Saturday, February 22, 2014

2014/02/23 - Jaw-Dropping Forgiveness

Ask yourself this question… Do I listen to anybody? Do I let ANYbody tell ME what to do?

Fr. Eugene and I can stand up here and talk for 10 minutes about what we as Christians SHOULD be doing… but I often wonder how many people actually DO what we say? WE are human, so I guess it’s OK to ignore us… but I gotta wonder…Do any of us actually DO what Jesus tells us?

See – these words that Jesus used in today’s Gospel were not just nice suggestions… these were outlining the very fabric of the moral law in the Kingdom of God. “Take no revenge”…” cherish no grudge against any of your people.” “Love your enemy.” “Love your enemy”?! “Offer no resistance to one who is Evil?” Do we really HEAR Jesus?? Does ANYBODY actually LIVE like that?

I used to like to watch Walker, Texas Ranger. It was a show starring Chuck Norris – a martial arts expert. You could count on a plot that went something like this… some bad guy did something really evil, then Walker and his detectives tracked him down, and in the finale, he would always use his Martial Arts to do a turn-around-jumping-kick-in-the-face. I found myself anticipating that moment – feeling the surge of adrenaline…, pumping my fist in the air at the moment the BAD GUY GOT JUST WHAT HE DESERVED!!! And he DID deserve it, you know… these bad guys were the evilest, vilest demons to walk the face of the earth….KICK HIM AGAIN!!! BREAK HIS JAW!

But one day – who knows, maybe it was todays’ first reading… for the first time I actually HEARD what the Bible teaches: “Take no revenge”…” cherish no grudge against any of your people.” “Love your enemy.” “Offer no resistance to one who is Evil?” .”

I realized that this simple TV show – just one of the thousands that fill the airwaves every day – was teaching me that REVENGE is the answer. I loved that taste of revenge. I could see where it could almost be addictive… so I vowed to stop watching that show.

It’s a small thing, perhaps – but I wonder – how many people actually let JESUS tell us which shows to watch or not watch? How many of us take seriously the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? These are not sentimental thoughts meant to make us feel holy… they are part of the prescription for Holiness. Anytime we harbor anger and unforgiveness, we are putting ourselves at risk. “Acid corrodes the container that holds it. That’s what happens when we hold onto bitterness.”

Jesus tells us the way to avoid that problem – and we pray it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer… “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Do ANY of us really LIVE those words?

Lancaster County, PA – October 2006 – the world was shocked when a gunman entered the small Amish schoolhouse and shot ten young girls before taking his own life. By the end of the day, 5 girls were dead and 5 were struggling for their lives.

Imagine if these girls were our daughters and sisters and parishioners and classmates… How would we react? How would the WORLD tell us to react to this kind of evil?

Well, as shocking as the shooting was… what captured the attention of the world was how the Amish community reacted. Within hours after the shooting, some of the Amish community were speaking to the widow of the gunman and offering words of forgiveness and genuine concern for HER well-being. They visited the parents of the gunman to make it clear that they held no grudge. A large portion of the Amish community attended the funeral of the gunman, just one day after burying their own daughters. Could any of us do that? In the aftermath of the shooting, the world responded by donating millions of dollars to help them deal with the tragedy – and the Amish included the widow of the gunman and their children in the distribution to make sure they were cared for now that their father was gone.(1)

This is jaw-dropping forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but This is SO counter-cultural that it screams out to me that I’m not even CLOSE to forgiving the way Jesus tells us to…in fact, I’m so far from it that I might not even be able to consider myself to be Christian. You might think, “Yeah, Mike – but you’re a Deacon, obviously you’re Christian…” But when I compare myself to this kind of forgiveness, I fall way short of the target.

Jaw-dropping – that’s the impact this Christianity is SUPPOSED to have on the world. Christianity is SUPPOSED TO GET PEOPLE’S ATTENTION! When you or I are taken to court, Jesus tells us to give more than what was asked for. When we are forced to walk one mile, walk two – in doing so, we are pouring coals on the head of the person doing the injustice to us.

I remember as a kid going to school, the other kids would make up silly names to call me and my brother and sisters. I remember how it bothered me and I shared that with the wisest person I knew… my Mom. Her advice to me was to “Just ignore them. They’re only doing it to get a rise out of you – so the more you try to fight it, the more you’re going to encourage them.” To my surprise… it worked! Next time one of the bullies called me a name, it still stung, but I just stood there and stared blank-faced at them. After a few minutes of seeing that they weren’t going to get a reaction out of me, they got bored with that game and moved on.

You see – this command of Jesus is so simple: repaying evil with evil just escalates the war. As Christians, we’re taught to absorb the blows – to let it roll off as we turn our cheek. This teaching impacts every relationship in our lives – every day. An Amish father who lost a daughter in the schoolhouse offered his perspective: “For me, forgiveness means giving up my right to revenge.”(1) …Give up my right to revenge?! I can’t do that! I have every RIGHT to retaliate… to teach them a lesson… it’s payback time!!! I’m going to get a lawyer and milk them for all they’re worth!!

Let Jesus tell us what to do: “Take no revenge”…” cherish no grudge against any of your people.” “Love your enemy.” “Love your enemy”?! “Offer no resistance to one who is Evil?”

THIS is jaw-dropping Christianity. If more of us actually LIVED this way, we would CHANGE THE WORLD!!! St. Catherine of Sienna summed it up nicely: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze.”

1.  (Dr. Donald Kraybill,

Forgiveness does not mean that the Amish were saying that it’s OK to shoot innocent little girls. Forgiveness is different from pardon, which erases any punishment. Governors and presidents have the authority to erase punishment. The Amish were quick to say that, if Charles Carl Roberts IV had lived, they would have wanted him incarcerated, not out of revenge, but to protect other innocent children. Perpetrators can be forgiven by a victim but still held accountable for their actions. In other words, forgiveness and justice are two different things and should not be confused. (1)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2014/02/03 Why are we in the temple?

Lord, may the words of this Gospel be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.
We don't normally say that out loud, but i think it's important to remind ourselves why we do what we do.  We say those words silently as a reminder that …. We are about to read the words of Jesus himself, and we ask God to help us to remember the words in our mind – to keep them on our lips so we will speak those words to the people around us – and most of all – to allow the word to sink into our hearts – to change us.
We can always learn a bunch of stuff from the readings, but in order to learn, we have to be Seeking. If we just let the words of Jesus just float past us, we’re not likely to catch the meaning – nor are we likely to let those words change us… We need to let the words challenge us… to make us ask questions – and seek the answers.

Like – why did Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple that day?  Because they were following the Jewish law – the law which was written in the book of Leviticus.  (The law stated that after a woman gave birth, she was unclean – meaning – not allowed to enter the temple or touch sacred objects – for 40 days.). That tells us something about Joseph and Mary:  they took the law of God seriously.  They allowed the law of God to guide their actions- and this day, the Holy Spirit led them to take Jesus to the temple.

You might have noticed the connection between this day and the prophecy in the first reading:  Malachi tells us that ‘suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek’.  He predicted that God would come to the Temple… and it happened today!  God, in the person of Jesus, was returning to the temple on Mt. Zion – the place where God had chosen to dwell among the Israelites for centuries.  It really WAS a momentous occasion, but nobody really noticed…. Except an old man and an old woman.

Why was it that Simeon and Anna were in the temple that day?  Well, the story tells us – Simeon “came in the Spirit to the temple”.  In other words – the Holy Spirit prompted him to go that day because he had been told he would see the Messiah before he died.  He was there because he was seeking to see Jesus.  He allowed himself to be guided by the Spirit.
Anna was there because, it says, she never left the temple.  Sounds like she was there EVERY day.  Can you imagine going to church every day?...all day?  We don’t know much about her, other than the fact that she had been a widow for a long time – maybe for longer than 60 years.  It doesn’t TELL us why she was there, but anybody who spends all day, every day in the temple must have a close relationship with God.  She must have been seeking to be as close to God as possible.  And where better to be close to God than in his Holy Temple on his Holy Mountain.

That leads to the ultimate question…  why do WE come to the temple?  Why are we here today?  Perhaps many of us are here for the same reason as Mary and Joseph – to obey the law.  Somewhere along the line, it was instilled in us by our parents or grandparents that following the guidelines of the church is important – so we come to Mass every week.  We know deep down that obedience to God is what will bring us ultimate joy.

Or maybe some of us are here for the same reason as Simeon – we are seeking to see Jesus.  Perhaps WE were led by the Holy Spirit to come here today?  Hmmm… I’d go so far as to say that indeed every ONE of us was led by the Spirit to come here today.  You might think your wife twisted your arm or your Mom didn’t give you a choice… but in reality, the Spirit won’t hesitate to use other people to guide us where He wants us to be.  So – we let the Spirit guide us to come here today.

Or maybe we’re like Anna – we’re here because we have a relationship with God and we want nothing more than to be close to Him.

Why are WE here today?  We came to see Jesus.

Something else that makes me scratch my head… why is it that Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus for who he is that day, but nobody else in the temple did?
In fact, how is it that they knew who he was that day, but it wasn’t for another 30 years before the rest of the world came to know who he is?
There’s a simple answer, I think… they recognized him because… they were seeking Jesus.  They came to church that day because they knew they were going to see Jesus.

Here’s the point:  Jesus can’t be found by a group of people – that may sound like i am contradicting myself, but it's true. The general population looks right past him without even noticing.  No - Jesus reveals himself to one person at a time.  In other words, when we come to church, each of us individually must be seeking Jesus.  We're all responsible for our own relationship with Jesus, so when we come into church, we kneel down and say, "God, I've got all this stuff on my sins...Please help me to set all of that aside for the next hour and reveal yourself to me.  He IS here – will we see Him?

You may remember - We’re taught that Christ is present in the Mass four ways:  obviously, in the Eucharist, where he becomes present body, blood, soul, and divinity right there on our altar.  You might also remember that He is present in His words… as we read the Gospel.  But he’s also present in the priest – Fr. Eugene acts ‘in Persona Christi’ – which means, he asks in the person of Christ…in place of Christ.  Like I’ve said before, when the priest performs a Sacrament like the Eucharist – it is not the priest saying the words of consecration – but it is Jesus himself saying the words through the mouth of the Priest.  “This is My Body”.  Where is the fourth place that Jesus is present in the Mass?  In you.  He is present in the Body of Christ on earth – which is the Church.  The Church is you and me.  When we are baptized, we become temples of the Holy Spirit – and that spirit guides us to come together every Sunday to bring the body of Christ back together.  Look around…Jesus is present today in the temple… have you recognized him yet?

What are we supposed to do once we’ve come here and seen Jesus?  Look at what Simeon and Anna did.  Simeon gave witness to the greatness of God.  Anna – look at what it says – “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. “

We should do likewise.  Just like Simeon, we hold him in our hands when we come forward and say ‘amen’.  We have SEEN the salvation that God has prepared for his people.  We should let that CHANGE us.  We should be like Anna and tell everybody we know about it: We have seen Jesus!