Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012/12/23 Heroes

What’s a hero look like? 

Muscles bulging, taking on the bad guys, Bullets bounce harmlessly off him, explosions are mere nuisances, and nobody but the bad guys ever get hurt. He has x-ray vision, can hear through walls, flies through the air, and is impervious to pain. At some point growing up, most of us have wanted to be that superhero… Here he comes to save the day!
But as we grow up, we realize that person doesn’t exist.  People let us down.  Situations don’t work out like we wish.  Bullets really DO kill the heroes as well as the people they’re trying to protect.
This past week, in the barrage of articles and Facebook posts about Connecticut, one of them caught my attention – she said as a child her Mom always told her that whenever something bad happens like that, to look for the heroes.  The heroes in this case were the teachers and principal who put themselves into harm’s way to try to save their students.
By looking to the heroes, we find people who have lived up to what God intended them to be – they put forth superhuman efforts in the face of situations that would make ANY person freeze with unbelievable fear. 
There is a hero in today’s Gospel as well.  The words Elizabeth used made it obvious that for her, Mary was a Hero.  She had said ‘yes’ to God when any normal human being might have cowered in fear:  being unwed and pregnant, her fiancĂ© would probably disown her, her parents would be severely embarrassed, and the Jewish community – who thought of her as the purest example of womanly virtue, would be scandalized – and might even stone her.  No – this was too much to ask a young girl to bear.. but she bore it with her ‘Fiat’… her ‘let it be done to me according to your will’.  That's why she was Elizabeth's hero.
There’s another way that Mary is a hero in this reading.  Having just found out that her cousin was about to have a baby, she dropped everything and went IMMEDIATELY to help.
We have heroes like that in our own community.  For example, every week, somebody in our parish takes communion to the people who cannot be here.  This is so much more valuable than you and I can know.  These people tend to feel cut off from our community, and just to have someone visit is a God-send.  To bring them Communion is a direct way of keeping them connected to our worship here as the Body of Christ.  All of us are members of this Body of Christ – and when one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body turns its attention to that part.  Think about it – if you have a back ache, nothing else matters – the rest of your body will keep changing positions until it finds a way to help the back ache less.  So it is with the members of our community:  when one is hurting, we should do whatever we can to help.
This is especially important this time of year – when there is so much darkness.  People are more prone to depression anyway – but the Holidays actually make it even worse for some.  Experiencing Christmas alone for the first time – or just with one family member missing – can lead us to dwell on the hole in our heart and actually dread the season because we don’t Feel holly-jolly.  That’s a normal response, so if that’s how you’re feeling this Christmas, know that you’re not alone.
The job for all of us is to be like Mary – in a way, when we come here to receive Jesus into us… we become ‘pregnant’ with Jesus – and then we are compelled to drop everything and take Jesus to those who can’t be here.  Seek out those who might have a reason to be depressed – or maybe they’re just physically unable to get out.  Stop and visit.  Offer to help.  Offer them a meal…. Then every one of us can be a hero.
I have two examples of heroes in our community that I heard just this week.  One was a family of young kids that went to a nursing home.  The Mom didn't really want to go, but she was blown away by the reaction of the residents when she walked through the doors with those kids.  People who were so focused on their own pains and depression suddenly lit up with excitement!!… and the infant!!… EVERYbody had to hold that baby.  Besides that - the kids loved all the attention, so it was a win-win for everybody.  That family was a hero for those residents that day.
The other situation was a father who got called to the hospital because his son had had an accident.  He and his wife rushed to the hospital and actually beat the ambulance.  At this point, they didn’t know exactly how bad off their son was, so they were emotionally a wreck.  As he stood there waiting, he made one phone call to a buddy from church – asking for prayers.  20 minutes later, 5 heroes showed up.  5 prayer warriors – there to knock on heaven’s door – and to do anything they could do physically to help the father and mother deal with whatever awaited them – even if it was just to be there and sit with them to wait for the news from the doctors.
Every person here can be that kind of superhero… think about it – is there anybody in the world who thinks that YOU are their hero?  If not, who might God have put in your path who NEEDS you to be their hero?
A parishioner sent me a story this week which was perfect for last week's homily... But it also ties last week to this week's message.
A group of salesmen were running late getting to the airport after their convention.  In order to make their flight, they had to run through the concourse.  Jerry rounded a corner and accidentally bumped into a to a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Jerry mumbled a quick "sorry" then continued running to catch up with his buddies.  They made it just in time as they were giving the last call for boarding.  Jerry breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped up to the gate... But then he experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand he had been overturned. He told his buddies to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived and explain that he would be taking a later flight. His buddies looked at him like he was crazy... but Jerry turned around and jogged back to the terminal where the apples were all over the floor.  He was glad he did.
The 16-year-old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her; no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.
Jerry knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket. When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, "Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?"
She nodded through her tears. He continued on with, "I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly."
As Jerry started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, "Mister...." He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, "Are you Jesus?"
He stopped in mid-stride ... and he wondered. He gently went back and said, "No, I am nothing like Jesus - He is good, kind, caring, loving, and would never have bumped into your display in the first place."
The girl gently nodded: "I only asked because I prayed for Jesus to help me gather the apples. He sent you to help me.... He sent you to be my hero! "
Kind of in shock from the turn of events, he slowly made his way to catch the later flight ...with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: "Are you Jesus?"  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012/12/16 - Mistaken for Jesus

I’m sure this happens to Fr. Eugene all the time, but it’s only happened to me once or twice.  I went over to a parishioner’s house one Sunday – I think it was right after  First Communion and somebody promised me some homemade ice cream, so I HAD to go  :)  One of the younger kids in the house was all excited because “Jesus is coming to our house”.  He thought I was Jesus…Obviously that kid didn’t know me very well.  :)

On the other hand, it was kind of flattering.  And I got to thinking… isn’t that what we all want to be mistaken for?  Jesus?  Really – if you and I are living the life of a true Christian, then when people see us, they really SHOULD see Jesus. 

Do you think that would be possible?
I want to propose to you that we are like a statue… a sculptor starts with a plain block of wood or marble…, but by the time they lay down their tools, an image has appeared.  That image was there all along – it just had to be revealed. 

After creating the famous statue of David, someone asked Michangelo how he did it… “It’s easy”, he said, “I just chip away anything that doesn’t look like David”. 

Same goes for you and me – we start out as a block of wood or marble – but our goal is to look like Jesus.  His image is already IN us – after all, God MADE us in His image… we just have to reveal it.  So we gotta chip away anything in our self that doesn’t look like Jesus.  How do we do that?  Let’s look at the Gospel. 

Whenever we hear of John the Baptist, we hear about a voice of one crying out in the desert’… but what was he saying?  Just before our reading today, John just delivered a real fire and brimstone sermon...YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!  THE TREE THAT DOESNT BARE GOOD FRUIT WILL BE CUT DOWN AND THROWN INTO THE FIRE!  Hes not politically correct, but He got peoples attention, and they were scared...what do we do?  I dont want to be thrown into the fire. What do I do? 

What SHOULD we do?  What if someone asked YOU what they had to do to please God?  How would you answer? 

Sell everything and give the money to the poor?  Go serve in the slums of Calcutta or Haiti?  Give your life as a martyr? 

Notice thats not what John says instead John gives them the mundane, almost boring answer:... Basically, do what you already know is the right thing.  Soldiers dont falsely accuse anyone.  Tax collectors, stop collecting more than the correct amount.  If anyone has two coats and sees someone in need, give one to them!  This is not rocket science or anything hard to do just do what you already know is right! 

That may sound simple but is it?  Let me give an example of what John might say to us today.  Drivers just drive the speed limit and no more.  What?!  OK, John youve gone too far now.  You cant be serious!  Everybody knows the speed limit is more like a suggestion and as long as you stay within 5 miles per hour or so, theres no problem everybody does it you cant expect ME to be the exception!  Besides, if I drive the speed limit there will always be somebody riding my tail upset with me.  I cant do that. Everybody is doing it and you cant expect ME to be the exception.  Isnt that what the tax collector would have said?  What?!  I HAVE to collect more than the prescribed amount in order to feed my family.  Besides, everybody is doing it and everybody expects me to do it you cant expect ME to be the exception.   If I stop collecting extra, then the other tax collectors will be upset with me because it will make it more obvious that THEY are cheating. 

So you can see Johns demand wasnt such a painless command after all. Eventually, if we want to be like Jesus, we just might have to go to Calcutta or give our life as a martyr but we start by whittling away at our little sinful behaviors that weve grown so accustomed to.  In everything we do we should do the right thing not doing what everybody else is doing .  Yeah well stand out in the crowd.   

Kinda like John- he was a FREAK – wearing furs, eating bugs, living in the wilderness… But did you notice that people were mistaking John for Jesus… they thought maybe John was the messiah.   

That’s our goal… to be mistaken for Jesus.  Every one of us CAN be…. We just gotta keep chipping away anything about ourselves that doesn’t look like Jesus.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

2012 November 25: Christ the King - What is 'truth'?

Why did Jesus come into the world?  Take a guess  - we all know this its pretty obvious but can any of us answer that question off the cuff?  Why did he come?  To set the captives free?  To give sight to the blind?  To save us from our sins?  All of that is true but what did JESUS say was the reason he came?  We just heard it in the Gospel two minutes ago.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Its not the answer we might have expected.  I would imagine most of us would have asked the same question Pilate did, Truth?! What is truth?
Wouldnt you love to hear Jesus answer that question?  Its always bugged me that he went silent at that moment.  Here he is on center stage in front of the authorities this is his chance to get his word out to the world and EXPLAIN what his life's mission is about but after that statement, he fell silent leaving Pilate AND US to guess at his meaning.
Does it really matter?  Do we really care that Jesus testifies to the truth?  Does it change anything in OUR lives that Jesus said I am the way and the truth and the life?
It does matter, Because truth is the basis of morality.  We can only decide what is right and wrong based on truth.  C.S. Lewis said, If no set of moral ideas were truer, or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality.  In other words, who is to say that our Christian moral code is any better than that of the head-hunters of the South Pacific.  You can only say that one is better than the other if you have a moral standard to compare it to.
Let me give you an example lets say you go down here to the gas station and fill up your tank with gas.  You notice that if you fill up at this gas station it only takes like 10 gallons to fill up your tank.  But if you fill up while in Evansville, it takes almost 12 gallons.  Now dont get excited this is just a made-up example.  The question is how DO we know when we buy a gallon of gas that it is in-fact exactly a gallon?  This used to be a real problem but now every county has an inspector who goes around to every gas station and certifies each pump in effect, guaranteeing to you and me that a gallon is a gallon.  But how does that inspector know its a gallon?   Well he has to rely on his own instruments which are themselves calibrated and certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in fact they have a department devoted to maintaining standards for Weights and measures.
Obviously, if we DIDNT have such a department maintaining standards, we would have chaos.  Imagine back in the old days, if you went to the store to buy some rope youd buy like three arms length.  Easy to see how THAT would be chaos since everybodys arms are different.  Thats when some king got the idea to set the standard that a foot would be the length from his elbow to his wrist (from here to here) then a yard was 3 feet.  Measuring sticks were provided to all merchants so that Now you could go to the store and get three yards of rope. And pretty much know what you were getting.  If somebody wanted to prove their stick was the perfect length, they would have to take it and measure against that standard...which was the kings arm.  The king stretched out his arm to set the standard...remember that.
I use those examples just to highlight the fact that there ARE absolute measurements out there.  If you want to the absolutely, positively sure that youre measuring correctly, you take your measurement device to the authorities who have the True measurement.
So does that apply to morality as well?  Is there an absolute authority I can check myself against to determine right from wrong?  This has been a problem ever since Adam and Eve... They wanted to be like Gods to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong but our church year ends with this feast which declares that CHRIST is the King HE is the one who sets the standard for what is right and wrong. Not us.  In order to live in His kingdom, we have to follow His rules.  While that may sound harsh or unfair it really is a comfort to us.
Because we live in a kingdom that follows the law Thou shall not kill, we can live in reasonable peace of mind knowing that WE wont be the ones being killed.  Of course, that changes if we go into a different culture one which doesnt follow the law of truth and love in the kingdom of God.
Some things in this life ARE absolute truths.  Jesus sets the standard because HE IS the truth.
most people including probably everybody in here think that truth is NOT absolute that it is relative.  Its called relativism and I want you to hear and remember that word and what it means, because the Pope has called it possibly the greatest threat to Christianity....even to society.
Relativism says there  IS no absolute truth there is no right or wrong in any situation that the truth varies depending on the situation or the person.  Youll hear people say things like, well, to me, the truth is this…”  or My belief is that....  Relativism judges no one and prefers no one.  Relativism can justify any action, no matter how evil.
Granted there ARE situations that are grey area.  For example, should I study to become a doctor or a professor.  I cant say there is an absolute right/wrong answer for this.  However, I submit to you and any MORAL issue before us can and MUST be weighed against our perfect moral standard and that is the standard set by Jesus.
We live in a kingdom that believes "thou shall not steal"... But if we allowed relativism to make the rules, then we might say....well, if my kids are hungry... Or as long as I don't know the person I'm stealing from... No harm no foul.  Reminds me of a line from a recent reality show, "ain't doin' nothin' illegal unless you git caught".  Really?!  This guy's standard of right and wrong is relative...relative to what he gets caught doing.
Also reminds me of the story Fr. Tom used to tell about the lady working the bingo at his old parish and they caught her stealing money.... They even caught her on videotape.  When they asked if she had taken anything, she still denied it...and when they showed her the tape, her defense was...well it wasn't that much!  Her morality was relative... In her moral code it was ok to steal as long as it wasn't "much". 
If we allow relativism to set our moral standards, then we can all do whatever we want and eventually, we will fall into anarchy and chaos.  Thank God we have our own King, Christ who overthrew the dictator of lies years ago.  Just like the first yard sticks, if we want to know if were measuring our moral character correctly, we have to take it to the king... Christ the King....he not only Set the standard, He IS the standard of truth. Just like the first yard stick, OUR king stretched out his arms to set the standard for us.  The standard of Love is from here to here (arms outstretched).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

2012/11/04 ...with your WHOLE heart

I dont know if you know this, but all Clergy are required to pray from this book every day.  Us Deacons just have to do morning and evening prayer, but Fr. Eugene has to pray a couple more times per day.  Its whats called the Liturgy of the Hours it a book of psalms and readings  and prayers.  Why would we willingly do this every day?  Why would the church insist that we do this?  Why is it that a lot of lay people and religious pray it even though they dont have to?  This book was designed for us to life up every part of our day to God.  In this way, somewhere in the world at every minute of every day SOMEbody is praying.  In fact, Ive got this neat App on my ipad which has all these prayers on it and you can pull up a globe and show everywhere in the world that somebody else is praying at that very moment using that app.  I checked it this morning and there were 502 people across the globe at 11 am.  And MOST people who pray this use the book and not the app, so that number must be 100 or 1000 times that amount at any given moment.

I bring that up because Twice in todays readings we hear part of the Shma the prayer that was the foundation of the Jewish religion Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God.  The Lord is One.  This prayer was the centerpiece of their morning and evening prayers kind of like the Our Father is the centerpiece of our Christian prayer.

The very essence of this prayer is the subject of both the first reading and the Gospel:  You shall Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.    Jesus himself told us today that THIS is the most important commandment of ALL! 

So do we do it?  Do we love God with our whole heart, soul, and strength?  If its the most important thing, surely we think about it all the time, dont we?  I admit, I dont .. but I am trying to better. 

God should be the first thing we think about in the morning and the last thing at night.  He should be the first one we thank when we receive a blessing and the first one we turn to when we are afraid or in trouble.  He is the one we should look to whenever we have a decision to make which answer will serve God the best?  Its all a matter of priorities is God the priority in our lives?

Heres a test for you to discover your own priorities:  where do I spend most of my time work, school but where do I spend most of my FREE time?  TV, Hunting, eating ice cream?  Another question:  Where do I spend most of my money house, insurance, gas  again, these might be necessities so where do I spend most of my EXTRA money?   Toys, vacation, hobbies, ice cream?

Wherever your time and money are thats where your treasure lies.  Do you see the truth in that?  Whatever I consider important enough to invest my time and money into THAT must be a priority to me.  If I spend all my time hunting deer then that must be a priority to me.  Maybe thats a good thing, because my family needs the meat.  But maybe its a selfish thing if I take too much time away from my family.  Same goes for us work-a-holics.  We convince ourselves that were putting in all those extra hours of work for the sake of our family but in reality, were often doing it for our own egos.  We want to move up we want to look good in the company or we want to plant just one more field or we get a sense of well-being from knowing that weve worked extra hard.  All of these things are good in themselves, but when they become the priority over family or God, then we have not made the best choice to Love God and our Neighbor. 

Every choice we make should be preceded with prayer.  Before I choose a career, before I choose a spouse, before I choose anything I should take it to God God show me the way that will love you the best.

We all have an important decision to make this Tuesday.  Before you enter the booth, ask God what is the most loving choice.  Think about the candidate youre voting for and why you think THEY deserve your vote what specific policy or policies do you think is the most important?  Now - what does that tell you about your OWN priorities? Then ask God is that really YOUR top priority?   The first line of the first reading is very appropriate Fear the Lord.  In other words, respect the fact that He knows best  and has authority over our lives.  When we stop fearing the Lord, we think we can make all the decisions without considering His perspective.

Beside every voting booth should be a kneeler.  Since there isnt, you are welcome to stop here at church on your way to the voting booth.

Hear o Israel hear o America hear o church hear o dubois county Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.   In this year of Faith, lets all strive to put God into every moment of every day, and into every decision we make.

Someone once said, I Spend an hour every day in prayer except when Im really busy then I spend two hours.  Im sure almost everyone here thinks thats just plain unrealistic but even if we cant spend 1 hour a day in prayer consciously find SOME way to integrate God into your day.  Otherwise, were ignoring the commandment that Jesus said was our top priority.