Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Antidote

Yesterday was a difficult day for most.  As we stood outside in the cold tolling the bell and praying a divine mercy chaplet for our country and the unborn, it’s somber notes echoed through my soul.  The news was inundated with images of women saying, wearing and doing some very strange things, all in the name of progress.   From celebrities claiming they wanted to blow up the white house to women wearing sexual images on their heads, all had one thing in common.  Pride and fear.   Their eyes spoke of a fear that someone was going to take away something they wanted to hold on to.   Their freedom, their desires, their dreams.  They had been manipulated by a deceitful enemy into believing that the gift of life was a burden and to be a real woman meant not being a woman at all, but becoming exactly like the men of old.

What is the antidote to fear and pride?   Humility and hope.   It’s realizing that God came as man, incarnate in flesh to show us a better way.   That being a human being means being a reflection and image of that God.   That his plan for us is not broken.  That we should not be ashamed of who we are.   Too many of us think we must change ourselves, and we convince others that if they feel this way or that way that they aren’t who they should be.   So we spend thousands of dollars of cosmetic changes to try and make us look like what we society has convinced us we should, when all we need to do really is become comfortable with who we see in the mirror.

Today in the Gospel Jesus reminds us that doing the will of God makes us family.   Brothers and sisters of the Lord.   It’s not a slight to Mary, as some would have it seem.   Rather it’s a reminder of her perfect yes to God’s will.   It’s showing us that we too are asked to say an unconditional yes to who we are, to God’s plan, no matter how difficult it seems or how dark the day may become.   We are the light of the world gathered together at the feet of Christ learning daily.  That when we say yes we are living life to the fullest of what we are created to be.   We no longer feel uncomfortable in our skin, no longer feel ashamed of who we are or what feelings or desires we have.. But realize we have been complete all along, even in our brokenness.

What does that mean to you and I when we see such images of people filled with fear and pain? It’s a reminder that they too are created in God’s image.   That in them we get a glimpse of the Garden of Gethsemane.  It’s a moment to comfort our savior in His hour of need.  Not a moment of condemnation or to trivialize what He is feeling, but to journey with Him and say I know that it’s scary.  I know that you are afraid, but God has a perfect plan for us.   To be an example of humility, hope, and charity.   It’s a moment to be Church to a hurting nation.   A moment to understand and to understand we have to listen.

In that first reading we have this beautiful line:

Then he says, Behold, I come to do your will.
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this "will," we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Consecrated.  Set apart.   Chosen.   That’s our hope.   Not a prideful and vain hope, but rather one filled with the humility of knowing that none of us are worthy.   The world is not going to believe any of our words until we show them that we live it.   We can claim we love everyone but until our actions show that we do, until we have begun to pour our lives out like the very cup which Jesus drank, until we too can look in the eyes of others and truly say I am here for you… then we aren’t living our own calling as brother and sister.   A brother protects, he stands up for his siblings, and he guides.    A sister nourishes, heals, and hopes.   We are called to both… are we ready to do as we pray?  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.   

Saint Frances de Sales understood this.   In his lifetime he worked till his feet froze and bled trying to teach others about Christ and His Church.   He listened for God’s will before embarking on things He wanted to do and in all ways served even at the detriment of his own health.  Too often in society we are encouraged to put ourselves first, then worry about others.  That’s why we have this very movement in our midst.  Christ instead challenges us to be least of all, and too choose others over ourselves.   Francis didn’t encourage a dry, dreary life of penance and brokenness, but one of joy, laughter and dancing.  He showed us the true freedom and elation of doing God’s will.   It’s about time that we embraced that, and that begins by looking into Jesus eyes in the Garden and saying, “I love you.”

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass, January 24, 2017. The Memorial of Saint Frances de Sales

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life is a whirlwind

It's been a very long time since I've had a chance to sit down and write on my blog.  Some of you already know all the things that have happened.   I ended up in the ER with an infection brought on by some medicine the doctors had given me that weakened my immune system.  The very next day Julie and three of our daughters were hit by a semi truck in our Prius.  The Prius was totaled and all of them walked away from it.   Then we signed a loan on a new Prius.  The very first time it was driven to work someone rear ended it.  Now we are working with insurance to get it fixed.  Between that, and all of the other obligations we have both socially, educationally, professionally and in ministry have left me moving at a pace that keeps me from catching my breath at times.

Today's readings though, they spoke to me.   The Homily that Father gave this morning was one of those that reminded me what I already knew, but seemed as if it was aiming right at my heart.   Before I get to that, let's talk about the readings.  The Gospel is a very familiar one to most people.   One man builds a house on sand, another on a solid rock foundation.   Then a storm comes.   The house is torn down that was built on sand, but the one with a solid foundation?   It remains standing.  Jesus tells us then that those who build on rock are the ones who hear the Word of God, and acts on them.   It's not enough to simply hear the word or confess your faith, that's building on sand.   It's hearing the word, and living the life.  Walking the walk. Talking the talk.

How many of us do that?   It's easy to say that we do during times of comfort.   When everything is going right it's very easy to say Thanks God!   It's a little harder to do that though when things are going down hill.  When your health crashes, when your life goes a way you didn't expect, when Christmas is coming and you have no cash for gifts for your kids.  How hard is it then to say "Thanks God!"  Thank you God for the car wreck.   Thank you God for that tornado?   Thank you God for the fires?   It's because we aren't seeing with his eyes.   We get self absorbed.   We think about the stuff lost.. not the people still with us.   Thank you God that all of my children and wife are still with us!   Thank you God that my friend who lost her house and everything in it to the fires in Tennessee is still alive and able to reach out and tell us so.   Thank you God that we have opportunities to walk the walk and talk the talk, to reach out to those who have lost all they have and give them from our money.. Not from our excess... but even till it hurts.

The danger though is to think that God causes these things because you 'sinned'.   Yes, if you walk way from God you can lose His protection.  That's not His will for you.   He doesn't sit around planning tornadoes on those who did bad things.   He's not punishing the U.S. for this or that.  What He is doing is trying to move our hearts after bad things happen... trying to get us to pour out justice on the planet like rain from the skies.  Are you ready to do that?  To give even when you are the one hurting?   To love even when you aren't loved?   To console when no one consoles you?   That's what it takes.   That is what it means to be a Christian.  To pour yourself out like a libation for the world to consume, because you have to become Eucharist to the world... even when they don't want it.

His servant and yours,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Islam: A religion of peace?

One of the most challenging teachings for me personally from our current set of readings had to be the teaching on jihad.   For me it challenges everything I have ever known or heard about the Islamic religion.  The book (World Religions, A Voyage of Discovery by Jeffrey Brodd) indicates that Jihad does indeed mean struggle or exertion, but that it is first and foremost a struggle against the self.   A personal, spiritual battle against the flesh that must be disciplined into submission to Allah.  Secondly, it is the concept of social reform.  That jihad is then taken and understood in the context of social reformation.   Both of these notions are notions that I as a Catholic understand and would be welcome to see more of in our own Church and society.  

My experience though, both through the media narrative and my journey through various protestant churches, indicated that jihad was first and foremost the concept of a Holy War.   Most of the news and media outlets seem to indicate that this is what we are up against.   That the average Muslim hates America, hates what we stand for, and even refers to us as the “Great Satan.”   That does not seem to be the actuality of Islam though.  Even today I saw an interview with the Dalai Lama in which he indicated that the words “Buddhist terrorist” and “Muslim terrorist” are already a step in the wrong direction.  That all world religions strive for peace, unity, and living together in a better world socially.  He even indicated that the Qu’ran dictated that once a Muslim committed an act of violence he was no longer an authentic Muslim.  

How do we reconcile that with what we believe to be true?  I guess it means taking a longer look at those who hold this belief.  Asking questions with genuine interest in understanding them and hoping that in doing so we can build bridges between our two faith traditions.  I imagine this to be a difficult journey.   It’s one that is going to take time for me, one that is going to take prayer, and hopefully the grace of God will allow me to overcome my own preconceived notions and to take another look at a culture and faith that I believed to be completely alien to me; but one that upon further inspection had much more in common with my own beliefs that I could have imagined.  Their respect for Jesus, Mary, and the prophets, their love of God, their belief in the monotheistic deity, fasting, prayer, and alms-giving just to name a few.  

I think that this is a good reaction to have.  To not always be comfortable with what we already think we know, but to be challenged to seek the truth regardless of what our mind has already cemented as fact.  If I had kept to some of the beliefs I had growing up I would not be who I am today, nor would I be Catholic.   I believe that to be an indication of the grace of God alive in our lives, asking us to reach out in understanding to our brothers and sisters from other nations, creeds, and races.  That’s truly what I believe to be the axis and means of evangelization: make a friend, be a friend, teach that friend about Christ.   It all starts with relationship.  Honest, authentic relationship.   One cannot even begin to be friends with someone on a deeper level without first truly taking time to learn what they hold dear, what they hold sacred, and truly taking time to listen.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Turn your life flip upside down.

In today's Gospel we see Jesus continuing to call out the Scribes and Pharisees.  He doesn't condemn them for what they are doing.   There is nothing wrong with building a memorial to a loved one or a statue to remind you of an important event or person.   The problem is truly one on the inside.  These men have been taught everything they need to know.  They know the law inside and out.  If they were alive today they would be the guy who when you ask where it says something in the bible, he would instantly respond with the book, chapter, and verse.   That's a laudable thing.

What they did not have though was conversion.   Though they knew the right thing to do, Jesus could see into their hearts.   He saw that even now they would kill the prophets again, just as they were destined to do shortly with Jesus himself, the ultimate of prophets, the son of God.   They put on a good show.   They knew the right things to do, the right things to say, the things to do to show people how great and pious they were... but they were 'white washed tombs'.   The inside was still full of evil thoughts, petty desires, and attachment to all the things of this world.  Even as Jesus spoke to them they began to plot how to catch him in some way to get people to turn against Him.

How do we apply that to to day?  In a world where we have statues of Saints, relics, photos of family members, football jersies and the like hanging on our walls?   Nothing wrong with those things, if they are used properly.   The problem becomes with what is in our heart.  Have we changed?   Have we begun changing?  Are we even willing to do so?  Or is our comfort zone our own tomb?   When God looks into the dark, mortal recesses of your heart who does He see staring back at Him?  The child who he created in His image?  Or the image we ourselves have tried to form ourselves into?  Jesus himself is the very key of knowledge that unlocks the scriptures.   Are you helping others to find and know Him?  or are "you yourselves not entering and stopping others from entering also."

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time. Lectionary 470

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Who is to blame?

I've been avoiding Facebook a bit lately.  The vitriol and venom that drips from the pages seems to saturate the very fabric of my skin, leaving me want to bathe in something harsher than water to remove it's stain.  I see people who on a normal day would have nothing bad to say about anyone smearing a man or woman they do not personally know and spouting diatribes filled with semi-factual statements to ram their point home.  Every skeleton in every closet seems to have been shaken out into the streets to run rampant with a life of their own.  Even the names of the candidates have been twisted into pithy sayings or to draw even more ire on the persons stance on this issue or that.   I can't help but wonder, how did we get to the point where these are the two most qualified men and women to run for President in our country in the mainstream parties?

It's our own fault.   We've created a world in which we not only expect politicians to be people who dance around the truth but we support and laud men and women as 'good' even after their actions show otherwise.   The top selling books now are soft core pornography scripts and then we demand that the candidates rather not use that sort of language.   We avoid the hot button issues and sweep horrendous crimes under the rug by simply labeling them with softer language:  choice, freedom, love.   We listen as politicians declare that 'religions will simply have to change' under their watch and still claim that we are a country that demands toleration...

What we demand rather is toleration of those who agree with us.   It's that age old battle that began with two young men, one a shepherd offering of his flock, the other a farm of his field... then ended with a rock and spilled blood.   It is again, our own fault.   We have allowed society to erode around us into the state it is now existing in.. one in which people drive up and down the streets of our cities shooting one another and anyone in the way... where the police are now being portrayed as untrustworthy, and anyone who gets shot is innocent and a victim.... where sexuality is all that is on the television and the music is filled with messages of drug, sex, and hedonism...

So how do we then vote?   How do we reverse this course?  How do we decide which candidate is the lesser of two evils?  I don't have those answers... what I do have is this:  These are human beings.   They are created in the image of God...  Too many Christians that I see are refusing to offer dignity to them.  They are smearing their name in the name of politics, making fun of them, constantly speaking of them in ways that we should never speak of another human with... Can you look into Trumps eyes and see Jesus there?  The image of God looking back at you, even if he is not living up to that image?   What about Hillary?  I've heard both of them ask recently for forgiveness for their past errors.. and seen hundreds refuse to give that forgiveness... but what does God say about such things?

His servant and yours,