Friday, January 6, 2023

2023/01/08 Epiphany - How do we find Jesus?

Before Mass:

I want to give you the punchline, so to speak.  It might be easy to get caught up in the nice little story about the Three Wise men.  But if you pay attention to all of the readings – especially THAT story of the wise men, you’ll see a common theme.  God wants everyone in the world to know and adore Him.  Everyone.

He reveals himself to us in Creation.  He gives us Reason that we can come to knowledge of Him.  And He reveals himself so us in Scripture.  He’s given us everything we need to find Him. 

But pay attention to who actually finds Jesus – and who doesn’t.  It should surprise us.

Is 60:1-6
Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13.
Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2:1-12

Homily

What we don’t hear about in today’s Gospel is the fact that all three of the wise men were married.  What we don’t hear about is the fact the three wise men had wandered around in the desert for two years trying to find Jesus….and all the while, Belthazar’s wife Sheila kept insisting – ‘Why don’t you just stop at the next Oasis and ask directions’.

Ok – I made that up 😊  But I want you to imagine, that YOU are at that Oasis when this caravan pulls in and asks YOU this question: “How do we find Jesus?”  They’re asking YOU!  Would you have an answer?  Honestly, I’m not sure I could give an answer very quickly.  But SHOULDN’T we know the answer?  Most of us have been Christian all our life – we’ve got the Bible – and the Church – WE should know Jesus better than anybody else.  So – how DO we find Jesus?

Let’s start with an easier question:  say I wanted to drive to Tuscaloosa…does anybody here know how to get there?  How could I find out?  I can google it, pull up MapQuest, Or put it into my GPS navigational doohickey…three different ways to find Tuscaloosa.  That’s not too hard, - but - what if I need directions on how to find Jesus?  – how could I find out?  If I google Jesus, I’ll find thousands – literally tens of thousands of churches who claim that THEY have the one and ONLY way to get to Jesus.

How can that be?  How is it that one guy named Jesus was here – a book called the Bible was written about him – and now 10’s of thousands of different churches have different directions to find him? 

We believe that Jesus started ONE Church …and within it he gave authority to teach, baptize, and forgive sins.  He endowed it with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  He graced it with the seven Sacraments so that he could continue to reach out and touch his people through the hand of His ministers.  He inspired its leaders to write the Bible.  Why would Jesus start a Church, anyway?  To help people find him.  The Church IS the GPS navigational doohickey for finding Jesus.

We might think with all of that going for us, we must be God’s favorite – like OUR CHURCH has a corner on the market for getting to Jesus – but we’d be wrong!   In fact, that’s the point of today’s readings.  The people who SHOULD have found Jesus DIDN’T find him. 

You see, there were two important groups of people who DID come to see Jesus when he was born:  the shepherds and the magi.  Today’s Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the fact that these pagan wise men came to know Jesus.  That should shake us up!  These guys weren’t Catholic, they weren’t Christian, heck, they weren’t even Jewish.  They tried to find God by reading the signs in the stars.  According to most of our standards today, we might call them kooks – yet, they came to know Jesus through this method….so is it all bad?  The shepherds, on the other hand, found out about Jesus through direct revelation – when an angel appeared to them.  We don’t seem to have a problem with that, do we?  If I stood here and told you that an angel appeared to me last night, you’d think I was a little off my rocker.  Yet, we accept it as perfectly normal for these guys 2000 years ago to receive a vision from an angel. 

But there was actually a third group who came to know that Jesus was born.

The shepherds came to know through a vision of angels. The magi knew through through creation: by reading the stars. And King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures – three different ways of arriving at the same truth. Of course, this doesn’t mean that ANY path to Jesus is just as good as the other. Notice how Matthew indicates that when the guiding star got to Jerusalem its light failed and the magi HAD to consult the scriptures to direct them to Bethlehem. That’s an important point:  The Magi needed more than the natural light of the star… they still needed the SUPERNATURAL light of scripture to finally find Jesus.

Anybody listening to the Catechism in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz?  This week we HEARD this very lesson – the catechism tells us (somewhere around paragraph 35-40) that it’s possible for mankind to find God through reason and witnessing Creation – it’s possible – but very hard.  Instead, we need to rely on divine revelation – which is exactly what we saw with the story of the wise men.  Their wisdom – their reason and watching natural signs in creation only took them so far.  In the end, they had to go to Jerusalem to get directions from the Torah – the Jewish scriptures – God’s divine revelation.

But the crucial question in the story remains: Who actually FOUND Jesus? Notice that Herod and his scribes had the scriptures, but they failed to find Jesus.  But the magi, who followed the natural light of the stars WERE able to find him. Why? Because the Jewish scribes, even though they possessed the shining truth of revealed scriptures,…they didn’t follow it. They did not walk in the light of the scriptures. The magi, on the other hand, who enjoyed only star light DID follow its guidance. See – It’s not the possession of the truth that matters, it is whether we’ll follow where the light of that truth leads us. It is better to have the dim light of the stars and follow it than to have the bright light of the holy scriptures and neglect it.  Ouch – I’m preaching to myself here – In other words, we can’t just relax knowing that we possess the fullness of truth – we have to actually act on it in order to find Jesus.

So, let’s ask another question about Tuscaloosa…  If I googled directions and printed them out for you, would you follow them?  Or – as you’re driving down the road would you see a side-road that looks pretty and say – “I’ll bet I can still get there from here….I’ll just go up a ways and see where it takes me.”  Since you don’t even know where Tuscaloosa is, that would be pretty silly to try to find your own path to get there.

We have been given the most direct route to Jesus – in the Church that He established.  But what does that benefit us if we don’t follow the directions?  Nature worshipers and even non-believers who try to find God through the dim light of natural reason might actually be finding Jesus before some of us Christians who have been given all the revealed truths about God …if we fail to look at the map.  That’s the point of today’s readings.

Last point really quick:  all of our readings indicate that All the nations on earth will adore the Lord.  Somehow, God plans to shine his light to all the corners of the world so that ALL people will be drawn toward him.  It’s like God planned to put a star in the sky to guide all of the pagans to find Jesus.  What is that star?  It’s the Church.  It’s you and me.  WE are the stars guiding everyone around us to find Jesus.  So the question each of us has to ask ourselves:  Am I walking in the Light?  Does my life reflect the love of God to those around me?  If someone follows ME, will I be leading them TOWARD Jesus, or AWAY? 

Be a star. Shine so brightly that when people look at you, all they see is Jesus.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

2022/11/26 - First Sunday of Advent - see the Gorilla

Before Mass

On my way to church Saturday my attention was caught by a car parked in an odd spot - probably a hunter - but it made me realize there was a lake right there.  I've driven that route for 20 years and never noticed that lake!  Anybody else ever had that happen?  

For example, did you ever notice on that stained glass window over there that Jesus is holding some sort of orb with a cross on it... I think I've seen it before, but never really paid any attention to it.

We don’t always notice stuff – because it’s not on our radar – it’s not important.  We actually get into the habit of ignoring stuff.  It’s normal for us humans to build habits –Think of a baby – walking for the first time, every ounce of concentration is directed at moving those feet and maintaining balance.  Yet – as they get the hang of it – it becomes a habit and before you know it, they’re running out the door and don’t even THINK about walking.  

As true as that is humanly, it’s particularly true in our spiritual lives.  We come to Church and out of habit, we kinda get into a zone… I know I do.  It’s like part of our brains turn off as soon as we sit in the pew.

But Jesus tells us to ‘Stay Awake’!  He’s inviting us to wake up so we don’t miss out on what God is doing in this present moment.

Wake up right now – pay attention to what’s going on – to the words of the prayers, songs, readings – pay attention to who is around you.  See if this changes your experience at Mass today.  In fact, if this changes your experience at Mass, I’d love to hear about it.

Homily

How well do you pay attention?

There’s a famous experiment about attention which goes something like this:  Someone is set down in front of a TV screen and a video is played showing people passing a ball around in a circle.  The person is told to count the number of times the white team passes the ball – so they press start and begin counting.  At the end of the video, the researcher comes back in and they announce that they counted 14 times – and by golly they’re right!  But then the researcher asks – did you see the gorilla?   Gorilla?  What gorilla?  They play back the video and sure enough, half-way through, this guy in a gorilla suit comes right into the middle of the screen, beats his chest, and runs off the other side.  More than half of the people counting DIDN’T see the gorilla.  You and I might think we’d see it – but maybe not.

Gorilla Video

There’s a phenomenon in us humans called selective attention – where we focus on one thing and can ignore everything else around us.  We do that with our eyes, but also with our thinking.  That’s actually a useful thing, because 99% of what our eyes see are irrelevant to us.  We only really see what we focus our attention on.  Unless something grabs our attention, or it’s pointed out to us – we don’t even notice.  Kinda like the fact that there are 4 blades on the fans over your head.  Chances are – you never noticed that useless detail...because it's a USELESS DETAIL.  Selective attention helps us a lot!

However, this selective attention also can work against us.  We can be so focused on what we think is important, that we miss the really important stuff.  Many times we’re distracted by stuff going on – you know we’re all really busy – but many times we intentionally distract ourselves to KEEP from paying attention.  In fact, we build habits of distracting ourselves… reading the bulletin during the homily, checking our phone constantly, allowing a computer or TV or video game to eat up hours of our time.  It’s like we’re asleep.

The second reading tells us now is the hour to wake from our sleep.  Jesus invites us in the Gospel to Stay Awake.  What’s he mean?

Father Anthony DeMello, a Jesuit priest explains - Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep, so to speak. They're born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they raise children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. Meaning - They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.

You see - being alert, awake, and vigilant in the biblical sense is not a matter of living in fear that the world’s about to end – or that we’re about to die. Rather it is a matter of paying attention to God working in every moment of our lives.  What’s that look like?  We pay attention to our relationships – to the person right in front of you.  We recognize Love at work in those relationships.  We pray about how WE can be more loving and forgiving.  We recognize the blessings in our lives and we’re thankful for them… and not just on Thanksgiving!  When we wake up and recognize God at work, we can’t help being grateful, thanking, appreciating, affirming, forgiving, apologizing, and being more mindful of the joys of life.

What’s all this have to do with Advent?  First - Advent means ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’.  It’s a season where we’re REMINDED to be mindful – to pay attention – to wake up – because Jesus is actually arriving every moment of every day… we just don’t always see it.  Can we take this command of Jesus to wake up seriously?  Perhaps we can do a nightly examen where we mentally walk through everything that happened that day – good or bad – and thank God for it and look for where He was working in that event.

Secondly – to make this Advent meaningful – you and I can actively MAKE advent happen – in other words, through our actions, the Holy Spirit can arrive.  Anytime we sow Love, Peace, Joy – we are inviting the Spirit into that moment.

To Wake up is to look for The kingdom of God, which is all around you and me.   Seriously – it’s right here – right NOW!  Do you see it?  <softly>  Do you hear it?  If we want to encounter God, we don’t encounter Him in the past – we don’t encounter Him in the future.  We can only encounter God is the present moment.  Wake up and seek Him and we WILL find Him already at work.

I attended a workshop last week where we were talking about listening to the HS.  Just like I’ve been talking about here, The Spirit is constantly trying to <softly> speak to us and through us… but we’re usually not paying attention.  We did this little exercise where several of us stood in the front of the room facing the wall – then people would stand behind us where we couldn’t even see them and we were supposed to ask the HS for a word about them.  I was facing a crucifix – it had been there all along – but suddenly my eyes were drawn to the left shoulder – there was a visible crack where the arm attached to the body.  I almost ignored it – it seemed like an insignificant detail - but I felt like THAT was what the Holy Spirit was pointing out to me – so I mentioned to the guy behind me that there was something significant about that shoulder being disconnected from the body.

Immediately, he said – well, I’m having surgery this Friday and they’re going to disconnect my shoulder so they can reconstruct the joint!  My jaw hit the floor.  I almost didn’t even mention the crack in the shoulder because I didn’t see what it could possibly mean… but because I was intentionally paying attention to the HS, I took a risk and told him about it.  What do you think, was that coincidence?

Another time I was driving to Jasper and had the thought that I should call someone – so I did – and just left a short voicemail explaining that the Spirit told me to call her and deliver a short message of encouragement.  She was so appreciative – and the next day we sat down for two hours to talk, because she had some heavy stuff she really needed to get off her chest.  

I’m convinced that the Spirit wants to do that every day – for every one of us – maybe every minute – but until we Wake Up, and stop distracting ourselves and intentionally start paying attention, ...

...we’ll miss the gorilla in the room.


Saturday, October 22, 2022

2022/10/23 - Burn the Boxes

Before Mass

In the Gospel today, we’ll hear about two guys who go to church… seemingly for different reasons.  And it raises the question:  Why do we come to Church?  Why do we pray?  Is it to make ourselves feel good?  Is it to support other people in the pews?  Do we even HAVE a reason for coming to church?  In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a strong clue about the reason for prayer.  He implies that the purpose of prayer is to be ‘justified’.  That’s not a word we use often, so we might miss the meaning of the Gospel.

One place we might use that word is when we’re typing something – and we tell the computer to Left-justify everything.  It means to line everything up in a straight line.  If you’re a carpenter, you’re familiar with a plumb-bob – that string with a weight on it which shows you where the plumb line is – which is exactly straight up and down. 

So in a spiritual perspective, to be Justified means to be lined-up with God – to be in right relationship.  THAT is the goal of prayer.  

Homily 

Let’s pretend for a minute that God is in this box.  I know – God cannot be contained – but play along for a minute.  God is in this box.  Now – the goal of the Christian life is what?  To be with God – to become part of the divine.  In short – our goal of our religion… the goal of our LIFE in general, is to get into this box with God.

How do we get into the box?  Well, we actually have a pretty good idea of the path to get to God, because He has TOLD us:  Through scriptures, prophets, and revelation to saints, God has revealed paths for us to get to him – things like following the commandments, praying, celebrating the Mass, praying our rosary and chaplets – all of these are ways that have been given to us to get into the box.  So let me ask – if I do all those things we’ve been told will I automatically be in the box with God?  

I mean surely, if God revealed that praying a rosary is the fastest way to heaven – then SURELY if I pray it daily I’ll be in the box with God.

Surely if I go to Mass and receive Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity weekly – or even EVERY DAY – SURELY, I’ll be in the box!

Surely if I give my 10 percent to charity, THAT would put me in the box.

And surely - SURELY – if I do ALL of those things, then I’m good, RIGHT?

Maybe you think that’s not enough… What if we added confession - or novenas - or bible study or working the soup kitchen – THEN we’d be in the box, right?  Add all you want – I still say – it won’t automatically put us in the box with God.

See – that’s the perspective of the Pharisee in the Gospel today.  The Pharisee was not a BAD person.  In fact, he was the goodest of the good people… In the days of Jesus, the Pharisee was the ‘religious guy’ who did everything right… by definition – that’s what Pharisees do – they follow every law to the letter, and they THINK that guarantees that they are in the box with God.  And since they’re so tight with God, THEY’ve got the moral high ground, - so they look down on everyone else.  That’s what we hear from the first guy in the Gospel – looking down his nose at ‘those sinners’ and patting himself on the back for being so good.

Now – the rest of us would look at the Pharisee and based on everything we know, would have to agree – he IS the goodest of the good people.  He’s SO good, in fact, that there’s no way we can measure up.  I mean, If following the law of Moses is THE path to God, then the path is so steep that 99 percent of us ain’t got no chance of ever climbing into that box…. So we’d just give up.  God is out of reach.  Instead of helping us to reach God, the law becomes an impediment keeping us from God.

That’s one perspective – but Jesus brings in the Publican… which is tax collector.  He is the baddest of the bad people.  Worse than a sinner, He’s a traitor against Israel – he’s a extortionist – a cheater – a thief.  To put that in perspective, think to yourself of the worst, most un-holy person you know.  The person you are SURE has no chance of getting the heaven.  DON’T say their names out loud!  Maybe it’s your Deacon 😉  or maybe a family member, co-worker, politician, maybe somebody involved in human trafficking, Hitler maybe… we all have someone who we think is a bad person.  Surely God hates them.

Jesus says – that person – that baddest of the bad persons – knows how to get in the box with God – and the Holy guy does not.  What?

See how this just doesn’t make sense?  The Jews would think - Jesus – we’ve only been given ONE path to God and it’s called the Law of Moses.  THIS guy follows that path better than anyone we know … and now you’re saying even THAT ain’t good enough?  

Jesus is pointing out what is missing in the prayer of the Pharisee.  Access to God is not about all the external things of religion… it’s about the internal state of our hearts.

Notice, because the Pharisee has the moral high ground, he easily becomes inflated with Pride – and y’all know Pride is considered the root of all the deadly sins.  Because of that, instead of humbling himself before God, he thinks he’s ALREADY justified – he thinks he’s already IN THE BOX with God…. He doesn’t need God’s help, thank you – he’s got it all under control.

But the baddest of the bad guys successfully gets into the box with God… not by doing all the externals of religion… in fact, he likely does NONE of those things… instead his path into the box is to approach God in humility… to open up his heart and admit he is a sinner and ask for mercy.  He recognizes that he cannot approach God without God’s mercy.  That is the key to the box.

We see this another time in the Gospels when Jesus is hanging on the cross and the thief says – ‘we are getting what we deserved’ – and then he asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.  Notice – he admitted his sin – then asked for mercy.  He’s considered to be the thief who stole heaven… by one act of humility at the end of his life, he got into the box with Jesus.

So – how do we apply this to our lives?

It’s a normal human tendency to put God in a box…. And only those who follow the secret path of OUR religion can get to God… and if it gets too easy, we add on more rules to make the path even harder.  Why?  Because we kinda like being on the moral high ground.  We like feeling that we’ve done everything WE can to EARN God’s attention.  This naturally leads to pride.  We put ourselves in a box of moral certitude and feel like we are justified because of our actions.  WE followed all the rules! – at least better than that guy over there so we DESERVE to be with God.

Religion can also lead us to putting other people into boxes.  ‘Those people’ don’t do things exactly as I do, so they obviously aren’t going to be loved by God.  Those people over there are the wrong political party – those people over there are not pro-life – those people over there do whatever – notice the common thread: ‘those people over there’.  Anytime we put people into a box, we think they are excluded them from God – but in reality, we’re excluding ourselves from God.  Because our pride – our lack of humility – keeps us from opening our hearts to other people – and therefore keeps us from opening our hearts to God.

The thing is – THERE IS NO BOX.  God cannot be contained in a box this size – nor the size of this church – nor the size of the world or even the size of the universe.  God is all in all – and the path to get to God is not some list of a thousand things to do – but the path to God is to simply, humbly admit that we are sinners in need of a savior and to ask God for mercy.  THAT is the Good News of the Gospel.  The purpose of prayer is to admit that we’re NOT justified – that we’re NOT living as we should – and ask God for mercy so we can improve our relationship with Him.

Now – let me be clear – doing all the things our religion suggests ARE good things.  They are TOOLS given to us by the Church and by saints throughout the ages to ASSIST us on the path to get to God.  But if we think the rules or the tool is THE way to God, we’ve missed the point of today’s Gospel.  For example, I may say a rosary every day, but if it doesn’t change my heart – it’s not opening my mind and heart to God.  A relationship where we don’t share our hearts is not a real relationship.  Think about that from a human perspective – you may be physically close to your spouse or you may be texting your friends often to stay connected– but if you don’t reach the point of sharing your deepest thoughts and dreams and feelings – sharing your heart with them – then the relationship remains only on the surface.  Same applies to our spiritual life – only through sharing our deepest thoughts in all honesty and humility will we deepen our relationship with God.

Yes – do all of our religious practices – but – burn the boxes and turn to God with humility.


Sunday, October 2, 2022

2022/10/02 - Be the Bolt

Note:  homily based on this quote:

Don’t be a fool! It’s true that at most you play the part of a little bolt in that great undertaking of Christ's.  But do you know what happens when a bolt is not tight enough or when it works itself out of place? Bigger parts also work loose or the gear-wheels get damaged and broken.  The work is slowed up. Perhaps the whole machine will be rendered useless.
What a big thing it is to be a little bolt!
St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way

Before Mass

Ever think about what’s holding our roof up over our head?  The ceiling is held up by those beams up there are called trusses – it’s what allows long spans without posts.  But we learned in the fire department a long time ago that if one piece of the truss fails, the whole thing collapses.  But as long as each bolt and piece of metal does its job, the church stands.

You ever notice that bolt right there on the end…  I never did either – but for the homily today I want to tell you the story about that bolt… it’s name is Bobbie.  Bobbie the Bolt.

In the Gospel today, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith – then he goes off into the weeds, it seems, talking about servants serving at the table.  What’s that got to do with increasing our Faith, Jesus?  I admit, at first I saw no connection.

Hopefully the story of Bobbie the Bolt will help us understand.


Homily

When Bobbie was just born, he was nothing more than an unformed piece of metal.  He could have been anything when he grew up!  He dreamed of being the nose on the front of a jet… He thought about being a bullet that a soldier would use to defend his country… He even thought it would be cool to be the metal canister in a hand-cranked ice cream freezer.

But he was just a blob of metal.

As he got older, his life experiences started squeezing him and forming him into something more recognizable – but Bobbie didn’t like what he saw when he looked in the mirror.  Bobbie was forming into a bolt.  That’s not what he wanted to be!  Bolts are boring!  I want to be a jet – not a bolt!

Yet, every job he took – every experience of his life seemed to form him more and more… leaving grooves in him for some unknown purpose.  He went through some really hard times which almost melted him – but he came through even stronger than before – he became hardened steel.

Finally, when he reached maturity, some workers picked him up and stuck him through a piece of metal truss beam and tightened a nut on the other end of him.  Bobbie was bummed out… he would prefer to be the truss beam, not just a boring bolt!  The truss was lifted into the air and the roof was put on, and Bobbie has been in that place in the ceiling ever since…. Holding up the roof of our church here.

So, what do you think – did Bobbie have a good life?  Did he fulfill the purpose God gave him?

You and I are like Bobbie.  We may have dreams about what we want to be – but everything we do in life forms us into the tool that God needs us to be.  See – it’s by doing the job that is in front of us that we become who we are.  It’s by Fulfilling the responsibilities we’ve been given that the path to holiness opens up for us.  

That’s an important lesson – in fact, it’s one of the central themes of Opus Dei – the organization founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.  Literally, Opus Dei means ‘the work of God’.  Josemaria’s point was that in doing all of the mundane work of everyday life, THAT is how each person is sanctified – that’s how we become holy – THAT is how we increase our faith.

Each job we do forms us into the tool – or the bolt – that God needs us to be.  As each of us does what we’re called to do, we form the Church – literally – it takes every one of us doing our part to hold this church together.  Yeah we need Priests – and maybe we need Deacons – but we also need church cleaners, musicians, altar servers, grass cutters, office staff, people to wash dishes after the parish social… I could go on and on… it takes hundreds of people doing their seemingly mundane job to keep this church standing.

Just like that bolt right up there.  If we don’t do our job, the whole structure would be compromised.  

Now – let’s connect this to the parable in the Gospel.  Does Bobbie the Bolt deserve thanks for doing his job?  Would we ever THINK of praising that bolt for doing what it was made to do?  No – Bobbie is simply fulfilling the purpose that God gave him.  He is doing his own Opus Dei…the work of God.

You and I are like that bolt.  Without even being noticed, we simply fulfill the mundane responsibilities in front of us every day – as mothers and father, husbands and wives, co-workers and bosses, friends and brothers and sisters, students… our work IS our path to holiness.  

- When we humble ourselves to change a diaper, take out the trash, sweep the floor – it teaches us humility.  

- When we faithfully get up each morning to earn our pay and provide for our family, it teaches us self-less-ness.  

- As we reach out to others in need or offer a kind word to a friend who’s feeling depressed, we learn what it’s like to Be the love of God for each other.  

In these simple, mundane tasks appointed to us, we are doing our own Opus Dei – the work of God.  Each task leaves a groove in us for some unknown purpose which we may not understand …but we can trust that God will harden us like steel if we need to be.

When we ask ‘Lord increase our faith’ – the answer is:  do what you’ve been given to do… and when you look back, you’ll see that you’ve become a hardened piece of steel – made by God for a specific purpose… to hold the Church together.


Sunday, August 28, 2022

2022/08/28 - And you thought you were just coming to church

 

Before Mass:

The overwhelming theme of the readings today is HUMILITY.  I’ll just tell you that now, because that’s not what we’re going to talk about.  We don’t often preach on the 2nd reading, because it doesn’t always fit the theme of the other two readings.  But today, it’s a powerful one, and I really felt like Spirit prompting me to concentrate on it.  To understand that reading though, you gotta know just a little back story – because it refers to something that’s not obvious to us today.

The first part of the reading refers to’ blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them.’  What?!  That make sent to anybody?  The first century readers would immediately have known what he was talking about:  At Mt Sanai, God was giving the 10 commandments to Moses, but what the people experiences was thunder and lighting and trumpet blasts and the mountain was smoking – THAT was how the people experienced the voice of God- and they were SO terrified that they begged Moses – YOU talk to God so we don’t have to hear him lest we die!  Literally, they thought approaching would kill them.  Our reading today is saying THAT is NOT how WE experience God.

You and I are in the New Testament – and that’s what the second half of the reading is about ‘No, you have approached Mount Zion’ – that’s symbolic speech for you have approached HEAVEN.  So put your thinking cap on… When exactly have you and I approached HEAVEN?  We’re not dead yet – is there another time we approach heaven? – at Mass.  That’s the main thing to remember as you listen to the second half – he’s describing what’s about to happen right here.

 

Homily

Have you ever been someplace that was so beautiful – so moving – so above-and-beyond that words fail when you try to tell your friends about it!?  I feel that when I come back from Colorado.  As much as I try to show pictures and tell the stories, there is no way I can communicate to you just how phenomenal the experience is.  Why?  Because unless you were there, you just don’t get it.  It’s more than mountains, it’s more than awesome sunrises and clouds and trees and the smell of the spruce and the breezes and the wildlife sightings and the cold, crisp, dry air….I could go on and on, but I’d still fail in my descriptions.

That’s kinda what’s happening in today’s second reading.  The letter to the Hebrews is TRYING to describe something phenomenal, over-the-top, moving – but words don’t do it justice.  Why?  Because the audience hasn’t seen what he’s trying to explain.  He’s TRYING to open their eyes to recognize what is right in front of them.  He’s trying to open OUR eyes to what we’re about to experience here at Mass.

If I had my way, right now I’d quit talking and we’d watch a video which SHOWS us what this reading is trying to say.  Maybe you saw it on facebook or the website – if so, you’re at an advantage.  For everyone else, – I’ll TRY to convey some meaning by adding more words even though it may be an epic fail.

So, Pick up your missalettes and turn to page 207.  I want to go deep into several lines in the second half of that 2nd reading. We’ve heard this kind of stuff our whole lives, but it’s so full of metaphors that it comes across as just flowery church-talk.  Remember what I said before Mass, he’s talking about The Mass.  Let’s put those glasses on and see if it makes more sense. 

Skip to the line: “you HAVE COME to Mount Zion

a) “Mt. Zion”, “the city of the living God”, “the heavenly Jerusalem” —  These are three of images which the Bible itself uses to describe HEAVEN. Think about that: We are visiting the city of the living God.   Where is God?  In heaven!  Many saints have told us that Mass truly is “heaven on earth,”.  Let that sink in a little – when we’re kneeling here during the consecration, we are actually in heaven.

b) “Innumerable angels in festal gathering” — If God was to open our eyes just once so that we could see the invisible — as he has to some mystics in Church history — we would see them!  We would be overwhelmed to see the entire heavenly host surrounding us in the sanctuary. All the angels are here!  Also notice they are in ‘festal gathering’… is that important?  YES – they are dressed up for a feast.  What’s the feast??  We’ll come back to that in a couple minutes.

c) “The assembly of the first born enrolled in heaven” — “Assembly” is the translation of ekklesia, which is the Greek word for Church. Y’all know the Church is not the building, but the people – and that includes all people past, present, and future.  Bottom line – we may think we come here to pray individually or even as a community - but we’re not alone!  Every person who has their name written in the book of life is praying together with us as brothers and sisters.  So move over and let them into your pew!

d) “God the judge of all” — God the Father is here.  We already said we have approached God’s holy city, but God himself is HERE.  God is all loving, but He is also our judge — so we should never pretend that we’re better than we are – because He knows us better than we know ourselves.  We should approach the judge in humility.  But on the other hand we need not be terrified, because this same God gave us Jesus as our defense lawyer – and he’s already written his defense brief on our behalf in his own blood (1John 2:1). 

e) “The spirits of the righteous made perfect” — This refers to the saints, who have been made perfect by God – through earthly trials, through martyrdom, through purgatory.  The Love of God has perfected them. All of them are here as well — here!  In our church!!  Including our patron Saints Isidore, Raphael, and Celestine — praying right alongside of us.

f) “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” — Wait – WHERE is Jesus?  He’s in heaven.  He stands forever before the throne of his Father offering his body as the once-for-all sacrifice.  But – He is also HERE.  He is the mediator… think of it this way:  because we have the Body of Jesus on our altar, THAT is what makes it possible for us all to participate in that heavenly liturgy.  We’re both in heaven and on earth because we have a mediator who makes it possible!  Jesus is the priest, He is also the sacrifice.  When father holds up the host at the consecration, it’s no longer Father holding the host, but Jesus himself holding it up using the hands of our Priest!  As a community, we join in THE sacrifice which is forever offered in heaven.  It’s not a new sacrifice – He died once for all - but Jesus stands forever before the throne offering himself as this sacrifice on our behalf.

g) “The sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel” — OK think - What blood are we approaching?  The blood of Jesus.  Who was Abel?  He was Adam’s son who was killed by his brother Cain.  After Abel was killed by his brother, his blood cried out for vengeance.  On the other hand, when we, the brothers of Jesus killed him,  his blood speaks not of vengeance but of forgiveness:   Here’s an example – we’ll hear the words shortly: “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for all SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN.”  Put two and two together… Why did Jesus empty himself of blood?  To forgive us!  Jesus’ blood seeks forgiveness – and Forgiveness is more eloquent than vengeance.

This is the reality every time we come to Mass! Honestly, I have to remind myself often, because without the eyes of faith, we would never see this nor believe any of it. 

There’s a video I HIGHLY recommend  called ‘The Mass Unveiled’ – you can google it – or find it in the bulletin or there’s a link on our website (and below).  It’s only 5.5 minutes and gives a great visual of what’s going on at Mass – in fact, if you watch it, you’ll understand that much of my feeble descriptions were made after seeing that video….and you’ll understand that my words didn’t do it justice.

One last note – it’s not coincidence that the Gospel speaks of being invited to a wedding banquet.  The Mass IS the wedding feast of Jesus as He is wed to his bride, the Church.  We’ve all been invited here by the Father.  Even the angels are here in their festal garments.  How we approach the feast has consequences – if we’re all pumped up and exalted and think we deserve this somehow, we will be humbled.  But if we humbly recognize that there is NO WAY we could deserve what Jesus did for us, then we will remain lowly – HUMBLE – then the Father will exalt us.  He’ll say, ‘friend come to a higher position’.  The Father will call each of us by name to approach Him more closely, not just to the seats in the first row, but beyond the first row, to wed us to His Son.  Did you catch that?  That’s what this marriage feast is all about:  You and I come forward to be WED to Jesus himself. 

And you thought you were just coming to church today.

The Veil Removed - Film - Bing video

 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

2022/07/24 - Thy Kingdom Come

Before Mass:

I think today’s Gospel might be one of the main reasons why a lot of people turn away from God – or at least turn away from prayer.  “Seek and you will find – ask and it shall be given to you.”  It SOUNDS like Jesus is saying that whatever we ask for, he’ll give it to us!

But we know that’s not reality.  I prayed for rain a couple of weeks ago and watched as storm after storm went around us.  We all pray for folks to be healed but they don’t get better.  We pray to do good on a test – to get a good job – to fix a broken relationship – but IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.  It would be easy to think this prayer stuff is hogwash… and you might even conclude that God doesn’t exist – I mean obviously He ain’t answering my prayers, so God must not be there.

And you’d be right – I don’t believe in that kind of God either.  He’s not the great vending machine in the sky ready to grant wishes like a genie.  You know, if we push the right button, say the right prayer, use the right words, get down on my knees and REEEAALLLY mean it this time – that God will grant our every wish. 

That’s not what Jesus means. 

Hint:  look at the last line of the Gospel - it's all about the Holy Spirit.  Also, check out the second line of the Our Father prayer:  Thy Kingdom Come.

HOMILY

Jesus taught us how to pray:  Thy Kingdom Come.  We pray it all the time, but What are we really saying?

In short, it means we want God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  We’re asking God to establish His kingdom right now – in our world – and in our hearts.  What’s that look like?

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah gives us a perfect example.

Those cities had become corrupt… so corrupt that God was no longer on their radar.  The Holy Spirit was not only UNWELCOME there but had been run out of town and replaced with UNHOLY Spirits.

That’s a dangerous place to be – any society that loses sight of God becomes corrupt.  THEology, which is the belief in God, is replaced by IDEology.  God’s ways are replaced by human ways.  In a society without God, IDEOLOGY becomes the new religion.  Any place without God is, by definition, Hell.

This story repeated itself in the 20th century as several communist revolutions ushered in the bloodiest century known to man.  They forcefully replaced THEOLOGY with their IDEOLOGIES.  The Holy Spirit was no longer welcome, as religion was considered to be the "opiate of the masses".  Few of us here were alive at the time, so we may not know or remember that Tens of Millions of people were killed in these communist revolutions.

One of the people who spoke out was a writer named Alexander Solzhenitsyn, (yeah, it’s spelled just like it sounds).  In his book, The Gulag Archipelago, he revealed the truth about the evils of the Marxist regime in the Soviet Union.  Arguably, this book was the first domino to fall in the slow but inevitable demise of the USSR. 

At first, he had been a supporter of the socialist movement in his country – but eventually he found himself sentenced to the Gulag – a work camp in Siberia – a place indistinguishable from Hell.  He thought long and hard about ‘How did I end up here – personally?’ and ‘How did the whole country end up here’.  The communist party was supposed to create in a utopia by redistributing wealth away from the ‘rich’ so that the average worker would have a better life… that’s the propaganda that ushered them into power…and it may sound good on the surface, but implementation of that ideology was never imagined. 

The wealth was redistributed alright– but it just meant a different class of people were now wealthy, and those who HAD the wealth before were now dead.  If you had more than one cow so that you could sell milk – YOU were considered part of the evil elite class….and you disappeared.  People quit trying to make life better for themselves… In this new Utopia, as the ‘rich’ peoples’ wealth was confiscated, the government should take care of everyone.  Second – if you did work and get ahead – you would be targeted as the evil elite class and your goods would be confiscated and you might disappear.  Hard work to make life better was discouraged.

Anyone who spoke out was sent to the Gulags – or work camps – to work until they died.  You and I might ask, how did this happen?  Why didn’t people speak out?  How is it that so many millions died?  Because anyone who told the truth about how life was WORSE not BETTER was silenced… every person deceived themselves daily into explaining away their misfortune.  In short – they were lying to themselves – and that trained them to lie even more… so when they reached the line of morality where no one should cross, they continued to lie…and the regime continued…and their neighbors and family members disappeared in the middle of the night.

Why am I wasting your time repainting the dark history of the last century?  First – because we should all know history – and people under 30 or 40 might not even know about the Marxist revolutions.  But mainly because it serves as example for today’s message.

A society that is corrupt is destined to fall.  We see it in Sodom in the first reading – corruption had become the norm – and likely anyone of integrity had either been silenced or had already left.  That’s why when Abraham bargained with God, God didn’t hesitate to say he wouldn’t destroy it if they found 10 good people… because he knew that IF there were 10 good people left, 10 people who haven’t yet trained themselves to lie – that there was still hope.

But a society built on lies - false-ideologies – instead of Theology – is corrupt and is destined to fall – it NEEDS to fall.  We pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’!  Well - It’s impossible for the kingdom of God to be established if the Father of Lies is the King.  THAT king must be overthrown… THAT society MUST fall - will INEVITABLY fall – not necessarily through the ACTIVE will of God sending fireballs from heaven, but through the passive will of God.  God allows us the freedom to become corrupt,… and then allows us to reap the harvest of our corruption - to feel the consequences of our actions.  It’s not moral chastisement – it’s not punishment - but rather simple cause and effect logic… so let’s follow the logic – see if you agree with these statements:

First: Anyone who does not pray loses sight of God and God’s will for him/her…personally.  Agree?  Notice it starts with prayer;  If I don’t pray, I lose sight of God.

Second: Anyone who loses sight of God is bound to sin…destined to sin… and their heart becomes corrupt.  Agree?  If God is not on our radar, we WILL sin and we WILL become corrupt.

Third: Anyone who falls into corruption will surround himself with corrupt individuals so that their own misdeeds don’t stand out.  They spread false ideologies which push God out – and that leads to a corrupt society.  Get that?  When the individual is corrupted, the society is corrupted.

Finally, when a society reaches a certain level of corruption, it becomes indistinguishable from Hell.  Think Gulag Archipelago.  Think Maoist China.  Think Auschwitz. 

The Kingdom of Hell MUST fall in order that God’s kingdom can replace it.  In the World and in our own hearts.

It all starts with prayer…and Jesus himself teaches us how.

Learn to pray. 
Learn to pray that God will give you the Holy Spirit –
        to give you eyes to see God’s will for you. 
To Seek first the kingdom. 
Pray that God will eliminate the corruption in our hearts…my heart / your heart. 
Pray that God will use US as the remnant to save our society – to rid our culture of false ideologies and replace it with True Theology - so that Jesus can establish His Kingdom here and now. 

It’s not MY kingdom come.  It’s THY Kingdom Come.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

2022/05/22 Putting the Squeeze on

 

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
Jn 14:23-29

Before Mass:

The homily today is going to center on the beginning of the Gospel – listen to this:

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;"

What’s that mean?  If you’re like me, I read this as another one of the churchy rules that tell me what I have to do to make Jesus love me.  But that’s not what it says… and it’s not at all what it means.  See, reading it that way, the implication is that if we don’t do what Jesus says, he WON’T love us.  Is that even possible?  Is it possible for anything we do to make God love us?  Is there anything we can do to make God NOT love us?

The short answer is NO.  The long answer is: There must be another way to understand Jesus’ words…and that’s what we’ll talk about in the homily.

Homily

Jerry’s younger brother, Ted was adopted when he was just an infant.  He always knew he was adopted, because every year since he was about 5 years old, a check would come in the mail on his birthday.  Ted’s real father explained that because of their situation at the time, he had convinced Ted’s mother to put him up for adoption. 

And since then, He said, “not a day has gone by that I didn’t tearfully wonder how that baby was doing… that baby is my son!”  He explained that although he deeply regretted giving him up, he is still convinced they made the right decision at the time.  They simply wouldn’t have been able to give him a good home… but that didn’t change his love for his son.  So now, 5 years later, he had a decent job and wanted to help to provide for his son… so please accept this check to offset whatever costs there are in raising him.  All I ask is that you please explain to him that his father loves him very much.

When Ted turned 18, his real father sent the normal check for his birthday… but this time he sent a letter directly to Teddy.  It was a long letter… explaining the details of his birth and his reasons for giving him up, but those details aren’t really important right now.  I want to read to you just a part of that letter:

Teddy –

I am so proud of the man you grew up to be.  Your Mom and Dad have kept me in the loop all these years about your grades, your hobbies, and even the fact that your favorite food is vanilla ice cream.  They’ve sent me photos so I could watch you grow… They sent copies of some of the pictures you drew in school;  They even invited many times over the years to come visit  - and I almost did many times – but felt it was best to allow you to grow up without me complicating things.

Know that I love you – and I have always loved you.  I’m hoping you will understand that as much as it hurt us, your mother and I simply HAD to give you up for adoption… for your own sake… but I’ve often dreamed of the day when I could give you a hug to let you know how much I love you.

Now that you’re fully grown, I’d like to allow you to make a decision for yourself.  I would really like to meet you and to be a part of your life.  I realize this may be major dilemma for you… your life is going so well: do you really want to complicate it by bringing me into it?  Whatever you decide, I’ll still be here – loving you every minute.

So, based on what you know – does Ted’s real father love him?  It sure seems so… first he chose not to abort Teddy.  Second, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to give Teddy a good life, so even though it hurt him, he gave him away.  Third, he tried all his life to have a relationship with Teddy from a distance – and even provided as much as he could for Teddy’s growth.  Yeah – it seems evident that he loved his son.

Question: Did Teddy EARN his father’s love?  No – nothing Teddy could do or not do would change the fact that his father loves him.

But – here’s the real question… do Teddy and his father have a relationship?  Does Teddy know and love his father?  No- he doesn’t even know him other than as this ‘vague idea of someone out there somewhere kinda watching over him – who supposedly loves him, but they’ve never met.’  In order to have a personal relationship, Teddy needs to get to know his father and share his life with him.

You and I are Teddy.  Our Father in heaven could have kept us with Himself forever, but He chose to give us to some earthly parents to raise us – so that we could experience a full life.  Notice there’s nothing Teddy did to earn his father’s love… likewise with us – regardless of what we do or don’t do, our Father loves us.  YOUR FATHER LOVES YOU….as you are… nothing you can do about it.

But just like Teddy, our Father wants to have a relationship with us – YOUR father wants to have a relationship with you.  God has been inviting you into that relationship every day… every moment of your life.  Look around at all the ways He has blessed you and you’ll recognize that He is crazy about you.  But - Until we meet Jesus, God remains to us as just a ‘vague idea of someone out there somewhere kinda watching over us – who supposedly loves us – but we’ve never met’.

We ‘know’ God love us – we’ve heard that ad nauseum since we were kids – You know: John 3:16 and all that – God so loved the WORLD - but do we really KNOW it PERSONALLY?  We won’t fully know God’s love until we give Him love in return….and I think that’s the key to what Jesus is saying today.

Love that is given is only complete when it is returned.  Love is only complete or consummated when the Love is returned.  That may sound pretty deep or philosophical, so let me give you some examples:

Imagine you hug someone…. And they don’t hug you back.  Like hugging a fish… not that I’ve ever hugged a fish, but you can just imagine!  You have expressed your feelings to that person, but they gave nothing in return.  But!!! Imagine if that person leans into the hug and squeezes back!  It changes everything!!  It creates a moment of intimacy and builds a bond in your relationship.

God is always hugging us – and he’s inviting us to hug Him back so that we can experience a new level of the Love relationship He’s offering.

Another way to think about it is a married couple – when they first meet, they fall in love and they kiss for the first time – that kiss – when it is given and received by both of them, opens up a whole’nother level in their relationship.  Just think of the emotions, feelings, thoughts and dreams that are enkindled by that first kiss!!  When they’re married, their relationship reaches a whole new level of intimacy, because there is a total gift of self to one another….but it doesn’t stop there even… as they grow old together and share each other’s joys and pains and struggles of life, their intimacy grows to the point where what they thought was true love in the beginning, pales in comparison to the intimacy they have now.

God is madly in love with you – YOU – personally.  But you and I don’t experience that love fully unless we return that love. 

Communion is a moment of extreme intimacy… God is offering himself to you personally.  It’s up to us to love back.  Think about this as you come forward today to Communion:  As you receive Him, He is receiving you – as you consume Him, He is consuming you… like a hug – like a kiss.

Jesus made a pretty big promise today – God already loves you – but If you love God in return, God will make his dwelling in you.  Let that sink in:  all we have to do is give love away, and Love himself will take up residence IN us.  When we return Love to God, God Himself will be in us – and since God is Love, the more we give love away, the more we become the Home of Love.
Lean into that love today and squeeze God back.