Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Little Salt and Lime

The other day I posted on Facebook about how disappointed I was when the school had a celebration for Cinco de Mayo and didn't include everyone.    I still don't know the details of why it was all inclusive, or even offered to everyone who wanted to participate.   What I do know is that it being Cinco de Mayo I want to talk about the significance of this holiday.   Here in America we tend to use it as an excuse to 'eat tacos and drink margaritas' as Father Don waxed poetically this morning.  The thing is, it's a celebration of freedom, of overcoming adversity and enormous odds.

I think to truly understand the significance of this date, we have to understand what the world was like when these events were occurring.   Mexico had been at war with America, followed by it's own internal civil war and was nearly out of resources.  Many lives had been lost, the treasury itself was almost bankrupt and the people were prime targets for occupation.   The United States were embroiled in their own civil war and couldn't pay attention to the geopolitical maneuvering that was going on.  Many countries decided to demand payment from Mexico for it's debts to them, but only the French saw this as an opportunity to gain new lands and peoples.   So they attacked the Mexican country and even though the French military was considered strong and enormously better trained and equipped than the small Mexican force, yet, the Mexican army "crushed" the premier army of the world.

Eventually the French did take over the Mexican government but were expelled a few years later.   The US began to get involved, the Mexican people continued to revolt never giving up, and all of these situations caused Napoleon to retreat.   This is a decisive moment in history not just for the Mexican people, but for the entire continent.  In fact, many historians believe that had the French maintained their hold in Mexico from the onset of this war they would have joined the southern forces to overthrow the northern yankees and our country would have turned out much differently than it did.  Lots of repercussions there that we need to understand as a people.

What does that have to do with the readings for today?   I think the first reading shows us a good example of exactly what the Mexican people did.   They were grounded.   They planted themselves where they needed to be.   They never gave up on their cause, even when they suffered defeat.  The Apostle Paul was not always successful.  Just the other day we read about his failure at the Areopagus, where people basically said "call me some other time, not interested."  Now we see him working tirelessly at a trade to support himself while still trying to spread the Gospel.  Then a few friends come and begin to support him so he can work at preaching instead of making tents.  Even then, with 100% of his efforts concentrated he begins to lose his temper and claims he's finished with the Jews.   But God isn't!  Paul ends up moving in with a man who lives next to the synagogue and all of a sudden the leader of that synagogue and his entire family converted!  Paul kept working, even when it seemed it wasn't going his way.  His friends backed him, supported him and worked with him.  No matter what failures, no matter what successes... they still worked preaching the word of God.. just like the Mexican people on Cinco de Mayo, they fought against odds that the rest of the world would never have faced, and were triumphant.

I think that's our lesson for today.  To stand our ground, to move when God needs us to move, to fight when God needs us to fight, and to preach when God needs us to preach.  How though do we prepare for all of this?  How do we get ready for knowing where God wants us?  How do we know when it's time to preach, when it's time to make tents, or when it's time to move shake out our garments and move on to a new household?   The Gospel reminds us of that simple truth.   Jesus disciples were a bit confused when he said: “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me.”  We 2000 years later, in light of much theological thought and discussion have a glimpse into that truth.  Jesus was sending the Holy Spirit to not only lead us, to guide us and teach us, but also to make bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.   That's how we see him in the most substantial and present way we can on this side of Heaven.   Though he went away physically in his human, glorified body;  he comes back every time we gather to worship.  When the Priest lifts up that Host and says the words of consecration, do you realize that is the fulfillment of that promise?  "You will see me."

So when we receive him, when we gather together and proclaim to be Christian, we have to ask ourselves.. have we shaken out the dust of our cloaks?  As I was reading the office of readings this morning, these verses stuck out in my head:

Little ones,
let no one deceive you;
the man who acts in holiness is holy indeed,
even as the Son is holy.
The man who sins belongs to the devil,
because the devil is a sinner from the beginning.
It was to destroy the devil’s works
that the Son of God revealed himself.
No one begotten of God acts sinfully
because he remains of God’s stock;
he cannot sin
because he is begotten of God.

That is the way to see who are God’s children,
and who are the devil’s.
No one whose actions are unholy belongs to God,
nor anyone who fails to love his brother.

When Paul shook his cloak he was getting rid of everything he felt was wrong with that place, even the dust of the air.  How about you?  Your body is the temple of God, your spiritual covering... have you shaken out those things which are unholy? Or are you clinging to some of that dust?  What stands between you and being the kind of man/woman that God has created you to be?   It's been 40 days since Easter Sunday, have you transformed your life?   Or are you back in the same old ruts?   We have work to do Church.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Desire Built Into Our Hearts

I know what the Athenians felt like in the first reading for today as Paul began to explain to them the truth of what God expected from us in worship.  For the first 13 years of my Christian walk I was a protestant.  I didn't even know what that meant to be honest.  What was I protesting?  All I knew about Catholicism was that they were different and according to the pastor at the church I was attending "weren't even real Christians."  As far as I was concerned, everyone else had it wrong.. we had it right.

Paul though came into that situation speaking the truth.  He met them where they were, not where he felt they should be.  He didn't attack their faith and condemn it.  He simply pointed it towards the truth those men and women were trying to find.  Not everyone was open to that truth of course, some simply scoffed and ignored him.   Others though were converted and joined him.   We can learn a lot from that can't we?  Apologetics doesn't need to be a heated argument, it doesn't need to be an attack to expose the flaws of another's beliefs... what it needs to be is a gentle lamp that illuminates the path to truth.  That's why the Catechism says: The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."   (CCC 843)

We meet others at points of trust, where they agree with us.  First and foremost we must establish a relationship.   Relationships are built on that trust right?  Every religion is out of the same desire, even if the answers and methods are flawed.  That desire is to fill that hole in our soul, that yearning for God.  Even atheism I would contest is more a protestation that is out of that emptiness felt inside.   So we begin there.  Not at the differences which simply create even more friction, even more division. Then we build on that, slowly, logically, reasonably.   Not everyone is going to convert, not everyone is going to agree, but as Blessed Mother Teresa said, “God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.”  In my case though, that's how God reached me.  Slowly, logically, reasonably.. not through attacks, but by shedding more and more light into my mind about who He truly is.

The thing is though, the Gospel reminds us of something paramount to all of this.   None of this is possible, none of this should be attempted, without first bringing it to prayer.  The Holy Spirit must be involved in everything we do.  It does not matter how eloquent you are in your speech, how logical you are in your arguments, how well respected or liked you are;  if God is not the primary mover.. then nothing can be moved.  He will remind us of the words to use, and he will plant seeds in their heart.  This Gospel is not our own to be used for our own means... but rather it is something which belongs to Him.  "He will take from what is mine, to declare it to you."  It is this third person of the trinity who does the greater work in our evangelization, it is he who prepares not only the soil but the farmer.

So are you letting him give you the tools to till the soil?   Are you letting him choose the spot to plant his garden?  In Cursillo we have this concept, pray first.. then ask.   Are you doing that when it comes to spreading the Gospel?  In our society we have this notion that we should leave other people alone, let them do whatever they want whenever they want, as long as it's in the privacy of their own lives and doesn't affect me.  There are certain issues though that I think we should not... cannot remain silent on.. because even behind closed doors they harm the fabric of souls, ripping society apart from the inside.  The thing is, are we speaking out with God at our backs? Or trying to go it alone?  The greatest gift we have been given to strengthen us in this battle is the Eucharist... by the power of that same Holy Spirit that Jesus said would be sent, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ... what more powerful way can he indeed take what belongs to Christ and declare it to us, than to present Christ to us.. and is there any way to be more powerfully equipped than to receive Christ himself?  Run to the altar in prayer first, then go out into the world bringing about the change which God wills.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Blowing Hole, and I don't mean me!

Many years ago my mother and father took me on a trail ride through the mountains of Virginia.  After many hours we arrived to this place called the blowing hole.   Way up on the top of the mountain was this hole in the ground that extended down and out onto the face of a cliff.  It's unique shape caused the wind to blow through in a way that made it whistle and howl like a creature of it's own.   I had never been this high up before.  From there we looked down into Kentucky at the beautiful scene you see in the image I've included.  It gave me an idea of how big the world was.. how grand.. how expansive... it changed how I saw things.  In a sense, it gave me a vision that the world was much bigger than I had ever imagined.  I was not very well travelled and had only been out of the general area couple of times.

In tomorrow's readings John had a vision as well, a much grander vision than my own.   In his vision though he says this unique phrase that shows his eyes were opened to something that is world changing, at least to me.  "I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb."  How astounding that must have been to the people reading this document.  The temple was the center of Jewish worship.. it was where God was... he lived in the temple.   Everyone journeyed to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifice and to be close to their God... yet here John is indicating a change of things.. The temple is the God and the Lamb.  How confusing this image must have been to the monotheistic religion that they practiced.   To accept that statement required a lot of faith, especially to those who connected the Lamb to a person.. Jesus.  How could God's temple be a person?

Yet that's exactly what we are challenged to believe in the Gospel isn't it?  "“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."   St. Paul takes this even further by indicating that you and I are the temple of God.   Wow... imagine that rocking statement for a moment.  That we will be the resting place, the place where God will live.. the place where worship will take place will be internal, in our souls, in our bodies.   It requires something though... many will tell you that all we have to do is believe right? That it's faith alone.... yet if we take this scripture seriously, Christ indicates we must keep His word to become the temple.

For Catholics, that becomes very evident when we read John chapter 6.  That is the Bread of Life Discourse... if we keep Jesus word, he will come and dwell in us.   Whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood... has life.   The Eucharist is the key to being that temple.  Jesus told us to do it... he gave us the words, the actions... and he said if we keep those words, he will dwell with in us... then we walk forward and receive Jesus Christ, body, soul and divinity, in the consecrated Host and he comes to dwell in us.   Do you take that seriously?  This is why so many people worry about being irreverent in the communion line.. about dressing well for Mass... about silence in the Sanctuary.  Not because Christ doesn't accept us for who we are.. but because we are temples... are we acting like it?   Are we keeping them presentable?  When we go forward to receive Christ into this meager temple, are we disposed to receive that grace? Or are we just punching a card?

Then it's not just enough to be the temple.. we also go out into the world to bring God to them.   He is in our hearts, part of us.. we are the outward vision of him.. Jesus hands and feet for the world.  Are you journeying out into the world to offer them a vision of God? Or of your own version of God?  Is the temple you present to the world a temple fit for a King?  Or is it one you run down with the graffiti and decay of sin?  How do we present a proper temple?  The works of mercy.   Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, etc.  Are you decorating God's temple with love and good works?  Or painting it with your own self ego and sinful desires?  We have work to do church.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mission Impossible.

In tomorrow's readings we see Paul trying to follow the will of God.  He has recruited Timothy, a man who is both Jew and Greek to accompany him.  The message of the Gospel would be that much easier to spread to a new culture when you have "one of their own" with you.  Yet, he seems to be confounded at every turn.  They try to go into Asia but are prevented, into Bithynia and it is not God's will.   I imagine that is frustrating.  Here he is doing exactly what he has been called to do, and yet the Holy Spirit prevents them from going into these areas.  Imagine the frustration.   The doubt.  Then that night he has a vision of a Macedonian speaking to him and asking him to come into their country to help.  As soon as the vision was revealed they set out to seek passage into Macedonia to do God's will.

How often do we do the same thing in our lives?   Many of us are 100% sure of our calling, of what God wants us to do.. and that's a noble and good thing.  However, our calling is to do the will of God and that requires discernment.  It requires taking time to ask God exactly what he wants from us.  To follow his lead.  How can we ever know what his lead is if we don't spend time listening?  That's something our culture doesn't like, isn't it?  We have portable phones, music players, streaming devices... ear pieces that allow us to stand in a room with others and listen to some event thousands of miles away.   If we just look around at a restaurant instead of staring down at our cell phones people think we are weird or odd.  We are even encouraged to have music playing in the background of our homes so that when we arrive it isn't silent.. but rather welcoming and warm.

Somehow we got this notion that silence is bad.  That being alone with our own thoughts.. that sitting in meditation waiting for God to speak to us is old fashioned and a waste of time.  Yet, that's when God speaks to us the most.. in the silence.. when we stop using him as some sort of heavenly ATM and instead realize that He is a loving father with whom we have a relationship to maintain.   That means not just talking to Him, but spending time listening.  How then can we prepare for our mission if we never listen for that mission?  The Eucharist is the key.  It is the entire foundation of our Catholic faith.  Receiving Him, adoring Him, spending time with Him, listening to Him... that's what it takes to find out exactly what he wants from us.

The world wants us instead to blare our music, listen to our television shows, and constantly be bombarded with external information.  It's almost as if we are scared to take a moment to find out who we are.. and who He is.   Jesus warned us of this though.  In tomorrow's Gospel he talks about how the world hates him.. and as such, will hate us.   If people watched your day, would they see Him?   Or would they see just another person?  If they looked at your browser list would it look like everyone else's?  If they looked at your Netflix history would they be impressed?  He talks of persecution and he says the reason for it is "because they did not know the one who sent me."

Do you know Him?  Are you listening?   Each day is an opportunity for that, and opportunity to be more like Christ and less like the world.  That's what Church is all about.. it's about unity, growing together in faith, being the Body of Christ... the Sacraments draw us closer, and allow us to receive Him.. to be filled with His grace and His love.   Don't shun them... and take a moment today, and every day, to sit in silence and listen for His voice to find out what His plan is for you.  The fullness of God has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  He gave us the Holy Spirit, a Church, and the Sacraments to lead us to an informed conscience and a holy formation.... It is time for us to avail ourselves of that tremendous grace and follow where he leads.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

And of Us.

I haven't been writing a lot during this ordeal with my kidneys.  My mind is still fuzzy from all the medicine and to be honest, I sleep more than I stay awake.  I've been doing something my spiritual director told me to do though.   In this time when I just don't have it to pray with words, I am praying with my pain.  You know that old saying?  Offer it up.   Instead of trying to put it to words.. I just offer my pain to God.. not for an intention, not for my purposes.. but for his.  I'm not avoiding the pain medicine.  I was at first.  I thought at first maybe this was my call, that God wanted me in pain to suffer for him.  It took me a while to figure out though that God doesn't want me in pain... but when I am in pain, he wants me to still turn to him.

One of my favorite poems growing up was this:

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

In tomorrow's readings we see this calling of individuals.  Since even my youngest days I knew that men were called by God, chosen by him to do things.  One of the things I never really noticed as a protestant though was that little phrase there in acts: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.  People often ask me why I am Catholic.. why am I going through the diaconate.. why spend 7 years of my life in discernment when I could just listen to God and he would tell me where to go and what to say.   Why?  Because of that verse and other verses like it.   God didn't give us a book.  He didn't give us just the Holy Spirit... but also the Church.  Jesus didn't write a single word that we have recorded, besides an incident in the sand.  We can only guess what he wrote there.  What he did give us were his disciples, his Apostles, and they began (as evidenced by the Scriptures the Church gave us) to make decisions on how things would work after Jesus left, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus in the Gospel shows us again that it is not our own calling, not our own decision whether we will serve God the Father.  It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”  That's why I am going through this process.. that is why I went to His Church.. the original Christian Church.. the Catholic church.   It has existed since the time of Jesus with an unbroken line of Apostolic authority.  As such I defer to the Church to help me understand my calling.   They in turn offer me training and formation.  They offer me the Sacraments to assist me in the journey and knowledgeable Priests, Deacons, and lay men and women who are uniquely and extremely qualified to assist me on this journey.

At our last class each man who was discerning this call got up and gave a small speech on two of the many topics that we covered throughout this year of aspirancy.   I was constantly amazed at how each person had their own unique way of presenting the material and yet, each one spoke the Gospel truth with their words.  Each of us has been chosen, called to something... God willing to the Diaconate itself... and each of us is charged with using our unique personality, abilities and gifts in living out that call.  We can't do it alone though.. we must turn to the grace of the Sacraments, to the grace of the Church, unleashed by the keys of Peter to pour out on us at any time we ask for them.   Why not make use of them? Why avoid that channel of grace?  Jesus is waiting for us to come back to him.. to be a part of his life.   God is calling you... he has revealed himself fully to you in the person of Jesus Christ..  He wants to show you the way to live an authentic, full and unique life with an abundance of grace, love and hope.   As Robert Frost mourned in his poem, there are different roads to be travelled and you cannot travel both.   Yet God loved us so much he gave us a signpost to lead us, one which can be read with careful prayer, guidance and listening to the Holy Spirit and the Church.  What are you waiting for?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."