Saturday, August 20, 2016

2016/08/21 - Strive

Before Mass:
Today’s culture would tell us that EVERYbody goes to heaven… as long as I live a good life – or at least better than average – maybe go to church a couple times per month… I’m IN!  What do you think?  Is that true?  In the Gospel, somebody asked Jesus basically that question…  We hear what might sound like two opposing answers to that question – the first reading and psalm – and even the end of the Gospel indicate that the road to heaven is wide and everyone is welcome.  On the other hand, Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospel that the road to heaven is very narrow, and hard to enter.
Which is it?  How many of us sitting here today WILL enter the kingdom of heaven?  How DO we enter?  Listen closely for the answers to those questions.

The Gospel reading is aimed at the Jews who thought all they had to do to be on God’s good side was be a descendent of Abraham… we’ve heard this theme many times recently because Jesus knew that this was what most people thought.  Hey – I was born into this religion… I go to the synagogue most of the time… I keep most of the 10 commandments… Surely I’ve got it covered.  Jesus clearly blows that out of the water over and over:  just because we are blood relations does not mean you have a relationship with me.  How blunt can he be… “I don’t know where you are from”.

See – religion is about relationship.  Specifically – our relationship with God and His people.  If we don’t have a relationship with Jesus, we won’t know Him – and He won’t know us.
There’s a song on the radio by Kelly Clarkson – where the father leaves his wife and kids and doesn’t contact them for years – then, when she had made a name for herself, he comes back, wanting to re-establish that relationship. 

This is a good picture of what the Gospel is telling us.  Heaven is about a relationship with God. We have our whole lives to build that relationship so that Jesus will take us home to be with him.  But many of us walk away from him and then after we die we go knocking on heaven’s door, Jesus will say, I don’t know you….   But Jesus, you’re my brother!  We’re from the same hometown!  We went to school together!  I was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic!   I even went to St. Isidore parish most weekends…..   “I tell you, I don’t know you.”

Sounds so cold – so unfair.  But that’s because we don’t really understand heaven…  I mean – what happened to “everybody is welcome”?  Doesn’t EVERYBODY go to heaven when we die?
Heaven is to be with God forever – but we’ll only be with Him if we know Him and He knows us.

Religion is about relationship  with God and His people.  How do we build that relationship with him?  Think about that in human terms… How do we build relationships with friends?  We talk to each other – we spend time together – we share our inner thoughts with each other.  If we don’t do that, we’re not very good friends.  If we never make it a priority to spend time together, our relationship will fall apart.   Marriage is the perfect example.  Ask any married couple and they’ll tell you:  maintaining a relationship takes WORK!  You don’t accidentally stay married for 50 years.

This is where the second reading comes in – Paul talks about Discipline.  What father doesn’t discipline his children?  Think of what a kid would grow up to be like if he doesn’t learn discipline as a child.  They don’t learn right from wrong.  They think everything in the world is about ME me ME…. They take what they want, they won’t have friends because they USE people, and likely end up in jail or murdered at an early age.  If I don’t teach my kid treat other people as HE wants to be treated, then he will end up being hated by people and he will live a lonely, miserable life. 

As Paul says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

We NEED discipline in order to grow socially, so we really WILL have a more joyful life.  I think all of us can understand that – If we really love our kids, we’ll discipline them so they can live a more joyful life.

Well  - that applies to Religion as well.  Religion is a set of disciplines which we try to live by in order to build our relationship with God…  prayer, Mass, confession, studying scripture, follow the Golden Rule.  This discipline is not always easy.  Just like in a marriage, it requires a daily – even hourly – re-commitment to Love… to live like Jesus…who is the narrow gate.  THIS is the discipline which Paul tells us that leads to the ‘peaceful fruit of righteousness’.

One analogy would be driving a car.  On one hand, we should be able to drive our car wherever we want…and at whatever speed we want, right?  BUT – there’s all those do’s and don’ts – rules of the road.  We have to drive on the right side of the road – but instead of restricting our freedom – it actually FREES us to confidently drive on our side and know the guy in the other lane is NOT going to hit us head-on.  Speed limits may seem to restrict us and slow us down, but it actually keeps us from spinning out of control going around curves – and keeps us from accidentally running into someone else… which would be hard to live with.  Then there’s those white lines on the side of the road… do we really need those?  How often on a dark, rainy or foggy night is that white line the only thing that keeps us on the road?  If we didn’t keep it between the lines, we’d end up in a ditch real quick… heck… as muddy as it has been this year, we might even get stuck in the mud BEFORE we get to the ditch.

Following the rules – accepting the discipline – leads to a better driving experience.

Following the rules of the Church – accepting the discipline of Jesus – leads to a better LIVING experience….both in this life and the next.  We don’t accidentally end up in heaven… we must STRIVE for it.

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