Saturday, June 21, 2014

2014 June 22 - Corpus Christi - walking away

It was the worst day… of the worst week… of what may arguably have been the worst ambush ever inflicted on our US military history.  The US led United Nations forces had pushed too far north into Korea and had gotten almost cutoff before realizing they were surrounded by an overwhelming Chinese force.  They waited too long to make a retreat and ended up running the ‘gauntlet’ – that’s what they called it - a long stretch of road through a valley with Chinese controlling the heights on both sides, and they were systematically picked off.  One vehicle would get hit, creating a roadblock, and everyone else was just a sitting duck.  In the end the US lost around 11 thousand troops in those few days, and I couldn’t even find the count of wounded.  The 2nd Infantry Division was devastated… losing over 4000 men.
I tell this little bit of history because of something their commander, Major General Dutch Keiser, said.  He had a body guard assigned to him, Corporal Jake Thorpe who had stuck by him through many battles, dedicating his life to protect the General.  While driving the jeep through the ‘gauntlet’ that day, Corporal Thorpe had been in the back manning the machine gun, when he was picked off by a sniper.  Keiser had loaded the dead body of his friend into the back of the jeep to take him out. However, there were SO many wounded along the road that eventually they had to leave Corporal Thorpe’s body on the side of the road to make room for the wounded.
Regardless of what else Keiser had been through… he said –“it was a hard thing to do…to walk away from the body of the man who had given his life to save me.”  (1)
Could you do it?  Could you walk away from the body of the man who had given his life to save you?
Many people have walked away.
You know, we talk and we talk about how, in the Mass, the bread and wine really do become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  But still, some people walk away.
Talking about it obviously ain’t enough.  Yes – we NEED the head-knowledge of WHY we believe that when Jesus said ‘This is my body’… he really MEANT it!  And today’s Gospel from John chapter 6 is one of the main supporting texts given to us by God to help us understand WHY we believe it.  Let me just quickly re-explain that in case you’ve forgotten.  Jesus is telling the disciples – which is the big crowd – that they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Now – they immediately started murmuring – what’s this about?  We can’t eat human flesh and drink human blood – God specifically forbids that in His law!  This raised some serious doubts in the minds of those disciples.  In fact, if we would keep reading just a few more lines beyond where today’s Gospel stopped, we hear that “many of them walked away from Jesus and returned to their former way of life”.  That’s an important point… people were walking away from Jesus BECAUSE of what he was teaching.  Now – if Jesus HADN’T meant exactly what he said, this would be the perfect time for him to say – wait a minute – come back - you misunderstood me… I..I was only talking symbolically, you know… a ‘figure of speech’.  But instead of saying that, he upped the ante:  Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you!”  They couldn’t take it… this was too much…and they walked away.  Again he could have stopped them but instead, he turned to the 12 apostles and offered to them… do you want to walk away too?  He was ready to lose ALL of his followers if they didn’t want to accept this one, central teaching:  This IS my body.
They believed what he said was true…. And you and I continue to take Jesus at his Word.  It’s still a stretch, but at least we can logically make sense why we should believe it.  But head knowledge isn’t enough.  We have to believe what we know to be true.
We all have doubts – probably just about everyone in here sometimes wonders… is it true?  When Fr. Eugene is up here praying the Eucharistic Prayer, It sometimes seems so mundane …. Like just wafers and wine.  The people around us don’t really seem excited by the fact that the Body and Blood of Jesus are on the altar, so it can test our faith.  You’re not alone!  We all go through that.  So – it’s not enough to ‘know’ the truth, we have to practice our faith and exercise it. 
Here are a couple of ideas…One idea is when Fr. Eugene holds up the bread and says, ‘Do this in memory of me’, even if you don’t FEEL like it at the moment, bow slightly and silently say to yourself ‘my Lord and my God’… or ‘Jesus, I believe it is You… but help my unbelief’.  When we don’t FEEL like Jesus is present, we might have to rely on our head knowledge to keep our Faith alive until God chooses to reveal the truth in a way that touches our heart.  He may never touch our hearts… but that doesn’t make it any less true.
The Eucharist truly is the source and the summit of our Faith… yet people continue to walk away.  When I ask the people who are still here WHY they HAVEN’T left, almost every time, the answer is the Eucharist.  Many people DO recognize that we are privileged to have Jesus in our midst – on our altar - and He feeds us with His own flesh. 
It would be a hard thing to do, don’t you think?…
”to walk away from the body of the man who had given his life to save me…and you.

(1) "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" - David Halberstam

Saturday, June 7, 2014

2014/06/08 - Pentecost "Inspired"

Look at some of the greatest manmade inventions in our world... TV, phones, cars, The Internet, the interstate highway system, the democratic government we enjoy, even though we complain about it... weve got it better than most of the world.  We often take these things for theyve always been there.  But they didn't just happen.  Imagine what the world was like BEFORE the interstate highways.  Imagine what the world was like BEFORE TV or the Internet.  Imagine the world without democracy.  All of these great things have something in common They all started as a dream in somebody's head.  Somebody was inspired to change the world for the better... So inspired that they laid aside other ambitions to concentrate on making their dream a reality.  They found a dream worthy of devoting their life to, then they went and shared that dream with other people because they couldnt do any of that alone.  They needed OTHER people to be inspired by their dream so THEY would invest their own time, effort, and money  to help make it happen.
If Alexander Graham Bell had kept his dream to himself, where would we be?  But - By sharing that dream, he changed the world and now everybody in here probably owns at least one phone.
This is what happened to the Apostles in the first reading.  They were physically inspired to spread the word about Jesus.  Look closely at that word...IN SPIRED.  It means the spirit entered into them.  They were given a dream that they could change the world, and they allowed the spirit to propel them out of the upper room into the streetthe Spirit pushed them into taking that first step.  When people have a clear goal placed before them, it inspires them to move toward the goal.
Picture a football team on the field, but the field has no end zones you cant even imagine it.  We wouldn't know which way to go.  Without a goal to shoot for, what is the point in playing the game?  If I were on that team, I'd just sit down in the middle of the field....why even bother?  Without a goal, I have nothing to inspire me.
Have you ever met someone whose life held so much promise, they COULD have accomplished great things but somehow they got stuck... They had nothing to inspire them, so they did nothing with their life.  The problem is they have no dream to accomplish, so they have no goals to push them off the couch.
Here's our challenge.  Paul says To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
... In other words, every one of us has some talent which God gave us specifically to change the world to help spread the word about Jesus and help our church to grow.  If our church ain't growing, it is because too few people recognize that gift and put it to use.
One perfect example is music.  Id bet that sitting here right now are several people who love music.  Perhaps you can play an instrument or sing, but youve never committed to helping with music at Mass.  Music is important at Mass.  When it is done well it can touch our hearts.  It can INSPIRE us.  We NEED your talents and thats why God gave them to you.  If Michelangelo had refused to use his talents, think of the great artwork the world would never have known...   If you and I don't put our talents to work for Jesus, think of the great works the church will leave undone.
It's more than that though... It is by using our talents that we actually GET MORE inspired.  I remember as a kid, I was always pushing the family to get ready so we could leave for church early...why?  Not because I was holy... But because I enjoyed serving.  It made me feel connected, important, like I was doing my part for Jesus.  I was inspired by an enjoyment of serving, and the more I used my talents, the more inspired I became.  I enjoyed Mass because I was participating.
I think that would be true for anybody hereWould you like to feel inspired when you come to mass?  Would you like to enjoy Mass?  Pick a way to get involved.  You will change the world.
How else can every one of us get inspired?  Well thats why Im always pushing CDs and books and retreats.  Those three things are ways that we open our minds to allow the Holy Spirit to come in and change us.  We have to be constantly open to the Holy Spirit changing us because the Holy Spirit doesnt change the whole world at one time He changes the world by changing you.  And you can only change if youre open to the dream that the Spirit wants to give you.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to believe what others might say is impossible.
Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.