Saturday, December 21, 2019

2019/12/22 Joseph and Coincidence (4th Sunday Advent)

Sometimes I listen for preaching ideas from other preachers, and I often get some great insights into scripture that I’m not wise enough to think of.  But there’s one thing that sometimes bothers me – especially this time of year – it’s like some of them have to dance around a bit to try to limit the role of Mary and Joseph.  You know – so much of the Christmas readings center on Mary and Joseph, but they seem to want to play it down.  Their main point is true - it’s all God’s plan and God IS the one who makes it all happen, but it’s like they want to ignore that God uses some very specific people in achieving His plan of salvation.

For example- today’s reading speaks pretty highly of Joseph – he kinda sound like a real stand-up dude with a lot of guts – but I listened to three of them this week who’s perspective is “well, Joseph’s not that great of a guy – I mean – he was going to divorce Mary after all”.  At a glance, it sounds like they have a good point – it might sound like Joseph is kicking her to the curb like a jerk… but if we take time to understand what’s really happening here, I think we’ll get a different picture.

First – we gotta clear up the confusion about Jewish betrothal.  Notice in that first line it says, “ when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together”.  Betrothal sounds a lot like our modern ‘engagement’…and until this week, I always thought it was the same….but it’s different.  Jewish marriage has two parts – first is kiddushin they exchange vows or promises, and at that moment they are legally married – but the woman still lives at home until the man can pay the ‘bride price’ – some amount agreed on between the groom-to-be and the woman’s father.  This may take up to a year.  Then after the price is paid and the home is ready, comes the second step: nisuin, when the bride moves in with her husband.

Notice right there in the first line is says they are betrothed but not yet living together… which means  they are in this in-between state: but legally married…that’s an important point….  If they WEREN’T legally married, why would it say he decided to divorce her?  If they were just engaged, you could simply call it off.

Keep that in mind – now – It says, Joseph was a ‘righteous man but he didn’t want to expose her to shame’.  What’s it mean that he was ‘righteous’?  It means he followed the Jewish law.  What’s the law say about a woman who has sex outside of marriage?  She should be stoned.  Did Mary have sex outside of marriage NO – but all Joseph knew was there was a baby coming and HE wasn’t the daddy – cause if he was the daddy, he would remember being there!  So putting two and two together, he figures she MUST have been unfaithful. 

It must have cut him to the core.

He THOUGHT that divorce was the only option.  I mean, obviously, she didn’t want to be married to him if she’s fooling around on the side – so obviously, we shouldn’t complete this marriage.  Now any normal man would have been really ticked off – don’t you think?!  He would have run into the streets “exposing her to the shame” – which means he would lead the charge to stone her – why – because she hurt his pride.   But Joseph swallowed his pride.  He was just going to quietly end the marriage – not because he was a jerk – but because he wanted to save her life and let her find happiness with the man she had apparently chosen instead of him.  I got a lot of respect for Joseph.

Next  - did you notice that Joseph had a dream – and he believed the dream?! - and he actually DID what he felt God called him to do in that dream!??!  I wonder how many people here have had a dream where God told them to do something and we actually got up and did it!?  I’m sure there are a few people here, but for most of us, that would take a giant leap of faith to make that big of a life decision based on a dream.

OK – so all that’s interesting, I guess – but does any of this have to do with you and me?
I think it comes down to that last line: he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.

That one sentence implies some important lessons for us:
First lesson – Obedience.  When he felt like God told him to do something, he obeyed.  That’s another reason to respect Joseph.  Do WE do what God tells us to do?  Sometimes, I’m sure – but I’d bet that every person here DOESN’T do what God tells us to do at least once a day.  I can make that bet because that’s what sin is – not doing what God has revealed to us – and every one of us falls into that.
Second lesson for us - we should be ready to recognize a sign from God.  Joseph recognized this sign because the angel spoke the exact words that were in the prophecy about the virgin giving birth and ‘he shall be called Emmanuel’.  Would you and I recognize a sign from God if we saw it?  I would also bet that every person here DOES receive signs from God – probably every day!  But we have to train ourselves to see the signs.  Sometimes they’re flashy and grab our attention, but often they’re subtle and we only catch them if we’re awake.

What’s that look like?

Some people say that when someone dies, if you see a redbird hanging around, it’s a sign that your beloved is still with you.  That sign brings comfort.

I know the day of Tim Friedman’s funeral, I went home and saw two bald eagles circling over our house.  I rarely see even one eagle, but that day there were two.  I took that as a comforting sign…

My friend, Jerry was driving to work one morning and for some reason, his old buddy Tom popped into his head.  He and Tom used to talk a lot at work and even prayed together quite often, but Tom had moved to another location, so they rarely ran into each other.  Jerry punched the hands-free dialer and 3 seconds later, these two old friends were catching up – and he found out about all the struggles Tom was going through dealing with a major health issue for one of his kids.  Jerry suddenly felt the need to support Tom face-to-face, so he swung by Tom’s workplace and waited for him.  Tom teared up as soon as he saw his old buddy’s truck… To anybody walking by it might have looked odd to see two grown men hugging in the parking lot, but that gesture meant the world to Tom.  Then Jerry rushed back to his truck to leave and noticed a strange light in his front seat.  He had picked up two of those electric candles for his wife and they were in a box on his front seat – but somehow – while he was talking to Tom, those candles had turned on.  Was there a logical explanation?  Nope. Jerry took it as a sign – kind of like a thank you from God for listening to His prompting that morning.

What’s a sign look like?  A coincidence.  Think about it.  Sometimes, God makes it OBVIOUS that He’s at work.  But more often, a sign from God usually looks like just a coincidence.  However, to those with the eyes of faith, we see the hand that moves the world at work. 
But as Albert Einstein said, “A coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous”.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

2019/12/01 First Sunday of Advent - Interruptions

Before Mass: 
First week of Advent – what comes to your mind?  Probably one of three “Y’s”:  Maybe it’s like Yikes!  Only four weeks until Christmas!  Maybe it’s like, Yeehah, only four weeks until Christmas!  Maybe it’s “Yawn”, Yeah Whatever – advent is just another ‘penitential season’ – another time I’m supposed to take a personal inventory and admit I’m a sinner and make some changes in my life”….yadda, yadda, yadda.

But the Church defines Advent as a time of “Devout and joyful preparation for the Lord’s coming”.

That definition doesn’t help, does it… “devout and joyful” – that means I’m supposed to sit with my hands folded and ACT like I’m joyful about it.  Paint on a plastic smile…

Advent actually means ‘coming’ – like the “coming of the Lord” – or another way to say it might be ‘appearing’ or ‘showing up’.  I like that last one – Advent is about the ‘showing up’ of Jesus.

Keep that in mind as you listen today.  What does Advent mean to you personally? 
Where does Jesus “show up” you’re your life?

Researchers tried to figure out the best way to plant a tree. They planted a bunch of them all in a greenhouse so they could say that all the trees had the same soil, water, and sunlight – but a third of them they staked up to support them.  A third they left un-staked.  The other third were also un-staked, but every day the researchers would manually wave the trees back and forth simulating a strong wind.

At the end of the research the trees that were staked were the tallest – but they also were very slender – so they were very weak.  The un-staked trees were not as tall, but had stronger trunks.  And the trees that had simulated wind were by far the shortest trees – but they also had the thickest trunks – making them much stronger.

Obviously, trees need wind to make them stronger.  If every day was a perfect 75 degrees with blue skies and no wind, trees would all grow spindly and would break easily.  Stormy winds play a role in  making trees strong.

For us humans, maybe we don’t need wind – but we still need something to move us around – to bend our will, you might say.  The winds in our lives are distractions and interruptions.  Interruptions are a normal part of life – and I’d say, probably not our favorite part of life. 

On the other hand, interruptions are what make life exciting.  They interrupt our everyday ho-hum routine – they wake us up – they challenge us to redirect our energies.

Wait, Deacon Mike – you’re saying Interruptions are good?  Like when I’m in the middle of something important and my wife asks me to get a jar of tomatoes from the basement – that’s good?  When I’m trying to take a nap after a long day of work and my kids keep nagging me to play with them? 

Yes – think about it.  You can either stomp your feet as you go downstairs to get the tomatoes – or you can joyfully jump to it and take this as an opportunity to show them that they are high on your priority list.  You’re gonna do it anyway… why not do it joyfully?  You can tell your kids to go away, or you can create memories for them of how you always took time to play with them even when you didn’t want to.

I’m serious-  think about the greatest blessings in your life – were they all part of your plan?  I remember going to a dinner for young adults and my plan was to get to know a young lady I’d seen a month before – but then a beautiful girl from Dubois County walked in.  She interrupted my plans – and I married her – and because of that interruption of MY plans, I now I live in this awesome community.  God’s plan was better.

I know a young lady who recently lost her job – that obviously wasn’t part of her life plan.  Immediately, other work started rolling in.  Now she’s praying about how God is wanting her to serve and where He wants her to go….trusting that God’s plan is better.

Even in our everyday lives – most of our day is unmemorable – we don’t remember driving to work – we don’t remember what we had for breakfast – we don’t remember what we accomplished all day because it’s usually just like every other day.  What we DO remember are the interruptions and distractions… the lady at the cash register who was so friendly… the co-worker who came in asking for prayers for their sick father-in-law…. The emergency at work where we were able to help save the day because we knew how.  Interruptions are the flavor of life.

Or for an extreme example – think about where you were the day the towers fell.  Where were you when you learned that your parent or grandparent died?  These events are extremely traumatic; massive interruptions to our lives.  They wake us up – so awake that we’ll forever remember where we were, what we were doing.  In cases like 9/11, it brought people back to church at least for a while – until they fell back asleep.

And THAT is what Jesus is talking about – don’t let yourself fall asleep – don’t just go through the motions of life.  Don’t just let every moment of every day fit the plan exactly like YOU planned it.  That would be boring – and your will ain’t as good as God’s will.

Every day, watch for when God is trying to interrupt your life.  Look for the moments when Jesus is ‘showing up’.  He’s there all the time, but often we’ve got the cruise control set on our life and we’re just in a zone – oblivious.  Wake UP – notice where Jesus is trying to interrupt you.

In fact, INVITE God to interrupt you.  Seriously – set an alarm on your phone or watch to beep at noon and stop for a quick prayer like the angelus.  Take a minute to look at where God is present RIGHT NOW.  When we EXPECT God to interrupt us, we’re more likely to catch Him in action.

2000 years ago God interrupted all of creation when he told a young jewish girl that she would bear a child – Emmanuel – God with us.  That interruption changed the world and continues to change every one of our lives – that is – if we’re awake enough to notice.

Ask Jesus to interrupt you – ask Jesus to Advent – to show up - in your life every day.  Take the stakes off of your tree, and let the Holy Spirit blow you around a bit.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

2019/10/20 Where Does Our Help Come From?

Before Mass:
There’s an obvious theme which ties all of the readings together today:  persistence or perseverence.  If you listen for that theme, you’ll get a clue why the Church put these particular readings together.  We’ll talk about that theme – but We’re gonna do something unusual today – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done it.  I want to focus on the Psalm.  In the first stanza of the psalm it says “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; whence shall help come to me?”  Yeah – that’s weird english – basically it says, “I look up to the mountains – will my help come from there?”.

Let that question sink in for a moment…. Where DOES my help come from? 
In the readings today, we’ll hear three different takes on where help comes from.  With that question in mind, see if you can pick out the answers in each reading.  More importantly, be thinking about how this applies directly to you.  Not just where does OUR help come from, but where does MY help come from?  This is personal… in fact it HAS to be personal.  Do we even recognize that we NEED help?  If we don’t think we need help, we won’t even bother lifting our eyes to the mountains to LOOK for help.

Have you ever been utterly and completely helpless?  Well of course – we all have – we were born that way.  The only thing we could do without any help was fill our diaper, but then we needed help cleaning that up!

Once we got a little older, most of us became more independent… “self-sufficient” we call it -  It’s the American way – “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” – “be a self-made-man – or woman” – “if you want something done right, do it yourself”.  Even if we do bring God into it, he doesn’t get all the credit – you know – “God helps those who help themselves”.

But even with all of our self-sufficiency – we still get into situations that WE can’t control.  Like the Israelites, we are attacked and don’t really have a choice whether or not to get into battle.  When an army is running at you with swords, even the most self-sufficient person might look around for help.  OK – maybe most of us haven’t been in a sword fight – but every one of us has been in a battle where we need help - Like when the teacher said we failed our test.  Like when we skidded off the road in the middle of the night.  – like when the doctor said the cancer has returned.  Suddenly, we realize just how powerless we are.  Oh, our technology helps – we can pick up the phone and call a friend – find a wrecker – find a tutor - find a specialist doctor in another city.  But the fact remains that we NEED help. 

The question is – “where does our help come from”?

Imagine yourself on the battlefield that day with Israel.  The battle seems to be going well and you look up to the mountain – what do you see?  Moses standing there with the Staff of the Lord raised high in his hand.  You think, ‘we got this!’ 

Suddenly the battle takes a turn for the worse and you glance up to the mountain and see that Moses has dropped his hands.  What?  Don’t you see we’re dying down here?  Keep your hands up!  The battle takes another turn for the better and you glance to the mountain and see Moses sitting on a rock with two men holding his hands up in the air.  You feel a surge of confidence and you shout the battle cry and lead the troop in a sweeping victory.

There’s a whole bunch we can learn for this little story:  why did Moses go on the mountain?  Because they associated the mountain as being closer to God, so by climbing the mountain, it should give them confidence that God would be fighting for them.  Seeing Moses up there with the Staff would have bolstered the morale of the troops tremendously.  So, why did the battle go badly for a while?  Why would God let that happen if Moses is on top of the mountain with the staff?  I suggest that this was a learning opportunity for the Israelites.

Put yourself in their shoes:  where do you think THEY thought their help came from?  Some of them might have decided to put their faith in Moses – and they’d have good reason to- he talked to God – he led them out of Egypt.  So when Moses got tired, could that have been a way for God to show them that Moses was not the one who could help them.  Moses was only human after all.

Many of them might have put their faith in that staff of the Lord… and rightly so – this was the same staff that had parted the Red Sea – this was the same staff that turned into a snake in front of Pharoah – this was the same staff that touched the Nile, turning it to blood.  We CAN’T LOSE with that kind of weapon on our side!  Maybe God’s showing them that the Staff has nothing to do with it…. The Staff is not their source of help.

Then there’s the two guys holding up Moses’ hands and the battle goes well… what’s that supposed to teach us?  Lots of things.  First – as humans, we all need other humans to help us out.  No man is an island, as they say.  We know this… Every day you can find an example of how somebody in our parish is holding up someone else.  Despite our self-sufficiency, we are better persons when we help and are helped by others. 
Second – arms raised up signifies what?  Prayer.  Moses was interceding with God on behalf of the Israelites.  This was a call to be persistent in prayer to God.  As long as we are connected with God in prayer, we can’t lose.

Also – picture what you’d see if you looked up at that mountain that day:  A man with his hands up in this position….holding a piece of wood…. On a mountain….. ring any bells yet?  This is a prefiguring of Jesus who also went up on the mountains and lifted up his hands – but get this…to keep his hands from falling, he let them be NAILED to that piece of wood.  Because of this, he is FOREVER interceding with God the Father on our behalf.  When we look to the mountain, where will our help come from?  From those bleeding hands on the cross.

You know – I could jump to the other two readings to show that they too are telling us to be persistent in prayer – but there’s a deeper message right here in this first reading, so let’s spend our last two minutes here.

Who do you think represents Moses today?  It’s not a trick question…Think about it a second – who goes up the mountain, so to speak, and lifts his hands to God in prayer, interceding for us, the people?  Fr. Jeff.  OK – it’s not a mountain, but he goes up a couple of steps to the altar and there he raises his hands on behalf of the Church and her people.  Is Fr. Jeff as strong as Moses?  Stronger?  Weaker?  Don’t know, but one thing is sure… he’s human.  Like Moses, he cannot hold his hands up constantly without help.  Where does Fr. Jeff’s help come from? 

Just like the two men stepped in to hold up Moses’ hands, we need to hold up our Pastor.  Priests are under SUCH attack from outside the church, but often it seems like it’s open season on Priests from INSIDE the church.  I’m not even talking specifically about Fr. Jeff… I just constantly hear how this priest doesn’t do this right and that priest doesn’t do that right, (and I admit I fall into that kind of talk too easily.  I repent of that today. )

There’s a priest I heard of who was recently preaching about the need to go to confession, and some of the parishioners were telling him to his face that he’s wrong!  This priest is getting hate mail for telling folks they NEED the grace from the Sacrament of Reconciliation!  Yikes!  Priests are under enough attack without me or you – knocking them down further.

Instead, let’s actively hold up our priests.  Not to put them on a pedestal – that would be dangerous too – but stand by them and hold them up so that they can continue to raise their hands on behalf of the Church.  Seriously, make it a point daily to say even a 30 second prayer for Fr. Jeff and his brother priests.   I’ve put some prayers on our website if you’d like to print one off and join me in praying daily.  (*see below*)

But let’s wrap this up…  back to our question:  We look to the mountain, where will our help come from?  Does our help come from the mountain?  Did our help come from Moses?  Did our help come from the staff of the Lord?  Did our help come from the two guys holding up Moses’ hands?  Did our help come from Fr. Jeff?

The answer is found in the very next line of the psalm: 
"My help is from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."

Wherever we turn to for help in this life, we must recognize that ANY help given is ultimately from God alone.  Even if we help ourselves, it is the Holy Spirit working IN us that allows us to do anything good at all!!  That line from the psalm would be a good mantra to memorize and pray often… 
“My help is from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Prayer for Priests

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for the gift of our priests.
Through them, we experience your presence in the sacraments.
Help our priests to be strong in their vocation.
Set their souls on fire with love for your people.
Grant them the wisdom, understanding, and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Inspire them with the vision of your Kingdom.
Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel.
Allow them to experience joy in their ministry.
Help them to become instruments of your divine grace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest.
USCCB prayer-for-priests
Rosa Mystica prayer for priests
Catholic Company prayer for priests

Saturday, September 28, 2019

2019/09/29 - Spiritual Physics

Before Mass:
The OBVIOUS interpretation of the Gospel is that if you’re rich here you’ll go to hell later – and if you’re poor now, you’ll sit at the main banquet table in heaven in the next life.

Maybe – but I don’t think it’s about being rich or poor.  In fact, I don’t think it’s really about the money.   There’s a deeper message here.  Jesus is giving us a lesson in spiritual physics.  Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves…. It looks at mass and energy and force and movement.  Today’s lesson in spiritual physics shows us how the Grace of God flows – or doesn’t flow.

Did you see what I mean?  It sure SEEMS like the theme of the first reading and the Gospel is that if you’re rich here on earth – you’re destined for hell.   And if you’re poor here on earth, you destined for heaven.  Anybody else feel like that’s the obvious interpretation?

But there is a good reason to think that’s NOT the answer – and there’s a clue in the beginning of the first reading – it says ‘woe to the complacent’.  It does not say ‘woe to the rich’.  Big difference.  The complacent person smugly thinks they’ve got everything they need and their future is secure, so they no longer need to put forth effort.  

Those are the people Amos chastises in the first reading.  Let’s take just a little deeper dive into that reading:   the prophet Amos was sent from the southern kingdom of Judah up to the northern kingdom of Israel.  You’ll remember, the 10 tribes had broken off from the southern kingdom after Solomon’s sons made a mess of things in the kingdom.  They actually did pretty well for themselves – experiencing an economic boom.  They were living well – and even started developing their own form of religion.  They were ignoring the Law that was given by Moses.  That’s where Amos steps in…. he was just a peasant from the south, sent by God to warn them that they’ve gone off the tracks.  They had been given every blessing, but they were not worried about the “collapse of Joseph”…what’s that about?  The tribe of Joseph, which was usually referred to as the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, was not doing as well as the other tribes in the north.  They were struggling with famine and misfortune – but the other tribes didn’t seem to care!  Instead they lived it up in the lap of luxury while their ‘brothers and sisters’ suffered.  They had become complacent.  Literally, complacent means ‘with pleasure’.    They’d become addicted to the pleasures of life, but They had forgotten who they were… the chosen people of God.  They forgot that they had been given the Law from Moses….a law which explicitly implores them to look out for the poor among them.  Since they chose not to bother themselves, and instead hoarded their riches for themselves, Amos pointed out that God was going to let them feel the effects of their bad decisions.

OK – keep that in mind as we quickly revisit the theme of the Gospel:

The rich man in the Gospel had also forgotten who he was – he’d also forgotten about
the instructions of the Law.  He dressed in purple everyday – wanting to flaunt the fact that he’s rich.  It even says he dressed in fine linen – the word in Greek actually implies he wore the best underwear…yeah – that detail is in the Bible.   It’s gives an added clue to just how over-the-top rich this guy was.  However, being rich wasn’t his problem… the problem was that he didn’t recognize his brother on his front door step.  They both died and the poor guy went to the bosom of Abraham – representing heaven – and the rich guy went to the netherworld… representing well – not heaven.
But again, the problem here is not that this guy was rich!  The problem is that he became complacent.
I propose that today’s readings are actually a lesson in spiritual physics. 
Here’s the basic premise:  We all receive Grace from God – grace is a free gift of God….free – meaning we cannot earn it.  What are we to do with that God-given grace?  Give it away…. Spend it… invest it.  If all we do is sit on it, it loses its life-giving properties.  Got that?  Grace should flow THROUGH us… not stop in us.
A great example is the Dead Sea – the dead sea is ‘dead’ because it is so salty – like 34% salt.  Ever wonder why it’s so salty?  Because it has no outlet.  It’s like 1400 feet BELOW sea level, so the water has no where to go.  The Jordan runs INTO it, but then it just evaporates, leaving behind all the salt.  A lake without an outlet eventually stagnates – or becomes salty.
Likewise, when we receive the Grace of God – the intention is for us to become a conduit – like a river – letting it flow Through us.  If we plug it up – and hoard it for ourselves, instead of being a river – we become a lake…. And instead of giving life, we will stagnate.
So – is the answer that we need to give all of our money to the poor people?  I don’t think so.  God gives us blessings all the time – and many of them are for us to care for our families and look out for ourselves as we grow older.  Having money is not a problem… but if we hoard it all for ourselves, we are like a lake – collecting the graces of God – where we eventually stagnate.  Instead, we are to be more like a river – allowing the Grace of God to flow out of us, so that more grace can flow into us.  It’s spiritual physics.  The more we share the gifts we’ve been given with those in need, the more blessings we experience.
Make sense?  Let’s give some concrete examples: 
Our Grace Co-Op connects people who WANT to help with people who NEED help.  A perfect example happened just recently:  we had someone in the parish who was sick and had nobody to care for them.  We put the need out to our Grace Co-Op, and our volunteers quickly mobilized a response that sent one or more visitors to this parishioner’s house every day for the next several days – delivering food – but more importantly – delivering human compassion. 
I know this parishioner was greatly appreciative – and felt the love and connection of the community as a result.  But how do you think the volunteers felt?  I haven’t talked to them, but I can only imagine they felt honored to use their cooking skills for the sake of their brother.  I imagine that after visiting, they felt the grace of God poured into their own hearts.
THAT is spiritual physics.  The more we pour out grace, the more grace pours into us.
Another example from just this week:  we have a prayer chain in our parish where several times a week- sometimes several times a day, prayer requests will come through in an email.  Dozens of parishioners offer prayers for those who requested it.  This week, we had three people write back to THANK our prayer intercessors for their help, as they were thanking God for answered prayers.
See – this is the message of today’s readings, I think.  In order for us to live in the Kingdom of God, in order for us to remain in the covenantal relationship with God, in order for us to experience the Grace of God, we have to recognize who our brothers and sisters in need are – and then use the gifts we have from God to help them.
Bottom line for today:  Don’t be stagnant like the Dead Sea.  Be like the river – allow the Grace of God to flow through you.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

2019/09/08 Unwise Wisdom

Before Mass:
There is some important back-information which will help us all understand that 2nd reading better.

You probably remember Paul’s letter to the Colossians – well today’s letter is to Philemon.  He was a church leader in that city.  He must have been rich, since the church met in his house for Mass.  Philemon was baptized by Paul…that’s an important point.  Now, Onesimus was a slave who ran away from Philemon.  Somehow, he ended up in jail in Rome where he met Paul and HE was also baptized. 

This reading is a letter that Paul wrote to Philemon, but intended to be read right before Mass started….with the whole congregation present.  Notice how Paul really lays it on thick.  There’s a reason for that which we’ll discuss.

Also see if you can figure out the Gospel – it’s kinda confusing – but there is a connection with the other two readings. 

A wise deacon taught me that sometimes the very first phrase in the reading can give us a wealth of information.  "Great Crowds were following Jesus"....   yeah - so?  Why were great crowds following? …  Because, they had been fed the fishes and loaves.  Because they had seen the miracles and healings, some of them MAY have been intrigued by what Jesus was saying... but mostly, they followed because of the free food they enjoyed.  Jesus took this teachable moment to put an end to the idea that following him was all about the easy life.

His teaching this day would have been almost 'stinging' to the 'great crowd'.... “hate your father and mother”.... “pick up your cross”.... “renounce all your possessions”.  Gee, Jesus – you really know how to make yourself popular with the ‘great crowd’.  Then there's those two parables about building a Tower or going into Battle.  What's that all about?

The 'obvious' interpretation is that following Jesus is NOT a cake walk.  Being a disciple will cost us no less than everything.  In comparison to God, EVERYthing is second – including family, social status, possessions – everything.

While that is a valid interpretation, and I could stop right there - I'm thinking there is a deeper meaning here:  I’ll call it “unwise wisdom”.  In order to make my point, we need to do a deep dive into the 2nd reading from Philemon, so hold on:

In the second reading, Paul is laying it on thick – almost ordering Philemon to free his slave Onesimus.  On one hand, it seems like Paul is being kinda pushy… on the other hand, he has good reason.  Paul is Philemon’s spiritual father…. He had baptized Philemon when he started the church in Colossae.  The Christians met at Philemon’s house for Mass each week… which means he was wealthy enough to have a biggest house in town.  And that implies that he must have been a business man – because to make much money in those days, he would have had to be in favor with the Roman authorities.  All of these details will be important in a minute. 

Philemon had a slave, Onesimus, who ran away – probably something he shouldn’t have done – BUT while in Rome, he met Paul who converted him to Christianity.  Paul saw that the wisdom of God would require that we pay all of our debts….Remember Jesus said if you come to the altar and remember your brother has something against you, go first and be reconciled, and then come back to the altar.  So if Onesimus really was going to live the life of a disciple, he had to set things straight – BUT he must have been DEATHLY afraid of returning to Philemon – he KNEW what the punishment was for what he had done.  A runaway slave could have their foot cut off.  Yikes!!!  From a worldly perspective, Onesimus should keep running – but from God’s wisdom perspective – he HAD to go back – to make things right – even at the risk of his life.

Paul knows that in order for Onesimus to be a true disciple, he needs to right any wrongs and ask forgiveness of anyone he's hurt.  He had wronged Philemon…. You see, Slavery in those days was not like slavery in America where we captured innocent people and forced them into slavery – instead, in that culture – if you owed somebody something, you would become a slave or sell your family as slaves to pay it back.  You still had rights – and could do business – and could buy back your freedom.  However, there was a debt to be paid – so to run away was to NOT pay your debt… and that was the same as stealing:  which obviously is against one of the 10 commandments – and also against the Roman law.

Philemon has every right to punish Onesimus.  In fact, it was culturally EXPECTED that you would cut off his foot.  If Philemon was to go easy on Philemon, the rest of the community would look down at him – ostracize him – maybe even stop doing business with him.  I mean - think what message this sends to the other slaves in town!!!  This could start an uprising!!  That gives this a whole new level of urgency, doesn’t it?  If Philemon doesn't punish Onesimus, he might lose his livelihood and he and his family will suffer.  Doesn’t sound very wise, does it?  Why would Paul ask him to do something so stupid? 

Because Paul recognizes that the wisdom of the world ain't the wisdom of God.  It’s unwise for Onesimus to return – and it’s unwise for Philemon to forgive him…. But Paul sees a different wisdom…. The wisdom of God…. Which is “unwise wisdom”.
Why would a king stay in the fight with a king that has twice the troops?  Human wisdom would say to run from that fight…. No way you can win.  But what would the wisdom of God say?  Maybe God will work a miracle and we win…. Or maybe God needs our blood to be the seed of His Church.

Why would we start building a tower if we didn’t think we could complete it?  Again – the world’s wisdom says that’s unwise – but what would the wisdom of God say?  Maybe God asks us to build the tower as a way to reveal His Glory.  He can’t work the miracle unless we start…  Reminds me of a quote:  God can’t steer a parked car.
Notice Jesus doesn’t tell us whether the person WOULD build the tower or not – or whether the king SHOULD go into battle…. The important part is they each take the time to seek wisdom before deciding.  RECOGNIZE the cost, yes – but don’t let that stop you.

Allow God to make those decisions, because like the First reading says “the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.”  In other words, We humans are too easily influenced – we are driven by our base desires for food, comfort, sex, power, and various addictions.  If we let the HUMAN desires drive our decision-making, we will miss the grace that God wants to pour into this moment.

I remember the story of two warring nations – they were enemies to the death for a couple of centuries.  But one day, a ship sent out a distress call – and a ship from the enemy country answered that distress call and saved hundreds of people – safely delivering them to their homeland.  They took a huge risk doing this:  the distress call could have been a trick to lure them closer. 

But in the end, peace began that day.  This unwise wisdom shocked an entire generation into realizing that the other country WASN’T evil – that they really were good people with compassionate hearts.  Within a year, the war was over and these countries became allies.

How’s that apply to our everyday lives?  Seek ‘unwise wisdom’.  Look at anything that’s supposedly common knowledge and question whether God’s wisdom would agree.

For example, It’s common knowledge that we HAVE to work on Sundays – I mean – there’s no other choice!  Does God’s wisdom agree?  I’m preaching to myself here, because I’ve ignored that part of God’s law all my life.  Mary and I have started trying to actually take a Sabbath, where we devote the day to God and Family.  It’s almost like God actually knew what He was talking about when He told us to take a day of rest each week.  It’s hard to do – and I’m not trying to raise myself up as the example – but to say that THERE IS GRACE available when we follow God’s wisdom.

I’d invite each of us to take this to prayer for all of the decisions we make:  Look at where the culture has influenced us and ask God if He has another idea:  what we should do for a living – where to go to school – whether both parents need to work – how many sports should our kids be in – who should we date – should I move in with my girlfriend – how to spend my free time, whether or not I sing along at Mass… in every one of these situations and more, the culture will give us one answer, but God has grace to pour into our lives if we would seek His wisdom.

Jesus says to renounce our belongings, our reputation, our pride, our security, even our families – EVEN OUR LIVES – .  To the world, this will look “unwise”….they will likely make fun of us.

I think that’s Jesus’ point:  don’t CARE about what other people think, because Human wisdom is too easily corrupted:  Instead, do what God is calling you and me to do.  It will look like ‘unwise wisdom’ – but regardless of the cost, just do it.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

2019/08/11 - A Severe Beating

Before Mass –
The Gospel starts with good news, but the last half is kinda scary – or at least weird… listen to this:
First Jesus says – have no fear – “the Father is PLEASED to GIVE you the kingdom.”  That sounds like good news… and it is… but then later he says,

  That servant who knew his master’s will
  but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
  shall be beaten severely;
  and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
  but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
  shall be beaten only lightly.

Does this sound like Good news?  What is this ‘severe beating’ that Jesus is talking about?  And just How DO we make the necessary preparations to avoid this beating? 

One early morning in Colorado, my brother and I got up at the crack of dawn to go watch wildlife.  We left as quietly as possible, not wanting to awaken everyone in the camp.  About a hundred yards up the path, Tim remembered he left part of his camera, so he headed back to the tent and told me to keep going – he’d catch up.  Well – I didn’t want to get too far ahead, so I just stepped off the trail a bit to distract myself by exploring a small creek – I kept watching for him to come back, but didn’t see him… I started getting frustrated – c’mon man, time is wasting!  After 10 minutes I went back to the tent to try to find him and he wasn’t there.  I checked the restroom – I walked up the road thinking maybe he was waiting for me somewhere – but nothing.  I awoke the others because I was really getting concerned now – where had he gone!?  I was already wondering how we could notify the search and rescue team in the area.

After searching everywhere we could around the camp, the only other option was that he had somehow gotten lost – or eaten by a bear - or – just maybe he had somehow passed me on the path when I had stepped off.  We drove up the road… about 3 miles… and finally found him.  He thought I had kept going, so he was walking as fast as he could trying to catch up to me.  I was kinda mad at him – he should have KNOWN better than to think I’d walk an hour without him…  but in the end, I knew this was all MY fault.  I had stepped off the trail just long enough for him to pass.
What was supposed to be a fun morning of male bonding with my brother turned into a somewhat scary morning that was totally wasted.  Time we should have spent together, was instead spent alone.  It may sound corny or superficial, but I only get to spend a couple days a year with my brother, so this really bugged me.  That was time we would never get back.  If you can’t tell – I still regret that morning – and that was probably 15-20 years ago.

Regret – that’s the best way I can describe it.  We all have regret about something – a relationship that fell apart because of some stupid decision we made – or maybe we didn’t put our whole heart into it – some class we failed because we decided not to invest enough time to study – some sport we failed at because we didn’t want to give our best effort…  Some money we lost by either gambling it away or investing unwisely…

We ALL know the sting of regret.  It’s that pit in our stomach we get when we realize things could have been so different – things SHOULD have been so much better – but I blew it.

My proposal to you is that Regret is the severe beating of which Jesus spoke.
See – the way it reads, it makes it sound like if we don’t do everything exactly right, Jesus is gonna come down here and personally beat the tar out of us as a punishment.  The more blessings he gives us, the more he expects us to do his will – and the more severely he’ll beat us.  But fortunately, if we don’t really understand what Jesus wanted in the first place, he’ll only beat half the tar out of us.  Am I the only one who read it that way?

I propose that Jesus doesn’t punish us at all.  In fact, that’s the last thing He’d want to do… read that first line again:  the Father is PLEASED to GIVE you the Kingdom.  The thing that God wants most is to lavish his blessings upon his children!  He GIVES us the Kingdom - We don’t earn it – He gives it to us – that’s why it’s called Grace….a free, unmerited, unearned gift of God.

But in order to receive that gift, we have to be ready and watching for Him.  He comes to us when we least expect it – like when my brother passed me on the trail – I had no expectation that he would come back so quickly, so I wasn’t prepared.  Instead, the blessed morning we had prepared turned into severe regret – and a homily 15 years later.  We have to be prepared for Jesus to show up – and in fact, PREPARE for Jesus to show up – or else we might not see Him.

The punishment is not inflicted by God – but is inflicted by ourselves.  See – at some point, we will realize that God tried time after time to reveal himself into our lives – but we either didn’t notice – or worse – we avoided the occasions when He COULD reveal himself.

For example – several of us went to Branchville prison back in April for a rewards day – I think I’ve talked about it before, so I’ll summarize.  The offenders who go an entire year without being written up for anything get invited to this reward day.  They get cookies – probably a dozen or more a piece – they get coffee/cocoa – with real sugar – they get popcorn, a movie, their pictures taken, they get a real burger with real meat, and most importantly, we talked to them and treated them like human beings for a day.  This day is impactful for both the offenders and those of us who went to serve them.  We were stewards of God’s gifts – and we lavished what we could upon them.  But we received more than they did… the witnessing that took place at the end was very moving – yeah – we saw the face of Christ in prison that day.

What would happen if we never went?  We never would have seen the face of Christ.  He chooses to break-through when we step out of our pews – out of our comfort zones – into the places where people are in need of hope.  Those are the places you and I are called to go.  Imagine if we never went – at the end of our lives, we might THINK we’ve had a decent life – but when we die and all is revealed to us, we will see for ourselves the blessings that we passed up by NOT being ready – by NOT making preparations.  We surrounded ourselves with physical comforts – and we got so comfortable that we never experienced the face of Christ!  Imagine the regret we’ll have when we realize it.  At first we’ll be mad – like I was with my brother – but in the end, we’ll realize that Jesus told everything we needed to know – and it was totally my fault. 

Where is your heart?  What is your treasure?  What are we holding onto that prevents us from stepping out there?  What excuses will we come up with to continue to avoid going on a retreat or Cursillo or going to the prison or spending an hour in the adoration chapel or spending time with our family…all the places where God is trying to break through. 

The Father is pleased to GIVE us the Kingdom.  We are ALREADY IN THE KINGDOM!  Let that sink in – this life is not all about waiting to get to heaven.  We can experience the kingdom here and now.  We are all invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb – imagine our regret when, at the end of our lives, we realize could have been at the party our whole lives, but we spent the entire time avoiding going through the door – or worse – we spent our whole lives distracting ourselves. 

The Father is pleased to GIVE us the Kingdom.  All we have to do is get back on the path so we won’t miss Him when he comes to meet us.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

2019/07/21 Unum Necessarium

Before Mass:
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, Who are we? – and why are we here?  Pick up your bulletins and let’s pray together the Mission statement on the front.
We, the parish of St. Isidore, witness to the world the love of Christ we have received in the Sacraments, and we invite others to personally experience the Grace of God through prayer, acts of service, and spiritual formation.

Today’s Gospel is very familiar – the story of Martha and Mary.  It all hinges on the last few lines of today’s Gospel:  "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.   There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

Probably the most common interpretation of that statement is that Martha is too busy – and Mary is better because she takes time to pray and listen to Jesus.  There may very well be some truth to that – but today we’re going to look at another meaning:  Unum Necessarium – that’s the Latin for ‘the one thing necessary’.  Jesus said – there is need of only one thing…  what IS that ‘one thing’?

As you pray through this Mass and prayerfully listen to the Word of God, be thinking about what is MY one thing?  What is God calling ME to do at this very moment – and with my life? 

A group of over 300 high schoolers descended upon Southridge High School this week, as St. Mary’s in Huntingburg sponsored their 6th annual CHWC.  They came from all around… even as far away as Maryland and Wisconsin.  They came to work – that’s why it’s called a work camp – and indeed they did work.  Among the group they did 30 different projects around our area – and – about 36 of them came to OUR parish this week to help us split firewood.  Yes – we were splitting wood in the hottest weather of the season.  I told them at the finale Thursday night that normally we don’t split wood around here until the temperature is below 50 degrees – so if they died next week and went to hell, at least they’d already be trained!

Why would they do it?  Ask yourself – why would any high schooler, much less 300 high schoolers, give up a week of vacation and drive 8-14 hours to Huntingburg Indiana to sweat like pigs in the nastiest weather of the year?  Well, if you got to spend any time with them, you would understand – and I know several dozen of our own youth over the years have travelled to distant cities to do just the same thing – I think they’ll agree that this experience is likely the highlight of their summer – and maybe one of the pivotal moments in their entire life! 

They start each day with Mass – then head out into the heat to work all day.  Over lunch, they pray together and answer some questions designed to make them reflect deeper on their experience and what God is trying to teach them through this week.  Sitting with them, I was inspired.  At night they share a meal, music, prayer, confession, adoration, fun, laughter.  They are fully alive.

At the closing Thursday night, a couple dozen people from around the area got up and thanked these youth for busting their you-know-whats all week to do things for people they didn’t even know.  But like they said – it wasn’t so much the work – as it was the Spirit they brought with them.  These youth were different from the stereotypical teenager who barely looks up from their phones - and if you try to have a conversation, the best you can muster is a grunt.  People commented – and I saw for myself – how these young people asked questions, sincerely listened, and shared their own thoughts and spiritual insights with all of us.  They are fully alive!

There’s so much you and I can learn from this:  first – Did you ever think – why do kids need to travel 12 hours to work for somebody – why can’t we just have them work here?  I’ve realized there is genius to the method – you see – in order for the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of any of us, we first have to be emptied.  In order for Jesus to get our attention, we have to disconnect from our normal lives – away from the job, family, phone, responsibilities, routine… so it makes sense that they need to go to another city. 

The lesson for you and me is that every one of us NEEDS that kind of experience where we empty ourselves – where we disconnect from responsibilities – where we step into the unknown to allow the Holy Spirit to do something different.  Yeah – I’m going to make another challenge for every person here to make it a priority to go on a retreat… maybe even annually – but for heaven’s sake at least ONCE!  Cursillo, CRHP, TEC are great places to start – or St. Meinrad – Whitehouse, Gethsemane,  marriage retreats…. I’ll help you find one suited to you if you’ll let me.  Jesus is inviting each of us to sit at his feet like Mary.

The other thing we can learn from these youth…more than one person noticed –it wasn’t the ‘busyness’ that made them special – it was how they shared themselves.  They recognized that the work they were doing was only secondary – their PURPOSE was to connect with the people they were working for.  That’s super-important:  Like Martha in the Gospel, we all have a tendency to fill our lives with one thing after another- and we run around doing all the urgent things that gotta be done – but we never get around to the one thing necessary.

What is that one thing necessary for all of us?  Relationships.  We are social people.  We are people of communion – we come together as families, as classmates, as club members, as parishioners – we all want to belong – we all NEED to feel like we belong.  That’s part of the genius of Catholicism… our Liturgy is an invitation from Jesus to come together each week to build a relationship with his people, the Church – and the high point of it all is our Communion with Jesus himself when we come forward for the Eucharist.  Our very lives have as their goal the ‘communion of Saints’ where we become one with God.  Then we will be fully alive.

Mary chose the one thing necessary – and that was to work on her relationship with Jesus.  Martha was not a bad person – in fact, by all accounts she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do.  Like we heard in the first reading, hospitality was one of the hallmarks of the Jewish culture – and the woman took personal pride in taking care of the needs of her guests.  Jesus wasn’t telling Martha to stop – but he was pointing out there is another way.  Martha – you are worried and upset about many things – but only one thing is necessary.

There’s the punch line – don’t let it pass you by.  We are all worried and upset about many things… We try to do it all on our own - but only one thing is required:  to allow Jesus to do it for us and through us.  Jesus invites us into a personal relationship – he wants to consume us –  He invites us to turn over our will, our time, our abilities - everything to him - to allow him to consume our lives... and THAT is when we become fully alive. 

THAT is the ‘better part’ that Mary chose.  See – Martha received Jesus into her home, but Mary allowed Jesus to receive her.  It’s like two ways of coming to communion:  do we consume Jesus or does He consume us?  Martha received Jesus – she literally welcomed him ‘under her roof’ as we say each Mass – but Mary allowed herself to be consumed by Jesus – she chose that personal relationship with Jesus which He invites us all to.

Our challenge for this week:  Ask God to reveal to you the Unum Necessarium – the one thing He most wants in your life.  He may not give you specifics right away – but look for the general signs – maybe it starts with the Mission statement we read at the start of Mass.  How does MY life fit into this mission?  Make a habit of asking God moment by moment – what is the one thing required of me right now?  Sometimes it IS working in the kitchen.  But if we NEVER find time to sit at the feet of Jesus… if we NEVER allow Jesus to consume us, then we’ll miss the invitation to be fully alive.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019/06/09 Pentecost Power

Until the atom bomb was detonated in the 40’s, TNT was one of the most powerful forces known to man.  That’s why the atom bomb is always measured in comparison to TNT… so for example, a 1 kiloton nuclear bomb doesn’t mean the bomb weighs 1000 tons…. it means it has the explosive force equivalent to 1000 tons of TNT.  A 1 megaton nuclear bomb equals the force of a million tons of TNT. 
It’s the most powerful thing created by mankind….
Nature goes beyond that – when Mt St. Helen’s erupted in 1980, the blast was equivalent to 24 one megaton nuclear bombs….  That’s 24 million tons of TNT! 
But there is an energy available to us even more powerful than a 24 megaton bomb…  it’s the power released on that first Pentecost.   It was like a bomb dropped on earth.  Not a destructive bomb – but a creative bomb.  Starting with an intense explosion in the hearts of the apostles in the upper room, it quickly blew out the windows into the streets where the shock blast hit everyone with amazement.  In the following days and weeks, thousands of people were impacted by the fallout – being baptized into the Faith.  Within years, the shock wave had spread east to India, north to Europe, south to Africa, west to Rome.  Tens of thousands were affected by the fallout from that one blast.  Many died because of the impact of that bomb – governments declared that anybody impacted should be put to death… for three hundred years hid to avoid being killed– but all the while, the shock wave kept growing…  going all the way around the world and continues even to this day.  The power of this bomb was not measured in tons of TNT – but instead, those impacted by the fallout are known by their love for each other – These people impacted by the bomb came to be known by one derogatory name:  “Christians”.  The effects were contagious – people couldn’t help being drawn to the Love they saw in those Christians – and they too became carriers of the contagion called Love.
People have died for the name ‘Christian’ continuously ever since that day – and believe it or not – more people are dying right now for being Christian than at any point of history.  Maybe not here, yet – but look at Sri Lanka – or the Middle East – the Far East – India – and several countries in Africa.  Just this week I was reading that right now, an average of 11 people are dying every day for being Christian.

The question that’s gotta enter your mind is – what could possibly make people want to join this group of people?  Why would anybody purposely join a church that could get them killed?  Why would anybody accept a teaching that says we must give up our selfishness to help others – we must give of our time, talent, and treasure for other people rather than simply worrying about our own wants?
The simple answer is the Holy Spirit;  The Holy Spirit is the bomb. Ground zero was the upper room, but the energy released in that single blast has caused a chain reaction of explosions across the earth for two thousand years.

Can you imagine what the apostles said when they ran out into the streets on that day?  How about – “here’s a new creed to believe in!”… no – doctrines are not going to touch anyone’s heart.  How about “repent!  Feel guilty for your sins!  Follow the 10 commandments!”  No way – making people feel bad about themselves is NOT the way to get them to convert to a new religion or to change their lifestyle.
No – the message they delivered was direct from the Holy Spirit.  Our first reading tells us they were speaking of the ‘mighty acts of God’.  Catch that?  They weren’t telling people how to live or what they were doing wrong or what rules they have to follow to join up, or what Doctrines they had to believe… they were telling their personal stories of what God did for ME. 

That’s such an important lesson for all of us.  Too often, we Christians are known to the rest of the world not for what we believe in, but for what we’re against.  We’re seen as intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical… why?  Because unfortunately, that’s often how we present ourselves! 
Instead – the first message we must deliver is Love.  We must love them as they are - and that love will catch their attention, because every human heart is starving for love.  We can feed them and let them know there is a source of Love which is unconditional… we cannot make God stop loving us.
We might think – BUT What about those people… stop – remember – God loves them as they are.  Until that message is accepted, Morality and changing their lifestyle is secondary.  The main message is to make sure they know God loves them.
Second - Always be ready to witness to the ‘mighty acts of God’ in our own lives.  Each of us should be ready to tell people what Jesus has done for me personally.  THAT is the story that can intrigue the world to want to take a closer look at Christianity.  And when they look at Christianity – let them see how we love one another.  Our inner change of heart is visible to the world by how we live:  Self-giving Love is attractive to people.   
What started as a gang of frightened people in an upstairs room in Jerusalem detonated into the largest charitable organization on the planet – ever.  Christians were different because they started hospitals and clinics, schools, nursing homes, nutrition centers, pregnancy support clinics.  Christians give of their own money to help their neighbor – and their brothers and sisters in other countries even.  They give their time to visit the shut-ins and prisoners, to pull weeds at their local parish, to teach, sing, decorate, clean, and help administer the business of their local parishes.  Yes – we ARE the largest charitable organization on the planet… Yet – charity is not our reason for existence….it is simply the fallout from the Love in our hearts.
THAT is the power that made Pentecost so explosive.
There’s a song by Jeremy Camp which I think sums it up nicely – I’ll spare you the singing – but listen to these words.
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in US
HE lives in US, LIVES IN US!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

2019/05/19 - Accused of being a Christian

"This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another."

Before Mass:  For the homily today, we’re concentrating on the Gospel, and I have a little homework for everybody here before Mass.  In the next 30 seconds before we announce the opening song, answer this question:  If somebody wanted you to PROVE that you’re a Christian, what would you say?  If somebody wanted you to PROVE you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, how would you do it?

Not long ago, a country was taken over by a group dead-set against Christianity.  They ordered every Christian to be put to death.  As you can imagine, panic ensued.  Thousands of people were executed in public, setting an example for others.  The choice was clear… give up Christianity or die.  Many people gave up their faith – most weren’t really believers anyway – they just came to church because they felt like they had to.  Others tried to keep practicing – but they couldn’t go to their churches anymore, so they’d meet in someone’s house.  They developed a secret password so that when someone knocked on the door, the Christians would know they were legit.

Before going on with the story - Think about this question:  if the government was rounding up all the Christians here, what would be their criteria?  How would they recognize the Christians?  It's not like we all walk around with a cross on our forehead or something!  (except maybe Ash Wednesday).  Look around you… are the people around you Christians?  What sets you and them apart from the rest of society?

Bob was a faithful churchgoer.  One night, he had attempted to sneak into the church to retrieve some chalices and such for use in their home-church.  However, the new government had spies watching the building and he was quickly arrested and drug off to prison.  He was stuck in a cell with a hundred other people accused of being Christian.  One by one they were led before the court to be officially charged.

As expected, he was charged with being a Christian.  What he didn’t realize was he would be given 5 days to build a defense for himself – and at the same time the government would build their case against him.

This was a dilemma for Bob – on one hand, he knew that he couldn’t deny he was Christian – but he was very tempted since he didn’t want to be executed. 

The day came for the trial – and the prosecutor brought forth all sorts of evidence:
    -  His bible, which was obviously used
    -  A stack of rosaries they had confiscated from his house.
    -  Pictures of him going into church
Then he spent the better part of an hour reviewing how Bob spent his time:
    - How much time he spent on work
    - What he did in his free time – which mainly centered around hanging out with buddies or hunting
    - They looked at how much time he spent with his wife and kids
    - They interviewed people from his workplace to learn what kind of person he was.

He wasn’t sure what all of that had to do with anything.  All of that evidence so far was ‘circumstantial’, so he actually had some hope at this point – until the next few pieces of evidence were presented.
    - They had a picture of him receiving communion on the tongue -  his heart sank – surely that was the nail in his coffin
    - They found his Facebook account where he had posted a couple thousand anti-abortion posts.  Again his heart sank – surely that was proof that he was Christian.
    - The last piece of evidence was a picture of Bob in front of the altar with a crucifix around his neck.  What more evidence do you need?

You could have heard a pin drop as The prosecutor finished and sat down. 

Then, without even waiting to hear the defense, the judge hammered his gavel and declared, ‘Not Guilty’!

What?!  Bob felt a mixture of confusion and relief – but also anger – what do you mean I’m not Christian?!

The judge continued – all the evidence given was circumstantial.  Anybody can go through the motions of being a Christian, but there was no evidence given to show this man actually LIVED like a Christian.  All the evidence points to a self-centered person.  This man never let his Christianity actually change him to be more Loving… therefore, he is not a Christian.

Step down, next case.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

2019/05/12 - Good Shepherd

“My Sheep hear my voice - I know them and they follow me.”
Why do the sheep follow Jesus?  Why do you and I (the sheep) follow Jesus? 
I have a two-part story to try to answer that question.

When Fr. Eugene went to the Holy Land a couple years ago, he was acting as a sort-of tour guide for part of the group.  Just outside of Jerusalem, the bus had to stop to allow a flock of sheep to cross the road.  Fr. Eugene was waiting for this moment and he spoke up so the tour group could hear him.  He said, “Did you notice where the shepherd is?”  Everybody craned their necks out the windows of the bus to watch – and they noticed the shepherd was IN FRONT of the sheep.  Fr. pointed out that the shepherd had a certain unique call which the sheep knew – somehow each sheep knew which shepherd they belonged to – and eagerly followed them. 

He went on to point out that this is what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel when he called himself the Good Shepherd and said – my sheep know me and follow me.  Everyone was rightly impressed that Fr. Eugene knew so much – and seeing this with their own eyes made the Gospel just 'come alive' for them.  Sure enough, three flocks passed them that day and each time they could see the shepherd with his staff leading the flock.

Why do the sheep follow instead of running off?  The sheep depend on the Good Shepherd.  They follow him because they trust him.  He lives with them day and night.  He sleeps with them.  Walks with them.  Leads them to verdant pastures to eat.  He guides them to restful waters; directs them and protects them.  He knows each of them personally. 

But how did the sheep learn to follow their shepherd?  Think about that – when a baby lamb is born, how do they learn which shepherd to follow?  Most likely, they follow their mother… and therefore, they follow whoever their mother follows. 
That’s something to think about on Mother’s Day, since for many of us, our mother played a huge role in introducing us to Jesus.

We may have been introduced to Jesus – But are we following him?  If we follow the Good Shepherd, He will lead us to eternal life… says so right there in the Gospel.
But many of us get distracted – - we get culled from the flock and have lost our contact with the Good Shepherd.  We keep following the rest of the flock – wherever the culture takes us – but one day we look up and realize we’re no longer following the Shepherd… instead we’re being pushed along by the culture. 

What’s the consequence of that?  I’ll finish our story to see where it leads us….
The next morning, again they were travelling out of the city, and once again they had to stop for a flock of sheep to cross.  Everyone looked out excitedly, hoping to get a glance of the good shepherd – but something wasn’t right with this flock.  The sheep weren't following anyone.  This flock was being driven instead, being pushed  along by a man with a staff and a dog. 

Everyone started asking Fr. Eugene why they weren’t following the shepherd…. But he couldn’t explain it.  Since they were parked, he decided to hop off the bus and talk to the shepherd. 

“Why, sir, are you driving these sheep rather than leading them?”  “I have been telling these people that a Good Shepherd leads his sheep.”

“You are quite right, Father,” replies the man.  “The good shepherd does lead his sheep.  But you see; I'm not the shepherd.  I am the butcher.”

Saturday, April 27, 2019

2019/04/28 Divine Mercy Sunday: What could be better?

Before Mass:  It’s Divine Mercy Sunday – big deal, right?  What is this Divine Mercy anyway?  What makes it different than normal Mercy?

Many of us know the basics about this Feast – but if I asked you to explain it, chances are you couldn’t – I mean – it seems so obvious, and yet… what IS Divine Mercy?
Let me get the basics out of the way now, then we’ll try to answer that question in the homily:  in the year 2000, John Paul II set the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.  The teaching centers around Sr. Faustina, a visionary from Poland during WWII.  You may have seen this picture- which shows rays coming from the Heart of Jesus – and the picture includes the phrase, Jesus, I trust in You.  There is a Divine Mercy chaplet which is prayed by millions across the planet, and a special Novena which runs from Good Friday to today.   Even IF you are familiar with most of that, you’d probably still have trouble answering:  what Is DIVINE MERCY – and what’s that have to do with ‘Jesus, I trust in You’?

To understand Divine Mercy – we first need to understand several words: Justice, Mercy, Grace, and Divine Mercy.  These are all words we throw around at church and few of us could probably articulate exactly what they mean, how they’re different from each other- and how they are a part of each other.

Imagine you drive an old junker of a car.  One day, while driving to work, it breaks down…you start freaking out!!!  You’re gonna be late for work…and you’ve already been late twice this month because of this STUPID CAR…. You’re afraid you’re going to lose your job.  So you walk and even jog a couple blocks to a gas station to see if they can help, you are freaking out!  You notice a car sitting at the pump with the keys in it and nobody around.  You know it’s not right to steal the car…but did I mention you’re freaking out!?  You don’t want to lose your job, so you jump in the car and take off.  As you pull away, you notice a bald guy in a suit running up behind you waving his hands and yelling.

As you pull in the parking lot at work, you see the red lights pull up behind you and you’re arrested and taken off to jail.  The next day, on the way to the courthouse, you’re practicing your speech….gee your honor, I’m really sorry…no…I’m SOOO sorry…over and over you practice – but as soon as you enter the courtroom, your heart sinks.  You recognize the judge…it’s the same bald guy you saw in your rearview mirror yesterday….YOU STOLE THE JUDGE’S CAR!

You know your goose is cooked.  You hang your head.  You want to disappear into the carpet.  You know you did wrong and you know you deserve the maximum sentence – and the Judge surely won’t go leniently on you since he has been PERSONally offended.  You decide to just confess and get it over with…  You say, “Judge, I am sorry, I have no excuse – and I ask you to simply give me what I deserve”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I am personally sworn to uphold.  The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Since I am a just judge, I’m gonna give you exactly what you deserve.  …and he hammers his gavel and announces the sentence…20 years in prison.

What do you think – is that fair?  Did you get what you deserve?  That is justice – giving what is owed to you.  The judge didn’t care why you stole it or who you are or who you know – if the law says X then you get X – that is justice.  What could be better than Justice?  How about Mercy...

What is Mercy?  Put yourself back in the courtroom.  Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks.  You simply confess and say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be merciful”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says – Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold.  The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  That’s what you deserve, but I can tell that you’re truly remorseful for what you’ve done, so I’m suspending the sentence and you’ll be on 2 years probation with only a $1000 fine to pay for court costs.  And he hammers his gavel.

You’re jaw drops – you’re amazed – this judge is great!  Instead of giving you what you deserved  (justice), he gave you the minimum sentence allowed by law (mercy)!  Notice the judge COULD have sent you to prison for 20 years – but because you were sorry for what you had done, he gave you less punishment than you deserved.  That is Mercy.  Pretty good stuff, right?   What could be better than Mercy?...

How about Grace:  Put yourself back in the courtroom, Just like before, you recognize the judge and once again your heart sinks.  You say, “Judge, I am truly sorry, I have no excuse – but I ask you to please be gracious”. 

The judge looks at you across the desk, takes off his glasses and says,  Lady, you broke the law of this country which I personally am sworn to uphold.  You’ve also personally offended me by taking MY car.  However, seeing that you’re sorry for your crime and have begged not just for Mercy, but for Graciousness, I will show you how Gracious I can be.   The law clearly states that Grand Theft Auto carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Since I am Gracious, I am dropping the charges.  Not only that, but I realize you’ve been driving an old junker of a car, and that’s why it broke down, so, I’m writing here a personal check for $25,000.  Buy a new car and don’t be late for work again.

You have just experienced Grace.  Grace is receiving what you didn’t deserve.  A favor.  An un-deserved and un-earned gift.    Notice because the Judge was the one who was offended, he has the right to drop the charges!  Whereas Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, Grace is to receive a blessing we didn’t deserve.  The Grace of God is what saves us - notice that there is nothing we could ever do to earn or deserve what Jesus did for us on that cross.  It's pure grace - a free gift.  What could be better than Grace?  Could it be Divine Mercy?

So – what is DIVINE MERCY?  Is it Justice?  Mercy?  Grace?  I think it is ALL of the above.  Divine Mercy is a combination of – because God gives us what we need most.  Sometimes we NEED to spend a night in jail so that we learn from our mistakes.  Sometimes we need to be cut some slack and shown mercy.  And of course, God’s grace is given to us every moment of every day.

God will go to any length to give us what we need... in the Gospel, Thomas needed to stick his finger in the nail holes in order to be able to believe... and Jesus was willing to let him!  In the first reading, there were signs and wonders - and many people needed to see those signs in order to believe.  Some of those signs weren't what we might think - I know at least two people who had fallen dead at the feet of Peter - that was a sign too.  Not all signs and wonders look like blessings.

Divine Mercy gives us what we need.  That’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow – because it might not look like a blessing at the time.  The best example I can think of was when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, death and suffering entered the world and they were thrown out of the garden of Eden…. Now – was that a punishment or a blessing?  I’ve always thought it was a punishment, but look at it this way:  once suffering entered the world, God did not want us to suffer forever – so he took Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life.  Death was actually a mercy of God, as it limits the years of suffering we must endure.

Divine Mercy is mercy – but it may not seem like it at the time.  It comes down to Trust.  Spiritual writers for centuries have tried to say it in many ways, but it boils down to this:  everything that happens to us is either sent by God or allowed by God.  If we trust that God always has our best interest at heart – and He does – then we can trust at any moment that whatever is happening at this moment is Divine Mercy at work.  That can be SUCH a hard pill to swallow.  That’s why the bottom of the picture says, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’.... so we can practice saying that every day.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

2019/04/21 Resurrecting Hope

The whole world seems to be falling apart and becoming more violent, more hateful.  It would be easy to despair if we focused on all the negativity.  But Easter is THE ultimate day of hope…  and I want to share a story about Lenny  – A TRUE story – although I changed some details to protect his real identity.

Lenny was what we would call a “hardened criminal” – and he looked the part:  muscular, tatoos everywhere, a thick beard and a scowl told you to give him plenty of room.   His mom had died when he was 6 – his Dad had done some bad things… unforgivable things.  By the time he was 12, Lenny was fending for himself on the street, joined a gang, got messed up in doing and selling drugs, and at 18 was sentenced to life in prison for a brutal murder.

From all accounts, Lenny was a hopeless case… a sorry excuse for a human being.  The system wrote him off.  His family wrote him off.  Counselors wrote him off.  He was as good as dead.

Lenny survived all these years in prison by doing two things:  He was purposely mean, thinking it would  ‘earn’ the respect of everyone on the yard – and second: every day he fed his anger.

See – Lenny blamed his dad for how his life had turned out.  If his dad hadn’t been such a loser, Lenny might have stayed on the path of a normal life.  Not only that, for reasons I can’t explain, Lenny blamed his Dad for his Mom’s death.

To put it mildly, Lenny hated his Dad.  That hate and anger fueled Lenny to pull further and further away from people – to scowl harder – cuss more violently – becoming ever meaner.  Every day, Lenny would wake up with this anger, and lay there feeding it like you’d feed a pet dog -  Lenny’s anger was his backbone.
But then a group of men showed up to put on a Kairos retreat.  In case you’re not familiar with Kairos, it is a three-day retreat based on the Cursillo method, but it was developed specifically for prisons.  Upon hearing that Kairos was coming, Lenny rolled his eyes… whatever – ain’t no blankety-blank, blankin’ Christians blankety blank gonna save me! 

But when the retreat started, Lenny was sitting at the table.  That’s not totally surprising – I mean – at least for those three days he’d get fed REAL FOOD – and he got to be out of his cell three times as long.  He wasn’t there to find Jesus – not a chance - he was just there for a break in the monotony and the cookies.
On the third day of the retreat – at 10 am – Lenny spoke up for the first time all week without cussing.   “I want to give my life to Christ”.  And this big bear of a man put his head down and sobbed.  Amazingly, all these other men who had been avoiding Lenny circled around him and prayed with him – yeah – it’s hard to even imagine the scene.  37 hardened criminals gathered around one bawling gangster talking to Jesus.

Somewhere through the three days, the witnesses that were shared by the team and the other offenders at the retreat led Lenny for the first time to realize that his anger wasn’t his strength – it was his weakness.  His unforgiveness of his Dad wasn’t his backbone, it was a poison killing him from the inside.  His unforgiveness was his own personal prison in which he had locked his heart.  Jesus was able to reach down into that prison – into the hardened heart of a man who had spent his life avoiding letting anybody get close.  For the first time since his Mom died, people showed Lenny what love looks like! 

I share this true story because – it’s a great sign of hope.  Regardless of how hopeless things can seem, the Grace of God can ignite hope from the smallest kindling.
Every one of us here has something in our life that seems hopeless… our marriage, our relationship with a brother or sister or parent, a dead-end job, a teenager on drugs, a spouse addicted to alcohol, an injury or illness that has us sidelined.  Every one of us experiences these seemingly impossible situations and it would be so easy to fall into despair…. Yet we dare to keep hoping.

If God can reach into the stone tomb to raise his Son from the dead, God can change ANY hopeless situation.  If God can reach into the stone tomb of the prison to touch the heart of a hardened criminal, He can reach the heart of OUR hopeless relationships.  Really…

What do we have to do?  Obviously pray – but then just BE the instrument for God to show love to that person.  Just like the team that went into the prison to put on Kairos, you and I can be the arms outstretched to show love to even the un-lovable.  By showing Lenny what love looks like, his heart melted.  We may still have to give tough-love to avoid enabling our drug-addict teenager – but we can’t lose hope that somewhere – perhaps when they’re in the tomb of a prison for 3 days or for twenty years – God will resurrect their hearts…

And if you and I would drop whatever anger or pride or unforgiveness we’re holding onto, he can even reach into the prison we’ve made for ourselves and resurrect hope.

2019/04/19 Good Friday - The EROS of Christ

We hear the story of the Passion twice a year – on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  Do you ever feel like – Jesus – why don’t you say something?  Why don’t you defend yourself?  I mean – we KNOW you have the power to convince Pilate and the other leaders – but you say almost nothing.  Why don’t you try to save yourself? 

I think the answer is ‘Passion’.  We normally use that word Passion to refer to the suffering and death of Jesus – but let’s look at it from another perspective.  Where else do we use the word Passion?  In the love between a man and a woman, for example, they can experience a passionate kiss.  They are said to ‘have a passion’ for each other.  This may seem weird to be talking about this kind of Passion on Good Friday, but stick with me.

In the Theology of the Body, the word Eros is used a lot – and as you all know, Eros is one of the four Greek words for Love (whereas English just has one) - Eros normally what we think of as erotic love – maybe better translated as ‘passionate love’ - like the passion between and man and woman.  Christopher West, in reflecting on the teachings of St JPII, goes a little deeper – Eros is our DESIRE – it is what MAKES us Passionate – it is the fuel that drives us to do anything in life.  Eros calls us out of our SELF to seek to be with another person.  That’s the key – Eros is what makes us come out of our selfishness for the save of someone else.  Eros IS our Passion - think about it.  If you and I have a Passion for something, it means we love something – for example, 

- a firefighter has a passion for firefighting… and doesn’t mind getting out of bed – sometimes more than once in a night – for the chance to help someone. 
- Maybe you’re a student learning to be a nurse or engineer or plumber – what drives you to spend all those hours studying? 
- Everyone with a job – what gets you out of bed to drag yourself to spend yet another day in drudgery? 
- Parents – what drives you to stay up all night with a sick child – and to provide for these little rug-rats who don’t even seem to appreciate what you do for them?

I suggest – if you can answer that question for yourself – you’ll identify your passion – the one thing in your life which drives you to act – to study – to get off the couch or out of bed – to willingly put yourself through the pain. 

Jesus didn’t try to save himself because the cross WAS his passion.  His greatest desire, his Eros, was to establish the Kingdom of God – and the path to do that led right through the cross – so to try to save himself would have been going against his passion.

So – on this Good Friday – yes, we glorify Jesus and we’re thankful for all he went through for us – but don’t stop there.  Think about what DROVE him to do it… think about how madly he loved us – how madly he loves YOU.  Think how passionately He must have wanted to bring us ALL into the kingdom…

Can we love Him as much as He loves us?  Can we seek the kingdom with the same unwavering intensity that led him to the cross?  The message of the cross is that we only find true joy in life when we identify our deepest desire – our Eros – our Passion.

Our life is complete when we find something – or more likely – some ONE to give our life to.