Saturday, March 20, 2021

2021/03/21 - The sliver of light visible from inside the tomb

Before Mass:

Today we’ll hear the familiar, amazing story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  One thing I need to bring up which may help you understand the story.  In the ancient world, you had to be dead for three days to be declared legally dead.  Up to that point, you might just be sleeping.  But when the body started to decay, that was a clear sign that the spirit had left the body.  That’s a key point, so keep it in mind.

There’s so much in this story, so listen closely – but I’ll call your attention to this one line – actually you’ll hear it twice: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”.  Have you ever said something like that to God?  I propose to you that this one statement applies to all of our lives.  We all have that thing in our life which seems hopeless – and if God really loved me and really was with me, He would have fixed it a long time ago!  In fact, if God really loved me, he would never have let this happen!

Call those situations to mind as you prepare to listen to the Gospel – because this is not just a story of something that happened 2000 years ago – it is our story – your story – my story.  Each of us has given up on God ever showing up in some aspect of our lives… but today listen closely to hear the command of Jesus… ‘Roll away the stone’.

Homily

OK – so finish this sentence:  Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he  ______.  We’d expect it to say – so Jesus immediately ran back to his friend to cure him.  Any of us would have done that.  But no – our Gospel says, ‘when he heard he was ill, he remained where he was for two days.  What kind of heartless Messiah is Jesus to LET his friend die!  We HAVE faith in you Jesus – we KNOW you can heal him – and THAT makes it even worse.  We know our God has the power to remove whatever it is in our own lives… this illness – this death – this evil – this relationship gone bad – the job situation - whatever it is in our life – We HAVE FAITH that Jesus COULD take it away, but apparently He has CHOSEN NOT to act.  What?  God – I thought I was your friend- I’ve served you my whole life – I pray – I fast – I go to Mass – why aren’t you acting?

Our tendency is to come to the conclusion that – well either God isn’t as powerful as we thought He was – or I’m not his friend like I think I am.  At first, we maintain our faith in God and think – I must be doing something wrong… so we re-double our efforts at prayer and fasting and trying to do everything right to win the favor of God to take this pain away…. But still, we hear only silence.  At some point, we give up – OK – there’s nothing I can do about this, and God, if you’re there, you apparently ain’t gonna do nothin’ either – so we roll a stone across the entrance of the tomb and walk away.  We get discouraged… which literally means to lose heart – ‘cor’ being the root word meaning heart.

Yet, even in our despair, we know somewhere in the depths of our spirit that God is still good and any hope that exists will come through God.  That’s why both Martha and Mary approached Jesus and the first thing they said was, ‘if you would have been here, my brother would not have died’.  They had faith!... but Jesus let them down.  They had become discouraged – lost heart – given up on Jesus, rolled the stone across the entrance of the tomb and walked away.

Why?  That's the question most of us ask... Why doesn’t God cure everyone?  Why doesn’t he annihilate the pandemic?  Why didn’t he stop it before it started?  Why has he taken a year already.  Why is our country going down the toilet?  Why are the morals of our society being ripped to shreds?  Why doesn't God act?

I’d say it’s the same reason that Jesus gave for why he didn’t get up immediately and run to save Lazarus.  Listen:

“This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Somehow, Jesus knew that the only way people were really going to understand the kingdom he was preaching was to see firsthand that behind every death is a resurrection… beyond every hopeless situation is hope…  beyond every discouragement is a new heart.  Sounds harsh – but Jesus knew he had to let the situation progress beyond hope, because – without death there can be no resurrection.  Jesus knew that people needed to COMPLETELY give up hope before they could realize that all their hope is in Him alone.  That’s why he waited… so that Lazarus would be in the tomb for four days.  Legally, a person had to be dead for three days before they could be declared dead.  Up to that point, there was still hope that maybe they’re just sleeping or maybe their spirit will reenter their bodies… If Jesus had shown up before Lazarus died, it would have been just another miraculous cure, instead of this super-miracle.  If Jesus had shown up even one day earlier, Lazarus would not yet have been legally declared dead, and the impact of the miracle again would have been minimized because people would have explained it away with whatever science they could use to back up their opinions – they would come up with an answer why Lazarus was alive, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with Jesus. 

Like Lazarus, you and I aren’t given a choice whether we want to suffer.  Suffering is a part of life.  We pray for miracles – we pray for Jesus to show up – but often we’re disappointed because He doesn’t show up when and how we want him to.

But even when all evidence is to the contrary, God IS up to SOMETHING.  Somehow He will reveal His glory through our situation…  Perhaps we could pray differently – we could pray more daringly: ‘God – I surrender all to you.  Do with me whatever brings you the most Glory.’  Embrace the suffering… embrace the cross we’ve been given.  Surrender everything to Jesus.  Yikes – that’s a tough prayer.

Only when things are hopeless can we see clearly that Jesus is the only source of Hope.  Only when things are dark can we see the cracks of light shining into our tomb.  Only when we’ve become discouraged – lost heart – can we receive a new heart and a new Spirit.

As we all lie in our tomb of grief and despair and discouragement, hope springs eternally in our hearts.  We strain our ears in the silence… listening for the command of Jesus as he speaks into the darkness:  “Roll away the stone”.




Sunday, February 28, 2021

2021/02/28 - Hand over the Playdough

Before Mass

How’s your Lent going?  If you’ve fallen down on your resolutions, I have great news… today is a new day… you can start again.  Why do we give up stuff for Lent, anyway?  You ever wonder that?  Hopefully today’s readings homily will give you a new perspective on that.

Y’all know the story of Abraham, right?  Today we’ll hear about when God asked him to sacrifice his only Son Isaac.  <pause>  If that doesn’t bug us, then we’re not listening… GOD ASKED ABRAHAM TO SACRIFICE HIS ONLY SON!  What kind of God would ask a father to give up his only son?  Doesn’t seem like a very loving God, does it? 

I have some ideas – maybe not THE answer, but something to consider which may make more sense.  So as you listen think about why WOULD God ask Abraham to do that?  And what does that have to do with me?

Homily

I need a volunteer – somebody who likes to play with playdough.  Come on up here.

I need this playdough made into the shape of a heart for my homily… Can you make it?  (Ella agrees)… OK – go ahead (but I don’t give her the playdough).  Go ahead – make a heart… (Ella will say something like – I can’t if you don’t give it to me).  Oh – can I trust you with it?  You won’t keep it?  I kind of like my playdough, you know… I don’t want you to ruin it.  (finally give it and she makes a heart).  Awesome, thanks – that’s exactly what I needed.  I’ll set it right here, because I’ll use it in a few minutes.

OK – back to that story of Abraham… we gotta go back just a bit in the story to make my point.

Abraham had his life all planned out and HE was going to make it happen… then if you remember, God stepped in and told him to Go out to a land I will show you… leave your country, your land, your relatives, your friends, your livelihood, your entire sphere of influence and go somewhere where you will be a nobody.  If you can surrender all of that to me, I will make great things happen through you.  Amazingly, Abraham did as God asked… he went wherever God told him to go… but that’s not the end of the story.  Abraham wanted a son more than anything, and when he finally GOT that son, once again he thought he had his life under control once again.  This is where our story comes in today... Abraham had surrendered everything to God – except one thing – his son – his only beloved Son.  Like any good father, his world revolved around his son… his future depended on that son.

Because Abraham was holding on so tightly, God was not able to do great things through him.  He had to be able and willing to let go of the thing most precious to him – once again amazingly, Abraham did as God asked… fortunately he didn’t have to go through with it, but his actions proved that he was willing to surrender everything, including his own most precious possession – his son… and now he is considered the spiritual father of more than half of the world’s population.  I’d say God upheld his end of the bargain… and he’s not done yet!  Did Abraham EARN that?  It might look like it… he did what God told him to do so God blessed him, right? 

That’s not how God works.  We don’t EARN anything.  It was because Abraham surrendered everything to God that God was able to work miracles and bless the world through him.

But – there’s another story here… what was Isaac thinking during this traumatic event?  We usually think of Isaac as a little boy looking up to daddy asking, ‘Daddy, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’… but if we look closer and do the math… It appears that Isaac was actually in his 30’s…let that sink in – a man in his 30’s, carrying the wood for the sacrifice up mount Moriah.  Sound familiar?  Isaac was like Jesus – a man in his 30’s carrying the wood for the sacrifice up Calvary… which is a mountain in the Moriah range… the same mountains that Isaac was climbing… possible even the same exact mountain.

What would a man in his 30’s think about being sacrificed by his own father?  Other than fear, I can say he must have had a lot of faith that God would raise him from the dead.  Isaac’s show of faith was maybe even more incredible than Abraham’s, as he was willing to surrender his MOST PRECIOUS thing… his very life … the ultimate sacrifice.

Just like Ella couldn’t make a heart out of the playdough until I gave it up – until I surrendered it – you and I are called to put everything into God’s hands and let Him mold us into who HE needs us to be.

That’s what Lent is about…  practicing surrendering to God.   We train our wills by finding by something in our lives that we’re attached to – and we surrender it to God.  Maybe you’ve never really been taught that before... Lent is a training ground for Holiness.  It’s a time to make intentional sacrifices.

There’s something in our psyche that we know sacrifice is a good thing… it seems to be a universal truth in all cultures… if I give up something good, then something good can come out of it.  If I give up something better, then something better can come out of it.  So likewise, if I make the ultimate sacrifice, God can bring about the ultimate good.  Again…It’s not that we EARN anything… don’t fall into a performance mentality that makes us think we are in control or God owes us something.  Sacrifice is about seeing what God can do with whatever we put into his hands.

Don’t just give up chocolate… unless that is the most precious thing in your life.  Give up something hard… For many of us, maybe time is our most precious thing…. I’m really busy, got a lot going on, my plate is full…. We never seem to have enough time, so it is precious.  Consider giving some of your time to spend more time with your kids or wife – or volunteering – or prayer – or adoration – or stations of the cross… things you know you should do anyway, but – well – life is busy and those things just never reach the top of the list.  Give serious thought to what is most precious in your life and whether you could surrender it to God.  Eventually, every one of us will have to surrender our lives to God… either now or at the end of our lives.  But if we want God to transform us, why not start today?  Find something precious to give up in order to train our wills to be ready to surrender anything/everything if God asked.

I was listening to a podcast and this nun was talking about how in their monastery, they all give up the same things. which makes a lot of sense in a community like that… you don’t want to start any competition of who can be holiest…might end up with nobody eating anything for 40 days J  But she was thinking in her prayer how she was SOOOO glad they didn’t give up coffee in the monastery, because she could never live without coffee!  Then she hung her head…. She knew exactly what God was calling her to give up this Lent – so she asked her superior for permission to give up coffee. 

Likewise, our men doing Exodus and women doing Fiat are making a lot of sacrifices and doing a lot of extra reading and prayers during these 90 days leading up to Easter… not because we’re holier than anybody else, but because we WANT to be holy… we want to train our wills to be able to surrender everything to God, knowing that we will be freed from all of our earthly attachments. 

God wants to Transfigure every one of his beloved sons and daughters to look like Jesus in the Transfiguration… He wants to make you and me into images of His love in the world…to show His glory to the world.  But just like Ella couldn’t make a heart until I surrendered the playdough to her, God cannot transfigure us / mold us to look like Jesus, until we open up put our lives into His hands.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

2021/01/31 - Who do we give Authority to Speak to our Heart?

Video (much better than reading): https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR3XfFxAY1SU-TSinEWGF0P8EfdItUxxG1dzkE4U2z_r_EzakQzNJfZSFBc&v=GYm29F7yEeA&feature=youtu.be

Preview/Context: 00:00 - 03:30
Homily:  16:10 - 24:10

Text Below:

Before Mass

Who do we give authority to speak into our hearts?  That’s the question to consider as you listen to the readings today – it applies to all of the readings - even the 2nd reading, although I won’t talk about that today.  Who do you give authority to speak to your heart?

There’s a backstory to the first reading which I need to share to set the context.

Remember when the Israelites were in the Desert at Mt Sinai and God gave them the 10 commandments?  Well – at first, God came onto the mountain with thunder and lightning, speaking directly to the Israelites who were gathered at the base of the mountain.  Each person heard him speaking directly to their heart.  It was so overwhelming, they were so scared to death!  They told Moses – you talk to God and tell us what He says – don’t let him talk directly to us again!  So Moses became the mouthpiece of God for the Israelites – but God promised that He would raise up a prophet from their own kin who would speak His words.  This is an important prophecy:  first it refers to Joshua, who immediately succeeded Moses as the prophet – and HE became the new mouthpiece for God.  But it also refers ultimately to another prophet named Jeshua… we call him Jesus.  When Jesus came he fulfilled that prophecy perfectly because God himself came in human form – from the kin of the Israelites – and once again God was able to speak directly to His people! 

Hopefully that will make the first reading more understandable – but also – the Gospel is the first time in Mark that Jesus starts teaching – talking directly to His people, so today is the fulfillment of that prophecy.  We’re only on verse 21 of the Gospel of Mark, but in this short time we pick up several themes – He proclaims that the Kingdom of God is at Hand, He teaches, and He proves that He has been given ultimate authority by performing his first miracle.

As we read that Gospel, I want to invite you to imagine yourself in the story…

HOMILY

Who do we give authority to speak into our hearts?  If God himself was to speak to you or me today, would we listen?  Are we like the Israelites… do we even WANT God to speak to us?  I propose that most people DON’T want to hear God speak unless He agrees with them.  Seriously, for the most part, people don’t really want to hear ANYone else’s opinion…  we just want to hear our OWN opinion coming from someone else’s mouth.  If your opinion doesn’t 100% match mine, don’t talk to me.  In fact, you must have a demon in you, so go back to where you came from.  Yeah – it ramps up quick like that.

Surely you’ve noticed that it’s almost impossible to have a civil discussion about anything nowadays.  We immediately get ramped up, indignant, offended.  Why has it gotten so bad?  I’m pretty sure social media is largely to blame:  not only do we get fed stuff every minute which is DESIGNED to get a rise out of us, but the social media algorithms know what we click on and what we agree with and will feed us stuff specifically designed to keep us clicking… specifically designed to make us harden our hearts and dig our heels in even further!  Think about it!  If I think X is true, the social media folks will only shoot me snipits of headlines which catch my attention, cater to my opinion, and only prove that those who oppose my way of thinking are not just wrong – but they’re wackos bent on destroying society as we know it, and I’d better get really MAD!

It’s such a devious plan that it almost feels demonic… like some evil force is infiltrating our culture – even infiltrating our church - just TRYING to tear us apart.  This divide is tearing apart our country, tearing apart our church, tearing apart our families, and often, tearing each of our own hearts. 

Like the demon in the Synagogue today, this demon is among us – even in our Church.  The demons are getting braver… coming closer to Jesus… they know who He is – and they think that by calling out Jesus to those around us, he can drive Jesus away… But they have no power over Jesus… demons have no power except that which we give to them.  Hear that – demons are created beings – created by God – and they have zero power except that which we allow them to have.

It’s important that we identify those demons in our own lives – call them by name – and throw them out of the Church / out of our lives.  In some ways, the 70 men and women participating in Exodus and Fiat are learning that.  Every one of us are finding that we have allowed something to control our lives… not necessarily anything demonic, but you and I become a slave to anything that we give control to other than Jesus.  By purposely taking on asceticisms – which is things that are hard to do, like Fasting – we are learning to exert control over our will – and thereby allow Jesus to take His rightful spot at the center of our lives.  Only Jesus has that authority to speak to our heart.

What can we do?
Pay attention to whom we give authority to speak into our lives.  Recognize that the traditional media and social media have been commandeered by someone with an ideology bent on calling out and putting a spin on everything you hear to make us all think that anyone who thinks differently than ME is self-centered, self-serving, immoral, and just an all-around mean person.  As long as the demons can keep us thinking that way, we are doomed.  Let’s Fight back.

Name the demons and call them out.

If your blood pressure goes up every time you watch the news, stop watching the news.  I’m not saying we should bury our heads in the sand – but find a source of Truth instead of the half-lies, spin, and hype that is being fed to us.

If your anger boils every time you look at Facebook or Twitter, delete those accounts.

If you’re sure you’re right and everyone else is wrong, think again.  If Love is not part of the equation, we’ll get the wrong answer every time.  A good friend has a catchy quote:  If you’re wrong in HOW you’re right, then you’re still wrong.  In other words, Truth spoken without love can still be evil.  This is NOT a right-wing or left-wing statement… These tactics are infecting everyone.  Yes – even Demons can speak truth..or at least half-truths… but with evil intent:  to divide the Body of Christ.

Instead of concentrating on what’s wrong with the world, narrow your focus and concentrate on loving the person in front of you.  If there’s no person in front of you, then reach out to someone… there are plenty of people in need of human contact.  Practice love… spread love… establish the Kingdom of God now.  

It starts by letting Jesus have authority to speak to your heart.



Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020/12/27 - What Makes a Family Holy?

Before Mass:

Welcome to St. Isidore, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

What IS a Holy Family – obviously, Jesus, Mary and Joseph… but what about our families? What is it that makes our families holy?  Is it a family that prays together?  A family that goes to church together?  A family whose kids grow up to still practice the Faith?

Is it even important for our kids to have Faith?  Does it really make a difference?  Hopefully you can look at your own life to answer that question.  I imagine most of us here would agree that having Faith has been important to our lives, so it would be important to pass that on to our kids.  Well – what if today I gave you the magic bullet … if you pull this one trigger, it dramatically increases the chances that  your kids will have Faith.  Would you pull that trigger?  Hang tight for the answer… you might be surprised.

Homily:

“God sets a father in honor over his children;”

In our modern culture, that kind of talk can be offensive… it might sound sexist or anti-woman.  In some ways, that may be a justified reaction, since too often the MOM is the one who really deserves the honor for all the hard, relentless, thankless work she does from the moment she becomes pregnant until she’s in the grave.  Yet the scripture tells us that ‘God sets a father in honor over his children’?  I think there’s something we’re supposed to learn from that…  So without for a second disrespecting Moms and grandmas, let’s dig a little deeper.  See – it’s not that God sets a father in honor over his children because he DESERVES honor… but because there’s something built-in to the way kids’ minds work that makes the father have more impact in certain areas of family life.  Here’s what I mean:

A recent survey showed that if a Father does not go to church, only 30-something percent of their kids will go to church once in a while when they grow up… and only 1 in 50 will go to church regularly...  !ONE IN FIFTY! That’s right – if Dad doesn’t go to church regularly – regardless of whether Mom goes at all… chances are your kids will NOT be in Mass 20 years from now.  May sound depressing, but look at the statistics from a positive perspective:  If a father DOES go to church regularly, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children WILL become churchgoers.  Did you catch that?  If Dad has Faith, 60-75 percent of their kids will have Faith when they grow up.

Mom’s faith is important, but for some reason, the Father's faith – or lack thereof – can make or break all of the efforts from Mom in the area of Faith.  See – regardless of whether the Father ‘deserves’ honor, somehow children automatically seem to look up to their Father in a way differently than they look up to their mother.  It’s not sexist or bigoted, it’s just apparently something built-in to our psyche … almost like God made us that way.   “God sets a father in honor over his children;”

Is that important?  Well, do you think it’s important for kids to have a faith life?  More than that – do you think it’s important for ADULTS to have a faith life… because your kids are only 10-20 years away from being adults… so if we want them to have Jesus to hold onto, we gotta do what we can now to instill that in them…. And it seems the Father can make it or break it.  That’s the ‘magic bullet’…

Men:  The future of the church is in our hands.  The future of our kids is in our hands.  The future of our families is in our hands.  And if you think about it, the future of our very country is in our hands, because surely the reason our country has declined morally is because more and more kids have walked away from the Faith.  No Faith – No Family – No Future.  

Whether we agree with it or not, the Devil knows this fact: kids look up to their dads, so if He can take US out – he can take out our kids.  If he takes our kids out, he takes out the family.  If he takes out the family, he takes out our society.  Half the battle is realizing that we are in a battle.  The Devil wants to take you out.  Unfortunately, we men are often easy targets – we have a mental make-up that is easily addicted… we all have addictions:  work-a-holic, alcoholic, sex, pornography, video games, hunting, food, sweets, ice cream… we all have one or more things that we “just can’t live without”.  It’s time to break the Devil’s hold on our lives.  We want to be FREE.

You may have noticed the orange signs on your way into church… we’re starting Exodus 90 on Jan 4th and ending on Easter.  It’s a 90 day exercise of Prayer, Asceticism, and Fraternity.  Exodus 90 helps men let go of the things that are holding us from being who God is calling us to be; the man our wives, our families, and Church need us to be. 

I have a lot of respect for our military;  The training, the sacrifices they make – there’s something to that.  Marine recruits go through what’s known as ‘the crucible’ to complete their training and earn the title of ‘Marine’.  It tests every recruit physically, mentally and morally and is the defining experience of recruit training. The Crucible takes place over 54-hours and includes food and sleep deprivation and over 45 miles of marching plus tests designed to push men to their limit… not to break them… but to call out the man inside of them.  By pushing through the challenges, each man finds that his capacity exceeds what he thought he could do.

Exodus is kinda-like a 'crucible for Catholics' – it’s like Lent – but on steroids.  It challenges us in ways specifically geared toward the things that men are easily drawn to, and it gives us the tools to be able to make it.  One thing about the crucible – you can’t do it alone – you need your team – we all need someone to help us over a wall or to give us encouragement when we hit our breaking point… likewise one of the main tools of Exodus is a small group called a Fraternity…in fact, I’ll say the Fraternity is the most important part of Exodus.  The Devil will take us out if we don't have a brother watching our back.

Make a 90-day commitment to change your life – make it as a new year’s resolution – make it as an extended Lenten observance – make the commitment for yourself and your children.  Are you interested?  Talk to me after Mass – or see page 5 of the bulletin.  

Now is the time, Men.  Our children look up to US – the future of our church depends on us – the future of our society depends on us.   You hold the magic bullet to making your family a Holy Family.

Christ came into the world 2000 years ago to set the captives free…. You and I are the captives.  We will be free.  

St. Joseph, Pray for us.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

2020/12/06 - Second Sunday of Advent - Cabanatuan

Readings:  IS 40:1-5, 9-11, PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14, 2 PT 3:8-14, MK 1:1-8

Before Mass:

“Comfort – give comfort to my people” – that’s the first line of the first reading from the 40th chapter if Isaiah today.  If you know your Bible, you know This is one of the most important turning points in the whole Bible:  the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are known as the book of woes.  He warns them Israel and over and over that bad things are gonna happen – change your ways – bad things are gonna happen – change your ways - … but they didn’t listen… they didn’t think they NEEDED to change.  That’s an important point – Israel was warned many times, but they didn’t think they needed to change.  So, the consequence of their stubbornness was they were sent into exile.  

Then we come to chapter 40 and suddenly Isaiah changes his tune – instead of warnings and gloom and doom, God recognized that His people now need a word of comfort… of hope.  Yes, you’re in exile, but all is NOT lost.  And that’s where we pick up today.

This may not make sense until after the homily – but the theme of today is ‘God wants to comfort us, but He doesn’t want us to get comfortable’.  Ponder that a bit.

Homily: 

Tomorrow marks the 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  In one fell swoop, the American naval fleet was effectively annihilated in the Pacific.  48 hours later, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, where the US had a strong defense force.   Our troops fought as best as they could for four months, but without a Navy to protect their supply-lines, their defeat was only a matter of time.  In early April, they surrendered – the single greatest defeat in our nation’s history.  70,000 prisoners of war were marched 60 miles to POW camps in what has become known as the Bataan death march.  An estimated 15,000 died or were killed along the way.

In over-crowded, deplorable conditions, our POW’s waited and waited and waited.  Nobody came to their rescue.  The US was busy fighting Hitler, and trying to rebuild our Pacific fleet, so for three years, the POW’s waited: dying of malaria, malnutrition, and murder.  They were forgotten.  

I share this history because most of us never heard of Cabanatuan.  It’s a forgotten story about a forgotten people.  Most Americans believe that if we get into trouble, our military will rescue us… but three years of waiting had to make those POWs wonder whether rescue would ever come.

I would imagine that’s how the Israelites felt... God had forgotten them… their temple was destroyed… they had been carried off to Babylon – away from the Promised Land, the very Land that God had given to them…. And this lasted for 70 years…………...  Ain’t nobody comin’ to the rescue.

In late January of 1945, the tide had turned and the Allied forces were making headway in the Philippines, pushing back the Japanese forces.  As the Japanese pulled out, stories were trickling out of atrocities as they killed prisoners rather than allowing them to be freed.  American forces decided to take action, and a daring raid was planned to free prisoners from the POW camp at Cabanatuan.

To accomplish this took the coordinated efforts of United States Army Rangers, Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas, and even some air support and support from the locals.  On Jan 28th, 121 Rangers slipped behind enemy lines and walked like 30 miles to the camp.  The first sign of hope for our POW’s was on Jan 30th when a lone American plane flew over the camp several times to provide a distraction as our men took up their final positions.  Just after nightfall on January 30th, our forces executed a bold attack which ended with over 500 prisoners being led out to safety.

Comfort, give comfort to my people… the Rangers and Filipino guerillas brought hope, freedom, and comfort to the POW’s who had all but lost hope.

Israel had no hope… they had messed up big-time.  Like I said before Mass – they had been warned to change their ways, but they didn’t think they NEEDED to change.  God knew they needed to feel the consequences of their actions in order to get them to change their ways…. But God doesn’t like to see His people suffer either… He recognized that they NOW needed words of comfort, lest they despair.  

Isaiah tells them that God himself will come to rescue you!  God himself will be slipping behind enemy lines to launch a daring raid and free his people… and He did!  You may remember that years later, King Cyrus sent them back to Israel to rebuild their temple.  God kept his promise.

Why all this history lesson?  Because too often, we don’t think the words of scripture actually apply to US:  These words are just meant for those people two or three thousand years ago…  but that’s not true.

I want to stretch your imagination just a bit… first, Imagine for a second that you were one of the Rangers going in to free those POW’s – and when you got in there, they said – no thanks – leave us alone – we’re fine just as we are.  Not a chance… they KNEW they were prisoners.  Like Father said last week – when you’re a prisoner, every moment of every day is consumed with thoughts of escape or rescue… That’s important:  They KNEW this was not home – this is not where they belong. … 

Now imagine this:  How would you react right now if someone stormed through the door of the church right now saying We’re here to rescue you!!!  We’d all be like – ‘rescue from what?!’ – we’re fine – leave us alone.  Well – that’s the message of today’s readings:  God has a detailed plan to RESCUE US!  This covert op started with a scout named John being sent to the desert to prepare the way – then the rescue team – Jesus – slipped behind enemy lines as a baby to avoid detection by the enemy.  (Really, God – THAT’S your plan!?)

2000 years ago Israel didn’t like the message – you’re here to rescue US???  We’re fine, leave us alone… so they killed the rescuer.

Trouble is, that attitude didn’t stop with Israel… it seems to be part of our human condition.  How do you and I respond when we  hear that Jesus is coming to rescue us?  ‘Rescue us from what?!’… ‘no thanks, I’m fine’…. ‘I don’t need to change’. 

God tries to break into our lives constantly… to show us where we need to change:  to fight our addictions, to squash our selfishness, to seek virtue – to seek to be a saint… but too often our response is, “I’m fine – leave me alone – I don’t need to change”.  Let that sink in to each of us personally – I’m speaking to myself here too… Where do I resist change?  What addictions and habits do I let control my life?  What chains are wrapped around my wrists that I don’t even see anymore?  What virtues do I ignore even TRYING to build, because “I’m fine”…I don’t need to change.

Many of us don’t even realize that WE are the POW’s.  In one way or another– we’re all a prisoner to the things that we’re addicted to.  A slave to sin.  As long as we’re in this world, we’re sorta behind enemy lines  - constantly barraged by temptation – dealing with sickness, viruses, physical ailments, and death… this ain’t how it’s supposed to be.

We’ve been tossed into this war between good and evil, and we’ve been in the battle for so long that we think this is our home!  But this is not our home!  We are in exile!  We are still waiting to be rescued.  

So God gives US these words of comfort today, but He also warns us – DON’T GET COMFORTABLE… we’re not home yet.  Jesus is ready to enter behind enemy lines today – to enter into your heart and mine.  So, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

It’s interesting to me in the Cabanatuan raid, the Rangers could NEVER have made the 30 mile trek unless the locals helped…. So use your imagination one more time – imagine if there were 121 Rangers walking through our community right now – right by your farm or neighborhood.  Could they get by unnoticed?  The farmers ‘muzzled their dogs and caged their chickens’ to avoid giving away the Rangers’ presence.  Likewise, Is there anything in OUR lives that could foil Jesus’ rescue attempt?  You and I need to prepare the way of the Lord – to ‘muzzle the dogs’ in ourselves – to take the chains off of our hearts… to remove any obstacle that could prevent Jesus from gaining a beachhead in our hearts.


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Homily 2020/08/23 - Why Caesarea Philippi??

BEFORE MASS:

Ever try to read the Bible and think … this makes no sense… it doesn’t apply to me.  Well, part of the issue is that we don’t have the same context as the people at the time of Jesus.  So Much can be loaded into one phrase that you and I would never understand.  For example, if I say 9-11 – we can immediately think of a book-full of history… but somebody 10 years old may not think of anything at all.  So how can we understand something from 2000 years ago?

First, in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom… that in itself is super-loaded with meaning, pointing back to the kingdom of David where the prime minister was given ultimate authority over the whole kingdom – 2nd in command to the King himself.  We’ll hear an example of the prime minister in the first reading.  We could talk all day on that, But that’s not what I want to focus on today…  I want to concentrate on Gospel.  

Often, we kind of ignore the first line of the Gospel because we don’t understand the context.  Today’s starts with  “Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi”.  So?  Is that an important sentence??  Yeah… This is a HUGE deal… so, Fasten your seatbelts for a very-quick history lesson, because there are at least four reasons I’ve come up with why Jesus chose this spot to say what He said… and I won’t even get to them all!  Pay close attention to what he asks and what He says to Peter and ask yourself, why Caesarea Philippi?

 HOMILY:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”

Blah, blah, blah, right?…. We hear that kind of talk all the time so it sounds normal – or even boring.  But those words coming from Peter’s mouth are revolutionary… they could have gotten him killed on the spot.  Aside from the fact that he was a Jew and they would stone anybody they thought was blaspheming, the Romans would DEFINITELY have taken that statement as a sign of revolt.  What’s the big deal?  To understand that, I gotta give you some back-story and explain why Jesus came to THIS spot, Caesarea Philippi, today. 

When we went to the Holy Land in February, I was hoping we’d go to Caesarea Philippi –I had wanted to see for myself a couple of geological peculiarities about this place… but our guide said we ‘could’ do that, but we would have to give up an entire day of other things we had planned, because CP is way north – in the middle of nowhere…so we didn’t go.  

It’s in the middle of nowhere today, just as it was in Jesus’ day … so why did Jesus go there of all places?  I mean, it had to take several days just to walk up there and back, and He supposedly was on his way to Jerusalem, which is in the opposite direction.  

Way before the Israelites came to this region, this was a site of pagan worship.  When the Greeks conquered the area, CP was called Panias – it was the sight of a pagan temple to the god Pan.  It was built into the side of this huge rock or cliff face, and even to this day, there are places where grottos were carved into the rock face.  The other geological significance of this place is that it is the headwaters of the Jordan… several springs come from the mountain and converge in this one spot – at the time of Jesus, they emerged from a cave - which carved a deep pit.  This pit was immeasurable to the ancient people, so they thought it was bottomless, and it became known as the gate to Hades.  Literally, the gate to the netherworld.  The priests would throw sacrifices…animals – or children – to satisfy their pagan gods by throwing them into this pit.. and if they sank, the sacrifice was accepted.

Then the Romans came in and the story really gets interesting.  If I have my history right, Julius Caesar was the ruler who solidified the Roman Empire.  He was a powerful, smart leader and quickly moved to establish Pax Romano – the peace of Rome over a wide area of the known world – including Israel.  

Well, when Julius Caesar died, his adopted son Octavian went before the Roman Senate and asked that they declare Julius Caesar to be a god…. As you know, Rome had many gods, so adding one more to the list seemed like a non-issue… besides the fact that Octavian would have taken their heads off if they refused… so they granted his wish and named Julius Caesar a god.  Catch that?  PEOPLE – flesh and blood – decided who was a god.

Immediately, Octavian went back before the Senate and the people and said  - bow down before ME now, because I am the son of god!!  Really!  Ring any bells in your mind yet?   Well, then Octavian edicted that every Roman province must build a temple to the god Julius Caesar and the son of god, Octavian.  Herod, the king of Israel knew that if he built that temple in Jerusalem, there would be an uprising, so he looked around Israel and thought – where can I build this that I won’t be lynched?  So he chose the most out-of-the-way spot available… Philippi  - and renamed the town Caesarea Philippi....

OK take a breath – with all of that background, now let’s take another look at this conversation between Jesus and Peter.  

Jesus asks who do people say I AM? – but He quickly drills down to the most important question: who do YOU say that I AM?  And Peter boldly confesses that ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’.  Does that still sound like a boring statement? They are standing in front of the temple to honor the son of a dead god, and THIS is where Peter steals the name that Ceasar gave to himself and declares Jesus to be the real son of God… if the Roman’s heard him he would be killed.

This is the moment Peter got his name… before this, he was known as Simon, but Jesus brought him to this dead rock with the temple to a dead god in order to give him a new name: Peter, which means ‘rock’.  Jesus says on this rock, I’ll build my church.  He’s standing in front of this 1000 foot rock cliff face where many temples have come and gone – and instead saying he’s going to build his church on a different rock – a living rock:  Peter.  

Jesus had gone way out of his way to take them to CP in order to create the perfect teachable moment… and Peter got the message.  Here’s where I want to make my point today… Jesus said – “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. “

How did Peter know Jesus?  He spent every day with him for 3 years.  He listened to his wisdom.  He talked to him about his own thoughts, fears, and desires.  He studied Jesus.  But with all that Peter did, that was still not enough to reveal to him that Jesus was the Son of God.  He couldn’t believe that unless God the Father revealed it to him.  You and I cannot believe that Jesus is the Son of God unless the Father reveals that to us.

Do we know that in our hearts?  Do we really believe?  Would we stand up and boldly say those words if they might get us killed?  We all likely have doubts – that’s normal – but we can learn from Peter how to overcome those doubts.  

Spend time with Jesus – in prayer – daily – maybe hourly!  That sounds impossible, but imagine that Jesus is walking with you every moment of the day and talk to him as if you’re talking to your best friend… because you are.  Share with him your thoughts, fears, and desires.  Listen in silence for His gentle reply.  Spend time with him – in the adoration chapel – study him by reading His words and studying the way He walked in the world.  When we come across something in the scripture which doesn’t make sense or seems like it doesn’t really apply to you, it likely means we need to study.  Just like learning about Julius Caesar made this reading come alive for me, there is SO much that can be learned if we spend time with the word of God and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us with understanding and wisdom.

When we spend time with Jesus, we not only learn who Jesus is, but we learn who we are.  Like Peter, we receive a new name…. a new identity… a new purpose… and God will use us as a building block in His Church.  Only when we know who Jesus is will we know who WE are.

When it’s our time to pass to the netherworld, our lives will stand as a monument to whatever god we serve.  I don’t know about y’all, but I wouldn’t really want to be 'just another brick in the wall' of a temple built to a dead god.  Instead, Let’s become living stones and rest ourselves on the foundation of Peter… glorifying the LIVING God.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

2020/07/26 Pearl of Great Price

Before Mass:
Quiz time:  Who was the wisest person ever to live?  According to our first reading, Solomon was – it says, “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

Seems pretty clear he was the wisest person.  But here’s a trick question:  what was it that made him wise?  I’ll give you a hint, it’s in the first part of the first reading.  Pay attention to what Solomon says and see if you can see what makes him wise.

The second reading has a great, comforting line:  “all things work for good for those who love God”.  There’s so much we could say about that,  – but do we believe it?  Do we live like we believe it?  For example, when we look at all the craziness in the world right now, do we really believe God will bring good out of it?

Finally the Gospel has three more very short parables from Jesus – and the one we’re going to focus on is about the Pearl of Great Price where a guy sells everything to buy a pearl which is more valuable than anything else.  The main question we’ll ponder is this:  What is the pearl? 

HOMILY
One very brief, but important comment about Solomon… what was it that made him wise?  Yeah - I know - God made him wise, but I think his greatest wisdom was reflected in how he replied to God, basically saying – look God, You made me king, but I’m a nobody and I’m in way over my head… if you don’t help me there’s no way I can serve this kingdom you gave me.  Regardless of what happened after this moment, Solomon showed us ultimate wisdom:  to recognize that the task before us would be impossible without God’s help.

Keep that in mind... but let’s turn to the Gospel.  When the guy in the Gospel finds that one thing which he values above everything else, notice how his life comes into focus:  he sells everything to buy that one pearl.  He has found something worth living for – and everything else in his life pales in comparison.  Everything else just becomes a means to allow him to reach this new goal he has found.

You gotta wonder:  What is that pearl?  What is that Pearl in YOUR life?  Maybe it’s "wisdom"… like we heard Solomon ask for….that would make a lot of sense – God certainly seemed pleased when Solomon asked for wisdom.    But Maybe it’s "time" – God gives us only 2-3 billion seconds in our life, so maybe recognizing our mortality is a great treasure?  That recognition may increase our sense of urgency about making every moment count.  Maybe it’s relationships, because at the end of our lives, we’re not really going to care whether we won a championship, saved a million dollars, became famous, or caught the biggest fish.  In the end, it’s our relationships that matter… love.  That's a good one… but Perhaps the pearl is our "faith"??  Like Paul said in another letter:  your faith is worth more than fire-tried gold.  Or from a totally different perspective, maybe "YOU" are the pearl…and Jesus is the one who gave everything He had to redeem you.  All of these could be right.
We choose.  What is YOUR pearl of great price?  What is your goal in life?  How are you and I going to spend our 2-3 billion seconds of life?   It may sound like a lot, but it’s a finite number.  If you’re 40, you’ve already got less than a billion remaining… on average. 

Each second is a gift from God.  The way I see it, we each have two choices:  we can SPEND our seconds…letting them slip by… or we can INVEST our seconds to reach a goal:  to purchase a pearl.
See – if we set a goal – then we have something to strive for.  If we set a goal, then we have a guiding principle which can help us decide how to invest our time.  With every decision, we can ask whether this will take us closer to or further from our goal.  Trouble is, most of us don’t even KNOW the goal of our life.  Without a goal, we tend to frivolously spend our time.  We’re all busy – but busy doing what?

How many hours do we waste scrolling through our social media?  How many hours do we waste surfing the web or surfing TV channels? Again – downtime and rest are wise – but surely we can all recognize that there are times when we suddenly realize we’ve wasted an hour or two or three just mindlessly scrolling – with no direction or purpose.  3600 seconds gone.  We aimed at nothing – and we’re left with nothing.  Time Spent or Time Invested? 

So our challenge is to figure out our goal in life.  What would you sell everything to purchase?  Seriously take this to prayer:  what are we willing to live for?  What are we willing to die for? 
To figure out what your current goal in life is, there are three questions you can take to prayer:
Where do you spend your time?  Where do you spend your money?  What do you think about the most?

I may ‘think’ my goal is to be a great husband, but if I spend all my time and money on ‘my’ toys and ‘my’ hobbies, then that tells me that I’m fooling myself….but I’m probably not fooling my wife.  If I say my goal is to be a great dad, but never invest time with my kids, I’m fooling myself – but I’m not fooling my kids.  If I say I want to be a saint but I never invest time in prayer, I’m fooling myself- but not fooling God.  Maybe you want to go with a generic goal like ‘ I just want to be happy’… but we all know happiness is fleeting.  Happiness is not a pearl of great price.

Without a goal…without a pearl of great price… we have nothing to live for except selfish pleasure.  Once we find a goal worth living for – it gives meaning to every moment.  When we know our purpose in life, we stop SPENDING time and start INVESTING time.  When we know our goal, we have something to LIVE for…. We might even have something that we’d DIE for.
Maybe, just maybe, our pearl should be to be a saint.  Leon Bloy the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.  If that’s not our goal, then investing time in prayer and going to church would make no sense.

Pick your pearl.  If God was to grant you one wish, what would it be? 
Set your goal so high that it is impossible for you to reach without God’s help.