Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Blind Leading the Blind

October 8, 2017

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 139

IS 5:1-7

PS 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20

PHIL 4:6-9

MT 21:33-43

After we left the hospital in Chicago Friday, Julie and I walked for about an hour back to Union Station to catch a train back to Elgin.   The stress of driving in downtown traffic had begun to weigh on me.   The hour-long walk back and forth was well worth not having to go bumper to bumper for the same amount of time, sometimes more, with people yelling, beeping their horns, and throwing up pleasant finger salutes at my skillful driving.   I try to pay attention to the people in the area as I walk.  I don’t know if it’s paranoia or my fascination with watching others, maybe even a combination of the two.  Shortly into our walk, I noticed a woman standing on the corner of an intersection turning slowly.    

Then I heard her calling out “Someone, please.  I just need some help.   I need some directions.”  I don’t know downtown at all.   I informed her of that.  I noticed she had a dog with her.   Julie hadn’t noticed that I had dropped out of step with her and was walking ahead of me.  I asked the lady what I could do to help.  She wanted to find her way to Michigan Avenue and all she wanted to know is which way was East, or at least which way the Lake was from here.  That would help her figure out where she was.  I told her I think the lake was behind me.  That didn’t seem to help.  I couldn’t figure out why I was confusing her.   I figured it was because my directions weren’t making sense.  I told her Julie was good at figuring out directions and would be back soon.

Julie came walking back and I explained the situation.  She pulled out her phone and pulled up a map.   We both began to make motions to the street signs, the phone etc.   The lady asked, “Are you showing him or me?”  At this point, I figured I should stop pointing too.  I thought she was getting upset that we were both talking at the same time.  Julie said I’m showing you.   The lady laughed.  “That won’t help.   I’m blind.”   Everything began to make sense.  The reason my directions weren’t helping?   I was talking about landmarks, pointing at buildings, motioning this way or that.  I’d point and say Over there by that sign.   So I told her that if she would follow the direction I was standing in, it would get her to Michigan Avenue.   She said that didn’t seem right, but she was going to trust us.   I walked on with Julie and when I got to Michigan Avenue, I turned around and waited.  A few more minutes and here came the lady with her trusty pup.  I called out to her, “Michigan Avenue is the street right in front of you.”   She thanked me, turned to the right and started walking confidently as if she knew exactly where she was now.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, we see Jesus talking to people with a parable that two thousand years later, after his death and resurrection and the establishment of the Church, makes complete sense.   I wonder if the men listening to him stood dumbfounded like me wondering what on earth he was speaking about?   The imagery of the vine probably made sense.  Easy enough for an observant Jew versed in the Torah to get that image of Israel from what he was saying.  The prophets, Kings, Judges, and so forth they probably got as well.  What about the landowner sending his Son?   The Son being killed?  The owners being kicked out and new owners taking over?  That would have been a very strange message.  A hard one to hear, a scary one maybe.  

Like me standing on the corner in Chicago, I was just as impaired as the lady I was trying to help.  I had a lack of vision to the situation.   Even though the clues were right in front of me.  Cataracts on her eyes.   The specific harness on her seeing eye dog.   The way she moved when I spoke.  All of it should have given me a clue that she couldn’t see well at best, and likely had no idea where I was pointing.   It wasn’t until my “eyes were opened” that I was able to see clearly to help her.

I think that’s part of the message of this parable to us now, 2000 years later.  Even today we miss Jesus because we don’t open our eyes to the people right in front of us.  He might be standing right in front of us and the clues are right there.  Until we look back on them, we just don’t see him.  We don’t take the time to really look at what’s going on and why.   Luckily Julie had enough patience to come back and help me to meet Jesus in this woman in Chicago, who then helped us to help her.  How often do we fail to find him though?  Do we like the owners of the vineyard refuse to accept the message he has for us in our lives?   

There are so many things in this world that try to pull us this way or that way.  Pleasures and temptations, joys and excitements.  Things that constantly entice us and draw us into a continual stimulation of the mind.   St. Paul reminds us that the true goal is not to simply live in the world and enjoy its pleasures, though having pleasure is not in and of itself a bad thing. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  That’s really the key.   It’s when we fill our lives with all of those things, take time to really open our eyes to God standing right before us, that we find Jesus has been there all along.   

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What does it mean to be in ministry?

The last few months at our Parish have been marked by some difficult transitions and changes.  The diocese has required that all volunteers take a program called "Protecting God's Children" before continuing and for many this was the "last straw."  Then I hear others complaining about the burden that has put on them, as they notice their name more and more frequently in the slots on the upcoming Masses.  It is definitely trying, especially for those of us who are more introverted or have busy lives to take on more and more tasks.   The problem I think that underlies all of this is we seem to think of ministry as another job, something we do.

Ministry is not something we do, it's who we are.  It's a calling first and foremost.  The Priest doesn't just take on a job, he becomes something more.  The Deacon does not just become a more involved layman, he becomes a deacon.  I would challenge that any ministry at Mass does not give us a new set of jobs, but rather reveals who God creates us to be.  Yes, I definitely know there is a difference between the ordained ministries and those of the laity.   Ordination configures us to Christ in a way that changes who we are.  Much like the bread and wine we believe is not just a symbol, but the substance is changed... ordination changes a man.  It configures him to Christ in a special way.  I am not trying to lower that concept or change it.  I believe it whole heartedly. 

What is important to note though, is that all of us are made in the image of God.  That same God who created us calls us to serve through the example of His Son, Jesus Christ.  To serve using the particular set of gifts and talents that we have been given, not to become just like someone else, but to realize who we truly are.  Being a greeter is not something you take on because you want recognition, or because you want a "job" to do at Mass... it's because you feel God calling you to use your gifts, your smile, your generous ability to praise others, the warm handshake you have always had, to be the face of Jesus as they arrive at Mass.  Lector involves using your voice, your ability to remember, and your skill full use of eloquent speaking abilities to speak the Word of God to those gathered around.  It's to be the mouth of Jesus. 

Every single ministry at Mass, and I would challenge all Christian ministries of the world, are the same thing:  they are revealing who God created us to be.  The real you.  The authentic you.  The you that Christ died for on the cross.  So no, lectoring at Mass every weekend of the month is not a burden on me, it's a privilege.  Yes, my frail humanity can be stressed by the thought of doing it constantly.  Let me do it.  It's who I am.  We need people like you.   Every single one of you that is Baptized into the body of Christ is called to serve His Body.  You have a unique set of talents, gifts, and abilities that no one else possesses in the exact formula that is you.  So don't think of this challenging ministry as something that is burdensome or tiring... think of it as an opportunity to be closer to Christ in every single way.  

Pray each and every day that God will reveal to you where He wants you to serve.  Then realize that Protecting God's children is not about you, or about the Priest, or the insurance... it's about the kids.  Are my kids worth your hour?   Don't you want to know how to make sure that whoever hurts a child gets put into a place where they can't do it again?   Then go out and join that ministry, be the person you were created to be, and realize that being in ministry does not only happen behind the doors of the Church building, but it is who you are.  It is the most authentic expression of who you were created to be, in the image of God. Special.  Unique.  Fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Click here to get your free ticket!

August 30, 2017

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 427

1 THES 2:9-13

PS 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12AB

MT 23:27-32

Print your free ticket now! 

A friend I know was given one of those automatic coffee makers that take a little cup and turns it into a steaming cup of fresh, gourmet bean water.   It was a little dirty so they spent some time cleaning it up.  After some polishing, some general purpose cleaner, and a few cups of hot water they put it on the counter and there it sat gleaming waiting for the first use.  A few days later a smell began to fill up the house.  At first, we didn’t know what it was.  Eventually, we narrowed it down to the coffee maker.  The outside looked great.  The coffee itself seemed ok.   The smell that came out of that thing?  No one would want to put that in their body.  

Jesus today talks about one of the greatest problems with Christians in today’s society, likely in all time periods.  That many of us are just like that coffee maker.  We spend our time at Church on the weekend, we clean up our act outside, and to the rest of the world, we look like really good people.  The inside never changes though.   The tombs that Jesus spoke of were decorated on the outside to make them look expensive, beautiful and clean.  Inside though was the rotting and decaying corpses of those who had gone on, swelling and stinking in the heat of the desert sun.  Just like that coffee maker, they were producing things that looked like healthy, yummy cups of expensive brew, but what was really coming out was dark and rotten.

The problem is that so many people try to do the change alone.  Yes, you have to work at change.  It won’t just happen overnight for most.  In a world where racism is still very much alive and people defend the right to murder innocent, unborn children, it can seem like we are lost.  Pornography has now become a mainstay of television and new evidence shows that our children are being exposed to hardcore porn as young as six years old.  How then can we hope to stand alone?  We don’t have to.  We have been given every tool we need to clean up the inside, especially as Catholics who have Confession.  Not only do we get the guarantee that He himself gave the Apostles that whose sins you forgive are forgiven, but we receive extra grace to help us keep it clean and wholesome inside.  

So are you making use of that?  The grace and Sacraments were given to us through the Church to help us not only begin to look more like Christ on the outside but the very presence of Christ inside of us changing us to look like the image of God we were created to be.   If you haven’t been in a long time, maybe now is time to start thinking about it.  One of the more beautiful things our new Pastor has done is begin to offer Confession before every single Mass.  That means every day of the week someone is hearing confessions.  It’s available in English, Spanish or even Polish.  What are we waiting for? An invitation?  I just invited you.  Come join me, I need it too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Will you die for him?

August 29, 2017

Memorial Of The Passion Of Saint John The Baptist

Lectionary: 426/634

One of the things I hear the most in every circle these days is "don't judge."   Frequently the justification is God is my judge and somehow sin is a private matter.   Who are you to tell me how to live?   What I do in my own time, my own home, my own relationships... that's between them, me, and God.   That would be lovely if it were true.  The problem is: sin always hurts everyone.   Especially for those of us who claim to be Christian.   Sin is a wound in a body that we are a part of.  Cancer of the brain is not going to improve liver health.  Look at the things that have happened with people in places of authority: from Priests to Coaches, Catholics to Protestants, Religious to Atheist.... they have abused some of the most helpless people in the most heinous ways.   Shall we say then that the wounds they have caused have only hurt them?  That it doesn't hurt the rest of us?  Logic and reason tell us that isn't true. 

Herod and Herodias were in a relationship that was taboo.   They were living lives of hedonism with desires that were against those designed by and revealed by God.    When John stood up for the truth, stood up for Natural Law, Religious revelation, and common decency, Herod put him in prison.  Why does it matter what Herod does?  Why shouldn't John just have kept silent?  Look at the behavior of Herod then with his own step daughter.   He lusted after her and she lost her innocence by asking for the death of a Holy and Righteous man.   Not only were they hurt, but all those who witnessed were hurt in some way.  Those who agreed with Herod were spiritually wounded.  Herod was the king!  He was supposed to be a religious example and authority.   Though he kept all the Kosher laws, he had none of it in his heart.  There was no change in the spirit and others suffered by it.  Then John paid the mortal price. 

We have only to look at the wounds that have been caused in our own society.   With the increased use of abortifacients, contraceptives, drugs, and various other chemical sterilization; sex has become something completely divorced of the creation of life and is only about the hedonistic pleasures of a depraved generation.   The strive for peace and compassion has gone from simple stewardship to a call for the extermination of the human species that the earth and its other inhabitants might not be subjected to our darker nature.    The image of God has been so blurred that people no longer think of themselves as loved and cherished, but as broken and in need of surgical and chemical fixes just to make them into who they would rather be.  Pornography has increased the incidence of oppression and abuse for women and men alike, and the top 10 movies at any given time show the extent to which this has corrupted even the minds of us who claim to be Christian. 

What is the answer?  Love Jesus.  Love him so much that your heart aches for him.  Love him so much that you are willing to be so counter cultural that people will call you weird and will accuse you of being backward.  Be so enamored with God that your life revolves around him!  Throw yourself at his feet and gasp and paint for him as if he were oxygen itself.  If every single person who claimed to be Catholic lived their life with loving Jesus at the center of it?   The church would be full.   Every project would be complete.  There would be no end to volunteers.  Our kids would see in us the answer to that yearning and desire that they so desperately are seeking an answer to.  They would know so well what Augustine was speaking of when he said " You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace."

In the movie the 7th sign, Pontius Pilate demands of Demi Moore "will you die for him?"  John the Baptist answered a resounding yes.  He refused to wound the rest of humanity by giving into the whims of a depraved world.  What is your answer?  How will you respond when faced with the choice of rebuking and aiding a reformation, or simply going with the flow? In a world where the life of children is given up for comfort, how will you respond? 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Late have I loved thee.

August 28, 2017

Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 425

1 THES 1:1-5, 8B-10

PS 149:1B-2, 3-4, 5-6A AND 9B

MT 23:13-22

St Augustine lived a very rough life.  He did everything that one can think of, including having a child out of wedlock.  Eventually, he came to see who God was and exactly what it means to be truly human.  The life of hedonism no longer held any beauty for him.  Life had become precious. God had become the goal of every breath.  In his confessions, he wrote,

Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
  but I outside, seeking there for you,
  and upon the shapely things you have made
  I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
  those things which would have no being,
  were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
  you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
  you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
  I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
  you touched me, and I burned for your peace.
So many have failed to experience life.  There is an overarching theme to discussions, especially on the internet with young college aged kids, where the demand to believe anything must be backed up with "peer reviewed scientific literature."  That's great in a laboratory.  I don't need it to know some things though.  I don't need a scientific article to prove to me that life is beautiful.  I don't need a man with 8 years of college studies to tell me my daughter is precious to me.  There is no scientific journal out there that I trust enough to determine if I love my wife fully enough to avoid contraception and give myself completely to our marital embrace, life giving creation intact.  No man will ever convince me that abortion is not murder, nor that "condoms are the greatest invention in all of human history."  

I also don't need science to tell me that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.  I have experienced it.  That's something so many have stopped doing.  Instead of sitting in the silence of Adoration and asking God to speak to them, they demand proof.  Instead of climbing a mountain they want to know what the rationale and benefit of doing so, is.  I'm all for reason and logic.  But I'm human.  I'm not a machine.  I have feelings, emotions, and a soul.  There is so much more to this world that science cannot address because of the nature of what science is.  Science observes.  It records.  It does not create or interpret meaning.  So keep your science for when I want to build an electronic device in my basement out of old modems, printers, and routers... that's when I do science.  When it comes to matters of life?  I'll stick to love.  Real love.  The kind that doesn't hesitate to tell you when you do something dangerous with your life, something detrimental to your spirit.  The kind of love that Jesus Christ shows in today's Gospel when he rebukes not to drive away, but to draw to Heaven. 

There are places and times to use your eyes and ears to listen and record the events going on around you.  There is another time to use your heart, to listen with your soul.  To allow the Spirit of God to speak directly to the person He created and give you insight into what it means to be human.  Fully human.  To be able to participate in the life giving act of creation with nothing held back.  To give yourself so completely to another person that what results is life itself.  No amount of science will ever convince me that that kind of love is wrong. I don't need an equation to tell me my wife is beautiful, my children dear to me, or my heart is overflowing with the sheer enormity of what it means to be a father.  Science just can't do that, nor should it try. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Why am I Catholic?

August 27, 2017

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 121

IS 22:19-23

PS 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8

ROM 11:33-36

MT 16:13-20

noun - the study and interpretation of types and symbols, originally especially in the Bible.

If you want to understand Catholics, and for that matter most of the earliest Christian writers in the Church, typology is almost a prerequisite.  What we mean by "types" is that certain figures in the Old Testament are precursors to figures later in history.   Isaac is a type of Christ.   That is that in the life and events recorded about Isaac we see some definite correlations with the fulfillment of that image in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  The wood for instance that Isaac carried up the mountain to be sacrificed on being an image of the Cross.  Isaac is the son of Abraham, being an image of the Father and the Son.  The ram caught in the thicket of thorns symbolizing the crown of thorns.  So and on and so forth we see so many parallels that they could not be formulated even by the best of authors.

One of the rules that types follow is that a type is never greater than its fulfillment.   It’s always less than the thing to come but points out the reality of the thing to come.  The staff of Aaron is a symbol of priestly authority.  Jesus is greater than the staff, being the actual High Priest who mediates for us.  The manna from heaven is a beautiful gift from God but is not as valuable as the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.  Image after image points to who Jesus is, what God’s plan truly entails, and exactly who we are in light of that.  Why do I bring up types?  Because today’s readings are extremely important to understanding who we are as Catholics.  

This morning we were watching Joseph, King of Dreams.   In this beautiful Disney cartoon, we see the story of one of the first types of who Jesus is in the Sacred Scriptures.  A descendant of Abraham is abused and sold into slavery.   In the end, he is risen to the right hand of Pharaoh (remember Pharaoh is believed by the Egyptians to be a god.)  In this story, Joseph is given the authority of the kingdom.  When Pharaoh is absent, Joseph is in charge.  No one would dare to question Joseph.  That would be the same as questioning Pharaoh himself.    That’s an important image to keep in mind.  

In our first reading today we hear about Eliakim.  The King of Israel has just made Eliakim his prime minister.   These are the words recorded in Scripture:  “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut when he shuts, no one shall open.”  Like Joseph with Pharaoh, a more perfect kingdom has been established (remember that all fulfillments are greater than their previous types.)  The Kingdom of Israel is the Kingdom that belongs to God.  David who was the greatest of all the kings of Israel had given all of his authority to Eliakim.  When David was not around Eliakim was in charge.  Whatever he said, was law.  All of the Kingdom did whatever Eliakim says.   Remember, when David was anointed God said to him: “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’”   That means that when David is not around Eliakim is tasked with being the shepherd.

Then we come to Jesus who is the fulfillment of all of Scripture, the perfection of God’s plan for humanity.   In Jesus, we see the true King.   When Israel asked for a King, they were reminded that God was their King.   They still called out for a mortal king to guide them.   In Jesus Christ we see God himself becoming a man in order to be the King we truly need.  The Good Shepherd who will guide us in all our ways.   The true Godman, who unlike Pharaoh, is actually God and has proven it by coming back from death and ascending into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.   The fulfillment of the promise given to David that his descendant would be on the throne for all eternity.   

I told you that these images in today’s scripture were important to understanding Catholics and our Church.   Why?   Because with Pharoah we had Joseph.  With David we had Eliakim.  Now with Jesus, do we have anyone to be Prime Minister?   Who is in charge of the Church?   Of course Jesus Christ is, but did He leave a representative to have the same authority when He wasn’t physically apparent?  Let’s take a quick look at the words said about Eliakim, and the words Jesus Christ said to Saint Peter himself:

I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim's shoulder;when he opens, no one shall shutwhen he shuts, no one shall open.”

“and upon this rock I will build my church,and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

If you ever wanted to understand why we Catholics have a leader called a Pope, who sits on the See of Peter, it is because we take Scripture very seriously.   Is the Pope perfect? No.   Jesus though is.  He has seen fit to establish a Prime Minister to help guide the Church under the helpful hand of the Holy Spirit to be as good a guide as it can to help people to get to Heaven.  That’s one of the reasons(one of many) I’m Catholic.   Because I truly believe.   I believe that this is the best way, to follow the authority established by Christ himself, revealed by the Sacred Scriptures to be the truth, and passed on for two thousand years by the laying of hands through Apostolic Succession, and entrusted in the sacred deposit of faith.   Everything we do as Catholics reflects those simple truths.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What does today's Feast really mean to us?

August 22, 2017

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 420

JGS 6:11-24A

PS 85:9, 11-12, 13-14

MT 19:23-30

It is tempting to constantly pray for the difficulties of life to be passed from us.  Even Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane asked to have that horrible cup taken away from him.  The thing about prayer is that it is less like an ATM that just gives us what we want if we use the right words, and more an opportunity for change.  Yes, God can and does answer prayers.  It’s not always in the way we want or expect but he isn’t just passively watching as the world turns.  Our goal in prayer should not always be to petition but to also be active in allowing God to work in us and through us.

Gideon in the Old Testament reading and the Apostles in the new were both being faced with difficult roads.  They were being asked to do things that seemed hard.   It would be much more pleasant at times to just sit at home playing video games and drinking soda than it would to eat healthily, get out and evangelize, and be active at the Church.  That’s not what we are called to do as Christians though.  We are called to march with armies that are way too small and count on God to win instead of ourselves.   Asked to give up everything we have, or at least the attachment to physical things, and instead reach into the spiritual realm for our true wealth. A wise man came up to me after Mass yesterday and said: “There are other forms of wealth way beyond just money.”  

Today is the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Some people are intimidated by how much we Catholics love and honor Mary.  The thing about our Mother is that she always reminds not of who she is, but who Jesus is.  In the Magnificat, she reminds us what true wealth is, it is to be lifted up by God.  “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”  This poor woman of Nazareth went on to be brought into Heaven with her Son, to be crowned with a crown of stars and robed in the light of the sun.  “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”  Mary is the ultimate example of what it means to be hungry and to desire good things.

The Queenship of Mary should remind us of the promise and hope that we have in Jesus Christ.  That we too, if we choose to live our lives right, give ourselves over to God and allow Him to work through us, can hope to receive.  A crown of righteousness for all who have longed for His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)  As always, Mary points to Jesus and says “Do whatever He tells you.”  Even on her feast day, the readings do not point to her, but to Christ himself and the promise that God has given us that He will be with us always.  So which would you rather have?  Riches and wealth?  Peace and comfort?  Or the presence of God at all times, even during hardship and difficulties?  One looks like Heaven, the other like Hell.  What amount of good can all the riches in the world do for us if we spend eternity alone wailing and gnashing teeth?
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A total eclipse of the heart?

August 21, 2017

Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope

Lectionary: 419


PS 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43AB AND 44

MT 19:16-22

Today, in case you live under a rock, there was a solar eclipse over the United States.   Many people traveled great distances to be in the path of total darkness, taking a vacation and buying special equipment.   Some prepared for months ahead of time and even now are preparing for the next one to come.  My neighbor’s son was so excited by the eclipse that he wanted to come down and make sure I had a chance to see it.  They brought some of those special glasses and shared them with me as we stood and talked.  He talked about the zucchini, the peppers, the sun, and anything else that came to his mind.  The one thing I could tell is he was excited, and he wanted to share that excitement with me.  

In the Gospel today we see the rich young man coming up to Jesus to find out what to do to get to Heaven.   I imagine him being so excited to know Jesus was there.  Something was missing though.  He had everything money could buy, was living the life of a devout believer, and still knew in his heart there was something more he needed.  The irony of Jesus question back to him always floors me.  The incarnation of Goodness itself standing before the young man challenging, do you realize who I am?  Do you realize that you just asked the image of all that is good, how to be good?  We too were once excited about our faith.   That moment when we first began to believe ourselves, when we realized the beauty of our faith when God spoke to us in the inmost region of our hearts.

The Israelites often needed good men and women to bring them back on course.  Judges, Prophets, and even kings.   I think the readings today, and the events of this afternoon, remind us of an important thing.  We must be careful not to let life eclipse God in our lives.  Too often we let little things creep in and begin to block out the light and dim the excitement.  At first, it’s just a little here or there, but the moon is much smaller than the sun and yet it can block all of its light?  Like the child who visited me today and encouraged me to look at this beautiful astronomical phenomena, do I realize the gift that God has offered me as a child of God?  Do I run to others and tell them about Jesus with awe and wonder?  Or am I letting anything get in the way?  

The Sacraments and the Church are the glasses we need to be able to look in the right direction, to view a glimpse beyond the veil and into Heaven itself… that we can begin to get all that blocks the light out of the way and let the Son Himself shine through in the fullness of His glory.. Saint Pius the tenth reminds us of the need to constantly renew ourselves and our worship of God.   To bring about reverence and respect for the gifts that God has given us in the Eucharist.   He is a constant reminder of what it looks like to lead a Pius and Holy life, filled with study of Scripture, discipline, and obedience.  (Warning, now comes the pun): Are you ready to get out of the way, letting God shine through before you too have a total eclipse of the heart? The goal of the Christian should be to let God eclipse us so that when someone looks in our direction they do not even see the man that stands before them, but the image of God shining through in all its purity.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Following in the footsteps of Jesus

August 20, 2017

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 118

IS 56:1, 6-7

PS 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

ROM 11:13-15, 29-32

MT 15:21-28

Jesus has just had a heated exchange with the Pharisees and Scribes about the nature of sin.  He talks about how that it is not what you put in your mouth or touch that makes you unclean, but rather what is inside.  Your motives.  Your actions.  Then he does a most remarkable thing.  He journeys into the very land of those who the Pharisees and Scribes would say is the most unclean of the unclean.  A woman there begins to call after him.  In this time period and especially in this situation it must have been awkward for the disciples.  They knew that everyone was watching, and even though Jesus had just told them about cleanliness, they were still uncomfortable that this woman was walking along behind them shouting and drawing attention to them.

It’s really hard sometimes to break out of the mold.  We learn things as we grow up that we don’t even realize affect the way we think and act today.  There is a large vein of that going on right now in the United States.  When tension happens on the political stage the truth of who someone is will come out.  We see men and women fighting for things we would never have assumed they even cared about.  We also see people spreading half truths and lies in order to get their agenda pushed to the front.  The disciples should have been the first to realize that Jesus did indeed reach out to Gentiles from time to time, yet they fell back to their upbringing.  The situation, one that Jesus had just told them would not make them dirty, was one they did not want to be part of.

Jesus then interacts with the women.   Not only has he crossed the first line of proper behavior for a Jew by entering a Gentile land, now here he is speaking to a Gentile woman in public!   It doesn’t say that she is with other women, or that her husband or family is present.  She is alone begging for her daughter's life.  Jesus should not have spoken to her.  She would have been seen as not just a gentile, but one who didn’t know how to behave like a “woman.”  That is hard for us to imagine in the US in 2017.   However, even today in other countries, women are treated as second class citizens that have no rights and would be beaten for speaking to a strange man in public.   Yet, here we are in America fighting over Confederate statues while in other countries abuse men and women in ways that we have never experienced or imagined.

Then Jesus does something that seems so harsh, doesn’t it?  He calls her a dog.  Even today that would be harsh, back then it was even almost a racial slur.  She wasn’t a Jew.  The word has the connotation of a little dog, a puppy.  How would you react in this situation?  Most of us would grow angry.  We’d stomp off in a hurry.   How dare anyone call us a dog?  How does this foreign woman respond to the rude vocalization of this Jewish rabbi traveling through her homeland?  Humility.  She doesn’t fight the label.  She approaches Jesus with the realization that yes, she is not worthy.   She does not deserve anything he has to give.  Then she talks about what it means to be a puppy in her Master’s house.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2610 Just as Jesus prays to the Father and gives thanks before receiving his gifts, so he teaches us filial boldness: "Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will." Such is the power of prayer and of faith that does not doubt: "all things are possible to him who believes." Jesus is as saddened by the "lack of faith" of his own neighbors and the "little faith" of his own disciples as he is struck with admiration at the great faith of the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman.
All of us know how much a puppy is loved.  How the oohs and aahs happen when someone brings about a very young animal.  We give them treats.  We feed them under the table little pieces of food when nobody's watching.  We pet them with our toes throughout dinner and curl up with them on the floor to watch movies.   Sometimes we treat them even better than the other people in our lives.  She had faith that God loved her.   That he would reach out to her like a pet under the table.  Giving the scraps that the others refused to eat.  This was a reality of the situation with the Pharisees and the Scribes.   Most of them had refused the meal entirely.   That means the dinner was still on the table with no one to eat it.   My friend just posted a picture of her puppy eyeing her perogies and wanting to eat them.  That’s an image of this very moment.

St. Paul reminds us that God loved us so much that when the people he had chosen refused to sit down to the meal, God invited the rest of us to dinner.  Unlike pets, God chose to simply make us sons and daughters.  We don’t have to beg for scraps because we get the entirety of the meal.  All 7 courses as it were.  Then a few moments later in this chapter, Jesus takes the meal and he multiplies it to feed thousands.  That’s the beautiful thing about love, isn’t it?  We don’t have to worry about only loving one or two people because the more we love... The more love we have to go around.   Unlike thermodynamics, in the spiritual realm the more we use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the more they are lavished on us.

In this world of hatred, it’s even more important for us as Catholics to remember that every single person is invited to that table.   It doesn’t matter if you are democrat, republican or independent.   An atheist, Jew, Christian or Hindu.  God came to offer his salvation to every single one of us.  Why then do we evangelize?  Because we need to get dressed for the wedding.  That’s the entire purpose of the Church.  I truly believe that the Catholic Church teaches the fullness of faith.  If it did not?  I would not have become Catholic.  In another parable, Jesus talks about a man who shows up not dressed for the wedding and he is thrown out of the banquet.  I want to help as many people as I can get dressed and at the same time make sure my clothes are pressed and ready.

Every one of us has been “delivered to disobedience.”   That is we have all sinned.  We have all missed the mark.  Thomas Merton described it as this:

"Sin is the refusal of spiritual life, the rejection of the inner order and peace that come from our union with the divine will. In a word, sin is the refusal of God’s will and of his love. It is not only a refusal to“do” this or that thing willed by God, or a determination to do what he forbids. It is more radically a refusal to be what we are, a rejection of our mysterious, contingent, spiritual reality hidden in the very mystery of God. Sin is our refusal to be what we were created to be—sons of God, images of God. Ultimately sin, while seeming to be an assertion of freedom, is a flight from the freedom and the responsibility of divine sonship." - Life & Holiness, Thomas Merton

That’s what I believe the purpose of the Church is.  Not to give you a set of rules and regulations to make you sad and morose.  Rather a set of spiritual guidelines that help you figure out who you were created to be.   To know what it means to be made in the image of God.  To be invited to the table to join in the wedding feast of the Lamb.  I want everyone to experience that.  I want to grow into that man, slowly and steadily.   I want to keep working on my ‘outfit’ until it is fit for the wedding of the King of the Universe.  Yes, I know I can’t earn a ticket to the dinner because Jesus did that for me on the cross… but the scripture is clear that I need to put on my suit, I need to fill up my lamp, I need work on entering that straight and narrow gate that only Christ has opened for me.

So who is with me?  We are all called to be Saints.   That’s impossible without Christ in our life.  I had a man say to me today “who needs Church, I’m an atheist and I do plenty of good works.”   Good for you! We need more people like that!  The thing is as G.K. Chesterton said: “I don't need a church to tell me I'm wrong where I already know I'm wrong; I need a Church to tell me I'm wrong where I think I'm right.”   Yes, you know when you do good works.  You often know when you do bad things.  The question is, are some of the things you think are good actually bad?   If I went off all the things I “feel” there are a great many things out there I’d probably enjoy that aren’t good for my spiritual life, my family, or my vocation.  

So I look the to the Church.  I look to the Sacraments.   I sit down at the table as often as I can to receive Jesus himself to help me grow into the son that I am created to be, the image of God that I have been designed to radiate... And then I set out to help others do the same.  I want them to experience the same joy and fullness of life that I get to experience when I live for Christ.   Then I work the best I can that I too may emulate Christ in my life that others may see him through me.  That’s the goal of being a Christian.   To be a Saint means just that, to become as much like Christ as we can that we are transformed into the person God created us to be.  Joyful, loving, happy, and content… even in the worst of circumstances.  Let’s do this!