Monday, February 29, 2016

There's healing in the air tonight

This morning at daily Mass, Father Don Ahles mentioned an article by Norman Wirzba in which he mused on the thought that we might be able to now “declare the end of ‘Christian America.’”  The article speaks of the fact that we in America often portray ourselves as Christians through our speech, through our prayers, and through our presence at this or that local.  Yet, when we look at the actions, at the deeds of these Christians, we find that they don’t line up with the Christian line of thought presented in the Gospels.  

Although voters may speak piously and rather vaguely about Christian values and ideals, polls and election results communicate clearly this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion – none of which are Christian virtues.

Especially during this part of our political timeline we begin to see people who claim to be Catholic or Christian, yet they do play on those things.  The mudslinging begins.  This one can’t be trusted.  This one isn’t really ‘American.’  This one lied.  On and on it goes.  The thing is, we don’t seem very loving at all when we talk about politics.  We talk about how that we do need to vote, but then we turn lose these insults against the candidate we don’t like, and laud the one we do.. even though often we seem to be supporting those people who are truly against our faith entirely.  I think tomorrow's Gospel reading kind of sets the stage for the next line that caught my eye in his article.

[...]From a scriptural point of view, it is all rubbish. What matters is not what you say but how you live. And from a Christian point of view, nothing matters more than living a life that is inspired by God’s love for everyone.

A life inspired by God’s love for everyone.  Scripture affirms that one of the ways we should be recognized is by our love.  You know the song?  They will know we are Christian by our love?  What does God’s love look like?  Jesus has some pretty strong words to say about that.  Forgiveness.   That’s what God’s love looks like, first and foremost.  Jesus says to Peter that we must forgive not just seven times, but seventy seven fold (70X7 times.)  In the world of Biblical numerology seventy times seven does not represent a literal 490 times.. though that in and of itself would be impressive… rather it represents an infinite number.. forgiveness without limit.

I got to thinking about Lamech, the son of Cain.  Cain was seen as a hard man, but Lamech was the epitome of anger and abuse.  He claims to have killed a man just for wounding him, a young man too out of anger.  Lamech made the audacious claim that if the death of Cain would be avenged seven times, then the death of Lamech would be seventy and sevenfold.  In his world forgiveness was never given.  Anger was returned for anger.  Hate for hate. Death for a wound.  Not only did he return what was given, he multiplied it.  How in contrast that is to God’s love?  How far has he gone from God to be in such a world that does not forgive, but amplifies the hate and evil that is present.

Jesus on the other hand, offers us a world where all is forgiven.  That not only does God forgive perfectly, but we are challenged to do the same. That’s what love looks like.  It means offering your love to everyone regardless of what they do to you.  We’ve come a long way away from that message haven’t we?  We’ve begun to look less like Christians in this country, and more like followers of Lamech.  Our television shows become more catty, more snarky, more materialistic.  Just recently a movie was released in which the ‘hero’ was a man of violence, a man who harmed others, who was almost as much devil as he was avenger.   It sold out.  Record sells even.  Who are we following?  Our actions speak of that.  Our shows, our radio, our movies.. all show what we truly believe.

Then comes something that is very near to my heart though, something that fits right in with that unlimited forgiveness of God… the author goes on to say:
What about the refugees and immigrants who are being refused at our borders and made to feel unwelcome in our land, or the homeless (many of them ill) who do not have a home and proper protection from the elements, or the prison inmates (many of them African-American) who are treated like the garbage of society? [..]God is asking the nations about their public policy, not their verbal piety, because the true test of Christianity has only ever been the test of love.

There is the crux of the matter isn’t it?  To forgive as God forgives we have to forgive these people too.  We seem to be holding grudges against the ‘least of these.’  Some of those grudges from people they may not even know.  They’re muslim right?  Lesbian?  Gay? They are drug dealers and prostitutes.  They are vagabonds who don’t bother to work for themselves.  They.. they.. they.. we like to have an other to hate don’t we?  Yet, Christ told us to forgive not just those people we like, those we are comfortable with.. but even the enemy.. the other.. the they.   Are you ready to do that?  Our nation may not be a Christian nation.. to be honest, it may never have been a truly Christian one… but you and I challenged to be Christian regardless of what our nation is.   Are you ready to forgive?  To offer God’s mercy and grace to everyone? Not just those we choose to be worthy?  Are we ready to love like God loves?  That’s what we must learn to do if we want to keep using the word Christian to describe ourselves.. to lift up our own life… to sacrifice ourselves.. to go to our own Cross..  for everyone, not just those we want to choose, but those God puts before us, period.

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Studying about that good ol' way

Isn’t it interesting how difficult we make our relationship with God to be?  For 2000 years we’ve constantly tried to change the teachings of the Apostles.  The Catholic church has held consistently to those teachings, so much so that if you read Justin Martyr and his apology on the Mass written in the mid second century you see almost exactly the same Mass described as you would see in a Catholic church today.  We always want something more though don’t we?  It needs to be more traditional or more progressive.  It needs to be more reverent or more folksie.  It needs to be ad orientem or ad populum.  We never seem content to hear the simplicity of the Gospel, the simplicity of what the Church truly asks of us.

I kind of see us in the man Naaman who in tomorrow's daily reading is coming to Jerusalem to be healed.  He has gotten this dread disease, leprosy.  Someone has informed him that the God of the Jews is able to heal, and so he ventures to their kingdom.  He finally is sent to the Prophet Elijah.  Elijah doesn’t even bother coming out of his abode.  Instead he sends a message to Naaman, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”  Naaman is furious!  This man didn’t even come out and perform a ritual over him!  He didn’t even bother to speak to him or do anything flashy.  He didn’t send him on a quest to find some long lost item, or to slay a mythical beast… all he said was, “Go wash in the water.”   He begins to list off all the reasons he shouldn’t… first and foremost, his preconceived notion that he and the land he comes from is better than this land.  He lists the rivers that he would rather wash in, the ones he thinks are more beautiful, more worthy.  

Aren’t we a great deal like Naaman?  Jesus gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sin.  Then he gave the chair of Peter the authority to bind and loosen all things.   The Church hands us the Sacrament, instituted by Christ, of reconciliation.  All you have to do is come and confess your sins, say a penance, and your sins will be forgiven.  Do we trust in that though?  How many have walked away over this very thing?  How many times have we come out of confession and said, “All he gave me was a short prayer, I need more.”   We don’t trust in the simple words of the Church when it prophesies to us this is all it takes to be healed.  We instead try to make it more difficult, I need to go to this place or that place, have this special holy priest do my confession instead.. we shop.. we shop for priests.. we shop for churches.. and eventually, some of us shop for denominations.

Notice that in the Gospel the people again reject Jesus because of where he is from.  They reject him as a Prophet, and in the process again reject his condemnation.  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  “What? Wash in the the Jordan? There are thousands of better rivers back where I am from.”  Jesus offers us a simple message.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Then we say, that can’t be enough.. The message we have received from the Church doesn’t have enough of me in it.. it’s too much to believe in the simplicity of the message.. to believe that someone so ordinary, so familiar.. just a carpenter from Nazareth could dare to have a message that required us to forgive, and move on.  Jesus tells them it was those with faith, regardless of their background, regardless of their ties with the Jewish people.. who were healed, who were saved.

How about us?  Do we see it as only us?  Only those coming from our part of Christianity as being saved?  Only the Catholics?  Only the Protestants? Only the ones who wash in this river, but not the other?  I say to you that a stream came from Nazareth of clear, living water.  A stream that all we have to do is wash in, and believe in, and follow… and our sins are forgiven.  We need to trust in his waters, in this simple message, that God’s mercy transcends all of our human notions.  We must evangelize.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t talk about our faith.. but it’s not so much about book learning, memorization or rote prayers.. as it is about a relationship.  That’s what Christ is offering.. that’s what Naaman was learning.... when we do what we need to do be in this right relationship.. then we will be healed… Regardless of who we were, or who we are being at the moment… God’s mercy will wash over us and cleanse us.  Then we must take that knowledge out into the world and say with those who believe, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Adonai!”  Are you ready to wash in the water?  Are you ready to give your life over to God?  

To be in a relationship means to spend time with someone.  To love them. To care for them.  To do the things that makes them happy.  If I do things my wife doesn’t like me doing, then our relationship is injured.  If however, I learn what makes her happy.. and sacrifice some of those things which I might think I enjoy, to make sure she’s happy.. then our relationship will flourish. It is only when both parties are sacrificing for the other, that everyone's needs are met. The thing is, in our relationship with God, everything that makes him happy.. will make us happy too.. Cause that’s what he wants.. happiness.. not robot movements, or automatons who do things without emotion or thought.. but genuine love.  God lived this principle in the person of Christ to show us the ultimate sacrifice, the true genuine love, of giving of oneself completely. Our faith is the response, our sacrifice the response. So let’s use what time we have left in Lent to grow in that love.. to fast from those things which are harmful to us, and to add in those prayers and activities which help us to grow in covenantal fidelity to the Lord.

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.”

Saturday, February 27, 2016

And now you're so surprised to see me

In tomorrow’s reading we see the parable of the fig tree.  This sort of tree is a source of fruit, a source of nourishment for the world.  In the desert lands in which Jesus taught and journeyed it would have been seen as sustenance, life. The owner of the vineyard, the farmer, came along after three years of time and saw that the fig was still not bearing fruit.  He then turns to the vinedresser and says, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?”(Luke 13:7)  The vinedresser in turn begs for another year.  He wants to spend more time cultivating.  More time giving the tree a chance to produce fruit.  Then, though, he will have to cut it down.

I find it extremely telling that the Owner speaks of three years of time.  Jesus himself had only three years of preaching to convince the Jewish people that he was the Messiah that they had been seeking.  Here the owner must indeed represent the Father.  It’s almost as if Jesus is giving us a glimpse of a conversation that was to come, one after his crucifixion.  God the Father has tired of the people who he has been sending messages to.  He tried to send them through Abraham.  He tried to send it through the prophets.  Then the judges.  Then during the time of the Kings.  Then he sent his only Son.  As in the Parable a few days ago, the tenants did not bother to give over that fruit they were supposed to be growing.  They abused the servants, and then killed the Son.  

 In the Eucharist he gives us everything we need to produce that sumptuous and elegant fruit that the Father seeks in our lives.  God is calling out to us in love, asking us to love in return.  To love God and our fellow man.   

I think this parable is much the same.  The owner of the vineyard has returned to collect that fruit.  Yet, here he finds the barren tree.  This person has borne no fruit though he has heard the word of God preached for a fullness of time.  Three is considered a perfect number.  Complete.  This person has heard the word long enough!  Yet he still rejects the message.  Then steps in the vinedresser.  He stands between  God and man, he intercedes on our behalf.   This man must be Jesus himself.  Though he has been toiling in the vineyard for three years, there are still these trees that bear no fruit.  Even though they have rejected him, even though they have sent him to a bloody, and thankless death, he still begs for them.

Jesus declared to his disciples that he was the vine, the thing from which sustenance flows.  That God is the gardener, the husbandman, the owner of the vineyard.  Jesus wants to give them more time.. he wants to nourish them… he wants to water the seeds that he has planted.  We as Catholics acknowledge that  “Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in the unity of his divine person; for this reason he is the one and only mediator between God and men.” (CCC 480)  He is the one who steps in to cultivate the dirt of our soul, to create a truly beautiful soil ready for growth, rich with virtue and grace.

How then can we apply this to our lives?   To our own situations?   We are the fig tree.  We are either producing fruit or not.  God has sent his message into our hearts.  He has given us all the tools we need to learn more. That’s the Son still calling out to us.  Through the Church, through the Scriptures, through nature itself, he continually digs around our roots and places nourishment there for us to consume.  In the Eucharist he gives us everything we need to produce that sumptuous and elegant fruit that the Father seeks in our lives.  God is calling out to us in love, asking us to love in return.  To love God and our fellow man.   He has sent his Holy Spirit into the world, into our hearts, to help us even further.. to fertilize our hearts.. to take away that dry weary land, that heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh that will reach out to bring about God’s kingdom.

The Catechism says that “the fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” (CCC 1829) God is giving us just a bit more time, Christ is seeking to open our hearts to love.   We don’t have forever though.. it is appointed unto man once to die, and after the judgement. (Hebrews 9:27)  We don’t know when that will be.  The Parable says that the vinedresser asked for another year… another span of time, just another season.  Then comes the judgement though.. then if there is no fruit, it will be cut down.  The truth of the matter is this:  all of us have that one thing in common.  We are all going to die one day.  God has given us the fullness of time, he has given us every opportunity to produce fruit.. and how often we fail.  The son wanted us to have another chance, so much was his love for us that he came down as a man himself, and died in our place.  He has made the downpayment.. it’s up to us to do something about it.  We are planted in God’s vineyard through baptism, the Church.  The Church, the body of Christ, is continually tilling around us, feeding us with every spiritual food available through the Holy Spirit, the liturgy, the Scriptures, and the Sacraments.  Our roots are being nourished, but it’s up to us to drink.

The Samaritan woman at the well represents us.  We are going to the well.  If we only knew the gift of God, if we only knew who stands before us, if we only took a drink of the water he offers… our fruit would blossom so much that the whole world would see it!  Are you drinking of that well?  Or like the rich young man are you letting some attachment stand in your way?  It’s time for us to get in line behind Christ, to point our face toward the cross and say, “Here I am lord, speak your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)

Once again, I must reiterate, Christ is coming to us daily.  He is seeking to pick that fruit.  He comes in the face of the stranger, the refugee, the orphan.  The homeless man down the street.  The angry fellow in traffic.  The tired, overworked nurse who just wants to complain on her lunch break.  The young couple in the pew who struggles with their child. That neighbor who just wants a little conversation, a little human interaction at the end of a long day. All of these people are looking for some fruit.  They just want to experience a little love.  Are you offering that fruit? Are you responding with joy, peace, and mercy? Are you running toward them with the open arms of the Father, with love?  Oh imagine the world in which we did such things, Church!  That line from Augustine quoted in the Catechism is so beautiful isn’t it? “There is the goal(love); that is why we run:  we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.”  Are you running toward Christ in the least of these? There, there in the arms of the dying, the poor, the outcasts.. that’s where you’ll find the love of Christ reflected, that’s where you will find rest.

The Samaritan woman at the well represents us.  We are going to the well.  If we only knew the gift of God, if we only knew who stands before us, if we only took a drink of the water he offers… our fruit would blossom so much that the whole world would see it!

When God came down on the burning bush before Moses, the bush was not consumed.  It was rather transformed into something amazing, something beautiful, something that reflected the glory of God to the world.  It became a symbol, a beacon.  The place became so Holy because of the presence of the Holy Spirit that God said to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”  Think about that symbolism for a minute.   As you walk up that Aisle today toward the Eucharist.. not only are you on Holy Ground.. but you are about to become Holy Ground. You are about to receive God himself into your body.  You are about to be filled with that same glorious power that Moses saw radiating from the burning bush.  It does not destroy you.. it transforms you.. Are you allowing it do just that?  Are you allowing God’s light to shine into the world in such a way that people want to remove their baggage, their spiritual shoes, and walk in the presence of God?  Are you offering them that fruit?  Only you can offer the unique fruit that you are designed to give.  No one else can give it the same way, the same kind, the same you.  Are you ready to be a fig tree in God’s garden?  Are you ready to be Holy Ground?  

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Do we gather figs of thistles?

In tomorrow's Gospel we see this amazingly detailed parable that speaks of a vineyard that has been leased to tenants.  It's easy for us to digest it just as the Pharisees did by placing each of the people mentioned in context of who Jesus was and who he was speaking of.  God the owner, Jerusalem the vineyard, the wicked tenants the leaders of Jerusalem, the servants that were sent the prophets, and of course the son being Jesus himself.   That's easy enough for us to see two thousand years later with all of our Scripture, our writings of the Church and magisterium.   Apparently according to scripture the Pharisees themselves could easily see that meaning as well.  Scripture records: When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.

What about applying it to our lives though?  God has given us a Church.  He has declared that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.   If we then place ourselves into this parable we see God is again the owner of course, the householder.  The Church is the vineyard, surrounded by the hedge of protection, the Holy Spirit.  Jesus of course would still be the son, sent to remind us to be faithful to the teachings of God.

We are the tenants in the vineyard of the Lord.   He will be sending people to gather the fruit.  Peace, love, joy... these are fruits.. they are spread by following those corporal works of mercy.  Giving food to the hungry. Clothing the naked.  Giving drink to the thirsty.  These are the fruits of God's vineyard.  He sends us not prophets, but homeless men and women, refugees and orphans, sinners and saints...these are his servants.   They have come to collect the fruit that you and I are supposed to be producing.  Are we like the tenants and refusing to give them that which God has prepared for them?  Are we sharing the grace he has prepared for them in the hedged safety of the Church?  Or are we holding them all for ourselves?  The Owner of our vineyard will be returning at the end of time and not asking how much you know, or how many degrees you had, or how many of a specific prayer you said.. no he will be asking when I was thirsty, did you give me drink?  When I was naked did you cloth me?  When I was suffering did you comfort me?

God has shown that when we have good in us it increases, when we have bad in us it increases as well.  Just like playing the guitar or the piano, if you don't use it.. eventually you begin to forget.  It becomes harder to play, the muscle memory begins to fade.  God gives us those gifts to serve with.  If we don't use them?  He will take them away and give them to another who will.  If you aren't producing fruit, he'll find another tenant for the vineyard who will.  The beautiful thing about the Church though is this, it's never too late.  As we journey through the desert of Lent we can begin by seeking forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we might become better tenants, and God will take whatever fruit we produce and multiply it.  Are you ready to be a good tenant?  One who receives those in need of the fruit?  One who receives the Son and cherishes him, lavishing him all he asks for and more?  If not, what stands in your way? That's what prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is for... to help break down those walls, disciplining ourselves that we might realize that God is what is important.. not food, not money, not wealth, power, pleasure, or honor. Then God can say with confidence "They will respect my Son," who will then lead us safely in tow to that country to which the householder had journeyed to prepare a place for us, eternal in the heavens.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why don't your eyes see me?

Illustration of Lazarus at the rich man's gate by Fyodor Bronnikov, 1886.
In tomorrow’s Gospel we see the familiar passage in which Jesus speaks a parable about Lazarus and the rich man.  He tells the Pharisees in his presence about these two men and how they lived their earthly life.  One was a poor beggar who sat at the rich man's doorstep begging for scraps.  The other an extremely wealth man.   A man not just presented as well to do, but extremely wealthy.  Dressed in purple and fine linen, he dined sumptuously. 

sumptuous[suhmp-choo-uh s]
1.entailing great expense, as from choice materials, fine work, etc.;costly:a sumptuous residence.
2.luxuriously fine or large; lavish; splendid:a sumptuous feast.

Here is this man who has these magnificently lavish feasts daily, not just on special occasions.  His life is full of excess, full of carnal pleasures.   How great a contrast we have with Lazarus, the beggar.   This man has no fine clothing.  He sits begging at the door of the rich man's abode desiring to even eat the crumbs that fall from his table.  Alas, they are consumed by the very dogs that lick the poor ragamuffins’ wounds.  He has no one to support him, no one to bandage and dress him that he might get better, but is tormented by the very animals that eat the food he so ardently needs to survive.  

Oh how this speaks to my heart during Lent as we try to raise money to build a well to bring clean water to those in distant countries who do not have any, or have very little access to them.  We who sit lavishly in our homes with an unlimited supply to be had.  They who just wish to drink of the drops that we so dishonorably waste in our excess. How can we not recognize Lazarus, the hungry beggar in the parable (cf. Lk 17:19-31), in the multitude of human beings without bread, a roof or a place to stay? How can we fail to hear Jesus: "As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25:45)? (CCC 2463)  During the super bowl this year, the only football game I actually chose to watch, there was this amazing commercial about water conservation.   Colgate took a moment to highlight how much water we truly do waste, how much we take for granted, how much we let fall to the wayside to be consumed by the dogs of our sewers, instead of protecting for those who have none.  They sit at the gate of our hearts and beg to partake of just our scraps, and are we aware?

When the disciples begged Jesus for their own crumbs, he fed them exorbitantly from the masters table.   They said Master teach us how to pray and he so obliged, not holding back but opening up the floodgates of heaven with the prayer that is familiar to Christians of all backgrounds. In the Our Father we ask specifically for our daily bread.    This speaks of trusting in God for God’s provision, not that we should become lax in our duty to try and earn our bread, nor that we should just stop providing and protecting our families, but that we should be aware of the blessings we receive.  

But the presence of those who hunger because they lack bread opens up another profound meaning of this petition. The drama of hunger in the world calls Christians who pray sincerely to exercise responsibility toward their brethren, both in their personal behavior and in their solidarity with the human family. This petition of the Lord's Prayer cannot be isolated from the parables of the poor man Lazarus and of the Last Judgment. (2831)

How felicitous it is that the Church has been guided by the Holy Spirit to share this pericope of scripture with us at this point during Lent.   To remind us of our duty to the poor as we are reminded of one of the three pillars of the journey through the desert, almsgiving. What are we doing to help those in need?  How are we using our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to bring that change into the world and into our own hearts?  It’s not enough to simply conserve water, we need to be sharing it.  God does not give us these wonderful blessings in our lives to be hoarded in our cabinets for future meals of our own.  He intends them to be given out to those who have none.  That is why the goal of Lent should not just be to reduce our consumption through fasting, but to then take that money that we have saved and use it to feed another.  

It’s an opportunity for us to go out to the gate of our own hearts, lift up Lazarus as he sits watching our comfort, bring him into our home and bandage him, clean him up, care for him and nourish him to health.  Lent is supposed to change us.  It’s supposed to draw us closer to who Christ is.  Christ heals.  Christ cures.  Christ feeds.  Christ loves.  As I sit here in my heated home, typing on my chromebook, surrounded by loved ones, books, comforts.. blessings, I realize I am not doing enough. How about you?  Remember too that there are two responses to Jesus message today.  Lazarus was downtrodden, a broken man who sat at the mercy of the world.  Yet, we see from his presence in Abraham’s bosom that he never blamed God for it.   He never turned his back on his faith.   The rich man had every material comfort needed, but when he died he went to eternal torment.  It’s apparent that in his faith he knew he needed to repent, he knew he needed to serve, he knew what he was doing was wrong.  He kept it all for himself.

Which are we today? Are we Lazarus? Do we put our faith in God no matter what comes? Are we the rich man?  Do we ignore God’s prompting to do good and simply lavish ourselves with comfort in a grand hedonism?  Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your heart.  Trust in God.  Find comfort in his promise. Find a way to reach out to those in need materially, physically, and spiritually.  You have been called to the greatest feast of all time, the wedding feast of the Lamb. You receive the most extravagant meal in the entire universe in the Eucharist... are you sharing those crumbs? Or keeping them for yourself? We are the hands and feet of Christ, we have work to do Church!

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

We've made a stellar start to find the jungle's heart

Many years ago, before my spinal fusion, I worked as an electrical foreman.  I helped supervise crews that did the electrical, fire alarms, security systems, etc for moderate size commercial installations.  Everything from Hospitals to Wal-Mart super centers.  One of the things I noticed about some foremen was the tendency to stay in the office looking at the plans all day.   They would only come out to assign work to their crew and then back to the air conditioning they would go.   I never felt comfortable doing that.  My father had raised me to believe that one should never ask another to do something that you yourself wouldn't do.  So the first thing I usually did on a job was build a print table so that I could have the prints right out there on the construction site.   I'd work right alongside my men as much as possible, though much of the time I'd get interrupted before I could get anything substantial completed.

I think though the fact that I was right there with them, right there digging ditches side by side, running conduit, pulling wire... I think those things showed the men I worked with that I did not think I was better than they were.  I didn't use my title, my paycheck, my position... to try and make them into something less.  Rather, I was one of them. I ate with them. I would sit around a fire with them at night listening to music.  I'd throw back a beer and join in the story telling.   It was a beautiful time.  I often wonder how different things would have been had I been the other kind of foreman.  If I had never built those bonds of friendship, never allowed myself to be seen as just another guy on the team.   Would production have gone up? Or down?  Would I have made more money?  Would I have been able to live with myself?

In tomorrow's Gospel for daily mass we see an encounter with Christ.   This mother wants the best she can get for her children.   She wants them to be in positions of honor, authority, power.   The other disciples grow indignant.  How dare they ask for this power!?  How dare they crave the honor that the others felt they would want instead.  If you look at the surrounding text in Scripture, this isn't the first time this discussion has come up.   They were just arguing about it the last time that Jesus had predicted his death.  "Hey guys I"m going to Jerusalem to die."  "umm, which one of us is going to be in charge?"  Jesus reminds them of his own model of leadership, that of the servant leader.

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

We as Christians are challenged to not Lord it over others that we have authority.  How many of us sometimes make that mistake?  Sometimes we fall into that pit of believing that our piety, our works, our discipline.. that those things we do make us better than another.  We though, are challenged to serve the other, not to rub it in that we are better.   We must be in the ditches digging with them.  During Lent that is a powerful reminder of the things we are called to: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Are you in the trenches helping your fellow men?  Are you out doing those things that you would ask them to do?  That's a call to authentic catholic life.  You can't tell someone else that they need to straighten up if you yourself are living a life of sin.  You can't say I want you to fast and give alms, if you yourself aren't doing the same.  How hypocritical of us, to have the skeletons in our own closets where light never reaches but somehow feel entitled to pick the lock of someone else's storage shed.

No, Jesus calls us to examine our own eye first.  Look for our own logs... before worrying about someone else's speck.  Our hearts are revealed in our words and deeds.  Jesus told us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.  That very statement can apply to the innermost recesses of our emotions, to the things that hang in the background like a dark cloud that is about to burst into rain.  If our heart is in the wrong place, if our intention is not to edify, uplift, and aide another person... then we aren't in the ditch.  We are sitting comfortably in our air conditioner asking them to do more than us, asking them to become like Christ while we are far from that goal ourselves.   That's what Lent is about.  It's about getting out of the air conditioner.. out of our comfort zone... out of our own self centeredness.. and into the battlefield.  To reach our hand to our fellow human beings and saying "I am not perfect.  I don't have all the answers... but I know this man named Jesus Christ.   My life is better having known him.  He has taught me how to be happy.  I think he can teach you too."  It's about becoming a signpost that points to Christ.  Too often we become a sign that only points to Hell.... and while knowing about Hell is important, I think fixing our vision on Gehenna is falling short of the true message of the Gospel.

So as we journey together through the desert in this jubilee year of Mercy, let's begin to ask ourselves:

  • Am I living out the beatitudes?
  • Am I growing in the cardinal virtues?
  • Am I pointing to Christ? If not, to whom am I pointing?
  • Is there anything standing in my way, between me and God?
  • Is there anything then between me and my fellow man?
  • How can I work on whatever I discover to be more like Christ?

Like the mother in the story, every day is an opportunity for an encounter with Christ.   He has asked the disciples, "Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?"   Now in turn he is asking you, "Can you?"  Are you ready to pour yourself out like a libation for your fellow man?   To die to yourself that they might be united to the father?  Is this cup that Christ is offering you one you crave?  All of his disciples, save one, did indeed drink from the cup of martyrdom.  Are you prepared to do the same?  I don't know about you, but it's a frightening thing to think of the cross that Christ is offering us.  Lord help us to find the strength to say with your disciples: "We can."

His servant and yours,

"I must decrease, he must increase."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Don't You Want Somebody to Love?

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and discovering my true self.” – Thomas Merton

A reflection on the
readings for Daily Mass 2016-2-23
This quote from Thomas Merton continues to present itself to me during this time in the desert.  Society does not want us to find out who we are.  Rather, society expects us to become a clone, to fit the mold.  We seem to teach the opposite don't we?  Our children are informed that they must accept every person for who they are, and to avoid bullying.  Those are both noble gestures and at the same time something that can be misinterpreted.  It seems to have been taken to an exceptional level through which we truly mean 'don't judge my behavior.'  Everything seems to be game as long as it doesn't hurt someone else directly.  We seem to want to avoid that discussion though in which we begin to define what might happen indirectly, and what might happen to the person who is doing the 'doing.'

Our people have lost the concept of who they truly are.   The evil forces in the world wish us to believe that we are worthless.   That only when we conform to the same agenda as the people currently in charge will we be right, while at the same time proclaiming 'You are right, and I am right.'  We seem to have lost that notion of objective truth.   Truth exists outside of us.  It is not something that we determine, it just is.   That's a hard pill to swallow in an extremely secular society that rejects the notion of anything outside of self.  The thing is, if we examine it with reason and logic we find that there is a truth, there are things which we would never say were right no matter who was doing them.  Rape, abortion, incest, murder, theft, adultery.   All societies at all times have seen that these things are bad, to the point that in the teaching of the Apostles (the Didache) things like abortion are mentioned specifically.

The problem is authenticity.  Where is your heart?  Jesus reminded us that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)  For the Jewish audience the heart was the central core of the man ,what made him who he is.  What you desire, what you work for, where you spend your time and your money... that is your desire. That is your God... your idol.. the thing which you worship.   We can fall into that error easily.  We can place everything before God... our work, our hobbies, our religion, even our families.  It's only when we discover who we truly are, when we discover the human that we are created to be, can we ever hope to put things aright.  How do we know though what God created us to be?  Adam and Eve were created perfectly but then came The Fall.   Since then we've suffered from concupiscence, from our own lusts and desires, from a tendency to do that which feels good and seems good regardless of the consequences.  How then can we learn who we are?  Can we learn the truth?

First and foremost, by spending time with God.   God has revealed himself to us in the fullness of one person, in Jesus Christ.  Faith is not just a blind obedience.  It is a relationship.  It's a method of learning not only who Jesus Christ is, but rather also learning who we are.  Each of us in created in his image.  Yet, just like every marriage.. what works for one relationship, doesn't always look the same in the other, but they definitely can both be loving.  God doesn't want you to give up your uniqueness.  He doesn't want you to become a robot, a person who only does what everyone else does, but rather someone who expresses their unique individuality in the fullness of who they are.  You are created for good.   Genuflecting at mass, is a good.   Why though? That's what we need to learn.  So that when you understand your faith, when you understand the actions, words, and deeds that are asked of you.. you can choose them from your own intellect, choose them on your own, and perform them as an authentic you.

That's what the problem was with the Pharisees.   Jesus does not condemn their teaching.  He even reaffirms that they sit on the throne of Moses.  He doesn't say 'find a new church, or make your own... if your teacher is a hypocrite?  Find a new one, or become your own Pope.'  No, Jesus tells us do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  Jesus says choose good!  Be authentic!  Don't just go through the motions.  Learn the motions... ask why.... then choose which is good and reject that which is evil.  It does not mean that for one person being called to chastity is good, but for another it is not.. being called to chastity is always a good!  It means though that how you express that, how you live that.. looks different based on who you are, your vocation, and your personality.

You are made in the image of God!  You are off infinite worth! St. Therese recorded these thoughts just to remind the rest of us how much God loved us.  One of her favorite things was the snow.   She wanted it to snow on the day of her vows, she desired it with all of her heart.   She says:

That January day, the weather was so mild, snow seemed unlikely. However, upon returning to the cloister, the first thing that struck my eye was the statue of ‘the little Jesus’ smiling at me from the midst of flowers and lights. Immediately afterwards my glance was drawn to the snow: the monastery garden was white like me! What thoughtfulness on the part of Jesus! Anticipating the desires of his fiancĂ©e, He gave her snow. Snow! What mortal bridegroom, no matter how powerful he may be, could make snow fall from heaven to charm his beloved?”

Do you realize that?  That's your worth!  God loves you how you are, but too much to leave you there.  He loves you enough to do anything for you, to bring you to his love.. to bring you to the good.  The Pharisees were doing a lot of good things... but their hearts weren't in it.. they weren't in love with God... they were in love with just the Law.  The law isn't a bad thing.. the bible isn't a bad thing... but there is so much more... there is a person, Jesus Christ.  Are you in love with him? Or just the thought of him?  As we journey through Lent that is what we should be aiming for.. to fall in love for the first time.. or fall in love all over again.. with that person who created the entire universe just for us... just for you.. just for me.... If only one of us believed, if only one of us would have been saved... he would have gone to the cross for just that one lost sheep.... Let the shepherd come get you, and then rest on his shoulders as he carries you into an authentic relationship.. a true love... eternal in the heavens. God is calling us to set things right and then to trust in him as he washes us white as snow.

That is how much he loves you.. the question is... how much do you love him?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Till we've seen this journey through

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the chair of Saint Peter.  The authority of the Pope seems to be a stumbling block for many.  They question why we believe that there is one man with the ability to lead us, to guide us, and to have the authoritative ability to decide when the rest of the church may come to a stalemate.  Protestant scholars for decades have attempted to undermine this gospel reading.  They try to say that Jesus was either speaking to everyone there, thus giving the keys to every Christian; or they attempt to say that the office of the first Pope was his and his alone, thus dying when he died.  I'm not sure why we go to such lengths to try and interpret this scripture differently than those who would have been there to hear it.

To any first century Jew they would have heard this:

"And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Which would have immediately have reminded them of this: 

I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

That quote from Isaiah puts it directly into perspective.  The author was writing about the installation of the prime minister of the Kingdom of David.  That is, a man who was being given authority over the kingdom only below David himself.   Anything Eliakim thus would have said would have been law, just as if David himself had said it.  It would have called them back to Pharaoh and Joseph, when Pharaoh declared "You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you."  That's what it means to be second in the Kingdom, to have the authority to declare and decide in the absence of the King until his return.   We see when Jesus tells them that the Pharisees sit on the chair of Moses that the Jewish people already have the concept that authority is passed down from one 'chair holder' to the next.  Why do we humans have such a problem with structures of authority?   Why do we seek to try to be in God's kingdom without following those God has put above us?  We want God on our terms, but by the very nature of who God is, we can only receive him on his terms. 

The thing is though that people see the title Priest, Bishop, Cardinal, Pope, and even Deacon to be titles of honor.   They demand to be able to receive those titles too!  I want it!  Everyone should be able to be a priest right?  Women?  Men?  Sinner or saint?  They look for the honor and the authority.  What the average person misses is that those titles... those titles are not titles of honor, but titles of service.  It's not something a man is to choose for himself, it's a calling! That's why the Pope is often called the first among equals.  "Do not lord it over those assigned to, but be examples to the flock."  To take on Holy Orders is to become less, to become a servant, to take on the responsibility of helping everyone else get to heaven.  

As a father my primary vocation is my marriage.  I am responsible for living my life in a way that points to Christ.  For loving my wife into heaven.  Raising my children up in a way that gives a reason for the hope that I proclaim in my words and actions. 

As a man discerning the call to the diaconate, I find that both exciting and intimidating.  As a father my primary vocation is my marriage.  I am responsible for living my life in a way that points to Christ.  For loving my wife into heaven.  Raising my children up in a way that gives a reason for the hope that I proclaim in my words and actions.  That's enough of a challenge and a responsibility on it's own, isn't it?  Yet, I feel called to a deeper level of service.  I feel called to serve the widow, the orphan, the stranger.  Called to be configured to Christ the Servant in such a way that I become responsible for every person in our Parish.  To see that their needs are met as far as I am able.  To run into the world with tears flowing, to seek the feet of Jesus and to wash them and dry them with whatever means possible.  Driven to seek his face in the unhappy, the broken, the sad, and the downtrodden.  A man compelled to offer himself up as a living sacrifice for all, while still leading his family as the spiritual head of the household, and loving his wife as Christ loved the Church. 

That is an honorable calling, I agree.  Is it a title that will give me glory in this world?  Riches?  Wealth?  Those things which people seem to think are the models of success?  No.  I will spend seven years in formation just to begin this journey.  At that point, God willing, I will become a Deacon.  Then I will spend many more years studying, growing, and serving.  I will not receive a paycheck.   I will serve however I am asked, if my humility is intact, and then I will hopefully die one day noticed only by the King himself.  I only want to die a man who can honestly say when you were thirsty, I gave you drink.  When you were hungry, I fed you.  When you were naked, I clothed you.   I gave you not just my cloak, but my tunic too.  I loved you Jesus, with all that I am, with all that I could be.  I loved you... and I loved your body.  I loved the Church and it's members as much as my mortally inadequate body was able.  Then when I see the Chief Shepherd is revealed, I pray that I might have the honor of sharing that unfading crown of glory with each and every one of you.  

We are called to be Saints, we are called to be Holy.  Set apart.  The Apostles handed on their authority in the way they saw fit.   The Chair of Peter continued from man to man, until it rests today on the humble yet Charismatic man we know as Pope Francis.  I do not envy him the amount of humility, patience, and temperance needed to be the ultimate of Servant Leaders.  So let us today recognize that special authority that Jesus put on the shoulders of the leader of the Catholic church, while at the same time realize that we too are called to be servants.  Christianity is not about what we get out of it, but what we put into it.  It's about growing closer to Jesus Christ through a living, organic relationship with his Church.  Are you with me?  Are you ready to give up those things standing in the way?  Peter and his successors have loosened the gates of Mercy.   Our Pope has declared a jubilee year of mercy to pour out God's graces to the entire world.  That begins with each and every one of us, but it can't stop within us.. it has to pour out through us to others via our words and deeds.  So today let us pray that prayer attributed to the name sake of our current Pope:

Our Pope has declared a jubilee year of mercy to pour out God's graces to the entire world.  That begins with each and every one of us, but it can't stop within us.. it has to pour out through us to others via our words and deeds.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.   Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is darkness, light.  Where there is doubt, faith.  Where there is despair, hope.  Oh divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console.  To be understood as to understand.  To be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive.  In pardoning that we are pardoned.  And in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Seeing with New Eyes, Again

Recently in our bible study I was made aware of a quote from Origen which said “We should reverence every word of the Scriptures, the same way we reverence every particle of the consecrated host.”  Such a powerful statement that reminds me how often we are superficial in our reading of the Sacred Word.   Often we forget to look at it anew with eyes attuned to our current life and tend to look back on it with our previous understanding.  The thing is, Sacred Scripture speaks to us when and where we are.  The message that we receive today might not be the one we received last year, and again in ten years our new experiences and understandings will change how and why God is speaking to us then and there.

We should reverence every word of the Scriptures, the same way we reverence every particle of the consecrated host. -Origen

This particular reading for this Sunday is not one that I am unfamiliar with.  In fact, it’s one of the most important readings in the book of Genesis.  In these short paragraphs we see the promise that God has given to Abraham which will lead to the inclusion of the gentiles in God’s plan of salvation.  God leads Abraham out of his tent and tells him to look to the sky and count the stars, if he can.  “Just so[...] shall your descendants be.”  What a promise!  Oh how difficult it is to number the stars.  With the science of today we know that they are innumerable, a vast expanse of flickering bodies beyond any count that man can hope to endure in a single lifetime.  The thing is, there is something much more deep and powerful about this reading.

If you take just a moment to examine the text, it appears God asked Abraham to count the stars in the middle of the day.   Later in the next paragraph Scripture records “As the sun was about to set…”  Again in the third paragraph, “When the sun had set….”   Counting the number of the stars at night would be a daunting task.  Something difficult at best, but something a man might fancy he could begin to do if given enough time.   To count them in the day though?  You can’t even see them.  Maybe that was the point…  Abraham knew the stars were many.  He had seen with his own eyes throughout the previous night times of his long life, maybe even laying out in the hot desert air gazing up at the stars thinking about what life means and who God is.  Here he was asked to count something he couldn’t see, but knew was there.  Just like the promise… Abraham could not see his descendants, he couldn’t possibly count them.. but he knew they were going to be there.   That’s why the Scriptures record Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6)  Though his vision was limited by his own experience, by his own bondage to temporal time, he knew that God would provide those descendants, just as he knew the stars were truly there behind the azure blue of the day-lit sky.

I can’t help but imagine that Moses and Elijah too felt the same way when they hid in the cleft of the mountains.   They hid their face as God passed by, but surely they longed to see God face to face.  To gaze upon the beautiful countenance of their beloved.  Do we often think about that when we consider the transfiguration?   Only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought.  (CCC 2583)  How powerful a moment this must have been for Peter, James and John as they witnessed this moment.  The moment when the Law and the Prophets came face to face with the incarnate.   This moment of awe must have been both edifying and frightening.  Peter declares that he wants to build three tents here to remember this scene forever. Peter probably didn’t do it just out of awe, but maybe out of fear.   Jesus had been continually telling his Apostles about his mission.   Here Moses and Elijah appear and begin to speak about what is going to happen in Jerusalem to Jesus.  Peter in his fear, in his dread for what will happen to his friend, to his master, wants to stay here.  If we just stay here we will never have to see you die!  We can just stay here and be happy.  He couldn’t see.  The sun was in his eyes as he tried to count the stars, he couldn’t see God’s plan.

Isn’t that the way it truly is for all of us too?  God asks us to count the stars and we look up to find they aren’t visible.   Instead of simply trusting that they are there, we begin to make our own plans.  We try to make our own stars.   We wait a time until the stars we think we want begin to appear and we count those, instead of taking a moment to simply to trust God’s plan.  Like Peter we want to build a tent in a comfortable place.   Our intentions might even be good.   Peter did not say something insulting, in fact for most men it would be flattering.. to be honored and venerated in this place where the Sacred had touched the earth.   That wasn’t the plan though.   That was less than what God wanted to give him.  Often the stars we try to form with our own minds and lives are insufficient for the glory God wants to offer to us.

Paul reminds us of this in the reading from the epistle to the Philippians.   He talks of those people who make their god their stomachs, their minds occupied with earthly things. (Phil 3:19)  They are trying to make their own stars instead of counting the ones God has offered them.  Paul tells us this makes them enemies of the cross.  Yet, for those who cling to the Gospel given them by Paul and imitate him as he imitates Christ, for those who trust that the stars are there even when they can’t see them, Paul shares that we too shall experience a transfiguration:

But our citizenship is in heaven, 
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body 
by the power that enables him also 
to bring all things into subjection to himself.
Yet, for those who cling to the Gospel given them by Paul and imitate him as he imitates Christ, for those who trust that the stars are there even when they can’t see them, Paul shares that we too shall experience a transfiguration.

That’s our goal in life.   To be so conformed to Christ that we become little Christ’s.  Christ’s whole earthly life - his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking - is Revelation of the Father.   (CCC 516)  That is how we count our stars, that is how we too can show that we believe.  That is how it can be accounted to us as righteousness.. if we too through our words and deeds, our silence and sufferings, if our very manner of being and speaking points to Christ.   Then we too, with Moses and Elijah can stand proudly in the presence of our God and King, looking on him face to face.  No longer hiding in the rock, no longer fearful of destruction, but transformed into our glorified selves.  Are you ready to trust?

His servant and yours,

"I must decrease, he must increase."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

So ya thought ya might like to go to the show

In today's news feed I found it interesting to see headlines that declared Donald Trump and the Pope at war with one another. One article making it seem as if the Pope had declared Trump a heretic and excommunicated him, another in which Trump declared the Pope despicable for questioning his Christian faith. All of them had one in thing in common, they weren't showing the whole truth. Clips out of context and misquotes abounded. What the Pope said rather, was that building walls instead of bridges was not the action of a Christian. What the Pope said was radical.  What he said was counter cultural.   What he said is Catholic teaching.

The readings for tomorrow's daily Mass remind us of this simple truth. God wants to forgive us. He wants to bring us to the fullness of humanity, to become the person that we are created to be. Thomas Merton said “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.” That doesn't mean that how I am currently acting is saintly. Rather it means when I truly live out the fullness of what God created me to be... when I am the authentic Brian he intended me to be, that's when I find Sainthood.. that's when we have arrived. I remember when I was in school as a kid the ladies in the cafeteria had a sign hanging up with this little boy kind of frowning as if he was trying to figure something out. It said "I know I'm somebody, cause God don't make no junk." How true.

A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel. - Pope Francis

What do writings about anger and hatred have to do with Trump and the Pope? The Catholic Church teaches :

Our attitude to our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love.  (CCC 678)

The more filled we are with love, the more we treat our brother with love, dignity and respect. The more like God we are, the more we want to share that love. Many conservatives often want to quantify this love by saying that of course Jesus did not mean to put ourselves at risk. Yet, when people came to capture him in the middle of the night he did not even defend himself, but even had Peter put his sword away. Then he healed his 'enemy.' Now, we have a right to self defense. Of that the Church has been clear of over the years. Not only a right but even a grave duty. (CCC 2265). Jesus though called us to a radical notion, a self giving that goes beyond our own box.

The problem truly has become our segregationist attitude. We in our search for greed, security, and pleasure; have divided the world up into countries, states, and political entities. It's a system that helps bring order, sure. It's also a system that turns our fellow man into the 'other'. Then we decide who is 'us' enough to be included as our neighbor, and who isn't. When we say 'lets take care of those at home first,' we are essentially saying 'those born in our country deserve more freedom, more love, more charity than those who were born elsewhere. How is that we get to decide that? What did they do to deserve that? Why is being born somewhere a deciding factor in how much we care for someone? Isn't that pretty much what the caste system attempts to do? Those born into the right family are treated with respect and dignity, those in the wrong are the unclean, the outsider, the ones who will always be downtrodden.

Building bridges, not walls. That is what Christ came to do. Christ came to tear down the wall of hostility and make the two into the one, the gentiles and the Jews into one family (Ephesians 2:14). He didn't come to die only for those in America, only those in the Church, or even only those who are free from sin. No he came to die for all men, that all might come to be one. When we pray the our Father we are praying for 'us.'

Finally, if we pray the Our Father sincerely, we leave individualism behind, because the love that we receive frees us from it. The "our" at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer, like the "us" of the last four petitions, excludes no one. If we are to say it truthfully, our divisions and oppositions have to be overcome.  (CCC 2792)

Doesn't that just hit home? It's time for us as Christians to truly ask ourselves, are we living the Gospel? Are we holding anything against our brother? Are we serving God's Kingdom or our own? The only crime many of these refugees have committed is being born in a country that is not our own. A crime that they did not choose to commit. In the case of Mexico alone, we see people being murdered in a drug war, raped and pillaged. Then we demean and degrade them by keeping them at bay. We use terms like illegal to make them seem unwanted, undesired, criminal. We put up a mental wall that makes us feel safer, and then cheer when someone wants to put up a physical one to keep out those undesirables. What will we do on judgment day when Christ says to us, “What you did to the least of these, you did to me”? None of us got to choose where we were born. It's time to stop punishing people for that.

What will we do on judgment day when Christ says to us, “What you did to the least of these, you did to me”?
The first reading from Ezekiel is wake up call. It remind us that for those who choose to do good, to live the fullness of what God created them to be, heaven awaits. For those who reject it, those who decide to do evil and ignore the potential for freedom of excellence that God has offered them, awaits the fires of Gahanna. 

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."  (CCC 1036)

Today we are faced with a choice. Jesus is asking us for water, he is asking us for food, he is a stranger asking for shelter. How will we respond to him? We have a right, even a duty to keep those we are responsible for safe. We also have a duty to reach out to fellow man and lift him up to that fullness that he too is created for. That fullness which was revealed completely and perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ. That's what Christianity is all about. That's what Lent is about. Forgiveness. Prayer. Fasting. Alms-giving. We are deeply entrenched in the desert of our own ego. God is offering us a chance to move outside of our own small mindedness and reach out to the rest of the world and say, “Christ is the way the truth and the life.” More poignantly than ever echoes the words of that beautiful hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”