Saturday, August 20, 2016

2016/08/21 - Strive

Before Mass:
Today’s culture would tell us that EVERYbody goes to heaven… as long as I live a good life – or at least better than average – maybe go to church a couple times per month… I’m IN!  What do you think?  Is that true?  In the Gospel, somebody asked Jesus basically that question…  We hear what might sound like two opposing answers to that question – the first reading and psalm – and even the end of the Gospel indicate that the road to heaven is wide and everyone is welcome.  On the other hand, Jesus makes it very clear in the Gospel that the road to heaven is very narrow, and hard to enter.
Which is it?  How many of us sitting here today WILL enter the kingdom of heaven?  How DO we enter?  Listen closely for the answers to those questions.

The Gospel reading is aimed at the Jews who thought all they had to do to be on God’s good side was be a descendent of Abraham… we’ve heard this theme many times recently because Jesus knew that this was what most people thought.  Hey – I was born into this religion… I go to the synagogue most of the time… I keep most of the 10 commandments… Surely I’ve got it covered.  Jesus clearly blows that out of the water over and over:  just because we are blood relations does not mean you have a relationship with me.  How blunt can he be… “I don’t know where you are from”.

See – religion is about relationship.  Specifically – our relationship with God and His people.  If we don’t have a relationship with Jesus, we won’t know Him – and He won’t know us.
There’s a song on the radio by Kelly Clarkson – where the father leaves his wife and kids and doesn’t contact them for years – then, when she had made a name for herself, he comes back, wanting to re-establish that relationship. 

This is a good picture of what the Gospel is telling us.  Heaven is about a relationship with God. We have our whole lives to build that relationship so that Jesus will take us home to be with him.  But many of us walk away from him and then after we die we go knocking on heaven’s door, Jesus will say, I don’t know you….   But Jesus, you’re my brother!  We’re from the same hometown!  We went to school together!  I was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic!   I even went to St. Isidore parish most weekends…..   “I tell you, I don’t know you.”

Sounds so cold – so unfair.  But that’s because we don’t really understand heaven…  I mean – what happened to “everybody is welcome”?  Doesn’t EVERYBODY go to heaven when we die?
Heaven is to be with God forever – but we’ll only be with Him if we know Him and He knows us.

Religion is about relationship  with God and His people.  How do we build that relationship with him?  Think about that in human terms… How do we build relationships with friends?  We talk to each other – we spend time together – we share our inner thoughts with each other.  If we don’t do that, we’re not very good friends.  If we never make it a priority to spend time together, our relationship will fall apart.   Marriage is the perfect example.  Ask any married couple and they’ll tell you:  maintaining a relationship takes WORK!  You don’t accidentally stay married for 50 years.

This is where the second reading comes in – Paul talks about Discipline.  What father doesn’t discipline his children?  Think of what a kid would grow up to be like if he doesn’t learn discipline as a child.  They don’t learn right from wrong.  They think everything in the world is about ME me ME…. They take what they want, they won’t have friends because they USE people, and likely end up in jail or murdered at an early age.  If I don’t teach my kid treat other people as HE wants to be treated, then he will end up being hated by people and he will live a lonely, miserable life. 

As Paul says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

We NEED discipline in order to grow socially, so we really WILL have a more joyful life.  I think all of us can understand that – If we really love our kids, we’ll discipline them so they can live a more joyful life.

Well  - that applies to Religion as well.  Religion is a set of disciplines which we try to live by in order to build our relationship with God…  prayer, Mass, confession, studying scripture, follow the Golden Rule.  This discipline is not always easy.  Just like in a marriage, it requires a daily – even hourly – re-commitment to Love… to live like Jesus…who is the narrow gate.  THIS is the discipline which Paul tells us that leads to the ‘peaceful fruit of righteousness’.

One analogy would be driving a car.  On one hand, we should be able to drive our car wherever we want…and at whatever speed we want, right?  BUT – there’s all those do’s and don’ts – rules of the road.  We have to drive on the right side of the road – but instead of restricting our freedom – it actually FREES us to confidently drive on our side and know the guy in the other lane is NOT going to hit us head-on.  Speed limits may seem to restrict us and slow us down, but it actually keeps us from spinning out of control going around curves – and keeps us from accidentally running into someone else… which would be hard to live with.  Then there’s those white lines on the side of the road… do we really need those?  How often on a dark, rainy or foggy night is that white line the only thing that keeps us on the road?  If we didn’t keep it between the lines, we’d end up in a ditch real quick… heck… as muddy as it has been this year, we might even get stuck in the mud BEFORE we get to the ditch.

Following the rules – accepting the discipline – leads to a better driving experience.

Following the rules of the Church – accepting the discipline of Jesus – leads to a better LIVING experience….both in this life and the next.  We don’t accidentally end up in heaven… we must STRIVE for it.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016/08/07 - Reason when God seems un-Reasonable

Wis 18:6-9
Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Heb 11:1-2, 8-19
Lk 12:32-48 

"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

I think this is the punchline of the day – but – in order to understand it, we have to understand a bit more about the purpose of all three readings.

In the first reading, the slaves in Egypt were given a promise that they’d be delivered from slavery – but to get there, if you remember, there were the 10 plaques that God sent on Egypt – and the last one was the killing of all first-born. In order to protect their own families, Moses had instructed them to slaughter a lamb and eat it and put the blood on the doorpost. That doesn’t seem like much, does it? God didn’t ask them too much – and I think that was by design: See – they had been slaves for 400 years. Can we even imagine that? 400 years of praying for deliverance… where WAS God in all that time? You and I – we pray for healing of someone on Tuesday and today is Sunday and we start to question God, where are you?! 400 years…that seems un-reasonable. It is amazing these people had any faith at all! That’s perhaps why little was required of them… Moses told them of the promise God made to deliver them and gave them a simple act of a meal and smearing of blood. They could have said – whatever – God doesn’t exist – or if He does, He obviously doesn’t answer OUR prayers. But look - God was able to work with that small seed of faith they had and He stepped onto the world scene in such a huge way that 3000 years later, you and I still talk about it.

The second reading was written to the Jewish Christians who would have been quite familiar with the Old Testament. Paul gives two examples of faith from the life of Abraham. First – God told him to leave home – leave all of his friends, business partners, family – his entire sphere of influence – leave it all and go …go where? He wasn’t told. You’re kidding, God, right? I’m 75 years old – I’ve got my life all set-up here and you want me to leave? And you’re not even going to tell me WHERE I’m going?!! Obviously, this is an un-reasonable request from God. Yet, somehow Abraham had enough faith to believe in the promise and he went.

That faith was tested again when God told Abraham to offer his only son, Isaac as a sacrifice. This is where any sane person would have drawn the line. This is BEYOND REASON. God had promised to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars – but how could He do that if He wanted to kill Abraham’s only offspring!?! Here is where we’re given a key insight into Faith which we might have missed… Abraham had so much faith that even though it didn’t make sense, he reasoned that God must be able to raise Isaac from the dead in order fulfill His promise. Did you catch that? His faith was so strong that He trusted God even when it SEEMED like God was asking him to do something un-reasonable. Faith supplied the reason when reason failed.

Do you and I have that kind of faith? Do we really believe that God will fulfill his promises? Do we ACT like people who expect God to fulfill His promises?

When I talk to the confirmation students, I use an example of Rappelling to explain faith – and it fits well with today’s topic, so let me give you the very short version.

You know what rappelling is, don’t you? Where you tie a rope to a tree and lower yourself off the side of a cliff. Anybody ever done that? Well – many people would say that’s a stupid thing to do… it’s unreasonable to step off of a perfectly good cliff! How do you know if you can trust the rope? Let’s say that this rope represents God – how do we know we can trust Him? I propose there are three ways:

First, Do we know what the rope is for? Example – Which of these two ropes would you trust? This one I got in the clearance aisle at Rural King – now, I LOVE Rural King – but given a choice, I would rather use this rope which was MADE for rope rescue. Well – you and I are connected to this rope at Baptism. God ties himself to us and as long as we want, we stay connected to him. It’s our choice.(hold up ropes)

Second, Have we seen anybody else use this rope? I mean – if we’re at the top of the cliff and somebody else has already gone down the cliff using this rope, that’s a really good indication that this rope is going to hold my weight. Do we know anybody who has used their Faith in God? Look around! We’re surrounded by others who rely on their faith every day – and if that’s not enough – we have the saints and the examples in the scripture. If this rope can hold 1.2 billion Catholics on the planet, surely it can hold me!

But Third, the really the only way we’re really going to know if we can trust the rope is to put our own weight on it and step off the cliff. It isn’t until you’re hanging half-way down the cliff with nothing else to hold-onto that you know for sure that you can trust that rope. Likewise, it isn’t until God asks us to do something un-reasonable – and we step off that cliff trusting that he’ll catch us – that’s when we KNOW we can trust God.

You see – we NEED that kind of test of our Faith. Because it’s only when He tests our limits that we grow.

What is God asking you to do? Is He asking the un-reasonable? Does He wait long stretches when it seems that He is not listening? These readings today are here to encourage us – to bolster our faith – so that we can persevere. And if you feel like God is testing you beyond your limits – then go back to the last line of the Gospel:

"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

In other words – the more faith you have, the more your faith will be tested. Step off the cliff and Hang on… Let faith supply reason when God seems to ask the un-reasonable.