Sunday, December 23, 2018

2018/12/23 - Whatever Love Requires

Before Mass:
Paul’s making an important point in the second reading:  He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire’.  What he’s talking about is the old testament Law – where if you sinned, you had to sacrifice a dove or goat or something else depending on what the sin was.  The reading says God did not desire that kind of sacrifice… OK that’s good since we don’t do that anymore…. so what DOES God want from us?  He says, ‘I come to do your will’… so what IS God’s will? 

Some people think Catholicism is all about “following the rules”.  You HAVE to go to Mass every week AND holy days, you HAVE to go to confession, you have to save sex for marriage and you have to get married in the church and get your kids baptized and confirmed.  You have to tithe your 10%.  You can’t eat an hour before Mass.  Then there’s all the Lenten days of fasting and abstinence… lots of ‘rules.

Yet – if truth be told – most people don’t ‘follow the rules’.  Why is that?  I vaguely remember a quote from years ago: it’s human nature that when we’re faced with a rule, we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule…. when we’re faced with a rule, we see ourselves as exceptions to the rule.  We come up with excuses why this rule doesn’t apply to me.  Like I know the sign says STOP, but I don’t see anybody coming, so I can blow right through this one.

Imagine living in Jerusalem back in the day – they had rules on top of rules on top of rules.  No way the average Josephus could follow every one of them….unless you were a Pharisee who prided themselves in being perfect followers of the law.  But – the bad news for them and the good news for us is:  it’s not about following rules, but rather doing the will of God.  Everything – EVERYTHING we do we should be seeking to do the will of God.  What is God’s will?  Let me give you another phrase them might be easier to understand.  Since God is Love, we could say, do whatever Love requires.
Do whatever love requires – what’s that look like?

Jerry was walking with his grandsons in the woods – they were super excited because they were going to hike to the stream and look for fossils.  Plus, they’d get all dirty and wet and Mom wasn’t there to get mad at them!  As they got close to the stream, the boys couldn’t contain their enthusiasm, so they ran ahead of Jerry.  But a minute later, one of them let out a blood-curdling scream and didn’t stop.  Jerry could see his arms flailing in the air as he danced around on the rocks. 

Immediately, Jerry sprinted to the boys and saw they were being swarmed by yellow-jackets.  Jerry instinctively grabbed the younger boy and pushed him toward the shore with a command to run toward the house.  Then he grabbed the other boy by the collar and pulled him out of the water where he had sought refuge, and carried him to shore with the same command to run.  Jerry followed, but he was being bitten and he noticed the yellow-jackets were following them, so he purposely hung back so the boys might get to safety.  Ended up, Jerry was bitten multiple times and miraculously, the boys had escaped any injury.

Was Jerry following a rule that says grandfathers must allow themselves to be bitten to protect their grandchildren?  No – Jerry was just doing whatever Love requires.

Similarly, when we come to Mass  or follow any of the other Catholic ‘rules’ – it’s not out of obligation – but we’re doing whatever love requires.  Let’s take that one rule and think about it:  why is it a big deal if we miss Mass on Sunday?  Think of it as a relationship.  Say you and your spouse decide that Saturday evening is your Date night.  It’s on the calendar and you both keep that open religiously.  So what if one Saturday your buddies say let’s play cards tonight… should you go?    Depends on your priorities, I guess.  Perhaps your spouse would agree to move Date night to Friday night that week so you can spend an evening with your buddies.  Not a bad idea!  But if that becomes a habit – what does it say to your spouse about how important your relationship is?  Likewise, when we decide that sleeping in is more important than Mass, we’re telling God he’s not at the top of our priority list.
Just like we have to invest time on our relationship with our spouse, our relationship with God requires time – and the best way to do that is to build habits like I’ll pray every day when I get up and I’ll go to Mass every weekend.  Is that a rule?  No – it’s whatever love requires.

Look at Mary in the Gospel – was she following a rule that said she must go take care of her cousin Elizabeth?  No – but she gives us a great example of what we’re supposed to do.  Once she received Jesus inside her body, she immediately thought of others.  That’s what we’re called to do to – once we receive Jesus here in the Eucharist, we should go outside ourselves to help others.

In fact, this time of year, when it is darkest of all and people can easily become depressed, this would be a great time to follow Mary’s lead.  Let’s all find someone in our neighborhoods who is stuck at home.  Take them some cookies or soup or just stop by to talk.  It will make their day – and likely make your day as well.

Do Whatever Love requires.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Homily 2018/10/21: Ask Not?

Before Mass:
Do you and I really know how to pray?  You know, we’ve all walked into church and to prepare for Mass, we kneel down to pray.  What’s in that prayer?
Imagine if we knelt down and said, Jesus, I want you to do this, this, this, this, and this.  Amen.
When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound much like prayer does it – yet – for many of us, that might be the only type of prayer we do…asking for stuff.  We’ve never been taught how to pray – or what prayer is all about.  Myself included. 
There’s so many different things going on in the reading, but what I noticed was a lesson on prayer.  So – first listen to the Gospel:  John and James are walking with Jesus and can ask him anything they want… Pay attention to what they asked for – how they asked – and what was Jesus’ immediate reply.  What does this tell us about prayer?

READING 1:  IS 53:10-11
PSALM 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
READING 2:  HEB 4:14-16
GOSPEL MK 10:35-45

Jesus – we want you to do whatever we ask.  Well – yeah – don’t we all wish that?   Jesus isn’t some genie in a bottle ready fulfill our every wish.  Listening to James and John ask it, it seems so obvious that is NOT the right way to ask God for anything.  Or is it???

Notice Jesus’ response – it wasn’t, “well you ungrateful little snobs, that’s not how you talk to God” – instead Jesus asked ‘what do you wish me to do for you’.  That implies that Jesus DOES want us to tell him what we want….even if it’s not something realistic or good…. Put our desires into words and lay them before Jesus.  That basic action can change our lives IF we let it.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’…. Imagine if Jesus asked YOU that.  We all have dreams and goals.  Maybe it’s as simple as getting a gold star on my test today – or having that pimple disappear off of my face – some of us dream of getting the big buck – or a promotion at work – or accepted into the nursing program as school.  Maybe our dream is for that popular, good-looking person to take notice of us.  Dreams are important – they drive us to move beyond our current circumstances toward something better.  Dreams are ‘important’... but not all dreams are ‘good’….as we’ll soon find out about James and John’s request.

But – by just by putting our dreams into words, we define it for ourselves – maybe for the first time – and often, like listening to James and John, we’ll immediately convict ourselves and realize how shallow or self-centered the request is.  If I pray for my wife to change, just by putting into words exactly what I wish  for, I’ll realize that I have a part to play in that change.  If I pray to get a 22 point buck so people remember me, I’ll realize that while getting a buck for the record books might bring temporary fame, what really makes someone memorable is how they treated other people..... how they served God and others. **

What do you want me to do for you?  By taking our dreams to prayer – putting them into words – and then allowing God to speak back to us, we are changed.  See – we’re not praying to change GOD’S mind, but we’re praying so that OUR mind can be changed to be more like God’s mind.  We don’t pray to get what WE want, we pray so that we will want what GOD wants.

Jesus encouraged James and John to go ahead and make their request – but taught them they were seeking the wrong thing.  They asked to be on his right and left when he entered his glory….  Think about that – when DID Jesus enter his glory?  ON THE CROSS!  THAT was the throne of His kingdom – and who was on his right and his left?  The two criminals crucified with him!  James and John REALLY didn’t know what they were asking for!!!  Looking back later, they could clearly understand how their prayer was for the wrong thing.

This was a teachable moment… so Instead of praying for power, Jesus taught them they were most powerful when they became the servant of all.  In His kingdom, the Slave is the greatest.

Many of us weren’t really taught how to pray – but here are some ideas which might guide us.

First – prayer is about relationship.  How do you know you have a relationship with your spouse or friends:  you talk to each other, right?   Is it possible to have a relationship without talking to the other person?  Prayer is not how we WORK ON our relationship with God…. Prayer IS our relationship with God.  Relationships fall apart when people stop talking.  If we don’t pray, our relationship with God falls apart.

Second - we MUST have silence.  I learned a long time ago that if my wife wants to talk to me, that TV had better be off – and that phone had better be turned upside down.  I’m just too easily distracted!  Same with talking with God:  remove all distractions.

Third – Speak – yes, we should share our thoughts, wishes, praise, hunger, heartache, and even anger with God.  Relationships are strengthened when the level of sharing is deep.  Superficial sharing makes for a superficial relationship.

Fourth – Listen - if our prayer consists of US doing all the talking and not allowing time for God to speak back, we don’t have a relationship.  None of us would like to be around a person who only talks about themselves and never tries to learn from the other person.  God can teach us so much if we just listen.

Fifth – and I think this is the big learning from today – pray ‘thy will be done’ – and then ask God to show you how to make YOUR will align with His will.  Get this:  Every time we ask God for something that is His will, He WILL grant it!!  Jesus even struggled with that in the Garden of Gethsemane – trying to make his human will line-up with what he knew he needed to do to fulfill God’s will.  Maybe that’s the bottom line with these suffering-servant readings:  when we have prayed enough so that we’ll seek God’s will even when it means suffering for us, THEN we have reached the point of true glory.

Paraphrasing a quote from J. F. Kennedy:  Ask not what your God can do for you, but ask what You can do for your God!

** this is a nod to our buddy, Tim Friedman who proceeded us to heaven 3 years ago this month

Sunday, September 30, 2018

2018/09/30 - Cut it off

Before Mass:
There are at least two themes in today’s readings – the big one has to do with how we see people who are not part of the in-crowd, and I have a story to tell which you’ve probably heard something similar before, but I want to give it a new twist.  But first, I want to touch on the 2nd reading – James seems to be speaking out against Wealth – but I think it’s deeper than that – and I think it actually pulls a deeper meaning out of all the readings.  It’s about stumbling blocks or obstacles.  As you listen to each reading, consider what it tells us about how we block or try to block God from working.
Imagine you’re going into battle back in the days of sword and spears.  What kind of armor would you wear?   The lightest option is leather armor – which would provide ‘some’ protection against a sword but not much help against a spear.  You can upgrade to chain-mail – which is like a shirt made of chains – which improves our defenses, but is a bit heavier – or we can go all out and wear plate armor – like the typical knights used to wear – the full body steel suit which would repel most weapons of the day.  Yeah – if we wanted to play it REALLY safe, we’d go with the plate armor.  On the other hand, those suits weighed like 45-50lbs, SO you’d expend a bunch of your energy just moving around.  You wouldn’t be able to turn your head much to see dangers coming at you – you wouldn’t be able to move as quickly to avoid a hit from a spear – you’d get really hot and sweaty in the suit – come to think of it, If I were going to battle, a plate armor suit might be the worst option.
That’s like all of the securities we fill our lives with…and I think that’s what James refers to in the second reading.  We build up our bank accounts and insurance – we have our freezers full and our canned goods stashed up – we exercise and eat right to maintain our health – in all these ways, WE are in control – we have put on our heaviest armor to protect ourselves from whatever life throws at us.
But James is saying that all of our man-made safe-guards will actually be our stumbling block.  By maintaining total control of our lives, we effectively push God out of the picture.  He can’t save us – or at least we can’t RECOGNIZE that he’s saving us, because we think our defenses and our armor are what saves us.
That’s what James means when he said “your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;”.  The gold and silver aren’t bad, but God gave us that wealth so that He could bless others through us.  The greatest joys in life come from sharing what God gave us – so when we hold it close and put our trust in the wealth instead of God, not only are others missing out on the blessings, but WE miss out on being the instrument of God’s action, so we don’t accept the blessing God is trying to give US!
We are all going into battle – the battle for our own soul.  Take a hard look at what we have in our lives that is a stumbling block – things that will trip us or others – things that prevent God’s Spirit from acting in our lives – whatever we’re carrying into battle which is a liability, drop it here – cut it off, as Jesus says….  Better to enter battle without it.

To tie that idea to the other readings, let me tell a story:
Imagine you’re walking along and accidentally fall into a well.  You’re not hurt too bad, but you’re like 10 feet underground and the sides are too slick for you to crawl out, so you do the only things you can do – you lift a silent prayer –God help me!   And then you shout at the top of your lungs – HEEEELLLLP!
A minute later, an Islamic man comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – your people attacked out country – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
This time someone of a different race comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – my parents told me never to trust your kind.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
Next, a person of another Christian faith comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – you’re not a in the real Church – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
You’re getting really weak now, but you keep shouting – the next day, a Catholic comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you recognize him as from a family who your family doesn’t get along with for political reasons – you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  But you’re too weak to shout for help again.

Next thing, you wake up in front of the pearly gates – and you realize where you are and you’re ticked off – God – how could you let this happen?  I trusted you to help me!  God said – I sent help four times, but you wouldn’t take the help.  Who in the world COULD I have sent that you wouldn’t have had a prejudice against?  

Obviously, my story is exaggerated, but the point is that God can and does act through every person in the world – and any time we try to draw boundaries around ourselves about who is In and who is Out – we are blocking God’s action.  If we continue drawing those boundaries, they’ll get smaller and smaller until we are the only one left in the IN crowd and we’ll even find fault with God and block Him as an outsider. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

2018/09/09 - Speech Impediment

Before Mass:  I have a message to deliver today which I don’t WANT to deliver.  It is a hard topic to talk about – and at least two people have helped me to see I didn’t communicate it well the first time – so I’m offering some tweaks to hopefully be clearer.  First – know that I acknowledge the scandals recently brought to light are evil – and the handling with cover-ups was also wrong.  While that’s not really the key focus of this homily, any mention of the scandal MUST acknowledge the evil that was done, because so many are hurting.  This homily is an attempt to start to explain just one reason how we got here.

I have a theory – The Gospel says that after Jesus cured him, this man could speak plainly.  I think that implies this guy was not deaf from birth… see – if he had been deaf from birth, he wouldn’t know what speech was – if he’d never heard a word spoken, he wouldn’t know how to put the sounds together.  Yeah – you could argue that maybe Jesus’ miracle was a super-miracle because it also gave him the ability to speak plainly – I’ll grant you that might be – BUT – it also says before he was healed, he had a speech impediment.  That implies to me that he knew how to speak – like maybe he USED to have hearing and was able to speak, but lost his hearing somehow.  I’m told it’s typical for someone who cannot hear themselves speak to speak with an impediment.  When you have a speech impediment, it means no matter how hard you try to speak the truth plainly, others cannot understand you.

Who cares, right?  Well – I think this man represents all of us.  In one way or another, we’re all deaf to the voice of God and we cannot speak plainly.  There are the obvious reasons why we don’t hear God:  a) some of us aren’t even listening, b) all of us are surrounded by noise – and c) any moment that’s not noisy, we put in our earbuds or flip on the TV or pick up the cell phone to talk to somebody because God forbid that we would actually be SILENT for a few minutes.  Those are the obvious reasons we’re deaf to the voice of God – and perhaps that explains why Jesus had to take the guy AWAY from the crowd – so he could hear.

But I think most of us have a more personal reason why we don’t hear God anymore.  For most of us, somewhere along the line someone spoke a lie to us – and we believed it.  You’re not good enough – you’re unlovable – you’re unforgivable – you can never live up to what God expects of you.  Can you see that in your own life?  Think about that addiction or sin which we just can’t get past – and we won’t even bother going to confession because we know we’ll just do it again… With that kind of problem, it’s easy to see how we fell for the lie,… “you’re not good enough”.   And since we won’t take it to Jesus for healing, we have not EXPERIENCED the mercy and healing of God, so we cannot SPEAK to the world about it… we have a speech impediment.
This man also represents the Church.  Today, our Church has woke up and realized that we’ve been deaf.  For years, we turned a deaf ear to the wrong-doings of a few – and as a result of that, we have a speech impediment because we can no longer speak as the moral compass for the world.   But this problem didn’t “just happen” – it was a long slow slide into deafness.

The world has told us that we have to be politically correct so we don’t offend anyone – and we fell for that lie.  Now – we certainly should be compassionate and not cause un-necessary offense, but if we avoid speaking Truth which will save someone, we’re doing Christianity right!  I mean – look at our brother – he didn’t get nailed to that cross because he was a nice guy – no – he would tell it like it is – plainly pointing out where the religious leaders had gotten it wrong.

If he were here today, what would he speak out against?  First of all, obviously, he’d point out where the religious leaders have done evil.  The actions themselves were worse than sinful, but the handling of them was perhaps equally as bad.  But - I think he’d point out that the recent scandals are actually a result of a process that started a long-long time ago.  We stopped calling sin ‘sin’.  As a result, it became easier for these leaders to rationalize their actions somehow.  We stopped being the moral compass when:

 We  (the Church)  stopped speaking out against contraception because the vast majority of the people in our pews think the Church is wrong in their teaching – well, if we would actually HEAR the prophecies of Pope Paul IV in Humanae Vitae 50 years ago, we would see that the Church is RIGHT.  He predicted that if contraception became the norm we would see:
o Marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards
o objectification of women’s bodies
o Public authorities imposing use of contraceptives

 We  (the Church)  stopped speaking out against homosexual acts because we didn’t want to offend anyone.  The world would tell us that by speaking out against the sin, we’re inciting hate – but we all know that we are called to love the sinner but hate the sin…regardless of what sin it is.  But it’s not homosexual acts by themselves!  It’s ANY sex outside of the Sacrament of Matrimony… homosexual, heterosexual, and by those vowed to celibacy!  We lost that moral high ground when We stopped speaking out against pre-marital sex.  I can’t bring it up because whether you’re Catholic or Christian or no religion at all – EVERYBODY is doing it – so let’s not talk about it and offend anyone. 

 We  (the Church) have been bitten by the modern-christian mentality of free-grace where we no longer have to work on anything wrong in our lives because God will forgive anything – so we don’t even TRY to fix our short-comings.  We’re told that if we TRY to work on improving ourselves - we’re saying that the sufferings of Jesus weren’t enough.  So – don’t put pressure on anybody to actually CHANGE their lifestyle – you might offend somebody.  

And let me assure you that as a preacher, I don’t LIKE offending anybody.  Besides, who am I to tell anyone to repent when I’ve got my OWN sins to deal with.  I’m in as much need of God’s mercy as any other person here – maybe more.  There are things I still can’t bring myself to say from this pulpit because I KNOW there will be backlash and consequences from those who take offence.  Either there will be an outcry – or worse – they’ll just stop listening – and convince others to stop listening. 

I remember in the lead-up to the Gulf war, there was all the talk about weapons of mass destruction and it just never was clear that we should go to war – but we had to just trust that our government had access to information which we were not allowed to see – so we couldn’t really speak out against the war…. And anybody who DID speak out was immediately charged with “you’re not supporting our troops – the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country”.  I never did feel right about how that charge was twisted like that… it had the effect of silencing people who our country NEEDED to speak up.  I don’t know the whole story – but one of my favorite music groups basically lost their career for speaking out against the war because they were labeled as “anti-american”.  It was an all-on boycott which collapsed their careers. 

Our country was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Our leaders only heard what they wanted to hear – and anyone who spoke up was shamed into silence – they were given a speech impediment.

That mentality has impacted every one of us – even in the Church (now I’m speaking to individuals including myself).  We have become deaf to the voice of God and we can no longer speak to the world about the Mercy of God because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves.  Go back to one of the greatest Christian Hymns of all time – Amazing Grace – study the words – this man recognized that he was the worst kind of man –  While he was trading slaves, he filled his life with noise so he wouldn’t hear the voice of God – that little voice of conscience in his mind which was screaming at him to stop!  When he finally stopped to listen, he started studying Christian Theology and recognized himself as a wretch and repented – catch that?  He recognized that he was a sinner and he asked God to save him.  Because of that, he was able to speak plainly – or shall I say – SING plainly about the mercy of God.  (sing it)

    Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
    that saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost, but now am found,
    was blind but now I see.

Does that touch your heart?  Not because they sang it at your grandpa’s funeral – but does it touch your heart PERSONALLY because you have LIVED it?  If we don’t connect with the words personally – that I was a wretch or I AM a wretch – then we are still deaf.  The world needs to know first of all that God loves every one of us… that’s the main message.  We are NOT here to present the world with a bunch of rules to make their lives miserable – not at all – we’re here to SHOW the world the path to joy – to show them the compass which points the WAY.  The most effective way to do that is to give our personal witness of mercy and love.  WE are the moral compass of the world – and if we’re witnessing to the Joy we’ve personally found, the world will follow.   Like the crowd in the Gospel, once we’ve witnessed how God can change us, we can’t help but tell everyone.

Ephphatha!  Be Opened.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

2018/08/18 - The Days are Evil

What’s Paul mean when he said ‘the days are evil’? 
           Brothers and sisters:
           Watch carefully how you live,
           not as foolish persons but as wise,
           making the most of the opportunity,
           because the days are evil.

I have a friend from India who came to the States to work.  She had been here for a couple of years before she decided to go back to India for a visit, and she was excited to see home again.  It was going to be a great visit – she would be there for 30 days – enough time to do everything she wanted to do and visit all of her family and friends.  But, when she got back here a month later, she said she didn’t get everything done – because the first three weeks, she kept thinking, I’ve got 30 days, no need to rush around – so instead she would let hours and even days just slip away doing nothing in particular.  Finally, the last week, she realized that time was short, and she tried to pack in all of her visits and to-do’s in the last week.  Afterward, she was kicking herself because she hadn’t used her time wisely.
You see the problem?  Whenever you and I think we have time to spare, our tendency is to just let it slip through our hands. 

That is what I think Paul means when he says, ‘watch carefully how you live because the days are evil’.  He’s recognizing that most of us live as though we have all the time in the world.  The days are evil means with every passing day, we are lulled into complacency about when our life will end.  No need to take care of that sin or that bad habit today, I can worry about it tomorrow.  No need to get out there and do the corporal works of mercy today, there will be plenty of time for that.  No need to forgive that person who wronged me – let them stew on it another day – I can forgive them tomorrow.  That’s where the evil comes from – we live unwisely because we think we’ve always got more time to live. 

But notice Paul is insisting that we ‘watch carefully how we live’ and ‘make the most of the opportunity’ – I think he’s saying – be wise about how you use your time – don’t waste it.  Be intentional with your time.  You’ve heard me use that word Intentional a lot – and you can count on me saying it a bunch, so let’s make sure we all understand it.  What’s it mean to be intentional?  Let’s say I’m going to drive to Colorado…. That doesn’t  just ‘happen’.  No – I have to plan ahead, cancel the mail, get somebody to care for the pets, rearrange my schedule, pack my camping gear, make sure the car is serviced.  But even that’s not enough – I have to pick a day and time that I’m leaving so the people travelling with me will be ready to go.  I can’t just keep thinking – I’ll wait until tomorrow to leave.  When we do get on the road – I need to get on the highway going West.  If I turn East, I’d be going in the wrong direction and never get to the place I wanted to go to. As I’m driving along, I can surely take my time, enjoy the trip, and stop once in a while at something that looks interesting – but if I spend too much time on side trips, I’ll never reach my destination before I run out of time and have to turn around to come home.  See what I mean?  Every trip has a destination and every trip will eventually come to an end, so while travelling, we HAVE to be intentional about how we use our time.  In other words, we have to do things ‘on purpose’ or ‘deliberately’.  To be intentional, means I to choose where I want go, then make a plan for how to get there – and then actually DO the things I need to do to get there.

Trouble is, when we’re NOT on vacation, we don’t have an explicit deadline.  In our everyday lives, it’s easy to be complacent about our time.  We might be intentional about some things in our life – like getting to work or school on time – but when we get home, we sit down for some well-deserved rest and often waste the rest of the day by flipping through the channels or surfing the web.  Is that the best use of our time? 
Paul says we should seek to understand and do the will of God.  God gives us 24 hours in a day to DO something FOR HIM….that’s right, our time belongs to God - But how much do we actually give to him?  Sure we’ve all got excuses – I’ve got mine too… I gotta sleep, I gotta cut grass, I gotta check my emails and facebook and oh – there’s another text just came in, and I gotta watch the news…  We let ourselves be distracted constantly… living as though we have all the time in the world.  We rush around doing all of the urgent stuff and never get to the important stuff.

Paul says, “Make the most of the opportunity because the days are evil.”
The days are evil, because we are supposed to do God’s will every minute…  every SECOND – but when we think we have all day, we will let those seconds and minutes slip away until  - until the days are gone….wasted.

This week, about 50 of us from around the diocese went to Branchville prison where we got a totally different perspective on wasting time.  We go up there every February and August for a ‘Reward Day’.  Whenever an offender goes an entire year without getting written up for misconduct, they are invited to attend our reward day where we serve them cookies and burgers and ice cream and watch a current movie – all stuff they rarely get in prison.  There are 1200 men locked up in that one prison.  Can you imagine putting your life on hold for that long?  Not being able to see your family, earn money, build a life, accomplish something?  For many of the men, they just get defiant and blame everyone else for their situation.  As a result, they cause trouble or they just simply exist – looking out only for themselves looking forward to the day they will finally be free.  The question is – free for what?  Most of them will likely fall back into the life they lived previously – addicted to alcohol and drugs.  But some of the men – many of whom were the 157 we got to feed Thursday, have taken Paul’s advice.  They are ‘watching carefully how they live’ – keeping their nose clean, so to speak.  They decided not to continue to live in ignorance… many of them are taking classes, getting certificates in skills that will help them earn a living when they get out.  For example, Brian told me he gets out October 21st, so he has gotten a certificate in culinary arts – hoping to get a job in a restaurant.  He recognized that his life was messed up because he was in construction and travelling all the time – and all the other guys would go out drinking and such every night – and that kind of lifestyle is what landed him in prison.  He doesn’t want to waste another minute of his life.

We also talked to several Catholic men who get together daily to read the daily readings, pray a rosary, and do book studies.  These guys could teach all of us something about the Bible and the Church!  What makes the difference?  They know that spending their time in prayer and study is what energizes them.  I talked to Randy who is worried that he won’t take that time to pray when he gets out… he’s afraid he’ll be like the rest of us who get so busy with work and life that we don’t take the time to do the prayer and study which he KNOWS he NEEDS to energize himself.  That is Wisdom.

These guys know something every one of us needs to know – the days are evil – we DON’T have all the time in the world, so we need to use what we have wisely.
Make the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil…  every one of us in on a journey – and that journey is to God.  Watch carefully how you live.  If I had one day left to live – what would God want me to do with it?  If I was freed from whatever holds me prisoner, how would I invest that time for God?
Be Wise.  Be intentional.
(P.S.  to see pictures of the Reward Day at prison, go to

Sunday, August 5, 2018

2018/08/05 Daily Bread (or 'Manna-burger Helper')

Before Mass -
"Give us this day our daily bread."
Ever wonder what this ‘daily bread’ is?  Today we hear part of the story – but once again, we don’t hear the whole thing, so I want to summarize.  Remember God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt – well, in our first reading today we’ll hear how God fed them with manna in the desert.  Literally, manna means ‘what is it’, because it was something they’d never seen before.   Exodus described it as ‘like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey’.  Based on that description, I’d say it looked something similar to ‘this’… (hold up host wafer).  It’s not a coincidence that this manna resembled what we use on our altar even today!!! 

The Hebrews were instructed to collect their ‘daily bread’  - literally – they would go out each morning to collect a specific amount of bread for their family to eat that day.  If they took too much and tried to keep it until the next day, it would rot and get stinky overnight – except on Friday, they could collect twice as much so that they wouldn’t have to collect on the Sabbath day.  So quite literally, this was their ‘daily bread’. 
So – today pay attention to the context of the first reading – it starts out with grumbling, which is where the homily begins.


Was God upset that the Hebrews were grumbling?  At first, it would seem like it – those ungrateful brats, I just brought them out of Slavery and defeated the greatest army on earth – I led them thru the Red Sea, I provided water in the desert – surely by now they would trust me to take care of them!  But NOOOO… they’re hangry….  Is that what God would have thought?
At first it seems that way – but – God made us and He knows how we human react to discomforts.  These people had been pulled from slavery, yes, but it was also a stable way of life – they knew what to expect every day – they knew where their next meal would come from  - they knew that Pharoah and the gods of the Egyptians would provide their daily bread.  Yeah they were slaves – but shucks – that’s a minor inconvenience compared to walking in the hot sun of the desert all day without food and water – and they weren’t even sure where they were going….there was no light at the end of the tunnel.   There was no hope left… Any one of us would be grumbling right along with them….  I think God knew that – but He knew he had them right where He needed them:  hangry in the desert.
See – getting them out of Egypt was the easy part.  Now He had to get Egypt out of them.  God had to wean them away from all of the support systems they’d grown accustomed to in order to get them to place their trust in Him…. Because as long as they were still addicted to the gods of Egypt, they weren’t really free.
This was hard – really hard.  Worshipping the gods of Egypt was attractive… it involved gluttony and drunkenness and lustful pleasures… notice those are the same activities that all of us get addicted to.  That was surely sounded a lot more fun than eating manna in the desert.  God KNEW they would grumble because that’s normal when ANYone is breaking free from the slavery to an addiction.  They’re always looking back thinking, this pain I’m experiencing now is WAY worse than the pain I experienced in that slavery… I prefer the pain of my chains over the pain of my freedom.
It makes me think of a woman who is beaten by her husband… she may think of walking away, but the fear of the unknown stops her… where would she live, how would she get food, and if there are kids involved, it’s that much harder to make the move.  This is not a judgement at all – but often for any of us, the chains on our wrists are easier than the chains of fear:  Slavery looks easier than freedom.   Can we relate to that?  If you’ve ever tried to walk away from addiction, you know how the Hebrews felt… Any major change in life requires leaving something behind…and that means pain.
I was talking to someone from another parish this week who said the merging of their parish with another has NOT gone well.  This guy was really depressed, because it seems like the people in charge don’t even admit there are problems, so nothing is being done to help people with the change.  As a result, “lots” of people have left the parish…and even this guy, one of the most faithful Catholics I know, was considering abandoning his parish.  People want to go back to the way things were… back to when things were predictable and fair and they had their own priest –
Any journey toward something requires a journey away from something else.
College students leaving home for the first time will experience this in another couple of weeks… they’re taking a huge step in their journey toward freedom, which requires a journey away from home – away from parents – away from the family, food, laundry, vehicle – whatever things were provided at home.  Most will reach the point where they finally appreciate all the things that their parents did for them – and they’ll wish they could go back.  That’s not a bad feeling in this case – it’s a normal feeling anytime we take a step toward freedom.
The question is – for all of these situations – in what or in whom will we place our trust going forward?  The Hebrews placed their trust in the gods of Egypt… the alcoholic puts his trust in the bottle… the college student put his trust in home life… but the journey away from any of those things is a journey toward something – or toward someONE – in every case, the journey is toward trusting God.
How does God get us to trust Him?
First He needs us to recognize that we need Him.  As long as we’re comfortable in our slavery, we take things for granted.  Until we recognize our need – we won’t recognize when God provides for us.  So, in a way, God HAD to lead them into the desert – away from all that is familiar – so they could FEEL their hunger – He NEEDED them to be ‘hangry’ and only then could He step in and fill that need. 
The manna became their main source of food through the next 40 years in the desert.  Can you imagine – eating the same thing day after day – surely they took it for granted – surely they got tired of it.  They worked up every recipe they could find:  “Mannacotti”, “Mananabread”, “Mannawhich”, “Mannaise”, “Mannaburger helper”.   (thanks to Jeff Cavins for the joke idea)
Seriously – this manna was a tangible sign that God was providing for them.  This was very literally their ‘daily bread’ to remind them that God was the one they should trust.  The Manna was the sign…
Remember last week, Jesus led the crowd up a mountain – away from their homes – away from town – in order to teach them.  Perhaps the most important lesson he taught that day was that He, as the Son of God, was the one in whom they should place their trust.  Remember how He did that?  He fed the 5000 with the loaves and fishes.  This miracle wouldn’t have happened if they were in town and could have run over to McDonald’s and grabbed a bite to eat…. No, they had to FEEL their hunger before they could recognize and receive the sign. 
Here’s the challenge for us:  What signs are in your life?  Spend a day in the desert – maybe fast for a day and look for the signs – the evidence that God is working in and through you.  Recognize Who provides YOUR daily bread?
 Jesus IS the bread from heaven who feeds us his own body and blood.  Jesus is our ‘daily bread’. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

2018/07/15 - Nothing but a Walking Stick

Before Mass:
I’ve got some GOOD news and some GREAT news!  You know how twice a year, we have our Youth Appeal where one or two of our youth get up here and ask for your support to send them to all sorts of special learning opportunities?  Well the good news is Today is not that day… we’re not asking for money!  The GREAT news is that today is when you get some return on your investment!

We had 19 parishioners at CHWC in Kansas City all week.  We had 29 students and several adults at Rock Your Faith – the middle school retreat at St. Joe.  And we had 120 youth plus a bunch of adults helping at our VBS for four days.  That means including volunteers, we had over 200 people from the parish actively involved this week in Faith activities for our young folks.  I did a random sample of our students asking what kind of things they learned this week, and I’d like to share just a few with you:

VBS:  we learned everyone has a Mission.  We’re all called by God to do SOMEthing.  (which really fits with the homily today)
RYF: You can be mad at God but God still loves you. We are called to be Saints.  Like Saint John Bosco who sacrificed himself for others – we’re called to do the same.
CHWC:  We echo Jesus’ love when we serve others.  God gives us what we need when we need it – not necessarily when we want it.  The story of the two lakes. If you stay in your comfort zone, it is like a stagnant lake, warm, full of algae and bad stuff grows. If you get out of your comfort zone, it is like a cold, mountain lake where the water is clear and water flows through it and passes your faith on.
You’ll hear even more in the homily today. 
Now – a note to our youth – you know how excited you were coming back from your events?  Some of you experienced Mass like never before.  I want to give you permission – in fact – I beg you – bring that experience back to this parish.  Don’t be the stagnant lake and keep it to yourself… Let US feel the joy that you experienced.  You are not the same as you were when you left here last week – we NEED you to help all of US to have a new experience at Mass.  Pray along, sing along, get engaged in the Liturgy.
OK – very quickly – I need to quickly give you some back-story on the first reading.  You may remember that the country of Israel was broken into two a long time before Jesus came – the north was called Israel and the south was called Judah.  That’s important because Amos, in that first reading is FROM the south kingdom, but God called him to be a prophet to the NORTH kingdom.  He had been a ‘dresser of sycamores’ which was a type of fig tree… so he was a farmer, called to be a prophet.  Does that remind you of anybody else we know?  (Fr. Eugene)

Take nothing with you but a walking stick…  you can just see the look on the Apostle’s face when Jesus said that.  They’d be like, “you mean I can’t take my iphone so I can stay connected with all the people that I’m important to?”.  You mean I can’t take a suitcase full of clothes so I can wear the perfect thing at just the right time to impress people?   You mean I can’t take a backpack full of my favorite food so I don’t risk getting hungry?

A walking stick… a walking stick… what is Jesus thinking sending us out with NOTHING?!?!?!

Actually – a walking stick is NOT ‘nothing’.  It gives you something to lean on as you start getting tired.  It gives you a tool to remove cobwebs and snakes from the path.  It gives you a pole that could be used to build a makeshift shelter from the sun.  It could be used as a weapon,… just in case you come across some teenage mutant ninja turtles.  ;)

Yeah – a walking stick DOES have some purpose – but what Jesus is really saying is – lower your expectations of what you really ‘need’ to take along.  You don’t need ANYthing.  If you have nothing but a stick to lean on, you’ve got all you need…. How can that be?
Notice, he sent them out two by two…. So not only do you have a stick, you have a buddy!  And Jesus said at another point, wherever two are gathered in His name, He is there with them…. Aha!  So even though they’re sent out with ‘nothing’ – they have Jesus with them, and what else could they possibly need?
Part of being sent out was to build the Apostles’ faith – they needed to EXPERIENCE the fact that God would provide for them in order that they PERSONALLY would have a witness of how great God is!  God will give us what we need when we need it – but – if we fill our backpacks with all the stuff we could possibly need, we never give God the CHANCE to fill our needs.  As long as WE stay in control, God is NOT in control… so we gotta leave it all behind
Our young people left it all behind for a week – and they are no longer the same people who came to church with us last Sunday.  Their experience changed them.  I’ve asked two of our older ones to come forward right now to share just a two minute story that highlights their experience.  They have a LOT more to share, but I’ve asked them to tell a specific story which actually fits nicely into our homily today.
(stories different depending on who comes to Mass... here are two examples)
Story 1:  There was this woman at the lowest point of her life. She was on drugs, she was an alcoholic, could not hold a job, and was not financially stable. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she found out she was pregnant. She had nowhere to go and was considering aborting the baby. With no support system or any way to have this baby and give him a good life, she turned to her brother for help asking him if he would want her baby. Her brother was married, and him and his wife had been trying to have a baby for 10 years but never could. Of course he said he would love to, but he needed to ask his wife first. His wife is what changed everything and gave the woman hope. She said she would take in the woman and her baby and let them live in their house if she quit drinking and doing drugs. 2 months into the agreement, the woman was clean off of the drugs and alcohol. Now she has been off of drugs for 30 years. 5 years after having the first child, she had another baby of her own and was financially stable. Then she went back to school to become a financial planner which she always had a gift for but never knew it. Then she found God and became a teacher at a college for adults who are going to college now when then couldn’t before. 8 years ago she stood by her son and watched him become a priest. That priest was Father Ed from Virginia. He was the first child in the story and he was sharing this story with us. He would not be here without his mom having hope from her brother and his wife. It is important to give hope to others. 
Story 2: One group went to a man named Mike’s house. His daughter has aspergers disease. She’s 34 years old, has no social skills, and doesn’t talk to anyone but her dad Mike. She gets all of her information from reading books, which she does every day. The Hope Builders, which is the organization that was in charge of what needed to be done at the site, had been to the house to repair it four times before this group of Catholic Heart Work Campers came to work on the house. She never made any contact with any of the helpers, she didn’t even come out of the house. But this group of kids bonded with her, and talked to her about her favorite books. Once they broke through the first barrier she had up, she began to help improve the house by painting and holding ladders. She made connections with multiple campers, and really cane out of her shell. Before the group left she asked for contact information from the kids she had bonded with, and they will now be keeping in touch.
WOW - obviously they were changed by this week's experience!
Can you see how those fit in with the readings?

Amos was pulled out of his comfort zone as a fig farmer and sent by God to the Northern kingdom.
Fr. Eugene was pulled out of HIS comfort zone as a pig farmer and sent by God to Northern Dubois County.
200 of our parishioners went outside their normal routine this week to give God the chance to act in their hearts… and they were changed because of it.
What's the lesson for the rest of us?  Is MY faith strong enough to step out of my routine –will I go with Jesus  to a deserted place – to go wherever God sends me to make a difference in somebody’s life?  That’s when God can really make a difference in OUR lives… and all we need is a walking stick.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

2018/05/20 - Pentecost - It's Happening.

Just about everybody has one of these nowadays (hold up smartphone)… we all hold in our hands more computing power than was available in the whole world 60 years ago.  This little device has changed the world – literally – not too many years ago, if you wanted to research something, you had to get an encyclopedia.  Now – the library of the world is available through this device.  If you wanted to listen to music, you had to carry a stack of heavy black phonographs and a record player – now – every song ever recorded can be downloaded and listened to anywhere.  This has a camera on it that rivals the big 35mm cameras.  There are apps for just about anything:  navigation, work-outs, guitar tuner, level, on-line banking… and so much more.  All that in one little black box… Not to mention the fact that you can actually use this to talk to someone – although even that is becoming less common – instead – you just TEXT someone. 

It’s happening.  This phone is changing the world.

But – this little device is only as good as the battery inside of it!  Without power, it’s just a paperweight.  Eventually though, you gotta have one of these… a power cord…something to connect you to the power source.
Let’s pretend for a minute that this phone is the Church.  When Jesus was here, he wanted to change the world – and to do that, he  gave us this thing…the Church.  He gave it to us with a purpose:  to change the world!  And if you look back over the centuries, you can see that this device (The Church) continues to change the world. 
But it was a rough start – the twelve dudes he left in charge were scared to death – and they had good reason to be.  People were out to destroy this church before it ever got turned on.  If the Apostles had stepped out into the streets to spread the good news, they likely would have been afraid to speak up – they likely would have said things like, ‘who am I to force MY beliefs on somebody else’? 
The Church never would have been very useful, because the Good News never would have been spoken to anyone.  The Church was like a phone without a battery… lifeless – talking to nobody.  The Church was silent and useless UNTIL -  it got recharged….  The Church was stuck in a room upstairs somewhere, cowering.  Until – IT happened.
How do we know IT happened?
Because IT made a noise like a strong driving wind – IT lit up the place like tongues of fire – and most importantly – IT propelled the church OUT of the upper room and into the world to tell everyone about Jesus.  We don’t hear it in today’s reading, but right after this reading, Peter gave a sermon that was so powerful, 3000 people were baptized.  3000…in one day… obviously, SOMETHING was happening.  What did he say that was so powerful?  You can actually read it yourself in Act chapter 2.
What was IT that happened, that propelled that lifeless, cowering Church to go OUT into the world!?  Power!  Not just any batteries – DIVINE BATTERIES…Supernatural, supercharged power:  The Holy Spirit.
St. John Paul II said,  the “Holy Spirit Enlivens and Animates Church”
I like that word ANIMATE – it means to bring to life – this is a weird analogy, but think of it like Dr. Frankenstein as he shocks Frankenstein into life… one moment, he was a lifeless collection of body parts and the next, he was up and moving and talking.  IT’S ALIVE!!!  I know that’s a bad analogy – but THAT IS THE CHURCH!  …A lifeless collection of body parts until – shazam! – shocked into life- ‘animated’ by the Holy Spirit.
Maybe a better analogy would be a lifeguard doing cpr on someone who drowned… God reached down to breath life into the Church.  The breath he breathed into the Church is the Holy Spirit.
It was the Holy Spirit that ANIMATED the church – giving it not only LIFE, but the will and courage to share the joy that Jesus had given them.  Once they plugged into the power source, they sprang to life.
You and I can plug into that same power source!  Imagine if when your phone is going dead, all you had to do was close your eyes and think real hard about electricity – and that would re-charge your phone instantly!  That would be GREAT  - we wouldn’t need this little cord.  We could go anywhere – as far from civilization as we care to go – and never worry about being away from our power source.
Well – with the Holy Spirit – that’s all it takes.  “Come Holy Spirit”… a simple prayer, and we are plugged-in to the very source of supernatural power.  The same power that raised the dead, healed the blind, forgave sins, and brought the Church to life is IN US!!!  This Spirit animates US – it drives US out the doors of this church building to share the joy we’ve found in Jesus.  We’re no longer cowering or embarrassed about our faith.  The world IS WAITING for the joy you and I are sent to share.  We have to believe that.  3000 people in one day?  It just took one sermon.  Imagine if every one of US got animated. 
The Holy Spirit continues to animate the Church – in fact, I’m told that in Africa, on average 3000 people come into the Christian faith EVERY DAY!  Think about that – a Pentecost EVERY DAY.  The Spirit is still at work.
Look at This community of Faith – we are ALIVE!  VIBRANT!  Great things are happening!
Did you know we now have two young men from St. Isidore entering the Seminary this Fall? 
Did you know we already have had like 10 priests ordained from this parish?   Three are still alive.
Did you know we have had MANY nuns from our parish - at least 7 are still living. 
Did you know we have two Discipleship groups:  one aimed at college and young adults – and the other for anyone!? 
Did you know that other parishes look up to OUR kids because they are more well-formed in their faith than other kids?! 
We have a great pastor, two great church buildings, a community of volunteers…
This parish is ALIVE!  The Spirit continues to animate us – to propel us into the world to fulfill our purpose:  to share the joy we’ve found… to change the world.  If you don’t personally feel animated, maybe you should check your power cord.  Plug yourself in and hold on, because…  IT is happening.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

2018/05/06 - Get In the Game

When Jerry was just starting school, he and his buddy Steve would run out to the playground at recess every day to watch the older kids playing kickball.  Y’all know what kickball is? – do they still play it?  The way they would pick their teams was like – two of the best players would be ‘captains’, and they would go back and forth picking their team from all the kids standing around.  Naturally, they’d pick the best players first and then the mediocre players and work their way down.  Well, Jerry wanted so much to be able to play, but he and Steve were so small that they never got picked to be on a team.  Every day, they would sit on the curb and watch and dream of the day they got to play.

The second year, Steve grew almost a foot and looked like a fifth grader, - so he actually got picked to be on a team!  Turns out, he was really good at kicking the ball – so the team captains started picking him to play every day.  Jerry wished he could play, but again, he would just sit and watch.

Until one day, one of the normal team captains was sick, so Steve got to be captain.  Guess who his first pick was…. Jerry.  Jerry didn’t even realize it… he was already sitting on the curb to watch when Steve came over and shouted  – Get in the game!  You’ve been chosen!

Jerry was so excited.  He knew what to do, because he’d been watching for so long – but it turns out, he wasn’t very good at kicking yet…you know, he’d never gotten to practice.  The other kids started to make fun of him and call him names – but Steve stepped in front of the group and said – “He’s my friend, leave him alone”.  And that was that.

Jerry felt so proud to have Steve as a friend who would stand up for him – and really proud that he had CHOSEN him as a friend.  He asked Steve – what did I ever do to make you want to be my friend?  Steve said, nothing…  you don’t EARN friendship – you just ARE my friend.

Jesus said today, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”.   Jesus wants you to be His friend – to be on His team.

What did you do to make Jesus want to be your friend?  Nothing.  Before you did anything at all, Jesus had already chosen you to be on his team.  Think about that….
You may feel like all your life, you’ve had to try real hard to be good, just to get Jesus to like you so you would be worthy of being on His team – but, he already chose you as His friend.  We’re not good to make Jesus love us – we’re good BECAUSE Jesus loves us.

There’s a word in today’s Gospel that really bugs me – it’s a big and complicated word, but at first glance, it appears to change one of our most basic understandings of Jesus.  The word I’m talking about is ‘if’.

Jesus says, “ You are my friends if you do what I command you.”   It sure SOUNDS like Jesus is  setting conditions …  Like – if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I won’t be your friend!  Anybody else read it that way??  Is he like the bully at school who says, I’ll be your friend, IF you give me all of your lunch money.  Is THAT a friend who only likes you if you do what they tell you to do?  Not at all!   And that’s why it bugs me, because we all KNOW that Jesus loves unconditionally –there is nothing we can do to earn Jesus’ love - so how can we make sense of this statement?  

Well, that  word ‘if’  can be used another of way…
Let me give you a couple of examples – like if I say:  “If I have a fever, I am sick.” Having a fever is not a condition for being sick – but the fever is PROOF that I’m sick – the fever makes it OBVIOUS that I’m sick.  Do you see the difference?  It’s not a ‘condition’ – it’s proof.  Here’s another example:  “if the water is boiling, it is hot”.  Again, boiling is not a requirement to be hot – but If I see steam rolling off the top of the pan of water, It’s OBVIOUS that it is boiling hot.  Do you see the difference?

So when Jesus says, you are my friends if you do what I command you – he’s actually saying – if you do what I’ve told you to do, you will make it OBVIOUS to the world that you are my friends.  When you Love one another, that will be PROOF that you’re my friends.

Jesus is the kind of friend who will stand up for you – when the devil is picking on you – calling you names, tempting you to be bad - Jesus will step in front and say, “He’s my friend, leave him alone”.  In fact, that’s what he did 2000 years ago when he was nailed to that cross – he was standing up for you and me.  A true friend, Jesus said, will give his life for his friends.  Obviously, we can’t have a better friend than Jesus.  Jesus wants us to get in the game - to join him in His mission - The readings make it very clear that Jesus’ mission was all about Love - and OUR part of that mission is to ‘Love one another’.  That’s your job… Love one another.  Think about that when you receive communion:   we are receiving His Love so that we can go out and SPREAD his love.

For those making your first communion today – it’s like you’ve been sitting on the curb for your whole life –watching the big kids play.  You’ve only been coming up for a blessing – but you won’t do that anymore.  Today, Jesus is stepping up and shouting at you, “Get in the game!  You’ve been chosen!”

Saturday, April 14, 2018

2018/04/15 - Time to Get out there!

Before Mass:
What does an Evangelist look like?   If you’re like most people, the first thing you think of is somebody standing on the street corner yelling – The END IS NEAR!  You are all doomed to the fires of hell if you don’t Repent!!  Or you might think of somebody in an expensive suit on TV with a perfect smile asking you to send money.

Is THAT Evangelism?  Maybe – but in my opinion those people actually HURT Christianity more then they help.  No – there’s a line at end of the Gospel:  You are Witnesses to these things.  An evangelist is a witness – we witness to what God has done in our own lives and invite others to the same joy.  We evangelize best by how we live. 

A couple months ago I mentioned that we’re forming an Evangelization Team.  Listen to the homily today and if the Holy Spirit convicts you of wanting to help, join us this Wednesday, April 18th at 7 pm at Celestine.

I need to set the stage for today’s Gospel, because it starts at the end of an important story.  Remember the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaeus and Jesus showed up and explained the scriptures to them – then he came in to have a meal with them and as he blessed the bread, they finally recognized him.  Great story – but we don’t hear it today – but keep that in mind as the first sentence of the Gospel is read.
In all of the readings, we hear how this ragtag group of disciples tried to make sense of what Jesus had told them and exactly what they were supposed to do with it.  They knew one thing:  they had witnessed the most important event in the history of the world – and they couldn’t keep it to themselves.

(Thanks to Fr. Mike Schmitz for sharing this true story)
In the late 1700’s, a group of concerned citizens in Boston were concerned about the number of people being killed in ship wrecks off their coast.  They did something unprecedented….they formed what was called the Humane society – not the humane society we know of today who take care of animals.  Their mission was to save lives from ship wrecks.  First, they built these survivor huts on Nantucket island – stocked with firewood and food – so if there was a wreck, the survivors could get out of the weather until the townfolk could get there to help them.  18 of these huts were built – dotting the coast every mile or two.  Eventually they thought – we could save even more lives if we would actually go out there after a wreck to find survivors, so they commissioned the building of the first rescue boat in America.  Whenever there was a storm or gale force winds, the humane society would send people to stay in each of these huts with the sole purpose of watching for shipwrecks on the rocks.  If it happened, they’d ring a bell and everybody would come running and launch this wooden rowboat into the stormy sea to try to save lives.  Imagine that – this storm just sunk a SHIP – and now they’re going to risk their own lives in this little rowboat.  Yet they thought if there’s even a chance of saving a life, they HAD to risk their own lives for that chance.  They had a saying, “you have to go out – you don’t have to come back”.  Their mission defined who they were… they were there to save lives…. And Many lives WERE saved – it was a truly heroic organization.  Eventually, the Coast Guard was formed and it became their job to save lives – so the humane society no longer does that.  Saving lives became the job for the “professionals”….so the Humane society lost their sense of mission.  Now they’re just a group of nice people who get together once a year to have a big dinner and honor somebody who showed selfless bravery in the last year.  They’re not bad people – but without a sense of mission, they’ve lost their identity….they’ve lost their calling.

Compare that to another organization started centuries before that..started by a fellow named Jesus who sent twelve men into the world with the Mission of “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..  “  The mission was clear:  bring all people to know Jesus…. And they took that calling seriously.  They went out!  The Church grew leaps and bounds – why – because the disciples of Jesus lived differently.  Some of the worked miracles.  All of them witnessed to the world what they knew. They told people about Jesus!  Because of them, OUR lives were saved because we know Jesus. 

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, fulfilling that Mission became the job of the professionals… the priests and nuns and deacons and bishops…. For the average Catholic, saving lives wasn’t our job anymore, so religion became more about -seeking personal growth and fulfillment and -getting to heaven.  Without our Mission, religion became about being a ‘nice person’.  If we think that religion is about being a 'nice person' or getting myself to heaven, we have missed the point!  But it didn’t stop there…. The church grew so big and required so much administration that the people in charge got pulled more and more into just keeping the church running.  We preach, we baptize, we put on programs and such – but somewhere along the line even us professionals lost our sense of Mission:  The Mission that Jesus gave us!  Without that mission, we are just a group of nice people who come together once a week and tell some stories and share a meal, but we’ve forgotten our very reason for existence…. The very essence of what fulfills us as human beings….  In short, without a Mission, we’re dead.

Pope Francis recognized this problem and wrote a document:  Evangelli Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel.  It’s long – but it’s one of the most readable documents we’ve ever gotten from a Pope.  There’s a bunch of good stuff in there, but let me give you just a couple of short but VERY STRONG quotes:

we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”;[17]
“Mere administration” can no longer be enough.[21] Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”.[22]
This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church...

Can it be any clearer?  We have to get back to our Mission.  Personally, I think that’s the reason the church has been losing people… I mean, why belong to something that doesn’t seem to have a purpose?  If we realize we’re in the business of saving lives, we will ATTRACT people rather than boring them until they walk away.

I believe Jesus is calling us – you and me – to re-engage in the battle to save lives.  There are many ways we can do that:  prayer, study, helping others.  Every one of us should already be doing that.  But – I think it’s time we do more than that – it’s time we build a rowboat and GO OUT.  We have people in the surrounding area who have never heard of Jesus – we have people in neighborhoods who don’t know why this church sits here on the hill – we have people in our pews even who don’t really know Jesus.  The field is ripe for the picking – it’s time for us to go on the offensive.

Friday, March 30, 2018

2018/03/30 - Good Friday - Couldn't Jesus have died without Nails?

Ever wonder why Jesus had to die – and not only THAT he had to die – but why he had to die THAT way?  I mean- couldn’t he have been drugged or drowned or decapitated?  No – He had to endure the most gruesome, painful, humiliating, excruciating death possible… WHY?

And wasn’t being hung on a cross enough?   Couldn’t they have skipped the crown of thorns at least – geesh – I can’t imagine having all of those needles piercing my scalp and forehead and into my eyeball sockets.  And couldn’t they have just tied him to that cross instead of nailing him to it! 

Seems like overkill. 

I remember watching the Passion movie several years ago – and one of the scenes that just hit home with me and stuck in my heart was after they had nailed Jesus to the cross, they flipped over the cross and bent the nail.  My heart jumped – why would they do that!!!  I mean - when I bend a nail like that, I expect never to be taking it out again.  It seemed so permanent.  I know – it’s kinda silly to focus in on such a small detail when Jesus was put through so much – but that scene more than any other still my heart cries, ‘WHY’!?

There was a hurricane that hit North Carolina several years back, and whole neighborhoods were wiped out by the winds.  This one neighborhood was hit particularly hard – all mansions and ½ million dollar houses – every one of them was leveled.  Yet – just one street over were a bunch of less expensive houses built years before, and they were all still standing.  As the crews came in to start the clean-up, they were puzzled – and went to the folks who had built the houses that were still standing.  What did you do that made your houses stand while ours were destroyed?  Simple – where you used staples – we used nails.

Seems if you want to build something to last through the storms, you gotta use nails. 

In a way, that answers our question about why Jesus died the way he did.  See – part of His purpose coming here was to establish His Church on earth – he came so that 2000 years later, you and I would be here today.  We are the mystical body of Christ – we are the representatives to the world that this is not some fairy tale.  No – Jesus was real – He IS real.  We know what happened on Good Friday really DID happen and fortunately, we also know how the story ends.  We are here to take that message to the whole world both now and into the future.  Jesus needed to build a church that would last.  In order to do that, he had to show beyond a shadow of a doubt how deep his love is for us.  He had said himself that there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life – so he HAD to die because that was his purpose:  to show us how much He loved us.  He also had to have those nails bent – overkill we might think – but if that’s what it takes to get MY (your) attention, that’s what He had to do.  He knew his church would face storm after storm, heresy, scandal, relativism, and perhaps worst of all – apathy.  Any one of these storms could tear apart a church.  But that’s why Jesus died like He did.

Because if you want to build something to last through the storms, you gotta use nails.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

2018/03/25 - Palm Sunday: Choose Your Jesus

Before Mass:
When you pray to Jesus, how do you picture him?  Is he a teacher?  Healer?  Is he bloodied on a cross or standing piously pointing to heaven?  Does he demand anything of us, or does he just say, I’m OK, you’re OK?  Jesus has many faces – which do you choose?

We start today’s Mass with the crowds going wild welcoming their king… a parade ushering into Jerusalem the son of David come to restore greatness to Israel.  We end with a parade of people led by that same son of David carrying a cross on his back as he leaves Jerusalem.  A lot changed in one week.  Jesus had two paths – a choice of which kind of king He would be… and the people had a choice of which kind of King they wanted.  He had to be tempted by the Palm Sunday parade… we all want to be loved – we all want the path to power and fame.  But Jesus knew that what awaited him was the path of humiliation, pain, and feeling abandoned even by God the Father.  Put yourself into the crowd as we listen to these highlights from the last week of Jesus’ life on earth and ask yourself – which Jesus do I prefer?


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us… these phrases describe the state of the world in Charles Dickens’ classic book “A Tale of Two Cities” – but it could just as well describe what we hear today in our scripture readings.  Jesus has two paths before him… the path to the throne of Earthly Kingship …and the path to the throne of the cross.  Jesus had to choose:  which Jesus he would be.

There’s a scene from the movie Talladega Nights, where they get into a fight over their meal prayer because Ricky, the guy leading grace, keeps praying to the “Dear Lord Baby Jesus”.  Others argue that Jesus grew up and had a beard, so it’s weird to be praying to the infant Jesus.

Ricky responds:  “Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m sayin’ grace.  When you say grace, you can say it to the Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want.”

What follows is a bit of a theological free-for-all.  Everybody in the family votes for a favorite Jesus.  “I like to think of Jesus like a Ninja, fightin’ off evil samurai,” says one of the boys. 
Ricky’s race partner adds:  “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt.  ‘Cause it says like, I wanna be formal but I’m here to party, too.  I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

I’m NOT recommending this movie to teach us theology of how to pray.  But Ricky’s family is at least  willing to do openly what most of us do without even really thinking about it: We choose our own Jesus.

We might like our Jesus all cleaned-up and proper – little or no blood.  We take away anything that might make us uncomfortable – for example – that loin cloth was not part of the Roman execution.  The victim was stripped completely naked – as part of their public humiliation.  But we choose a Jesus who we can look at without shame and without horror.

We might like Jesus the healer, preferring the stories of how he healed the blind, the lame, the raising of Lazarus – now THAT’S the kind of Jesus we want around – our own personal genie in a bottle just waiting to grant our wishes.

We might like Jesus the teacher, as we picture ourselves sitting on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee listening to Jesus teach about ‘Blessed are the poor’…  His words seem to contain a deep, eternal truth in them.  I mean, we wouldn’t actually want to “be” poor, but Jesus the teacher sure makes it sound virtuous.  We like thinking about virtue.

We might prefer Jesus the table-turner – as we point our fingers at everything and everyone around us who has strayed from the path of Truth.  And most of us doing the pointing think that we’ve got THE truth on our side; we can even point to documents and dogmas and doctrines to support our claim to be right…so we join Jesus turning over tables.

Nobody in their right mind would choose Jesus the weak, humiliated, poor, bloody, hated revolutionary from nowheresville, Nazareth.
But every one of has to do it:  We choose our Jesus.

Which takes us to the Gospel reading… At a glance, the choice seemed straightforward.  Pilate presented two prisoners: a convicted felon named Barabbas and a teacher from Galilee named Jesus.  He declared his intention to set one free.  Which one would the crowd prefer?

Barabbas was what you might call a celebrity terrorist - a brave patriot or nationalist revolutionary who had had the guts to do what a lot of other people had only dreamed of doing: he had stood up to the despised Romans.  Luke tells us that he had committed murder, presumably of someone sympathetic to the empire.

But there’s one detail left out of most manuscripts which in a way, adds a whole ‘nother dimension to the story.  In some of the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew, we discover that Barabbas has a first name.  His first name is…. Jesus.  Yeah – kinda weird ain’t it?  I guess that’s why the translators left that part out – out of respect for Jesus Christ.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"
It is a dramatic moment:  Which Jesus do you want?  This Jesus or that Jesus?

The two prisoners stood before the crowd.
It may have seemed as if they were on trial.  But in truth, it was now the crowd that was on trial.  Which of these two figures held the greater promise for the nation of Israel?  Was it Jesus Barabbas, who would hit the Romans hard, make something important happen, and inspire the masses to revolution?  Or was it Jesus of Nazareth, whose primary weapons were trusting God, refusing to worry, and loving one's enemies?

Every day, like those in the crowd that day, we must decide which Jesus we want. 
Perhaps I want the Infant Baby Jesus who doesn’t challenge me about my bad habits.  Maybe I want a Jesus who approves of my political views.  Or the Jesus who, amazingly, can't stand the very same people I can't stand.  Or the Jesus who understands me and doesn’t insist that I change my way of life.

It comes down to this: Am I only wanting a Jesus who promises to REMOVE the thorns and suffering from my life here?  Or do I want a Jesus who takes the thorns into his flesh to show me the path to true joy WHILE He suffers with me? 

Choose your Jesus.
** (I need to give credit to Glenn MacDonald – a Presbyterian Minister from Indianapolis.  He has a knack for opening up the scriptures with new insights and inspiration, and I want to credit him with inspiration for my homily today.(but if you don’t like it, I’ll take the blame))

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018/03/04 - A Vision for the Church

Before Mass:
(note:  we are using the Cycle A readings which are just a couple pages later in your missalette)

Have you ever thought about what you think our parish should be like 10 or 20 years from now?  Probably not – see we just kinda think the way church is now is how it’s always been and how it always will be – that’s normal to think that, but it’s not true.  The church – including our parish – is changing fast.  Whereas 20     years ago, most of our neighbors belonged to this parish, today, that’s not the case.  Now –I’m not worried about it necessarily, because I know God is still in control – however, I do think we need to plan ahead.  Ask ourselves, what would we LIKE our parish to look like in 20 years?  More importantly, What would GOD want his church to look like in 20 years?  Once we answer that question, then we need to put plans in place to work with the Holy Spirit to make that vision a reality.

The most important line in the Gospel might actually be the line right BEFORE the Gospel! 

"Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee. (and) He "had to" pass through Samaria. "

See – Jesus had been up near Jerusalem at the Jordan river when He heard that the Pharisees were getting uncomfortable with how He was growing in popularity.  Since it wasn’t yet his time to die, he high-tailed it north back to Galilee, where he would spend most of his ministry.  To get there, he either had to go around Samaria or go through it.  Any pious Jew would have gone around, because Jews HATED Samaritans – they were half-breeds, impure, outcasts, lower than dogs!  But it says Jesus “had to” go through it.  Nothing Jesus did was incidental… He purposely crossed the border and went through Samaria to give us a vision of what His kingdom would be like. We get to eaves drop on his conversation with the woman at the well in today’s Gospel.  Pay attention to what this encounter tells us about the Kingdom of God.  And in case you're wondering, put yourself into the shoes of the woman at the well.
That was a long reading, so let’s cut right to the core of the message.  Jesus “had to” go through Samaria to meet this woman.  He went against all of the common sense of the day:  nobody travels THROUGH samaria, no man talks to a woman, no Jew talks to a Samaritan, no Jew would consider drinking from something a Samaritan TOUCHED!
Jesus had to go through Samaria to give us a vision for his Kingdom; that it would reach out to all of the outcasts.  EVERYBODY was to be included – even a Samaritan woman who’d had 5 men.  Everybody…even a Catholic sinner from Dubois County 2000 years later…yeah… even you and me.
Jesus invited this woman to a relationship.  Notice that!  ‘Who’ she was, ‘where’ she was from, and ‘what’ she had done were afterthoughts in this reading – the conversation started with an invitation.  Jesus went to where SHE was just to meet her and offer her fellowship in the Kingdom…  Before talking about her sin, without even mentioning her religious upbringing or whether she followed all the rules in their religion.  That didn’t matter.  Jesus crossed all of those borders to find her.
That’s a vision we can apply to our own parish.  We should be crossing borders… going out to the outcasts to invite them into the Kingdom.  We shouldn’t care about their religious affiliation, gender, race, political party, marital status… that’s all incidental.  We start with the invitation.  We go where they are – meet them in their mess – to offer them the same living water we’ve found in Jesus.
That’s nice to talk about – but what would that really look like?  Here are some concrete ideas I have – a vision for our parish.  We should be reaching out to the outcasts of our community.  First, I’d like to see us be even more welcoming.  See - We are such a close community that it’s easy to talk to our friends and family before and after Mass, but outsiders coming in find it hard to feel at home with us sometimes because they’re not included.  Nobody is to blame here – we just may never have noticed the problem.   I have some ideas how we can reach out to them.  Even people who have been here for a while never know how to get connected – how to get involved.  My vision is that everyone would be involved in ways they enjoy and build-up the kingdom.  Second – there are a lot of folks from our community who no longer join us – maybe because they didn’t feel welcomed?  Maybe they felt judged?  Maybe they never got invited to personally get involved?  We can reach out to them and personally invite them back – and re-build those personal relationships.  Third – there are a lot of non-Catholics in our area – which is different that it was 25 years ago.  We need to review our Mission as a church – we need to be like Jesus and go out of our way to meet them where they are and invite them to be part of our family.  Fourth – there is a community that springs up at the lake every Summer which is another vineyard waiting to be harvested.  What creative ways can we use to invite them to be part of our family even on a temporary basis. 
We have to cross borders:  It might mean we have to come out of our pews, come out of our comfort zones, come out of our houses, even drive a bit out of town – but like Jesus ‘had to’ go through Samaria, we ‘have to’ go out to where the people are.  We have to believe that they WANT to be invited… they’re just waiting at the well for us to offer them the Living Water.
Would you like to help make this vision a reality?  I propose to finally start an Evangelization team.  April 18th will be our first meeting – so watch the bulletin for details – and, if this really interests you, talk to me.  I’d love to start kicking around ideas.  We’ll have some great opportunities this summer as we help celebrate the 175th.
Maybe the Evangelization team isn’t for you – but everybody has a need to feel like part of the parish.  We do that best by getting involved. 
After the 10 am Mass, we’re having a brunch for EVERYONE – yes – everyone is encouraged to come.  We’ve got a couple dozen of our outreach ministries queued up to talk for just a couple minutes about what their ministry does.  For example, I’ve had a couple of young ladies approach me in the last year saying they want to get involved in the parish but don’t know how – so I spent a little time finding out what interests they have – and got them connected with a ministry.  Now, not only are they active, invaluable members of those groups, but they now have a personal ownership in our parish.  We have so many ministries that you may not even know what they are:  Grace Co-Op, Hospitality Committee, SVDP, Helping Hands, Parish Nursing, St. Anne’s Sodality, KofC…and bunches more – for men and women of all ages.  Whether you enjoy making food or cutting firewood, talking to people or praying or driving…you name it, we need your gifts.  I’d say everyone here WANTS to feel a part of the parish –  This brunch is a simple way to get some ideas where you’d best fit.  There won’t be any pressure to sign up for anything – this is informational. 
Jesus has crossed the border and is sitting at the well waiting for you – inviting you to come closer.  Will you give Him a drink?