Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Truth. What is truth?

We often judge people based on our own vision of them.   I had a neighbor once who was a cranky old man.   Everyone warned me to not only stay away from him, but to keep my kids away from him too.   One day I walked over and asked how he was doing.   He was having some issues with his house and couldn't go up under it to check on it.   I ended up crawling under his trailer for a few minutes to find that his heat tape had been unplugged.   I plugged it back up, problem solved.   Over the next few years I got to know him pretty well.  Yes, he was cranky.  Yes, he was pretty inappropriate at times.   He had a huge heart though.   I had judged him wrongly by listening to others talk about him, and even in my own way expected certain things out of him.  My vision is limited.

God on the other hand looks inside the person.   He glimpses the inmost emotions of our hearts.   In today's Gospel Jesus declares that Nathanael  is a man with no duplicity!  Nathanael tells it like it is.   In fact, he is just a little bit rude in what he has to say today.  As the kids would say: "savage."   When he hears that Philip thinks Jesus is the Messiah he responds "from Nazareth? pfft."   The one thing Jesus knows about Nathanael is that he is who he is, whether you are there or not.  Honest.  Maybe to a fault.   The thing is though, Nathanael is then astounded that Jesus knew something very simple about him.  Jesus reminds him that greater things are to come.

deceitfulness; double-dealing.
synonyms:deceitfulness, deceitdeceptiondouble-dealingunderhandednessdishonestyfraud,fraudulence, sharp practicechicanerytrickerysubterfugeskulduggerytreachery;More

You see, this man who is astounded that Jesus saw him in the mundane, would go on to realize that it is in the mundane that we can see Jesus.   We judge people so much that we fail to see Him in them.   We are so busy looking for those big mountain top moments, that we fail to encounter Him in the silence and in the other.  So many think that if I could just become a missionary, or if I were a monk or a nun, then I could be Holy!   You are Holy now!   Yes, there is something amazing about being on a retreat or in Adoration for hours on end... but that same Jesus can be present to you in your every day life.   That is truth!

It's not enough to only encounter Him at Mass, though this is our most important prayer.   Worship should be a priority in our lives.   However we should be attempting to encounter Him where we are, when we are.   There is this saying: "if slaughter houses had glass walls, the world would becoming vegetarian."   I don't know that it is true.   What I do know is that if all walls were transparent we'd see that every person out there has some sin in their lives.   Sin that we tend to hide behind walls, in closets, or under the guise of perfection.   It's we, the sinners, who He came to encounter.  He comes to encounter us daily.  Not just once a day, not just once a week, not just here or there.. but He wants to encounter us every second.   Until our live becomes living prayer, a perfect communion with the Father, one that is only possible when we begin to let Him show us the world, through His eyes.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle: August 24, 2016.  Revelation 21:9b-14; Psalm 145; The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:45-51

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Leaving the Nest

The eldest of four is moving out today.   She ventures into the world to experience it from a different perspective.   I remember doing the same thing shortly before my eighteenth birthday, though I did not move very far away at that point.   Like my parents, I've tried to help her to be prepared for what life has to offer.  Not just the roses and enjoyments, but also making sure she isn't completely unaware of the gritty and horrible side of life.   As parents that is our job.   To prepare them for the world.  To give them the tools necessary, the knowledge to go forth and become who God has created them to be.   As she moves out I pray and hope she finds joy in this life, but more especially that she lives in a way that reaches towards eternity.

So often we reject that knowledge though, don't we?   I remember that I began to do things 'my way' as soon as I got on my own.   I did go to church, but not as much as I should have.   I didn't put the Gospel into action in my life.   I wasn't a horrible person on the inside, but my actions bespoke a brokenness that was evident to those of faith.   I had been baptized but I wasn't living out that calling to it's fullness.   I thought as long as I have faith, that's all that matters right?  That as long as I believed in Jesus, confessed him with my mouth, I was 'saved.'   It seems I was rejecting a lot of the knowledge that my Father had given me as well.

God in today's readings promises a renewing.   He promises that He will take away our stony hearts and give us hearts of flesh.  The Psalm of David's lament reminds us of that longing for God's joy, for a renewing of that Spirit with in us.   When we are broken those words are so powerful to read.   To remind us that God can clothe us in righteousness and salvation.   That the invitation to be renewed has already been offered and needs to be accepted.   You and I both have been offered the invitation to the wedding feast, but it takes more than just accepting it to attend.

The Gospel reading is one that many people avoid.   It's one that gets rid of that notion that one can just confess with their lips, believe, and be saved.   It reminds us that we must 'do' something.  Saint James phrases it this way, "Faith without works is dead."   When all of the people who should have been at the wedding refuse?  The King calls to the ones in the streets, the outsiders, the broken, the widow and the orphan.   He invites them all to the feast and He seemingly provides for them a garment to wear.   One man shows up without it.   The King inquires how he got in without being dressed for the occasion and then casts him out.   It's not enough to just receive the invitation.... you must have a change, do something, put on the garment.   What garment?   Saint Paul expresses it to Timothy in this way: "The aim of this instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith."    That is the garment.   He also says "If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing."

At a homily a few days ago Father Don spoke of Metanoia.   That fancy Greek word which means to turn around, to change.   It has a stronger meaning.   It has a connotation of turning inside out.  Today we might say "flipping our life upside down."   That's what it means to put on the garment, the arraignment for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.   It means to turn your life around completely.   To stop living for self, and to embrace the tools the Father has given you to become the person He has created you to be.   It means to stop doing it "my way" and to start living out the thing we say at Mass every time we attend: "thy will be done."

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time: August 18th, 2016.  Ezekiel 36:23-28; Psalm 51; The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 22:1-14

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I did it my way

I’ve told this story before.  The story of sitting on the riverbank of the Mississippi at the White House in Saint Louis, Missouri.   How that the sun was shinning, the birds singing, the river flowing it’s long easy strides.   That I was sitting there meditating on being thankful and how awestruck we should be at the generosity of God.   There I was having this beautiful moment of relaxation with the beauty of nature when the thought occurred to me:  This moment would be perfect if a deer would just walk out of the woods right now.  God had created a moment in which I could encounter Him on a greater level, a moment in which the temporal could touch the infinite… a perfect moment.   There I was trying to be God.

Our first reading shows us that times haven’t changed much in that regards.  Just like I on the riverbank that Mark Twain made famous sought to perfect a moment that was already perfect, the world tries to tell us what makes us happy.   Frank Sinatra once sang a song called “I did it my way.”  In that song he lauds that his life is coming to an end, and that he always did it his way.  Later in his life he was known to complain about the song.   His daughter said he described it as like having something on his shoe, something unpleasant that you just couldn’t get off.  It was too ego centric, too self serving.  It reminds me of that saying the kids have, “I’ll do me, and let you do you.”   You be your own truth, and I’ll be my own truth, and we’ll be both be happy.  Yet, very few of us are happy.

The Saints show us a different way.  In their emulation of Christ they instead put others first.   They put their egos aside and serve God and man instead.   They let their own wants and needs go to the way side.  They aren’t concerned with honor, or glory, or riches or fame.   Recognition at the end of the day is not their concern.   Mother Teresa was once told by someone that they wouldn’t do what we she did for a million dollars.  She replied, “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars either!”   She realized that the true reward is not in the comforts of this life, but in the joy of communion with Christ.  Not just in Heaven, not just in the Sacraments, but also in each other.  In the faces of those distressing disguises that Christ is wont to wear: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the sinner.

Christ on the cross shows us the fulfillment of life.   The Disciples were confounded when He said that it was near impossible for a rich and wealthy person to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  The Jews in first century Palestine, like many of the people today, had a sort of prosperity Gospel understanding of how things worked.   The more God loved you?  The more you had.  The less favor with God?  The poorer and sicker they were.  Jesus turned that on it’s head.  The first, the most honored, wealthy and powerful King of all times and places?  Died destitute on the cross.  The first was last in the eyes of the world, but the last in the eyes of the world? Is first and foremost in Heaven.    That’s true happiness… right there on the crucifix.   A man with no wealth, no power, no honor, no pleasure…. But living out the will of the Father.   Dying in the place of all of us as the greatest act of love in the history of everything!   

That’s our challenge as well.  To die to self that we might serve others.   Not to make God an afterthought… not to get everything else in order first, and then.. After work, health, retirement, vacation, school, kids and all the other things we add in there, to find a moment for God… Rather to put God in their first.. And then place the rest around Him and in His arms… That is lasting joy.

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass for Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time:  Ezekiel 28:1-10; Deuteronomy 32; The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 19:23-30

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Like and Oil and Water, so are the days of our lives.

I moved out of my parents home into a house they had generously given me when I was just shy of eighteen. I remember making many, many mistakes.   One that comes to mind this morning involved being in a hurry to get back to whatever I was doing but trying to cook at the same time.   I decided to deep fry some 'tater-tots' so I could have a quick snack.   In my hurry to get back to the computer, or tv, or whatever it was... I forgot to take off that little plastic cover you put on top to keep the oil from getting stuff in it.  A few minutes later I smelt smoke.  Running into the kitchen I saw fire literally licking the ceiling tile!   I grabbed the thing off the oven and put it on the floor so the fire couldn't touch the roof.   Then I grabbed a glass of water off the nearby counter and threw it in it.   As flames engulfed my face and hair began to dissipate like the morning dew, I realized the truth of the saying oil and water do not mix.

I believe that to be the crux of the message from Jesus in the gospel today.   Some would use this verse to allow anger and hatred to rule in their lives.  To claim that anyone who stands in their way is simply doing so because they are a 'good Christian.'  Jesus is not giving us permission to be hateful.   He is not saying that we can ignore the rest of the Gospel and lose our joy, our kindness and our love.   No, rather He is giving us a dire warning.   That good and evil do not mix.   That often the response to our Christian walk and the message we bear will be an explosion.   That like the oil that splattered on my legs going straight through the skin, people will often blow up and respond with anger and division.   We are to love them anyway... to care for them... even at the cost of our own lives, our own desires.

In today's world were people soften the message of Christ, the cross becomes a thing of the past.   That's not what Jesus demands of us.  These three readings grouped together remind us of the price of discipleship.   That our goal is not one of flowers and rainbows, gentle currents and soft beds, but the discomfort of Calvary.   We are challenged to live our faith with joy amidst persecution, love amidst hate, a friendly demeanor when all others are bearing down upon us.  The early Church realized that Christianity was a call to martyrdom, a call to give up our lives if need be, without rejected the faith.   In all of this they realized that God's mercy was beyond anything we could fathom, but that the call was not lessened by that, but strengthened in the example set forth by the incarnation of God himself and the Way of the Cross.

With Christian martyrs in the recent news, displaced Christians being persecuted and martyred in many nations, and some making the claim that "in this century [we are[ witnessing more shedding of Christian blood than any of the previous twenty"; our eyes turn toward the past and the future.. but we must need live in the present.  You and I in the comfort of America likely will not be called to give our lives for our faith, though it is not out of the realm of possibilities.    The challenge for us at the current moment is: to die to our own selves.   To live our lives in a way that shows us to be servants of Christ.   To look for Him in every encounter with others and ask How can I feed them?  How can I give them drink?  How can I clothe them?  That means both physically and spiritually.   To ever be prepared to give "an account for the hope that is in us." (1 Peter 3:15)  Is there anything standing the way of that?   Anything stopping me from serving the widow, the orphan, the refugee?   The victim and the bully?  Until we become detached from those things which stand in the way of complete abandonment to Christ and His calling, Paul reminds us that we "have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood."  

What is preventing you from being the person you were created to be?  Fix that first.  Work on your relationship with God first and everything else will fall into place.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time:  August 14th, 2016.  Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; The Holy Gospel according to Luke 12:49-53

Thursday, August 11, 2016

But you don't count......

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about being Holy.   My friend Jamie loaned me a book about this topic (How to Be Holy: First Steps to Becoming a Saint, Peter Kreeft) and it has been heavily on my mind.  While we were talking a few other people joined in.   We were talking about struggling with sin.  At one point someone turned to me and said, "Yeah but you don't count."   As if being in formation for the Diaconate or being a very active Catholic in my religion made my struggles with sin and temptation less of an issue.   I think we have that image of Christ sometimes.  As if He was made in a way that made it easier for Him to be perfect, easier for Him to be Holy.

Ezekiel in his prophetic utterance this morning gave the people of Israel a glimpse of two futures.  One in which the city itself would fall into exile with the royal prince being cast out, and another in which the royal Son would be given the same treatment.   Jesus picked up his baggage and carried it out of the city.   Up onto a hill where the darkness settled in.  Some would dismiss this as a solar eclipse, mere coincidence.  I would chalk it up to creation itself mourning that which we did not see.  Like the prince of Jerusalem, Jesus was veiled to His people.  They could not see Him for their own sin, their own failures.   In a way, they said to Him as well, "You don't count."  

In Jesus parable again I see that theme.   The first servant goes to the judge and He offers him mercy.   The servant goes out into the world, a man who should be filled with joy at his fortune.   Instead, his greed kicks back in.   He wants to get back to where he was before.   Instead of sharing the mercy he has received, he finds someone who owes him money and begins to choke him.  He has him thrown into prison in anger.  When word got out the Master was furious and demanded an account of him.   It was as if the servant was saying "I am important enough for grace" but my fellow servant, well they don't count.  Them.  The other.  They... those guys over there... they don't count.

We as Christians are challenged to be Holy.  Not just me, not just the priests and religious, not just the holy rollers or bible thumpers... every single one of us is called to be a Saint.   To be like Jesus, to follow in His footsteps.   His footsteps are the way of the Cross.   That means shouldering our own crosses and marching out to our own deaths.   Now most of us aren't going to be martyrs.   Many of us are going to die in our sleep, in some way that isn't glamorous or extraordinary.   That doesn't mean "you don't count."   It means that God is asking us to die spiritually.. to our egos... to ourselves... to live our lives in a way that says to every single person we encounter "You matter."   To everyone of them, regardless of their station, religion, legal status, political party, sexual orientation, lifestyle, or what have you.   To say to them "As God has shown me mercy, so I show it to you."  Are you offering His love to others?  Or simply holding inside?

You count.  You matter.  You are Holy and loved by God.   Stop letting the enemy convince you otherwise.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass on Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2016.    Ezekiel 12:1-12; Psalm 78; The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 18:21-19:1