Monday, November 30, 2015

The Rest is just Icing on the Cake

Back when my daughter was much younger she stayed at home with me during the day.  We would work on learning the things she needed to know for school.  My mother had bought us these wonderful little math and reading flash cards and we would use those.  We would also go over very simple things about God and the bible.   I was trying to prepare her for her life of learning, both in the secular world of public education and in the religious world of C.C.D.  There were times she'd get what I would say, and other times I wasn't sure she was learning, especially when it came to things like who God was, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the trinity.  How do you explain such difficult concepts to someone who is 4 years old?

I still did my best and we would talk plainly and simply about God.  As her math skills improved, her letter recognition and even simple reading began to flourish as well.  One day she was laying on the floor looking up through the skylight at the sky.  She sat scrunching up her face like she was trying to figure something out. 

"What are you thinking about?", I asked.

"Thinking about the Holy Ghost."

"ah, what about him?"

"That cloud looks like him."

"How so?"

"Well, it looks like Jesus, but he has on a costume like the Holy Spirit."

It's a simple analogy, and imperfect in many ways.  But she was getting it!  She knew that they were both God.. but they were different people, different looking, but the same substance.   I was so excited!  She was learning!  How beautiful that is for a parent to watch their child begin to wrestle with difficult, and even abstract concepts, and start to grasp them for the first time.

In the Gospel for tomorrow I feel that is why Jesus is rejoicing.  Seventy of his missionaries have just returned filled with excitement at the success of their mission.  "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!"   How amazing that must be?  How powerful and exciting to see the Lord move through miracles that make his presence evident in the world.  Yet, Jesus reminds them that it isn't these loud showy things that they should be excited about, but their salvation.  How often is it that we want that though?  We want the flash.  We want the bang.   We want to see the mountains move.  We want the fourth of July.  Jesus wants to give us Easter though.  As Elijah found on the top of the mountain, God wasn't in the lightning.  He wasn't in the earth quake.  Not in the thunder or the flame.  He was in the stillness, in the quite whispering wind of the Spirit.

Notice that phrase at the start of the Gospel?  Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. That's what we should be asking to do as well.  That's the beauty of having the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We don't need the flashy.  We don't need the speaking in tongues, or the shouting Amen, though these things can be beautiful if done correctly.   We don't need the falling out in the spirit, or the miraculous healings, though those too are beautiful and wonderful.  Rather we rejoice in just being filled with God.  Just his presence in our hearts gives us joy.  All the rest is just icing on the cake. 

The disciples got to see something that the Prophets and Kings of old desired to see.  They got to see the Kingdom of God before them, the Messiah standing in their presence.  For centuries the people of God had been longing for this moment, to come face to face with God made man.  Many didn't see him.  Many ignored him, or thought him to not be doing the right things.  The simple, trusting disciples were the ones who saw all of this come to pass.  They got to see Christ.  They got to see God and live. 

What about you?  Jesus says to us today as well, "do not rejoice in these miracles; but rather rejoice that your names are written in Heaven."  Again, he says "I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it."  Do you realize how blessed you are?  You get to see the risen Lord in the Eucharist every day you choose to do so.  Do you rejoice?  Or do you desire rather the flashy, explosive things.   Pray to the Holy Spirit that you too will rejoice in Christ's presence in your life.  That you will be filled with joy, not seeking the explosive manifestations of the spirit that sparkle and shine in the sky like the fourth of July.. but rather Easter.  That transformation that brings you from death to life.  If the explosions come?  Then rejoice.  If not?  Rejoice. 

Everlasting life is a more astounding miracle than anything we might see here in this world.   Rejoice!

His servant and yours,
Brian

An Evangelist to the End!

Fishers of Men by Kim Freitas
It's Advent!  How exciting! How beautiful!  Do you feel the change in the air?  We should.  This beautiful season is to remind us of what it felt like to be present for the promise of the Christ, the Messiah, Emmanuel!  The Jewish people still in captivity after such a long time, not only bound by the government of Rome but also still warring with sin in their flesh; were waiting for the promised deliverance, the prophet greater than Moses, for Jesus Christ himself.   Mary had been promised to deliver a child by the angel Gabriel and here we approach the date of his birth. 

We don't just celebrate a birthday on a birthday you know.   We don't just celebrate a past event, though that is part of it.  We celebrate the person!  We celebrate their past, their present, and their future.  We talk about what they were like as a child, maybe even pulling out some of those embarrassing baby photos to show the new members of our clan.  We tell jokes and stories.  We ask them how they are and spend time appreciating them!  We wish them many more happy years, and give them gifts.  Oh how wonderful a birthday is!  A day to remember a person, and a sad parting at the end when they must go back to their life and you to yours. 

That's the beauty of Christmas though, when we celebrate Christ's birthday it doesn't have to end there.  So here we are moving toward his birthday.  Some would say we should celebrate it every day of the year.. and you know they are right!  That's not what Christmas is about though.  It is not a day to stop and say ok, remember Christ today and forget him tomorrow.  No, it is a holiday to remind us to stop and say, have I been doing it!  Have I forgotten who Christ is?  Have I spent as much time with him as I should?  Let's tell those stories.  Let's talk to him, and listen to him, and appreciate him.  Then take him with us throughout the year.  We all need those reminders.  We need those days to remind us not to take things for granted. Not to forget.

Today is the feast of Saint Andrew the apostle.  There is a man who was a true evangelist.  A man who did not forget and took Christ with him.  The first reading from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans reminds us that faith comes from hearing.  How can they hear without someone to preach?  How can people preach unless they are sent?  The shepherd's in the field were one of the first to hear the good news.  They were told by the angels themselves!  The angel's were sent by God.  They announced who Jesus was, and pointed to him.  Jesus then sent Andrew.  Andrew announced the good news as well.  Andrew was so enamored with Christ, so filled with the Holy Spirit that it is said that when he was martyred in Patras they bound him to a cross.  They left him there for two days. For both days he preached to the crowds gathered.. using every last bit of his life to preach to them that Christ was the messiah, and the way, the truth and the life.

Then in today's Gospel according to Saint Matthew we hear the story of Andrew's calling.  Jesus called to Andrew and Peter and told them to stop casting their nets into the sea, that he would make them fishers of men.  Matthew tells us that immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.   They didn't wait till later.  They didn't pack up and say their goodbyes.  Rather they left, right then and there to do the will of God.  Come after me.   That was Jesus first words to them in this encounter.  Follow me.  As we journey through Advent and the Christmas season I think that is our challenge.  Just like the Shepherd's who heard the message came to find Christ in the manger, just as the Wise Men from the East saw his star and came to worship, just as Mary, the disciple par excellence, heard the message and gave an eternal yes to the father to bring Christ into the world... so too must we.

You and I, brothers and sisters, are called by our baptism to be apostles to Christ.  An apostle is one who has been called by the Lord, sent by the Lord, and has seen the risen Lord.   If you are Catholic you fit the bill.  You have been called through your baptism into the life of the Church.  Jesus has called you to this.  It was not you alone though it was your choice.  Jesus said no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws them.  You have been called. You have been sent.  Every time we go to Mass at the end of Mass we hear something to the effect of "The Mass is ended, go forth and glorify the Lord with your lives."  The Priest or Deacon is not just saying "Hey see you next Sunday."  No, it is a sending forth!  You are being sent into the world to deliver the Gospel!  The food you have just received from this table, you are going out into the world to share it with everyone else!  You have been sent.

Finally, the one that so many people miss, you have seen the risen Lord.  I said this to my confirmation class recently and all of them demanded to know when.  In the Eucharist!  We Catholics do not believe it is a mere symbol.  We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present, literally and entirely in the Eucharist.  He is not trapped there.  He is not only there... but he is very much there!  When the Priest lifts up the Eucharist in Mass we look upon the divine deity, Christ himself!  Wow!  Does that floor you?  It should.  You have been called!  You have been sent!  You have seen the risen Christ!  You are an apostle.  That means you too must go forth preaching to the world! Oh, indeed, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!  Be those feet!

Are you ready for this?  If you were crucified today would you spend your last two days of life, starving and in pain, to preach the message of Christ to anyone who would listen?  Are you preaching Christ in your daily life?  Do people know you are a disciple of Christ?  Does your life exhibit the truth of the Gospel?  Are you following Him?  That's what Advent is about.  It's time my friends, to examine our hearts.. our lives.. our consciences and ask ourselves.. have we forgotten?  Let us use this Advent wisely as we approach Christmas.  Let us remember that our lives are ordered towards Easter, but they begin with Christmas.  So let's journey through our liturgical year to remind us of Jesus past present and future.. and as disciples of Christ let us remember that the means we want our lives to look like his.  Use this time to look at your own past, present and future... You have been born in Baptism.  It doesn't end there.  You are being reborn daily, with your choices, with your actions... with your thoughts.  Are you letting Christ be born in your heart now? Or is there something in the way..   You will be reborn after this life.  Where will you spend your eternity?  Now is the time.  Get ready.  Be ready.  Stay ready.

His servant and yours,
Brian

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy New Year!

Be vigilant!   That is our message from today's Gospel.  As we enter the season of Advent, we see more of that Apocalyptic literature that reminds us to be ever ready and watchful for the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  It exhorts us to continue working towards that perfection, that holiness of life that comes with following Christ as our example.  It also evokes in our hearts the realization that we all have one thing in common.  We all eventually will die.  We all eventually will face judgement.  These readings are intense, but they are written not to scare us but to encourage.  A prompting to "conduct ourselves in a way pleasing to God."

The last few days I've been binge watching a television show that I find to be very interesting.  I wouldn't recommend it for children or anyone sensitive to harsh language, but the Man in the High Castle definitely shows us a danger of the human condition.  In this alternate reality the Nazi's created the bomb before America did.  This enabled them to not only win the war, but to take over half the country.  The other half seems to have been dominated by the Japanese which I imagine began with Pearl Harbor.  Throughout the series we see what life would truly be like if we didn't have freedom.  If you have ever complained about freedom here in the United States?  Give this show a watch.

Why do I mention this show?  When I watch it I see something about the characters that is very much vigilant.  They have their eyes open.  They are seeking the good of 'society'.  One of the characters is a Nazi commander and he very much seeks the best for the Nazi government.  He is dedicated.  He believes in what he is doing.  He keeps to his 'rule' of conduct at all costs.  In that though, he ignores one thing, his heart.  At one point he turns over his friend, because as he puts it, "There is no room for emotions" in the world.  He has left love behind. 

That is a danger that many people forget.  In their conduct they are trying to be pleasing to God, but God is pleased truly with love.  Our liturgies are important, our devotions too, our prayer and worship should be first and foremost in our lives.  All of it must be tempered with love.  Humanity is bad to stick to one ideology, one way of doing things, to the point of harming others in order to stick to that one way of life.  We aren't like the Nazi's, I agree.   Most of us would blanch at killing in order to purify the human race.  Yet, how many of us stick to our democratic or republican voting points regardless of if love is involved?  How many of us would vote the party line even if it means supporting one of the five non-negotiables?  How many of us decide that one liturgy is better than another? Or one version of music is the 'right' one, even to the point of running someone down to get our way?

Jesus said if we were angry with our brother it was the same as murdering him.  If we are so set in our ways of doing things, and have not love, St. Paul says we are just a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  That is, we are just a loud noise with no effectiveness, pushing people away and harming them instead of soothing them and drawing them closer to Christ.  When we decide at work that our way is the only way to do things, even to the point of not being charitable to that person who wants to try something new, hurting their feelings and gossiping behind their back; aren't we killing them with our words and thoughts?  Jesus condemned empty and hollow tradition.  He said that the Pharisees were like white washed tombs.  On the outside they did all the right things.  On the inside there remained the filth of decay and the bones of dead men.  Are you the same inside as your are outside? or are you wearing a mask? We must change.  We must start with love.  Then and only then, when we do our traditions out of love.. they are a true and pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. 

As we approach Christmas through advent let us do so with love.  Let us invite others into our celebration.  Let us spread the word, declaring "Blessed Advent" or "Happy Advent" to those who wish us a "Happy Holidays."   Then when they ask what Advent is, let us explain our traditions, how that we are journeying towards Christmas to remind us of that grateful expectation that Israel felt as they waited for the long prophesied Savior and Messiah.  Let us build that palatable excitement in our lives until we can sing with the angels, the Saints, and the blessed Virgin Mary:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

His servant and yours,
Brian

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bears Win!

Today's readings are quite intense.  Since we are less than a day away from Advent it would be expected that the intensity grows, and so it does!  We see all these strong apocalyptic images of great beasts rising up and devouring, and then falling away to the next beast.  What are these images about?  Apocalyptic literature is always kind of scary and many people spend the majority of their lives trying to find out who these people are, not just in the past but some try to interpret them as in the present.  The point of the literature, though it can be prophetic and often was, is to point to righteousness and faith being the key to redemption.  They almost always end with the judgement seat of God and the end of time.

The lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) represent strength and characteristics of kingdoms to come and go.   Just as you and I would be scared if a bear walked into our living room, let alone a bear with three large tusks; so too was the imagery intended to convey a message.  That message is that these kingdoms that are coming and going are very powerful, savage and cruel.  They all fall though.  This scene in Daniel ends with the coronation of the Son of Man coming on the clouds.  Jesus is in charge.  These kingdoms, despite their power and guile, will all fall away.. the only Kingdom that reigns forever is that of the Messiah, of the Christ.  This is the promise of the Davidic throne, this is the promise to us through Christ, the only begotten Son of God. 

Then we see this interesting parable that talks about figs, and signs of the times.  Just like in the apocalyptic literature we see symbols of what is going on in the world politically at the time, we see Jesus teaching us to keep our eyes and ears open.  He talks about the fact that we see the buds of the fig trees ready to burst forth and that shows us that summer is almost here, so too should we keep our minds open for the coming of Christ.  He also taught us though, that only the Father will know that day.  So what does he mean?  He means to be vigilant.  To be ready.

I was trying to learn more about figs earlier today, to see how this parable could apply to my life.  I grew up helping to tend bee hives occasionally.   I had heard quite a bit about bees and how they pollinate the food we eat, helping things to grow and reproduce.  I did not know that wasps also for some plants do the same thing.  Figs have a special kind of wasp that not only pollinates the fruit but also lays it's eggs there.  The queen crawls into the fig, lays her eggs, in the process pollinates the inside of the fruit, and then she dies.  She is consumed by the fig. 

That's a strange relationship.  The thing is, if you ask me about wasps I truly think of them as a terror.  Compared to bears, lions, eagles... a wasp is much scarier to me.  I don't know why.  Their little faces make me think of pure evil.  That to me is the lesson I take from this whole situation.  I think of the wasp as evil, as those things inside of me that get in the way of me letting God have complete control.  Just like the fig I often think these things are for my good.  I let them crawl around inside, not really asking what to do with them.  The fig teaches us a lesson though.  When we have those things inside we need to dissolve them.  We need to let the Jesus inside of us consume those things, drive them out... leaving nothing but the fruit inside. 

I think that's our lesson.  As the liturgical year ends, our minds begin to think of the end of time.  We don't know when that will come.  We don't know exactly what that will look like, or what it means for us to transition from life to eternity.  What we do know is that we need to be ready.  We need to let the Holy Spirit scatter the darkness in our hearts until nothing is left but the sweetness of His fruits.  As my dear friend Kenn often says, "Get ready, be ready, stay ready."  Don't wait till tomorrow, don't simply watch for signs of things to come.. but be ready regardless of what is happening.  Don't let your lamp go empty, keep the fuel handy at all times.

His servant and yours,
Brian

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Detachment in the Dark

I once had the dubious honor of staying in a $10 dollar a night hotel near an air port in western Kentucky.  My company had sent me all the way across the state to work on a heat pump on a Lowe's to find out why it wasn't working.  I drove around trying to save them money by looking for the cheapest hotel money could buy.  I found this place right at the end of the runway strip.  I paid for my room in cash, got a receipt and drove my truck around to the unlit parking lot in the back.  The outside was faded with paint falling down in big chips.  The smell of body odor and urine permeated the air.  All of which was hard to take, but not the worst of the night.

I opened the door to my hotel room and the stench of unwashed sheets, mildew and human fluids struck my face.  I turned on the light and heard a scattering.  Roaches.   They were going everywhere, trying to find a place to hide.  I noticed on the wall in front of me a sign that said, "No refunds once you have entered the room."  Silly me.  I had already entered the room.  I decided to grin and bear it, and I made it through the night alive.  I didn't sleep much.  I could hear the roaches crawling up and down the wall by the bed all night.  Every time a plane flew over the roar of it would make things fall off the ceiling.  I didn't turn on a light to see what they were.  I was hoping it was more paint flakes.

Why do I tell you this story?  Earlier when I was meditating I was struck by the imagery presented in scripture of Jesus as the light of the world.  I began to ponder how that our hearts, much like our inner home, are often filled with dust, with dark things, with our own sins.  When we allow Jesus in the light scatters the darkness.  I wonder if it looks like those roaches running from the light?  Do they skitter in the dark and try to find a place to hide?  I think that often we don't open all the doors though.  We only want Jesus to come in so far.  So those really dark things, those things we don't want to give up, they run and hide.  They are still there.  We have an attachment to them.

I think that's why often when we pray, when God is really beginning to move in our hearts, things begin to surface.  Distracting thoughts, worries, fears... .they all skitter out in the light because they were hidden somewhere that God has just opened in our hearts.  Sometimes we fight them.. we get upset with ourselves or angry that they are there.. instead we need to focus on letting God in completely.  Let him drive out that darkness.  We cannot do it on our own. All we can do is open the door to Jesus and let him come in... he'll do the cleaning. That is really the thing we need to concentrate on.  Being present to Him.  Opening ourselves to Him.  Loving Him.  Until the light of Christ floods our inner recesses and there is no place left for our sins, our attachments, our egos to hide.  Only then can we face them, and with His help, defeat them. 

Are you ready to flood every recess of your heart?  Are all your doors open? Is there anything you are holding on to that you just haven't had the courage to let go of?  Now is the time. 

His servant and yours;
Brian

Happy Thanksgiving!

What does it mean to be thankful? That is something that is heavy on my heart the past few days.  As we approach the holiday of Thanksgiving, it is something I think all of us should be thinking about.  Someone challenged me to do this thirty day challenge on Facebook.  That is, for around thirty days I have been attempting to come up with something each day to be thankful for.  Doesn't sound too hard does it?  The first few days didn't require much thought at all.  It was easy to come up with a blessing.  I could just look around at some relationship I had, some thing I had been given, some good event that was in my life.   All of these were evident and stood out.  After twenty days though, I began to have to spend more time thinking of something to be thankful for.

Tomorrow's reading for Thanksgiving reminds us of the ten lepers who had a great deal to be thankful for.  These men had been ostracized from community.  They were in pain and diseased.  Their family and friends probably didn't get to come close to them for fear of catching the disease.  They could have been friends, brothers, sons, fathers, uncles. Jesus healed them.  On their way to see the priest they were completely cured of their disease.  Only one of them returned to see Jesus.  Only one truly went to the priest and showed himself clean. The others sought God when they needed him, once cured they ran off to live their lives. 

How often do we do that ourselves?  We give thanks for the good, but we ignore the bad.  We seek God when we have needs.  Then when everything is going smoothly we don't have time for all that religious stuff.  When I first had my back surgery I was very disappointed.  Here I was, a relatively young man, having almost my entire spine fused.  I prayed to God that I wouldn't have to do it.  I still did.  I got a little upset later, because I was now bedridden for quite some time.   I had to have a brace on just to sit up.  My wife had to help me to the bathroom.  Help me take sponge baths.  Help me do just about everything.  At first I couldn't even have wrinkles in the sheets. My back hurt so bad the slightest fold in the fabric would bring me to tears.  My wife patiently stood by my side and helped me through this time.

If you had asked me then are you thankful for your surgery?  I would have become angry.  The thing is, I was one of the nine.   I wasn't thankful for what God had given me.  This surgery was a gift that I could not see.  So I went off to do my own thing.  I can look back now and see how much of a blessing this was.  Sure, sometimes I can't put my shoes on myself.   Some days I can barely bend over and someone has to hand me things off the floor.  Some days I have to have help taking my shirt off.  I still find that wrinkles in the sheets can cause me some pretty intense discomfort.  How can I be thankful for this? 

As a result of my surgery I was able to watch my daughter take her first steps.  I got to spend time with her.  I got to teach her.  I got to hold her when she got her first scrape.  I got to watch as her sisters taught her to ride a bike.  I got to watch them go through their firsts too.  I got to change diapers.  More diapers than I ever wanted to see.  I got to see my nieces, Liaden and Fianna, go through some of their firsts. I got to spend time with all of their siblings that I would not have been able to do otherwise.  I have been able to spend time studying, lead bible studies, prayer groups, faith sessions, and even hope to become a Deacon.   All of these things I might not have been able to do because of something I did not see as a blessing. 

What about you?  Are there things going on right now that seem like a curse?  Things that aren't going the way you want them to?  Are you thankful for them? It's not too late.  I too need to look at my life and ask, where have I not given thanks?  Then, like the one foreigner, glorify God in a loud voice; and fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him.

His servant and yours,
Brian


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Writing on the Wall

When the girls were all still little, before our fourth, I came home from work one day to find a bunch of artwork on the bedroom wall with words written in it.   There were some names, some drawings, and even some lipstick and nail polish mixed in.  I called each of the kids in and Julie I began to ask them who did it.  There was a lot of finger pointing, a lot of blame towards the others.  Her mother and I did not need to ask.  We already knew what was written on the wall, and we knew who did it.  That's because only the oldest knew how to read and write.  The fact there were words in the 'art' work indicated she was involved.

When I read this reading for tomorrow's daily Mass I think of that moment.  The kings sorcerers and diviners could not tell you who wrote on the wall or what they wrote.  Daniel though, knew immediately what it was.  Just like Julie and I knew that the oldest was the author, Daniel knew immediately it was a message from God.  How?  Because he knew Him.  Just like we knew enough about our daughters to know who wrote it, we could also begin to understand what she meant by it.  What the words meant to her, what the colors meant to her, what the images might mean to her.  We could begin to understand the message, because we were familiar with the artist.  Daniel knew the message on the wall of king Belshazzar because he too was familiar with it's artist.  He knew the work of God when he saw it.

Daniel didn't need time to figure out the message.  He began to speak immediately informing the king of what God intended by the three words on the wall.  The fact that Daniel was already familiar with God and close to Him allowed him to speak the interpretation.  God gave him the meaning.  God gave him the words to say.

We see the same message in tomorrow's Gospel.  Jesus warns the disciples in the crowd that they will go through much suffering and persecution on account of him.  He tells them though that they don't need to worry about what to say, because he will give them the words to say. Through the Holy Spirit they will be reminded of what words to say.  Because they know Him, and are familiar with Him, the message will be clear immediately.

As we approach the end of the Liturgical year, we approach the season of Advent.  That season reminds us of Jesus birth in our world, of his second coming, and of the need for us to keep him 'being born' in the world every moment of every day.  The question becomes, do you know Him?  Do you know Him well enough that writing on the wall will be clear to you?  Are you open to His spirit so that He can guide your words and actions?  Are you allowing Him to be born through you? Let us draw closer to Christ through the Church, and through the Sacraments.  Let us prepare our hearts to be a living manger, that Christ may come to us through the Eucharist and remain born in our hearts, feeding us, transforming us, into something more.  Just as the manger in the cave must have been made sacred, holy by touching Christ himself... so too must you remember that you yourself are touched by Christ and are being made Holy. 

I have work to do to become a Saint.  Let us journey together on this road.  Helping one another to see the writing on the wall and receive the message from God in our hearts, minds, and souls.

His servant and yours,
Brian

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Who do you say that I am?


Tomorrow is the last Sunday in the liturgical year.  Soon we will begin the season of Advent, leading up to Christmas.  We will begin to think about the ways we can bring Christ into the world, and how we can celebrate his birth from day to day.  This Sunday though, we will be celebrating Jesus Christ as our King, the King of the universe.  I've spent a great deal of time thinking about these readings, and wondering.. what will I write about?  I keep being drawn to a specific phrase: "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?"

I wonder what I would say if Jesus had said this to me?  Our parents taught us about Jesus first in most cases.  For some though, it was a teacher, a friend, a catechist, a priest.  In every case our faith has been handed on by someone else.  Someone told us about Jesus.  They told us he was the King of the universe.  They told us that we needed him in our lives.  That's a beautiful thing.  That is how the Church has operated since it's foundation in the first century. It can't end there though.

"Do you say this on your own?"  It is so important that we don't just know Jesus intellectually.  We must know him intimately.   He is indeed the King of the Universe.  He is indeed our Master and our Teacher.  He's also our brother and our friend.  We need to learn to know who he is.  Unlike the Blue's Brothers, we don't just want the facts.  We want a relationship.  We need to spend time with Jesus.  In the Sacraments.   In our friends and family.  In the poor. Jesus reminds us in the last part of tomorrow's gospel: "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." 

How can we hear God's voice if we don't listen for it?  Society encourages us to fill everything with sound, everything with self.  Portable music devices, internet coverage from seashore to seashore, if you want something there is an app for that.  We can hear the top songs.  Watch the top shows.  Videos from the top Youtubers are that touch of a button. What we need though is to spend some time just listening to Christ.   If we are constantly talking or listening, we never give him room to speak.  That I think is our challenge this day as we wonder if we truly have accepted, honored and realized the truth of what it means for Christ to be our King.

My wife and I just watched the movie Bruce Almighty together, again. Toward the end of the movie Jim Carey drops to his knees in the middle of a highway in a rain storm.   He realizes that he doesn't know how to take care of things.  That even with unlimited power he is just making a mess of things.  He cries out to God and says "I surrender to your will."  Of course, in typical comedic fashion, he is then hit by a truck.  That leads us though to this amazing scene where he finally realizes how much he loves the lady of his life.  So much so that he doesn't pray to get her back, but rather that she will be happy, no matter what that means.

Are you ready for that kind of prayer?  "Lord, I want other people to be happy, no matter what it costs me."  That's what making Jesus the King of our lives is about.  Jesus showed us by example with his Disciples.   He washed their feet.  Then he said, this is what you must do for one another.  Jesus, the King of the entire Universe... humbled himself to serve others.  We as His adopted brothers, as co-heirs to the Kingdom, as Disciples of Christ... we must do the same.

Find some time today to listen to God's voice.  Then, as Mary would tell you, "Do whatever he tells you."  Serve him.  Serve one another.  If every Christian began to do this, we could truly fulfill that first reading in which all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Abomination in the Temple


Tomorrow is the memorial of the Presentation of Mary. This legend, which we have no way of knowing whether it is true or not, is only found in a apocryphal text called the Protoevangelium of James. While there is no requirement that we believe in it, it still teaches some very important truths. That is why it has been celebrated in Christian churches for nearly 1500 years. Documents show that it was celebrated at least as early as the 6th century. In the story, Mary is dedicated to the temple at the age of three. A pure offering. Immaculate Mary was offered to God to serve him for life. That is not all we can learn from this story, but even if it was it would make it worth while! That it is important for us to work towards becoming Saint, and that we must also dedicate our entire lives to serving the Lord.

In the first reading we see more of the story of the Maccabean revolt. Antiochus has failed to beat down the rebellion and they have fortified the city from his attacks. Here he lies on his death bed, filled with sorrow. He realizes he has defiled the temple for no reason. He has done the exact opposite of what we see in the Presentation. Instead of serving God in his temple, he has defiled the temple. He has put the things he wants in there, not what God wants. Instead of serving God at his altar, he served his own altars, and in the end it caused ruin, anguish, and he began to die from his own grief.

What does that have to do with the story in the Gospel? Here we see the Sadducees testing Jesus again. How do you tell the Sadducees from the Pharisees? Well the Pharisees believe in life after death. The Sadducees do not believe in life after death. That's why they are sad, you see? I know, I know.. I groaned too the first time I heard that joke. Here the Sadducees asked Jesus what happens when a woman, who had been married seven different times, and widowed every time... finally dies and goes to this life after death. They weren't asking because they really wanted to know. After all, they didn't believe in life after death. Rather, they thought that had come up with a situation where Jesus would sound so silly trying to explain it that people would stop listening to them. Jesus, being wise and knowledgeable, of course answers with a very beautiful answer.

Jesus said to them,
“The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called ‘Lord’
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive.”

To understand that answer though, it helps to understand the nature of Sacramental Marriage. We as Catholics believe that marriage is a Sacrament. The Catechism of our church says that a Sacrament is “ an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is 'dispensed' to us.” A Sacrament then is not just a visible sign or public statement. In the case of marriage it's not just a contract to be broken, but an actual channel of grace by which God helps us to experience life with Him. That is how we see marriage. That in Sacramental Marriage, God is intimately involved and he gives us the grace to grow as husbands and wives towards perfected love. The kind of love you find in the trinity itself.

We also see marriage as being for two distinct purposes. Unity and procreation. Not just one or the other. Marriage is to draw people closer, to grow in love towards divine love, agape love. It is also for creating new progeny to continue the human race. That is the purpose of intercourse in the mind of the church. To grow in love. To grow life. To co-create with God in this world. What a channel of grace indeed! What then does that have to do with Jesus answer? Jesus answers that in this world we marry. In the world to come we do not. Why would we? After all if marriage is for unity (growth in love) and procreation (continuing the human race), it would not serve much of a purpose in the age to come. We will be perfected there, right? We will love everyone with perfect love. We don't need to grow in that grace in Heaven, we will love our enemies as much as we love our spouse, and even more! Imagine that. Think of the person you love the most right now. Imagine loving them even more. Then think of the person you dislike the most, the person you can't stand to be around... and imagine loving them even more than you love the person you love the most. Yes, in Heaven we won't need that grace, because we will be in the presence of Grace itself.

Why do I bring up these topics? As we approach the Feast of Christ the King, at the end of the liturgical year, we are reminded that one of these days Christ himself will return. As Catholics we should be thinking of that every day. As such, we also should remember that we are the temple of God. Mary has given us the example, of how we should dedicate our lives, and our temple to God. Antiochus reminds us that the wages of sin are death and despair. That when we corrupt our temple, our hearts, our minds.... we find anguish and sorrow. Then Jesus taught us that we should be living here in a way that brings about the kingdom of God, then he gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God looks like. As Catholics, our Sacramental life allows us to experience grace that helps us to grow into that Kingdom. “What we will be we do not yet know.” What we do know is that we don't have to wait till the end of our own time, our own life, to grow into that. We should be growing now.

Society teaches us the opposite. Society has placed abominations on the altar, just like Antiochus. They have taken the Sacraments and reduced them to simple sheets of paper. It has taken the sexual act out of the Sacramental context and turned it into just an action two people do when they like each other, or just want to have fun. They have taken life and reduced it to just a clump of cells. It's so important to see that God is life. He's not 'like' life. He doesn't just provide life.. but he is life. In Heaven we have life for ever, because we are in the presence of life itself. Here we have the opportunity to do the same, by bringing God into our lives in a Sacramental way.

Abortion is something people don't like to talk about. We say things like “I think it's wrong, but who am I to say that someone else can't do it.” We have no problem telling a heroin addict that it's wrong to shoot up. We have no problem telling an alcoholic that he needs to stop drinking. Yet, we balk at stopping someone from offering up a life as a sacrifice to a foreign god. We as a world need to get back to understanding that life is sacred. That it is Sacramental. That we are God's temple. That when we create life we are joining with God, serving God, bringing his Kingdom here. When we destroy life, we are opposing God.. just like Antiochus. We are desecrating his altar, desecrating his temple.

That applies to all the things we do every day. Are you creating life in your actions? Creating love? Building God's kingdom? Or building your own kingdom? Offering sacrifices at your own altar to serve your own wants and needs no matter what the cost?

His servant and yours,
Brian

Thursday, November 19, 2015

8 Days...


Tomorrow's first reading talks more about the Maccabean revolt.  After they finally got rid of all the things that they found to be offensive from the temple area and fought off the gentiles, these men began to rebuild the temple.  They restored some of the fine art, decorative touches, doors, and even rebuilt the altar.  Then they offered sacrifice in the temple to rededicate it to God.  These would be celebrated every year after for 8 days.  Another legend says that a miracle occurred during one of these eight day periods that allowed the candles to burn for eight days, when they should only have burnt for one.   This is the meaning behind the Jewish Holy Day(s), Hanukkah.

Then we see in the Gospel from Luke another man cleansing the temple from things that are found to be offensive, Jesus Christ himself.  The money changers had set up an exchange of sorts, to make it easier for those travelling to the Holy Land for pilgrimage to offer sacrifice to God.  That in an of itself might even be considered honorable.  The problem seems to be that they were not only not taking worship very seriously, but they were cheating the poor.  Price gouging, changing money at exorbitant amounts, turning something that could have been for a noble and glorious purpose, into a way to extort money from those who had even less to give.

Jesus reminded them how serious it is to worship God and that our primary focus is prayer!  Our relationship with God needs to be paramount, and next to it, our relationship to one another.  God does not want us getting between others and him.  He doesn't want us hindering them.  He doesn't want us making it inconvenient or difficult.  While it's important that we teach the truth, some of us want to make it so very hard.   They want hurdles in the way.  To separate sinners from the 'saved'.  The church is not a museum for the pious and perfect, it is rather a hospital for us sinners.  None of us should be sitting between the entrance and the sanctuary 'charging' more than necessary to aid others to get in. 

What does that look like in action? It tells us that many were annoyed by him and wanted to put him to death.  Thanks be to God that none of us ever get annoyed with people anymore, or complain because they want to do things in a new way eh? ;)   What happened though?  The people, it says they "were hanging on his words."   Jesus reached them where they were.  He shared himself and God with them.  He did it in a way that engaged them, astounded them, welcomed them.  That is our challenge I think, to make church not a place of hoops, but one of first and foremost holiness, a consecrated area set aside for God... but at the same time, like unto it, welcoming.

How do we apply that to our own lives?  We are the domestic church.  Are our homes welcoming?  Do our words make people feel loved and appreciated?  Do we share ourselves with others completely, pouring ourselves out that they might 'hang on every word'?  Or do we avoid interacting with others?  Do we close 'our borders' to protect our family from the world and never allow anyone else in?  I heard someone today in a conversation about this whole Syria refugee crisis declare that "Charity starts at home!  We need to take care of our people, not theirs!" Is that truly the attitude we should have? For me charity should start at home.. in the means that we need to teach our kids what true charity looks like.  It doesn't mean that charity never extends beyond our walls.  The same with our country. 

Too many want it to be we need to take care of our veterans or the refugees.   As the very popular taco bell commercial declares, por que no los dos?  Why can't we take care of both? Is there not enough love?  Not enough land?  Not enough resources?  Do we really need our Starbucks cups so much that we spend time and resources on getting snow flakes back on them, but can't see a way to take care of those less needy?  I am just as guilty as the next.  When I was shopping today I grabbed several things I didn't need, but I wanted to eat them.  The money from that could have been used for a veteran.  For a refugee.  For so many things that are much more worthy than my gullet. 

So in retrospect, I think the real message here is:

Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  It is time for you to really let Jesus in.  I don't mean just on the outside, but let him into the dark, the dank, the dirty areas.. let him turn over your tables.   Let him drive those things in you that are less than what he created you to be out of the temple.  Then let him take up residence there.  I think if we all do that, if every Christian in the world let's God consume us from the inside out... yes, if we just take a moment to stop forming God in our own image.. but rather let us be formed in His image... into the man/woman we were created to be.. then.. then we'll have enough faith, enough resources, enough hope... to take care of both the veteran and the refugee.. and anyone in between.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Makes for Peace?


In tomorrow's Gospel we see Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem.  "If this day you only knew what makes for peace..."  Oh, how we still today are seeking that answer.  It was right in front of them though.  Jesus Christ is the Kingdom of God.  It was right in front of them and they failed to see it.  Don't we still do that today?  All of us know that peace is to be had by just turning to Christ.  By accepting him into our lives, turning over our burdens, and simply walking as he walked; we will find peace and joy.  Why is it so hard for us humans to turn over that control?

Jesus then goes on to talk about the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  This prophetic statement came to pass in the year 70 A.D.  At that point the temple was destroyed.   The temple was the center of religious life.  It was there that they believed God was.  Today we have this notion that God is everywhere, and so he is.  To the Jews though, he lived in the temple.  You came to him in the temple.  You sacrificed to him in the temple.  For the temple to be destroyed would have been a sign that God no longer rested with the people of Israel.  How confounding that must have been?  To think that God was no longer with you anymore, it was a devastating blow to an already long suffering nation of people.

The real answer lied in who Jesus was though.  They did not realize him to be God among them.  Sure, some thought he was the messiah.  The messiah they wanted though was a military leader, like Mattathias of Maccabees.   They wanted a man who was zealous for the temple, and so Jesus was.  They wanted a holy man who kept the law, and so he was.  They wanted him to raise up an army and destroy their enemies.   In their eyes, he wasn't doing that.  Here he cries for them.  He cries out of love for them and of sorrow for the coming destruction.  He cries because they don't have peace.

You and I don't always have peace either.  We believe in Jesus.   We see him as the Messiah, just as they did.  We see him as the one to fight our battles, to help us keep the law, to be a man of faith, to raise up an army of angels to defend us in battle; all good images.  I think sometimes we see him as the Messiah we want though.. not the one that He truly is.  We limit God to a box.  We take the part of the gospels we want, and reject the parts we don't.   We adhere to the tenants of our faith that make sense to us, and those that confuse us we simply ignore.  "Oh that one, yeah that one I don't agree with, so I just ignore it."  If we truly 'recognized the time of our visitation' would we do such things?  If we truly believed with our entire heart, soul and spirit; would we compromise our faith?

So what do we do?  Once again, the answer lies in the Sacraments.   Let us flee to him as often as we can.   Go to him on your knees and confess your faults.  Receive him in the Eucharist.  Unlike normal bread that you consume, this super substantial bread consumes you.  Let him change you, make you more like him.  Spend time with him in prayer and adoration.  Then, last but definitely not least, share him with others.  Take him out with you into the world and give him to others.  Share your peace.  Only in sharing it can you ever hope to keep it.

As we see these stories in the news of Syrian refugees, being wrested too and fro, rejected and kicked out; we have a unique opportunity to ask ourselves... are we truly at peace?  Is the answer to reject everyone who is not one of us?  Are we to allow fear and fear mongering to convince us that all of these men, women and children are the devil? Or do we need to give it more thought?  The Bible says that what we do for the least of these... we do for Christ, our Lord.  When you look at these refugees, the good, the bad, the young, the old... ask yourself.. am I looking for Christ in them?  Or only worried about my own comfort and safety? 

I am afraid.  I don't know the answer.   I do know this... when I saw that image of the young Syrian child on the sea shore, laying dead in the waves... I too wept.  I wonder if my eyes have been closed for too long, or if I truly realize that Christ is among us.  As we approach the end of the liturgical year, culminating in the feast of Christ the King... we must begin to ask ourselves.. is Christ truly our King?  Do we see him among us?  Or only in those we want to see him in?  Are we ready to give ourselves over completely to Him? 


So I just leave you with Christ's words as he says: "If this day you only knew what makes for peace-but now it's hidden from your eyes."  Let us open our eyes. 



His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian

The Noble Heading to Another Country



In today's Gospel there is this interesting parable.  Last night when reflecting on the Gospel, I was drawn to the gold coins and what they represent.  Today though it struck me, that this was a very important key to that whole exchange.

While people were listening to Jesus speak, he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.




Why is this important to understanding the truth of the parable? I think it is in the key of who Jesus is, and not who they thought he was going to be.  As in the first reading, the Jewish people were well aware of the fact they were still under oppression from Roman rule.  They had been beaten down for many, many years.  Here they were expecting deliverance.  They wanted to see God fulfill that promise he made to David when he said, "And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever." 

How confusing it must have been for the people who thought that Israel would have a king forever.  Then not only did they lose their king, but they also lost Jerusalem itself.  It was destroyed completely and they were carted off into captivity.  Trying to make sense of that they began to develop the theology of the Messiah.  It was he they were waiting for.  It was he they thought Jesus to be, and they were right in thinking so.  The problem was they expected him to be a military leader.  Just like David of old, like the judges, someone to rise up against their enemies, and rebuild the kingdom.  King David's kingdom was a time of unrivaled prosperity.  Everyone had everything they needed, food, wealth, etc.   It was what they longed to be returned to. 

Here was Jesus approaching Jerusalem and the people around him thought the Kingdom of God was about to be manifest.  Even though Jesus had been telling them over and over that he would have to go into Jerusalem and die, they thought he was going to rise up as King and overthrow Israel's political enemies.  So Jesus tells us this parable.  What does it mean though?  Well, Jesus is the nobleman in the story.  Jesus is warning them that what they think is going to happen, is not exactly what is going to occur.  He has to go to another country, he has to journey back to where he came from, that is to Heaven, in order to become King.  

This parable is all about his crucifixion.   He is also telling us what we must do while he is gone.  That's where the gold coins come in, and that's where my blog from last night starts off.  (Are you ready to give an account?)   Are we ready to show Him when he returns as king what we have done with his gifts?   As we approach the end of the liturgical season we are reminded through our readings that one day will come the end of time.  That at that end of time we will be called forward to give an account of what we have done with the things God has given us.  As we approach this weekends Mass, let us prepare ourselves for an encounter with Christ the King. 

He has gone to prepare a place for us.  Are you ready?  Get ready.   Be ready.  Stay ready.

His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Are you ready to give an account?


In tomorrow's Gospel we see the king giving to each of his servants a gold coin.  Each of them receives one coin and is expected to do his best with it.  One gains ten coins in interest, and he is rewarded with being put in charge of ten cities.  Another gains five coins, and he is put in charge of five cities. Then comes along another servant who hid the coin in a place where no one could take it, and brought it back later.   He didn't even invest it in the bank.  The king was furious with him and took the one talent and gave it to the one who already had ten. 

What are we to make of this?  In Mathew's Gospel the gold coin is called a talent.  We can see that a little better when we think about talent's and abilities.  To some are given few talents, to some many.  Some of us are teachers.  Some of us are administrators.   Some of us are musicians.  Some can sing.  Some are good with numbers.  Some good with cleaning.  God gives to each person many abilities and 'talents.'  He reminds us that all of them are to be used for His glory, for His kingdom.  We will be asked to give an account of how we used those talents. 

We aren't asked to provide the same amount of fruit, or even the same kind of fruit.. but we are asked to bear fruit.  God has given each of us gifts.  Through our baptism we are given the Holy Spirit.  The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  We are challenged to go out with these talents, with these fruits and to spread them into the world.  We are called to be joyful.  How do we increase that talent?  By bringing joy to others.  We are called to be kind.   We increase that by being kind to others and teaching them to be kind in return.  Each of the fruits requires us to go out, using the natural talents we have been given, to spread the fruits of the spirit into our world. 

For each of us that looks different.  For parents it means educating your children, loving them, being patient with them, teaching them what Catholic life really looks like.   For grand parents, it means being there for your grand children and helping them to learn how to live out their baptismal calling.  For teachers, it means being patient and kind in your classroom and fostering an environment where the fruits begin to flourish.  No matter what we do; farmer, electrician, doctor, lawyer, homemaker, dentist, accountant, etc... we are to use those skills that God has endowed us with to help bring about His kingdom right here.

As we approach the end of the liturgical season and head into the season of Advent, we are reminded by the readings that we should be ready.   These readings talk about the great event at the end of time where God will ask us to give an accounting for what we have been given.  To those who much has given, much is required.  "With great power, comes great responsibility."  Such simple words from a comic book character, but they ring true to us as Christians.  Do you think of the power you've been given?  God himself has come to reside in you.  Are you sharing him with others?  Or hiding him in a handkerchief?  Don't be afraid of losing your joy.  Don't be afraid that someone might steal it.  Rather, realize that with the gifts of the spirit, the only way to keep them... is to continually give them away. 

So let's go for it.  Find someone today to share one of these fruits with.  Use your natural, God given talents to do so.   Share some love.  Some joy.  Some kindness.  Watch that fruit blossom and grow, that at the end of our temporal lives we can hear him say "You have been faithful in this very small matter, well done my good and faithful servant."

In Christ,
His servant and yours,
Brian

Monday, November 16, 2015

Taking a Stand


Tomorrow's readings are quite interesting.  The reading from the book of Maccabees shows us the story of an elderly man who is being forced to go against his religion.  During this time Antiochus Epiphanes was persecuting the Jews and trying to force them to join a state sanctioned religion.  Antiochus wanted to unite his kingdom by creating a common religion, getting rid of anything foreign or different.  Eleazar was a Jew, and they were forcing him to eat pork.  This was abhorrent to him.  He spit it out and was condemned to death for doing so.  His friends tried to convince him that he should hide some kosher meat in his pocket and when they wanted to see him eat the pork, slip some of the kosher stuff in and pretend.

Eleazer realized that by doing something like that, those who saw him might think he actually ate the pork.  He did not want to become a stumbling block to others causing them to fall as well, so he refused.  Then his friends turned angry.  They not only felt he was crazy for dying for his faith, but they probably felt inside the conviction that they had failed to do the same.  We often see that with many things in life.  One of the sayings in Wisdom we studied the other day is that a good man is often seen as obnoxious to those around him.  Just his presence can cause those who are living wrong to feel convicted.

Have you seen that before?  You are standing talking to someone who knows you are religious and they drop the F-bomb, and then they apologize to you for doing it in front of you?  Or they send you an email, an email they'd have no problem to send that email to anyone else, then you get another email blushingly declaring their sorrow for having offended you.  People see those who are doing what they believe to be right, and they begin to feel convicted, even if you never say a word. 

I think that is part of the message we see in the Gospel reading too.  Zaccheus has just done something most others aren't willing to do.  He took a stand, literally up in a tree!  He went up to where he needed to be to encounter Christ.  In the process Christ comes to his house and declares that Zaccheus has received salvation this day!  Before he hears this though, Zaccheus does something that shows he has had a change of heart.   He declares “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” 

Many people later condemned Jesus for this sort of behavior.  For going into the homes of tax collectors and sinners.   I think for some of them they probably were a bit jealous too.  Not just of Jesus going to those homes instead of to theirs... but also of Zaccheus who did what they should have been doing.  I think that his actions caused conviction in their hearts.  Here was the 'other'.  Their they.  The sinner.  They were supposed to be holy.  Yet, they held on to their money with a tight fist.  Here was the one who they wanted to condemn and convict.. and he was giving up half of everything he owned!  How that must have stung their hearts? 

It struck me too that tomorrow is the feast day of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.  Here is another person who took a stand.  She took her wealth and used it to help others.  Much like Zaccheus she had an open hand, often to the chagrin of those around her, giving away food and money.  When her husband died she renounced the world and went into serving Jesus full time. 

What can we learn from these two men and one holy woman?  I think we can learn a very important lesson.  First that we must take a stand, and second that sometimes the stand is not where we expect it to be.   All of Eleazer's friends expected him to take the easy way out.  They were willing to help him fool others so that his conscious was still clear, but that he would not have to die.  He took a stand.  He died for his faith, for his God.  Society expected one thing, he went with God instead.

Zaccheus was a tax collector.  He had money, wealth, comfort.   Everyone who was like him probably expected him to just stay wealthy, they thought him crazy for giving it all up.  Those who were 'religious' saw him as the sinner.  The last thing they expected from a man like him, the chief of the tax collectors, was conversion and generosity.  He took a stand. Society expected one thing, he went with God instead.

Saint Elizabeth was a princess, rich and wealthy.  She was queen by the age of 14.  Everyone would have expected her to have others do her bidding.  Even in her generosity, they might have expected her to hand the money out or to send a servant to deliver it.  Instead we hear legends of her running out of the palace towards the commons with her apron full of loaves of bread!  Society expected one thing, she went with God instead.

We have a unique opportunity today.  With everything going on in the world, from France to Africa, we see people in need.  There is a great level of fear towards those refugees.  Some of them could very well be plants, people who wish harm to others.  Others though are just mothers, fathers, daughters, sons.  People in need.  Starving and simply trying to get away from persecution.  Society wants us to turn our backs on all of them.  They want us to simply desire our comfort, stay where we are, and protect ourselves.  Part of me wants to fear too.   Part of me wants to say, you know?  I want to protect my family, my country, my friends.  I do.  At the same time, there are other people out there who need food. Who need shelter.  Who need love.   Society wants us to do one thing.. but what does God want us to do? 

I don't have an answer for you.. but I do know this.  Sometimes, like Zaccheus, we need to get a change of perspective.  If we truly want to see Jesus, we need to climb a tree.  We need to change our vantage point because down here on earth, we simply cannot see him for all the other things in our way.  We need to spend time opening our hearts to Jesus.  During this time of thanksgiving, as we approach a holiday in which we are to give thanks for all that we have... recall that the very word Eucharist means 'thanksgiving.'  Spend more time in prayer, receive the sacraments as frequently as possible, and seek out some time alone with Christ in adoration.  Ask him to come to your house today, and try to see this situation from a different view point.  We have so much to give thanks for... how would we feel if our world was taken out from under our feet?  If our children were starving?  If we feared for our lives and all of the countries that might offer us a glimmer of hope had closed their borders, leaving us with no where to turn? 

His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Know That He is Near

A reflection on the readings for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time. 



Many years ago when I was a young man in college, the power had gone out in the entire neighborhood.  I decided to walk to my mothers house for dinner.  I knew that no matter what, she and my father would be prepared for the dark.  They'd have a fire or something going and be cooking somehow.  I don't remember why I chose to walk instead of drive, maybe I didn't have a car at the time.  That was often the case back then with only one car and two people working. 

I remember stepping out into the moonless night, with no lights on anywhere.  At first it was so dark I could see nothing.  I even recall putting my hands out in front of me as I walked, as if I were recently blinded and trying to find my way along with my fingers.  Stumbling through the dark I was completely unable to see.  Oh how dark things seemed.  I remember jumping at sounds in the woods, flinching at what I thought might be a snack or animal in the road.  I eventually began to adjust to the dim light of the stars and began to make out the true details of my surroundings.  By the time I actually got to my parents home my eyes had adjusted, and I could see decently in the dark.  How bright the candles seemed when they opened the door to me, even enough to be painful to my eyes. It was warm though, welcoming, even wanted!

To me, this is what Apocalyptic literature is like.  It seems dark at first.  Even a bit scary.  The end goal of it is not to scare you though.  It is not to place you in darkness, but to help you find a warm, welcoming light at the end. When I was a protestant years ago these readings made me a bit scared, even enough that I often scanned the news and the radio looking for 'signs', constantly worrying about the second coming and the 'rapture.'  I no longer worry about these things.  Why?  Because the second coming is not something to be scared of.  It's something to long for.  It's something to pray for, and be ready for every day.

I think that like the dark night I stepped out into, we too are walking in a dark night now.  Our eyes in this world are used to the amount of light that is here.  The sun, the moon, the stars... all of these are the light we have become accustomed to.  In my mind and heart, that is what Jesus is talking about when he says "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give it's light."  That at the second coming, when the brilliance of the Son of God is revealed, the rest of the light we are used to will be so dim that it will not even be of relevance.  Like that candle in my mom and dad's house, his light will be so bright that if I were to even think of stepping back into the star lit world it would be so dark my eyes would not longer even pick out the details.  I'd be stumbling in the dark again, holding my hands out before me for fear of falling.

The thing is though, we do not have to be fearful of that day, nor even to wait for that day to have our world illuminated.  While, yes, Jesus Christ will be coming again at the end of time, he's already here among us now.  We can draw closer to God daily, through the Sacraments, through His Church, and through each other.  This is a beautiful thing, but also like the scene above, has a truth that should be cautioned.  The closer you get to the light, the darker 'darkness' is.  The closer you draw to Jesus Christ in this life, the more your sin will seem.  Things that seem small now will stand out much, much more as you draw nearer to the source of all holiness.

When I was working in the construction field one of the first things I liked to do was hang the lights.  I'd even hang them before a ceiling was anywhere near in place.  Using temporary wiring I would try to have the entire building lit up brightly before even the floor was poured.  This was great for people working, giving them plenty of light to work with.  It also brought out every imperfection, even speck of dust, and every 'mess' that someone left.   A counter that might seem clean in a dimly lit room can turn out to have quite a bit of crud when you truly light it up.  So too our souls. 

The devil will try to use that against you.  The closer you get to God, the more Satan will try to convince you that you do not deserve it.  He will try to convince you that God would never forgive you.  That little speck of dust will look so immense when compared to the brightness of God himself.  Don't let him draw you away from God and His mercy.  God will forgive you!  Draw closer to the light.   Seek the Sacraments.  Seek His face.  So that you may be among those who "shall live forever" and not those who "shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace."  Keep walking in the darkness of this light, searching for the light of Christ.  This is our hope as Christians!  That we might find our Father's house, and the place He has prepared for us.  That when the end of our time comes, we might be welcomed into His abode and be prepared for the light that will wash over us.  A light so bright that everything behind us will seem dim and dark, as the Sacred Scriptures affirm:

And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5

His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Seeing with New Eyes


I can only imagine what it must have been like for Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini to board that boat and sail the ocean to a foreign land. Having grown up in the country of Italy, coming to the America's must have been daunting and unusual, but perhaps a bit exciting as well?  I remember when I first moved to Chicago-land myself.  I packed up all my belongings, at least the ones that would fit in a Geo Tracker and hit the road.  What I was looking for?  Love.  A new start.  A better life, maybe?  That I found and much more. I do remember driving through the city for the first time.  Seeing the massive buildings, the sheer number of people, the construction... and then again the construction... and then there was construction...

I was struck by the sheer enormousness of the country.  I imagine Saint Frances too must have been struck by how large the world really was.  To travel the ocean, and across the country before planes... to see it from wagon or train, or however she travelled.  To see the mountains, the plains, the oceans, the lakes.  How great it all must have seemed, and how small us mere, mortal men.  Our first reading for tomorrow reminds us that all of these things call out to us, they remind us of God and of His enormity. 

The Psalmist reminds us that the very beauty and vastness of the sky itself reminds us of the glory of God.. it calls out to testify to the creator without a voice, without saying a word.  We as Catholics should take time to smell the roses, to admire the beauty of this world.  Travelling to see it, walking with nature, even spending time with other creatures can be a beautiful way of finding the depth and width and breadth of the love of God for us. 

There is a danger though.  We can get so caught up in the natural that we forget to seek that which is supernatural.  The author of Wisdom reminds us that often people never get past the beauty of nature, and instead of worshiping God himself, they get stuck on worshiping the created.  I think that is kind of what we have Jesus talking about in the Gospel.  He reminds us that in the time of Noah and of Lot people were not caught unaware.  The signs were all there.  People were so caught up with their lives, with the pleasures of living, with their own 'self' that they did not hear the voice of God.  They did not hear the warning or listen for God's instruction. 

That is the danger for us today.  We often put life first.  We fill it with the things that make us feel better.   Even our religious life can become so consuming that we don't actually have God in there, but a series of things that make us 'feel' better about ourselves.  We must keep our eyes, our minds and our hearts open to Jesus Christ himself.   How often do you find people these days 'church shopping'?   I didn't like what Father said to me in the confessional, so I found a new priest.  I don't like the way Father preaches, so I went form church to church so I could find one I could stand.  That Priest challenged me, I don't like that.  Father told me I couldn't go through RCIA till I stopped living with my boyfriend or got married to him, so I went to another church and didn't tell that priest.. etc.

Rather, we should be getting ready.  That's what Jesus warns us.  There will come a day, a time that no one can know, no one but the Father.  When that day comes Christ will return and the end of time will be upon us.  Do you realize that is what we are praying for when we say "they kingdom come?"  We are praying that the end of time comes NOW.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  Not soon.  Right now!  Come Lord Jesus, come!   Are you ready for that?  Get ready.  Be ready.  Stay ready.   Saint Frances, despite her poor health, gave up her life and even her own will to holy obedience.  She left her birth land and travelled to another land.  She gave up her life.  In the process, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart  who served in many schools, homes and hospitals.  She gave it all up, and obtained the ultimate reward; life with Jesus for eternity.  As Jesus said in the gospel,

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
but whoever loses it will save it.

Are you ready?  I have work to do.  Are you with me?

His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

She is Fairer Than the Sun, suprassing every constellation in the stars.


I watched a friend of mine one time as he interacted with a girl that he was clearly in love with.  Every day he would hang out with her, listen to her intently, and help her in every way he could.  Eventually she asked him to help her go out on a date with his friend.  The hurt in his eyes was evident to all of us around.  We all knew he was in love with her.  Everyone knew, but her.  How did he respond though?  He helped her to be happy.  Talking to his friend, he set up the date.  He suffered in silence as she dated, had her heart broken, and eventually broke up with this man.  All the while he was there for her. A shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a true friend.  I don't know if she ever knew he loved her.  It's really a story that belongs best in a romantic comedy, but of course those always have happy endings, right?

I see tomorrow's Gospel reading in much the same way as what I described before.  The Pharisees wanted to know when the Kingdom of God would be among them.   Jesus warned them that it was already there.  God had already condescended among men, becoming a man himself.  Here stood the Kingdom of God right in front of them.  Jesus Christ.  His heart was bulging with love for them.  He came to die for them.  He emptied himself of everything in order that he might live among them, and redeem them to himself.  Then they came to him and asked, where can we find that which makes us happy?  Don't you see?  He's right there in front of you!  How easy for us 2000 years later to judge them. 

Yet, do we truly see him each day?  Isn't he calling out to use daily?  In the face of a friend?  In the eyes of a stranger?  In the brilliant rays of a morning sunrise?   Do you see him?  Or do you keep looking over him trying to find him somewhere else?  We don't need to be going to and fro, asking for signs and wonders.  No rather, he's already here.  All we have to do is open our eyes, our hearts, our minds.   He calls out to us from the tabernacle, in the Eucharist and he says, "I love you.  I will do anything to make you happy.  I have died for you, and offer you eternal life." 

Why do we fail?  Why is it so hard to see him?  One thing I think is something that the first reading mentions.  We lack true Wisdom.  Wisdom it says is the aura of the might of God, and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty.   She is the refulgence of eternal light.  The spotless mirror of the power of God.  Aren't those beautiful descriptions?  It is through Wisdom that we begin to actually notice God in our daily life.  Not necessarily in explosions and miracles, though those can happen too.  Rather though, also seeing him in the ordinary.  In the simple and the plain.  Saint Josaphat was one of those who had Wisdom.

We have many today who make the same error that men were making back in his day.  They only see God in this rite or that rite of the Catholic church.  In their ardor and zeal they reject anything that does not fit their box.  Going as far as to reject the Pope, or the Orthodox, or to form their own society rejecting the Novus Ordo.  Josaphat, unlike some of the schismatics of today, clung to his unity with Rome.  He did not want to change from his orthodox faith, and he did not want his people 'Latinized'.   Yet, he fought to bring understand and unity to his people.   Saint Josaphat died seeking to reunite the two, not to create more division.

That is true Wisdom isn't it? What do we take away from all of this?  I think that we learn that like Saint Josaphat we need to work for unity.  We need to pray for and seek Wisdom that we might see God in our brothers and sisters.   That we need to look for Jesus calling out to us saying, "behold, the Kingdom of God is among you."   We need to look inside, examine ourselves, and ask.. are we working for unity or division?  We need to let God's Wisdom and love flow through us until we too become an aura of the might of God, a pure effusions of the glory of the Almighty.  Until we are so close to Jesus Christ that when others look at us, they see not us, but rather Him shining through us.  Let us cling to the Sacraments, seek His face, and continually knock on the door of our own hearts asking it to open to the influence of the Holy Spirit. 

His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Keep the Holy Holy to be holy.


My wife and I were just discussing this amazing sentence in the first reading for tomorrow.  "For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed shall be found holy[..]"  I just love the way that reads in my mind.  If you keep the holy.. holy... you shall be holy.  That's such an easy reminder of how important it is to hold what God has given us as the center of our day.  Too often we let other things get in our way and take the place that he rightly deserves.  Only when we put him up first, following in holy obedience the revealed truth, can we even hope to be holy. 

We see that a little in the parable in the Gospel reading.  Jesus has just healed ten men of the dreaded disease, leprosy.   Only one of them returned to Him, the source of His healing, and praised and glorified Him.  All of them received the grace.   All of them came to him in their need.  Only one of them realized the beauty and grace of being healed.  Only one came to conversion.

How often we are like this in our own lives?  Tomorrow is Veterans day.  As we remember those who have served us, fighting to keep us free, we should also ask ourselves what lesson is to be learned by this parable in light of what is going on in our lives.  Have you ever noticed that during a war the church is full?  Just after 9-11 people flocked into the sanctuary to ask for prayers, to seek answers, to find comfort.  All too often we don't even remember the veterans who fought for us, giving up their lives, their comforts, even coming back to a hostile, unwelcoming country and being mistreated for decades.  We too can be like the lepers.   We pray when we need.  Then when things are going smooth we forget to. We only seem to come to God when suffering rears it's ugly head, and then when things start going smooth again we go on our way happy and never think to stop back and thank Him.

Scripture tells us in this parable that Jesus said to the one who returned, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."   This one foreigner returned to Jesus, while the others did not.  He kept the holy hallowed... He returned to Jesus because he realized the need to be near the true Kingdom of God.. that is Christ himself.  This is what we should strive for.  Faith.  True faith.  Tomorrow is also the Memorial for Saint Martin of Tours.  Very apropos on Veteran's day.  Saint Martin knew what it was like to be a soldier.   Saint Martin spent several years in the Roman Army.  He was converted at an early age, and then spent time in the Army.  Afterwards he returned to the Church and served as a Priest and Bishop.  Martin stood up for his faith.  So much so that he was thrown in prison, publicly scourged, out cast... he experienced conversion. He didn't just come to Christ when he needed something... he didn't turn away when things got better... he stayed with Him all the time.  That's what we can learn from this... Our faith is not just for Sunday.  It is not something we only live in the Sanctuary of the Church, and then abandon it when we go back to our environment.

No.  Our faith is something we live every moment of every day.  "[..]one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him."  I want to do that.  I want to glorify God in a loud voice.  Not a quiet, hidden one.  I want to fall at the feet of Jesus giving him thanks.  Let us pray today for those who have served.  Let us thank them for our freedom, and for their courage. Let us also ask Saint Martin to pray for us, that we too might have the courage to face whatever challenges we must face with the same courage and dedication that he did.  Then let us fall to our knees in prayer and thanksgiving to Christ, for all he has done for us. 

His servant and yours,
In Christ,
Brian