Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost 2013/05/19 - Vicars of Christ

Are you familiar with the word ‘vicarious’?    It’s used a couple of ways – it can mean to do something IN PLACE of someone, like a substitute – or it can mean to do something or experience something THROUGH someone else. Some people live vicariously through their kids – like the dad who always wanted to play football, but fulfills that dream through his kid.  The mom who always wanted to be a gymnast or singer – who gladly takes her daughter to practice all year long to live the experience she missed-out on growing up.  The parents live their lives through the lives of their children.
My sister does something that’s kinda cute.  The last couple of summers, she has gone one what she calls ‘vica-vacations’… that’s short for ‘vicarious vacations’…She can’t afford to take her family on big vacations, so she just waits for her friends to post THEIR vacation pictures on facebook, then she pastes her own face into THEIR vacation picture and posts it on HER facebook page.  The Vica-vacation … well – I thought it was a cool idea.
We use the word ‘vicarious’ in the church too… we can say that Jesus’s death on the cross was vicarious too… he died in our place… he was our substitute, since WE were the ones who deserved death. 
Let me come back to that thought in a minute.. because today… all that mess about the cross and crucifixion is behind us.  Today is PENTECOST… the birthday of the Church.  You gotta wonder…Why did Jesus start his church?  Well – to answer that – I think first you gotta answer the question – why did Jesus become human?  Think of it this way… Jesus want to come to earth so he could touch his people with a human hand and SHOW us the way to the Father through HIS human actions.  When he left, still wanted to be able to do that… So, He started the church so he could CONTINUE to touch his people through a human hand… through the hand of his ministers.  In other words – when Fr. Eugene baptizes a baby, it is actually JESUS baptizing the baby vicariously through the hand of Fr. Eugene.  You catch that?  Fr. Eugene stands “in the place” of Jesus when he baptizes…  Jesus is still reaching out to touch his people with a human hand.  He wants to continue to live vicariously through his body on earth… thru us… WE are the body of Christ.  You may have heard, one of the titles for the Pope is the “vicar of Christ”… recognize that word… vicar?  It comes from the same word as ‘vicarious’… in other words, the Pope is the substitute – or he sits in place of Christ as the head of the church…his body of Christ on earth.  Jesus continues to live his life vicariously through the ministers of his church

But that’s not all… today at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered the apostles and propelled them out of that room and into the street to tell everyone about the great things God had done.  They were the billboards advertising to the world the great things that God had accomplished through Jesus.  They were the spokesmen for the commercials.  And what was really cool was as they spoke, everyone heard them and understood even though they were from different countries. 

What you may not realize though is that the big advertising campaign continues… and you and I are the billboards… we are the spokesmen for the commercial.  So – what message is on your billboard?  What language are we speaking?

We can LEAD people TO Christ or chase them away… depending on our actions, …our words, …and just our sense of joy.  If we’re always in a sour mood – why would anybody WANT to join US at church?  On the other hand, if everyone around us is leading non-Christian lives – maybe - every other word out of their mouths is a four letter word, but WE avoid that behavior…, what does THAT tell people about how Jesus has changed OUR lives? 

I want to use another big word that probably sounds scary to most of us:  Evangelization.  What do you think of when you hear that word?  Billy Graham?  Jimmy Swaggart?  The guy on the street corner shouting at the top of his lungs that the end is near and you’d better repent?  While those guys are evangelists… they are the exception.  Every ONE of us is called to be an evangelist.  No – I don’t mean you need to be on TV or stand or a street corner.  You don’t even need to be like the apostles in today’s first reading speaking different languages…  All you gotta do is try to bring God into the world around you.  You work at a factory:  watch your language.  You raise your family:  teach them to pray.  You run around with a group of friends:  set the right example when they want to go places and do things you know are not right.  How we live our lives is the first, most necessary step in bringing others to know Christ.  Jesus wants to SHOW people how to experience the joy of following him… to do that, Jesus wants to live his life vicariously through you and me.

There are many ways to be an evangelist…. One way is to pass along a good book or CD.  That’s the whole purpose of the CD’s that we have at the doors of the church.  After YOU listen to a particularly good, Catholic CD, the best thing you can do is to pass it along to someone else you know who can benefit from it.  Same thing goes for the books we have handed out.  Not too long ago, we passed out ‘Rome Sweet Home’ – possibly one of the best Catholic books out there (after the Bible).  Then at Easter, we had a couple hundred copies of ‘4 Signs of a Dynamic Catholic’.  The title didn’t really grab MY attention, but the feedback I’ve gotten from this book has been outstanding!  In fact, it is so good, I’d like to make sure EVERYbody gets the chance to read it.  Seriously – if you didn’t get a copy and would like one – drop me an email and I will make sure you get one.

I’ve got another example – it just happened recently to two of my best friends, and it gives us an example of how ANYbody can evangelize.  Many of you know Jack Goodman – he’s been making rosaries for years – somewhere around 60,000 by his best count.  He makes them for the missions, plus he makes special rosaries and sells them for next to nothing – often simply GIVING them away.  Chances are, any time you run into him, if you said you needed a rosary, he’d stick his hand in his pocket and give you one.  Well – recently, my other friend went to buy a car, and the salesman commented on the rosary in his car and wondered where he could get one like it… so my friend just GAVE him that rosary… one made by Jack.  That guy was so appreciative, but my friend wouldn’t take anything for it… instead the guy made a donation to our church a couple weeks later.  Once Jack found out about it – he made my friend another one just like it – so he could carry it with him in case he ever needs to give it away again.  Where are you and I in that story?  Can you make rosaries?  Can you pass out rosaries?  Can we pass along a book or a CD?  Do we have other talents we can use to spread the Gospel

Jesus needs every ONE of us to be Evangelists…  he needs each of us speaking on his behalf – why?  Get this… you remember in the first reading how everyone heard the apostles in their own language?  Do you recognize how that applies today?  Every one of us sitting here today hears the word of God in our own way… based on our own background and experiences.  Even though I’m preaching one thing to everybody… people HEAR different things.  Proof of this comes sometimes after a homily… people will come up and say how they heard something completely different than what I said… the Holy Spirit is speaking to them where they are – through my words.  So – the Holy Spirit needs each of us out there talking – because somebody is listening – and somebody needs to hear the word of God spoken to them in a way they will understand…in the way that YOU speak it. 

The bottom line for today:  Jesus still wants to touch people in the world – and he does that vicariously through you and me.  He sends His Holy Spirit to give us the courage and the enthusiasm to do it… we just gotta LET Him act through us.  If WE don’t do it –How will our families know about Jesus?  How will our co-worker know about Jesus?   how will the WORLD know about Jesus?  We are ALL Vicars of Christ.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

2013/05/05 Do we recognize Truth?

Do we recognize the truth when we see it?  Lets take a test Ill give you a three questions and you can answer to yourself True or False.  (dont have to answer out loud)

First its best to plant your sweet potatoes the first week of April.  T or F?

Second Ben Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite in a storm.  T or F?

Third - when the Rapture comes we hope that WE are the ones left behind T or F? 

The purpose of this test is to show that its not always OBVIOUS what the right answer is.  Sometimes, we lack the experience to know the answer for for example, if youve never grown sweet potatoes in Southern Indiana, it would not be obvious to you that the 1st week of April is WAY too early to plant.  In reality, the first of June or end of May is better.  

Even if we have experience with something, it may be easy to THINK something is true, but it turns out to be completely false.    For example we were all taught that Ben Franklin flew a kite in a storm to discover electricity its common knowledge, right?  Well, the Mythbusters recently proved that Ben would have been dead if he had carried through on that experiment.  So the answer to the first two questions is False.

Whats my point?  Truth can be hard to recognize.  Jesus told us in the gospel today that he would send the Holy Spirit to teach us and to remind us of all that he told us.  In another passage it says the Holy Spirit will guide us to all truth.  How is that useful to us? 

Well remember when Lincoln said, four score and seven years ago’… do you know what that meant?  Many of us probably have a pretty good idea because historians have preserved the history of the civil war.  If not for historians, we couldnt have learned about the battle of Gettysburg in grade school.  If not for historians, we might not know what Lincoln was talking about heck without historians, we wouldnt know anybody named Lincoln ever existed much less that he opened his famous Gettysburg address with four score and seven years ago.  Somebody had to write it down to preserve the truth. 

Jesus knew that we would have a hard time remembering everything HE said and even if we DID remember, we could easily get confused or wonder what He meant.  So he sent the Holy Spirit to guide us to teach us to help us remember in short - to guide us to understand the truth.  Not what we THINK should be the truth but what JESUS would say is the truth.
In that first reading, we have the first council of the Catholic Churchthe council of Jerusalem.  That was the first one anybody remember when the latest one was?... Vatican II.  Ever since the beginning of the church, whenever a disagreement arose about what Jesus said, or what he meant, or who he was it has been common practice to ask for the wisdom of a council of bishops and particularly to the head of that council the Pope.  This council was within just 20 year of when Jesus died!

At this first council, the issue was whether or not you had to be circumcised in order to be a Christian.  To the Jews, it seemed common knowledge. Of COURSE you have to be circumcised, thats the tradition weve had for centuries.  But the first council of bishops said, no.  THEY were the ones who had the authority to decide what Jesus would have wanted.  We believe as Catholics that when the Bishops gather as the head of the church, they are guided by the Holy Spirit and through their prayer and discernment they guide US to the truth.  We saw this very recently when the cardinals gathered to elect Pope Francis.  We have faith that the Holy Spirit guided these leaders of the Church to this choice.

If not from the Holy Spirit
Where else are you going to find a pope?  our only hope is to put our trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  But even in the smaller, everyday decisions each of us makes, we can let the spirit guide us.  We dont have to have a council to decide whether we should do something.   That little voice inside of us called a conscience is our own personal connection to the Holy Spirit. 

We gotta be careful though because only a well-formed conscience can guide us properly.  Its easy for us to believe something just because its common knowledge.  For example back to our last true/false question when the Rapture comes we hope that WE are the ones left behind true or false? 

Well, Deacon Mike, everybody KNOWs that only the sinners are going to be left behind after the rapture.. so of COURSE we dont want to be left.  Is that what were thinking?  Think again this is a perfect example of where many people- including many Catholics have been caught up by a lie.  Its a case where a false teaching based on a false interpretation of scripture has become culturally accepted and believed by most Christians.  We found a copy of this movie Left Behind in our library back there which is based on what might happen after the Rapture.  You know I read the book, and honestly, it was very engaging and even inspiring to see people learning how to live as Christians and to put their trust in the Holy Spirit but I had to keep reminding myself that the basis of the story is a false teaching The Rapture is a false interpretation of scripture.  Im not telling you to avoid the book or the movie but just be careful what information you let into your brain what we let into our thoughts forms our conscience and can eventually lead us astray.  Before we believe anything, we should check our source what would the Church say is the truth?  Maybe check the Catechism the wisdom of 2000 years of the best minds in Christianity guided by the Holy Spirithas been combined into one handy little book. WhenEVER we hear something that doesnt quite jive with the teachings of the Church, wed better be questioning it then asking the Holy Spirit to guide us to the truth.