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’.