Friday, July 22, 2016

I wish you were more like....

One of the worst mistakes we can do in a serious relationship is to compare the one we love with the past.  "I wish you were more like your (brother/father/mother/sister/cousin)...."    "When we were dating you would..."   "All you ever want to do is sleep, when I first met you we always..."  It's even worse if you compare a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend to someone you used to be in a relationship with!  It demeans.  It tears down.  It hurts.  It's a failure to encounter that person in the here and the now and a grave mistake indeed.

C.S. Lewis in his journal titled "A Grief Observed" wrote of an encounter with a person from his past.   After his wife's death he had become somewhat of a social recluse and an old friend called on him.   He was excited at the prospect of seeing him after all these years.   After a few hours with the fellow he found that his memory of him was not quite the person he really was.  In fact, after seeing some of the ticks and quirks of the persons personality he realized that he did indeed remember that person after all... but his memory tended to leave out details.. to tailor itself to Lewis's own likes and dislikes.   It was an astounding moment when he realized that his wife was more now than any memory that he could have of her.   He was failing to encounter her in the now, and instead remembering her in the past.   Even though she had died, she was still with him in ways that were even more complete and astounding.

“All reality is iconoclastic[..]The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness.... And this, not an image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.” - C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed 

I think that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb she was doing much the same by living in the past.  That's part of grief after all.   The Resurrection that Jesus had spoken of so often was simply a thing she had relegated to the future.   Even the vision of the angels speaking to her from inside the tomb did not bring her out of her funk.  The Master himself stood behind her and he failed to recognize him.  She was looking for an image of the man, one she had in her mind... but the real Jesus was right there before her eyes.   It took her hearing her name called by God himself to recognize him.   It took an encounter with God, with Christ in His resurrected form to jar her out of herself, out of her own thoughts.. and into the present.

CCC 2158 God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.

We as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances must encounter Christ in the present.   To take time to look for him and listen for his voice to speak to us from the mouths of others.  As a parent I know just how difficult this can be.   To look for the image not only in the stranger but in those you live with every day.   This is the only way we can meet them exactly where they are and as who they are in order to journey with them through this life.   It takes stopping to listen for Christ to speak our name through the mouth of those created in His image.  Are we taking time to do this?

P.S.   Father Don Ahles' homily this morning touched on something that we should take note of, especially in light of what I wrote above.   Pope Francis has taken the memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene and turned it into a Feast.  That means that everywhere around the world it must be celebrated by Catholics.    He wants us to sit up and take notice of who Mary Magdalene really is, not who history has attempted to portray her as.  A grave error has been done to her image in that she has been confused with other women in the bible.  She was a wealthy woman who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry.  The Eastern Church calls her the Apostle to the Apostles.  She was not the prostitute but rather the woman who was delivered from seven spirits.  She then was sent to tell the Apostles themselves the good news.  We should take note of that too and realize that sometimes our image of her is clouded too and we need to encounter who she truly was that we may encounter who Christ is and what His message is to us.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflections on the Mass readings for the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene: July 22, 2016.   Song of Songs 3:1-4; Psalm 63; The Holy Gospel According to Saint John 20:1-2, 11-18

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lead me into the desert....

When I first got out on my own life was pretty good.   I was working a job at minimum wage.  I had my own place.  My own car.  I had a phone, internet, and food in the fridge.  Then I got a job making twenty five dollars a day driving a bus going to college.   The bills were getting paid.   I was eating well and had many friends.   The summer after I got my Associates degree I decided to get a job as an electrician.   I started making quite a bit more money.   I soon forgot how good life was at the start and began to live at this new level of 'wealth.'

It wasn't long until the bills weren't getting paid.  I had a lot more stuff for sure.   I ate more, partied more, had even more friends.   My relationships were getting more shallow though as I sought more and more enjoyment.  I was making more money than I had ever had.   I had a new car, well new to me.  I had plenty of books, a top of the line gaming computer, high speed internet, and on and on.   I was unhappy though.  Relationships started to fall apart.   Bills stopped being paid.  After a break up with a girl I thought was the 'one,' I took a job with a travelling electrical company and began to go on the road.  I went back to simplicity.   Life was starting to look pretty good again, and it kept getting better. 

The first reading reminds me of that journey.   The Israelites met God in the desert of all places.   In a land where they had to count on Him for food and drink.   They had a relationship and journeyed together.   Then He took them into a land of abundance and immediately they began to put more and more into their lives.  They turned from the one who would give them living water and instead tried to find that fulfillment in things. Just as I had done in my years as a young adult, and just as we tend to do today, we constantly look for that thing which will make us happy.  Sitting around day dreaming about what we would do if we won the lottery instead of looking for the gift that is already there... God himself in the Sacraments. 

The thing about the Gospel to me is that every person heard the same parable, every person encountered the same Jesus.  The Disciples, though, sat at His feet.   They didn't just encounter on a superficial level.   They wanted to be closer, to learn more.   They asked questions.  They journeyed with Him.   That's what relationships are about.  Time spent together.   That is why that little verse from Hosea is so powerful: "So I will allure her, I will lead her into the desert." (Hosea 2:16) This isn't God trying to pull you into the sparse desert to die.. it's a lover wanting to take you back to the simple times.. to where we met... to the beginning of our relationships.. to the way things used to be.  It's God calling to us to have an authentic encounter.  To remove all those things from our hearts that stand in the way of receiving the one thing that fits, the one thing that matters.   To get rid of all these empty, meaningless things... and encounter Him: in the Sacraments, in Sacred silence, and in His most distressing of disguises... the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee, the sinner and the saint. 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time: June 21, 2016.  Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13; Psalm 36; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 13:10-17

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Speak Life

There are so many times that I have been given the opportunity to be an evangelist for Christ and allowed my fallen human nature to get in the way.   I was at a Cracker Barrel with some friends.   I went up to the register to pay on the way out.   A young man behind the counter commented on my necklace.  He said he had been meaning to get something to wear.   He said he just didn't know which to get because he was, and I quote here, "A Catholic and a Christian."   It was a moment to evangelize, a moment to teach and tell him that all Catholic's are Christians, but not all Christians are Catholics.   I didn't though... I just talked about the different kinds of crucifixes and crosses and encouraged him to get one.   Something inside of me kept me from going further and encountering this person on a deeper level.

Jeremiah reminds us that God encounters us on so deep a personal level that He Himself forms us in our mother's womb.   We are reminded time and again in the Sacred Scriptures that we are created in the image of God.  Like a loving artisan, God works directly and intimately with our very being.  Making us into one race, not many.   Each person created unique with a distinct personality and specific gifts.  He knows us before even our parents are aware of our existence.    How much more personal a relationship with God can we have than to be created by Him, not as some identical automaton among the many.. but as an individual, a singular diamond... a treasured possession.

We are made in the image of the God who speaks and creates.   He speaks life.   He speaks love.   He, the Father, spoke one single Word.   That Word was revealed to us in the incarnation as the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us."   Jesus is the Word of God.   In every action Jesus provides a perfect example of evangelization.     He never proselytizes, even the son of God never seeks to force conversion... He instead encounters the person.   He gets to the heart of the matter for those who are seeking to come closer, those who are trying in earnest to find God.  He never tells them to just continue sinning or misses an opportunity to reach out to a fallen child of God, but rather touches them in a way that leaves them hopeful or challenged.  That is the image of a God who never leaves a person behind unchanged.

In the Gospel parable we see the Word of God being planted like a seed.   The myriad temptations of this world seek to harden the soil of our hearts.   To create an environment internally that inhibits the growth of that seed.   The devil and evil spirits prowl about seeking to devour, to destroy any hope of that seed forming.  They want to pluck the seed out before it has a chance to change us.   Pleasure, honor, power, and wealth all seek to grow up in our hearts as false idols to choke out and destroy any image of God within us.   We must be co-workers with the Lord, laboring to prepare the soil of our hearts to not only receive the Word, but to nourish it and let it grow within us as a fertile and rich environment for Life.    That is what has been planted in us, the Word of eternal life, Life itself.

Then, we also must become planters of the Word.   Going out into the world to speak Life.   In a world hurting with racial divides, abortion on demand, rampant drug use, hatred towards the police sworn to protect us, and a million excuses that desire to create in us an environment where we justify sin... In a realm where men and women fleeing persecution by regimes of hate are turned away by 'Christian' nations.... In a society where speaking about Christ is in and of itself taboo, casual sex is on the rise, the family and marriage are being relegated to things of the past, and selfishness is even lauded in the music.... We are challenged to speak Life.. to speak Love... to speak hope.  To the poor, the broken, to the hurting... we are to be an image of the Word... one who never is complacent towards sin, but always encounters on a personal level.. and leaves every person they encounter changed in some small way.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A Reflection on the readings for Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time: July 20th, 2016.  Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10;  Psalm 71; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 13:1-9

Monday, July 18, 2016

Oh Deer......

Recently on a silent retreat we were encouraged to meditate on thankfulness as we sat on this beautiful outlook, overlooking the great Mississippi river.   The previous afternoon during our one hour of fellowship I was telling my friends about the frog I had been meditating on the morning before.   They told me about humming birds, eagles, deer, rabbits, and butterflies.   How wonderful the diversity of life in this place! As I sat there watching the golden rays of the sun crest the morning sky, a butterfly passed by.   A red tailed hawk flew overhead and a rabbit scampered on the trail below.   The breeze was picking up and I was in awe of the beauty of the moment.  Then I thought, this moment would be perfect if a deer would just walk out of the forest right now.

How frustrating that must be for our Heavenly Father.   To be in a relationship with a stiff necked people who are never happy with what He offers them.  Here I was meditating on being thankful for the moment and even in that moment had notes for God on how to make it better, instead of just being content and happy with the beauty and grace I was already receiving.  There are times when I am just in an ill mood.  My wife tells me when I am in that mood she can do nothing right, nothing seems to calm me down.   How horrible that must be for her!  To not be the cause of my angst and yet be the one to receive the annoyances and ire. God gets even worse from us.

In the Gospel for today Jesus has brought to the people the glorious and wonderous news that God is offering forgiveness to all people!   Eternal life!  He offers it with a simple message, love God and your neighbor.  It's not a new message, but the same message God gave to Moses in the desert.   Simply live what you already know to be true and you can live forever in Heaven with God!  "You know what would make this message even better Jesus?   If you were to do a miracle here for us to prove it."  It was their deer.   Instead of realizing the beauty of what was right before them, God himself incarnated in the person of Christ, they wanted more.

He comes to us every day in the Sacraments offering that same salvation and He challenges us to live the message we already know to be true in our hearts.  As Moses said last week in the readings, It is not in some far off land or in the skies that someone must go and get it for us, it's right here in our hearts and on our lips.   Love.  Saint Camillus De Lellis, our Saint for the today, reminds us how to live that out.   By greeting Christ in His most distressing of disguises.   That whatever we do to the least of these, the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, the angry young man with a gun, the police officer shot in the line of duty, the family left behind... whatever we do for these, we do for Christ.   Are you ready to encounter Christ?   In the face of the sick and dying?   The old and the young?  The refugee?  The Muslim?  The Jew?  The Atheist?  We need to stop asking God to give us a sign to push us out into the world to do good, and just do good.    He's already given you a sign that goes beyond anything else you could ask for... He rose from the dead that you too might have eternal life.   Now go spread the good news!

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A Reflection on the readings for Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time: July 18, 2016.  Micah 6:1-4, 6-8; Psalm 50; A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 12:38-42

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Excuse the Mess!

How easy it is to forget the important things in life.   In the story of Martha and Mary we are reminded that some things are more important than the to do list.  Martha was running around hectic trying to get everything done that she felt needed to be done for her guests.  Mary though was sitting at the feet of Christ paying attention to Him.   I need to be reminded of this.  I am kind of anal when it comes to having a clean house and when we do have guests I am often the Martha.   Cleaning, washing, doing dishes I should have already finished, anxious and stressed.  I am missing the important thing, the guest.

Growing up my mother had a philosophy that went something like “house work can always be done, my kids will only be with me a short time.”   The house often wasn’t clean.   The laundry sometimes piled up well above the laundry basket.  The thing was we knew we were loved.  Mom spent as much time as we would let her with us.   We played, we laughed, we cried.  We did it as a family.   It’s a philosophy that all of us could learn from, especially when it comes to relationships.

Just the other day our friend Jennifer came over.   I was in the middle of a game online with three other people and while she stood talking to Julie, I kept playing.   I justified it because I was not alone in the game and three other people out there in cyber land were counting on me to finish this mission.  In reality I was missing an opportunity to sit at the feet of Christ.   To encounter Him in my friend who is made in His image.   To just be present, to treat her with dignity, and show her that she was more important to me than any game.  As rarely as we have guests in our home you’d think I would learn this lesson already.

Even more so, we have to remind ourselves to make time as well for that relationship with Jesus Christ in prayer and devotions.   Too often we fill our schedules up and then look for an hour here or a minute there to fit Him in.   When in reality we should simply empty our schedule and put Him in there first.   To make time for daily mass if possible, scripture study, Liturgy of the Hours, a rosary, or even just some silent time in which we listen for His voice speaking to us in the whisper of our hearts.   Are we making time for Him?  A relationship does not function if the two people never discourse.   Try it for a few days and you’ll find that even though you’re taking time to sit at Jesus feet, everything else seems to get done as well.  

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

A Reflection on the Mass Readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: July 17, 2016. Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke 10:38-42