Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life is a whirlwind

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Islam: A religion of peace?

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Turn your life flip upside down.

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Who is to blame?

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Thank you Father Don and all of you in the congregation for this opportunity to speak before you.  I want to begin this talk with a story I found on the internet.

A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

The door of his wife’s car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.

Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.

In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.

In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door.

As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap, and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.

She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked:

“What happened here today?’”

She again smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?”

“Yes,” was his incredulous reply.    She answered, ‘”Well, today I didn’t do it.”

This cute little story makes us chuckle but it also illustrates something that was true in my own life.  When my wife and I got married I went from being a bachelor traveling alone across the East Coast, living out of hotels with room service and continental breakfasts, to a father of four.  My idea of helping was picking up the kids from the babysitter after work, stopping at McDonald’s to get dinner on the way home, or maybe using my elbow to nudge her ever so gently awake when the baby started crying at 2:00 in the morning.  

Then, as most of you know, in 2007 I had my spine fused.  I went from being someone who worked outside the home to Mr. Mom.  It was then I found out just how much had to be done.  From the obvious daily chores of dusting, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning; to the ones I had not put much thought into.   The doctor’s appointments, the after school practices, band rehearsals, concerts,  from theatre practices that lasted well after the time they were supposed to end, to emergency shopping trips for those things that were supposed to be picked up weeks ago and needed to be done “right now!”

Along the way I learned something that I wish I had put into practice years before.   Things are much more pleasant when everyone in the house pitches in.   It’s very hard for one person to do it all.  Granted, as the kids were growing up there were different things they could not do, yet there was alway something they could help with.  A home is a beautiful place though when everyone is helping.   

We here in this room are gathered to worship God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.   We too are a family.  This building is our home.  As a member of the buildings and grounds committee I have seen first hand just how much work goes into keeping this place running.   We have volunteers who come in every week to clean up the messes that inadvertently get made in that celebration.  We have men and women who get up here and proclaim the Word of God as lectors.   Our worship is enhanced by the beautiful music of the choir.  We also have people who come and fold up the brochures that we are about to talk about.   

Just like the home that we live in, we are each asked to do something to help take the burden off the others who live in the house with us.   Now you may not be the kind of person who is comfortable getting up here and giving a talk, I understand that.  But each of you is unique and wonderfully made!   You have been given gifts and talents that make you who you are.   Today we are asking you to give back to God and your church family by choosing just one way in which you can use those talents to help others.   In the second reading St. Paul encourages Timothy to use his gifts to help share in the burden of the Gospel, and we are challenged to do the same here today.  Whether that is in cooking a dish for funeral lunches, standing in a room full of kids as an aide in Religious Education, or washing some linens once in awhile… we need you.   You make us more complete.   

So let’s talk about these time and talent cards that you’ll find at the end of your pews.  

  • Notice there are two forms: Adult and Youth.
  • Please look through the form and prayerfully consider an area that you might be willing to explore
  • Don’t try to take on too much.  If every person takes just one area we will have more than enough.
  • If you are already doing something, please fill out the form anyway!   That way we know if you want to continue doing it.  
  • If you’d like to try something new, or to step down from one of the things you are doing now, make sure to fill that out as well.
  • If you are confirmed you can be a Eucharistic Minister or a Lector, we also need Altar Servers!
  • If you need more time feel free to take it home with you and pray and think about it.
  • Also, grab a ministry directory from the greeters at the door.  The names of all those who have stepped up to lead the different committees are in there.  Call them up, ask them about it, see how you can help.  
  • Thank you for your time.  May God bless you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Keep your eyes on the road!

One of our daughters is learning to drive.  It's a frustrating, fun, and yet dangerous time in a person's life.  You have to learn to look at the road and glance at everything else.  The mirrors have to be checked frequently, the speedometer gauged, an eye kept on the edge of the road for people coming out from hidden drives, between cars, or even just running out of a yard after a ball.  All of this while keeping your eyes on the road.  I remember when I was learning to drive that I had a huge tendency to go where I looked.   If I looked in my left mirror?  I went to the left.   If I looked at a car on the right?  I inevitably went in that direction.   It takes some getting used to in a car to be able to look without going in the direction of our gaze.

We as a people tend to do that though.   We tend to go in the direction of that which we are looking at.  It is how we are designed as a species.   In the brief few days of wrestling in High School we were taught that if you control the other persons head, their body will follow.   It never fails.  I think it works that way spiritually too.   Where your mind is, is where you end up as well.  If your mind is on things of this world?  That's where you'll stay.   If your mind however is on things of Heaven?  Then that's where you will be drawn up to. That's the beauty of the cross.   This contradictory symbol that is so rough, so distasteful... is the method by which God himself draws us into His realm.. into the true reality that is beyond what we can see with our limited vision.

The image of the bronze serpent teaches us a simple truth about God.  It reminds us that like the Israelites in the desert, Satan prowls around seeking whom he may devour.   He doesn't do it by convincing you that you are in the wrong.. rather he gets you to take your eye off the road.  With texting while driving rampant, it is even more clear how quickly something can happen with even just a glance away from where it needs to be. So it is with our spiritual lives... it only takes a moment for us to slide back to where we were.  For something to get in our way, for a stumble to occur because we aren't looking.  It's only when we keep our eyes fixed firmly on Christ, firmly on the Cross... that we can keep going on the correct path.

The thing is we are going to stumble, aren't we?   I tend to do so daily.   I forget where I need to be headed and I find myself in the desert surrounded by those silly serpents.   The key, I've found, is to immediately stop what it is I am doing.. realize that I it is only when I turn it over to God that the serpents leave me, and I fix my spiritual gaze back on the 'road.'

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Are you coming to dinner?

Today's Gospel has a very familiar scene to Christians all over the world.  The story of the prodigal son has been discussed ad nauseuam for hundreds of years.  The beautiful thing about Scripture though is it that it speaks to us when and where we are.  The message it gives us, while tempered with the ages of Wisdom, has also a fresh look to each of us in each generation.   To me it speaks of God's astounding love and His relationship with us.  Like Saint Paul, I consider myself the foremost of sinners.   That's why I find so much comfort in this beautiful parable.

The first and most important part to me is the way the encounter happens.   The lost son is coming back repentant, hungry and covered in the filth of the world.   As he walks along he's practicing what he is going to say to his Father.  He's coming back begging for a place in the home, not even as a son.. but even as a servant.   The Father though runs out to greet him.   The moment the Father sees him in the distance he does not wait for the rehearsed speech, or for the son to shower and clean up, he just runs out with open arms.  This is what confession is all about.   It's God reaching out to us with open arms and saying I am here, come into my arms.

Then He is the one who cleans the son up, right?   He has a robe put on him, He puts a ring of authority on Him, He has a dinner prepared for him.   God does that work.   We have to come into the house though.  There are those who will say "God puts the robe on us, and that's that."  You still gotta come into the house.   You still gotta put on your table manners, and work to become a better person.  To live up the dignity of that robe you are wearing.   Saint James tells us that it is not just faith.. it's faith and works.. without works, faith is just dead.  The key is letting God work in your life.   It's giving Him the opportunity to robe you, to give you back your dignity, to reveal your status to others through the fullness of life, the joy and peace He offers to those who love Him.

The sad part is that while we are all prodigal sons and returning daily to Him through a process of continual conversion... we are also often the son who remained home... the one who was angry that the others were being brought into the fold.   Refusing to come to dinner because of "them."   We all have a "them."   Be it someone with a different skin color, different faith, political affiliation, or even just a fan of a different sports team.   The refugee is turned away because of 'them.'   The widow and the orphan go hungry because of 'them.'  It reminds me of these meme I saw on the internet that said "I thought to ask God why he allowed people to go hungry today and I was afraid He might ask me, why did you?"   He created us to be the hands and feet of his body... in order to do that we have to be welcoming of the prodigal sons as well.  Are your arms open?  Are you offering them food and drink?  Clothing and shelter?  Or are you refusing to join them at the feast even though all of this was already yours?

It's been 15 years now since the attack on September 11th.   Many of us have allowed that attack to create a world in which their is perpetual hate and a constant 'them.'   Today is a day to remember to pray not just for those whose lives were lost but also for those who took those lives... and for those who would do the same today to their 'them.'

His servant and yours,

A reflection on the readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  September 11th, 2016

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bright lights

Back when I was a boy my father used to take me fishing on Flannagan Lake.  One year he bought a portable spotlight that had a million candle power!   That thing was so bright that on a dark, cloudy night you could shine it up in the air and see the light on the clouds.   I used to get such a kick out of catching my brother unaware and shining it in his eyes.  The things we do as kids eh?   He of course would get me back.  For many minutes (felt like hours) afterward you would see nothing but green.   The funny thing is, when it's pitch black out there and someone lights a match.. you get the same effect don't you?   You know that sensation when you're sitting in the dark and someone turns on the light?  It's startling how bright it is!  Even the dimmest of light compared to the darkness is amazing!

In the readings today, especially the one from the book of Wisdom, there is this beautiful rendition of a thought that God is so beyond us that we cannot possibly express who He is in mere words.  The enormity of who He is, is beyond human reasoning.   We have spent thousands of years of human existence trying to figure out the right words, the right phrases, the right metaphors to convey exactly the properties of God.  The author reminds us though that plumbing the depths and experience who He is would be impossible without God himself at the helm steering our thoughts, guiding our tongues.  It is in that light that we have received the revelation of the Incarnation.   Christ is the key to understanding God. 

Christ gives us continual examples of what it means to be disciples, what it means to follow this God that we are trying to be in relationship with.  Today He teaches his disciples that detachment is the key to growing closer.   That giving up everything we have and desire, that relying solely and only on God is the only way we can truly begin to glimpse further the mystery.   St. Paul in the second reading does just that.   Here he is in prison and he sends his friend, the one closest to his heart, back to his owner.   In a revolutionary statement he tells the owner to receive the slave not as a slave, but as a brother.   Considering the time, the thought process, etc.... this was astounding!   Even more astounding is that Paul put others before himself, gave up the one comfort he had left, all for Christ.   That's the detachment Christ is calling us to. 

hyperbole [hahy-pur-buh-lee]
noun, Rhetoric.
1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”.

Jesus uses a method called hyperbole often in his parables.   This mornings is one that many have used over the years to hate others.   Rejecting their families, their wives, their children... all in the name of God.   That's what happens when we become fundamentalists.   When we ignore the writing methods, the genre, the historic context of what was said.  So what did Jesus mean?  He meant that compared to the love we have for humans, the love we have for God should be first and foremost.   In English we have just that one word.. love. In other languages there are often four or more ways to convey love.   The things I think most of though when I see this verse about hating family is one that Catholics are very aware of: dulia, hyperdulia, and latria.  Dulia is the love we have for each other and for the Saints.   It's a respect, a friendship, a brotherly love.   Family.   Hyperdulia is the love we have for the Virgin Mary.  First and foremost of disciples, the one human who have a complete and unconditional Yes to the Father. It's a little more.  Then there is latria.. that is worship, honor and praise only for God.   That's the love we aim for.   The love of the Father for us, returned to Him.  

In the scheme of things it's like the little parable I started with.   Dulia is like a spark.   It's a little bit of light.  Hyperdulia is more like a match in the darkness.   It's brighter.   Just a little.   Latria?  It's like that million candle power light.   It's so far above and beyond the other two that it leaves you reeling.   That's what we offer to God.   So in comparison the love we have for family?  Looks very dim compared to the others.  That's the thing Jesus is teaching us... that we learn to love God with Latria.... so that He can fill us with His spirit.. who then in turn can give us the eyes of God... so that we can take that overwhelming, blinding love of God and turn around and give it to others.   Are you being a conduit?  Or a clogged pipe? 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."  

A reflection on the Mass readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  September 4, 2016.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I'm OK with that.

I am pretty sure I traumatized a little girl last night.   I imagine she went crying to her mother after our encounter.   My new cell phone doesn't have all the settings right and has done some strange things.   Yesterday I sent a text to one of our middle daughters asking her if she made it OK.   She sent back "Who is this?"  I figured my phone had some setting on it or something that kept her from seeing.  I knew she was responding and I had things to do so I would respond in a few minutes.   Less than thirty seconds later she called me.

Me: Hello?
Her: Who is this?
Me: (almost yelling) You mean to tell me you don't recognize the number... and you have no idea who it is... yet you called them?   You know better!  What are you thinking!?
Her: (hangup)

So I look at my phone incredulous.... then I notice the number.   It's not hers.  It's not a number I know at all.  It is the old number she used on her IPOD years ago.  Someone else has it now.  I imagine it was scary to have someone yelling at her through the phone.. this strange girl... this child who is probably a tween or less.   I am sorry.   I am sorry that we live in a world where young children need cell phones that can give them access to strangers and pornography.   I am sorry that there are men out there that will abuse the system and try to get to meet you and do things to you that are much scarier than being yelled at.  I am sorry that you don't know better than to call someone you don't know instead of deleting the message or going to your parents and saying "Hey some strange weirdo is calling me."   I am not sorry that I yelled at you.

Rather I hope you learned something.  I hope you learned that calling someone you don't know is actually dangerous.   That giving out personal information or phone numbers can be as well.   I hope you learned from our encounter.   I hope you do not call people you don't know and don't respond to texts from random strangers... and more importantly I hope you're safe.  I hope none of the things that could happen to you ever do.  And to the parents?  If I yelled at your child?  I hope you comforted her and explained to her all the things I said above.   I hope it was a learning moment for all of us.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I need more!

We are always looking for something a little more exciting, a little more stimulating.  As a young man I put that into action when it came to church.   I went around looking for worship that was a little more upbeat.   A little more loud.   From stage band worship to Pentecostal shouting, I kept going to find that next mountain top experience.  Wherever I was, regardless of the quality of the music, or the eloquence of the preacher... it wasn't enough.   I needed more... because the one thing I was doing wrong was trying to find something for me in it.   I wasn't worshiping God because it was the right thing to do.  No I was trying to find my next experience, me... my.. I... ego.

In our search for the perfect experience we often forget exactly what we have been given.   The enormous gift of the Holy Spirit is too frequently ignored or placed in the back of our minds.   As Christians we do not believe the Spirit is just some sort of non-tangible, ethereal force that can be controlled with enough knowledge or somatic gestures.  The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Trinity.  One we should have a relationship with.  One who as St. Paul eloquently puts it describes to us "spiritual realities in spiritual terms."  When our minds are so caught up in our own selves... that's what St. Paul calls the natural man... that's when we are unable to experience fully who God is.   It's in this ignoring of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in us, that we completely miss the amazing gift we are endowed with!

In our daily lives we are bombarded with desires and emotions.  From the flooding of sexual images in the various media to the constant attack on the sanctity of marriage we are called to be worldly, natural people.   What God wants to give us though is a fuller existence, a more joyful reality that exists.   He wants to give us the life He created us for!   We are called to be Spiritual people, a living temple for God.  Just as Jesus commanded the demon in the Gospel to be quiet and come out of the man in the synagogue, He is calling out to those things which stand in our way of being who we truly are.   He is telling our addictions, our sorrows, our fears... "Be quiet!  Come out of my child!"  We have to let go of our self though and let Him work in us through the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism.

We do not need a better Parish.    The music whether excellent or sub-par is not why you are there.   The homily, while an important and beautiful part of the spiritual nourishment you receive, does not have to be the best or most powerful one.   The Priest does not have to be the kindest or most generous man alive, he alone is not who you are there for.   You are there for Christ.   Present in the Sacraments of the Holy Catholic church.   You're not going to find a different one the next town over... He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.    It's not about you, it's about Him!   That's why we go to Mass... to worship the most High God.   Not to get something out of it.   Now if there are problems in those other areas?   Do something about it instead of bickering and gossiping.   Join the choir.  Become a Lector.   Join the building and grounds committee.   Volunteer on the Pastoral Council so you can get to know the Priest.. but above all spend some time speaking and listening to the Holy Spirit in your prayer life... for it is through Him that we can "understand the things freely given us by God.

A Prayer for Today

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Addiction comes in every shape and size.

Most of you know that I am a computer gamer.   I have been since I was a young man.  My parents got our first computer when I was around eight years old.  I learned to program it in Basic.  Then we upgraded to a computer that had actual games on it!  I used to sit up all night playing.   Later in life I was so addicted to playing these games that I once told a friend "I don't care if the power and water get cut off, I am going to get the new expansion of that game!"  I did.   The power and water did get cut off... but I was content, I had my new game.   I chose games at that point in my life over everything else.   Work was a way to afford playing.   Sleep was a hindrance.

The readings for today remind us that the key to combating these sort of things is very simple.   It's not a magic pill.  It's not an overnight solution.   It's not an easy task.   What it is though is straightforward.  It is love.   God's love.  Not the love the world has to offer, but true love.   Love for God.  Love for life.  Love for truth.  Love for His Word.   Herod had tried to replace that love with the pleasures of life.   His desire for this young woman dancing caused him to make promises that he did not want to fulfill.  In the end they cost someone else their life.   Addiction has a way of doing that doesn't it?  Taking life?  Even in the less obvious way of taking a life that could be filled with joy, happiness, and the presence of others and replacing it with solitude, fear, and unhappiness.

Again, simplicity.   Being a disciple of Christ does not require that we have every Scripture passage memorized, or even a single one of them.   It doesn't require you to have a PhD or Master's degree in any sort of High Christology.   What it does require is effort.   It requires love.   It requires an honest examination of our life every day to see if we in anyway have replaced God with some addiction, some earthly thing.  Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that there are four ways these manifest themselves, four spheres:  power, wealth, honor and pleasure.   Is there any desire in your life that goes before God?  So much so that you are willing to suffer for it, instead of for Him?   That's where we have to get our lives in gear.   To turn from whatever it is.  Sports, school, theater, friendships, work, the lottery, gambling, drinking, gossip... whatever the vice is, to turn from that to God... to put Him first and foremost in our lives and become the disciple we were meant to be.

On this Feast of Saint John the Baptist we are reminded of the simplicity of the message he delivered.  He did not come in fancy clothing.  He did not come wearing robes with fancy scrolls on the borders.   He did not come with long winded speeches to be recorded for posterity.   No, he came dressed in camel hair eating the things he could forage from nature.  A beggar on every outward appearance, but a man who relied solely on God.   A man who simply said "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."   A man who was willing to die for that faith and to stand up to those in power and say "No, what you are doing is wrong!" Jesus is that Kingdom.   He is present for you every day.  Alive and risen.  In the Sacraments, in the tabernacle.   Just waiting for you to come to Him and find true happiness.   Are you ready for that?

Are you doing your part to prepare the way for the coming of Christ into the lives of others?  Are you guiding their feet into the way of peace?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist: August 29th, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

And the lava flowed into the sea...

I remember as a young man seeing video of a volcano for the first time.  The lava was flowing down the mountain into the ocean.   When it touched the water, it roiled and exploded.   Such raw power, such destruction!   I was filled with fear that such a thing could happen to us!  I knew there were no active volcanoes anywhere near our home in Virginia.   Yet, the image was stuck in my mind and for days I couldn't sleep for fear of seeing them in my dreams.  That's the image that the Israelites experienced first hand in the desert of God.   Loud booming sounds, smoke and fire, lightning and thunder.   An image of God so terrifying that they begged Moses to go intercede for them for fear that just hearing God's voice would cause them to die.

The author of Hebrews gives us a different image of God.  That of a 'festal' gathering.  A party!  Recently I went to a wedding with Julie's family.   It had been years since we had been to anything of this sort.  With work and the kids we just couldn't find time or the money to go.   When we arrived though, we were welcomed with open arms and warm familial hugs.   We didn't feel out of place, but rather felt we were part of the family... The words that come to mind are: familiar, warm, inviting, peaceful, joyful, welcome.   That's the image we get of Heaven.   Not something to be feared, but a place to long for.   A gathering around the wedding feast of the Lamb where "everyone knows your name."

The key to being invited though, the key to the entire walk of the Christian life, is humility.   Not some false humility where one puts themselves down in order to make them look even more 'humble' than someone else, but a true sense of humility in which we realize exactly who we are.  An honest assessment of ourselves. A recognition that we are indeed sinners, and yet are called adopted Sons/Daughters of the most High!   That we are fallen in nature but chosen in calling.   Acceptance of the fact that we are holy, set apart, consecrated for God... not in some haughty manner, but in gentle, silent awe filled wonder that we are who God says we are.... that kind of humility allows us to take the lesser seat.   To sit at the foot of the table.  Because we know that's where we belong... and if God left us there?  We would have no qualms, no quarrels of sitting with the least of our brothers....

It's there that we encounter Christ in the here and now.   In the eyes of the distressful disguises that He chooses to wear.   In the outcast, the orphan, the widow... the broken, the fallen, the addicted, the scared... yes, there that we sit with Him at the table... Yet we are called to be like Christ in all things, yes?   To be not just guests at the wedding, but co-hosts with our adopted Brother.   Are you doing your part?  Are you going out to the honored guest and lifting them up to a higher place?  It's in the sick, the poor, the angry, the unappreciated, the fallen away, the mangled up, chewed up, and spit out person that we encounter Christ face to face... are you helping Him find a higher place at the table?  Christ deserves the seat of honor.. the highest praise... the best meal and the best plates... are you offering Him the best you have?  Or are you leaving Him sitting at the lower end of the table while you sit with those who make you comfortable?

We have work to do Church... more especially I have work to do.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

 A reflection on the readings for the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 28th, 2016.  Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Truth. What is truth?

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

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Leaving the Nest

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

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I did it my way

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

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

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