Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017/04/23 - Divine Mercy - He's going to kill me!

When he was about 8 years old, the thing Jerry wanted most for Christmas was a Chemistry set.  He’d seen it on one of those commercials during the Saturday morning cartoons and immediately fell in love with it.
Mom’s response was – “you’re too young for that!.”  So, Jerry moped around for a week then sorta forgot about it.  But on Christmas day, to his great surprise, the last package he opened was his chemistry set!  He was beyond excited.  Dad was quick to sit him down and explained that this was not a toy – it was potentially dangerous, so he should never work with it unless he or Mom was around. 
That night, in his bedroom after everyone went to bed, Jerry locked the bedroom door and pulled out his chemistry set – “just to look at it”.  The metal box was smooth and cool to the touch – it was awesome – it made him feel like an adult!  He opened it up and looked at some of the chemicals in there – most of which he couldn’t even read.  Then he saw the test-tubes – the little glass tubes in which he saw them mixing chemicals on the commercial.
He pulled out one chemical and carefully filled half the tube – then he randomly grabbed another chemical and filled the tube to the top.  To his surprise, the tube started getting hot – it was having a chemical reaction which created heat… so much heat that it started to burn his hand, and he dropped the tube into the waste basket.  He hurriedly put away the chemistry set and shoved it back under his bed and crawled into bed, pulling the covers over his eyes.  Then he smelled something… and glanced at the waste can, where smoke was billowing.  He tried to blow on it but that actually made a flame jump up – Jerry jumped back – scared to death – what was Dad going to do to him?!?  He ran and hid in the closet.  All he could think was, “Dad’s gonna kill me when he finds out!”
A couple minutes later, the smoke alarm in the hall went off and he heard the rest of the family shouting over the noise.  Somebody came to his bedroom door and he heard them pounding, telling him to unlock it – but he couldn’t let them in – what would Dad do to me?!  The flames were licking the ceiling now and the room was filled with smoke – then there was a loud slam and the sound of splintering wood.  His dad rushed into the room feeling in the bed for Jerry – under the bed – behind the bed – then he opened the closet door and grabbed Jerry – running out of the house… Jerry had stopped breathing, so as soon as they hit fresh air, Dad laid him on the sidewalk and stooped down to the ground to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation – forcing fresh air into Jerry’s lungs…bringing him back from the edge of death.  He coughed and sputtered and immediately started crying.  Jerry’s dad gave him to his mother and rushed back into the house with an extinguisher stopping the fire – but not before it had destroyed Jerry’s room and filled the whole house with smoke damage.
As Jerry sat in his Mom’s arms crying – he was praying that Dad would make it back out safely – and at the same time thinking, what’s Dad going to do to me?!
Dad came out coughing and rubbing his eyes – “Fire’s out” – was all he could say as he caught his breath.  Walking over to the family, he started crying himself to see all the damage that had been done…but mainly crying tears of joy that nobody got hurt.
He had a stern look on his face as he approached, and Jerry thought – this is it – the fire didn’t kill me, but Dad is about to!  But instead of spanking him or lecturing him, his Dad just motioned for him to come to him – and he picked him up and hugged him so hard – and said – don’t worry about it Jerry.  I forgive you.
But Dad – I did what you told me not to!  Don’t worry about it Jerry, I forgive you.
But Dad – I was bad – you should punish me!  Don’t worry about it Jerry, I forgive you.  Listen:  when I thought you were dead, I realized that none of this matters… I love you so much, that I cannot IMAGINE going through life without you.
I think this is what the apostles were experiencing in the Gospel.  They had blown it with Jesus – every one of them had run away when the going got tough.  There were embarrassed – and this morning they’d heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had risen, they were SURE he was going to hunt them down and make them pay for their mistakes.  While we might think they had the doors locked because they were hiding from the Jews, one could argue that they locked it because they were afraid of Jesus… especially Peter… He could just picture Jesus storming through the door and saying “I’m Baaack… and this time it’s personal!” – and heads would roll.  He could picture Jesus shouting – “I told you so – I told you that you’d deny me – you measly poor excuse of an apostle”.  He could hear Jesus yelling – WHERE WERE YOU GUYS?!  You abandoned me!  You failed as my apostles – so I’m getting new ones.  Jesus was indeed back…back for revenge – starting with the men who were supposed to be his friends.  Heads would roll.
Jesus suddenly appeared – and they all cringed – falling to the floor – scared to death – their hearts racing – this is it – heads will roll. 
Instead, Jesus says ‘Shalom’ – Peace.  Realizing who it was, they couldn’t help but feel joy that it was TRUE – He really HAD risen.  But they still had that lingering doubt – they were SO sure he was coming back to get revenge on them that the word didn’t even reach their brains…so He said again:  Shalom – Peace. 
Their fear had paralyzed them – at that moment, the Church Jesus was trying to start was dead – lifeless – locked in a closet of fear - but pay attention to the next verse: he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”
Like a firefighter breathing life back into a seemingly lifeless victim, Our Redeemer stoops down to the earth to breathe His life into the Apostles – into His Church – bringing the dead to life.  He didn’t seek revenge – He showed Mercy.  He didn’t even seek JUSTICE – instead he dispensed his Grace.  Jesus says – I’m Back – and this time it’s personal.  No more religion based on rules and regulations and trying to earn salvation, Jesus offers every one of us a personal relationship – and through that relationship, we come to know God personally.
This is Divine Mercy – which we celebrate today.  Every one of us has done something to deserve the Justice of God – if God treated us as we deserve, Heads would roll.  Instead God gives us what we DON’T deserve…
Now by definition, Mercy is to forgo punishment that is deserved.  So in the old law, you poke my eye out, I could lawfully poke your eye out.  If I DON’T poke your eye out, that is mercy.  However, Divine Mercy goes a step further… instead of giving us what we deserve, God gives us His Grace.  Grace is a free, unmerited gift of God  - we don’t earn it – in fact, we deserve the exact opposite.  When God could lawfully have wiped us from the face of the earth, instead He gave us His Spirit – he breathed His life into us to allow us to live a totally new life.
That is a big deal – and hard to comprehend this quickly – but let it sink in:  We deserved death – we have all gone against the will of God – but in His Divine Mercy, He has given us the opposite of what we deserve.  Instead of giving us death we deserved – he gives us eternal life.
Why?  Because our Father loves you so much, that He cannot IMAGINE spending eternity without you. 
He will seek you out behind locked doors – He will run through the fire for you – He would give up His own life to save yours… The God of the universe would stoop down to the earth to breath His very Life into you. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

2017/04/15 - Easter - At the end of the rope

Last night at the Easter Vigil, we had three men join the Catholic Church in our parish.  Why would anyone WANT to join a church nowadays?  I have a story which might shed some light on that.

Andre was a mountain climber.  He was in a group of climbers who every summer would head to Colorado and climb the 14-ers… which are the 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet.  All year long, the group would get together every Sunday to plan their trips, to hike together,  and to push each other to maintain their physical fitness.  The older, experienced hikers would show them the tricks of the trade…like how to safely cross a glacier by tying a rope to everyone in the group.  That way if one person falls, the group can pull them back to safety.

After completing the Colorado 14ers, they set their sights on Mt McKinley – otherwise known as Denali – the highest peak on the continent at over 20,000 feet.
The second day of their expedition on Denali, an unexpected blizzard kicked up and they had to spend most of a day hunkered down in their tents.  One of the older guys in the group was suffering from altitude sickness, so the group decided to wait 24 hours to continue.   Andre was getting really impatient with the delay… thinking he’d be better off climbing by himself.  He told the group that he was pushing on ahead without them.  They tried to stop him – pointing out how dangerous the slope was and how he’d never climbed that high before.  Andre wouldn’t listen – he’d made up his mind.  He could do this on his own.  He would show them!

That next morning, Andre was on the trail even before the sun came up.  It was a beautiful morning for hiking – one of only a handful of days with clear skies that Denali ever saw.  The stars were so bright he felt like he could reach out and touch them.  He pushed on all day without incident – he was tired, but he took great pride in having been able to get so far by himself.  One more day and he would make it to the top – alone – He didn’t need the group.

The next day, clouds settled back over the mountain so that at times you couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of you.  That slowed Andre down – but He pushed on… Late in the day, he calculated he was almost there, but as quickly as daylight was fading, he might not make it to the peak before dark.  Andre wouldn’t give up…  he had to cross one glacier near the top of the mountain.  It was a particularly dangerous spot which the experienced climbers had warned about.  The crossing was narrow, and it was like a hundred foot drop on one side and you don’t even want to guess how far down the other side was.  With barely any light left in the sky and a thick fog enveloping him, Andre tied a rope to a rock as a safety precaution and stepped out onto the glacier.  Just then, a gust of wind over 50 mph knocked him off balance and his feet slid out from under him.  He went sliding down the glacier – picking up speed – his life flashing before his eyes – seeing every good and bad thing he’d ever done in his life – thinking of the group of climbers he’d left down the mountain two days ago – thinking of his family whom he’d never see again.  After what seemed like a lifetime of falling, he slid off of a cliff and bracing himself for impact, he thought – this is it - but suddenly he felt the rope go tight and he jerked to a stop .  After catching his breath and realizing he was still alive, his mind raced – looking for options.  It was so dark and foggy, he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face… there was nothing to grab onto – just air all the way around him. 

He thought…If I’d stayed with the group, they could simply have helped me back up.  In fact, if I’d been tied to the group, I wouldn’t have slid down 100 feet.  Now here he was, hanging off a cliff in the dark – and no way to get back up.  He had no choice but to cry out “God, Help Me!”.  He was surprised when a voice came back – “what do you want me to do for you?”  “Save Me, God!”  “Do you really believe I CAN save you?”  Andre quickly answered – “Yes – I really DO believe you can save me!”  Then the voice said – “Cut the rope”.

Andre thought for a moment and said, “You mean THIS ROPE!?  That’s CRAZY – this rope is the only thing keeping me from falling.”  Cut the Rope!  “But - It’s all I have to hold onto!!!”  He decided to just hang on and hope a better option would appear when the sun came up.

The next day, the rest of the group came to the base of the glacier where Andre had fallen and they could see a rope hanging off the bottom.  They hurried out to the edge of the glacier and found Andre still hanging onto the rope – frozen to death – just 3 feet above the ground.

What are you and I hanging onto?  What is it that we simply cannot let go of that is keeping us from falling into the hands of God?

The lesson of this Easter season has two bookends:  the cross and the empty grave – the cross teaches us that the path to the kingdom of God is to completely let go of everything in this life.  It’s going to feel like we’re losing, we will FEEL like we’re falling!  To the rest of the world, the cross LOOKS like utter failure.

But without Good Friday, there could be no Easter.  Without giving up everything; without letting go even of his earthly life, Jesus could not have risen from the dead.   Without the Crucifixion of Friday, the Empty Tomb of Easter would be meaningless.  An empty tomb is only important if there used to be a body in there.  Why is the empty tomb important? Without the empty tomb, the crucifixion would have been just a shameful ending of another false prophet.

This path of life you and I are on is a dangerous one – and we usually can’t see where we’re going.  That’s why we travel as a group – tied to each other – as companions on the journey….learning from scriptures and breaking bread together.  We encourage each other – we push each other to maintain our spiritual fitness - Sometimes we are there to pull each other back from the edge of the cliff –

…and sometimes we’re there to simply tell each other to ‘Cut the rope’.

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017/04/13 - Good Friday: Why DID Jesus come?

Why did Jesus come?  Many would say he came to die in our place.
I guess that’s a true statement… he did come to die – BUT - If he JUST came to die, he could have just let Herod kill him as an infant, remember when Herod sent the soldiers to kill all infants 2 years old or less?  If Jesus just came to die, why didn’t he just die then…mission accomplished!
OR - He could have let them stone him to death in Nazareth when he first claimed to be the Messiah... mission accomplished!

No – there MUST be more to it than that. 
Why did Jesus come?  He told us in the Gospel: 
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”   There it is... Jesus‘ mission wasn’t just to die... it involves being a witness to the Truth. 

??????? And many of us would echo Pilate’s response:
“What is truth?”  Does Truth even EXIST?

Pilate actually came closer to seeing the truth than the Jewish leaders did.  Pilate was intrigued by Jesus... after all this time in the armpit of the Roman Empire, Pilate finally met someone who was interesting.  He WANTED to let Jesus go, but succombed to the pressue of the mob.

Why didn’t the Mob see the truth in front of them?
The reason is kind of deep, so listen:  Human nature leads us to want to hear things with which we agree - what we already believe – and to be skeptical of anything which goes against our pre-existing beliefs.  I’ll repeat that… 
We have selective hearing – we only listen if what we’re hearing doesn’t contradict our beliefs.

Every one of us has pre-existing beliefs which are formed by our upbringing and experiences of life.  That makes us all different… Different is Great - BUT, It is our responsibility to form our consciences so that we believe what JESUS taught.  Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”.  If we DON’T listen to Jesus, then we’re not listening to the truth - so our pre-existing beliefs are formed out of lies – and whenever we DO hear the truth, we’ll quickly ignore it. 

That’s kinda deep, so let me give a silly example to make the point:  Let’s say I’m absolutely convinced that Vanilla is THE best ice cream.  Nothing you say or do could possible convince me otherwise.  Let’s say a news story comes out stating that scientists have measured the amount of pleasure in our brain when eating ice cream and have found that when eating vanilla, the pleasure part of our brain is 32% more active – which implies… no it PROVES… that Vanilla is in-fact the best ice cream.  Now - As soon as I see that story, I’m going to forward it to everyone I know to justify my position and prove to everybody that I was right all along!!!  On the other hand, if scientists showed no difference between vanilla and chocolate, I’d probably just ignore that news story.  Notice that in neither case did I care where the story came from or how reliable it is – my main criteria is whether the story supports my pre-existing belief.

We do that all the time even at church.  If I stand up here and preached that we should do this or that and you agree with it, you’ll likely tell me – “gee deacon mike, that was a great homily- you are so intelligent to believe the way I do”.  But if I say something which goes against your pre-existing beliefs or challenges your lifestyle, you’ll probably just ignore me because the deacon obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about – and if I REALLY get under your skin, you’ll spread rumors in the crowd telling everyone to shout CRUCIFY HIM!

Again – notice in neither case do we care whether the homily was Truth… our main criteria is whether the homily supports our pre-existing beliefs.

What is Truth?

The truth is that you are loved by God – and He loves you so much, He would come down here and let you torture Him and put Him to death… and He will still offer you eternal life – because He cannot imagine spending eternity without you.  THAT is the Truth Jesus came to witness to.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.  In other words, Jesus has told us the way to enter the Kingdom of God.  We don’t enter because we deserve it – we always fall short.  We don’t enter because we’re baptized – we follow Jesus into the kingdom by picking up our cross and following His example.  He showed us the path – and it involves suffering and complete surrender.  Only then is His Mission accomplished.

Truth exists – and his name is Jesus.