Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 26, 2010: Feast of the Holy Family Cycle A

One of the good things about being in front of Mass is that I get to see other people’s expressions. Most of the time, there is no expression at all – but TODAY – I could see lots of furrowed brows, rolling eyes, and people elbowing each other. On this Feast of the Holy Family, Paul gives everyone in the family some instructions – but the one that really makes most of us cringe is when he says, ‘wives be subordinate to your husband’.

I think it shows amazing self-control that more women don’t just get up and walk out of church when he says that! For us today, it might call to mind images of women in Burkas in Afghanistan where the Taliban have degraded women to mere property with no rights, no education, no worth.

Why aren’t we really upset about this? Our natural reaction – I’d say for both women AND men – is to explain it away. Well – Paul was talking to a patriarchal society of the first century and those rules don’t really apply. That is true…Paul wasn’t interested in trying to change the roles of people in society… he wasn’t trying to make waves to improve society, because Jesus was coming back soon and there was no need to try to make waves. (A good example was in his letter to Philemon where he talked about the slave Onesimus and sent him back to his master. He didn’t even TRY to abolish slavery, even though we know today slavery is wrong.) He was basically saying…whatever your responsibilities are, fulfill them to the best of your ability for Christ’s sake.

But – What if the Holy Spirit really is trying to teach us something with this hard reading? What if it really DOES mean for wives to be subordinate to their husband? I’ve been asking around – trying to get a handle on this myself – because I admit that I also cringe when I read it.

We all fall under someone in the chain of command. For example, when Fr. Atilla and I were ordained, we put our hands between the hands of the Bishop and vowed to obey him and his successors. That doesn’t mean that every time we have a decision to make, we have to call the Bishop to ask his permission… but it DOES mean that the Bishop has the responsibility to make sure we’re leading his flock the way HE deems to be appropriate. You see – ALL of us here are actually in the Bishop’s flock. Fr. Atilla is our pastor – he is our local shepherd – but the flock really is part of the Bishop’s flock called the Diocese of Evansville. Even the Bishop, however, falls under a chain of command which goes all the way up to the Pope. This is where our analogy to today’s reading fits the best. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome. His flock is Rome….not the whole world. However, because he is also the successor of Peter, the first of the apostles, then he is called the ‘First among equals’ – meaning he has no greater authority over any diocese in the world than the bishop of that diocese. However, in situations where decisions must be made regarding the worldwide church, he has been given the keys to the kingdom…the authority to make the final decision. If you look at how that works – you’ll notice that he doesn’t speak on his own. He always consults with others before declaring anything. It should be the same with a married couple. They ARE equals and all decisions should be based on respectful conversation. Most of the time, either person makes decisions – no questions asked. However, just like in the Church, someone must have ultimate responsibility.

Now – if every man was a saint like Joseph in the Gospel – it would be easy to allow the husband to have ultimate responsibility as the spiritual leader of the family. Notice that Joseph also fell under the chain of command. He must have been a spiritual man – actively seeking God’s will in his life…otherwise he wouldn’t have heard and understood his dreams and acted so quickly to protect his family.

Today’s men – myself included – don’t usually fall into that mold. We are SUPPOSED to be the spiritual leaders of our family…yet how many men live up to that role? How many families come to church while Dad is out hunting, watching the game, sleeping in, working the garage? How many Dad’s insist that the family pray a rosary together? How many Husbands pray for their wife and insist that she take some time for herself on a regular basis? Some do – in fact, there are some great examples of these men in our own parish here….but sadly, many do not.

You see – THAT’s why this teaching grates so much on our nerves – because we KNOW that in today’s world, the WIFE is normally the spiritual leader of the family. In general, men have fallen short and have not picked up the role of spiritual leader well – if at all.

But – maybe that’s why Paul taught this. Maybe it has to do with the psychology of men. We NEED a battle to fight – we need a purpose to our lives. Without a purpose, we fill that need with all sorts of addictions: alcohol, sex, drugs, and work….how many work-a-holic men do you know? Maybe Paul’s teaching is designed to give us men our purpose. Just imagine if every man in our parish would turn our work-a-holic energy toward being the spiritual leader of our family!

I’ve talked to several women about this in the last week to get their opinions, and most of them would LOVE to be subordinate to a husband who had that kind of a mission.

You see – Paul’s command is not about putting women in their place – but it’s about telling every one of us that one of the best ways we live out or Christianity is to fulfill our responsibilities in our family…for the sake of our marriages, for the sake of our children, for the sake of the Church, and for the good of society in general. Strong families make for a strong society – and strong families need to have a strong spiritual leader so that every family is a Holy Family.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 14, 2010: Wisdom of Speaking (33rd Sunday Ordinary Time - Cycle C)

Jesus really needs to work on his marketing techniques. He WANTS us all to buy-in this “disciple” stuff – but then he turns around and gives us today’s Gospel….You’ll be persecuted ….oh – and some of you will be put to death…. Fortunately for us, he was only talking to THEM and not to US…right? I mean - all of the persecution that Jesus warned about was 2000 years ago, wasn’t it?

In 1914 – less than 100 years ago, The Mexican government had become VERY anti-Catholic. They closed churches and demolished them. It became illegal for the Church to run a school…which by-the-way is still true in Mexico. The priests went into hiding. In some places the Mass was outlawed altogether and priests and nuns were forbidden to wear their religious garb. One seminarian, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez fled to the U.S. to complete his studies . He returned to Mexico in 1926 as a Priest – even though conditions continued to worsen for the Church there. He spent his time serving the people of God – helping the sick and the poor – and celebrating Mass with the few Catholics who dared to join him, since the Mass was against the law. In 1927, somebody attempted to assassinate the Mexican president, and somehow Fr. Juarez got blamed for it – so they arrested him and immediately sentenced him to be executed.

On the morning of 23 November, soldiers took him to the prison yard. Fr. Miguel knelt and briefly prayed quietly. He then rose, and said, "May God have mercy on you! Lord, with all my heart I forgive my enemies!" Seconds before the firing squad was ordered to Fire, he stretched his arms out in the form of a cross with a rosary in one hand and a crucifix in the other, and he proclaimed “Vivo, Cristo Rey!” ….”Long live Christ the King!”

Jesus warned us this would happen… he told us in the Gospel that we would be drug before kings and courts – and some of us would be killed – BUT - that would our big opportunity to testify to his name. Can you imagine what you would say if it happened to you? Jesus told us not to worry about what we would say – that he would give us a wisdom in speaking that none can refute or resist!

But – Jesus – if none can resist it – why did Fr. Miguel die? Why have Christians died by the thousands over the years?

I’m thinking that maybe the ‘wisdom in speaking’ that Jesus gives us is not at all what we think. If I was choosing, I’d want some great philosophical or theological argument that would capture the hearts of my persecutors and bring them to Christ – so I could walk free and stay alive. However, I’m thinking the wisdom he gives may be for us to simply shut up.

Because - When someone innocent is killed, Their silence screams louder than any argument. Just think about the young people we’ve lost too early from our own community. Their death just tears at our hearts – because we know they didn’t deserve it. It’s just not fair! Jesus was the perfect example. Have you ever listened to the Passion story on Good Friday and thought – Jesus – if you would just say this or just do that….you could have gone free! The whole Gospel would be different, because Jesus wouldn’t have died. But maybe that’s the point. The Gospel HAD to go that way. Jesus HAD to die – because it was his SILENT acceptance of his execution that touched the hearts of the first century Christians – and continues to tug our heartstrings today.

The persecution of Catholics continues. Just two weeks ago, militants broke into the Catholic Church in Baghdad and killed 56 people. They killed another 5 just this week. In India, where Christians are less than 3% of the population, they are routinely singled out and persecuted. Every year, 1.2 million innocent babies are aborted just in this country. This is today. … this is not 2000 years ago. Christianity is still under attack.

Jesus’ warnings and promises are still relevant to us today. Since we live in an area that is mostly Christian, we may think this doesn’t apply to us – but many believe that the persecution of Christians, and Catholics in particular will likely increase in our lifetime. How will we give testimony? I hope that I have the eloquence to speak the words of Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, “Vivo Christo Rey”. If not, I hope Jesus gives me the wisdom to just shut up…because the silence of the innocent screams louder than any argument.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 10, 2010: The Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power (28th Sunday Ordinary Time - Cycle C)

Every so often in our lives, something rocks our world…and what we thought was all in control just falls through our hands like sand. Maybe it’s a major health issue, the downturn in our job, or the death of someone close to us, … (or just this morning, one lady told me she probably has cancer, another told me about a lung problem that has put her in the hospital twice, and then I heard about a 14-month-old boy who fell into a lake yesterday and is barely clinging to life). When these things happen, we don’t know what to do, so we stand looking up to Heaven saying, “Jesus, have pity on us”. Too often, we have to be broken down to the point that WE’re not in control anymore. We have to get to the point that there is NOTHING else we can do. If anything is going to change, …God is the one who has to do it.

The 10 lepers in the Gospel had reached that poing. They’d sunk as low as they could. In those days, leprosy meant being cast out from society. They lived in a no-man’s land between Israel and Samaria – a place where nobody goes. And that’s the point, when you’re ‘unclean’ with leprosy, you are not allowed to be around people. Without community – without civilized food, shelter, sewage, normal human interaction – these 10 men had zero control over their lives. So they turned to the only place they could…. Jesus, Son of David,have pity on us!

Alcoholics and others who have been through the 12-step process probably understand this phenomenon better than most. As long as an alcoholic maintains ‘some’ control of their lives, they haven’t hit bottom yet. And…If they haven’t hit bottom, then they’re not placing ALL their hope and trust in God. It’s as if God insists that we give ourselves up COMPLETELY – down to that last shred of pride – before he can start to rebuild us the way HE intends us to be.

Our first reading told us the story of Naaman, but it didn’t tell us the WHOLE story… so , like Paul Harvey…I’m gonna tell you the REST of the story.

Naaman was a powerful general from another country who came down with leprosy – he’d tried everything to get rid of it – lotions, salves, pills, doctors, sunshine, bathing, …he even tried some of those wonder-cure-alls on the infomercial on TV….but nothing helped. He was at the end of his rope – ready to give up. Then somebody suggested that Israel had a prophet who was known to possess great power. Hope was rekindled! So, he loaded up a bunch of gold and headed south to find Elisha the prophet…all along thinking about what he’d say to Elisha and how to convince him that HE was important! He DESERVED to be cured by Elisha’s God. Well – somehow, Elisha heard he was coming, and rather than going out to meet him – he simply sent a messenger to Naaman telling him to wash 7 times in the Jordan.

Naaman was insulted…no, more than that…Naaman was ticked off! He’d travelled far and was expecting Elisha to pray loudly over him and wave his hands over his skin to heal him in a big public display. Instead Naaman didn’t even give him the dignity of coming to see this ‘important’ man. He thought to himself - Why should I bathe in this muddy, ugly, stinky Jordan when there are beautiful rivers back home. He refused to bathe. Fortunately, his servants reasoned with him that if Elisha had asked him to do some extraordinary feat, he would gladly have done it – like lay in the sun for 20 days in a row – eat 3 quarts of prunes each day – cover himself in a some special mud….he would have done WHATEVER Elisha commanded. So why not do this SIMPLE thing? You know the rest of the story… Naaman gave up his last shred of pride and dignity and plunged himself 7 times and was completely healed. You see – he couldn’t be healed until he gave up even his pride and humbly plunged into the muddy water.

Aren’t all of us the same way? We pray to God…but we have our preconceived notions about how we want God to fix the situation. We try to control our lives to the point that God has a hard time making himself noticed. We might TRY to turn a problem over to God, but often, the answer to our prayer is not the way we had it planned in OUR mind, so we figure He didn’t answer….and we take control back. A good example would be if one of us prayed really hard for our Mom to be healed of cancer – and for three months, she gradually fades further away until she finally passes. We might go to God angry that he didn’t answer our prayer…but what we have to realize is that He gave her three months to spend quality time with her family – to get affairs in order – to heal some past hurts that had split the family – and finally, it taught us to let go – something we might not have been incapable of doing before.

Little Billy was only 9 years old when he told his Dad that he wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up. He was SURE that’s what he wanted to be, and it’s all he talked about. He had the plastic guns and cowboy hat, the boots with spurs….Now – fast forward 9 years and Billy (who is now ‘Bill’) is graduating from high school - and he started talking to his Dad about going to college to be an Engineer…but his Dad says, Whoa, whoa, who.. ‘College? Afraid not, Billy…remember…you wanted to be a cowboy. I’ve sunk all my money into a ranch in Texas and we’ll be moving there next month.’ Would his dad be wise to do that? Of course not. Dad’s know very well what’s best for their kids.

Fortunately, God knows what we need – in spite of what we ask for. Our Psalm today says “The Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power’. God reveals his power normally without some extraordinary event, but rather …in the ordinary. God works miracles in our lives daily – slowly working HIS will to make us who we need to be – and to change the world one heart at a time. He reveals himself in the woman who gives her life selflessly to care for her children. God reveals himself in the teachers who put their heart and soul into helping their students to open their minds. He reveals himself in the 85 year old man who visits his wife every day in the nursing home even though she no longer remembers who he is. There’s another example which our community here got to be a part of:

You’ve probably heard of the Community Meal served in Jasper now several days each week. They see God at work all the time – and this week, our community got to be part of it. So many people responded to our call for food for the funeral for Benton Kluesner, that we had several desserts left-over. So, we took them to the Community Meal. The guy there explained that they already had their meat and vegetable for the day, but were wondering what they could offer for dessert….and God provided…as he always does. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.

Apparently, that happens ALL the time for them. Actually, that happens all the time for every one of us, but we don’t notice…often we shrug it off as just ‘coincidence’. Remember though: “A Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous”.

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 22, 2010: Take the Narrow Gate (21st Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Sometimes I wish Jesus would stop talking in riddles and just tell it to us plain. ‘many are called but few are chosen’…. ‘use the narrow gate’…. What are we supposed to do with THAT?

The good part about this kind of language is that it forces us to think. If I told you 2 + 2 = 4, you all recognize that as a true statement and don’t give it another thought, do you. When we recognize – or at least when we THINK we recognize truth – we let it go in one ear and out the other. But when we’re faced with something that doesn’t immediately seem like it makes sense, we are forced to think about it.

Well – I don’t think Jesus wants His teachings to go in one ear and out the other – they’re MEANT to challenge us. “use the narrow gate”, he says– what’s he mean? Probably the most common interpretation is that in order to get to heaven, you have to follow this strict code of conduct…do X, Y, and Z and you’ll get there. If you were a Pharisee, you’d LIKE this interpretation, because it matches what you already believe.

He may have meant something completely different than that. What if I said that we could all get $1000 credit on our taxes if you call this phone number before noon tomorrow? We’d all jump to it! $1000 is a lot of money…in fact some of us would be on the phone before we got out of the parking lot after Mass. We wouldn’t want to miss this narrow window of opportunity? Maybe that’s what Jesus is saying – the narrow gate is actually a narrow window of opportunity. We only have a certain number of years on this earth to grow in Love, to experience the Kingdom of God here on earth, so we need to be striving with all our effort to experience it.

Instead of being a recipe for how to get to heaven, I think it’s a guideline for how we, as disciples, are supposed to live…with a sense of urgency. How we are to experience the greater joys of THIS life? …By being disciples. The word ‘Disciple’ comes from the word ‘discipline’ – and we heard a lot about that word in our 2nd reading. God disciplines those He loves. But we don’t like discipline – especially in our culture where we want to do what we want, when we want, as much as we want. I even remember a guy telling me once, ‘I hate anybody who tells me what I can and can’t do!’. I see that as the epitome of our culture – we despise discipline. In reality, discipline is exactly what we need to be a disciple…by definition, a disciple is somebody who takes on the discipline of somebody they want to be like. For example, maybe I wanted to be a disciple of Payton Manning..you know, the quarterback for the Colts. What if I go to every one of his games and sit in the bleachers on the 50-yard-line….would that make me a disciple?! No way…If I were really a disciple, I’d wear a football uniform. Go to practice every day. Watch what I eat. Exercise and weight train every day – and study the playbooks every evening. I would do everything I possibly could be try to be exactly like Payton.

Are we true disciples of Jesus if we come to church every week and sit on the 50-yard-line? Not really….look what happened to the people in the Gospel: they went to the gate and said, ‘master, let us in’? but he said, “I don’t know you”. But, but, but…we ate and drank with you…in other words, ‘we went to Mass with you’! But again he said I don’t know who you are. Being a disciple is more than sitting in a pew each Sunday. As disciples of Jesus – we are taking on the discipline of Jesus – we read His words, we receive Him in the Sacraments, we talk to him in prayer, and we follow the commands He gave us….why? So we can be like Him….Because we believe that He showed us the greatest path to true happiness by how he lived – and how he died.

You may remember one of the CD’s we passed out this spring from Matthew Kelly, called “A Call to Joy”. It’s possibly my favorite CD: it starts a little slow, but he explains some about how his spiritual life got started…and in this story, you and I can pick up some concrete, manageable ways to add some discipline to our own lives. A friend of his challenged him to stop at church for just 5-10 minutes on the way to school…5-10 minutes – that’s all. Well, he reluctantly started doing it – and developed a habit. Looking back 6 months later, he wondered how he’d ever gotten by without it…and his friend challenged him to take another step. That’s something every one of us can do – 5-10 minutes – on our way to work or school or on the way home….and once that becomes a habit, we can look back and see how God has helped us to grow because of this little discipline.

Discipline – it’s something we all need. It’s as simple as developing habits so that we’ll integrate our relationship with Jesus into our everyday lives. For example, a month ago, I got a phone call to help out on a retreat – something I LOVE to do – but I recognized there were some good reasons that maybe I should not say Yes this time…so I hem-hawed around for a couple of days. Then, Mary asked me, ‘Did you pray about it?’. Now, you would THINK that as a Deacon, I would just naturally have prayed about that decision…but I hadn’t! I had prayed, but for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me to take THAT decision to God – so I did, and I’m not kidding you - within 30 minutes I had my answer.

My point for saying that I’m hoping we can all relate to this. I recognized my own need to develop the discipline to pray about EVERY decision, so that when the big decisions come along, I will just automatically take it to God without even thinking about it. The more good spiritual habits we form, the more we’re open to hearing God speak to us – and the more we’ll be open to doing HIS Will.

Every September I head to Colorado with some Catholic buddies. We go to hike, fish, camp, and pray. It’s really like a retreat, and we all look forward to it every year. There’s a problem though – the pine beetles have decimated much of the forests in Colorado – especially up near Rocky Mtn National Park. It is so sad to drive or hike through those area and see all the trees that have turned orange – or have lost their needles altogether. I’m told that part of the reason this beetle infestation has gotten so large is the fact that man has suppressed the natural fires that normally occur every couple hundred years. Apparently, the fires would control the populations of the beetles…if we let them burn. It’s ironic that our very attempts to protect the beauty of that area are what caused the greatest damage to the beauty. I’m not here to argue about whether we should allow wildfires to burn out of control – but my point is that God has a plan – and fire is part of that plan. Doesn’t the same apply to us? Like the second reading teaches us, we shouldn’t look on the Discipline of God as merely an affliction – but as the only way to keep us spiritually healthy – to grow to be more like Jesus.

We can’t become more like Jesus and remain as we are.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

2010 June 13 - Do You See this Woman? (11th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C)

It seems like such an unimportant question, right there in the middle of the Gospel….Jesus asked, ”Do you see this woman”? Now –when Jesus asks a question, I’d say we’d better take a few minutes and look at her. Who is she? And why was she crying?

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that she and Jesus have met before. Something happened BEFORE this Gospel. We don’t really know WHAT...but I got to wondering if she might have been the woman in John’s Gospel – you all know the story..the Pharisees drug a woman up to Jesus and told him that she’d been caught in the act of adultery and the Law of Moses DEMANDS that she should be stoned to death. Jesus said that famous line – Let him without sin cast the first stone. After everybody had walked away, he said “Nobody’s left to condemn you…I don’t condemn her either – go and sin no more.”

Now – maybe the woman in today’s Gospel is NOT that woman – but I’d bet that she had a similar experience with Jesus, so I’ll use her as my example today. Her sin was public knowledge – everybody knew about it – ….that’s why they all looked down their noses and started whispering to each other when she walked in. She had been drug before the court of public opinion and found unacceptable. I’d bet that has something to do with why she was crying.

Have you ever gone through a really tough, stressful time –– like maybe our senior year in college where we had our senior project due, plus our part time job, plus finals all in the same week - or like waiting for the results from a medical test, and finally getting the answer – When those times were over – how did you feel. The burden has been lifted! Somehow, In the midst of the chaos, we might hold it together, but when it’s over – we just need to cry.

I felt that same way recently after a particularly bad week at work. A buddy at work has a tumor in his abdomen, so another lady and I were learning how to fill-in for him while he was out for surgery. We were spending a stupid number of hours and were stressed beyond my limits physically and mentally…but that Friday, we got word that his tumor was inoperable. The emotions that brought up went on top of all the other stress of the week… On the way home, I had the thought that I needed to stop at church and talk to Jesus…and so I came in and knelt down right here next to the tabernacle. As I did, I could feel the stress melting away, and the emotion welling up and I felt the need to cry. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that, but I wanted to share because at that moment – I was like the woman in the Gospel. I was crying at the feet of Jesus. I had only endured a week or two of stress, but SHE had endured months or even years of living a life you and I could only imagine. Every day, she bit her lip, lowered her self-esteem, and endured the snobbish looks as people shunned her – endured being treated like an object and not a person. After so long, she came to believe that she WASN’T a person after all – somehow she DESERVED what she got. Do you see this woman? When people did look at her, all they saw was her sin.

Until today…, she was drug out into the street and was SURE she was going to die. She was terrified…she’d seen other women stoned to death for what she had done. But then she saw Jesus. And for the first time she could remember, someone looked at her as a person – not an object. He looked PAST her sin and saw the heart of a good person - someone whom God loved deeply. In HIS eyes, instead of condemnation – she saw mercy – she saw love – real love – not the make-believe love she had grown accustomed to. That vision of love changed her life.

That brings us back to today’s Gospel –this woman is SO taken with the Love she saw in those eyes, that she ignores the stares and sneers and whispered innuendos of those around her and approaches Jesus. As she falls at his feet, the stress melts away and she can’t contain the emotion welling up inside her as the tears start to fall uncontrollably. She feels all the regret for years of sin controlling her life, but mainly she feels relief.. a chance to start again, and thankfulness for the forgiveness she has already received. See – everyone in society would have been telling her since she was a little girl that her sin was unforgivable….UNFORGIVABLE. But today, she found the truth…and her only possible response was to fall down and cry at the feet of Jesus.

So – Do you see this woman? Do you see this woman in anyone you know? Is there someone we routinely ignore? Somebody whom we’ve already written off as “unacceptable”? Somebody we immediately Judge – and all we see is their sin – what they’ve done wrong? Or – maybe we’ve allowed what someone TOLD us about somebody to taint our image of them before we even met them. Do you see this woman?

Do you see this woman in YOU? Surely, you and I can relate somehow. We’ve all sinned – and very likely our sin is as disgusting to God as this woman’s sin – or David’s sin in the first reading when he had Uriah killed. At some point, each one of us will realize that we’ve allowed our sin to control some part of our lives – we might even think we’re unforgivable. When we finally meet Jesus face-to-face and look into those eyes of Love…at that moment, all the stress, pain, deceit, shame…all of it…will be washed away …and the only response we can possibly make: is to fall down and cry at the feet of Jesus.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

2010 May 9 - Mother Knows Best

Young kids - Who makes the rules in your life? You know – brush your teeth, get ready for bed, eat your vegetables. Who makes the rules? For most of us, Mom makes the rules. Do we follow Mom’s rules? Most of the time – but why…because we know our Mom loves us – and that she has OUR best interest in mind. Mother knows best.

Growing up, when it was time for supper, my main concern was – what’s for dessert. I don’t know what difference it would make – I was a dessert-a-holic, so I would always have room for dessert. There was one rule about dessert normally – you only get one helping. One piece of cake, one piece of pie, maybe two cookies – but there was a limit set. Who set the limit? You guessed it – Mom. Mother knows best.

There was one exception to the dessert rule though – we would make a six-quart or eight-quart freezer of ice cream – and the rule was – eat it all if we can. For some reason, DAD made the rules when it came to eating homemade ice cream, so the standard procedure was to finish it off. We’d have contests to see who could eat the most. That habit has stuck with me all of my life. I remember the first time I went to a friend’s house to make some, he dished me out a small bowl of ice cream started putting the rest away in the freezer! Until that moment, it never OCCURRED to me that it wasn’t Everyone’s standard rule to eat until you go into a sugar coma.

That got me thinking – why WAS it OK for us to eat a bunch of homemade ice cream, but only one helping of any other dessert? Besides the fact that Dad made that rule, I figured out there was a decent reason. Our recipe growing up was pretty much milk, egg, and sugar…and of course, vanilla – LOTS of vanilla. We didn’t use cream, so it wasn’t all that fattening. So, Mom must have decided it wasn’t necessary to try to enforce the single-helping rule.

However, as I grew up, somewhere along the line I discovered that if you put cream in the ice cream, it tastes good – REALLY good. The problem is –I still have that habit of eating four or five bowls. Maybe I should re-consider… maybe I should take another look at MOM’S rule about single helpings and see if it might make me healthier and happier in the long-run. Mother knows best.

Apply that to your own life. What laws did Mom make that really made a lot of sense?

For some reason, when we reach our teenager years, we tend to start rebelling against the decisions that Mom made. We seem to think that her decision that we should be home at 11 pm is just a willy-nilly random decision. In fact, - Mom KNOWS how teenagers work – and if she didn’t set a limit, we would stay out all night with our friends. That might sound like fun, but Mom knows we need sleep so we can do our school work, our job, or even just to stay healthy and not become crabby. Mom’s rules are there for our own good. When Mom tells us to brush our teeth, she’s trying to build a habit in us so that we’ll do it all our lives and hopefully avoid having to get dentures as we get older. When Mom tells us to help with the dishes, it’s so that we develop a sense of responsibility and cleanliness that will keep us healthy – and more socially acceptable. You know – who wants to marry somebody who doesn’t help with the dishes? Mother knows best.

You’re probably wondering by now what any of this has to do with today’s readings…: In the first reading, there’s a dispute over circumcision. Now – for those who don’t know what circumcision is, let me just say it has to do with cutting off a flap of skin from a man’s private parts. Normally, we all get it done as infants, so the pain and danger to us is minimized. Anyway – the Apostles and early Christians had a debate about whether Circumcision should be required to join the Catholic Church. This was a BIG deal – it had the potential of splitting apart the church when it was only a few years old. The reason it was such an issue is that it was part of God’s law…He had TOLD the Israelites that all males shall be circumcised. It became one of the founding principles of their Faith that separated them from the people around them. They still considered this to be an irreversible law of God even after Jesus came. As you can imagine, however, if you were a Gentile and considering becoming Christian – and one of the requirements of being a Christian was that you had to allow somebody to take a knife to your private parts, you might be a bit reluctant to want to join the Church.

So, the leaders of the Church had to decide – is this important or not? They decided it was NOT a showstopper. What’s important is belief in Jesus. We didn’t need to follow all of those old prescriptive laws that the Pharisees prided themselves with following.

Most of us today are still circumcised though…is it because it’s the law of God? No – it’s because it’s a matter of hygiene – that flap of skin tends to hold dirt and germs, so getting rid of it is considered to be healthier for everyone. We do it because it’s the smart thing to do – not because it’s the law.

For example, let’s say you’re driving out to the lake and you’re coming to the top of a tall hill and there’s a tractor chugging along …so you slow down…but you’re getting impatient because he’s moving so slow. Would you pass him? No way – you can’t see if anybody is coming over the hill, so you do the smart thing and stay behind him until you get over the top of the hill. Now - God never told us not to pass somebody on a hill, did he? It’s not like one of the 10 commandments – but we all KNOW it’s the smart thing to do. Same with circumcision – it’s not required to be a Christian – but it’s the smart thing to do.

Here’s a question for you …Who gave the leaders of the Church authority to decide what was required to be a Christian? Jesus did – several times in the Gospels he gave them His authority – AND He sent the Holy Spirit to “guide them to all truth”. Our Mother, The Church, continues to guide all of us. Mother knows best.

But – like teenagers – we sometimes want to rebel against the rules that our Mother Church has given us. Fasting is a perfect example. It used to be a RULE of the church, so every Catholic followed the practice of fasting on Fridays religiously. At Vatican II, they changed the RULE – because they recognized that we were fasting for the wrong reason. Fasting is supposed to help us to pray better – to offer up some self-denial as a prayer – to practice self-discipline of our bodies so that we can carry that discipline into our spiritual actions as well. Instead, we were just eating Fish on Friday – but never giving thought to why. So – just like the first reading – the leaders changed the rule. The new rule is that everyone is supposed to perform SOME act of fasting or self-discipline of Fridays. We get to choose – but we should be doing SOMETHING to make The point is – just like circumcision – it has nothing to do with earning our salvation, but it is still a solid, healthy spiritual habit.

Let me take that one step further – the Church’s teaching on sex outside of marriage. I think every one of us can logically see how our society would be better off if we all followed that rule… Because so many ignore the rule, families are broken up, lives are ruined, kids grow up without both parent. Our Mother Church gives us the rule because it’s the right thing to do. Same thing goes for all other rules we want to rebel against: reconciliation, abortion, contraception, and tithing….I mean, who gives 10% to God like we’re supposed to?

What’s the challenge for the week? To seek the Peace that Jesus promised in the Gospel today – but remember he said ‘not as the world gives do I give it to you’. The world would tell us that we would have the most happiness and peace if we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. But Jesus knows that we’ll actually be happier, healthier and more peaceful if we follow the rules that he gave us. Like passing on a hill – there are two ways to look at it. We could get upset because we don’t want anybody telling us when and where we can pass. Or – we can thank God we live in a society where, for the most part, people follow the rules… so we can safely drive over a hill and trust that there won’t be somebody else coming at us on the other side. Only God and Mom know what will hit us if we don’t follow the rules. Mother knows best.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Homily April 25, 2010 - My Sheep Hear My Voice

“My Sheep know my voice – I know them, and they follow me.”

Before we can really understand this phrase, we gotta answer one very important question…who are the sheep in this passage? We just heard it in the psalm, ‘We are His people, the sheep of His flock’. Hopefully, it’s you and me. Hopefully, every one of us can say that WE recognize the voice of Jesus and we follow him.

But is it true? Do we recognize Jesus’ voice?

Most of us are sitting here thinking – well – I dunno – he doesn’t talk to me really, so how would I recognize his voice? Isn’t that what we’re all thinking?

Tom is a taxi driver in Phoenix. About a year ago, he got called to pick up a lady and he got tied up in traffic and got there about 30 minutes late. She was ticked off…and she let him know it. She was rude and tried to make him feel bad. Now – most taxi drivers would simply say a few choice words right back and never give it another thought. However, for the next 6 months, this lady called for a cab the same time every Tuesday afternoon – and EVERY time, Tom got the call. He was always professional, trying to make pleasant conversation – but the lady just kept up her sour attitude. Tom got to wondering if the reason for her mood might not be HIM at all – but maybe it has something to do with the fact that he was dropping her off at the Kidney Treatment Center, so the next time, he asked her – and she reluctantly shared some details that she was on dialysis and was hoping for a kidney transplant – but all of her family members had already died. So Tom said – what’s it take to donate a kidney…could I give you mine? Yeah, right…she thought… She thought it was a sick joke, but then realized he was serious. I mean – even though the odds of him being a match are astronomical, just the fact that he would seriously CONSIDER it touched her heart. Her attitude toward him started to warm as she realized she had been unjustly rude to this man. Tom went in the next day and got tested and to everyone’s surprise, he was a perfect match. They said he couldn’t have been a closer match if they had been brother and sister. So – the surgery got scheduled – and the TV news picked up the story and it broadcast around the country just a few months ago. Tom said he didn’t really see himself as anything special. God just me it was the right thing to do, so I did it. He didn’t expect anything in return…which made the next thing even more of a surprise. Tom had a daughter living in Kentucky whom he hadn’t seen in 30 years. She had run away from home, and they lost track of each other. But she saw Tom on the news and called him up immediately. Wow – what a blessing from God! Not only that, but his cab company has agreed to pay him during his recuperation – and the employees took up a collection so he can fly to see his daughter in KY. Though he had asked for nothing in return, This man got his family back ….and all he had to do was listen to God’s voice and follow him.

Do you and I recognize God’s voice in our own lives? He IS speaking, you know…we just have to tune our ears to hear it.

For example, as I was writing this homily, I said – “I need a good real-life story about listening to God to include in my homily”. That very evening, my prayer was answered: I heard the story of Tom the taxi driver on my drive home. If you ask, me, THAT is an answer to a prayer. But God wasn’t done yet…The next morning, a co-worker stepped into my office and started telling me all the awesome things that God is doing in His life! I wish I could share the details, but basically, he and his wife were having some rough times, but they both made a retreat recently and have both decided to start listening to God and following His way. He said his marriage has turned around – they feel like they’re teen-agers dating again! Wow – who wouldn’t want that kind of Love in their marriage? And all he had to do was listen to God and follow.

Now…I know what you’re thinking… Mike – maybe Tom hears God and maybe this other guy hears God…but I don’t hear God talking to me. Are you sure about that? Are we remembering to listen? To Ask God to speak? Remember the journals – our little notebooks - for us to collect our One Thing? You all know the question – say it with me: “God, show me one way in this Mass I can be a better person this week. “ How many of us actually ASK that question when we come into church? I admit I even forget quite often, so I’m preaching to myself…but Somehow, we have to TRAIN ourselves to seek the voice of God.

Have you seen one commercial on TV where the guy walks into the kitchen with a winter coat on and sets a can of green beans on the counter next to his wife and says, I got the beans you wanted! She just turns around and gives him ‘the look’…you know, the look….I can’t do it as good as she did – but she says one word, CORN. The guy stands there for a second then starts to put his coat back on because he KNOWS he’s headed back to the store, and he says, Corn…..I gotta start making a list.

Guys – can you relate? I know I do. There’s something about the way men and women communicate that is a constant struggle for many of us. This is a generalization, but it seems like Men tend to cut to the chase – just give me the facts…but for women, it’s all about the details. You ask a woman how her day was, and you may as well sit down, because you’re going to hear about every person she saw, what they talked about, what they ate while they were talking…. But you ask a Man how his day was, he’ll say: “Fine”. Or – if he’s REALLY feeling talkative and TRYING to SHARE his feelings, he’ll say, “I had a good day…got a lot accomplished…gee, I feel hungry!” Seriously, why don’t we remember what our wives tell us? I think it’s “selective hearing”. We hear everything she’s telling us, it’s all going in this ear - but our “man’s” mind automatically tries to glean out the important stuff. In that process of gleaning, some important details get lost….like: I remember I’m supposed to go to the store, but I have no idea why I’m there: Corn.

I think we do the same thing with God. He is constantly speaking to us, but we have “selective hearing”. He’s telling us to …well, I don’t really have to tell you what he’s telling us…you already know. Our conscience is our guide. We know we shouldn’t be doing this or that. We know we SHOULD be doing this other thing….but. There’s that word – BUT. IF We KNOW we should be doing something,…THAT is God telling us to do it….but we want to stick that word ‘but’ after everything God tells us to do. I know I do it… I know I shouldn’t cut grass on Sunday, but…. I know I should spend more time with my wife, but…. I know I should really sing along in church, but…. I know I should be doing my homework, but… our ‘buts’ get in the way!

We have an amazing capacity to deceive ourselves. When God tells us something, we make excuses and choose to ignore it, because we know better than God!

Oh – and after we throw buts around, Then we say – God isn’t speaking to ME. Well – maybe the reason he’s not speaking to me is because I’ve refused to listen to what he told me. He’s speaking, I just ain’t listening!

Our challenge for the week - should be obvious by now: Try – really try – to hear the voice of God in our lives. Pray that prayer today and every day – God show me one way in this Mass I can be a better person this week. This journal is just supposed to be our training wheels…because for some reason, it’s easier to hear God speaking in Church…here in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. But he’s speaking to us ALL the time. We gotta train ourselves to ask him the questions: God – I’m having trouble with this problem: what do you think I should do? God – this person is really hurting me - how do you think I should handle it? Then – when God answers – and you know He will – recognize who it is. Then – like Tom the taxi driver, we’ll be able to say, “God told me it was the right thing to do…so I did it”.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Homily May 2, 2010 "Are we There Yet" or "You must be as tall as I AM..."

Are we there yet?

You may remember that I come from a family of 10 kids. There are many great memories that come from being in a large family, but one of them that sticks out is the family station wagon. Now…for those of you who don’t know what a station wagon is – before there were mini-vans, if you had a big family, you had a car with a long back-end. Just imagine 12 people packed into a station wagon…no air conditioning…no seat belts…no vcr. Of course, you know what that means….we fought a lot. Mom did everything she could to keep the peace, but she constantly had to intervene to stop world war III because ‘Mom, she’s touching me’! Of course, I never did that…but I saw the others do it. No trip would be complete without Mom pulling out the Ultimate Threat – “you want Daddy to stop this car and come back there?” I don’t know how my parents stayed sane. Trips seemed to take forEVER – and within 30 minutes, Dad would have to start dealing with us kids constantly asking, ‘are we there yet’?

That’s what the second reading reminded me of. God told us he will make all things new…He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. Sounds Great! So - Are we there yet?

Obviously not… we’re still crying…some of us here today have cried in the last 24 hours. The pain is fresh. We’re dealing with the failing health of parents, the rebellion of our teens whom we love, the stab in the back from somebody we thought was our friend, the alcoholic parent, …the death of a child. No…we’re not there yet…the pain is all too real.

The first reading reminds us that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. The pain we endure now is somehow necessary, somehow it’s leading us to a better place – to the new Jerusalem…heaven…but do we believe it? Do we really believe heaven will be better?

I think the first major trip our family took, I was probably 7 years old. We went all the way to Opryland. I didn’t have a clue what to expect – I just knew it was supposed to be awesome. Without an idea of what it would be like, it was easy to forget that it was worth going there. So, when Mom woke us up at 3 in the morning to start the drive to Nashville, I would just-as-soon have gone back to bed. Opryland surely can’t be as good as my bed right now. On the drive down, dealing with us kids fighting and noise, Mom probably wondered herself whether Opryland could POSSIBLY be worth all this hassle: The constant requests for ‘I gotta go to the bathroom’ or ‘can we stop for ice cream?’…and then there was the smell! 12 people in an un-a/c car…need I say more?….

But then we got there…naturally, we were one of the first cars in the parking lot because, well, when you’ve got 10 kids, you want to squeeze every minute out of any money you pay…so we had to be first in line! Standing there on the outside, waiting for the gates to open, we could watch the rides come to life as they ran through their safety checks – for the first time, I could SEE what it might be like – and we all got very excited! We could see the log ride coming down and splashing – the ferris wheel, roller coaster, and hear the music. The anticipation was almost unbearable for a young kid like me.
That’s what it’s like for us here today. We have a vague idea of what Heaven will be like, but it’s too hazy and undefined…we don’t REALLY know what to expect. It’s easy to question whether Heaven could possibly be worth the kind of pain and suffering we’re put through down here on earth. We have to keep reminding ourselves that God promised to make all things new – and as we stand on the outside looking toward heaven, we can almost see the log rides and the roller coasters. We have to keep reminding ourselves of how great it will be, so THAT belief will carry us through the trials and build our anticipation. No – we’re NOT there yet.
Ahhh…but one of the prophecies in that second reading HAS been fulfilled, and this should speak directly to our young ones who have just made or are about to make their 1st Communion. “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race…God himself will always be with the human race.” This prophecy is already happening in a couple of ways. First, God came to us in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and has remained with us….remember where Jesus saide, “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am!!” God also remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament – the Eucharist – Holy Communion….AND In each one of us .

There was something cool I just noticed last week. Been to Mass thousands of times and this is the first time it really hit me. You know how Fr. Ron holds his hands over the bread and wine and asks the Holy Spirit to change them into the B&B of Jesus – well, in the third Euch Prayer, there’s a line where he calls down the spirit to change US into the B&B. . That reminds me of the explanation Fr. Tom used to give sometimes: we ask God to change this normal bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, so that when WE come forward and receive, we BECOME the Body and Blood of Christ. If you have your journals with you, that would be a good one to write down and think about.

You boys and girls making your first communion – for all these years, you’ve been coming up in the communion line and receiving a blessing – and you keep wondering – am I there yet? Can I receive Jesus today instead of a blessing? Last week, you got your last blessing...Today, for the first time, you’re there. Why couldn’t you receive communion before today? You had to grow to be a disciple of Jesus. Your younger brothers and sisters aren’t old enough to UNDERSTAND that this bread really is Jesus…but YOU’ve grown up now. Have you ever been to Opryland or Kings Island or maybe Disney? Did you ever notice -
… right outside of every ride, they have some cartoon character with a sign that says – you must be at least as tall as I am to ride this ride. I remember the first one of these signs I saw. I thought – no way- you’ve GOT to be kidding! We came all this way and suffered all these trials only to be rejected at the door!? I’m thinking that’s kind of like Purgatory. We’re not rejected from the ride forever, just until we’ve grown a bit. I had to grow a few inches to ride the roller coaster. All of us have to grow into being disciples of Christ. How will we know when we’ve grown enough? At Opryland, we just had to stand next to the little cartoon character to measure-up. I remember standing there stretching my neck to try to make myself taller than the character. As Christians, Jesus told us that They’ll know we are Christians by our Love…THAT’s how we’re measured. Through all of our hardships, we grow in Love. THAT is how we enter the kingdom of God. When we get to the pearly gates, instead of a cartoon character standing there for us to measure ourselves, there’s a cross standing there. We have to measure ourselves against THE CROSS!! We must be as tall as I AM to enter! Our love is measured against Jesus himself! It’s just not possible for us to love THAT much… so we start to get worried – like we’ve come all this way only to be turned away at the door. Then Jesus steps up and picks us up and raises our heads above the cross so that we’re tall enough to go in. Then, we'll never have to ask that question again: “are we there yet?”