Saturday, September 30, 2017

2017/10/01 - Destination of Our Choice

Before Mass:
If you remember from last Sunday, the Gospel was about how the workers hired last got paid the same as the workers hired first.  Every fiber of our being screams – it’s not fair!  Well today’s readings pick up where that left off.  God’s ways aren’t fair!  We’ll hear some explanation in the readings about how WE actually decide what God gives us.  So listen for that.

Also, in the Gospel today there are two sons – one says yes and one says no, and they both did the opposite of what they SAID.  Think about why they might have answered like they did – and why they changed their minds.  There’s a lesson for us to learn.

If someone gave you and me the directions for the quickest, surest route to Holiness, would we take the advice?  If God told us how to be happier…  if God told us how to experience the joy of His kingdom in this life and the next… would you do what He told us?

There’s a Harvard psychologist, M. Scott Peck who wrote a book familiar in the psychology circles called The Road Less Traveled.  He tells the story of a particular female client who had been stuck in a deep depression for a long time.

One morning on the way to her appointment, as if to compound her misery, her car broke down.  When she called to reschedule, Dr. Peck suggested that he might drive by and pick her up.  On the way to work that day he was planning to stop and make a hospital visit.  Would she mind sitting in the waiting area during that time?

When they actually drove up to the hospital, however, he had a better idea…

He gave her the names of two of his other patients who were hospitalized.  He knew they both would enjoy a visit.  Would she be willing to drop in and say hello to these two complete strangers?  “Sure,” she answered.

Ninety minutes later they met in the hospital lobby. 

The woman was animated – even joyful!  Her depression had lifted dramatically. 

Spending time with those two patients, and focusing on THEIR needs, had filled her heart with joy.

Peck was excited.  “Well, now we know one way to help you through your depression.”

The woman was startled.  “You don’t mean I have to do that every day, do you?”
The doctor’s answer was ‘yes’ – you should do this every day.  We have finally found something that makes you feel better, why WOULDN’T you want to do it every day?

The reason this book was called The Road Less Traveled, was from an observation he had made over the years.  One hundred percent of his clients wanted to feel better.  But when they eventually discovered some specific pathway that might lead not just to feeling better for a while but to personal transformation, only about 10% were willing to pursue it.

Only 10% were willing to do what they KNEW would help them.  Doesn’t that sound like our spiritual life?  It’s pretty safe to say that 100% of us WANT to get the most joy possible out of life.  100% of us would like to experience heaven in this life and the next.  But will we do what God has told us to do?
Matthew Kelly tells us in “Four signs of a Dynamic Catholic” that four actions seem to separate serious Christians from others:  Prayer, Study, Action, and Generosity. 
You might say, these are the directions God gave us to get to His kingdom – to experience the joy of heaven in this life and the next.   We hear these things so often: Prayer, Study, Action, and Generosity – and we might even agree that we need to do them… but if we don’t make them a priority, it never gets done…never becomes a habit…. Which means we never get the benefits….we never reach our desired destination.

For example, we have Eucharistic adoration Wednesdays at SR and Fridays at SC.  The people who spend an hour per week praying in the silence in front of Jesus actually look forward to that time.  In some ways, many of them feel selfish for taking that time for themselves to be with Jesus.  But that silence breeds peace in their lives, and the rest of us may SEE that peace, and maybe even WANT that peace… but we don’t turn that desire into action… we never commit ourselves to that 1 hour or even ½ hour per week. 

We know that a daily routine of prayer builds character and forms us into disciples of Jesus – but few make it a daily habit.

Study – each of us should constantly be reading a good Catholic book – or listening to the CDs at the door.  We even GAVE away many CD’s and books over the past few years – but how many actually got used?  In fact, many people wouldn’t even TAKE one when we gave the away!

Action – this is where we turn prayer into action – reaching out to others to share the love of Christ.  This can be service, evangelization, or simply conversation – or even just a smile.  Without action, we are a tree without fruit.

Finally – did you figure out what made the two guys in the Gospel change their minds?  Both did the opposite of what they SAID.  I’m going on a limb here, but I’d say the first one – the one who SAID ‘no’ – was a man of prayer.  I think he reflected on his response and allowed the Holy Spirit to convict him of his need to follow the will of his father.  You might say the Holy Spirit is his GPS unit – when he turned the wrong way, the Spirit said ‘recalculating’ and told him to turn around.

The other guy who SAID ‘yes’ but didn’t follow through:  I’m guessing he was very superficial – always saying the things he knew others wanted to hear.  He probably didn’t have many friends, because it was normal for him to lie to your face.  Without prayer to change his mind, he was stuck in a rut of just making himself look good to the world.  He was given the directions of how to live, but chose to live his own way.

God gives each of us the directions to happiness… you could say, The Bible is our roadmap to heaven.  Prayer, study, action and generosity are the highways to a joy-filled life.  We can to take those roads, or go another way.  If we get to the end of our road and find we’re not in heaven, don’t say God’s not fair! 

He gave us the directions – but we choose our destination.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

2017/09/03 God Wants us to be Happy

 Jeremiah 20:7–9
  Psalm 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 8–9 (2b)
 Romans 12:1–2
 Matthew 16:21–27

Mark and Sara got the bad news one Tuesday morning in February 1973.  The ultrasound had shown some abnormalities in the baby in Sara’s womb and subsequent testing confirmed… their daughter would be born with Down’s syndrome.  They were devastated.  It seemed all their hopes and dreams had evaporated in that one doctor’s visit.  The nurse asked them to come back the next day to meet with some of the hospital staff to “discuss options”.  Numbed by the news, they stumbled home and came back the next day… hoping that “options” meant there was some hope that the test was wrong or some new treatment was available for their baby.  They were shocked when the doctor and nurse started the conversation by bringing up the Roe vs Wade decision which just a year prior had made it a legal option to end this pregnancy. 

They were very convincing in their arguments… this child would suffer horribly… never leading a normal life – always being a social outcast…and she would place an ENORMOUS UNNECESSARY BURDEN on Mark and Sara, since their daughter would require constant care for her entire life.  As distraught as they were by the news about their daughter, the thought of ending her life was abhorrent to them.  When they objected, the nurse explained that termination was really the only humane option to avoid suffering – and to avoid “placing this burden on society”.

What!?  Mark and Sara walked out of that doctor’s office never to return.  What had the world come to that anyone would seriously consider ending the life of their child?  And what’s worse, it made it sound like THEY were being irresponsible and selfish NOT to have the abortion.  What’s the world coming to??

Abby was born 4 months later…and is now 44 years old – still living at home with Mark and Sara – and she is the JOY of their lives.  In talking with Mark one night over dinner, he was explaining some of the difficulties they’ve had to deal with to take care of Abby – but he also talked about the unconditional love that Abby gave every day.  When asked whether they considered Abby to be a blessing or a curse, Mark didn’t hesitate… with a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat, he immediately said, ‘blessing’.

That tear in his eye was because he remembered sitting there listening to the logical reasons for abortion, and feeling the temptation to accept what the world was telling him to do… how for just a moment he actually had even considered killing what had become the best source of joy in his life.

The world will tell us to get rid of anything that makes our lives difficult.  If your wife no longer thrills you, discard her and get a new one.  If your religion asks too much of you, find a different church that doesn’t’ require so much.  If life gets hard, kill the pain with drugs or alcohol.  We shouldn’t have to suffer!  God would not WANT us to suffer!  Pain is unnecessary.  Suffering is just stupid… God WANTS us to be Happy!  Right?  What’s Jesus say to that?

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Peter had bought into the world’s view that suffering was un-necessary.  And you can’t blame him really… from the Jewish perspective, God BLESSED those who lived holy lives… and you don’t get more holy than Jesus, so He SHOULDN’T have to suffer.  All this talk of the cross is nonsense, Jesus…

But Jesus says “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”.  Notice that he said to take up our cross… there’s no if/and/or but in that… he doesn’t say, take up your cross if you have one… it’s a given.  We ALL have a cross.

There’s a classic, well-known book called “The Imitation of Christ” – written by Thomas a’ Kempis.
I couldn’t find the exact quote, but he basically says, Structure your life however you want…and sooner or later you’ll be face to face with the cross.  In other words, fill your life with whatever you THINK will make you happy:  job, family, house, power, whatever… no matter how you fill your life, you WILL run into the cross.  We ALL have a cross.  Kempis writes that if we carry the cross willingly, it will lead us to our desired goal, but on the other hand if we carry our cross grudgingly, then we  turn it into a heavy burden and if we should throw off one cross, we will surely find another, which is perhaps heavier. By ourselves we cannot bear the cross, but if we put our trust in the Lord, He will send us strength from heaven.(Chap. 12)

Think about your cross.  You have one – maybe more than one.  Would you get rid of it if you could?  Think hard about that… because like Kempis says, if you drop one, you WILL find another.  Is there another cross you would LIKE to have?  Look around at the people around you… think about the crosses THEY have.  Is it possible their cross is lighter than yours? 

The thing is, the heavier your cross, the greater the blessings that flow from it.  It doesn’t feel like it when the cross is digging into your shoulder.  Life can be SO hard – and our cross can feel impossible to carry.  That’s when our Church family steps up to help each other carry the really heavy crosses.  God provides strength both through prayer and through the Church.

We all have a cross…If we try to discard it, we WILL find a heavier cross... we cannot avoid it, so embrace it and follow Jesus. What's that look like…to “embrace” your cross?

A good friend of mine is in federal prison because he was framed for a crime and the justice system failed him.  We are all still in shock that this could have happened – especially to this man.  But watching him has taught everyone who knows him a lot about life.  He could have become bitter... he has every RIGHT to lash out at the world... he'd be totally excused if he fell into a deep depression... instead he embraced his cross.  He's been given 8.5 years. At his age, he'll get out after age 70. Yet, this man knows God has him there for a reason. He has a spirituality about him which leaves the rest of us in awe.  He approached prison as a man entering a monastery... when someone enters a monastery, there is a set of rules they need to live by – so my friend adopted the rules of St. John of the Cross.  I don’t have time to discuss each one, but an example is to “Choose the more difficult task to ease the burden of co-workers.”
He lives this rule every day:  he avoided volunteering to work in the kitchen, because so much theft takes place and he wanted to avoid that culture.  Instead he volunteered to work in the vegetable garden and go to the place where the weeds are tallest where nobody wants to go.  On one hand, that’s great – he gets to be outside a lot.  On the other hand, it is often 100 degrees and very humid there, so he has lost a lot of weight from sweating…and from the nasty, unhealthy food they’re fed.  He doesn’t even eat the produce out of the garden… in case it could be considered stealing.  That food is intended for the inmates, so it’s not his.  My jaw dropped hearing that…. I mean, this is a matter of self-preservation… nobody would blame him for munching on a handful of lettuce as he picks it!  But he’s not willing to risk any action that might lengthen his stay in prison.  This gave me a new appreciation for what Jesus said - What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  He doesn’t want to do anything which could make him spend one more day in prison – away from his REAL life.  Likewise WE should do nothing that would risk our eternal life.

His integrity has caught the eye of others in prison.  His fellow inmates and even the guards recognize a peace in him that most people never attain.  He doesn't let the culture change him, but his very presence IS changing the culture in that prison – even if it is so slightly.

That's you and me everyday. Sometimes our job feels like a prison... our marriage feels like torture... our financial situation seems unfair... every day we have the choice to act like the rest of the world: We could become bitter or mad or mean.   We could lose our integrity.

But Paul exhorts us to renew our mind... don't think like rest of world. The world thinks like Peter... ‘there’s no need to suffer’... in fact if you just have enough faith you will always be happy!  That is garbage. It's called a prosperity gospel, where suffering is not only unnecessary but a sign of your lack of faith. GARBAGE.  Jesus says pick up your cross... not choose your cross, not push it off on someone else,... not drink your self into a stupor to numb yourself to the pain... but embrace that cross. Whatever prison you are in... know that once you pick up that cross you'll find you are free. Even with four walls and barbed wire surrounding you, you can live a joyful life and show the rest of the world how to live.