Monday, November 30, 2015

An Evangelist to the End!

Fishers of Men by Kim Freitas
It's Advent!  How exciting! How beautiful!  Do you feel the change in the air?  We should.  This beautiful season is to remind us of what it felt like to be present for the promise of the Christ, the Messiah, Emmanuel!  The Jewish people still in captivity after such a long time, not only bound by the government of Rome but also still warring with sin in their flesh; were waiting for the promised deliverance, the prophet greater than Moses, for Jesus Christ himself.   Mary had been promised to deliver a child by the angel Gabriel and here we approach the date of his birth. 

We don't just celebrate a birthday on a birthday you know.   We don't just celebrate a past event, though that is part of it.  We celebrate the person!  We celebrate their past, their present, and their future.  We talk about what they were like as a child, maybe even pulling out some of those embarrassing baby photos to show the new members of our clan.  We tell jokes and stories.  We ask them how they are and spend time appreciating them!  We wish them many more happy years, and give them gifts.  Oh how wonderful a birthday is!  A day to remember a person, and a sad parting at the end when they must go back to their life and you to yours. 

That's the beauty of Christmas though, when we celebrate Christ's birthday it doesn't have to end there.  So here we are moving toward his birthday.  Some would say we should celebrate it every day of the year.. and you know they are right!  That's not what Christmas is about though.  It is not a day to stop and say ok, remember Christ today and forget him tomorrow.  No, it is a holiday to remind us to stop and say, have I been doing it!  Have I forgotten who Christ is?  Have I spent as much time with him as I should?  Let's tell those stories.  Let's talk to him, and listen to him, and appreciate him.  Then take him with us throughout the year.  We all need those reminders.  We need those days to remind us not to take things for granted. Not to forget.

Today is the feast of Saint Andrew the apostle.  There is a man who was a true evangelist.  A man who did not forget and took Christ with him.  The first reading from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans reminds us that faith comes from hearing.  How can they hear without someone to preach?  How can people preach unless they are sent?  The shepherd's in the field were one of the first to hear the good news.  They were told by the angels themselves!  The angel's were sent by God.  They announced who Jesus was, and pointed to him.  Jesus then sent Andrew.  Andrew announced the good news as well.  Andrew was so enamored with Christ, so filled with the Holy Spirit that it is said that when he was martyred in Patras they bound him to a cross.  They left him there for two days. For both days he preached to the crowds gathered.. using every last bit of his life to preach to them that Christ was the messiah, and the way, the truth and the life.

Then in today's Gospel according to Saint Matthew we hear the story of Andrew's calling.  Jesus called to Andrew and Peter and told them to stop casting their nets into the sea, that he would make them fishers of men.  Matthew tells us that immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.   They didn't wait till later.  They didn't pack up and say their goodbyes.  Rather they left, right then and there to do the will of God.  Come after me.   That was Jesus first words to them in this encounter.  Follow me.  As we journey through Advent and the Christmas season I think that is our challenge.  Just like the Shepherd's who heard the message came to find Christ in the manger, just as the Wise Men from the East saw his star and came to worship, just as Mary, the disciple par excellence, heard the message and gave an eternal yes to the father to bring Christ into the world... so too must we.

You and I, brothers and sisters, are called by our baptism to be apostles to Christ.  An apostle is one who has been called by the Lord, sent by the Lord, and has seen the risen Lord.   If you are Catholic you fit the bill.  You have been called through your baptism into the life of the Church.  Jesus has called you to this.  It was not you alone though it was your choice.  Jesus said no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws them.  You have been called. You have been sent.  Every time we go to Mass at the end of Mass we hear something to the effect of "The Mass is ended, go forth and glorify the Lord with your lives."  The Priest or Deacon is not just saying "Hey see you next Sunday."  No, it is a sending forth!  You are being sent into the world to deliver the Gospel!  The food you have just received from this table, you are going out into the world to share it with everyone else!  You have been sent.

Finally, the one that so many people miss, you have seen the risen Lord.  I said this to my confirmation class recently and all of them demanded to know when.  In the Eucharist!  We Catholics do not believe it is a mere symbol.  We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present, literally and entirely in the Eucharist.  He is not trapped there.  He is not only there... but he is very much there!  When the Priest lifts up the Eucharist in Mass we look upon the divine deity, Christ himself!  Wow!  Does that floor you?  It should.  You have been called!  You have been sent!  You have seen the risen Christ!  You are an apostle.  That means you too must go forth preaching to the world! Oh, indeed, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!  Be those feet!

Are you ready for this?  If you were crucified today would you spend your last two days of life, starving and in pain, to preach the message of Christ to anyone who would listen?  Are you preaching Christ in your daily life?  Do people know you are a disciple of Christ?  Does your life exhibit the truth of the Gospel?  Are you following Him?  That's what Advent is about.  It's time my friends, to examine our hearts.. our lives.. our consciences and ask ourselves.. have we forgotten?  Let us use this Advent wisely as we approach Christmas.  Let us remember that our lives are ordered towards Easter, but they begin with Christmas.  So let's journey through our liturgical year to remind us of Jesus past present and future.. and as disciples of Christ let us remember that the means we want our lives to look like his.  Use this time to look at your own past, present and future... You have been born in Baptism.  It doesn't end there.  You are being reborn daily, with your choices, with your actions... with your thoughts.  Are you letting Christ be born in your heart now? Or is there something in the way..   You will be reborn after this life.  Where will you spend your eternity?  Now is the time.  Get ready.  Be ready.  Stay ready.

His servant and yours,

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy New Year!

Be vigilant!   That is our message from today's Gospel.  As we enter the season of Advent, we see more of that Apocalyptic literature that reminds us to be ever ready and watchful for the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  It exhorts us to continue working towards that perfection, that holiness of life that comes with following Christ as our example.  It also evokes in our hearts the realization that we all have one thing in common.  We all eventually will die.  We all eventually will face judgement.  These readings are intense, but they are written not to scare us but to encourage.  A prompting to "conduct ourselves in a way pleasing to God."

The last few days I've been binge watching a television show that I find to be very interesting.  I wouldn't recommend it for children or anyone sensitive to harsh language, but the Man in the High Castle definitely shows us a danger of the human condition.  In this alternate reality the Nazi's created the bomb before America did.  This enabled them to not only win the war, but to take over half the country.  The other half seems to have been dominated by the Japanese which I imagine began with Pearl Harbor.  Throughout the series we see what life would truly be like if we didn't have freedom.  If you have ever complained about freedom here in the United States?  Give this show a watch.

Why do I mention this show?  When I watch it I see something about the characters that is very much vigilant.  They have their eyes open.  They are seeking the good of 'society'.  One of the characters is a Nazi commander and he very much seeks the best for the Nazi government.  He is dedicated.  He believes in what he is doing.  He keeps to his 'rule' of conduct at all costs.  In that though, he ignores one thing, his heart.  At one point he turns over his friend, because as he puts it, "There is no room for emotions" in the world.  He has left love behind. 

That is a danger that many people forget.  In their conduct they are trying to be pleasing to God, but God is pleased truly with love.  Our liturgies are important, our devotions too, our prayer and worship should be first and foremost in our lives.  All of it must be tempered with love.  Humanity is bad to stick to one ideology, one way of doing things, to the point of harming others in order to stick to that one way of life.  We aren't like the Nazi's, I agree.   Most of us would blanch at killing in order to purify the human race.  Yet, how many of us stick to our democratic or republican voting points regardless of if love is involved?  How many of us would vote the party line even if it means supporting one of the five non-negotiables?  How many of us decide that one liturgy is better than another? Or one version of music is the 'right' one, even to the point of running someone down to get our way?

Jesus said if we were angry with our brother it was the same as murdering him.  If we are so set in our ways of doing things, and have not love, St. Paul says we are just a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  That is, we are just a loud noise with no effectiveness, pushing people away and harming them instead of soothing them and drawing them closer to Christ.  When we decide at work that our way is the only way to do things, even to the point of not being charitable to that person who wants to try something new, hurting their feelings and gossiping behind their back; aren't we killing them with our words and thoughts?  Jesus condemned empty and hollow tradition.  He said that the Pharisees were like white washed tombs.  On the outside they did all the right things.  On the inside there remained the filth of decay and the bones of dead men.  Are you the same inside as your are outside? or are you wearing a mask? We must change.  We must start with love.  Then and only then, when we do our traditions out of love.. they are a true and pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. 

As we approach Christmas through advent let us do so with love.  Let us invite others into our celebration.  Let us spread the word, declaring "Blessed Advent" or "Happy Advent" to those who wish us a "Happy Holidays."   Then when they ask what Advent is, let us explain our traditions, how that we are journeying towards Christmas to remind us of that grateful expectation that Israel felt as they waited for the long prophesied Savior and Messiah.  Let us build that palatable excitement in our lives until we can sing with the angels, the Saints, and the blessed Virgin Mary:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

His servant and yours,

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bears Win!

Today's readings are quite intense.  Since we are less than a day away from Advent it would be expected that the intensity grows, and so it does!  We see all these strong apocalyptic images of great beasts rising up and devouring, and then falling away to the next beast.  What are these images about?  Apocalyptic literature is always kind of scary and many people spend the majority of their lives trying to find out who these people are, not just in the past but some try to interpret them as in the present.  The point of the literature, though it can be prophetic and often was, is to point to righteousness and faith being the key to redemption.  They almost always end with the judgement seat of God and the end of time.

The lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) represent strength and characteristics of kingdoms to come and go.   Just as you and I would be scared if a bear walked into our living room, let alone a bear with three large tusks; so too was the imagery intended to convey a message.  That message is that these kingdoms that are coming and going are very powerful, savage and cruel.  They all fall though.  This scene in Daniel ends with the coronation of the Son of Man coming on the clouds.  Jesus is in charge.  These kingdoms, despite their power and guile, will all fall away.. the only Kingdom that reigns forever is that of the Messiah, of the Christ.  This is the promise of the Davidic throne, this is the promise to us through Christ, the only begotten Son of God. 

Then we see this interesting parable that talks about figs, and signs of the times.  Just like in the apocalyptic literature we see symbols of what is going on in the world politically at the time, we see Jesus teaching us to keep our eyes and ears open.  He talks about the fact that we see the buds of the fig trees ready to burst forth and that shows us that summer is almost here, so too should we keep our minds open for the coming of Christ.  He also taught us though, that only the Father will know that day.  So what does he mean?  He means to be vigilant.  To be ready.

I was trying to learn more about figs earlier today, to see how this parable could apply to my life.  I grew up helping to tend bee hives occasionally.   I had heard quite a bit about bees and how they pollinate the food we eat, helping things to grow and reproduce.  I did not know that wasps also for some plants do the same thing.  Figs have a special kind of wasp that not only pollinates the fruit but also lays it's eggs there.  The queen crawls into the fig, lays her eggs, in the process pollinates the inside of the fruit, and then she dies.  She is consumed by the fig. 

That's a strange relationship.  The thing is, if you ask me about wasps I truly think of them as a terror.  Compared to bears, lions, eagles... a wasp is much scarier to me.  I don't know why.  Their little faces make me think of pure evil.  That to me is the lesson I take from this whole situation.  I think of the wasp as evil, as those things inside of me that get in the way of me letting God have complete control.  Just like the fig I often think these things are for my good.  I let them crawl around inside, not really asking what to do with them.  The fig teaches us a lesson though.  When we have those things inside we need to dissolve them.  We need to let the Jesus inside of us consume those things, drive them out... leaving nothing but the fruit inside. 

I think that's our lesson.  As the liturgical year ends, our minds begin to think of the end of time.  We don't know when that will come.  We don't know exactly what that will look like, or what it means for us to transition from life to eternity.  What we do know is that we need to be ready.  We need to let the Holy Spirit scatter the darkness in our hearts until nothing is left but the sweetness of His fruits.  As my dear friend Kenn often says, "Get ready, be ready, stay ready."  Don't wait till tomorrow, don't simply watch for signs of things to come.. but be ready regardless of what is happening.  Don't let your lamp go empty, keep the fuel handy at all times.

His servant and yours,

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Detachment in the Dark

I once had the dubious honor of staying in a $10 dollar a night hotel near an air port in western Kentucky.  My company had sent me all the way across the state to work on a heat pump on a Lowe's to find out why it wasn't working.  I drove around trying to save them money by looking for the cheapest hotel money could buy.  I found this place right at the end of the runway strip.  I paid for my room in cash, got a receipt and drove my truck around to the unlit parking lot in the back.  The outside was faded with paint falling down in big chips.  The smell of body odor and urine permeated the air.  All of which was hard to take, but not the worst of the night.

I opened the door to my hotel room and the stench of unwashed sheets, mildew and human fluids struck my face.  I turned on the light and heard a scattering.  Roaches.   They were going everywhere, trying to find a place to hide.  I noticed on the wall in front of me a sign that said, "No refunds once you have entered the room."  Silly me.  I had already entered the room.  I decided to grin and bear it, and I made it through the night alive.  I didn't sleep much.  I could hear the roaches crawling up and down the wall by the bed all night.  Every time a plane flew over the roar of it would make things fall off the ceiling.  I didn't turn on a light to see what they were.  I was hoping it was more paint flakes.

Why do I tell you this story?  Earlier when I was meditating I was struck by the imagery presented in scripture of Jesus as the light of the world.  I began to ponder how that our hearts, much like our inner home, are often filled with dust, with dark things, with our own sins.  When we allow Jesus in the light scatters the darkness.  I wonder if it looks like those roaches running from the light?  Do they skitter in the dark and try to find a place to hide?  I think that often we don't open all the doors though.  We only want Jesus to come in so far.  So those really dark things, those things we don't want to give up, they run and hide.  They are still there.  We have an attachment to them.

I think that's why often when we pray, when God is really beginning to move in our hearts, things begin to surface.  Distracting thoughts, worries, fears... .they all skitter out in the light because they were hidden somewhere that God has just opened in our hearts.  Sometimes we fight them.. we get upset with ourselves or angry that they are there.. instead we need to focus on letting God in completely.  Let him drive out that darkness.  We cannot do it on our own. All we can do is open the door to Jesus and let him come in... he'll do the cleaning. That is really the thing we need to concentrate on.  Being present to Him.  Opening ourselves to Him.  Loving Him.  Until the light of Christ floods our inner recesses and there is no place left for our sins, our attachments, our egos to hide.  Only then can we face them, and with His help, defeat them. 

Are you ready to flood every recess of your heart?  Are all your doors open? Is there anything you are holding on to that you just haven't had the courage to let go of?  Now is the time. 

His servant and yours;

Happy Thanksgiving!

What does it mean to be thankful? That is something that is heavy on my heart the past few days.  As we approach the holiday of Thanksgiving, it is something I think all of us should be thinking about.  Someone challenged me to do this thirty day challenge on Facebook.  That is, for around thirty days I have been attempting to come up with something each day to be thankful for.  Doesn't sound too hard does it?  The first few days didn't require much thought at all.  It was easy to come up with a blessing.  I could just look around at some relationship I had, some thing I had been given, some good event that was in my life.   All of these were evident and stood out.  After twenty days though, I began to have to spend more time thinking of something to be thankful for.

Tomorrow's reading for Thanksgiving reminds us of the ten lepers who had a great deal to be thankful for.  These men had been ostracized from community.  They were in pain and diseased.  Their family and friends probably didn't get to come close to them for fear of catching the disease.  They could have been friends, brothers, sons, fathers, uncles. Jesus healed them.  On their way to see the priest they were completely cured of their disease.  Only one of them returned to see Jesus.  Only one truly went to the priest and showed himself clean. The others sought God when they needed him, once cured they ran off to live their lives. 

How often do we do that ourselves?  We give thanks for the good, but we ignore the bad.  We seek God when we have needs.  Then when everything is going smoothly we don't have time for all that religious stuff.  When I first had my back surgery I was very disappointed.  Here I was, a relatively young man, having almost my entire spine fused.  I prayed to God that I wouldn't have to do it.  I still did.  I got a little upset later, because I was now bedridden for quite some time.   I had to have a brace on just to sit up.  My wife had to help me to the bathroom.  Help me take sponge baths.  Help me do just about everything.  At first I couldn't even have wrinkles in the sheets. My back hurt so bad the slightest fold in the fabric would bring me to tears.  My wife patiently stood by my side and helped me through this time.

If you had asked me then are you thankful for your surgery?  I would have become angry.  The thing is, I was one of the nine.   I wasn't thankful for what God had given me.  This surgery was a gift that I could not see.  So I went off to do my own thing.  I can look back now and see how much of a blessing this was.  Sure, sometimes I can't put my shoes on myself.   Some days I can barely bend over and someone has to hand me things off the floor.  Some days I have to have help taking my shirt off.  I still find that wrinkles in the sheets can cause me some pretty intense discomfort.  How can I be thankful for this? 

As a result of my surgery I was able to watch my daughter take her first steps.  I got to spend time with her.  I got to teach her.  I got to hold her when she got her first scrape.  I got to watch as her sisters taught her to ride a bike.  I got to watch them go through their firsts too.  I got to change diapers.  More diapers than I ever wanted to see.  I got to see my nieces, Liaden and Fianna, go through some of their firsts. I got to spend time with all of their siblings that I would not have been able to do otherwise.  I have been able to spend time studying, lead bible studies, prayer groups, faith sessions, and even hope to become a Deacon.   All of these things I might not have been able to do because of something I did not see as a blessing. 

What about you?  Are there things going on right now that seem like a curse?  Things that aren't going the way you want them to?  Are you thankful for them? It's not too late.  I too need to look at my life and ask, where have I not given thanks?  Then, like the one foreigner, glorify God in a loud voice; and fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him.

His servant and yours,