Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Problem of the Eunuch..

Tonight I saw someone wondering about something that I too wondered about many years ago.  You see I grew up in a church that taught people that Baptism was nothing more than a symbol.  It was kind of a public declaration, a promise ring of sorts, that you did when you were 'saved'.   You did it not because it did anything to you, but to show others that you were converted.   Not only was it only symbolic.. but you could do it as many times as you wanted, until you finally actually stuck with it.  Baptism was basically the same as saying, "Look at me, I am a Christian."

Tonight after reading some others asking themselves why get baptized then, why would Jesus command it? Etc if it were only a symbol... it struck me that there is a fatal flaw to the reasoning that it's just a symbol.  That flaw lies in the story of the the Ethiopian Eunuch in Chapter 8 of the book of Acts.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.  And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?”  Acts 8:35-36

One has to ask themselves some logical questions and get logical answers.  That's what I love about being Catholic.  We reason things out (and people have been doing so for 2000 years.)  So what is going on here? Well the Eunuch has realized he needs someone to teach him about the Scriptures, and God sends someone along, an authority, to help him understand what he's reading.  After Philip explains it all to him, the Eunuch wants to be baptized.  Why is that a problem to 'symbolic' baptism? Well let's reason out why the Eunuch would want to do so, and why would he be excited by the prospect?

The Eunuch it says in a previous verse is had "come to Jerusalem to worship."   The Eunuch was not allowed in with the Jews, because he wasn't a Jew.  He was a gentile.  That posed a problem for the Eunuch because he was a God fearing man. The Gentiles, as you see from the image, were not allowed in the inner areas of the temple.  They could approach but not go inside.  Then the women were a little closer to God, then the men even closer, then the Priests actually in his presence.  So to 'get closer' to God, the Eunuch would have wanted to be a Jew.

There is a problem there.  He can't be a Jew.  Why not?  Well he lacks the proper equipment to be circumcised.   That means he can never become one of the children of God, one of the chosen race.  The Jewish people didn't see circumcision as just a symbol, they saw it as making you one of them.  Literally becoming one of God's people.  "I will be your God, and you will be my people."   Circumcision then was something the Eunuch would have wanted badly but could never do.  He would always be an outsider.  Always in the outer court of the Gentiles, never one of the 'in crowd.'

Why then would baptism seem like something he would want? Because he realizes that there is nothing preventing him from becoming part of the Body of Christ.  He doesn't say to Philip, hey thanks, I believe.  He rather says, "Here is water, let's do this!"   He's excited because God has just made a way for any man, not just the ones who are 'complete' in their body, but even those who have been disfigured can now become part of the family of God.  He can become of the Children of God now, via Baptism.  Baptism meant something to him, because it was more than a public confession.. it was a Sacrament!

More verses to read and study: Matthew 3:16; Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:8; Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 8:36-38; Acts 11:16; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33; Acts 18:8; Acts 19:3-6; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 5:25-26; Col. 2:12; 1 Peter 3:20-21,

Dressing up, Dressing down, Dressing out?

10 the Lord said to Moses: Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow. Have them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.  Exodus 19:10-11 NAB

I've been reading a lot about modesty lately.  In reading those articles I often find articles also about 'dressing up' for Mass.  In reading about that I've felt convicted a few times about wearing my blue jeans and t-shirts.  I normally try to spiff up a little you know, a polo shirt or a button down shirt, Some slacks or khakis.   That's my look really for Mass.   I kept feeling though like I should be wearing a 'shirt and tie.'  I quickly pushed that out of my mind, it's summer!  It's 85+ out there, I already sweat enough as it is!

Then last night I felt the conviction again and talked to my wife about it. We both talked about the pros and cons, almost in a practical manner.  I was raised in a Baptist church where blue jeans and t-shirts were common for weekend services and everyone always said "God is no respecter of persons, he doesn't look at your clothes.'   You're right there.  God doesn't look at my clothes, he looks at my heart.  He judges my actions and their motives.

That brings me to this though... if I truly believe that Jesus Christ is physically present; body, soul and divinity; in the Eucharist... then how would I show that?   If the President were coming to town and having a banquet, I'd dress up for that.   If the bishop were coming to our parish, I'd be in my tux and knights regalia.  Yet, Jesus Christ is there every weekend.  He's not judging me based on my outside dress, but what are my motives? What are my actions?  Am I showing Him how much I love Him?   Am I treating Him with more respect and dignity than I would a visiting dignitary?

I still didn't want to wear my tie.  In fact, I didn't even know where it was.  I had 'halfheartedly' looked for it but had not found it.   Then while I was washing clothes last night I noticed my button up dress shirt in a pile of dirty laundry.  I grabbed it and just tossed it in with the others knowing I was going to need it for my scrutinies in a few weeks.  I washed clothes, and dried them.  Then while I was removing the clothes from the drier this morning to put it on my eyes locked on to something hanging behind the dryer on a pipe.  There, clean and crisp, was my tie.

I get it ok?  The shirt was right there.  The tie was right there.  All that was keeping me from putting it on ... was me.   So today I showed up to Mass in a tie.  Many people commented on my dress.  My daughter even asked me, why are you dressed up?  To which I responded, "I got invited to see Jesus this morning, so I dressed up for it."   She said, "Can you tone it down a little? That's too fancy for Mass."

We got a lot of work to do.  Starting right here in our own homes.  Our kids need to see us treating Mass as if it is worth dressing up for, because it is.  If our kids think that wearing a shirt and tie is too fancy for Mass?  We've missed the mark somewhere.  Yes, I know each persons best is different.  If your best clothes are honestly a pair of jeans and a clean t-shirt, don't feel bad for wearing them.  If you have a suit in the closet and you're wearing your ratty junk to Mass?  Something is wrong in our heart when we act that way.

Dress to show how you believe, offer yourself as a living sacrifice at Mass.  If you sweat?  So be it.  Uncomfortable collar?  Offer it up.  You're in the presence of the King of Kings.... it's time for us as Catholics to show the world what that means.

In Christ,


Friday, July 24, 2015

The dishes, again.

I looked into the kitchen this morning, after spending the day in bed in pain.  I lifted too much yesterday and was just unable to get up this A.M.  The dishes weren't done.  I for some reason expected to magically get up at noon and find them washed.  There they were though.  Still waiting for me.

I've put them off a good portion of the day.  Waiting for someone to decide that's their cleaning for today.  Then I made the mistake.   I went to the bathroom and decided to read the Pope's homily.  Doesn't that always kick your butt into gear?  I was reading about the wedding of Cana and how that Mary wasn't concerned with herself whatsoever.  She didn't go gossip to her friends about the poor organization.  She didn't run and say did you see that?  They ran out of wine!  How shameful!   No, rather she was concerned for the other.  Mother Mary instead went to Jesus.  She prayed.  Then she went to deliver a message.  She said "Do what he tells you."  Then the Pope used those words that convicted my heart, "after all Jesus came to serve, not to be served."

My mind began to meditate on so many things.  First and foremost on the life of Father Solanus Casey, whose example often convicts me to shame and repentance.   Father Solanus took the hardest chores, took the tasks he was given with obedience and joy.  He, even in his pain, often ran up and down the stairs to get where he was going.  Never complaining.  Even when in confined to a bed in the hospital, he would hear people's problems with compassion and joy.
Father Solanus Casey

Then my mind wandered to Mother Theresa and her example of taking the hardest job for herself.  My mind reels at how often I want someone else to do the dishes.  I think of my friends, one of whom hates the dishes and another who loves them.  What makes that difference?  Why do we hate it?  Why do we love it?  Isn't it really just perspective?

Then I go back to Thich Nhaht Hahn and his writing that doing the dishes can be a moment with God, a moment of interconnection and love.  If we think and ponder on the reality that is a plate.  How it got there?  How many things it touched on the way.  How many lives were involved to get these pieces of sand to my hands.   How that God created it all and it belongs to Him.  Ah, so much to think about, and what better way than to place your hands in the warm sudsy water and begin to contemplate the mysteries of the universe.

So here I am.. off to do the dishes.

Mother Teresa

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Be Holy, As I AM Holy

Today's readings bring to mind something I have been meditating on a lot lately.  The concept of Holiness.  We all have so many varied definitions of Holiness, from being set apart, to being like God, to even the notion that being Holy means being free from sin.  Recently though someone brought to my attention  something that today's first reading says clearly:

Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  Exodus 3:5

The ground itself can be Holy.  Holy then doesn't mean free from sin... because the ground cannot sin.  It's just a part of creation and God said that all of creation was good, so what makes this ground different than another ground? Why is the ground over there not Holy, but this ground is?  The presence of God.  That's an interesting thing to think about.  Our Sanctuary is Holy at the church because God is present in the tabernacle.   Our churches are Holy.   Our Priests can rightly be called Holy, because they have God in them.  It's not about them not having sin.  It's not about them being perfect.  It's about them being ordained, having the Spirit of God in them.

Then a thought struck my mind.   We as Catholics believe that we are to look for Jesus in every face we meet.   "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me."   Every person is made in the image of God.. regardless of their sin, regardless of their realization of it.. they have an inherit dignity.  Doesn't that in a way make all of creation Holy?  If Jesus is walking around everywhere.. shouldn't we be treating all of our life as if we were in a Holy place?

We often act different in 'church' than we do in public, and much more so in private.   Yet if we think about the fact that God is omnipresent... he is everywhere... not just in the burning bush, but also in the dirty bedroom.   Not just in the tabernacle, but in the congregation.   Not just in the Priest, but in the laity....   Then shouldn't we be authentic everywhere?  And that person we are in church.. should be the person we are everywhere.. because we should strive to become the man we think we should be there.  

So what about you?  Do you take your shoes off in the presence of God?  If we think of shoes as 'flesh', as the sinful nature we have... do you attempt to remove your shoes period?  Because this ground your standing on.. that's Holy ground.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Problem With Sin

We hear it constantly.  People quote to us "judge not lest you be judged."   Their intention is that we should not judge anyone else's sin but rather let them live however they want, and they'll take it up with God later.  There are two flaws with this logic.  First and foremost, they stop quoting that passage where it is convenient.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

Notice that it begins with admonishing people not to look at anyone else's sins when they are living in sin themselves.  Someone who is looking at pornography at night in his room alone should not be judging someone who they find out has been drunk the next day.  It also reminds us to judge with mercy, and kindness.   The 'measure we give will be the measure we get.'  If we judge harshly?  So will we be judged.  If we judge with great mercy and understanding?  So will we be judged.  That's an important note....

But the most important thing is that at the end of this verse Jesus tells us "then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."  What does that say?  It says that judging is something we must indeed do.  But as John reminds us, we are not to judge by appearance, but with righteous judgement.  Why?  Why would Jesus instruct us to judge others?  Isn't sin just a personal thing?  Isn't it between me and God alone?  After all David said "against you alone have I sinned."  

The thing to realize though is that we are Christians, and as such we have a theology of the Body of Christ.   We are one body.  Once we are baptized into Christ we are one living organism, one creation.   We are the Church.  St. Paul says it wonderfully when he compares us to body parts and
reflects that just because one body part says to the other "I don't have need of you" it doesn't remove the reality that it's still part of the body.

Think of sin as a cancer.  Cancers always start with one cell type.  They originate somewhere.  The lungs for instance.  Lung cancer is a horrible condition.  It tears the lungs apart first.   Yeah, if you are the lungs and I am the heart.. why do I care?  It's your cancer.  The problem with a cancer is it spreads.   It doesn't just remain in one spot.. but eventually if untreated, begins to eat away at the entire body.  In the south there is a saying for someone dying of cancer, "She's plumb eat up with it." It may have began with only one organ, one spot.. one member of the body.. but it hurts the entirety of it.  Eventually causing other parts of the body to be cancer riddled too until it tries to kill the body.

The second is that sin is never a private matter.  We may hide it.  We may do it behind closed doors.  We may only do it when no one else is around.   It still affects our lives.  It still changes us, and spreads.  Look at our society itself.  2000 years ago it was unheard of to be an adulterer.  Now we have entire reality shows dedicated to watching men and women cheat on each other.  The more sin we accept, the more it spreads, the more it draws society (and its members) toward death.  That's why Saint James tells us "confess your sins one to another."   I believe sincerely that is also why Jesus gave his apostles the power and authority to forgive sins.  Today we have confession, where that same authority is being used freely to forgive us when we fail; with the condition that we are trying to do better.  Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Material World

There is this notion going around (and has been for many hundreds of years).  The church has been combating it from a very early time.  The Gnostics have long held (since the 1st and 2nd centuries) that all of creation was evil.  That notion is that the material world, that is all of creation, is 'bad' and the only good thing is the spiritual. What though would that notion say about Jesus Christ himself, who though fully God was also fully man?  Or about God himself who created matter?   This notion that our world is not worth the time we spend here and all that matters is Heaven to come has indeed infected the popular Christian music of our time.  A small example:

All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

On one hand the lyrics are poignant and meaningful.  Being in Heaven with Christ is the goal of our existence.  The danger comes though when we spend all of our time thinking of things to come, without trying to see the beauty and gift of what Jesus has already given us.   It's kind of like getting a shirt that you kind of wanted for Christmas.  Then every time someone asks you about the shirt you're wearing, you start instead talking about the one you are going to get later.. the good one.. the one you got on is just a necessary thing to get you through.

We often forget the simple truth that when God looked back on creation, he said it was very good.  Not just mankind, but all of it.. the trees, the earth, the animals, the plants, in the water and on the earth.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.  Genesis 1:31 RSV-CE 

I think that is why this new encyclical, Laudato Si' is so pertinent and necessary for our times.  We have wrongly treated the word dominion as a right to complete domination.   As if we have the right to rape, pillage and destroy what God created and deemed very good simply because we are in charge of it.  How much like the renters of the vineyard we seem to have become who started treating it like it was their own.

“Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet."

Matthew 21:33-41

How very fickle we humans are indeed.  We did the very thing Jesus speaks about.  God created for us a vineyard, filled with so many beautiful and wonderful things.  He gave it to us to take care of and instead of enhancing it's beauty and productivity, we often just destroy parts of it in search of greed and wealth.  Then the son himself came, and we did just like Jesus spoke of... we killed him and claimed the world as our own.  Yes, we have much to learn.  I am thankful for God's mercy because we as a species definitely do not deserve it.  May God forgive us for all we have done, and may the Pope's encyclical reach all to all people of the world and remind them that we have a duty to creation and we need to start living it.