Saturday, January 27, 2024

2024/01/28 - Harden Not Your Hearts

 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dt 18:15-20   Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9     1 Cor 7:32-35     Mk 1:21-28                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


Remember what happened when God gave them the 10 commandments? – if you go back to Exodus you’ll see that God didn’t just speak to Moses – he spoke directly to each person.  God had Moses get all the people to gather around the base of the mountain – and this dark cloud covered the mountain and there was lighting and a loud Shofar – like a horn – and– in that they heard the voice of God speak directly to them….and it FREAKED THEM OUT!  They said – Moses -YOU speak to us – don’t let God speak to us again lest we die!  Keep that in mind for the first reading.

Now there’s a connection between that reading and the Gospel – in a way the Gospel is a fulfillment of the prophecy in the 1st reading.

Oh – and pay particular attention to the psalm, because it kinda threads all the readings together, although it may not be obvious.


What’s the prophecy in the first reading?  God promised to send a prophet from among our own kin - who would speak HIS words.

Then BOOM – in the Gospel, we have – Jesus speaking with authority!  There’s two pieces to that authority– first – you probably already know this – but any good rabbi of the day would be good because he could quote other rabbis – like "Well, Gamaliel says…" or "Rabbi Nicodemus says…"   But Jesus quoted the words of no one – He directly spoke the Word of God - because He IS the Word.  Did you see that – He spoke the word of God DIRECTLY TO THE PEOPLE… just like in the first reading, except this time He is in human form, so they can bear it.

Y’all knew that, I’m sure.  But there’s another authority here – the first miracle in the Gospel of Mark shows Jesus’ authority over demons. 

1 John 3:8  told us - "the reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."  The Demons KNEW that.  That’s why they asked the question – “have you come to destroy us?”  They knew who He was and what His purpose was.

Notice Jesus’ authority over them:  The demos must listen to the Word of God.  Why is that?  Demons are what?  Fallen Angels.  Fallen Angels don’t have free will.  They can’t change their minds because their identity is set – see – at the moment of creation angels had one choice – to serve God or not Serve God.  They made their one choice and it was not for God… Lucifer said, Non Servium… I will not serve.  We could get into 'why' he said that, but that’s another homily.  The important point is that these for fallen angels - their identity was set - in effect, they’re hearts were hardened…

But they cannot NOT listen to Jesus.  They must follow His command, because He is Lord of all creation… demons are created beings.  Yes, The Word of God has authority over the demons.

You and I have that same authority – with a twist.  If you and I were to cast out a Demon, we’d have to say – “In the name of Jesus, I say Quiet!  Come out of him!”.  But Jesus didn’t have to add that first part because He has the personal authority.  Our authority is only in His name.  There is power in the name of Jesus.

Notice too that he first told them to be Quiet.  We never want to allow the demons to speak, because they speak lies and plant seeds of doubt and fear and distrust.

Jesus speaks with authority to US too.  You and I are also created beings, but we were made in the image of God – and one of the main ways that we are 'like God' is that we have free will.  When Jesus speaks to US, We can choose to listen or ignore… When we ignore or reject the Word of God - in effect, then we become like the demons…. With hardened hearts.  But When we soften our hearts, we hear the Word of God and let it change us.  

If Today you Hear His voice, harden not your hearts.


Sunday, October 1, 2023

2023/10/01 - Learning on the Way (the Lord teaches the humble His way)

 First Reading: Ez 18:25-28

Psalm: Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Phil 2:1-11
Gospel: Mt 21:28-32

Before Mass:
It’s great to be back from my pilgrimage – and I’ll be talking about it a little bit today – but I’ll give a presentation about it on Oct 31st if you want to hear more.  Be careful – I could talk your ear off.

Three things to pay attention to today for the homily:  

The first reading talks about God not being fair.  At some point, all of us have probably thought that way.  

Second- there’s a line that says “the Lord teaches the humble His way.”  Listen actually in all the readings for ‘the way’ and ‘the path’.  That’s probably the key to today’s homily.

Third – The Gospel talks about changing our minds.  It’s more than just changing your mind like – oh – I’ll have chocolate instead of vanilla.  The change of mind Jesus is referring to involves the core of how we believe and how we live.

How is God encouraging you to change YOUR mind?


Did you hear those three mini-themes in the readings?  God is not fair, Jesus wants us to change our mind, and “the Lord teaches the humble His way.”

In spanish, the word for ‘the way’ is ‘camino’ – as many of you know, I just got back from the Camino de Santiago – the way of St James.  It’s a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain to the tomb of St James, and for those who are humble, the Lord can teach us as we walk the Way.  What did He teach me?

I would pray daily for God to send me a Divine Appointment – someone He needed me to talk to – either to help them – or to teach me something.  And most days I’d end up walking with someone and asking them questions – first the normal stuff like name, where are you from? where did you start walking?  How far are you going? – then I’d ask questions aimed at drilling deeper – like – ‘why are you walking the camino’?  ‘have you had any revelations in your silent time’?

That kind of deeper conversations created some instant friendships with people as they shared some deeper thoughts they might never have put into words before.  Most of them I’ll never see again, but a few have become friends for life.

I learned that Not everybody in the world thinks like this boy from southern Indiana.  In fact, it seems that many people out there have almost no spiritual upbringing.  Faith is a foreign concept.  Jesus is just someone who was misunderstood a long time ago and it would never occur to them to give their life to Jesus or God.  It was surprising and a bit depressing that very few people were walking for spiritual reasons… we were some of the few.  God knew I needed to have my mind changed and my eyes opened to the fact that the world needs God more than I ever knew.

Personally, there was one aha moment where I felt God changed my mind.  We had a 19-mile hike one day up the mountain to O Cebrero, but we decided to take the scenic route, which wasn’t marked quite as well – so we lost the trail.  At one point the path just ended and we weren’t sure whether to go back or what – fortunately, gps showed we were only a hundred yards from a road, so we went cross-country to the road and found our way back to the main camino.  In doing so, it added a couple of miles to our already long day.  The trail was rough in places and as we went it got steeper and steeper and the sun was getting hotter and hotter to the point we were having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.  It would have been easy to think – “this isn’t fair God – It’s too hard”.  But the joy I felt at the end of the day made me realize… the climb is what made the rest on the mountain top so sweet.  

You see – a few days before, we had climbed the highest peak on the camino to the ‘cruz de ferro’ – ‘iron cross’ – which is supposed to be a great spiritual moment for pilgrims as we leave our burdens at the foot of the cross.  But that day had been kind of a let-down… it was like a walk-in-the-park to that cross;  not much of a challenge, so it didn’t feel very special at all!  That LACK of challenge made it less meaningful… but THIS climb to O Cebrero meant MORE to me BECAUSE it was a struggle – and the extra miles we walked ADDED to the struggle – which made arriving at our destination so much more meaningful.  

The lesson I learned is that God USES struggles to bring more joy to our lives.  It doesn’t seem like it at the time, maybe – we may think God is not being fair – but once we realize that the challenge is necessary to make the reward sweeter, then we realize that a lost trail or a rock to trip on or a steep hill are actually blessings.

Think about those two guys in the Gospel… both were challenged to work in the vineyard.  The first one DIDN’T do what he was supposed to do… He thought that the joy in life could be found doing something OTHER than what the Father told him to do.  But the second son changed his mind and found that DOING the will of the Father is what made his life sweeter.

God wants us to change our mind… not because He’s a selfish tyrant who wants us to do whatever He says – He’s not being unfair.  He knows we humans need to work for our own sake – as cruel as it sounds…WE NEED THE STRUGGLE.

At the same time, I know some people – many of you, in fact, who seem to struggle more than others.  From my perspective, I look at that kind of suffering and think ‘God, your way isn’t fair!’  Why don’t you relieve this suffering?  I believe you CAN do it, so why DON’T you?

In the end, I have to trust that somehow – even though it doesn’t seem fair to me – or you – God is allowing the struggle for some reason.  When we’re not sure we can put one foot in front of the other, the only thing we can do it to keep following the Path – keep looking for the Way.  When we don’t know what else to do, we trust that the best path is to keep doing what the Father told us to do.

That doesn’t take away the pain ‘now’, but Just knowing that we’re doing God’s Will gives us joy in this life as we anticipate the sweetness of the mountain top ahead.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

2023/07/16 - It Ain't about the Dirt

 Before Mass

You know how we talk a lot about ‘sharing the good news’?  What is the good news?  I mean, a lot of times we hear the Gospels and honestly, it doesn’t SOUND like good news.  For many people, religion is just a list of rules to make us feel guilty.  You ever feel that way?

Well – today’s Gospel is the story of the Sower and the Seed – and at first it doesn’t really feel like all that good of news.  So I want you to challenge yourself as you listen today with a few of questions:  First – what’s the obvious interpretation of the parable.  Second – what’s the REAL point of the parable?  And Third – a question we should ask everyday: How is THIS scripture GOOD NEWS?


So what do you think – was that parable ‘good news’? 

My gut reaction is ‘no’… it’s yet another scripture which is supposed to worry us – like ‘am I doing enough’?  I mean, obviously from the text you and I are the dirt – and we gotta be worried about what kind of weeds and thorns we allow to grow around us – and how many birds we allow to steel away the seed – and whether our dirt is too packed-down to allow the seed to sink in.  That’s the most obvious reading of this parable – and it’s valid… but is that really the focus?

Notice - the name often given to the parable is ‘the sower and the seed’.  The focus is not about the dirt… the focus is not on you and me… it’s on the Sower …and the Seed.  So let’s back up and see if there’s something else we’re supposed to learn.

The Gospel began with what seems like an throw-away sentence, “On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.”  See anything interesting about that?

On that day… what day?  If we go to the prior chapter of Matthew, we’ll see that Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue and close to towns and the religious leaders were watching him very closely.  In fact, they had just accused him of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub.  Pretty much, no matter what He did or said, they were trying to cancel Him.

So Jesus ‘went out of the house’ - took his teachings outside – away from the cities, more to the point – he took his teachings outside of synagogues, the very places where you would EXPECT to hear the word of God.  Instead he sat down by the sea – his ministry changed that day to do much of his teaching outside the cities, away from the watchful eyes of the religious leaders.

Another significant change that day was the way he taught.  If I asked you how Jesus typically taught, what would be your answer?  Parables, right?  Everybody KNOWS that Jesus taught in parables - But I hadn’t realized that up to THIS point in Matthew’s Gospel, he hasn’t told one parable.  But that changed TODAY.  The apostles apparently noticed the change in tactics, because they asked him – ‘why do you speak to them in parables?’  And he gave an archaic answer – “This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.

At first, I’m like – that’s Not helpful, Jesus – why don’t you just speak plainly?  Actually he’s quoting Isaiah who said that the people will close their ears on purpose to AVOID hearing because they don’t WANT the truth and they don’t WANT to be healed.

I think it’s because of all the pushback he was getting from religious leaders.  Anyone who WANTED to understand him was going to understand the parables, but anyone who was just looking for a reason to complain and cancel him was going to find SOMEthing to get ticked about.  But a PARABLE is different.  To those who WANT to hear truth, a parable reveals truth - but if you’re just looking for something to complain about, the parable just sounds like a nice story about a stupid farmer who doesn’t know how to plant properly.  Jesus says – whoever has ears ought to hear.  If we’re really listening – and wanting Jesus to speak to our hearts, his teachings WILL sink in.  We WILL hear and understand. 

This is where the parable starts to make sense to me… Jesus’ words are what is being scattered.  His words are the seeds.  He scatters them freely and they land on everyone… yes EVERYone.  But not everyone WANTS to hear him, so the seed bounces off their hard hearts like a seed bouncing on the pavement.  Some people are caught up emotionally by His teachings, but when they meet any pushback or difficulties from the world around them, it’s like thorns choking out the tender plants or the sun baking them.  But those people with ears – those who WANT to receive the word – are like the soft soil, and they gladly hear and accept the Word and it produces great fruit in them.

Notice too that God spreads the seed in abundance!  Whether the soil wants the seed or not, God dips his hand into his satchel and grabs a bunch of seed and throws it EVERYWHERE…and he goes back for another handful.  God does not spread sparingly – you might even say he doesn’t spread very wisely – I mean, what kind of farmer would purposely waste seed by allowing it to go where He knows it can’t grow.  God’s seed is infinitely abundant and he is reckless is giving it away.

Here’s the thing –God makes the dirt – God makes the seed – God spreads the seed – God sends the rain and sunshine.  Making seeds grow has nothing to do with OUR effort – it’s all God’s effort.  So what’s the lesson that you and I are supposed to leave with?

The ONLY part of this that you and I control is whether we WANT to hear and accept the Word.  If we long to hear, we will be blessed to hear.  If we long to see, we will be blessed to see. But God even helps us with THAT!  Just like He sends rain to soften the soil and break up the clods, God has built this entire world around us to SHOW us His Glory!  He’s filled our lives with experiences which are meant to soften our hearts and DRAW US TO SEEK HIM.  That’s right – God actually gives us EVERYTHING we need to produce fruit.  All we gotta do is pay attention… allow the WORD of God to sink into our hearts and grow.

Then we produce 100 fold.  That’s like cherry tomatoes or tomatillos – once you plant one plant, you’ll have hundreds every year after that.  Once you and I allow the word of God to produce fruit in our hearts, then WE become spreaders of the seeds of God’s love by spreading to those around us.  

THAT is when the Kingdom of God overtakes the entire garden.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

2023/04/23 Hearts on Fire

 Before Mass:

In this Easter season, our first reading is always from Acts – this is the story of the early Church.  In fact, today’s first reading is a sermon given by Peter on the day of Pentecost… moments after the Holy Spirit was poured forth.

Then the Gospel is actually the evening of Easter Sunday…. Just hours after Mary Magdalene came back with the unbelievable news that Jesus had Risen!

There’s a tradition for many Christians during the Easter season where one person says ‘He is risen’ and the other person echoes ‘He is risen indeed!’.  I thought we’d try that right now…

Did you feel anything in your heart when you said that? 

See – that’s basically what happened on that first Easter Sunday – and we’ll hear about it in our Gospel today.  I want you to think about how YOU felt saying that… and compare that with how THEY likely felt when they said it.  Is there a difference ?  and why?  Ponder that as we listen.


How do you start a fire?  Matches?  Lighter?  Rub two sticks together?  Jesus started a fire simply by explaining the scriptures to these two disciples.  Remember what they said: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked to us on the way?’

Have you ever experienced that?  Have you ever had your heart set on fire by Jesus?Many of us would have to say, no… so Here’s the real question:  why did THIS conversation set their hearts on fire?  Seriously – they were disciples, for Pete’s sake!… they had heard all of this before…  they were very likely two of the 72 whom Jesus sent out!  Remember when he sent them out two by two to spread the word, to heal the sick and all that?  They had likely seen God work through them!!!  They had likely seen healings…lives changed.. demons cast out.  THAT should have set them on fire.  Because of that fire, they bet their entire lives on Jesus.  It became personal to them.

So you can imagine how they felt watching all their hopes/dreams/plans get nailed to that cross.  Walking along that morning, they were likely still in disbelief.  This doesn’t make sense!  We were so SURE He was the one.

Here’s my point:  these guys had HEARD Jesus warn them that he had to be killed and rise from the dead.  They HEARD it… but they didn’t understand…or didn’t listen.  Why?  Because they already knew all the answers… they ‘knew’ the Messiah would come and kick Rome out and restore Israel as the greatest kingdom on earth.  They were so SURE of their understanding of the prophets, that anything contrary to their deeply-held beliefs just didn’t sink in.  They were like yeah-yeah-yeah Jesus – skip that part about dying and just get to the part where you kick some Roman back-side.

See what I mean?  They were so entrenched in the fact that they were the Chosen people… the sons of Abraham… they were so confident in their “knowledge” of God that they didn’t really listen to what Jesus was telling them.  That “knowledge” had to be nailed to a tree…  that “confidence” had to be crucified so that they would be open to actually listening.

And today, they finally “heard” it…. Their hearts were so raw with emotion that they were open vessels just waiting for Jesus to fill them up – and He did.  He gave the greatest bible study ever as they walked along the way.  Finally, they understood all that had happened was exactly what Jesus and the prophets had predicted.  Their hearts were set on fire as the TRUE understanding sunk in.  They RAN back to Jerusalem and their emotion bubbled over as they exclaimed “He is Risen” – and the apostles replied “He is risen indeed!”. 

Do you and I feel any of that emotion when we say that?  Honestly, probably not normally – and that’s not to make us feel guilty or anything… the problem is, we’ve heard this our whole lives.  We’ve heard the stories so many times that they sound ‘normal’ to us.  To the first disciples, resurrection was unheard of… it was something to shout about.  But for us cradle-Catholics, it’s just a fact – like the sun comes up in the east or 2+2=4.  Facts are true – but facts are boring – they’re not personal.  Jesus rose from the dead is a fact… but it NEEDS to be personal.

How do we get there?  We gotta move…or more correctly – we gotta allow God to move us.  Like the disciples, you and I can get too comfortable with what we “know” about God.  We’ve got God all figured out – we know exactly the minimum we need to do to get to heaven – and we check the boxes.  We don’t need to know any more.  We don’t WANT to know anymore.

Jesus wants to walk with each of us personally.  He wants to set YOUR heart on fire.  Let Jesus re-teach us everything we already know but never actually let it sink in.  

THEN we can recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.

He is Risen.  He is risen indeed!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

2023/03/19 Are you Blind?!

Do you ever put yourself into the story of the Gospel?  Ever wonder what it would have looked like to BE THERE the day that these miracles happened? 

It’s no secret that The Chosen is probably my favorite TV show ever.  For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a series where they develop some fictional but very believable background stories for the people in the Gospel.  For example, y’all remember that Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus – we know that from the Bible - and the scriptures tell us that she had had 7 demons cast out from her.   From those two facts, they built a beautiful back-story to show what that might have looked like – going back to her childhood, the weaved a story filled with pain and loss and fear and darkness – and the cinematography is brilliant at times – like one time you can kind of tell that the demons are kind of taking over, and as that happens, a door closes blocking the light and she was left in darkness.  Hopefully you can see the connection to today’s readings which deal so much with light and darkness.  That first episode ends with Jesus liberating her simply by calling her name… you might say, he restored her true identity.  Well – I’m skipping a bunch of details – but she met a guy who was astounded that she had been released from her demons and he asked how it happened – and here’s where Mary said possibly the best line of the whole series.  

“All I know is I was one way and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him. ” 

She had been in darkness and had given up all hope of escaping the demons – in fact, she had been ready to end her life – until Jesus showed up and called her by name… bringing her back from darkness to the light.  Think that changed her life?!?!  Once she saw the light, she became a follower of Jesus to continue walking toward the light – and to help others come to know him.

Hopefully you can already see the connection with today’s Gospel, because Jesus heals a man born blind…. Literally restoring him from darkness to the light!  And the guy says, “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

Is that YOUR story?  Have you ever had that kind of experience?  Can you point to the moment in your life that changed everything?  The moment when the Glory of God changed your life?

That might not seem like a Catholic question to ask.  You know – you talk to other Christians and they can often name the date and time they were ‘saved’… which means it’s the moment they felt like they made the decision to accept Christ as their savior.  One and done.  Now – there’s something beautiful about that – something to be celebrated for sure – but we need to be clear about one thing:  You see – salvation is an act of GOD – not OUR action.  Yes, we must accept it, but God moves first.  In a way, it’s like lovers… both must act – but one is an act of surrender.                        

I remember a buddy of mine who grew up Catholic and he was going to church with his wife – I think to a Baptist congregation – and he said they kept pressuring him that if he didn’t have that big AHA moment that he could point to when Jesus became his savior, then he’s not saved!  He said – I’ve not had that big moment – Jesus has just always been with me.

Isn’t that true for most of us – we’ve been raised in the Faith and receive the Sacraments and go to religious Education – and many never have that big AHA moment.  Unfortunately, that means for many people, we’re only going through the motions.  Unfortunately, that also means many people walk away… in fact, MOST people walk away.  If we never have that personal encounter with Jesus, then religion usually remains nothing more than checking boxes.  I submit to you that we Catholics really DO need that AHA moment… or a least a moment when we surrender to the Love of God… where we make a willful choice to allow God to open our eyes and touch our hearts.  

You see – we were all born blind!  Every one of us needs that moment when we open our eyes and realize that we’ve been changed… when we wake up and realize that one moment ago, we were in darkness, but now we are in the Light.  We need that moment when we can sing – “I was blind, but now I see”… and MEAN it!  But even that is dangerous… we might make a decision to follow Christ today, but a year from now we’re blind again – why?  Because when we THINK we were already in the light, we don’t need feel the need to do any more to change.  Here’s the kicker – while I think we need that BIG event when Jesus breaks through the darkness, it must be followed by a DAILY event…a daily surrender.  

I would say my eyes were opened back in 1995 after I made my Cursillo.  That was my AHA moment….but it wasn’t just going to Cursillo weekend – that was like the SEED.  But immediately afterward I joined a small group of men who meet weekly to encourage each other in our walk with Jesus… to share nuggets that we learn in our study and prayer.  THAT was what really transformed me.  If I’d gone to Cursillo and didn’t change my life to Seek Jesus, I’d still be where I was in 1995 – in darkness.  But I continue to seek Jesus.   My eyes continue to be opened almost every day to a truth or an insight that I hadn’t considered… to surrender to God’s love a little more each day.  That’s a benefit to having a wife and friends who like to study and pray and share their insights with me.  We grow together.  If I thought I knew everything already because “I’m the Deacon!”, then I wouldn’t be listening – and I would remain in darkness.

Jesus is reaching out to you today – and every day.  In the Sacraments, in the scriptures, in the people around you, in nature… He is reaching out to touch your eyes.  He might even spit and make you muddy to get your attention.  The only thing standing between us and the light that Jesus wants to reveal is our stubbornness.  If I don’t realize I’m blind, I won’t accept the healing.  If I think I already know everything about God – I’ll miss what he’s doing right now!!  …Like the pharisees in the story who didn’t even seem to notice that Jesus had overturned the laws of nature by healing a man born blind!  All they cared about was that it was the wrong day of the week.  They were willfully blind and totally MISSED the Glory of God.

Each of us can pray this Lent about what areas of our lives we’re blind to and ask Jesus to reveal the Glory of God to us.  This is not a matter of putting ourselves down – that’s not at all what I’m talking about.  This is not about Catholic guilt – but about taking an honest look inside at where we are blocking Jesus from touching us.  The first step in being ‘saved’ is to realize that we need a savior.  The first step to seeing Jesus is to admit that we’re blind.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Been there; Done that; Got the T-shirt

I love Colorado.  I remember my first trip when I couldn’t take my eyes off the mountains.  They filled me with wonder and awe.  Camping, cooking out, hiking, friendships… all of these things are indelibly printed on my mind.  THIS experience changed my life… Colorado became part of ‘who I am’.  Several times, I’ve bought T-shirts to commemorate the trip to my beloved mountains – announcing to the world my New Identity:  I’m a Colorado-freak.

Don’t we all do that?  We go somewhere or have a powerful experience which feels so awesome that it impacts our very identity, so impactful that we buy a T-shirt to tell the world about it.  Like maybe a concert – where the music and special effects are awe-inspiring, and we get caught up in the crowd’s frenzy.  We think, ‘Life should ALWAYS be like this!’… and we buy a T-shirt to tell the world that this band/concert/whatever is now part of ‘who we are’;  part of our identity:  I’m a (fill in the blank)-freak.

But not every T-shirt really tells our identity. 

My brother went to London.  I stayed home and worked.  He enjoyed the culture, the food, the beverages… I stayed home and worked.  He brought me a really nice T-Shirt from London…one that many people would be jealous to have.  Thing is… I’ve never been to London.  That shirt, as awesome as it is, is nothing more than a sentimental reminder that my brother loves me.  Yeah, I appreciate it, but I’ve never experienced London.  London is part of the United Kingdom… but it’s not MY kingdom.  My only connection to that kingdom is a now-faded T-shirt. 

Unfortunately, for many of us, that happens to our Faith life.  Our parents or grandparents had faith.  They enjoyed the Catholic culture, the Eucharist, and the cup of salvation.  For them, this was more than a T-shirt; it was their very life.  They passed it on to us, but unless we personally experience a relationship with Jesus, our Faith is nothing more than a sentimental reminder that our parents/grandparents love us.  They are members of the Kingdom of God… but it’s not MY kingdom.  My only connection to that kingdom is like my now-faded T-shirt.

Some of us may LOOK like we’re in the kingdom.  You know, we go to church once in a while – maybe even regularly.  We throw something in the collection basket to appease our need to feel charitable.   We might even go so far as to wear a Christian T-shirt, announcing to the world that Jesus is King!  But if we don’t know Jesus, he’s not really OUR king… and we’re not really in the kingdom.

How can we turn this around?  I propose that we all need an experience which fills us with awe and wonder;  an experience that immerses us into the culture, the joy, and the lifestyle of Catholicism.  We need to surround ourselves with others whose enthusiasm is infectious.  We need an experience which makes us realize ‘this is how life should be!’; an experience so intense, we want to buy a T-shirt to commemorate the event and tell the world that this is now part of who we are.

The best way I’ve seen is a Retreat or a Conference centered on an experience of the Holy Spirit – showing us that this Faith our parents gave us really IS the source of joy: like Cursillo, Welcome, Steubenville conferences, Renew Ministries, Encounter Ministries, Seek.  These events and many others give us a taste of the culture of Catholicism which we don’t always see in our daily lives nor, unfortunately, in our home parishes.  Caught up in the emotion, we might even buy a T-shirt, telling the world we’re now a Jesus-freak.

Even so, a one-time event doesn’t change our identity.  To keep that new-found Joy, something’s gotta change.  To build and maintain a relationship with Jesus, we need to develop a lifestyle of prayer and study – putting it on our daily schedules.  If we don’t know the King, If we don’t immerse ourselves in the lifestyle of Catholicism, then our connection to the Faith is nothing more than a faded, hand-me-down T-shirt.



Saturday, February 18, 2023

2023/02/19 - Order into Chaos

When I was on the Fire Dept, we’d be called when things… were not going well.  Arriving on the scene of a working structure fire, emotions were high, people wer crying or even screaming, they might even be frantic trying to get your attention to save their loved ones.  In a word:  It was ‘chaos’.

But we were trained to bring order into the chaos.  Immediately we’d talk to bystanders to find out if anyone is inside – then we’d search the perimeter, looking for safety issues like overhead power lines or gas meters or other structures that might be in jeopardy.  Taking command of the scene, one person would be the Commander and would quickly layout a plan in his mind and call in additional resources if needed.

As units arrived, each would receive their orders – catch the hydrant and lay in a 5” line – deploy an attack line to the rear entrance – ladder the south side of the structure and prepare to ventilate.  As commander of the scene, he would give orders – knowing that each person would fulfill the role they’d been given.  Each of us had trained for this moment.  The adrenaline was rushing – because … THIS is what we were made for, and we gladly fulfilled the role we’d been assigned.

As a firefighter, we were called to bring order to the chaos…. By following orders.

Notice that word ‘order’ – used two different ways:  we were called into the chaos to restore order, by following orders.  To do that, each individual played their part.  We didn’t question orders.  We WANTED to fulfill the role we’d been given.  It’s what we were made for.

Today’s readings give us some orders:  be Holy, be Perfect, Love your neighbor, don’t take revenge, turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies, go the extra mile… it may come across as a bunch of rules to follow.  A lot of people think that’s all that religion is about – a bunch of rules … but there’s a different way to look at this.

God himself saw the world was in chaos, so he stepped in PERSONALLY to bring order to it.  We can take comfort in the fact that HE HAS A PLAN.  He’s like the commander at a fire scene – He has the plan, and each of us has a part to play.  Each of us has been given our orders… not as rules to follow – not moral checkboxes we have to check to get into heaven  - but as our part in helping God to bring order to the chaos of the world!  

Think about that – what would happened if you and I, as Christians would take those orders seriously?  Loving everyone – including our enemies – we would seriously change the world.  Let me give you a brief example:  

ImmaculĂ©e Ilibagiza was a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 – yes – just 29 years ago fell into chaos.  One tribe took over power and tried to annihilate the other tribe.  Immaculee survived by hiding in a 3x4 foot bathroom – that’s smaller than the bathrooms here.  She hid in there for 91 days – with 7 other women.  They had to take turns sitting down it was so crowed.  Outside, they could hear the chaos as the other tribe went house to house systematically killing everyone from her tribe.  Her father and brother were shot – her mother and sister were hacked to death with machetes.

Finally, after 91 days, it was over…she was free.  What should she do?  She had EVERY right to demand revenge on those who killed her family and a million other people from her tribe… yes a MILLION!  But she was a Catholic – with a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother – and somehow she found it in herself to forgive those who did this heinous act… even forgiving the man who killed her family to his face.  She now is an international speaker sharing the message of Divine Mercy.  Her example is an inspiration to each of us to turn the other cheek.  Because of her efforts, Rwanda is much further down the path of healing that it otherwise would be.

How is that possible?  Immaculee took seriously the orders she’d been given by Jesus – to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  See – she didn’t see those as rules to follow or as an infringement on her freedoms… no – she saw this basic instruction as THE way that God wanted to restore Order to the chaos.  

God put all of us Christians on this earth so that WE could share HIS love with the world.  It’s what we were made for.  Can you imagine if every Christian in the world LIVED this way?  We’d be in heaven… which is the point.  YOU AND I have the ability to establish the Kingdom of God right here – right now – every time we choose to love instead of hate – to forgive instead of seeking revenge.

How do you and I put that into practice?  I think it starts at home.  The first reading tells us not to bear hatred or harbor a grudge against our brother or sister.  We all, by nature, tend to take our family members for granted and we get into little fights which can escalate into hate – constantly seeking revenge against our own brothers and sisters or even our spouse.  How many of us sitting here today have a brother or sister or spouse we no longer talk to?  Imagine how we can change the world just by loving them instead of seeking revenge.  That may sound radical – but that’s exactly what it means to be Holy; to be set-apart – different – not like the rest of the culture.  To the rest of the world, when we love our enemies, they’ll think we’re out of our minds…. But The second reading reminds us that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.  

Love our neighbor as our self.  We’re told in the 2nd reading that we – you and I – are the temple of God – which means you and I are holy.  But that also means that everyone around us is holy too!  Co-workers, classmates, the lady at the checkout… We must treat them like they’re holy too… because they are. 

When somebody does something stupid in traffic, instead of flipping the bird – flip a few beads of the rosary to pray for them.

When someone does something unforgiveable, be the first to forgive.  Unforgiveness is one of the greatest weapons that Satan uses against us… to divide us… but when we forgive rather than holding a grudge, we disarm Satan!!  Don’t you think THAT changes the world?!

Last thing: Jesus said be Perfect as your heavenly father is Perfect.  I’ve always thought ‘perfect’ meant to do everything exactly right – like – follow all the rules perfectly.  But that’s what the Pharisees tried to do and Jesus didn’t have very nice things to say about them!  So, what’s He meaning?

Remember – Jesus wasn’t speaking English… he was speaking in Aramaic – and the Gospel was written in Greek, so right away we may lose some of the meaning that Jesus intended.  The word used by the Gospel writer was ‘telios’ in Greek.  It’s translated into English by most bibles as ‘perfect’. Now – who am I to question the folks who know their Greek… but consider this:

‘Telios’ comes from the root word ‘Telos’, which has to do with the purpose or end for which something was made.  For example, if I have a chair – it’s telos is for sitting.  Make sense?  A chair is made for sitting on.  While You could use it for other purposes, like standing on it to change a lightbulb, it’s purpose – its telos – is for sitting.  

So a chair reaches it’s telios, when someone sits on it – you could say a chair fulfills the purpose for which it was made when someone sits in it… it is now complete – which was translated to be ‘perfect’.  

So – instead of Jesus commanding us to be ‘perfect’ - perhaps a better translation might be:  fulfill the purpose for which we were made!  What were we made for?  What’s our telos?  To be Holy – set apart.  To be different.  To Love our enemies.  We’re sorta like firefighters – made to bring Order into Chaos.  But the best summary actually comes from the Holy Moments book which we gave out at Christmas:  “You are made in the image of God – act accordingly”.