Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017/05/28 - Feast of Ascension: Marching Orders

Before Mass:
We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension today.  For a lot of people, myself included, it doesn’t feel like a reason to celebrate – I mean – Jesus is leaving us, right?  Sounds more like a reason to grieve rather than to celebrate.  This just seems unimportant.

All three readings today would tell us that this IS important – although I admit it’s not immediately obvious.  Listen for answers to these questions:  Where did Jesus go?  Why did he go there?  And can that possibly have anything to do with us?

Today as we also look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit next week for Pentecost, let’s pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the world, and upon our parish in particular.  If you know this prayer, pray along with me – you may remember this is the prayer John Leonetti prayed before each night of the mission when he was here.
Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Did the readings clear it up at all what this feast of Ascension is about?  For many, it simply means Jesus was taken up into heaven.   Yeah, it means that, but I don’t think that’s the message we’re supposed to take away today.

There’s another way to look at it – there is a purpose for why Jesus is ascending.  Paul gives us a good clue in the second reading…listen...  He says God seated Jesus at His right hand in heaven – and He put all things under his feet.  These words may not mean much to us, because they are “kingdom” words…and we don’t live in a kingdom. 

The person sitting at the right hand of the King was the Prime Minister… the person who directed the affairs of the kingdom….both internal and external.  In other words, Jesus has ascended or “moved-up” to the highest position in the Kingdom….kinda like a prince or princess ASCENDS to the throne when their parents die:  they take their rightful seat upon the throne.  Because Jesus ascended to his throne of power, He is in charge of EVERYTHING.  That’s great news for us, because we know He is fair and just.  He is in charge of the treasury – from where he dispenses Grace upon Grace.  He is in charge of the Justice system, where He dispenses Mercy.  He is in charge of all military endeavors – you might say, he is commander-in-chief.   Jesus gave the apostles their marching orders in the Gospel – “go out and make disciples of all nations”.  You could say that Jesus is sending out his armies to colonize the whole world… just like kings in Europe sent armies to the new world 5-600 years ago to start colonies…. Jesus wants to bring every land and person into the kingdom of God.

Has the mission been accomplished yet?  While much of the world does know ABOUT Jesus, but too much of the world doesn’t KNOW Jesus.  Even in our own area, probably everybody has heard about Jesus, but few are actual Disciples of Jesus… so the mission has not yet been accomplished.  What’s missing?  Why haven’t the armies of the Kingdom of God been successful?  I propose that it goes back to what Jesus told them in the first reading:
“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, …and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus was sending out the apostles to evangelize the whole world – and those marching orders belong to us as well.  “…YOU will be my witnesses...”  Pope Paul VI said:  “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.”  Lots of big words there so let’s pick it apart just a bit – what does it mean that evangelization is essential to the Church?  Think of a glass of chocolate milk – what are the Essential ingredients of chocolate milk?  Chocolate and Milk.  Can you make chocolate milk without chocolate?  Can you make it without milk?  No!  Both ingredients are essential – required.  So the Pope is saying that if we’re not Evangelizing, we are not being the Church.  The reason the Church EXISTS is to “make disciples of all nations”.  I’ve often speculated that the decline of the Church in recent years is due in large part to the fact that we have taken our focus off of our central mission… we’ve disengaged from the battle … we’ve concentrated on all sorts of other stuff and forgot that the reason we’re here is to introduce the world to Jesus.

At a parish level, we reworked our Mission statement a year ago… it’s probably not perfect, but it SHOULD show how WE as a parish are fulfilling this very mission that Jesus gave to the Church.  Let’s read it together – pick up your bulletins and read with me on the front page. This is the only time I want to see anybody looking at the bulletin during the homily!  

    We, the parish of St. Isidore,
    witness to the world the love of Christ

          we have received in  the Sacraments,
    and we invite others to personally experience

          the Grace of  God through Prayer,
          Acts of Service, and Spiritual Formation.

Does this connect with Jesus’ command?  Yeah!  Jesus said we would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth –and our Mission statement says we will witness to the world the love of Christ… wow… that’s amazingly similar.  We invite others – we show them the love of Christ, we pray, we do acts of service, and we form ourselves spiritually. 

All in all, I think our Mission statement is pretty solid – it is a roadmap for what we are all about – why St. Isidore exists.  If we do anything that does NOT fit into that Mission statement, we are going off course…we are disobeying orders from our commander-in-chief.   We have to continually re-visit our marching orders.

Now – here’s the thing.  It’s all fine and good as a Church and as a Parish to have this mission statement, but what does it mean to you and me?  I mean – is this mission just for Father and the Deacon and our religious ed teachers?  Hopefully we all recognize this mission is for each one of us. 

Pope Paul VI had some strong words to say about this:
“it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it”
In other words – if we really become a Christian and count ourselves among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, there is no way we could NOT tell the world about it.  I guess the reverse would also be true:  if I’m not witnessing to the world about my Faith, maybe I’m not really Christian.??

If you feel compelled to join the battle – to witness to the world about Jesus, and to fulfill our mission to make disciples, there is a boot-camp you can go to which TEACHES how to do that.  If that interests you, contact me and I’ll answer any questions and hook you up.

Also, I feel compelled to kick-start our Evangelization team – it sort-of faded a bit over the summer a couple of years ago – so I’m planning to re-start this September.  Let me know if you’re interested.

When you and I follow the marching orders that Jesus gave us – we WILL change the world… And since Jesus is directing the battle from his throne of power, we can be assured of victory.  Christ is counting on you and me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

2017/05/14 - Revealing the Face of God

**Note: for youtube video go to

Three things I want to mention about today’s readings –the first reading from Acts describes the ordination of the first Deacons of the church… listen for that…and what is the purpose of the Deacons?  (I ask that all the time :)

The Gospel hits on two familiar themes which I personally think don’t explain themselves… Jesus say, I am the way, the truth, and the life…. That ‘sounds’ important – like it is a great revelation of some sort – but what does it really mean?  Finally, Jesus says WE will do the works that he did and even GREATER!  Great – what are those works – and how can we mere mortals possibly do something greater than Jesus did!?  Pay attention to the context of the reading…what are the works that Jesus was referring to?

The world will tell us that there are many paths to God – and none of them is better than any other… as long as we try to live a good life and be a good person, then God, who is good, will welcome us all into heaven.

Sounds good.  Sounds politically correct.  Sound fair even… but just one problem – it’s not the truth.
….Jesus says, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life”. 
He had the nerve to say that nobody comes to the Father except through him.  Is He REALLY saying there is only one WAY to heaven?  In short – yes.  If we never become the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are missing out – not just on heaven – but missing out on joy in THIS life as well.  Jesus is THE Way.  There are no shortcuts… we must all go through the cross.

Jesus also says we will do the works that he did and even greater.  How can that be?  I have a story to help us understand:

A young mother, I’ll call her Susan, moved to town a couple of years ago with her two young boys, because she found a job working for a local utility company.  She thought the job would be the answer to all of her prayers, but soon learned how hard it is to live in a strange place where you don’t have the support of friends and family.  They found a decent house to rent in an older part of town – not great, but not run-down.  It was all she could afford on her salary…but she couldn’t afford any furniture – so she had one matress on the floor of the master bedroom, and the boys shared a mattresss on the floor in their bedroom.  In the living room, they had a card table and four chairs they had picked up at St. Vincent De Paul – plus a small book shelf to hold the books she had brought from her home.  It was sparse, but she did what she could to make a life for the boys there…. That is, until the flu hit one of the kids – so she had to stay home to take care of him- then the other boy caught it – and just as she got them well enough to go back to school, she came down with it.  Her boss called every day asking when she was coming back to work – it had been 2 ½ weeks and she was hoping to be back to work the next Monday.  However, on that Friday, her boss called and explained they couldn’t hold the job any longer – they hired someone that day.  What!?!  She was going crazy – how will we live?

She tried to keep things normal at the house as she searched for another job.  The kids would go to school – and the family would go to Church every Sunday like normal.  A month later – and a couple dozen No’s later, she was going through the stack of overdue bills when she noticed the one from the electric company said the power would be cut 3 days from now if they didn’t receive payment.  Then the landlord called to ask for the rent money, which was now two months behind.  She had a choice – she could either empty her savings account completely and that still wouldn’t cover the bills – or she could move out and use that remaining money for food.

She had nobody to turn to.  Her parents were a 1000 miles away and living in a nursing home, so moving back with them wasn’t an option.  She went for a walk so the boys wouldn’t see her crying… and she ended up at the church, where she walked in and just sat there praying “God, show me the way!  Is this the life you want us to live?”  She heard some voices talking in the cry room – and could see some women in there talking.  She remembered hearing at Mass about some of the Cursillo small groups that met every week, so she assumed that’s why they were there.  She decided to slip out the side door so she wouldn’t bother them- but as she turned to leave, she noticed a lady had sat down next to her.  It startled her, because she never heard anybody else come in… It was obvious Susan had been crying, and the other lady asked what was going on…. That’s all it took for Susan to spill out the entire story to this stranger…  it was the first time since she had moved to town that anybody seemed to care at all!  The lady said she knew the landlord – who was actually somebody from our parish – and she would see about getting her an extension to give her more time to find a job.  They prayed together before hugging and Susan walked back home feeling uplifted, although the problems were still weighing heavy on her. 

The next morning, those four ladies she saw in the cry room showed up at her front door at 8 am with several bags of groceries.  At first, Susan tried to resist – she didn’t like the idea of taking charity – but then the weight of all those problems came back to mind and she let them in.  The ladies were all talking a mile a minute at the same time (I have seven sisters, so I fully understand how that could happen).  The house, which had been filled with despair just an hour ago was filled with joy and uplifting conversation – it was as if somebody had walked into a dark room and opened the shade letting the sunlight in.  They fixed pancakes and bacon for breakfast and kept filling the boys’ plates until they could eat no more.  It was such a joyous visit, something that Susan missed so much – to have friends – even though these ladies were still strangers, she felt attracted to them somehow.  Before leaving, they held hands and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to bless this family and relieve their burdens. 

After they left, she was putting away the rest of the groceries, when she found an envelope sealed in one of the bags.  Inside were receipts – the first one was from the Electric company and said ‘paid in full’… WHAT!!!  She quickly pulled out the next paper – from the water company which said ‘paid in full’…WHAT!!!  The next one actually made her knees weak and she had to sit down…. It was from her landlord.  It was also marked ‘paid in full’ and said he would give her the next month free!  She could hardly catch her breath, she was so excited – She and the boys were jumping and dancing around the kitchen – WHAT A BLESSING!
That Sunday, she looked to the other side of church and saw the lady she talked to that past week.  After Mass, Susan walked up to her with a tear in her eye and gave her a hug and said, “I have a question for you…. Are you Jesus?”.

Jesus promised – “you will do the works I do and even greater”.  What are those works?  Yes, Jesus was going around healing and such – but look at the context of this reading.  He’s saying if you have met ME, you already KNOW God the Father.  THAT is the work of Jesus… He is revealing the face of God to the world.  That may not ‘sound’ like a big deal, but to the Jews, who believed that if they ever looked upon the face of God they would instantly die… they could never be worthy to look at the face of God.  In a way they are correct – for any of us to look at the face of God would be like trying to look directly into the sun after living in a dark cave… it would hurt our eyes so bad, we would go blind.  The Jews saw God as far off and unreachable…They wouldn’t even carve an image or paint a picture representing God – that would be idolatry and was liable to stoning.  For somebody to call themselves God like Jesus did – well - that was too far out to be believed.  So they kept their faces down – never looking up to see God.  But picture Jesus lifting our chins up – raising our eyes to look into His – saying “look at me”…and we resist because it’s painful.  But Until we look there, we won’t see the face of True Love….we won’t see the very face of God  … Jesus makes God approachable – he gives God a face and a name… In short, God was glorifying His name through the works of Jesus’ hands. 

Catch that?  Yes – Jesus was healing and turning water into wine and forgiving people… those are ‘how’ He performed the work He was sent to do – but the overarching WORK He was doing was to Glorify God – to make God accessible – to reveal the very face of God.

These are the works that Jesus promised that WE will do – and even greater works.  Because you and I are part of the Body of Christ – every time we reach out our hand to help someone – it is actually Jesus reaching out using our hands.  The WAY we live should make Jesus present; the TRUTH we share should make Jesus present; and the LIFE we share with others should make Jesus present. 

When people see US – they should see the face of God – so don’t be surprise when they ask, “Are you Jesus?”.