Sunday, March 31, 2019

2019/03/31 - Admitting We are Blind (or 'Whattayaknow?')

Before Mass:
As you listen to the story in today’s Gospel about the man born blind, think about this question:  What do you and I ‘know’ about God?  Some people admit they know nothing of God – some of us pretend to know a lot about God – and others think we know it all! … or at least… we know all we need to know.   That’s a dangerous place to be – thinking we know it all. It sets us up to judge everyone around us – and we may even find ourselves judging God himself.

When Jerry was in high school, like most young people, he wasn’t sure he believed in Jesus – or even in God for that matter.  It just seemed like with all the scientific evidence out there for evolution and the age of the word and the big bang theory – the stories in the bible seemed like irrelevant old-fashioned tales that grandmothers use to keep their kids in line.  Like most people his age – and truthfully – like many people of all ages – he didn’t see a ‘need’ for God anymore.  Science explained it all.

So he decided to stop believing.  He called himself an agnostic – but he lived more like an atheist.  See – an agnostic is somebody who thinks we can’t prove God exists… but an atheist ‘knows’ there is no God.  Yeah, atheists can be good, moral people – but without God, everyone decides for themselves what is right and what is wrong… again, because without God, there’s no objective morality.  Jerry started living that way – doing what HE wanted to do - doing things which got him into trouble – and he hurt people – and even hurt himself more than he even knew. 

In college, Jerry had sunk to the lowest of his life – he was doing all the things he was expected to do at college.  At first it was fun – something new – he felt like an adult when he did those things.  But one night, his girlfriend broke up with him – You’re just no fun to be around anymore.  You use people – you’re always drunk – and all you think of is yourself. 

It was a kick in the gut… The next night, Jerry said ‘no’ when his roommates invited him to go partying again – he thought – is this really fun?  Getting so drunk that I can’t remember the evening – then throwing up and dealing with a hang-over the next day?  He was also cut to the core by his ex-girlfriend’s accusations.  Jerry had been a good kid his whole life – and to think that he was now known as a ‘trouble-maker and a ‘user’ – that was a wake up call for him.  He realized if he continued down this path, he would live a lonely life because he would hurt anyone he came close to.  For some reason, he had a vision of his grandma sitting in her rocking chair praying the rosary.  It was a common sight as a kid…but something made it come to his mind this morning.  His grandma was a saint... and he wanted more than ever to be like her.  He wanted to be the person he used to be.

One of his high school friends was also on campus – she was involved in the campus ministry.  He’d regularly made fun of her with his buddies as she would invite them to the Sunday evening Mass.  But she never let it phase her… she just kept asking.  Thinking of how he’d treated her, he regretted it – and he could see what an absolute jerk he had become.

He texted her and asked if he could go to church with her that afternoon… and they talked for hours afterward.  He told her how he realized that living life without a moral compass was leading him to be a person he didn’t like.  He admitted to her he still didn’t really know if God existed or if Jesus was the Son of God – but he envied the life he saw that she had – the life he used to have with his grandma - so I want to know Jesus again – I want to have the faith I had as a kid – I want to like myself again.

Jerry was like the blind man in the gospel today -  notice that he was born blind – so he didn’t even know what it MEANT to see!  To him, the world had no light in it – he’d never seen light, so he didn’t even know what light was!  But Jesus met him where he was and touched him.  Notice the guy only had to do two things:  he had to let Jesus touch him – and he had to wash in the pool of Siloam… it’s an act of faith… a stepping away from his past in order to grasp the grace that Jesus was giving.

His eyes were opened immediately – but his faith in Jesus took a bit more time – notice his Progression of faith:
- When he was first being questioned by his neighbors, he just referred to the man who cured him as “the man called Jesus”;
-Then when being questioned by the Pharisees about the cure, he admitted, “He is a prophet”;
-When the Pharisees question him a second time, he progressed to say Jesus was “a man … from God”;
-But after getting thrown out, he met Jesus who asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  After a brief exchange, He made his profession of faith: “I do believe, Lord.” 

Notice too how all through the reading, people ‘know’ everything – for example: the apostles asked if  this man was blind because of his own sin or his parents sin.  They ‘knew’ that anybody with a physical handicap only had it because of sin.  Jesus says – hogwash.  OK – that’s not a direct translation, but it’s pretty close ;)

The Pharisees say – we ‘know’ this man can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.  See – in the day – you were not allowed to heal anything on that day… so if you sprained your ankle, you couldn’t even pour cold water over it to stop the swelling.  They were so stuck in their ‘knowledge’ of right and wrong that they didn’t seem to care that the laws of the universe had been bent to heal a man born blind!  Their knowledge blinded them.

The only person who was NOT secure in his knowledge was the man who had been blind – he made this profound statement:  “If he is a sinner, I do not know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

HE was the only one who actually KNEW anything.  Where did he get this knowledge?  It wasn’t anything he learned from a book or a sermon… his knowledge came from his EXPERIENCE.  He had been touched by Jesus and it changed his life.

How’s this apply to you and me?  We all are born blind, but gradually our eyes adjust and we can make out shapes – then we recognize mom’s face – and gradually we see the world around us as it is.  We are also born spiritually blind – but fortunately for most of us, our parents introduced us to Jesus.  As kids, we had a childish faith – not a bad thing – in fact, we should all be blessed to have the faith of a child – but at some point, we start questioning… why do we go to church?  Is this really the body and blood of Jesus?  Does God exist?  Questions are good – let me reiterate – we all NEED to question.  Because until we question, our faith is really just a matter of acting out what our parents taught us.  We might learn our prayers and receive the Sacraments and ‘think we know’ all the answers, but knowing answers is not the same as knowing Jesus.  It’s only in looking back at our EXPERIENCE of Jesus that we realize our eyes have been opened.

But here’s the thing –Jesus can’t open our eyes – He can’t touch us - until we admit we’re blind.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

2019/03/17 - Counting Stars

Before Mass:
How’s your Lent going?  I have a confession to make – I ate ice cream Thursday – I know, I know, I gave up sweets for Lent but – well – it seemed justified at the time….but I wish I had better will power.

Anybody else having trouble?  I heard something this week which gave me another perspective – we are SUPPOSED to have trouble keeping our resolutions.  Really – if we DON’T struggle – if we get through Lent Easily, then we’re not doing Lent right.  In order to gain the fruits of this time of penance, we have to feel the weight of the cross – and the main thing we’ll learn is that we CAN’T do it.  If we rely solely on ourselves to persevere through Lent, we will fail – but that teaches us perhaps the most important lesson of all:  we ALL need a savior.  We all need Jesus to take part of the weight of the cross we voluntarily pick up.

Why do we do this?  We are being changed – transfigured – like Christ.  But before we can be glorified, we must carry our cross.

So – if you’re having an easy Lent – step it up a notch – don’t leave your cross standing in a corner.  If you’re having a tough Lent, congratulations – get back up and pick up that cross again but rely on Jesus standing right beside you helping to carry your cross. 

What’s the point of the Gospel – the Transfiguration?  Matt, Mark, and Luke all tell us this story – so it’s obviously important – but Luke gives us a detail the others omitted.  It says, ‘while he was praying’… Big deal, right – Jesus prayed all the time – why is this note-worthy?  Because Prayer was the context for when he was transfigured.  It was in prayer that he would light-up.  It was in prayer that he was changed.  It was in prayer that he was glorified.  It was in prayer that he conversed with the law and the prophets – connecting himself with the roots of the Faith.

This is what can happen to us through prayer:  It can light us up – we can connect with the law and the prophets…most importantly, it can change us.  In the second reading it says, ‘He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body ‘ for us – God promised to glorify US as well – but how do we tap into that Glory?  By following Jesus’ example – go to a private place and pray.

I know – sounds too simple  - but that’s the genius of Christianity – tapping into the very depths of God’s promises is as simple as raising our minds to God – allowing His Word to light us up.

Does that happen to you and me?  Do we ‘light up’ when we pray?  I’ll admit, most of the time, I’d have to say ‘no’.

Perhaps if we all had a clue just how big God’s promises are to us… maybe then we would shine like Jesus did.  How big are the promises?  God tried to give Abram an idea by saying – see the number of the stars – and count them if you can – just so will your descendents be. 

If you were to stand outside on a particularly clear night away from all the city lights, you would be able to make out around 6000 stars.  Is that how many descendents Abram was going to have?  Take a guess for yourself how many stars there are… go ahead, pick a number.

In his show Cosmos, Carl Sagan stood on a seashore.  He reached down and scooped up a double handful of sand. 

He said – if you counted the number of grains of sand in his hands, it would be close to the number of stars that you could see with a naked eye on a clear, moonless night.  But he made the claim that there's at least one star for every grain of sand on planet earth.  Think of the billions of trillions of grains of sand in the world's sandboxes, beaches, and deserts. 

Impossible… No way, people said… There's just no way that can be true.
And they were right – Scientists now know that there are at least 10 stars for every grain of sand on our planet.  And since we likely haven’t seen the whole universe yet, even that number may be low.

For example – Y’all know the Big Dipper – if you just look at the scoop part of the dipper, Astronomers have so far identified more than five million galaxies lying just within that little square part of the sky.  Think about that – just that small part of the sky has 5 million GALAXIES, each of them having 100-400 billion stars. We can’t even imagine a number big enough to count all the stars.

Who cares… well I do.  This show that God’s blessings are more than abundant – or even super-abundant – it says that God’s blessings are not just un-countable…. But His promises are beyond our wildest imagination.  God made a promise to Abram that his descendants would be more than the stars….  Let it baffle your mind that when God makes a promise to you, he will fulfill it beyond your wildest imagination.

And you can count on that.

*special thanks to Glenn McDonald, Director of Mission Integration for the Ascension Ministry Service Center in Indianapolis, Indiana for the inspiration/information about the stars.