Saturday, June 24, 2017

2017/06/25 - Modern day Prophets and Disciples

Before Mass:
In order to understand the first reading, let me tell you what happened right before this.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah.  He was constantly warning the country of Judah that they were going to be destroyed because they had turned away from God.  This made Jeremiah very unpopular.  He was constantly mistreated – and right before this reading he had actually been locked up for a day.  He struggled with God – not wanting to say anything to the people because of the treatment he received.  And that’s where this first reading starts.

Also, there is one line in the Gospel I want to focus on:
“do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. “

What’s Jesus talking about?  Who ARE we supposed to be afraid of that can “destroy both soul and body”?  I always read that as talking about the Devil… he can seduce us into giving up our soul.  But – if God can forgive any sin – and He can – then the devil doesn’t really have the power to destroy our soul….  So are we supposed to be afraid of God?
Think about it.

Let me ask you – and you can answer quietly to yourself – ARE you a disciple of Jesus?  Are you a prophet? 

We hear about prophets and disciples constantly in scripture – but we might never have realized that WE are called to be prophets and disciples.

Do we even know what a disciple is?  It comes from the same root word as discipline – so a Disciple is someone who takes on the discipline of a master.  For example, if you wanted to become an electrician, you might be an apprentice to one for a few years until you learned the ropes.  So as a disciple of Jesus, we are trying to take on his disciplines… to do what he did, so we can be like Him.  Think about if you wanted to be a disciple of Peyton Manning, you’d eat what he eats, use the same exercise program he uses, wear the same clothes maybe even… a disciple wants to be like their master, so we take on the disciplines of the Master.  Do we want to be like Jesus?
To be a prophet simply means to speak the truth.  Anytime we encounter lies, we are called to be the witness to the truth.  And just like Jeremiah in the first reading, we are not going to be popular if we do that. 

For example, Abby Johnson (see footnote) used to run a large Planned Parenthood office in Texas.  Up to the point that she took the job, she considered herself to be pro-life – but she bought into the rhetoric and propaganda and lies that this was OK – in fact, it was a good service they provided for the “poor women”.  For years, she worked there – becoming fully indoctrinated into their business, she herself often shared that “wisdom” with everyone as she personally helped encourage thousands of young women to have abortions.

But slowly the blinders came off…as she moved up in the organization, she found out that abortion was indeed the way they made money, so she was directed to double her abortion quota.  She tried to brush that off until one day, a visiting Doctor broke protocol and actually used an ultrasound in order to do a “safer abortion”.  Apparently standard procedure is to just stick a tube in blindly and suction away.  Abby was asked to hold the ultrasound while this was done, and for the first time, she got to see that child recoil when the tube got close to her – struggling in fear and pain as –well – it’s too graphic to explain here.  It was at that moment she realized the truth.  The blinders came off, and she immediately quit her well-paid job and became one of the most active Pro-Life advocates in the world.  She explained that Planned Parenthood is very particular about what words are used to describe things.  Like instead of calling it a baby, it is “products of conception”….by hiding it in the dark behind less obvious words, you can pretend it’s not what it is.  Also, instead of  “pro-abortion”, they use the “pro-choice”….trying to redirect it to be a woman’s right issue rather than a right to life issue.  Pro-choice sounds so much nicer –But it’s the same thing – either way – the baby dies…. That truth convicted Abby.

Because she is so outspoken now, she has been constantly under attack.  Her exposing of the truth makes a lot of people angry.
That makes her like Jeremiah the prophet in the first reading… “Denounce, let us denounce him!” 

Same thing goes for the disciples in the Gospel – Jesus is warning them that they will be hated.  Actually, that warning carries forward to you and me.  WE will make enemies if we are disciples.

Does that ring true to you?  When your friend wants to go out and get drunk – if you remind him or her that’s not a good idea… you get harrassed.  If you take their keys away from them, you will likely be called names – and next time they’re going out to party, they’ll leave you behind.  People don’t like when the light is shone on their bad habits.  We prefer to remain in darkness, so we chase away the prophets.
Thing is, we don’t even have to Say anything necessarily to anger people… just our presence… doing the right thing… will shed the light on what they are doing. 
So – why would anybody WANT to be a prophet or disciple?  Doesn’t sound like much fun.  Because God calls us all to be one.  We may think we are already – you know – I live a pretty good life and go to church most of the time – surely I’m a disciple, right?

Not necessarily.  See – These readings make it clear that prophets are persecuted.  If there is nobody upset with me because of how I live our Faith, then maybe I have allowed myself to be blinded to the truth – I’ve put the blinders over my own eyes so that I don’t recognize the propaganda and lies of the enemy.  If we think about it, we’ll all recognize times in our own lives where we should have spoken up, but didn’t. 
See – there is the answer to the question:  who should we be afraid of?  Who is it that can kill both body and soul?  It’s actually ourselves.  Only we can make the decision to NOT shed the light on the lies and deceit of the enemy.  The enemy WANTS to remain in darkness.

God can forgive any sin – and He does – but if we’re not willing to shine the light of Christ into the world and expose the lies, then we have chosen to stay in the darkness.

Be a prophet – speak the truth.  Be a disciple – and shine the light of God into the world.  Be the ultrasound in the hand of God – I mean – just by our presence we can help people realize the pain they are causing to others around them. 

The good news is that as we shed the light on them, we also remind them that they are worth so much to God that he knows the number of hairs on their head.
* footnote:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017/06/18 - Corpus Christi - Every Word

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

What’s it mean?  Well the obvious answer is “ice cream”… if we don’t have bread AND ice cream, we’re not really living, right? 

Here’s how I would seriously interpret it:  The most important thing we need to live is not bread.  The most important thing we need is every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.  What is this “word of God” that is so important, anyway?  I have a true story to tell to answer that.

Back in 1995, I was working on a retreat team with a bunch of non-Catholic men – all great Christian men whom I am glad to call my brothers.  But – when they heard I was Catholic, one of them decided to set me straight… to save me from the errors of my ways.  And he started my “lesson” with a line from today’s Gospel:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

Was Jesus really meaning for us to eat His flesh? , he asked.  Then he flipped to our first reading and read this line:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”

See right there… it says it is the word of God that we must eat… it’s the Bible.  And when Jesus says we have to eat his flesh, he’s really meaning we have to chew on his word… read the bible and really take it into ourselves.  Then to support his argument, he went just a little further down in John’s Gospel where Jesus said,

"It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh* is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. "

See right there?!, he said.  Jesus is saying the flesh isn’t important, so he’s not really saying we should eat his physical flesh, he’s really meaning it’s the Bible that is important!  It’s the scripture he wants us to devour!

Does that make sense to anybody here?  Well, yeah – it’s actually a pretty well-presented argument.  I remember sitting there thinking – that ‘sounds’ logical – but something’s not quite right with it.  It’s this kind of faulty logic that pulls many people out of the church.  So – let’s all understand right now the true understanding…first so we can explain to others, but mainly to keep ourselves from falling for this faulty logic.
Go back to the first reading…
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

What is this “word that comes forth from the mouth of God?”  My friend said the word is the Bible…but Let’s look at the first four verses of John’s Gospel – chapter 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be 4through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race
What was the Word that was with God in the beginning?  Was it a Bible?  Not a chance… the Bible didn’t exist until around the 4th century after Jesus was born.  The Word was with God and the Word WAS God – seems pretty clear this is talking about Jesus.  Jesus IS the Word of God.  God spoke his Word and all creation sprang into being.  It was through His Word – Jesus – that the whole world was created.  He is the source of all life.

Now – if we understand Jesus is the Word – how does that change our interpretation of our quote:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”.

Suddenly this means we don’t just live by eating just bread, but by eating the living Word – Jesus, who comes from the mouth of God.  That matches up pretty clearly with what Jesus himself said – “unless you eat my flesh, you have no life in you”. 
Also look at it this way:  Man does not live on bread alone… another way to translate that his “Man does not live on JUST BREAD”.  When we come to the altar and receive what looks like a wafer of bread… It is NOT “bread alone”.  It’s not JUST bread – it IS the body of Jesus. 

Jesus really meant we must eat his flesh.  This is NOT symbolic speech.

And the best proof that this is true comes just a few verses later in John chapter 6… most of Jesus’ disciples actually walked away from him because of this teaching.  They said, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?”   “this is a hard teaching” – they couldn’t handle it – so they left.  If Jesus HADN’T meant what He said, he could so easily have said – wait, I was just using a metaphor – you know, hyperbole…. It’s just a figure of speech – I really meant you have to study my words.

He didn’t say that. 

Instead he asked the apostles if they wanted to leave too.  Jesus was willing to lose EVERY person following him over this one crucial teaching.  He really DOES want us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  In doing so, we are consuming the very source of life in the universe.  As we consume him, he consumes us from the inside out - changing us into little Christs… You and I are sent out into the world to continue to spread His love.  As a member of His Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth – He sends us out to continue to bring life to the world.