Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I'll Meet You There

In the early nineties I did a science fair project that got a bit of recognition at the local and state level.   It wasn’t that great a project when I think back on it.  I wrote some software for a computer that generated images based on Fractal Geometry and Iterated Functions.  Basically creating pictures from math.   At one point I got several awards and qualified to be sent to not only the State Science Fair but the International one in Biloxi, Mississippi as well.  I was ecstatic and so were my friends and family.   My mom and dad gave me enough cash to take everyone out to eat pizza.  Since my little Dodge Daytona was full already my brother was going to be dropped off at Pizza Hut with us and we would all celebrate together.

We drove the thirty minute ride back to Clintwood from Wise, Virginia listening to music, chatting and laughing.  As we pulled into the Pizza Hut parking lot we noticed that not only was the parking lot full but there seemed to be a line out the door.  My friend Michael suggested we go to another pizza place down by the post office.  I had never been there and they assured me the pizza was better.  Twenty plus years later and I cannot even remember the name of the place.   What I do remember is that we were having a great time until my mom came marching through the door with that look on her face.  You know the one where you are in so much trouble that you know not only your middle name is going to come out, but your last one too?  My brother had been sitting at Pizza Hut for over an hour waiting for us to show up.  I had completely forgotten him.
In my exuberance of being able to take my friends out to eat and my pride at celebrating my winning project I had forgotten him.   I had made it all about me.  Myself.  I.   I still to this day think about that day.  How my brother had to sit waiting for us.  How I didn’t even think about him.   How that I was so self absorbed that all that mattered was impressing my friends and filling my own stomach.  It was all about “what is in it for me.”   

That’s the image I get from the Gospel for the Mass today.  James and John seemed to be asking Jesus that very question.  “Hey Jesus, what is in it for us?”  They aren’t worried about the other disciples at the moment, not worried about the people who are following along afraid.  Instead they want a reward in the kingdom to come.   Jesus shares with them what their reward is going to be:  You are going to die.   James and John had just heard Jesus declare that He was going into Jerusalem to die.  They declare they can drink the same cup He is going to drink.  That’s a hard cup to think about, but they declare like we often do “We can!”  It’s easy to say, but harder to do.   Yet, they did.  All of the Apostles but one were martyred for their faith.  They drank that cup.

In Peter’s epistle he reminds us that we are challenged to love one another intensely with a pure heart.  I didn’t love my brother back then the way I should have.   I was too worried about myself, about my own needs.  Jesus declares that we must drink of his cup.  That means to die.  Now here in America at the moment we don’t often have to worry about dying as a martyr for our faith.   The challenge though is a spiritual one.  Are you willing to die to yourself?   To your own needs?  To look outside of yourself to serve the other?  That’s our call as Christians.  To be servants, humble and meek of heart.   To serve the widow, the orphan, the poor, the refugee.  To worry less about our own reward and more about our brother sitting alone waiting for a meal and companionship.  We have no idea who will be here tomorrow, so we must live in the present.  So are you ready?  Oh how easy it is to say “We are!  We can!”  But Jesus is saying to each and everyone of us: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  Are you ready to put yourself aside and let Christ live through you for those less fortunate?  With man this can be impossible, but with God all things are possible.  

We are called though to realize that Christ is in every person we meet, every person we see. "Whatever we do for the least of these, you do for me." How many times have you walked by your brother as he sat desiring communion, desiring a meal, desiring just a moment of your time? This time when I say I will meet you there, I’m not going to forget.  One day I hope that my brothers and I can sit across from each other at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and share in that communion that is self giving, self sacrificing, and all encompassing.   

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pull em up!

There is a saying that my friend uses.  He says "get ready, be ready, stay ready."   The first reading from 1st Peter reminds me of that saying.  Peter reminds us to gird up the loins of our mind.   That doesn't seem to say a lot to us in today's society.   Our clothes are normally already split up the middle.  Jeans, pants, shorts.. we can easily go from walking to running without really worrying about any preparation, as long as we pull them up ;)   Ages ago people wore robes though.   To gird your loins meant to tie them up, to form them into a kind of pant so that you could run freely.  If you didn't, you would likely trip and fall.

It has another echo though that we as Christians should be aware of, one that our Jewish brothers and sisters would see almost immediately.  That of the Passover.   Be ready.   Have your shoes on.  Eat with your staff in your hand.  Have your loins gird and ready to go.  The Passover is coming and you need to be ready to leave.   What good would it be for you if God came and freed you if you couldn't outrun the army of Pharaoh?    So gird your loins.  Get ready, be ready, stay ready.

Peter talks about girding the loin of our minds though.   "Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy."  Peter is challenging us to be alert because the devil is prowling about like a lion to devour us.   He wants us to fail, to sin.   Not only that, he wants us to wallow in our sin.. to think we are too bad, too horrible for God to forgive.  We must be ready at every moment.  Aware of what we are seeing, listening to, thinking.  Not out of some fear of doing something wrong.  No, out of love for Christ.

Jesus goes on to talk about the reward in Heaven, the reward for being Holy.   Just like the Apostles we are challenged to examine everything in our life and get rid of anything that prevents us from living our calling.  Even if it means giving up family, friends, wealth, power, success, pleasure, and honor.  All of those things will be restored 100 fold in Heaven.  Why?  Because of Christ.   Christ is the fullest revelation of God.   Everything we want to know about Him we can learn from the incarnation.  First and foremost, we see that Christ emptied himself of his power, of his glory, of everything that made Him God, to become a man.  To experience us fully, to draw so close to us that we ourselves can then draw closer to Him.   In Heaven, Christ will be our light, our glory, our honor.  It will be more amazing, more pleasurable, more real than anything we have ever experienced.

We don't have to wait till then though.   We can experience Christ fully right now, Heaven fully right now in the Sacraments.  The book of revelation gives us a view of Heaven, and we see that view lived out in the Mass.   At Mass, Heaven kisses earth!  It requires though that we gird up our minds!  Get ready, be ready, stay ready.   That's what we need to do before Mass.   We need to be ready for what is coming.  That means we need to be aware of what is coming.   It means we need to be in a state of grace.   It means we need to fast before receiving Him.  It means we need to go into mass with reverence and devotion, with the proper dispensation for receiving the grace of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.   In the Eucharist we can experience exactly what Jesus was speaking about... the fullness of God coming to reside in our minds, our hearts, our souls.  Do you believe that?   Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Monday, May 23, 2016

That's Not How I Want It!

In Today's Gospel we see one of the most beautiful phrases in Sacred Scripture, at least in my humble opinion: Jesus, looking at him, loved him.  Oh how that should resound in our hearts and our souls as we think of Jesus doing the same for us.  Here is this young man who has done everything he has been taught but he still feels something more is necessary.   Why do we call him a young man? As Archbishop Barron said, "Because he came running up."  We know little else about him except his desire to get to Heaven and that he knew he must come to Jesus for the answer.  That's really a lesson in and of itself isn't it?  When we have to make a decision, when we have a crisis in life, when we want to know an answer... how often do we go around asking everyone else their opinion before speaking to our friend, our brother, our Savior first?

The young man calls Jesus good.  Jesus responds with that inquiry, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone."   So many have interpreted Jesus words here to say that he was just a man, that's part of the problem of interpreting scripture outside of the faith in which it was written.  We can't interpret this verse without looking at not only all the rest of scripture but what the authors believed.   Jesus was not telling the man not to call me good but saying "Do you know who I am?  Do you know why you sought me out?  I am the Son of God.  That is why I am good."   He knowing the young mans heart goes on to say you already know the commandments, follow them.  The man knows that's not enough, how do we know this?  Because he pushes the point.   "I've done all this.  I need more."  That's when He turns and looks on him and loves him.  Oh how wonderful a moment that must have been.  What more can the young man offer? What more can Christ ask of him?

In the book a Rabbi Talks with Jesus, Jacob Nuesner posits that to all of this Christ adds only one thing.  For Neusner it's something unfathomable.  Something that if he had heard himself he would walk away.  For those of us with faith though, those of us who are Christian, it makes perfect sense.   Jesus does not add or take away from the law, but he fulfills it.  To the young mans list he simply adds one thing: Himself.   "Get rid of all the things holding you back, and come and follow me."  The young man was rich and this was his folly.   This was what he was clinging too.  This wealth was exactly what stood in his way of "letting go, and letting God."  It seems like a simple thing doesn't it?   This young man was faithful and he believed.   He knew where to find the answers and now exactly what was left for him to go on to live in Heaven with God the father for eternity.   Yet, he walked away sad.   I imagine when he ran up he thought that maybe Jesus would exhort him, "Well done good and faithful servant!"   Or maybe he thought that it would be something simple like go to this place and do this thing.  

It reminds me of Naaman the Leper who came to Elisha for healing.   He expected some quest, some Holy Grail to have to find, in order to receive this miraculous cure.   When Elisha told him something so simple to do.. he rejected it and stormed off.   How dare this holy man tell him simply to dip in the water?  It wasn't until a servant convinced him to give it a try that he received God's blessings.   If the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  

Like Naaman and the rich young man, sometimes we want our relationship with God to be more complicated than it is.   We go to Confession where Jesus himself meets us Sacramentally and then we wonder afterwards if we did enough, if the priest gave us enough penance, did I remember everything?  Or we come to the Eucharist and we worry whether or not we are doing everything right.. do I need to do this first?  Or this after?  Kneel? In the hand? On the tongue?   We spend so much time worrying about all the extras, trying to make it into our own Holy Quest that we forget the simple nature of what God has offered us.. He has added just one thing: Jesus.   I'm not talking about ignoring reverence.   I am talking about making the moment about Christ and not ourselves.  Both men walked away from an encounter with God because it wasn't what they wanted in that encounter.   It wasn't how they wanted it to be.

How many have done just that today?  "I don't like the priest."  "I don't think I need confession."   "Why should I go to Mass every Sunday?"  Jesus says, "Come and follow me."  He gave us a Church with authority.   That Church has shown us the revealed way to do things.  What is standing in our way?  For some of us it's not wealth, not all of us have the same condition this rich young man had.. nor do we know if this man ever turned and followed Christ... what we do know is that he had an attachment to something other than God.  Where is mine?   That is the question we must ask today.   "If Jesus asked me to give up X and come and follow him, would I go away sad?"  What is your attachment?  Don't miss an encounter with God because it isn't how you thought it should go... rather, let Him lead you to the truth.  Jesus is looking at you and loving you, how will you respond?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Fountain of Hope

Today is the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.   A feast day in which we celebrate the mystery of who God is.  God is one being.  That is something all of the different, major religions descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Christians though believe that though He is one being, one God, He is three co-eternal persons.  That is what we Catholics mean when we say it is a mystery.  It doesn't make sense to us as a 'person' to consider being also part of another being.  Yet, we are much the same aren't we?  My wife, my daughters, and I are all a family.  We are one unit, made up of separate people.   The trinity is more intimate than that.. but the Church has long held that the family, the domestic church, is the visible sign of the trinity and a witness to the faith we profess.

Jesus reminds us that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the truth and will proclaim to us all things that were belong to Him.  That's a beautiful promise that many of us have rejected or forgotten here two thousand years later.  When we look around we find not just one Christian family, but over forty thousand Christian denominations.  All of them claiming to be led by the Spirit, all of them claiming to know the truth, but all of them holding different beliefs.   Just the other day a friend was telling me that at a church they had attended the Pastor had said that all of the miracles in the bible were not real, they legends.   Then another Pastor at another church declared that Jesus did not actually die, but rather was in a state of deep sleep, a coma perhaps?  We see the results of this fracture, this drifting from the truth handed on by the Apostles and protected by the Church Father's, throughout all of our societies today.   From the people who protest military funerals and declare that God hates people who have same sex attraction, to those who say that everyone is saved and you can live whatever hedonistic lifestyle you want to live.

The Church has long taught that the fruit of the Spirit is a necessary sign of His presence in our Church.  In the Morning Prayer of the Divine Office this morning one of the intercessions proclaims: "Come, Holy Spirit, that we may show your fruit in our lives: charity, joy, peace, equanimity, kindness, generosity, long-suffering, patience, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity."   Isn't that a poignant reminder of what it means to be the body of Christ?   It means to be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.  That's what we are to learn about the trinity.  That they aren't struggling for glory and honor, but sharing in it.   They aren't breaking ranks to form their own godhead, but rather are one God.

When I grew up as a Protestant, I began to realize that something was amiss.  As I shopped churches looking for the one that had the truth, I watched as people left one church to form another over some of the most interesting things.   At one point I watched as a church split because one preacher said it was OK to smoke and the other felt it was a sin.. so the congregation split too forming another church just down the road.  Everything else was the same... but that one thing.   Then I sat and listened to that man preach about the ills of tobacco smoke while he spit in a cup from his 'chaw.'   I journeyed from the Baptist faith that I had grown up around into the Pentecostal arena and listened to people shout out in tongues and fall out in the spirit.   I was even known to speak tongues and raise my hands while shouting Amen to the preachers message.   Then one day I sat down because I didn't feel God in it.   Someone turned around demanding to know what was wrong.. and I said nothing, and he declared I was no longer saved because I didn't speak tongues anymore.

"Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit, and a varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone."    God decides where He goes and whom He saves.  I truly believe that.   I do not know who will be in Heaven with me, but I imagine that there are going to be some Catholics who are truly surprised when they come face to face with some Protestants who also will be in wonder.  Then there will be others whom we expected to be there and we will look down in sadness at their condition.  What I do know without a shadow of a doubt is that Jesus left us a Church to guide us.   That Church wrote the New Testament scriptures themselves.   Yes, God can go outside of the ordinary means of salvation to save anyone he chooses, but if you're standing in a desert with a water fountain next to you, do you take a drink?  Or stumble through the hot sands hoping to find a drop somewhere else?   The Church is that fountain... God has given Peter the keys to the vault of grace and mercy, and it's available to every person who seeks it in earnest.

It's time for us to stop trying to write our own Gospel and be united.  One faith, one baptism, one Church.  Jesus asked his Apostles to do just that, he prayed that they might become one, as He and the Father were one.   What is the bond that connects the Father and the Son?  It's the Holy Spirit. It's love.   Jesus then breathed on his Apostle's and sent them on a mission to evangelize the world.   In the words of Saint Athanasius written in the 6th century (which may seem harsh to some):

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.

It's time to come home.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Irony of it All.

A man named Pilate posed the question "What is truth?" nearly 2000 years ago.    The irony of asking that question while standing before Truth itself is still echoing in our society today.  Mankind tends to think of himself as the source of truth instead of seeing it as a static and concrete reality that exists outside of ourselves.  Isn't it just like us to think of ourselves as the center of the universe?  I think we often use that concept to allow our egos to justify our own actions.   The youth of today have this saying, "I'll do me, and you do you."   That is, if your truth does on impinge upon my truth, we can get along.   Truth is more than that though.   Truth cannot just be generated by current societal norms and practices.  If it did, then if whatever we believe to be true is "true".   That means that Stalin was right in what he did, so was Hitler.  That makes rape OK, as long as you think it's OK.    No, all of us understand on some level that truth has to exist outside of ourselves, that some things are evil no matter who thinks they are OK.

In the first reading today we see St. James continuing his exhortation on morality.  He gives us this statement: But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,” that you may not incur condemnation.  Some see this as a simple statement that means don't make promises you can't keep, and that's there in a small way, after all James was just writing previously about not making plans for tomorrow without realizing that it's only if God wills it that you do so.   It's more than that though.   It's not a lowering of our promises, as with most of the Gospel it isn't setting the bar even lower than the Law of Moses did, it's raising it.  It all revolves around that ironic image of Jesus as the incarnation of Truth.

By virtue of our Baptism we are infused with the Holy Spirit who guides us to all truth.  We are made in the image of the living God, even more so after He condescended to become man.  That makes Jesus the image which we strive to emulate.  When James says make your Yes, yes, and your no, no.. it means that every single word we speak must be taken as seriously as any oath.   We as Christians are expected to speak Truth, to live Truth, making every action, every idle word count.  No, this is not a leeway to never worry about keeping your word, or to never take anything you say seriously.. but rather a challenge to take every single yes or no we say as seriously as if God were saying them.   When we break our word, when we lie, we sully that image... We are the temple of God, His Spirit has come to rest in us.   Lying, speaking a non-Truth, is profaning that Temple.

This is not a new problem. While our society is on a rampage at the moment trying to redefine truth as fluid, ignoring reality itself to define everything from marriage to DNA as circumspect, even in the time of Moses they could not live out the reality of what God had planned for us.   Jesus reminds the men asking him questions that it was not because God wanted it that way, but because of the hardness of our own hearts that concessions were made in the Dueteronomistic laws. It's funny though, these men sat in front of Jesus asking questions, and yet they did not want answers.  Here they were questioning God himself but rather than seeking Truth, they were seeking to trap him.  Herod had already put John to death for daring to question his marriage.  Jesus answer was just as harsh for Herod as Johns had been, in that both Herod and his wife had rejected their spouses, divorced them, that they might enter into an incestuous relationship together.

With all of that in mind, what Jesus had to say about marriage is one of the most important things for us to remember in society today.  The family is the building block of any society.   Without it, society cannot continue.   People have to come together and raise children or society itself will of course die out.   Even more so, marriage is an image of the trinity itself.   The Father (parent), the Son (child), and the Holy Spirit (the love between them.)  For those of us called to live out the vocation of marriage, we are called to do so in emulation of God.   We of course will always do so imperfectly.   Man alone is incapable of living out the pure love of God, to be infinitely compassionate and merciful.  That's why we need the Holy Spirit in our lives.   Jesus quoted Genesis when he said that a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one.  Two shall become one.  Mathematically that's impossible right?  1+1=2. 1-1=0.   The only way for two to become one is by adding a third.  3-2=1.   Only when we add God to our relationship and make Him first can we ever hope to live out the Sacramental marriage.

One of my favorite sayings is "A person's heart should be so lost in God that anyone seeking a relationship with them must first find one with Him."   Another saying I heard recently is "If Catholics lived out a sacramental marriage, the world would change."   I think our challenge today is similar to that.  "If Catholics lived out the truth, making their yes, yes and their no, no in all things, the world will change."  Are you ready for that challenge?  Just like 2000 years ago as Pilot and the Pharisees stood before Truth itself, we today encounter the same Divine Person in the Sacraments.   When you prepare yourself to stand before Jesus in the Eucharist ask yourself, "Is there anything in my life that I am still holding on to because of the hardness of my own heart? Lord, help me let that go and cling only to you." 

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."