Thursday, December 25, 2014

Homily for Christmas 2014 - Jesus in the Box

Note: for all of the Christmas Masses this year, we used the Gospel from the Mass during the Day:  The beginning of the Gospel of John.

Is this Joy for everyone?  Remember your Christmas story – when the angels appeared to the shepherd in the field – what did they say?  “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for”…. For who?  For all the people who are Jewish?  For all the people who go to church every week and follow all the rules?  For all the people who are one specific religion?  Or maybe it’s like Santa Claus, and the Joy is only for all the ‘good’ boys and girls?  Nope… the angels simply said… I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.  Yeah – ALL the people. 

That means if you’re not Catholic, Even if you’re not Christian!!! This good news is meant for you!  That means if you only make it to church once or twice a year, this good news is meant for you too!

What is the good news?  Well – that’s why I wanted to use THIS Gospel reading from John, because it explains the very core of our beliefs… this is the very ESSENCE of the good news.  If you and I fully understand this reading, then we can claim for ourselves that Joy the angels proclaimed.  So let’s walk thru this reading a bit –

In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God.
Shoot – I could talk all day just about what that one line means.  First, hopefully you caught-on that the ‘Word’ is Jesus – he is the Divine Logos: the active word; the reason; the command of God sent into the world.  So it says ‘He was in the beginning’ – which means he was not created AFTER God.  It says in the beginning he was WITH God – which means he was also not created BEFORE God.  Right there, we learn that Jesus is ‘co-eternal’ with God the Father…they bost existing ‘in the beginning’.  And then it says the Word WAS God.  In this one sentence, John teaches us that Jesus is Godthe God – the alpha and omega – and in no way inferior to God the Father.  Right there – we see clearly two of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  He’ll get to the Holy Spirit later.  At the same time, this also tells us that there is only one God – and we might not catch that, if it weren’t for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who added the smallest little word into this reading and changed the whole meaning… they think it says ‘and the word was with God and the Word was A god’… see what a difference one little letter can make?  That would imply there are many gods and Jesus is just one of them.  But - Because the ‘a’ is not there, it’s clear to us that there is only ONE God.   See how deep this theology is?  And that’s just the first sentence!  We’ll move on…

Through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made.
Because Jesus is the active Word of God, it is through Him that the world was created!  We often think of Jesus as the Redeemer… but He is also the Creator!  In fact, He is the source of Life itself….read on:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Jesus is the source of life –both in this world and the source of eternal life. 
Are you seeing how deeply important this reading is?!  I’m not gonna go line by line – just because it would take too long.  But one more line…. Skip down to:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
There it is…the goal of our lives…. Because Jesus came, we have been invited to become children of God.  Specifically – it says we have the ‘right’ or the ‘power’ to become children of God.  That means there’s something else has to happen…it’s not a done deal.  It IS a free gift – open to everyone – but you have to personally open that gift.  Have you opened that gift yet?

Let’s say you gave your best friend a sweater for Christmas.  You do it right – you even shear a sheep yourself – make the wool into yarn – then knit the sweater by hand.  It was perfect color and style for your friend.  You wrapped it and put a pretty bow on it and took it over to his house on Christmas Eve.  Your friend says – That’s a beautiful present – I love that bow – I hate to mess it up.  I’ll stick this present under the tree to open later…and you go upstairs to play x-box.
A year later, on Christmas eve, you go over to your friend’s house again – and – you think- that present there looks familiar to me… your friend explains – that’s the present you gave me last year!  The wrapping was so pretty, he couldn’t bring himself to unwrap it – so he put it in the attic with the Christmas tree and he just takes it out each year to look at it.  Isn’t it beautiful?

Silly isn’t it?  Who would receive a gift and never open it?  A sweater left in the box is wasted.  We would never do anything that silly would we?

One of our missionaries to Haiti had gone down numerous times to install a water filtration system at the school in town.  This was the first CLEAN water EVER to be available in the town.  This was a huge deal, because people are dying every day from water-borne illnesses.  He setup the program so that each student could take home two gallons of clean water with them each day for their family to use.  It was a brilliant plan and was bound to save many, many lives.

However, on a subsequent visit, he went to visit a lady on the outskirts of town.  Her youngest child was very sick and needed medication, so He was checking to see how he could help.  Turns out, the child had dysentery…  which comes from drinking bad water.  He was in disbelief!  How can this be?  There’s perfectly clean water available just down the road, and your child has the right to bring home two galloons every day….why did your daughter drink bad water?

She explained that the other children often forgot to take their jugs with them to school – or – stopped to play soccer on the way home and ended up spilling it.  After a while, they just quit even trying to get the clean water. 
His jaw dropped…. this life-saving gift which had been given to the village for EVERYONE…  it was their RIGHT!  They were now entitled to clean water.  But each person has to do something to claim this right before it becomes their own PERSONALLY. 

Just like a sweater left in the gift wrap – we could freeze to death because we never bothered to open the present and make the sweater our own. 

See where I’m going with this?  Here’s what it’s all about:  this good news of great joy really IS meant for EVERYONE.  No exceptions!  Jesus is God’s present to all of us.  BUT…if we don’t let Jesus out of this box… if we don’t let Jesus change us every day… then it is the same as never opening the present.  If all we do is look at the pretty Bible once in a while, we’ve left our true source of joy under the tree.  We’ve left Jesus – in the box.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2014/12/14 – 3rd Sunday Advent – It this all there is?

Before Mass
Today is gaudete Sunday...  Any idea why we call it that??  Well pick up your missalette and turn to page 40.  Lets read the entrance antiphon together.  Rejoice!  In latin, it is Gaudete this right here is how this Sunday got its name.  Also, youll notice three of the four readings Tell us to REJOICE!  Pay particular attention to the psalm and the second reading.  In case you don't recognize it, the psalm is Mary's prayer when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.its call the Magnificat.  Powerful stuff.  And the letter from Paul gives us some advice which may sound like wishful thinking:  Rejoice Always!  Is that possible in this life?  Let's lift at question up in prayer during today's Mass and see if applies to our own life.
Homily 3rd Sunday Advent 2014 It this all there is?
This may sound corny or cliché, but I want you to think back to Christmas as a child.  Now immediately, we usually think of the gifts and the lights and Santa and Midnight Mass and all the magic in the air because thats what Christmas is supposedto be like.  But I want you to think just a couple of years AFTER that time.  That one Christmas when after all the gifts were opened you felt well empty.  Is that all there is?  Is this what all the hype was about? 
That year, somebody asked you, Did you get what you wanted for Christmas?  And you thought well – “No.  Im not really sure what I wanted, but obviously I didnt get it, because I just feel like something is missing.  Is that all there is?
For many of us, THAT Christmas was the first time we had the feeling that Life is not all about feeling good and doing whatever we want and getting everything we want.  In fact, many of us Id even venture to say MOST of us have learned THAT lesson all too well.  Weve learned that this life is one struggle after another.  From the first time we skinned our knee by falling off our bike to the first time we failed a test in school.... Thru the car trouble we had recently...through all of lifes challenges:  failed relationships, unfaithful spouses, addictions, wrecks, kids and family members getting sick and dying.  Yeahwe learn THAT lesson over and over.  Life is full of pain.  And if thats really all that life is about, we'd always be thinking is this all there is?
You may think Im off in the weeds with all this depressing talk on Guadete Sunday when were told to REJOICE!  Thing is, many of us dont FEEL like rejoicing.  Life has dealt us a bad hand, and theres just nothing worth getting excited about.  All this Christmas talk is just another reason to be depressed, because it only serves to remind us of who is no longer with us and the things that we DIDNT get for Christmas.  Is this all there is?
But there IS reason to rejoice here. In that second reading, Paul says, Rejoice Always.   In all circumstances give thanks.  Really?  Is that even possible?
About 20 years ago, I was given this book Prison to Praise. 20 yearsbut its message has stuck with me.  The message is the same as Pauls reading today:  'In all circumstances give thanks.'  I remember story after story of how this guy turned his life around completely by learning to thank God not just for the Blessings but for the worst things in his life.  Did you catch that?  He even thanked God for his life of crime that led him to be stuck in prison where he learned about God for the first time.  He learned that lesson the hard way, and his life took a 180 degree turnand then helped many other people experience that same joy by thanking God for EVERYthing.  Can you imagine thanking God for your spouses addiction to alcohol?  Thanking God that your teenager is rebellious and wont listen?  Thanking God that your family member got sick?  Thanking God for the cancer?
I remember reading this and thinking this is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo  Some sort of Pollyanna psychology which just says if you "think" everything is great, then it will be great!    Honestly, I didnt like the book the first time I read it.
But the message kept coming back to me.  Thank God for EVERYthing.  So I tried it first in small things.  God thank you for putting this slowpoke in front of me to slow me down on the highway.  Apparently, you want me to learn patience or maybe youre keeping me from hitting a deer up ahead.  Thank you for that tough test in schoolas painful as it was, I know it is teaching me how to handle tough situationsand to prepare myself better for lifes tests...and maybe teaching me not to waste time.
After maybe a year, I read it again and this time took the message to heart.  Ill admit, there are things about the book I still didnt like but the basic message felt right to me, and the truth of it is being revealed more and more in my own life.
I can thank God that my Mom got sick and was near death, because it shook me from my complacency of thinking shell always be around and now I consciously make time to spend with her because I know time is precious.
See how it works?  If you and I can start by thanking God - even for the bad stuff-  the Spirit can lead us to recognize the impactto see the good that God is bringing about through that trial were experiencing.  Usually, we won't see the good until the trial is just a memory.  Looking in hindsight, we see God's hand.  Here's the key though...If you and I practice this attitude over and over, it becomes part of who we are.  Eventually, we develop enough trust in God that even though we can't FEEL God's hand on our shoulder, we trust that in time he will turn the situation to accomplish His will.
Now Im not gonna say life gets any easier!  Things still happen which will make us say Why?  It doesnt make sense, God!  How can I thank you for THIS?  How do you expect me to rejoice about THIS!  Seriously, there are things we will never understand this side of heaven. 
But oh to have the faith of the young virgin who found out she was having a baby.  Her life was over... She was destined for a life of pain.  Yet, in today's psalm, we hear her Magnificat....the ultimate example of how we can respond to every trial:  "My spirit rejoices in God, my savior".

Saturday, November 22, 2014

2014/11/23 - Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda...

“and these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”
Doesn’t it seem cruel that God would condemn ANYBODY to eternal punishment?  I mean, if God is a God of Love, then how could he be so heartless?
We’d LIKE to be able to ignore Hell… to say it doesn’t exist… that God has wiped away all of our sins and there’s nothing more anybody has to do to avoid going there…but – well – here it is in black and white… in the very words of Jesus himself,  “these will go off to eternal punishment”.  That sounds like Hell to me… so it MUST exist.  It would be dangerous for us to just ignore it.
But - I’ve got some good news and some not so-good news and some even better news. 
First the Good News – God does not send ANYONE to hell. 
Did you hear me?  God does not send ANYONE to hell.
Your eyebrows should go up about now… what… Mike you just pointed out in that reading how those people will be sent to hell…. Make up your mind….does God send people to hell or doesn’t he?!
Actually – read that again – “these will go off to eternal punishment”.   God didn’t send them there – they went by their own free will.  They CHOSE hell!  Can you believe it?
See – that’s the worrisome, not-so-good news.  We all get to choose heaven or hell.  But –unless you understand how you choose it, you might not even realize you’ve made that choice.  Look in the reading – those who chose heaven asked ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you?’  ‘when did we see you ill or in prison and visit you’….   They didn’t know they were choosing heaven – they just knew they were doing the right thing.  It was their very nature to do the right thing: the Loving thing.  That’s super important… their personality was such that it was just second-nature to do the Loving thing.
Now – look at the other guys… they didn’t realize they were choosing Hell.  ‘When did we see you hungry and NOT feed you?’  They had the chance, but they chose NOT to do the right thing.  Since they didn’t practice acts of kindness and Love, it didn’t become their very nature to Love.  Instead, their very nature is Love of Self… selfishness…looking out for number 1.  By choosing themselves, they failed to experience the Grace and Peace that God gives to those who do the right thing….and they chose themselves over Jesus.
Which leads us to the ‘Even Better’ news!  Fortunately for us – we’re not like these guys in the Gospel.  They didn’t know they were choosing… but because we’ve all read this reading today – we all KNOW the rules!  We know now that every act of kindness to anyone is actually an act of kindness to Jesus.  We know now that these very choices which will determine where we spend eternity.  Do we love Jesus more – or love ourselves more?
Notice in that Gospel, that those who went to Hell didn’t go there because of anything they DID…but rather for what they DIDN’T do.  “For I was hungry and you gave me no food.  I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome…”  This is important – it’s not what they DID – but what they DIDN’T DO!  This is known as the “sin of omission”… as opposed to the “sin of commission” where we actually  COMMIT a sin… in this case, we sin by failing to do something. 
Imagine being one of those people in the crowd that day when Jesus says, “what you did not do for one of the least ones, you did not do for me.”  I’d be standing  there thinking… but, but, but… if I had KNOWN it was you, I woulda…. If I had known this was important, I coulda… If I had realized that my eternal life was at stake, I shoulda…
Woulda, coulda, shoulda…  I think THAT is their Hell.  It’s called ‘regrets’.
Regrets can really eat at you…  Does anybody else experience this?  I’ve found over the last few years that the things in my past that I regret keep popping-up in my mind.  I’ll be hoeing the garden and suddenly have a memory of when I cheated on a test in high school… it’s like a slap in the face…I really regret that.  Or - I’ll remember the time I was driving too fast on an unfamiliar wet road and slid into the guard-rail… the memory makes me physically wince…I really regret that.  I could go on… Like probably everybody here, I’ve got plenty of regrets  - and those regrets are physically and mentally painful to me.
But – regrets can take two forms.  We can regret what we did…or often, the more painful regret is what we DIDN’T do.
My buddy, Jerry’s Dad was near death not too long ago.  It came on kinda sudden and was like a kick in the gut to Jerry.  In talking to him, he was really hurting watching his dad so close to death – but the thing that really tore him up was that there was one topic he had always wanted to talk to his Dad about – in a heart-to-heart, man-to-man, father-to-son conversation.  It hit Jerry that he would never be able to have that conversation.  That regret continues to eat at him today.
Researchers say that people near death are often torn with regrets, but most of those regrets are for things they DIDN’T do….  I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were young.  I wish I would have worked on my relationship with God more.  I wish I would have set a better example to my kids by going to Church regularly.  I wish I had stayed at home with the kids rather than sending them to the babysitter while I went to work.  I wish I had given my wife more attention so she would have known how much I love her.  You fill in the blank from your own life… we all have regrets.
These regrets can really eat at us.  And that is Hell.  Imagine the pit in the stomach of the folks in that reading as they head off to eternal punishment… man, they are REALLY regretting what they didn’t do.  And that regret will stick with them for eternity.  That mental anguish is their hell.
So – what are we supposed to do?  It’s really quite simple…but not easy.  In every moment of every day – every decision we make – choose the most loving option.  By doing so, not only are we choosing to serve Jesus, but we will experience God’s grace and peace NOW… we will experience the Kingdom of God NOW.  And every time we choose the loving thing to do, we train ourselves to be Loving – until it becomes our very nature to be that way….   Make sure you understand this:  God puts the poor, sick, hungry in our paths as a means to give us His Grace.  It is in serving them that God blesses us…know what I mean?  When we do good things for people, we feel good about it!  That is God’s Grace.  When we avoid those opportunites to help others… we are avoiding the Grace of God.  That’ really what our Grace Co-Op is all about – helping our parishioners to find opportunities to serve others so that we can all experience the Grace of God.
This is Jesus’ plan for YOU.  Like it says in the Gospel – “come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  From the Foundation!”  That means he intended from the beginning for every one of us to join Him in heaven…   Every time we Love, We DO experience heaven.  Anything else leads to regrets – where we’ll spend eternity with a pain in our gut as we’re thinking - Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

20141025 What do we want people to say about us?

Before Mass:
Pay particular attention to the second reading today its to the Thessalonians what does it tell you about them?  What kind of people were they?  If you met a Thessalonian on the street, what would you notice about them.  And then pray about what this might tell you about how you and I should be.
Lets play a little word association game. Ill say a city you tell me the first thing that comes to mind.

            Vegas sin city gambling casinos

            Denver Rocky Mtn High mile high city

            Philadelphia brotherly love. 

See even if you havent been there, you know about these places.  Other people have told us about these places and THEIR experiences and we believe them.

I bring these up because of that second reading -
What kind of people were the Thessalonians?  In case you didnt catch it, let me point out a couple of things that Paul said here is talking to the Thessalonians:

-       you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

-       from you the word of the Lord has sounded in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declarehow you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 

In other words, these people were apparently such awesome Christians that word ABOUT them had spread throughout the area.  Everybody knew that the Thessalonians were the role model if you want to be a good Christian go see how THEY live and try to be like them. 

Makes you wonder what do people say about OUR parish?  When people hear of St. Raphael or St. Celestine, what words or images come to mind?  Are we known for our Love of God?  Are we known for our love of neighbor? Or are we just known for the tastiest fried chicken at our parish social or shoot? 

When I was a kid in Newburgh, our pastor wanted our parish to have a different image so I can remember a homily talking about nudging other people to come to church.   Little prayer cards were passed out, we prayed it together all the time, and in time we really did become known as the nudging parish.  See what happened there?  The pastor set the vision some simple actions were put into motion and we became that vision. 

So heres the real question what do we WANT people to say about our parish?  Try something with your friends and coworkers ask THEM what they think of when they hear St. Celestine or St. Raphael.?  It would be interesting to do a survey and collect the results but my guess is that the answers would be all over the map.  Without a vision set out there, nobody is sure WHAT theyre supposed to believe about us.

I personally would like for people to say about St. Raphael/St. Celestine what Paul said about the Thessaloniansthat we are a role model for all the believers.  I want them to think of US as a Joyful, Welcoming, Compassionate, Evangelizing, Active Catholic Parish. 

Heres where it gets personal. What would you and I have to do to make that happen?  Jesus gives us an answer Love the Lord your God with our whole heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Jesus is giving us the priority list God first, Others second, and ourselves third.  An easy way to remember that is the acronym for JOY  - J O-Y:  Jesus, Others, Yourself. 

When we put Jesus and others first PERSONALLY then we personally become a Joyful, Welcoming, Compassionate, Evangelizing, Active Catholic person and when we all learn to love like that, then our parish becomes the role model for all and people will travel from around the world to learn from us how to live as a Christian.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014 October 5 - Hedge

Before Mass:
Weve got two readings today about vineyards they talk about all the steps the owner went through to build the vineyard in order to maximize the harvest.  There are a lot of great things we could say about that , but I want you to concentrate on one point in particular.  It talks about building a hedge around the vineyard. Think about that pointWhat is the hedge?  Whats it for?  The first reading TELLS us what the vineyard is but using that analogy what is the hedge?

OK Im gonna do something odd today Ill give you the punch-line FIRST, then I have a story to explain it.  So, obviously, the vineyard is the Church and you and I are the branches on the vines.   The hedge around the vineyard is Gods law.  Got that?  You could say the Hedge is the 10 commandments.  The boundaries that God has set for His people.  So given that understanding What is the purpose of the hedge?  What is the purpose of Gods law?   

When Jerry was in high school, he knew everything.  Really everything well at least everything he thought was important.  He knew how to do the absolute least he could in order to squeak by in his classes at school  He knew how to chase people away whom he didnt really want to talk to you know how teens are often theyre quiet with a scowl on their face and any attempt to make a real conversation just pushes them further into their shell.  The only response you get is a one or two syllable grunt.  Those of us who matured past that point quickly grow tired of even trying to communicate which is what the teen wants.  Just leave me alone.  Theres nothing YOU know that I need to know. 

At home, it seemed he and his Mom were always fighting.  She just wouldnt leave him alone.  For example, she kept nagging at him for leaving all the dirty dishes and clothes all-over his bedroom.  It was so bad, that she sometimes had to go get all the dishes herself, because there were no more cups or spoons left in the kitchen.  Jerrys Dad tried to reason with himbut Jerry wouldnt listen . So Dad made a rule:  Every day before you can have the car keys, you have to bring all of the dishes from your room and put them in the dishwasher.  But Jerry just rolled his eyes whatever
Another constant issue was video games If Jerry had his way, hed waste just about every evening and most weekends in front of the TV in his room playing those video games.  His parents had to make a rule that there would be no video games until homework was done and no more than 1 hour per day.  Jerry couldnt believe they could be such tyrants!!!. Im not a 5-year-old!  Its not fair!  So hed lie saying he was heading to the library to study but instead hed go over to Pauls house to play on his X-box.  Jerry wanted the newest X-box but it was expensive.  He didnt have a job and even if he did have a job hed probably never go to it anyway because he was SO BUSYbusy doing what? - playing video games.  One day, he saw his Moms purse open on the kitchen table and right there was her credit card.  He slowly snatched it up and headed up to his computer where he ordered the x-box system on-line.  He was sly he had it delivered to Pauls house so maybe he could keep his Mom from seeing it.  But the next day, when Mom was trying to pay for gas at the gas station, her credit card was rejected.  So she called the company and found out that somebody had used her card to buy something expensive from Best-Buy online.  She knew immediately who it was 

When she confronted Jerry, he rolled his eyes again whatever you never treat me like an adult.  Youre always getting on my case.  You never let me have anything I want!  Im leaving!!!

Mom didnt think it would escalate to THIS level, but maybe it was for the best.  Maybe it was time for him to learn just how good he has it at home.  He stomped upstairs and slammed his door. 

Mom and Dad met him at the front door 10 minutes later.  Jerry we love you we want you to stay.  Jerry just rolled his eyes whatever you guys dont love me you dont understand me and youre just always on my case with all of your stupid rules!!  Im outta here!!

He grabbed his dufflebag and the keys to the car and reached for the door handle.  Dad stuck out his foot to block the door.  Jerry you can leave if thats what you want but you can only take what is yours.  Jerry was like thats what Ive got all MY stuff here in this bag and my x-box is already in my car.

It took all the nerve Dad could muster to say the next thing son I love you.  In fact, I love you so much that All that stuff in that bag I bought for you to usebut it is not yours.  That x-box is paid for with money your mother and I earned.  It has to go back to the store for a refund so we can afford to pay the house payment this month.  This house which we want you to live in with us this is OUR home not your house.  I work everyday to get money to pay for it for the electricity which runs your games for the food for the car and the insurance and all the other stuff here at home.  You can leave if you want to, but realize that none of this stuff is yours.  We sure hope youll stay, but as long as you live under our roof, you will follow our rules.  You look at rules as something we come up with to keep you from doing or having what YOU want, but someday youll learn that rules are there to protect you.  As long as you follow the rules, life is much easier.  Think of it practically.When you follow the rules, theres no reason for Mom and I to yell at you.  :) 

Then Dad did something which surprised his wife.  Son you are free to make this decision on your own.  None of this stuff belongs to you but as of now I am giving you this car.  You can choose to take it and drive as far away from us as you want to go but remember - youll always be our son.  You can always come home.  Just please be careful you are a new driver. be safe follow the traffic laws and dont speed. 

Jerry rolled his eyes, there he goes again more rules he grabbed the keys, slammed the door, hopped in the car and headed for town.  There was a hill just before you got to town where it was impossible to see over.  Jerry got behind an old grandma driving 25 miles per hour as they approached the hill.  He stomped his foot impatiently on the floorboard.  And even though he could hear his Dad in his head reminding him to be safe and saw the sign that it was a no-passing zone on the hill, Jerry figured he had enough room to make it so he gunned it and pulled into the other lane. Just then a furniture truck came popping over the top.  With only inches to spare, Jerry swerved back into his lane so quickly that his wheels went off the other side of the road before he regained control. 

Jerrys heart was beating so hard it nearly burst out of his chest.  He pulled over and shut the engine off and without realizing it, tears started coming from his eyes.  Suddenly, like a light shining through the fog he understood what Dad had said: Rules are there to protect you.  I might think I can pass safely on a hill, but the law is very clear that it is a no-passing zone, because you cant see whats coming at you.  The rules are not random boundaries put in place to keep us from being happy but they are the very KEY to living life to the fullest.

Sooner or later, we all come to realize that WE have been planted in the choicest soil in Gods vineyard and that HE has given us everything even His law so that we can flourish and bear great fruit.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014/09/07 - Harden Not Your Hearts

Before Mass:  Sometimes it may seem that the readings are kind-of over our heads and we think well, thats nice but it doesnt REALLY apply to my day-to-day life.  Not today.  Theres are several lessons to learn and they are very helpful advice for how we interact with other people.  I cant talk about all of them in the homily, so youll have to listen closely to learn what you can.  Ill warn you, the homily today will actually center on the Psalm If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.  Anybody know what in the world that means? Harden not your hearts No it doesnt mean to cut down on your cholesterol which hardens your arteries.  Lets pray that God gives us some answers today on how to soften our hearts

Homily:  Larry was at work one day and headed over to the lunch room.  He was getting his lunchbox out of the refrigerator next door, when he recognized that the guys in the lunchroom were talking about him, so he stood there for a moment to listen.  They were saying all sorts of bad things about him.he only thinks of himself he doesnt work as hard as the rest of us... and doesnt do as good of work as he should either!  One after another, the guys in the crowd joined in gossiping about Larry.  Any one of us would have been ticked off listening to that.  We would have stepped out indignantly to defend our honor and yell at them for saying all of those bad things.  Larry had the chance to leave.  He could have walked away without anyone blaming him.  He obviously wasnt wanted there.  But Larry was different.  He guy stood there listening, and recognized that there was some truth in what was being said. He had faults that, up until now, he had either not recognized or had rationalized.  So - instead of hardening his heart and becoming indignant he listened to the truth of it and made up his mind to change.

Do you see how that applies to our own lives?  People often dont even tell us the truth, because it will hurt our feelings.  When someone DOES tell us something they dont like about us, we too often harden our hearts and instead of hearing the truth and making a change, we rationalize it or more often, we get really mad at the person who told us.  Todays message is:  Harden not your hearts’…. The Truth however hard it is to hear is the only thing that can show us where we need to make a change.                                                                                           

So where are you and I supposed to hear the truth?  Well thats where the first reading comes inI dont like this reading it hits too close to home for me.  See that first reading says I have appointed you as the watchman.  Who do you think Hes talking to?  Yes hes talking to Ezekiel a prophet who spoke harsh words to the Israelites.  But, as with all Old Testament readings, they are a prophecy toward the future.  Naturally, you can apply it to Jesus himself.  God sent Him to show us the way to point out where we left the path.  But theres more to it than that God has appointed watchmen in our own day as well: Most notably, the Pope, Bishops, Priestsand yes even Deacons.  Youll notice the Church continually points out the things going wrong in society.  We hear it so often, that we tune it out:  how our cultures morality is going downhill fast:  abortion, contraception, sex outside of marriage, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, pornography, gluttony, alcohol and drug abuse, economic inequality.  Yeah, yeah, weve heard it before and we dont want to hear it anymore.  Too often, myself included we just accept this stuff for example, we laugh about or make light of somebody with an alcohol problem or get this in talking with one couple preparing them for marriage, I challenged them whether it was right to live together (and presumably sleep together) prior to marriage and you know what they answered?  It would be stupid for anybody NOT to live together before marriage!.  After I picked up my jaw, I gave it one more try .what if you have a daughter and SHE wants to go live with a boy?  Surely that will make them think but no their answer was well, I sure hope she wouldnt get married without first living with a guy to see if theyre compatible.  Our culture has hardened their hearts to the damage this does to the sanctity of marriage and the family.

For those of us who stand here at the pulpit, this job as watchman is not a fun one.  We dont like to rock the boat.  People get upset when we rock the boat.  I would prefer to always talk about how God loves us and wants us all to be with him for eternity and thats true but He insists that we, as watchmen, look out for the evils that are attacking Gods people and warn them of the danger.  I dont like doing that.  The most uncomfortable Ive ever been up here was speaking out against the danger that the Church saw coming when there was a major shift in our governments attitude toward the rights of the unborn.  That was several years ago, and there are people who wont speak to me to this day.  Am I wrong to speak out?  Would God allow me to stop speaking out???  Now if Im honest with myself I could have presented it in a better way and one kind man in our congregation helped me to see that truth about myself.  See, each of us personally has to hear the truth and decide for ourself will I harden my heart and get mad at the messenger or will I see the truth and decide to make a change?

Heres what Ive been thinking I sometimes wonder if we, as a Church, should give up speaking out against abortion and contraception and the sanctity of marriage I mean weve already LOST those battles so lets just move on, OK?  But todays message makes it clear that we CANT stop speaking out.  All it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing.  If we are quiet, who will stop the evil?  But more than that re-read what God said in the first reading:  If we do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.  If we are silent, we are as guilty as the society we live in.

We have our choice.  We can recognize our sins both personal and as a country and make real efforts to change or we can wander in the desert of misery for the rest of our lives.  If we dont turn from the evil on our own, God wont hesitate to chastise us.  We see that time and time again in the history of Israel:  the prophets warn, and warn, and warn the people harden their hearts, and God allows some other country to come in and take His people into exile until they repent. 

Fortunately, we can place our trust in the Mercy of God.  He wants us to spend eternity with Him, and Hell stop at nothing to make that happen even if it means leading us into the desert even if it means taking us into exile until we soften our hearts, listen to His teachings, and make a change. 

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.