Saturday, July 20, 2019

2019/07/21 Unum Necessarium

Before Mass:
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, Who are we? – and why are we here?  Pick up your bulletins and let’s pray together the Mission statement on the front.
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.

Today’s Gospel is very familiar – the story of Martha and Mary.  It all hinges on the last few lines of today’s Gospel:  "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.   There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

Probably the most common interpretation of that statement is that Martha is too busy – and Mary is better because she takes time to pray and listen to Jesus.  There may very well be some truth to that – but today we’re going to look at another meaning:  Unum Necessarium – that’s the Latin for ‘the one thing necessary’.  Jesus said – there is need of only one thing…  what IS that ‘one thing’?

As you pray through this Mass and prayerfully listen to the Word of God, be thinking about what is MY one thing?  What is God calling ME to do at this very moment – and with my life? 

A group of over 300 high schoolers descended upon Southridge High School this week, as St. Mary’s in Huntingburg sponsored their 6th annual CHWC.  They came from all around… even as far away as Maryland and Wisconsin.  They came to work – that’s why it’s called a work camp – and indeed they did work.  Among the group they did 30 different projects around our area – and – about 36 of them came to OUR parish this week to help us split firewood.  Yes – we were splitting wood in the hottest weather of the season.  I told them at the finale Thursday night that normally we don’t split wood around here until the temperature is below 50 degrees – so if they died next week and went to hell, at least they’d already be trained!

Why would they do it?  Ask yourself – why would any high schooler, much less 300 high schoolers, give up a week of vacation and drive 8-14 hours to Huntingburg Indiana to sweat like pigs in the nastiest weather of the year?  Well, if you got to spend any time with them, you would understand – and I know several dozen of our own youth over the years have travelled to distant cities to do just the same thing – I think they’ll agree that this experience is likely the highlight of their summer – and maybe one of the pivotal moments in their entire life! 

They start each day with Mass – then head out into the heat to work all day.  Over lunch, they pray together and answer some questions designed to make them reflect deeper on their experience and what God is trying to teach them through this week.  Sitting with them, I was inspired.  At night they share a meal, music, prayer, confession, adoration, fun, laughter.  They are fully alive.

At the closing Thursday night, a couple dozen people from around the area got up and thanked these youth for busting their you-know-whats all week to do things for people they didn’t even know.  But like they said – it wasn’t so much the work – as it was the Spirit they brought with them.  These youth were different from the stereotypical teenager who barely looks up from their phones - and if you try to have a conversation, the best you can muster is a grunt.  People commented – and I saw for myself – how these young people asked questions, sincerely listened, and shared their own thoughts and spiritual insights with all of us.  They are fully alive!

There’s so much you and I can learn from this:  first – Did you ever think – why do kids need to travel 12 hours to work for somebody – why can’t we just have them work here?  I’ve realized there is genius to the method – you see – in order for the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of any of us, we first have to be emptied.  In order for Jesus to get our attention, we have to disconnect from our normal lives – away from the job, family, phone, responsibilities, routine… so it makes sense that they need to go to another city. 

The lesson for you and me is that every one of us NEEDS that kind of experience where we empty ourselves – where we disconnect from responsibilities – where we step into the unknown to allow the Holy Spirit to do something different.  Yeah – I’m going to make another challenge for every person here to make it a priority to go on a retreat… maybe even annually – but for heaven’s sake at least ONCE!  Cursillo, CRHP, TEC are great places to start – or St. Meinrad – Whitehouse, Gethsemane,  marriage retreats…. I’ll help you find one suited to you if you’ll let me.  Jesus is inviting each of us to sit at his feet like Mary.

The other thing we can learn from these youth…more than one person noticed –it wasn’t the ‘busyness’ that made them special – it was how they shared themselves.  They recognized that the work they were doing was only secondary – their PURPOSE was to connect with the people they were working for.  That’s super-important:  Like Martha in the Gospel, we all have a tendency to fill our lives with one thing after another- and we run around doing all the urgent things that gotta be done – but we never get around to the one thing necessary.

What is that one thing necessary for all of us?  Relationships.  We are social people.  We are people of communion – we come together as families, as classmates, as club members, as parishioners – we all want to belong – we all NEED to feel like we belong.  That’s part of the genius of Catholicism… our Liturgy is an invitation from Jesus to come together each week to build a relationship with his people, the Church – and the high point of it all is our Communion with Jesus himself when we come forward for the Eucharist.  Our very lives have as their goal the ‘communion of Saints’ where we become one with God.  Then we will be fully alive.

Mary chose the one thing necessary – and that was to work on her relationship with Jesus.  Martha was not a bad person – in fact, by all accounts she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do.  Like we heard in the first reading, hospitality was one of the hallmarks of the Jewish culture – and the woman took personal pride in taking care of the needs of her guests.  Jesus wasn’t telling Martha to stop – but he was pointing out there is another way.  Martha – you are worried and upset about many things – but only one thing is necessary.

There’s the punch line – don’t let it pass you by.  We are all worried and upset about many things… We try to do it all on our own - but only one thing is required:  to allow Jesus to do it for us and through us.  Jesus invites us into a personal relationship – he wants to consume us –  He invites us to turn over our will, our time, our abilities - everything to him - to allow him to consume our lives... and THAT is when we become fully alive. 

THAT is the ‘better part’ that Mary chose.  See – Martha received Jesus into her home, but Mary allowed Jesus to receive her.  It’s like two ways of coming to communion:  do we consume Jesus or does He consume us?  Martha received Jesus – she literally welcomed him ‘under her roof’ as we say each Mass – but Mary allowed herself to be consumed by Jesus – she chose that personal relationship with Jesus which He invites us all to.

Our challenge for this week:  Ask God to reveal to you the Unum Necessarium – the one thing He most wants in your life.  He may not give you specifics right away – but look for the general signs – maybe it starts with the Mission statement we read at the start of Mass.  How does MY life fit into this mission?  Make a habit of asking God moment by moment – what is the one thing required of me right now?  Sometimes it IS working in the kitchen.  But if we NEVER find time to sit at the feet of Jesus… if we NEVER allow Jesus to consume us, then we’ll miss the invitation to be fully alive.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019/06/09 Pentecost Power

Until the atom bomb was detonated in the 40’s, TNT was one of the most powerful forces known to man.  That’s why the atom bomb is always measured in comparison to TNT… so for example, a 1 kiloton nuclear bomb doesn’t mean the bomb weighs 1000 tons…. it means it has the explosive force equivalent to 1000 tons of TNT.  A 1 megaton nuclear bomb equals the force of a million tons of TNT. 
It’s the most powerful thing created by mankind….
Nature goes beyond that – when Mt St. Helen’s erupted in 1980, the blast was equivalent to 24 one megaton nuclear bombs….  That’s 24 million tons of TNT! 
But there is an energy available to us even more powerful than a 24 megaton bomb…  it’s the power released on that first Pentecost.   It was like a bomb dropped on earth.  Not a destructive bomb – but a creative bomb.  Starting with an intense explosion in the hearts of the apostles in the upper room, it quickly blew out the windows into the streets where the shock blast hit everyone with amazement.  In the following days and weeks, thousands of people were impacted by the fallout – being baptized into the Faith.  Within years, the shock wave had spread east to India, north to Europe, south to Africa, west to Rome.  Tens of thousands were affected by the fallout from that one blast.  Many died because of the impact of that bomb – governments declared that anybody impacted should be put to death… for three hundred years hid to avoid being killed– but all the while, the shock wave kept growing…  going all the way around the world and continues even to this day.  The power of this bomb was not measured in tons of TNT – but instead, those impacted by the fallout are known by their love for each other – These people impacted by the bomb came to be known by one derogatory name:  “Christians”.  The effects were contagious – people couldn’t help being drawn to the Love they saw in those Christians – and they too became carriers of the contagion called Love.
People have died for the name ‘Christian’ continuously ever since that day – and believe it or not – more people are dying right now for being Christian than at any point of history.  Maybe not here, yet – but look at Sri Lanka – or the Middle East – the Far East – India – and several countries in Africa.  Just this week I was reading that right now, an average of 11 people are dying every day for being Christian.

The question that’s gotta enter your mind is – what could possibly make people want to join this group of people?  Why would anybody purposely join a church that could get them killed?  Why would anybody accept a teaching that says we must give up our selfishness to help others – we must give of our time, talent, and treasure for other people rather than simply worrying about our own wants?
The simple answer is the Holy Spirit;  The Holy Spirit is the bomb. Ground zero was the upper room, but the energy released in that single blast has caused a chain reaction of explosions across the earth for two thousand years.

Can you imagine what the apostles said when they ran out into the streets on that day?  How about – “here’s a new creed to believe in!”… no – doctrines are not going to touch anyone’s heart.  How about “repent!  Feel guilty for your sins!  Follow the 10 commandments!”  No way – making people feel bad about themselves is NOT the way to get them to convert to a new religion or to change their lifestyle.
No – the message they delivered was direct from the Holy Spirit.  Our first reading tells us they were speaking of the ‘mighty acts of God’.  Catch that?  They weren’t telling people how to live or what they were doing wrong or what rules they have to follow to join up, or what Doctrines they had to believe… they were telling their personal stories of what God did for ME. 

That’s such an important lesson for all of us.  Too often, we Christians are known to the rest of the world not for what we believe in, but for what we’re against.  We’re seen as intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical… why?  Because unfortunately, that’s often how we present ourselves! 
Instead – the first message we must deliver is Love.  We must love them as they are - and that love will catch their attention, because every human heart is starving for love.  We can feed them and let them know there is a source of Love which is unconditional… we cannot make God stop loving us.
We might think – BUT What about those people… stop – remember – God loves them as they are.  Until that message is accepted, Morality and changing their lifestyle is secondary.  The main message is to make sure they know God loves them.
Second - Always be ready to witness to the ‘mighty acts of God’ in our own lives.  Each of us should be ready to tell people what Jesus has done for me personally.  THAT is the story that can intrigue the world to want to take a closer look at Christianity.  And when they look at Christianity – let them see how we love one another.  Our inner change of heart is visible to the world by how we live:  Self-giving Love is attractive to people.   
What started as a gang of frightened people in an upstairs room in Jerusalem detonated into the largest charitable organization on the planet – ever.  Christians were different because they started hospitals and clinics, schools, nursing homes, nutrition centers, pregnancy support clinics.  Christians give of their own money to help their neighbor – and their brothers and sisters in other countries even.  They give their time to visit the shut-ins and prisoners, to pull weeds at their local parish, to teach, sing, decorate, clean, and help administer the business of their local parishes.  Yes – we ARE the largest charitable organization on the planet… Yet – charity is not our reason for existence….it is simply the fallout from the Love in our hearts.
THAT is the power that made Pentecost so explosive.
There’s a song by Jeremy Camp which I think sums it up nicely – I’ll spare you the singing – but listen to these words.
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in US
HE lives in US, LIVES IN US!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

2019/05/19 - Accused of being a Christian

"This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another."

Before Mass:  For the homily today, we’re concentrating on the Gospel, and I have a little homework for everybody here before Mass.  In the next 30 seconds before we announce the opening song, answer this question:  If somebody wanted you to PROVE that you’re a Christian, what would you say?  If somebody wanted you to PROVE you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, how would you do it?

Not long ago, a country was taken over by a group dead-set against Christianity.  They ordered every Christian to be put to death.  As you can imagine, panic ensued.  Thousands of people were executed in public, setting an example for others.  The choice was clear… give up Christianity or die.  Many people gave up their faith – most weren’t really believers anyway – they just came to church because they felt like they had to.  Others tried to keep practicing – but they couldn’t go to their churches anymore, so they’d meet in someone’s house.  They developed a secret password so that when someone knocked on the door, the Christians would know they were legit.

Before going on with the story - Think about this question:  if the government was rounding up all the Christians here, what would be their criteria?  How would they recognize the Christians?  It's not like we all walk around with a cross on our forehead or something!  (except maybe Ash Wednesday).  Look around you… are the people around you Christians?  What sets you and them apart from the rest of society?

Bob was a faithful churchgoer.  One night, he had attempted to sneak into the church to retrieve some chalices and such for use in their home-church.  However, the new government had spies watching the building and he was quickly arrested and drug off to prison.  He was stuck in a cell with a hundred other people accused of being Christian.  One by one they were led before the court to be officially charged.

As expected, he was charged with being a Christian.  What he didn’t realize was he would be given 5 days to build a defense for himself – and at the same time the government would build their case against him.

This was a dilemma for Bob – on one hand, he knew that he couldn’t deny he was Christian – but he was very tempted since he didn’t want to be executed. 

The day came for the trial – and the prosecutor brought forth all sorts of evidence:
    -  His bible, which was obviously used
    -  A stack of rosaries they had confiscated from his house.
    -  Pictures of him going into church
Then he spent the better part of an hour reviewing how Bob spent his time:
    - How much time he spent on work
    - What he did in his free time – which mainly centered around hanging out with buddies or hunting
    - They looked at how much time he spent with his wife and kids
    - They interviewed people from his workplace to learn what kind of person he was.

He wasn’t sure what all of that had to do with anything.  All of that evidence so far was ‘circumstantial’, so he actually had some hope at this point – until the next few pieces of evidence were presented.
    - They had a picture of him receiving communion on the tongue -  his heart sank – surely that was the nail in his coffin
    - They found his Facebook account where he had posted a couple thousand anti-abortion posts.  Again his heart sank – surely that was proof that he was Christian.
    - The last piece of evidence was a picture of Bob in front of the altar with a crucifix around his neck.  What more evidence do you need?

You could have heard a pin drop as The prosecutor finished and sat down. 

Then, without even waiting to hear the defense, the judge hammered his gavel and declared, ‘Not Guilty’!

What?!  Bob felt a mixture of confusion and relief – but also anger – what do you mean I’m not Christian?!

The judge continued – all the evidence given was circumstantial.  Anybody can go through the motions of being a Christian, but there was no evidence given to show this man actually LIVED like a Christian.  All the evidence points to a self-centered person.  This man never let his Christianity actually change him to be more Loving… therefore, he is not a Christian.

Step down, next case.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

2019/05/12 - Good Shepherd

“My Sheep hear my voice - I know them and they follow me.”
Why do the sheep follow Jesus?  Why do you and I (the sheep) follow Jesus? 
I have a two-part story to try to answer that question.

When Fr. Eugene went to the Holy Land a couple years ago, he was acting as a sort-of tour guide for part of the group.  Just outside of Jerusalem, the bus had to stop to allow a flock of sheep to cross the road.  Fr. Eugene was waiting for this moment and he spoke up so the tour group could hear him.  He said, “Did you notice where the shepherd is?”  Everybody craned their necks out the windows of the bus to watch – and they noticed the shepherd was IN FRONT of the sheep.  Fr. pointed out that the shepherd had a certain unique call which the sheep knew – somehow each sheep knew which shepherd they belonged to – and eagerly followed them. 

He went on to point out that this is what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel when he called himself the Good Shepherd and said – my sheep know me and follow me.  Everyone was rightly impressed that Fr. Eugene knew so much – and seeing this with their own eyes made the Gospel just 'come alive' for them.  Sure enough, three flocks passed them that day and each time they could see the shepherd with his staff leading the flock.

Why do the sheep follow instead of running off?  The sheep depend on the Good Shepherd.  They follow him because they trust him.  He lives with them day and night.  He sleeps with them.  Walks with them.  Leads them to verdant pastures to eat.  He guides them to restful waters; directs them and protects them.  He knows each of them personally. 

But how did the sheep learn to follow their shepherd?  Think about that – when a baby lamb is born, how do they learn which shepherd to follow?  Most likely, they follow their mother… and therefore, they follow whoever their mother follows. 
That’s something to think about on Mother’s Day, since for many of us, our mother played a huge role in introducing us to Jesus.

We may have been introduced to Jesus – But are we following him?  If we follow the Good Shepherd, He will lead us to eternal life… says so right there in the Gospel.
But many of us get distracted – - we get culled from the flock and have lost our contact with the Good Shepherd.  We keep following the rest of the flock – wherever the culture takes us – but one day we look up and realize we’re no longer following the Shepherd… instead we’re being pushed along by the culture. 

What’s the consequence of that?  I’ll finish our story to see where it leads us….
The next morning, again they were travelling out of the city, and once again they had to stop for a flock of sheep to cross.  Everyone looked out excitedly, hoping to get a glance of the good shepherd – but something wasn’t right with this flock.  The sheep weren't following anyone.  This flock was being driven instead, being pushed  along by a man with a staff and a dog. 

Everyone started asking Fr. Eugene why they weren’t following the shepherd…. But he couldn’t explain it.  Since they were parked, he decided to hop off the bus and talk to the shepherd. 

“Why, sir, are you driving these sheep rather than leading them?”  “I have been telling these people that a Good Shepherd leads his sheep.”

“You are quite right, Father,” replies the man.  “The good shepherd does lead his sheep.  But you see; I'm not the shepherd.  I am the butcher.”

Saturday, April 27, 2019

2019/04/28 Divine Mercy Sunday: What could be better?

Before Mass:  It’s Divine Mercy Sunday – big deal, right?  What is this Divine Mercy anyway?  What makes it different than normal Mercy?

Many of us know the basics about this Feast – but if I asked you to explain it, chances are you couldn’t – I mean – it seems so obvious, and yet… what IS Divine Mercy?
Let me get the basics out of the way now, then we’ll try to answer that question in the homily:  in the year 2000, John Paul II set the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.  The teaching centers around Sr. Faustina, a visionary from Poland during WWII.  You may have seen this picture- which shows rays coming from the Heart of Jesus – and the picture includes the phrase, Jesus, I trust in You.  There is a Divine Mercy chaplet which is prayed by millions across the planet, and a special Novena which runs from Good Friday to today.   Even IF you are familiar with most of that, you’d probably still have trouble answering:  what Is DIVINE MERCY – and what’s that have to do with ‘Jesus, I trust in You’?

To understand Divine Mercy – we first need to understand several words: Justice, Mercy, Grace, and Divine Mercy.  These are all words we throw around at church and few of us could probably articulate exactly what they mean, how they’re different from each other- and how they are a part of each other.

Imagine you drive an old junker of a car.  One day, while driving to work, it breaks down…you start freaking out!!!  You’re gonna be late for work…and you’ve already been late twice this month because of this STUPID CAR…. You’re afraid you’re going to lose your job.  So you walk and even jog a couple blocks to a gas station to see if they can help, you are freaking out!  You notice a car sitting at the pump with the keys in it and nobody around.  You know it’s not right to steal the car…but did I mention you’re freaking out!?  You don’t want to lose your job, so you jump in the car and take off.  As you pull away, you notice a bald guy in a suit running up behind you waving his hands and yelling.

As you pull in the parking lot at work, you see the red lights pull up behind you and you’re arrested and taken off to jail.  The next day, on the way to the courthouse, you’re practicing your speech….gee your honor, I’m really sorry…no…I’m SOOO sorry…over and over you practice – but as soon as you enter the courtroom, your heart sinks.  You recognize the judge…it’s the same bald guy you saw in your rearview mirror yesterday….YOU STOLE THE JUDGE’S CAR!

You know your goose is cooked.  You hang your head.  You want to disappear into the carpet.  You know you did wrong and you know you deserve the maximum sentence – and the Judge surely won’t go leniently on you since he has been PERSONally offended.  You decide to just confess and get it over with…  You say, “Judge, I am sorry, I have no excuse – and I ask you to simply give me what I deserve”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I am personally sworn to uphold.  The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Since I am a just judge, I’m gonna give you exactly what you deserve.  …and he hammers his gavel and announces the sentence…20 years in prison.

What do you think – is that fair?  Did you get what you deserve?  That is justice – giving what is owed to you.  The judge didn’t care why you stole it or who you are or who you know – if the law says X then you get X – that is justice.  What could be better than Justice?  How about Mercy...

What is Mercy?  Put yourself back in the courtroom.  Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks.  You simply confess and say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be merciful”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold.  The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  That’s what you deserve, but I can tell that you’re truly remorseful for what you’ve done, so I’m suspending the sentence and you’ll be on 2 years probation with only a $1000 fine to pay for court costs.  And he hammers his gavel.

You’re jaw drops – you’re amazed – this judge is great!  Instead of giving you what you deserved  (justice), he gave you the minimum sentence allowed by law (mercy)!  Notice the judge COULD have sent you to prison for 20 years – but because you were sorry for what you had done, he gave you less punishment than you deserved.  That is Mercy.  Pretty good stuff, right?   What could be better than Mercy?...

How about Grace:  Put yourself back in the courtroom, Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks.  You say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be gracious”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says,  Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold.  You’ve also personally offended me by taking MY car.  However, seeing that you’re sorry for your crime and have begged not just for Mercy, but for Graciousness, I will show you how Gracious I can be.   The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Since I am Gracious, I am dropping the charges.  Not only that, but I realize you’ve been driving an old junker of a car, and that’s why it broke down, so, I’m writing here a personal check for $25,000.  Buy a new car and don’t be late for work again.

You have just experienced Grace.  Grace is receiving what you didn’t deserve.  A favor.  An un-deserved and un-earned gift.    Notice because the Judge was the one who was offended, he has the right to drop the charges!  Whereas Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, Grace is to receive a blessing we didn’t deserve.  The Grace of God is what saves us - notice that there is nothing we could ever do to earn or deserve what Jesus did for us on that cross.  It's pure grace - a free gift.  What could be better than Grace?  Could it be Divine Mercy?

So – what is DIVINE MERCY?  Is it Justice?  Mercy?  Grace?  I think it is ALL of the above.  Divine Mercy is a combination of – because God gives us what we need most.  Sometimes we NEED to spend a night in jail so that we learn from our mistakes.  Sometimes we need to be cut some slack and shown mercy.  And of course, God’s grace is given to us every moment of every day.

God will go to any length to give us what we need... in the Gospel, Thomas needed to stick his finger in the nail holes in order to be able to believe... and Jesus was willing to let him!  In the first reading, there were signs and wonders - and many people needed to see those signs in order to believe.  Some of those signs weren't what we might think - I know at least two people who had fallen dead at the feet of Peter - that was a sign too.  Not all signs and wonders look like blessings.

Divine Mercy gives us what we need.  That’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow – because it might not look like a blessing at the time.  The best example I can think of was when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, death and suffering entered the world and they were thrown out of the garden of Eden…. Now – was that a punishment or a blessing?  I’ve always thought it was a punishment, but look at it this way:  once suffering entered the world, God did not want us to suffer forever – so he took Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life.  Death was actually a mercy of God, as it limits the years of suffering we must endure.

Divine Mercy is mercy – but it may not seem like it at the time.  It comes down to Trust.  Spiritual writers for centuries have tried to say it in many ways, but it boils down to this:  everything that happens to us is either sent by God or allowed by God.  If we trust that God always has our best interest at heart – and He does – then we can trust at any moment that whatever is happening at this moment is Divine Mercy at work.  That can be SUCH a hard pill to swallow.  That’s why the bottom of the picture says, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’.... so we can practice saying that every day.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

2019/04/21 Resurrecting Hope

The whole world seems to be falling apart and becoming more violent, more hateful.  It would be easy to despair if we focused on all the negativity.  But Easter is THE ultimate day of hope…  and I want to share a story about Lenny  – A TRUE story – although I changed some details to protect his real identity.

Lenny was what we would call a “hardened criminal” – and he looked the part:  muscular, tatoos everywhere, a thick beard and a scowl told you to give him plenty of room.   His mom had died when he was 6 – his Dad had done some bad things… unforgivable things.  By the time he was 12, Lenny was fending for himself on the street, joined a gang, got messed up in doing and selling drugs, and at 18 was sentenced to life in prison for a brutal murder.

From all accounts, Lenny was a hopeless case… a sorry excuse for a human being.  The system wrote him off.  His family wrote him off.  Counselors wrote him off.  He was as good as dead.

Lenny survived all these years in prison by doing two things:  He was purposely mean, thinking it would  ‘earn’ the respect of everyone on the yard – and second: every day he fed his anger.

See – Lenny blamed his dad for how his life had turned out.  If his dad hadn’t been such a loser, Lenny might have stayed on the path of a normal life.  Not only that, for reasons I can’t explain, Lenny blamed his Dad for his Mom’s death.

To put it mildly, Lenny hated his Dad.  That hate and anger fueled Lenny to pull further and further away from people – to scowl harder – cuss more violently – becoming ever meaner.  Every day, Lenny would wake up with this anger, and lay there feeding it like you’d feed a pet dog -  Lenny’s anger was his backbone.
But then a group of men showed up to put on a Kairos retreat.  In case you’re not familiar with Kairos, it is a three-day retreat based on the Cursillo method, but it was developed specifically for prisons.  Upon hearing that Kairos was coming, Lenny rolled his eyes… whatever – ain’t no blankety-blank, blankin’ Christians blankety blank gonna save me! 

But when the retreat started, Lenny was sitting at the table.  That’s not totally surprising – I mean – at least for those three days he’d get fed REAL FOOD – and he got to be out of his cell three times as long.  He wasn’t there to find Jesus – not a chance - he was just there for a break in the monotony and the cookies.
On the third day of the retreat – at 10 am – Lenny spoke up for the first time all week without cussing.   “I want to give my life to Christ”.  And this big bear of a man put his head down and sobbed.  Amazingly, all these other men who had been avoiding Lenny circled around him and prayed with him – yeah – it’s hard to even imagine the scene.  37 hardened criminals gathered around one bawling gangster talking to Jesus.

Somewhere through the three days, the witnesses that were shared by the team and the other offenders at the retreat led Lenny for the first time to realize that his anger wasn’t his strength – it was his weakness.  His unforgiveness of his Dad wasn’t his backbone, it was a poison killing him from the inside.  His unforgiveness was his own personal prison in which he had locked his heart.  Jesus was able to reach down into that prison – into the hardened heart of a man who had spent his life avoiding letting anybody get close.  For the first time since his Mom died, people showed Lenny what love looks like! 

I share this true story because – it’s a great sign of hope.  Regardless of how hopeless things can seem, the Grace of God can ignite hope from the smallest kindling.
Every one of us here has something in our life that seems hopeless… our marriage, our relationship with a brother or sister or parent, a dead-end job, a teenager on drugs, a spouse addicted to alcohol, an injury or illness that has us sidelined.  Every one of us experiences these seemingly impossible situations and it would be so easy to fall into despair…. Yet we dare to keep hoping.

If God can reach into the stone tomb to raise his Son from the dead, God can change ANY hopeless situation.  If God can reach into the stone tomb of the prison to touch the heart of a hardened criminal, He can reach the heart of OUR hopeless relationships.  Really…

What do we have to do?  Obviously pray – but then just BE the instrument for God to show love to that person.  Just like the team that went into the prison to put on Kairos, you and I can be the arms outstretched to show love to even the un-lovable.  By showing Lenny what love looks like, his heart melted.  We may still have to give tough-love to avoid enabling our drug-addict teenager – but we can’t lose hope that somewhere – perhaps when they’re in the tomb of a prison for 3 days or for twenty years – God will resurrect their hearts…

And if you and I would drop whatever anger or pride or unforgiveness we’re holding onto, he can even reach into the prison we’ve made for ourselves and resurrect hope.

2019/04/19 Good Friday - The EROS of Christ

We hear the story of the Passion twice a year – on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  Do you ever feel like – Jesus – why don’t you say something?  Why don’t you defend yourself?  I mean – we KNOW you have the power to convince Pilate and the other leaders – but you say almost nothing.  Why don’t you try to save yourself? 

I think the answer is ‘Passion’.  We normally use that word Passion to refer to the suffering and death of Jesus – but let’s look at it from another perspective.  Where else do we use the word Passion?  In the love between a man and a woman, for example, they can experience a passionate kiss.  They are said to ‘have a passion’ for each other.  This may seem weird to be talking about this kind of Passion on Good Friday, but stick with me.

In the Theology of the Body, the word Eros is used a lot – and as you all know, Eros is one of the four Greek words for Love (whereas English just has one) - Eros normally what we think of as erotic love – maybe better translated as ‘passionate love’ - like the passion between and man and woman.  Christopher West, in reflecting on the teachings of St JPII, goes a little deeper – Eros is our DESIRE – it is what MAKES us Passionate – it is the fuel that drives us to do anything in life.  Eros calls us out of our SELF to seek to be with another person.  That’s the key – Eros is what makes us come out of our selfishness for the save of someone else.  Eros IS our Passion - think about it.  If you and I have a Passion for something, it means we love something – for example, 

- a firefighter has a passion for firefighting… and doesn’t mind getting out of bed – sometimes more than once in a night – for the chance to help someone. 
- Maybe you’re a student learning to be a nurse or engineer or plumber – what drives you to spend all those hours studying? 
- Everyone with a job – what gets you out of bed to drag yourself to spend yet another day in drudgery? 
- Parents – what drives you to stay up all night with a sick child – and to provide for these little rug-rats who don’t even seem to appreciate what you do for them?

I suggest – if you can answer that question for yourself – you’ll identify your passion – the one thing in your life which drives you to act – to study – to get off the couch or out of bed – to willingly put yourself through the pain. 

Jesus didn’t try to save himself because the cross WAS his passion.  His greatest desire, his Eros, was to establish the Kingdom of God – and the path to do that led right through the cross – so to try to save himself would have been going against his passion.

So – on this Good Friday – yes, we glorify Jesus and we’re thankful for all he went through for us – but don’t stop there.  Think about what DROVE him to do it… think about how madly he loved us – how madly he loves YOU.  Think how passionately He must have wanted to bring us ALL into the kingdom…

Can we love Him as much as He loves us?  Can we seek the kingdom with the same unwavering intensity that led him to the cross?  The message of the cross is that we only find true joy in life when we identify our deepest desire – our Eros – our Passion.

Our life is complete when we find something – or more likely – some ONE to give our life to.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

2019/03/31 - Admitting We are Blind (or 'Whattayaknow?')

Before Mass:
As you listen to the story in today’s Gospel about the man born blind, think about this question:  What do you and I ‘know’ about God?  Some people admit they know nothing of God – some of us pretend to know a lot about God – and others think we know it all! … or at least… we know all we need to know.   That’s a dangerous place to be – thinking we know it all. It sets us up to judge everyone around us – and we may even find ourselves judging God himself.

When Jerry was in high school, like most young people, he wasn’t sure he believed in Jesus – or even in God for that matter.  It just seemed like with all the scientific evidence out there for evolution and the age of the word and the big bang theory – the stories in the bible seemed like irrelevant old-fashioned tales that grandmothers use to keep their kids in line.  Like most people his age – and truthfully – like many people of all ages – he didn’t see a ‘need’ for God anymore.  Science explained it all.

So he decided to stop believing.  He called himself an agnostic – but he lived more like an atheist.  See – an agnostic is somebody who thinks we can’t prove God exists… but an atheist ‘knows’ there is no God.  Yeah, atheists can be good, moral people – but without God, everyone decides for themselves what is right and what is wrong… again, because without God, there’s no objective morality.  Jerry started living that way – doing what HE wanted to do - doing things which got him into trouble – and he hurt people – and even hurt himself more than he even knew. 

In college, Jerry had sunk to the lowest of his life – he was doing all the things he was expected to do at college.  At first it was fun – something new – he felt like an adult when he did those things.  But one night, his girlfriend broke up with him – You’re just no fun to be around anymore.  You use people – you’re always drunk – and all you think of is yourself. 

It was a kick in the gut… The next night, Jerry said ‘no’ when his roommates invited him to go partying again – he thought – is this really fun?  Getting so drunk that I can’t remember the evening – then throwing up and dealing with a hang-over the next day?  He was also cut to the core by his ex-girlfriend’s accusations.  Jerry had been a good kid his whole life – and to think that he was now known as a ‘trouble-maker and a ‘user’ – that was a wake up call for him.  He realized if he continued down this path, he would live a lonely life because he would hurt anyone he came close to.  For some reason, he had a vision of his grandma sitting in her rocking chair praying the rosary.  It was a common sight as a kid…but something made it come to his mind this morning.  His grandma was a saint... and he wanted more than ever to be like her.  He wanted to be the person he used to be.

One of his high school friends was also on campus – she was involved in the campus ministry.  He’d regularly made fun of her with his buddies as she would invite them to the Sunday evening Mass.  But she never let it phase her… she just kept asking.  Thinking of how he’d treated her, he regretted it – and he could see what an absolute jerk he had become.

He texted her and asked if he could go to church with her that afternoon… and they talked for hours afterward.  He told her how he realized that living life without a moral compass was leading him to be a person he didn’t like.  He admitted to her he still didn’t really know if God existed or if Jesus was the Son of God – but he envied the life he saw that she had – the life he used to have with his grandma - so I want to know Jesus again – I want to have the faith I had as a kid – I want to like myself again.

Jerry was like the blind man in the gospel today -  notice that he was born blind – so he didn’t even know what it MEANT to see!  To him, the world had no light in it – he’d never seen light, so he didn’t even know what light was!  But Jesus met him where he was and touched him.  Notice the guy only had to do two things:  he had to let Jesus touch him – and he had to wash in the pool of Siloam… it’s an act of faith… a stepping away from his past in order to grasp the grace that Jesus was giving.

His eyes were opened immediately – but his faith in Jesus took a bit more time – notice his Progression of faith:
- When he was first being questioned by his neighbors, he just referred to the man who cured him as “the man called Jesus”;
-Then when being questioned by the Pharisees about the cure, he admitted, “He is a prophet”;
-When the Pharisees question him a second time, he progressed to say Jesus was “a man … from God”;
-But after getting thrown out, he met Jesus who asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  After a brief exchange, He made his profession of faith: “I do believe, Lord.” 

Notice too how all through the reading, people ‘know’ everything – for example: the apostles asked if  this man was blind because of his own sin or his parents sin.  They ‘knew’ that anybody with a physical handicap only had it because of sin.  Jesus says – hogwash.  OK – that’s not a direct translation, but it’s pretty close ;)

The Pharisees say – we ‘know’ this man can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.  See – in the day – you were not allowed to heal anything on that day… so if you sprained your ankle, you couldn’t even pour cold water over it to stop the swelling.  They were so stuck in their ‘knowledge’ of right and wrong that they didn’t seem to care that the laws of the universe had been bent to heal a man born blind!  Their knowledge blinded them.

The only person who was NOT secure in his knowledge was the man who had been blind – he made this profound statement:  “If he is a sinner, I do not know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

HE was the only one who actually KNEW anything.  Where did he get this knowledge?  It wasn’t anything he learned from a book or a sermon… his knowledge came from his EXPERIENCE.  He had been touched by Jesus and it changed his life.

How’s this apply to you and me?  We all are born blind, but gradually our eyes adjust and we can make out shapes – then we recognize mom’s face – and gradually we see the world around us as it is.  We are also born spiritually blind – but fortunately for most of us, our parents introduced us to Jesus.  As kids, we had a childish faith – not a bad thing – in fact, we should all be blessed to have the faith of a child – but at some point, we start questioning… why do we go to church?  Is this really the body and blood of Jesus?  Does God exist?  Questions are good – let me reiterate – we all NEED to question.  Because until we question, our faith is really just a matter of acting out what our parents taught us.  We might learn our prayers and receive the Sacraments and ‘think we know’ all the answers, but knowing answers is not the same as knowing Jesus.  It’s only in looking back at our EXPERIENCE of Jesus that we realize our eyes have been opened.

But here’s the thing –Jesus can’t open our eyes – He can’t touch us - until we admit we’re blind.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

2019/03/17 - Counting Stars

Before Mass:
How’s your Lent going?  I have a confession to make – I ate ice cream Thursday – I know, I know, I gave up sweets for Lent but – well – it seemed justified at the time….but I wish I had better will power.

Anybody else having trouble?  I heard something this week which gave me another perspective – we are SUPPOSED to have trouble keeping our resolutions.  Really – if we DON’T struggle – if we get through Lent Easily, then we’re not doing Lent right.  In order to gain the fruits of this time of penance, we have to feel the weight of the cross – and the main thing we’ll learn is that we CAN’T do it.  If we rely solely on ourselves to persevere through Lent, we will fail – but that teaches us perhaps the most important lesson of all:  we ALL need a savior.  We all need Jesus to take part of the weight of the cross we voluntarily pick up.

Why do we do this?  We are being changed – transfigured – like Christ.  But before we can be glorified, we must carry our cross.

So – if you’re having an easy Lent – step it up a notch – don’t leave your cross standing in a corner.  If you’re having a tough Lent, congratulations – get back up and pick up that cross again but rely on Jesus standing right beside you helping to carry your cross. 

What’s the point of the Gospel – the Transfiguration?  Matt, Mark, and Luke all tell us this story – so it’s obviously important – but Luke gives us a detail the others omitted.  It says, ‘while he was praying’… Big deal, right – Jesus prayed all the time – why is this note-worthy?  Because Prayer was the context for when he was transfigured.  It was in prayer that he would light-up.  It was in prayer that he was changed.  It was in prayer that he was glorified.  It was in prayer that he conversed with the law and the prophets – connecting himself with the roots of the Faith.

This is what can happen to us through prayer:  It can light us up – we can connect with the law and the prophets…most importantly, it can change us.  In the second reading it says, ‘He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body ‘ for us – God promised to glorify US as well – but how do we tap into that Glory?  By following Jesus’ example – go to a private place and pray.

I know – sounds too simple  - but that’s the genius of Christianity – tapping into the very depths of God’s promises is as simple as raising our minds to God – allowing His Word to light us up.

Does that happen to you and me?  Do we ‘light up’ when we pray?  I’ll admit, most of the time, I’d have to say ‘no’.

Perhaps if we all had a clue just how big God’s promises are to us… maybe then we would shine like Jesus did.  How big are the promises?  God tried to give Abram an idea by saying – see the number of the stars – and count them if you can – just so will your descendents be. 

If you were to stand outside on a particularly clear night away from all the city lights, you would be able to make out around 6000 stars.  Is that how many descendents Abram was going to have?  Take a guess for yourself how many stars there are… go ahead, pick a number.

In his show Cosmos, Carl Sagan stood on a seashore.  He reached down and scooped up a double handful of sand. 

He said – if you counted the number of grains of sand in his hands, it would be close to the number of stars that you could see with a naked eye on a clear, moonless night.  But he made the claim that there's at least one star for every grain of sand on planet earth.  Think of the billions of trillions of grains of sand in the world's sandboxes, beaches, and deserts. 

Impossible… No way, people said… There's just no way that can be true.
And they were right – Scientists now know that there are at least 10 stars for every grain of sand on our planet.  And since we likely haven’t seen the whole universe yet, even that number may be low.

For example – Y’all know the Big Dipper – if you just look at the scoop part of the dipper, Astronomers have so far identified more than five million galaxies lying just within that little square part of the sky.  Think about that – just that small part of the sky has 5 million GALAXIES, each of them having 100-400 billion stars. We can’t even imagine a number big enough to count all the stars.

Who cares… well I do.  This show that God’s blessings are more than abundant – or even super-abundant – it says that God’s blessings are not just un-countable…. But His promises are beyond our wildest imagination.  God made a promise to Abram that his descendants would be more than the stars….  Let it baffle your mind that when God makes a promise to you, he will fulfill it beyond your wildest imagination.

And you can count on that.

*special thanks to Glenn McDonald, Director of Mission Integration for the Ascension Ministry Service Center in Indianapolis, Indiana for the inspiration/information about the stars.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

2019/02/24 - Unexpected

Before Mass:
There’s some back-story to the first reading which we all need to have in mind – Saul was the anointed King of Israel – but he was doing a bad job of it, so Samuel anointed David as the next king.  It’s an odd situation where two can rightfully claim the throne.  Saul was threatened by David – he was popular – a great warrior – and everybody loved him.  Saul was afraid he’d take his throne, so he set out to kill him.  David was on the run for like 15-20 years – living in the wilderness with a ragtag group of supporters – basically waiting for Saul to die so he could step into the throne.  Today’s Gospel picks up somewhere during that time when David was on the run.  The important thing to note is that by every right – David could have killed Saul – remember that.  He was anointed by God to be the king, Saul tried to kill him, and apparently God delivered Saul directly into David’s hand… any sane person would agree that David had EVERY right to kill Saul. 

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 81
READING 1 1 SM 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
RESPONSORIAL PSALM PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
READING 2 1 COR 15:45-49
GOSPEL LK 6:27-38

We all have someone in our lives who has done us wrong.  Picture that person in your mind right now. 

Amanda’s Ex cheated on her for over a year before she found out – then he blamed her for the marriage falling apart and in a messy divorce, he left her with almost nothing.

George’s boss has a bad attitude – he constantly demeans him and gives him the least desirable jobs…. Passing him up for promotions and raises.

Don’s classmate bullied him for years – and spread rumors about him so that nobody in the school wanted to be friends with him anymore.

Clare’s mom told her years ago that when she died, she wanted Clare to have her wedding ring – but her sister took it – claiming she had a right to it since she was older.

A drunk driver ran over Jerry’s youngest kid on her bike – leaving her crippled for life.  Every day Jerry has to help his daughter deal with the aftermath.  Jerry is bitter and angry and simply cannot forgive the man who did this to his daughter.

In all of these scenarios, and the one in your own life, you have every RIGHT to be mad – to hold a grudge – to wish that they would rot in hell.  Nobody would blame you one bit for being bitter and withholding forgiveness…. They don’t DESERVE forgiveness.

David was in that kind of situation.  He had every right to kill Saul and, in fact, when he passed up the chance, I’m sure the other men were making fun of him for passing up this chance:  Besides, maybe this WAS God’s plan that David should kill Saul so he could take his rightful throne.  But David did the unexpected:  he showed mercy.

Jesus says – “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

We’ve heard these phrases throughout our lives – they’re nice Christians sayings - - but do we live them?  Don’t read them as some general ‘love everybody’ statements – let them touch you specifically.  Love your enemies – yes – even that person you thought of a few minutes ago – your ex, your classmate, your boss or co-worker, your brother or sister – let this teaching get personal.

You, no doubt, have every right to be angry at that person – they hurt you – and likely are not even remorseful about it.  They don’t DESERVE your forgiveness.  You have every right to wish them harm – to curse them.  Seriously, nobody is going to blame you for striking back at them – because that’s what any other person would do.
But – we aren’t just any other person, we are Christian.  Christians do the unexpected.
See – we are called to be Holy – which is simply to try to live like God – to try to act like Jesus.  When Jesus met the woman at the well, he could have condemned her as a sinner – but instead he loved her and she became one of the first evangelists.  When Jesus met the woman caught in adultery – by every right of the law, he could have joined in stoning her – but he did something unexpected and refused to condemn her.

When you and I sin – and we do that every day – by every right, God can smite us – but God does the unexpected – he shows mercy continually.  If God can forgive us, we can forgive others.  In fact, if we don’t forgive others, not only are we not reflecting God to the world, but we will live in misery.

Think of a time you had harsh words with someone close to you – how did you feel afterward?  Many people feel a pit in their stomache as long as there is unforgiveness.  The obvious cure to that stomache pain would be to forgive and move on – but instead – we hold a grudge, don’t we?  I know families who have been torn apart for decades because nobody will make the first move to forgive.  In our righteous indignation, we conjure up unforgiveness by recalling how RIGHT we are and how wrong they are – ‘well she said this or he did this and they never even felt sorry about it and if they think I’m just gonna forgive them for that then they got another thing coming!’…..and the pit in our stomache grows – and we’re miserable – and people around us are miserable because of us.  I heard somewhere that unforgiveness is like drinking poison in hopes that the other person dies.

Long before Jesus said these words, David set the example for us – instead of grasping at what was his right – he waited for God to deliver the throne to him.  Vengeance belongs to God.  Notice – there's something else about David we can learn from:  if there’s somebody that is dangerous to us or our children -somebody who is toxic to us – be like David and get out of there.  We may not be able to have a relationship with everyone – but we can still do the unexpected… we can forgive them.  It may seem hard or impossible for any normal person to forgive…
...but we’re not just any normal person – we are Christians.  We do the unexpected. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

2019/02/01 - What's Love Got to do with it?

Before Mass

For our homily today - I met with the Junior Religious Ed class to help me get ideas.
I’ll warn you the homily is mainly going to focus on the 2nd reading-  and it’s one most of us have probably heard many times in our lives – and mainly at weddings.  So often, perhaps, that as soon as we hear ‘love is patient’, we either can finish the reading in our heads, or our minds immediately turn to focus on something else.  It’s a great reading about love and yes – it does fit very well with weddings – but, that’s not why it was written…. Paul wasn’t intending to write to newly married couples.  He was writing this for you and me – and the message is a lot stronger than any of us might remember after hearing it several times.

So I invite you to listen with fresh ears.  Ask yourself as Paul speaks – how does this apply to me?  How should this impact my DAILY life?  In fact, how should this impact every moment of my life, including this very second?

Some people complain that religion is too black and white – that life is made up of a lot of gray area and religion is just too strict and becomes pious, irrelevant babble.
On the other hand, a lot of people complain that religion is too wishy-washy – that so many things are a ‘mystery’ and we can’t really KNOW anything, so religion is TOO gray to provide answers in the hard questions of life.

And to those people, I’d say, “you’re right!”… and I’d like to apologize if that has frustrated you and pushed you away from Christianity.  See, a lot of Christians just kind-of go to church on Sunday and religion doesn’t really impact the rest of their week.  In fact, you might not even KNOW they were Christian.  The outspoken Christians – the ones you KNOW are Christian – usually fall into one of two sterotypes:  there’s the staunch doctrinal self-righteous finger pointer who declares everything is black and white and to hell with anyone who steps out of line!  At the other end are the nice guys who always have a smile and never have answers and anything goes because God is all about Love, so why can’t we all just get along.  Again – these are just sterotypes – doesn’t describe anybody in here - but these are how much of the world views us!

Given those two options, is it any wonder so many people reject Christianity?
Jesus was about more than doctrines and butterflies.  He came not just to teach us, but to SHOW us how to Love.  That is the heart of Christianity.  The purpose of our religion – the purpose of our LIVES, is to become more like God – and God is Love, so the more we Love, the more we’re like God.  They’ll know we are Christians by our …Love, so the song goes.  It’s not just a catchy tune or phrase, this is the heart of what it means to LIVE as a Christian.  It’s more than doing Christian things, it’s about being the hands and feet of Love.

Paul gives several one-liners about how we fail in that.  If I speak without Love, I am a noisy gong.  If I do anything to boast, but don’t have love, I gain nothing.  This reading is not just a nice reading for weddings… it instructs us how to live as Christians.
This is VERY practical advice here…   if I speak without love, I am a noisy gong.  How many people do we know who keep beating their drums without love and we just stop listening to them?

Know anybody who does great things, but they only do it so they can brag about it?  Paul says, if I give away everything but don’t do it for love – it gains me nothing!
Let this scripture instruct you personally… An easy way to do that is to change-out the word Love with YOUR name.

So, instead of Love is Patient, Love is Kind….   Bill is Patient.  Susan is kind.  Greg is not Jealous.  Eugene is not pompous.  Maggie is not rude.  Cayden is not quick-tempered.  Dave does not brood over injury.  Tammy does not rejoice over wrongdoing.  Keep going… this is an instruction booklet for how we should live!  Hmmm… we could also use this as an examination of conscience.  When we’re preparing for reconciliation, read it and think – when was I NOT kind…NOT patient…when did I speak without love?

Hopefully you can see that Christianity is way more than finger pointing and way more than “let’s all get along”.  The early Christians were known for one thing:  “See how they love one another”.  That love was – and continues to be – a magnet, drawing people to Christ. 

In all things we do… in ALL things we do… let Love be our guide.  Love never fails.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019/01/20 - Christian Unity

* Note: Readings are not the standard readings for the week.  Scroll down below homily for the readings. *
I need to warn you, today's readings are NOT in the books.  We were encouraged to offer a Mass for Christian Unity this weekend, so the readings are completely different.  That’s exciting, actually, because some of these readings you may never have heard before – especially the first reading from Ezekiel – he uses some great imagery – but you might need just a bit of back-story for it to really make sense.
You may remember that King Solomon as wise– but you may not remember that in his later years as King, he did some pretty stupid stuff… so bad in fact, that Israel split into two countries – there was Israel in the north, made up of 10 of the 12 tribes – and Judah in the south – made up of the other two tribes.  This division was not from God – it was because of human weakness – and in our reading, we’ll hear God promise to remove that division.
This is symbolic of the Christian unity we're praying for today.

Imagine if your greatest enemy became your friend… impossible?

I love that story from Ezekiel – those two sticks represented the kingdom of Israel which was split into two – and God promised to bring them back together.  It was a division that never should have happened – it was due to human failings that the tribes became enemies in the first place.  But divisions are not of God… so God promised to remove that division.

So it is with ANY divisions we create among ourselves.  Any time it’s us vs them, we are not of God – Dubois vs Celestine, democrats vs republicans, Catholic vs Protestant, even Christian vs Islam… divisions are not of God.  Yet – how can God possibly remove these barriers between us?

A wise man once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.”  Let that sink in - “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

That wise man, whom we celebrate in this nation tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr, saw the injustice and harm to society that came from divisions.  He saw that these divisions were not from God and therefore these enemies were like two sticks which God would bring back together – but not without a struggle.  Humans have a hard time giving up prejudices with which we were raised.  Besides that, we all have experiences in our lives which TEACH us to distrust “them” – whichever group we blame for the current ills of society.  In the 30’s in Germany it was the Jews.. in Mexico 100 years ago – and even in this country – the Catholics were the enemy.  Today ‘they’ might be the muslims or the Mexicans or for some people sitting here today ‘they’ might still be blacks.  We learn these divisions from our culture, our parents, or from personal experience.  Once those wounds are inflicted, it becomes hard – almost impossible for enemies to become friends. 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

Love is of God – and anytime we allow Love to enter into a relationship, God can transform ANY relationship into friendship.

The same holds true for our religious differences.  Any divisions are not of God.  This country is still primarily Christian, but the numbers are dropping fast.  Part of the reason for that is the in-fighting among Christians.  When we don’t have a common message of Love to take to the world, the world will turn away.  Christ prayed that we would all be ‘one’.  But again, human failings – this time among Christians – splintered the body of Christ.  The two biggest splits came between east and west 1000 years ago – and then in the reformation 500 years ago.  Inside of that, we can find stories of individuals who decided they knew better than the Church – like maybe they wanted to marry someone and the Church said ‘no’ – so they started their own church… creating yet another division.  Over 30 thousands divisions of Christianity in this country alone…

Divisions are not of God.

Even in our own community, there are several divisions of Christians – many of which have walked away from the Catholic Church for one reason or another.  What’s really alarming is the number of un-churched people now in our area.  Somehow, even though we are here – we have not been the light on the hill drawing all people to Christ.  How can this be? 

Perhaps it’s our divisions.  Why belong to Christianity when Christians can’t even agree on what they believe?

Divisions are not of God.

Today we pray specifically that Jesus’ prayer be fulfilled – that we would all be one.  We pray that the Spirit would reach into the hearts of all Christian leaders to work toward unity.  There’s actually been amazing progress made already – just a few years ago, the Lutherans and Catholics signed a document which ended the disputes over Sola Fide – salvation through faith alone – coming to a common understanding and ending 500 years of fighting about it.  There are still other differences that separate us – and they may ‘seem’ impossible to overcome – but so was Sola Fide!  The Holy Spirit can do it- and that’s what we pray for - God can change hearts.  This Ecumenical service we’re having on the 10th to pray for our schools is another sign of our coming together as Christians.

We pray too on a personal level that we could each be convicted of the prejudices, discriminations, bickering – anything is not of God – anything that causes divisions.  God can change our hearts.

I want to end with a very short story.
In WWII, there was a band of soldiers fighting their way across Germany and one of the platoon was killed.  They saw a small church nearby and asked the priest if they could bury their friend in the church's cemetery, but he insisted that only people belonging to THEIR faith could be buried in this cemetery.  If you want, you can bury him outside the fence, though.  The guys were kind of put-off, but what else could they do - they buried their comrade outside the fence.  The next morning, they passed the church one last time as they were leaving the area, and their friend's grave was now inside the fence!  During the night, the priest had moved the fence!!

God can heal our divisions - He can change hearts - and He can even move fences.

(867:3) Ezekiel 37:15-19,21b-22, 26-28
15* Thus the word of the LORD came to me: 16As for you, son of man, take one stick and write on it, “Judah and those Israelites associated with it.” Then take another stick and write on it: “Joseph, Ephraim’s stick, and the whole house of Israel associated with it.” 17Join the two sticks together so they become one stick in your hand. 18When your people ask you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by all this?” 19answer them: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will take the stick of Joseph, now in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with it, and join to it the stick of Judah, making them one stick; they shall become one in my hand.f 21b I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms.g
26j I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever. 27My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.k 28Then the nations shall know that I, the LORD, make Israel holy, by putting my sanctuary among them forever.

(869) Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13
R. (see 10c) Lord, gather your scattered people.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.

(868:7) 1 Timothy 2:5-8
  There is one God.
  There is also one mediator between God and men,
  the man Christ Jesus,
  who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time.
For this I was appointed preacher and Apostle
  (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying),
  teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
  lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

GOSPEL   (871:8)  John 17:20-26
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:
"Holy Father, I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them."