of who we are – we don’t even notice it any more… just like the clutter in our houses.
If company is what forces us to clean house… what is it that finally forces us to clean our souls? 
That’s one of the Genius’ of Catholicism.  Somehow the Church knows that you and I usually need to FORCE ourselves to stop, take a look at ourselves, and clean up our act.  THAT is what Advent is all about.  Advent means “God Coming”…. You and I have company coming in four weeks… and he wants to come live with you…. So we need to clean house.  Is THAT our excuse to clean our spiritual houses?
You may have noticed that during Advent, there are always Reconciliation services to attend…why do you think that is?  Because we usually need help moving the furniture and recognizing the clutter that we’ve grown so accustomed to… all those sins that have been accumulating since our last confession. 
Advent is a time for us to Wake Up!  Jesus said today – Watch Out!  Stay Awake!  We have to constantly be on guard against letting bad habits and sinful behavior become a normal part of our lives.  We cannot become complacent.
Last Monday, I was headed to work in Newburgh – a drive I’ve made hundreds – maybe even thousands of times…. 15 minutes into my drive, I had just turned onto the highway in St. Anthony – As you come out of town going toward Bretzville – just after you pass the gas station, there’s a road that comes out on the right side of the road.  Just as I got about 20 feet from that intersection, a car races up to the stop sign – slows down- and pulls out right in front of me.  Fortunately, my reflexes are in-tact – and fortunately there was nobody coming in the other lane.  I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop – veering slightly to the left.  I probably missed him by only a couple of feet.
Now – if you’re like me – when you’re driving like that for a long period of time, it’s easy to kind-of get into the ‘zone’ – where you’re not really thinking much about driving.  I often drive on auto-pilot, listening to a book or a Catholic CD or something like that.  Fortunately, I’ve developed some GOOD habits of keeping my eyes on the road and watching out for traffic.  Had I been distracted for that one second, I would likely not be standing here today.  It highlighted for me the extreme importance of Jesus’ message today….Watch Out!  Stay Awake!  Another word for that is Vigilance. 
I want to talk just a minute about this little candle.  Know what it’s called?  It’s a vigil light.  Know what ‘vigil’ means? 
Saturday night is even referred to as a vigil Mass, because it is celebrating the Sunday Mass the night before so it would be easy to think that vigil is defined as the night before or opportunity to get Mass out of the way so I can sleep in the next morning!!!.
Actually, vigil means a watch kept during normal sleeping hours’…or in a religious sense, its a service held overnight.  Weve lost some of that meaning of the word, because, for example, the Easter Vigil used to start at sundown and end at sunrise!!!  Can you imagine?  Could any of us stay awake that long? 
While Jesus isnt really telling us to stay awake all night… he knows we need sleep to stay healthy.  He is meaning we should keep constant vigil to not let ourselves be captive to sin.  If a temptation pulls out in front of us, will we be able to react and slam on the brakes?
People light these little vigil candles for a reason….and you know, growing up Catholic, I don’t think anybody ever explain why they light them.  You and I cannot stay here in church 24-hours-a-day… but these little candles do.  So, when we have a prayer that we want to place before God, we light this little vigil light which keeps vigil for us… it stays awake, here in church, even when we cannot.  It’s one small way that we can remain vigilant.
So… Use this Advent season to clean your house… to look at your own habits– to clean out the old clutter that has gathered, and to develop new ones.  In short, Advent is when we prepare a manger in our soul for our company who arrives on Dec 25th.  We each need to Clean our spiritual house, so we won’t be embarrassed to invite HIM in.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 October 23 - Tomatoes (30th Sunday Ordinary Time A)

I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking – I wonder why Deacon Mike is carrying a hoe in church?

Well I’ll tell you why – because Fr. Eugene wouldn’t let me bring in the wheelbarrow full of manure that I wanted to use as a prop!
I’ve got this hoe because today – I want to talk about tomatoes – but not just ANY tomatoes – HOMEGROWN tomatoes.  I love them!  Some of my favorite foods are made from tomatoes:  salsa, lasagna, BLT sandwich – although I’ve still not thought of a way to make tomato and ice cream go together…
Have you heard the old song, “there’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s ‘true love’ and ‘homegrown tomatoes’.  It’s true – you can’t buy a true friend any more than you can buy a homegrown tomato.  Why is that?  Because you gotta work for it.  Anybody in a real, loving marriage will tell you it takes work.  You can’t just coast along or the relationship will fade.  Same goes for tomatoes.  I can’t just sit on my porch and comment about how nice the garden looks.  If I never got off the porch, the garden would never get planted…. Never get weeded… even the fruit would never get picked.  No – if I want homegrown tomatoes, I gotta get my hands dirty, invest my time and sweat, fertilize them and keep the weeds down with this hoe.
But in the end – that’s part of what make me love my homegrown tomatoes:  I get to see and even EAT the fruits of my own labor.  If I didn’t have to work for them, they wouldn’t have much value to me. 
By working my garden,  I’m participating with God to create something – I supply the sweat – he supplies the sun, rain, dirt, photosynthesis, pollination.  By co-operating with God’s plan for the garden, I not only help the garden, but I help myself….and all the people I get to give-away veggies to.
This is where my garden applies to today’s Gospel – Jesus told us “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength… “
What’s that look like?  Is it kneeling in prayer 24-hours-a-day?  Raising our hands and voices to sing praises to God?  We can only understand how to love God through our human understanding of love.  For example, I love my wife and family:  What’s that look like?  I spend time with them whenever I can – I make them a priority in my life – I do things for them – I speak nicely to them and about them – I share in their sorrows and their joys. 
Is that what love of God would look like?  Sort-of… I think that’s why Jesus added the second part – ‘and Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 
Did you ever hear of Dorothy Day? is one of those modern-day saints.  Most famous for the Catholic Worker movement, she spent much of her life caring for the poor – starting during the Depression in the 30’s.  One day was going particularly badly – trying to keep her ‘guests’ from fighting, trying to keep enough food on the table, then one of her guests came in drunk and threw-up on her.  Exasperated and tired at the end of the day, she went to the chapel and looked up at the crucifix and said – ‘Jesus- you really make it hard to love you sometimes’. 
Dorothy understood very well what Jesus said today – Loving God is the most important thing there is…. But loving your neighbor is just as important.  The reason both statements can be true is that we Love God BY loving our neighbor.  Reaching out to the poor, to friends in need, and to enemies in need… that is how we Love God…and that is how we experience the joy of heaven right here – right now.  For Dorothy, the poor were ambassadors of God.  They were sent so that she could experience the Love of God by loving them.
Sometimes it seems overwhelming – like we have one tragedy after another hitting our community.  We just start to recover from one blow and we get hit from the other side.  It would be easy to get discouraged and to give up on God’s faithfulness.  It seems like he’s forgotten us sometimes.
But if we look at it from the perspective of Dorothy Day – every tragedy – every bad medical report, every struggling alcoholic, every family trying to pay their bills, every parent praying in the waiting room at the hospital… every one of those is God reaching out to you and me – to tug on our heartstrings to remind us to LOVE HIM.  We love Him by loving Them.
Most of us have a natural instinct to help others – it’s in our blood – it’s how we were raised.  We don’t like feeling helpless.  We see someone hurting, and we wish there was something we could do.
The Grace Co-Op was setup just for that reason.  The Co-op works like this:  when YOU know of somebody who needs help, you can give to the Co-Op, and we can make the donation to them anonymously.  In addition, you are giving other people the chance to help that person as well.  Let me give you an example:
Paul and Sue both had low-paying jobs, but there were making it fine – until a couple years ago when suddenly a medical issue forced him out of work.  He spent lots of money trying to get it fixed – but it actually got worse instead of better.  He’s been out of work for a couple years now.  She still has her low-paying job, but no benefits.  Financially, they are in trouble.  To make matters worse, the doctors told them he needed another treatment or else things would get even worse.  Their family really wanted to help them out, but were afraid their pride would get in the way.  They were able to put the word out via email to family and friends that if they wanted to help, they could give to the Grace Co-op – and a donation would be sent to them anonymously.  Unbelievably, over $4000 was collected – and they didn’t hesitate to accept the check that was sent to them.  Paul and Sue experienced the Grace of God by receiving His blessings through the Co-Op.  However, the family and friends ALSO experienced the Grace of God by sharing the gifts they had been given – and therefore feeling useful.  Half  the problem with helping others is know WHAT TO DO.
In your pews, you’ll find some brochures for the Grace Co-op.  We are NOT collecting money!!!  What we ARE collecting are names of people who would like to be on our resource list.  We want to have a list of people whom we can call whenever a need is brought to our attention.  However – we know that not everybody is made of money – so we want to provide some other ways for people to help:  driving someone to a doctor’s appointment, helping the elderly with yard work, delivering a meal to someone… there’s a whole list of ideas.  Please take a moment to consider how you might like to help and fill out the sheet in the brochure – then you can drop it in the collection – or contact me anytime to get in on the action.
A farmer grew award-winning tomatoes. Each year he entered his tomatoes in the state fair where they won a blue ribbon. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his tomato seeds with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seeds with your neighbors when they are competing against you each year?” the reporter asked. “Why sir,” said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening tomatoes and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior tomatoes, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my crop.
If I am to grow good tomatoes, I must help my neighbors grow good tomatoes.”.

Friday, August 26, 2011

August 28, 2011: If I had my way.... (28th Sunday Ordinary Time)

If I had my way, … things would be different.

For one thing, I’d arrange it so it would rain 1” once a week – maybe on a Monday night… get it out of the way…the roads would be dry by the time we drive to work in the morning - and then the rest of the time it would be sunny and 77 degrees.

If I was in charge… school wouldn’t go on for so long… and Saturdays would be extended to three days per week.

On a more serious note… If I had my way, parents, brothers, and sisters and friends wouldn’t die… they wouldn’t even get sick!

But… I’m not in charge.  God is the one who set this world spinning on its axis a long-long time ago.  He setup the laws of nature, the tides and seasons –Everything has its purpose – but we might not see it…yes, even the hurricanes. 

I saw a clip of a program on TV last week where they were experimenting with dropping some sort of chemical into hurricane clouds in an attempt to make them basically collapse – so they couldn’t get so strong.  On one hand, based on what’s going on in the East right now… I can see why they’d want to do that – a lot of people are really inconvenienced by having to evacuate – a lot of property is damaged – and some people even lose their lives because of hurricanes. 

But – do you think God has a purpose for hurricanes?  I remember 6 years ago, we only had rain three times from June through at least September – and all three of them were the result of tropical systems coming out of the Gulf.  Without those storms, a large swatch of the country might have gone over four months with no rain at all.  Think of all the forest fires – think of all the grain fields that would have died – not to mention the wildlife which depends on the water from heaven. 

Now – I’m not really here to argue about whether they should be messing with trying to change the weather… in fact, with what’s going on in the East right now, you could make a pretty good argument that if we could stop Hurricanes, perhaps we should.  But that’s my point…. This is an example of how we human beings sometimes think that WE know better than God.  Too often, we don’t even stop to consider what God would want. 

God setup the laws of nature – and the laws of the scripture.  Obviously, God must have a reason for each law he gave us.  In short, each law helps us to experience His will. 

Paul said in the second reading:

Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,

I’m as guilty as the next person – if I had been there for today’s Gospel – I would have been right there with Peter saying – Jesus – hold on – let me explain it to you – you don’t understand…you don’t have to die!

Jesus didn’t waste any time putting Peter in his place… He made it very clear that Peter was not looking at the big picture.  From his tiny little human perspective, it was silly for Jesus to throw his life away.  But from his divine seat in heaven, the Father knew this was the only way.  If Jesus hadn’t given his life for us – we would still be without hope of ever being saved. 

You and I are like Peter; we have to trust that we can’t even begin to see the big picture.  We have to SEEK God’s will.  

Now, you might ask – How DO I seek God’s will?  Well – we can start by asking the question…. Let’s practice right now… everybody say with me, “God, what do you want me to do?”..Repeat… Great… That’s the easy part – cause next – we have to Listen.  That can be especially tough as busy as we all are.  Again – I’m as guilty as anybody on this one.  I KNOW that the absolute best use of my time would be to spend an hour or more in front of the Blessed Sacrament in prayer. I KNOW it!  Yet – I just can’t seem to find the time to spend more than a few minutes at Eucharistic Adoration on Friday nights.  I’ve let Busy-ness control my life.  See – the Devil’s best weapon is busyness – because if he can keep us really busy – even doing good things – then we won’t have time for a relationship with Jesus.  We have to buck the system.  What did Paul say?   

Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God

Think about it.  What Paul is saying is Revolutionary – counter cultural. 

Let’s do it.  Let’s start a revolution in this parish… I’m serious.  Let’s do what Paul said.  Let’s stop conforming ourselves to this age and stop letting the devil win!  I’m gonna try it.  I’m going to commit myself right now to making time for at LEAST one hour each week to spend with Jesus in silence and prayer.  You can imagine how hard it is to make that commitment, but I recognize that if I want to change things, then I  HAVE to do something different. 

You know – it’s like the prayer we pray every week – “our cluster parish is made up of people like me” – so if I want to make any positive changes to our parish, I have to start by changing the man in the mirror.  See… I am excited about being Catholic- and I am excited about being a member of this parish.  We’ve been blessed with a lot from God and we’ve got a lot of good people.  I don’t know if you know it, but we started having Eucharistic Adoration on Friday nights from 5-9 pm –every week.  We started about 5 weeks ago…. We started it with the intention of praying for our cluster parish.  It was interesting that within only 2 weeks, we had a new pastor assigned.  I think it’s a great example of how God’s will can be accomplished if we just give him our time.  I want to invite you to join us in this commitment to invest an hour each week in your relationship with Jesus and to pray for our Church.   At each door, you’ll find a sheet where you can put your name, number, and what days and times you ‘might’ be able to commit to.  We would love to expand our Adoration to all-day Friday – or maybe we need to open it up more than on day a week???  We might even get enough folks to open another chapel at St Raphael too.

I’m not looking for people to fill timeslots… I’m looking for people who honestly believe that Christ is still alive in our Church….our cluster parish is NOT dead, and we don’t want it to die.  I’m looking for people who to want to make a positive change.  Please join me in seeking God’s will for our lives and our parish.

You don’t have to do this… but I do.  I have to stop seeking my own will, because if I had my way, things would be different … but not for the better.  For example, if I had my way and it only rained on Monday night – then we would never get the chance to see a rainbow.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Salt water - 18th Sunday Ordinary Time A

“Let all who thirst come to the water!” This time of the year, it's easy to imagine what it's like to be thirsty. We watch the storms pass by our county as our gardens and yards turn crispy brown. While just a few months ago, we would have gladly passed on some of the rain that came our way, this time of year, we recognize how precious water is.
66 years ago TODAY the Battleship USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sank in the South Pacific. There were 1200 men on board. A couple hundred of them died in the initial attack… and the other 900 or so were dumped into the shark-infested sea....most without rafts. If that wasn’t bad enough, communications were fumbled, and the Sos was ignored...they thought it was a prank, it was four days before anybody even noticed they were missing! In that time, the survivors were picked off one by one …either from injuries, exposure, shark attacks, or from their worst enemy: dehydration. Can you imagine that? Here they were surrounded by water – but dying of dehydration. Some got so desperate, they started gulping the sea water to try to quench their thirst… which for a few minutes felt good – but quickly turned into a painful death and it kills from the inside. They were so desperate for water that when the first boat got to them, the captain asked if they had any water for them. When they said, No, he told the to leave...they were of no use to him. In the end, only 316 survived. In an interview of the survivors 50 years later, a reporter noted that this man was NEVER without a glass of ice water within arm’s reach.
That man knows what REAL thirst is – he realized the value of water and he will do whatever it takes to keep that thirst quenched!!
“Let all who thirst come to the water!”
In one way you and I are like the men in the ocean. Whether we realize it or not, we are thirsty for God. Now, that might sound like mumbo jumbo talk .."that only a saint can really recognize his or her thirst for God...but let me assure you that real men and women like you and me do recognize our need for God...and when we do, we'll do whatever we can to quench that thirst. How can we do that?
Let's look at the Gospel to try and understand that… Most of the time when we hear this reading, we concentrate on the miracle that Jesus fed 5000… but there’s one line in there that you probably didn’t even notice, it’s so insignificant… it says, Jesus went to a deserted place… it means he went out into the middle of nowhere… and some translations even imply that it might have been a real desert… which means it was dry and uninhabitable… but the people followed him there anyway.
What would have happened if Jesus had decided to feed the 5000 in the middle of town? Well – for one thing, that’s not much of a miracle is it? I mean, everybody could just step into McDonald’s or Happy Hour and grab themselves a bite. In fact, they could just swing over a couple of blocks to their house or the house of a friend to raid the refrigerator. But no – Jesus chose this deserted place to perform this miracle… can you see why? Because the people were in the middle of nowhere and had NO way to fend for themselves, THAT made it OBVIOUS that this MUST be a miracle. The people had to be HUNGRY and they had to recognize that they had no way to feed themselves…. And THAT is what made them recognize this miracle.
I think you and I can apply this to our spiritual lives. If we stay at home or work or within our circle of friends, we’ll be comfortable…when we’re comfortable, we don’t need God. Most of us like to stay that way. We go from day to day and may never dig deep into our souls to think about what we need to change in our lives… to realize the deep thirst we have for God. Instead, we’re surrounded by salt-water – all the things in our lives that we think will quench our thirst for God, but in the end will only kill us from the inside.
Jesus went to a deserted place. The miracle of the 5000 happened in a deserted place. You and I cannot recognize our thirst for God if we remain surrounded by our salt-water lives. We have to step away. I strongly believe that EVERY Catholic should go to a desert place at least once a year. Every one of us should step out of our comfort zones – step out of our normal daily lives – and go somewhere away from the phones and computers and ball practices and work…. Away from all the distractions and lists of things to do – just to give Jesus a chance to show us how thirsty we really are. Jesus WANTS to give us a huge gulp of sweet water, but we keep ourselves so busy, we never even realize we’re thirsty.
Our adult formation team will be publishing some options for retreats, so watch for that in the bulletin. Also, we are considering offering a retreat right here for the parish. So if anybody wants to take me seriously and would be interested, let me know so we can figure out what the best format and timing would be.
Have you ever been working out in the hot sun in the yard or in the garden maybe...and suddenly you realize, man, I'm thirsty! You step into the shade for a second and grab the water jug and raise it to your wet! Water never tasted so good as when we are really thirsty!
God wants to do that for us. He is waiting to quench our spiritual thirst...but first...we gotta learn to appreciate the water...and then we have to stop drinking the salt water.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 June 26 - RE-Member! (Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ - A)

You know – this is the fourth weekend since we started offering the cup to everyone at communion. On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, it seems like the perfect time to think about why we’re doing that… why go to all the trouble with all the extra ministers and wine? Why even bother?  For me, it all goes back to what Jesus said, “Do this in Remembrance of me.” He said it twice at the last supper. “Do this in remembrance of me”.

Those are deep and powerful words…they’re right at the HEART of our Eucharistic celebration….but we hear it every time we come to Mass…so probably don’t hear it anymore – and haven’t given much thought to what it means.

In the most basic sense, remembrance is the act of remembering….to NOT FORGET. But – it’s more than that… in fact, in the Mass it’s MUCH more than that. If we think that this Mass is just about remembering what a great guy Jesus was, then we’ve missed the point completely – In fact, we may as well go down the street to any other church, because what we do here in the Catholic Mass goes WAY beyond just calling to mind our old buddy Jesus….wasn’t he a great guy!?

We all know the real meaning…we’ve all heard it before – but it didn’t sink in – or we have to be reminded. This bread and this wine look so ordinary, that it is hard sometimes to imagine or even comprehend that they physically become the body and blood of Christ in our Mass. It looks like bread – but it’s not! It tastes like wine – but it’s not! The scriptures make this most clear in the 6th chapter of John – where are Gospel was taken from today. Jesus says several times in this chapter "my flesh is true food" - "you must eat my body and drink my blook". He says over and over in several different ways, as if to emphasize that we should NOT let this important point slip by. As if he KNOWS that people will forget…. But he wants us to REMEMBER!

RE-MEMBER. Think about that word by itself. Re-member. Yes – it means to not forget… but it also is the opposite of DIS-MEMBER.

Shortly after high school, our rescue team responded to a wreck out on highway 66 – it was a head-on collision – which happened way too often. But what made this wreck stand-out in my mind was that I knew the girl in one of the cars – she had been in my class in school. And I remember that her leg had been broken – in fact, it was in a position that told me it basically had broken off. She had been DIS-MEMBERED. I felt so bad for her – a 20 year old lady with her whole life ahead of her – and she just lost her leg. To my utter amazement, however, the doctors were able to put it back on!! A year later, she was walking around – with a bit of a limp – but she was walking! I never would have thought it could happen… she had been DIS-MEMBERED…and I didn’t think there was hope for her… but the doctors put her back together… they RE-MEMBERED her.

You and I are members of a Body, aren’t we? Yeah - the Body of Christ. How many body parts are WE missing?  How many members of our Body have we lost? How many of our brothers and sisters have walked away from the Table of the Lord – the very spot where He told us to RE-MEMBER him. But they have DIS-membered themselves.  This meal we share is more than a memorial about Jesus, this is the very instrument through which we BECOME the Body of Christ. I know this is getting deep, but try to stick with me… Coming together for Mass is how we RESTORE the Body of Christ… in short… this is where we RE-MEMBER Jesus. We put HIM back together when WE, the members of this community, come back together.

A great example of this is at funerals – especially at the funeral home or the funeral meal. People sit around talking about the person that just passed away. We sit around and tell stories – the things we used to do together; the things he or she used to enjoy; the little sayings and odd behaviors they had that made them so special to our lives. As we reflect on these things, we are in the process of healing. We NEED healing because in one way, we have been dis-membered – because someone from our family or friends has been ripped away from us. It’s like losing a part of ourselves. But when we reflect on their stories, we RE-MEMBER them. We put them back together in our mind and for that time, they really ARE with us again.

The same thing happens in Mass – first we share the stories of Jesus as we hear the readings. We’re reminded of the things that Jesus said and did while he was here. By our reflecting on His stories, we RE-MEMBER him in our minds..we put him back together. He is here with us again.

Then it gets even better - we come to the altar where the body and the blood are consecrated. Did you ever notice that they are consecrated separately? – what do you think that’s about? Any symbolism there?  What would happen to me if you if my blood was separated from my body? Plop... I'd die, of course. The separation of the body and blood symbolize Christ’s death – the sacrifice he made for our sake. The body of Christ has been broken and separated – but here’s the important part. Through the Mass and the Grace of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is put back together – at least two ways… first – and Fr. Bill talked about this a couple weeks ago - the Priest takes one little corner of the bread and drops it into the wine – In that moment, the body and blood are RE-UNITED… symbolizing that Christ overcame death. He is RE-MEMBERED, right there in the chalice. But there’s one more way that the body and blood are re-united… can you think of when it happens? At communion. We all come forward to receive the body and then we drink the blood…so in that moment, the body and blood are RE-UNITED INSIDE of us!! Christ is RE-MEMBERED IN US!!! Are you following me? We eat the body and we drink from the cup and therefore the body and blood are put back together INSIDE of us!! I think that's SOO cool!  Both individually and as a community, We BECOME the body and blood of Christ. Communion is the very GRACE that Jesus gave us to rebuild the community - Communion is how the Body of Christ is Re-membered.

Look around…What members of our body are we missing? Who in our families and community have walked away? We need to remind them that we need them. We are walking around with a limp, because we’re missing part of our body. We need to remind them that they need us too! They NEED the Body of Christ.  They need to be connected to Jesus. They have been dis-membered, but it’s not hopeless. Like the young lady in the car wreck, We need to bring them to the divine physician who can put us back together! We need to help THEM remember what they’re missing…. The very Body and Blood of Christ.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

2011 May 28 - Better to suffer for doing good (6th Sunday Easter Cycle A)

When I was ordained, a good friend gave me this little contraption. It’s a compass – and you all know how it works – no matter which direction you stand, the arrow always points North. This particular one is more pretty fancy and heavy, so I don’t actually take it outside…, so it sits in my office and reminds me of my real compass… my Moral compass. What’s a moral compass? Let me give you an example:

Anybody in here familiar with the Scouts? In the Cub scouts, we had the Scout Promise we would recite every time we got together:

I, _________, promise to do my best
To do my duty to God and my country,
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack.

Now – I never was a girl Scout – but you girls should recognize that your scout promise was very similar. Maybe even more common around here was the 4-H pledge of Head, Heart, Hands, and Health… again similar to the scout pledge. As kids, we learned that promise by heart… we probably HAD to, in order to get a badge. We could recite that promise on demand - at any time… this promise was our Guiding Principle… like a Moral Compass. It was supposed to point us to the truth… to form us and help us make mature decisions.

Same goes for our religion. We come here every week and recite our Creed… you know, “We believe in One God…and so on”. We learned it as a kid. We can recite it on demand at any time. But the same question applies: Do we actually let it guide our everyday lives?

At some point in our lives, we’re no longer bound by the law of the pack. Just reciting something doesn’t make it real. We have to decide for ourselves whether we really believe all this stuff. We have to decide how we’re going to live – what guiding principles will we use to make decisions for the rest of our lives. And when things go bad – and you know they will – where will we gain our strength to go on? Where will we place our hope? Where does our Moral Compass point? Hopefully, our moral compass always points to Jesus… the Way the Truth and the Life.

That’s what Peter is talking about. “Be ready to give a reason for your hope”. Every one of us has to think for ourselves about what life is really about. Is God real? Is Jesus real? Can Jesus really help us in our day-to-day living? You bet He can! But Peter is saying that you and I have to THINK about that and put it into words in order to help somebody else to understand it. Be ready to SHARE what you believe.

Could you do it? Could you speak out in public in defense of your beliefs? Are our beliefs strong enough that we’d be willing to suffer for them? Peter says, ‘it is better to suffer for doing God’s will than to do evil’. That is a tough one – it’s about Integrity: Do what’s right - all the time. No exceptions.

Let me try to make that make more sense: when I got my tractor and brush hog, I told myself I will NEVER get off the tractor with the brush hog still engaged. That’s one of those little safety things that probably everybody knows, but I have to remind myself… cause sometimes I think – well, I just have to knock that log out of the way or whatever – it’ll only take a second… but I remind myself of my guiding principle – I recite my little creed: “I will never get off with the brush hog still engaged”… just in case it would roll or kick something up at me.

That’s a simple example – but how would you apply that to your religious beliefs? Several years back, Randy worked at a fairly large utility company up north. He had a great job with great benefits. He’d been there for like 18 years and planned to retire with that company. But he started to notice some unethical business practices going on which he didn’t agree with. He tried talking to his Boss and even the president of the facility – but it was obvious he wasn’t going to get them to change. Randy quit his job rather than contribute to evil. That is integrity. Could you or I do that?

In 2009, Miss California was on track to win the Miss America pageant – but when it came time for the interview portion of the competition, she was asked a simple question: “do you believe same-sex marriage should be legalized?’. This lady answered like this: "We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what in my country, in my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be, between a man and a woman."

Now to you and me, that probably sounds like a pretty good, safe answer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the ‘politically correct’ answer. The media and other groups unloaded on her. Some say she lost the pageant because of that answer. A couple months later, she lost her Miss California crown too – and she believes that too was because of her answer.

This is a case where our modern culture is starting to turn on Christianity. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, this lady had the constitutional right to give her opinion of how she believes. 20 years ago, that question wouldn’t even have been asked. 10 years ago, if that question had been asked, her answer might have been considered most generous and tolerant. Our culture is becoming intolerant of Christianity. Why? Because we believe that our moral compass points to the truth -and some truths are black and white.

You know, Many situations in our lives are ‘gray areas’ where we have to discern what is right and what is wrong based on each individual situation. Fortunately, WE have a teacher who taught us – and we have an Advocate called the Holy Spirit that resides in each one of us – to help us make those decisions. The Holy Spirit IS our moral compass – He always points to the truth – and sometimes the Truth really IS black and white. But you can bet that ANYtime you or I attempt to tell the black and white truth, somebody in our culture is going to come down on us. Believe it or not, it even happens here at church.

So what should we do? Back down? Do we abandon Jesus’ words as our moral compass because society thinks we’re not politically correct anymore? Peter says – it is better to suffer for doing good, if it be God’s will, than to do evil. Pray for wisdom and courage to do so. Come Holy Spirit, show us the way.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 17, 2011: Palm Sunday - No Cross can keep us down

Deacon Mike always has a prop for his homily, doesn’t he? Before I start– Let me get it… may need help.  (carry in large wooden cross with help)

Wow – what a story. What else can you say? When we hear this, we might feel a bit shell-shocked… but just imagine what the REAL witnesses felt. The people who were there that day, on the mountain of Calvary…. THEY had seen it all… from the glory of palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey– until Friday when he was mounted on a cross. They saw it all – and after watching the gruesome death – they were shell-shocked – like ‘what in the world just happened?’

It’s an all-too-familiar story we all have to deal with – things are going great – then before we know it, there’s a cross on our back and we’re climbing a mountain. The cross threatens to drag us down.

Like in our relationships – we fall in love – everything is cool – awesome – we want to sing to the world!!!… but too often, things don’t turn out like we hoped and expected – the feelings go sour and the relationship becomes a cross.

Many of us have jobs that at first are a great blessing – we’re just glad to have a job – and we even look forward to going to it each morning. Eventually, for a lot of people, it becomes a drudgery – and feels like we have to pick up our cross every morning just to get out of bed…much less to make it through the day.

Even our bodies do this to us. When we’re young, we’re invincible – we can do anything! As we get older, the aches and pains begin – the eyes go – hearing decreases… eventually, just getting up in the morning is a cross.

Our parish has definitely had more than its share of crosses to bear over the last several years. Every time a new pastor comes in, there’s a sense of hope – a sense that maybe now things will get back to ‘normal’…. We join together waving palms – hoping this might be our real spiritual Father. But as you know, once again we find ourselves standing on Calvary – shell-shocked – saying ‘what in the world just happened?’

Like anybody who’s been through a rough time or a sudden tragedy, we need to tell our story in order to start to heal. In my own family growing up, whenever there was a tragedy or a threat to our family – we just naturally migrated to the kitchen table and sat there – telling our story. Where were you when it happened? What were you thinking? What could I have done differently? This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

Many of us here today feel hurt by the latest loss of our pastor. I’ve talked to several of you over the last two weeks – or I should say – I tried to listen. We’re all wondering ‘what in the world just happened?’ ‘Who’s fault was it?’ ‘What did I do wrong?’

Keep talking – keep asking the questions… that’s exactly what we have to do. That’s how the healing can begin. Hopefully, each of us can pick up our cross – whether it’s our relationship, our job, our health, or our parish issues… drag it in here and lay it on the altar. Give it to Jesus. Unlike the people on the top of Calvary that day, we have the benefit of knowing ‘the rest of the story’ and that gives us hope. We also know that we are a family here in this parish. And just like my family, we gather around our kitchen table to tell our stories. Just like Simon of Cyrene – and just like the Betz boys who helped me carry in the cross today... we help our brothers and sisters to carry their crosses as well....that's what family does. We are the Body of Christ – We are all nailed to our cross – but No Cross can keep us down… Resurrection is just around the corner.

We WILL sing Hosanna again. We will sing Alleluia’s again! We will. We MUST. We are the Body of Christ - and No Cross can keep us down.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13, 2011: 6th Sunday Ordinary Time: If your brother has anything against you...

About three years ago, Jerry was sitting in the pew where you are now – and he heard the exact same readings we just heard. Like most of us – most of it just went over his head. I mean – Jesus just dumped the mother-load on us today – there is SO MUCH in these readings, I could give a thousand homilies…but don’t worry, I’ll only give one. Well – Jerry remembered to pray that prayer, “God show me one way in this Mass I can be a better person this week"….and because he did that, one phrase really stuck with him: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother.”

So, he thought – what if Jesus is serious? So he raised a quick prayer to God – is there somebody I need to ask for forgiveness? Just that quick, a pine tree flashed into his thoughts – a small one, only a foot tall. That’s when he remembered Mrs. Murphy.

As a kid, he would often cross Mrs. Murphy’s yard on his way to school or to visit friends. One day he noticed about a dozen freshly planted pine trees where he’d not noticed them before. He thought – those are pretty cool – I’d like to havesome trees like that in my yard– so that night, he snuck over there and since they were freshly planted, he was able to simply pull them out of the ground. He took them home and hid them behind the garage – since it was dark. He thought he’d plant them the next day. Well, the next day was Saturday, so he got up late and got busy playing…Sometime after noon, he noticed the trees… they were laying in the sun and wind – roots exposed – so needless to say, they were dead. No big deal, he thought – he shrugged his shoulders and went on playing – and didn’t think more about those trees…

Until Monday monring… he was on his way to school and Mrs. Murphy called out to him from the back porch. My husband bought me some pine trees for our anniversary and we planted them Friday, but when we came out Saturday, they were gone. I know you come through here all the time – did you happen to notice anybody digging up my trees or know somebody who would do something like that?

Jerry swallowed hard – thinking fast – he said – “No I hadn’t even noticed the trees. But, you might check with Randy down the road – I wouldn’t be surprised if he did something like that.”

He went home and threw all of those little trees in the trash can to hide them….. After than, he avoided walking across Mrs. Murphy’s yard – and he forgot completely about those trees.

Until today – in Mass – “if your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled”. He thought – OK God, so –what am I supposed to do about it? Surely I’m not supposed to get up in the middle of Mass and go ask for forgiveness…I mean – that would be silly. - but he just couldn’t shake the thought. Finally, he stood up and acted like he was heading to the rest room – and he kept walking – right out the back door.

As he drove the 30 miles to his old hometown, he kept telling himself how crazy this was. Mrs. Murphy probably doesn’t even live there anymore – heck – she may not even be alive! But he kept driving. He drove past the Murphy house and saw a light on in the front room, so he knew somebody was home. He drove around the block like 4 times – each time thinking how stupid this was….but finally he got up the nerve to pull in the driveway. An old lady hobbled to the door and squinted at him through thick glasses.

Hi, are you Mrs. Murphy? Why yes, do I know you?

Mrs. Murphy – you may not remember me, but I’m Jerry – I used to live just a few doors down on the block behind you – remember – I used to cross through your yard on my way to school. Oh – Jerry – yes, I remember now, come on in – would you like some lemonade?– what brings you back home?

Well, Mrs. Murphy – do you remember about 30 years ago you had some little pine trees planted in the back yard and they disappeared? Well – I …. I was the one who took them… and you’re not going to believe this, but well, I was in church this morning and felt like Jesus was telling me I needed to come clean with you and ask forgiveness. So – I’ve got 118 dollars on me and I’m hoping that’s enough to pay for those trees.

Mrs. Murphy had to pick her jaw up off the floor – which means she also probably had to pick her dentures up off the floor. She hollered out – Roger, get in here!

An old man with a walker hobbled into the room to see what the excitement was about. Mrs. Murphy excitedly explained – Roger – you remember Jerry? The little red-head kid who used to cross through our yard? Well he says that Jesus told him to come here today to confess to us that he stole those trees you gave me on our anniversary 30 years ago… can you believe it?! And, he wants to pay us $118 to make up for it. Roger said, Jerry – I really appreciate your honesty – but that was 30 years ago – you just keep your money.

Jerry said – look – I’m only doing what God told me to do. This is your money – whether you want it or not. I don’t care if you give away or what – but it’s your money.

They talked for what seemed like hours – about those trees, about old times and old friends, about what had happened in the old neighborhood, AND about their common faith in Jesus.

As Jerry headed back to his car, there was a definite spring in his step and a feeling of peace…and finally he understood why God had planted that little tree in his thoughts that morning at church. Not only had he uprooted those trees all those years ago, but he had hurt that friendship with the Murphy’s. Had he not come back here, he never would have felt this peace, and the relationship would still be dead.

What trees have you and I uprooted? What relationships have we uprooted? Every time we cause someone else pain, it’s like exposing the roots of our relationship…not just their roots, but our roots too. A tree with bare roots cannot grow and will soon wither and die.

Jesus wants to plant himself in our hearts today in the Eucharist, but he knows that if we have exposed roots, we cannot grow. Our relationship with Jesus cannot grow either – because our relationship with Jesus grows through relationship with other people That’s why forgiveness HAS to come BEFORE the altar.

Like Jerry - you and I can experience the joy that comes from reaching out to those we’ve hurt. It won’t always go that well, because some people just aren’t ready to forgive. But when they are – wow – look out. And here’s the exciting part: Think about what happened AFTER Jerry left that house. For the past three years, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy have told that story a thousand times about how Jesus told Jerry to come back and pay for those trees. Every time they told the story, somebody new had to stop and think about what past hurts THEY had caused, and what relationships they had uprooted. Not only that, but they were inspired by hearing about somebody who actually LIVED an authentic Christian life. We are all awed whenever we come across somebody who actually DOES what Jesus told us to do. Think what would happen if every one of us really lived these teachings that Jesus gave us. We would change the world! Literally, we would CHANGE THE WORLD!

…And, I think that’s what Jesus had in mind all along.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9, 2011: Baptism of our Lord

How did people recognize Jesus? Was it his long hair and sandals that gave him away? Maybe it was the halo on his head?

No....what made people recognize Jesus was what He DID! The prophets had taught for centrues about what the Messiah would do – and today’s first reading is one of the best ones. Isaiah was telling Israel how to recognize God’s chosen servant–He will bring justice to the world, show compassion, give sight to the blind, free the prisoners… So when Jesus DID come, the Israelites should have been able to look at what he DID and say with absolute confidence – that’s HIM – obviously, He’s the one!

But this prophecy also applies to someone else? Can you think who that might be? Like I said, Isaiah is describing how we can recognize God’s chosen servant. Hopefully,… that’s you and me. When you and I were baptized, WE were chosen by God and given a mission just like Jesus’ mission. WE are to go out to bring justice, show compassion, give sight to the blind, free the prisoners, and shine the light on those in darkness! THAT is how the rest of the world recognizes disciples of Jesus – when WE take an ACTIVE role in helping others.

In that same reading is another line which might be hard to understand…, “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench”. Now this has been argued to mean many things… But usually this understood to point out the compassion of Jesus. In other words, Jesus won’t condemn anyone who has even the slightest amount of Faith. Any smidgeon of faith and shred of hope is allowed to live, because there is always a chance to fan it into a flame. As God’s chosen servant, Jesus is the source of Hope for those who have no earthly reason to be hopeful.

One of the best examples where I see that is Haiti. Somehow they continue to cling to their shred of hope because of their faith in God.

It’s been bad in Haiti for a very long time…. But it seems in many ways, things keep going from bad to worse. Somehow they continue to hope. One year ago this week was the devastating earthquake that killed almost a quarter million people (or more) and destroyed much of what shabby infrastructure they had. Somehow they continue to hope. One of our parishioners, Gary Boice, just got back from Haiti yesterday… and while he could see that progress has been made, people still live in tents everywhere and water, sewage, and hygiene are major problems. That has contributed to the Cholera epidemic which is currently gripping the whole country. It seems there is NO reason for them to go on hoping…they keep getting hit by one disaster after another….their wick is barely smoldering…yet they go on hoping.

You’ll notice in the bulletin, we got a letter from Fr. Brunot last week. He’s the pastor at Dupity – the parish we have been helping. 20 people have died in that one, small village, and many more are sick in the clinic. He has asked specifically for help in getting them chlorox and soap as the basic means for preventing further spread of the disease. If you’d like to help with that, we’ve put boxes at each door for donations. We won’t have a second collection, so you’ll have to remember on your way out.

Just over a year ago, hope abounded in Dupity as they finally got running water for the first time – a project that has almost definitely saved some lives. However, only a small portion of the population of Dupity lives in town. Those outside the town still use un-purified stream water. Gary and possibly some others will be going back to Dupity later this month to see how else we can help. Everything moves slowly in Haiti, and it’s frustrating for US to keep trying to jump through hoops to get anything done….yet…if THEY can continue to hope in spite of everything they’re going through, then surely we can learn from them and not give up either. Their hope is like the smoldering wick – and we cannot extinguish it – instead we should do everything we can to fan it into a flame. We have to act, because that’s what Jesus would do.

Jesus’ baptism today was a turning point for him. Today was the start of his public ministry. Through this symbolic act, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and was catapulted into action. What did he do? Peter told us in the 2nd reading – “He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil”. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies…but so are we! Just like Jesus, our baptism should catapult us into action.

As a way of connecting our own baptism with Jesus’…In just a minute, we’re going to stand and renew our own baptismal promises. I’m going to read them slowly…because we need to think about what each phrase means…These are the same truths we pray in the creed every week…they’re so familiar that we nonchalantly rush through them and SAY we believe it without considering what it means. DO you believe in God? Really? DO you believe in Jesus? Really? If we really believe it, our lives CANNOT be business as usual. We are chosen by God. We are his chosen servant. The only way the world will recognize Christ in the world is if WE show compassion, WE bring justice, WE give sight to the blind, WE free the prisoners, and where there is a smoldering wick of hope, we will fan it into a flame. Please stand.

V. Do you reject Satan? R. I do.

V. And all his works? R. I do.

V. And all his empty promises? R. I do.

V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? R. I do.

V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? R. I do.

V.Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? R. I do.

V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

Normally, at this point of the ceremony, we would sprinkle with holy water, but instead I want you everybody to take an active part in completing the ceremony yourself. As we leave church today, dip your hand in the holy water and recommit yourself to live as God’s servant. As you do, you can just imagine the Father saying, “This is my beloved servant in whom I am well pleased”.