Saturday, April 26, 2014

2014/04/27 - Here's the Recipe

I LOVE this time of the year – right after Easter, we get to hear from the Book of Acts – which is the book of the Bible that tells us how the earliest Christians lived.  Did you recognize what they were doing in that first reading? 
– listen to this: 

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers…..
Recognize that?  That’s MASS!  Reading the teachings of the apostles… that the scriptures… and breaking the bread.. .that’s the Eucharist.  That’s pretty cool… but that’s not all.
I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but did anybody read the "Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic"(1)?  Remember what the four signs are?  Prayer, Study, Generosity, and Evangelization.  Take a look at that reading – it’s all there…
Prayer:  that one’s pretty obvious… they devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
Study: …. That’s the teaching of the apostles  it mentioned.
Generosity:  It says “they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need”….that’s GENEROSITY
Evangelization might be a little harder to see in THIS reading… but it’s obviously there.  What do you think they were doing in the Temple every day???  Obviously evangelizing, because it says,
                “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
See!  It’s all there.  I’ve not just been pushing this book because it’s a good read – but it actually gives each of us personally a way we can start living like the earliest Christians did… by living the four signs:  Prayer, Study, Generosity and Evangalization. 
Here’s an important perspective though…. Look at what God did BECAUSE of how they lived…. “every day the Lord added to their number”.  Now let that sink in a second… WHY did God add to their number every day?  Because -of how -they -lived.  In short, that means we have in this reading the RECIPE for growing our church…and the recipe is to LIVE the four signs joyfully.  That’s my MAIN point… God builds up the churches who LIVE like this.
Surely you see where I’m going with this…
Is the Lord adding to OUR number every day?  Um – well, we had three people come into the church last week at Easter, does that count?!  Yes…but if you look at our number of parishioners total, is it going up every day?  Over the last 10 years, is our Church bigger or smaller?  Why?  We’re still in the same Catholic Church that the early Christians were in… but are we living as they did?  Let’s take inventory of how we’re living the 4 signs:
We have Prayer:  We have weekend Mass and daily Mass.  A few people pray in the adoration chapel each Friday night.  And we have a few prayer groups that meet at various times every week.   And I know that many people have their personal prayer life we all do at home.
We have study:   We just had our book study during Lent.  Our Religious Ed classes just ended for the year.  We have a weekly Bible study on Monday nights.  So – we do SOME learning -  but probably less than 7% of our people come to those events.  Of course, I SURE everyone else is reading books and listening to CD’s to increase their own knowledge of the Faith.
Now Generosity….THAT is something we really do well.  Anytime there is a need or a benefit of some sort, our people are generous.  One visible example is our Grace Co-Op which has helped a lot of people in our community.  Did you know that this month is the one-year anniversary of ‘grace grub’?  You may not remember the term ‘grace grub’, but One year ago, we started taking meals to different folks in our parish each Sunday – and if you add up the number of meals… it is amazing.  We surpassed 500 official meals… but each meal is like 4-6 meals.  We just had our shantytown where we distributed 22 loads of firewood.  We’ve helped folks in the area who’ve had fires and wrecks –Denise helps people get assistance from TriCap for electricity and heating.  Our community is always reaching out to those in need.  I’d have to say as a parish, we do pretty good with generosity.
The last of the four signs is Evangelization.  Do we do that?  Hmmm… some.  We give away books and CD’s.  We invite people to come to our parish Mission.  But how much do we really try to SHARE our faith with others?  That’s what evangelization is… us sharing our faith with others.  Inviting THEM to experience the Joy that comes from our faith.
Pope Francis wrote a document about it – called the Joy of the Gospel.  One of the main points he makes is that Evangelization is the lifeblood of the Church.  Not only is it our responsibility as baptized Christians, but it is through bringing people to Christ that we find OUR greatest Joy.  That Joy then makes us even more attractive to people, so that they WANT to join our community.  Who wants to join a church where everybody is bored?
Pope Francis says – the church grows, not by proselytizing, but by attraction.  In other words, we don’t convert people to Christianity by standing on a street corner yelling at people about doctrine or telling them that Jesus is risen… we convert people by showing the JOY we have – That attracts people to join us.
Look what happened to Thomas – the other apostles TOLD him that Jesus had risen, but he wouldn’t believe it.  You and I would be just like him, you know.  In order for anybody to REALLY believe in Jesus, we have to meet him – most of us don’t get to stick our fingers in his nail holes… but we experience his presence through the JOY of community.  Ask yourself – what event caused ME to believe in Jesus?  Every one of us needs a conversion experience.  If you’re not ON FIRE for Jesus, you’ve probably not met him.  That’s not necessarily your fault, you see… the community around you is supposed to LEAD to you that encounter with Jesus. 
Personally, I think the best way to meet Jesus is through a retreat like Teens Encounter Christ or Cursillo or Christ Renews His Parish.  People who go through these retreats are changed forever. 
So the bottom line is this:  our parish isn’t growing – because WE aren’t fully living the four signs of a dynamic Catholic. aren’t fully living the way the earliest Christians did.
The GREAT news is – half the effort in solving a problem is identifying the problem.  Now, we KNOW what we really need to work.  And when we do, then, “the Lord will add to OUR number those who are being saved.”
If you want to help with this – if you want to see our church GROW – let’s work together.  Let’s provide opportunities for every parishioner of every age to Pray… to Study… to be Generous… and to Evangelize.  I’d like to start a team to focus on this effort.  If you feel like the Holy Spirit is prodding you to get involved, let’s talk.
I wish everyone could feel the fire of the Holy Spirit that comes from leading others to Christ. 
This is the source... the Recipe... for True Joy.

(1) "The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic" - by Matthew Kelly

Saturday, April 5, 2014

2014/04/06 - Jesus, where WERE you?!

If I was Martha and Mary, I’d have reacted totally differently when Jesus showed up – in fact, If I was Lazarus – I’d have come out of the tomb with both fists swinging at Jesus.  Where WERE you!?  We Waited!  We HAD FAITH!  We BELIEVED in you… just what you’ve been telling everybody to do.  We trusted you… we spent a huge amount to send that messenger to find you… WHERE WERE YOU?! 
I thought we were friends.  I thought I had done everything you asked for… but I just kept getting sicker – and you never showed up.  How could you do that to me?!  Where were you!?
Haven’t we all felt the same way at some point of our life?  It seems some people get more than their fair share of suffering in this life.  We pray – we ask others to pray.  We send messengers to find Jesus – please – come to our aid!  Make Haste to help me!  But it seems sometimes that he’s not answering.  Like he’s delayed or maybe he’s just not out there at all!  Maybe we put our faith in the wrong guy!  Jesus – where WERE you?!
Fortunately, the Church gives us this reading today – the story of the raising of Lazarus.  This is the ultimate story of hope – for more than one reason.  There’s so much packed in here, we need to take a few minutes for a little “scripture study” to unpack it.
Not long ago, Jesus barely escaped being arrested or killed in Jerusalem, and he fled across the Jordan into Gentile territory.  Then today he gets word that one of his best buddies, Lazarus is sick.  He KNOWS that if he goes back there – only two miles from Jerusalem – that this is the end.  There is no turning back.  Could that be why he waited around 2 more days before heading back?  Was he just procrastinating?  No – he said something which is our first source of hope:  “this illness is not to end in death, but is for the Glory of God”.  Remember that line – it’s going to be important.
So finally he decides to go back – and even the apostles recognize that he is going to his death.  Jesus says something else which sounds an awful lot like a riddle – or maybe it’s just nonsense?  “He who walks in the light does not stumble”.  What’s that got to do with going to your death, Jesus?  One way to interpret that is Jesus saying – I know the path I’m on is the will of God – and as long as I’m on that path, then I cannot stumble.  God is lighting my way for me.
There’s a lot more to the story – but the other part I want to focus on is when Jesus wept.  It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but it’s loaded with meaning.  Now most people interpret that he was crying because he was sad that Lazarus had died… we have proof of that right here in the reading… but he knew that Lazarus was about to be raised, so I’m not sure that explains it.  See – I think he wept because  - well – it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Death and suffering and weeping were not supposed to be part of the human plan… but evil had entered in and messed up everything.  I think at that moment, Jesus’ humanity did feel the pain of losing his buddy Lazarus – but that sparked a deeper feeling in him of utter sadness that Evil had caused so much pain.  He also might have been thinking about the fact that as soon as he raises Lazarus from the dead, he is sort-of signing his death-certificate.  The Pharisees are already worried about him and really worried that people are believing in him because of all the miracles he was working.  Once he raises Lazarus, people start flocking to believe in Jesus.  People from all around travel to Bethany to see this miracle man Lazarus who was dead, but is alive again.   And for that reason, the Pharisees actually looked for a way to kill LAZARUS – because he was LIVING PROOF of Jesus’ power.
So – that’s the scripture study…. Now – why is this such a reading of hope for us?
First – “this illness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God”.  Jesus makes it clear that he recognizes that suffering is taking place – and in fact, Jesus allows the suffering to go on for even longer – for one good reason… to give glory to God.  See, if he had just cured Lazarus, people could write that off  - like – well, he was going to get better anyway… Jesus is nothing special.  Or – if he had raised him from the dead one day earlier, they also would have said, ‘well, he wasn’t completely dead yet’…  But – in the Jewish belief, the soul doesn’t leave the body until the fourth day after the person dies.  So, by waiting, Jesus was able to prevent that argument.  There was simply no way to deny the magnitude of THIS miracle. 
This gives US hope, because we can always have faith that our sufferings are prolonged for some good reason.  When it seems that God is delayed or just not answering, We have to believe that Somehow, God is going to use our sufferings for his glory.  Don’t believe it?  Think about some of the most inspirational stories you’ve heard:  stories of people dealing with unbelievable suffering, but maintaining a positive view of God through it all.  Somehow it is IN our suffering that we actually come closer to KNOWing God.  We see that in our own parish here – people who have suffered more than any human should have to suffer – but they grow closer to God in that process. 
The second reason this reading gives hope is that short phrase:  Jesus Wept.  It gives us a unique insight into the mind of God.  Jesus, our brother, suffered just like we do.  The emotional trauma he endured far surpassed anything we endure, since he sees the bigger picture – and knows what was lost when mankind fell to the lies of the serpent in the garden. 
Jesus Wept.  In a way – that answers the question from the beginning of my homily.  JESUS – WHERE WERE YOU?!  Jesus’ answer is simple…. I’m right here… I’ve been here all along… suffering WITH you.