Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Are you dancing with joy?

Every evening as part of the Divine Office devout women and men around the world pray for the Church as a whole.   They offer up their time to God for each and every one of us.   Part of that Evening Prayer involves reciting the Prayer that Mary exclaimed, inspired by the Holy Spirit, when John danced before His savior and Lord in the womb.  That Prayer, which is recorded in The Gospel of Luke (Chapter 1:46-55) calls us to remember the beauty of what was occurring at this Visitation between young woman and old.   Here we have the promise of Zephaniah, the one from the first reading from this Feast Day, being fulfilled.   God has himself come to dwell with the Children of Israel.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

This reminds us of a simple truth.  God's promises are always fulfilled, but it's up to us to keep striving for His will to be done in our lives.   Mary was a very young woman, by today's standards still a child.  Here this tween has found out that she is going to have the baby of God himself.   If that isn't stressful enough, she is an unwed mother who is promised to be married to a man named Joseph.  She could be stoned, shunned, alienated from her entire family and world.   Who knows how the people will react?  Even Joseph himself, who we are told is a good man, decides to discreetly divorce her so that others will not find out about it.  It's enough to send anyone spiraling into depression isn't it?  What happens though?  Mary goes to help Elizabeth.  With everything going on in her own life, she instead goes to help and rejoice over the good news of Elizabeth's pregnancy as well.

To both of their amazement the very moment she arrives John begins to dance in the womb.  Elizabeth declares "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  Elizabeth realizes more is going on here than what simply meets the eye.  Like David before him, John the Baptist is dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.  Here in Mary's womb is not just a normal human child.. but the very source of life itself, the Word of God.   The Ark contained the Rod of Aaron, the symbol of the Priesthood.   In the womb of Mary hides the very High Priest himself.   The Ark contained manna from the desert, in Mary resides the living bread from Heaven, of which a man must eat or he has no life in him.  The Ark Contained the tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments.  Mary's womb reveals the tablets of flesh on which are written the very Law of God, to be lived out in perfection for all of us.

Mary's response to all of this, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was to speak out spontaneously a prayer that will change all nations.  The Magnificat.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Another translation says "My soul magnifies the lord."   A magnifying glass.  In computer talk we speak of GIGO.   Garbage in, Garbage out.   Jesus himself said that what comes out of our mouths comes from what resides in our heart.  (Mathew 15:18).  That's a powerful reminder that what we put in, what we listen to, what resides in us... that's what makes us who we are, and that's what comes out of us.   Are we proud of who we are?  Are we proud of our choices?  We can't take back the mistakes of the past, but we can change the future.  It is not written yet, we have not lived it.   We instead live in the now.  Are you becoming who you want to be?   Change it.   Make haste to the country where you can serve God the way he has called you, leave behind your own worries and needs and think of the other.  Mary set the bar high, she set the ultimate example of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord.   Her soul can magnify the Lord because she is filled with Him in a unique way, so fully so that she became pregnant with God himself.  My friend shared this reflection this morning:

"When I reflect upon Mary I think upon her friendship with God like this- she is (that is she exists) and she is beloved and loving through her relationship with the Father, she is fruitful and loving through her relationship with the Holy Spirit, she encounters God and expresses love in this world through the Son. No human is more beloved by the Father than Mary, none are more fruitful by the Holy Spirit than is Mary and none are more intimately involved in the entirety of the human life of the Son than Mary. The Blessed Trinity is the cause, the entire life of our Lady is the effect. She stands before us as an exemplar,the model of perfection. Through her relationship she experienced the greatest of all possible human joys, to be the mother of the Son of God, and the greatest of all possible human sorrows, to be the mother of the crucified Christ, and the greatest of all possible gifts, she received her Son back from the dead. She was at the center of human history, she lived a life of deepest obscurity in a little Galilean town. She was patient, before the Annunciation, she was active, in the Visitation, she was a woman of prayer, she was a mother to the Beloved Disciple" (author: Steven Hepburn)

Too many people think of Mary as just another woman.  As if God would choose just a random female out of all those available to have his own son.  We humans would never even do that!  Why would we think the Holy God, who created the Universe, would simply do that?  He wouldn't, and he did not.  He chose a woman who exemplified what it means to be pure, to be holy, to be obedient to God.  She has shown us the example of what it means to give our full yes, our full assent to God's plan.. and then to make haste to do His will.

Then if we want to be true disciples of Christ, true followers, who always and in every way give ourselves over fully to God's will; then we can start by examining those words today that Mary spoke.  It is up to us to make haste and go out to those in need of our help, regardless of our own worries and sorrows.  To jump for joy before the Lord, and seek understanding of what is going on in our lives.   To lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.  To magnify the Lord in our lives.. and the only way we can do that is to have Him in them.  Not just at Church, but to take that sacramental presence that we receive at Mass in the Eucharist and take Him with us everywhere and to every person!  God promises joy and mercy.  Are our lives examples of that?   I know mine does not always show it.  I have work to do, a lot of it.. but I know where to begin... by encountering Christ in the Sacraments.   Who is with me?  Are you ready to dance for joy before the presence of Christ?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What does a second grader know about love?

When I was in elementary school I had a crush on the prettiest girl in class.   One day she told me and another boy that she would be the girlfriend of the one who brought her the nicest gift.  The other guy got her a record or something.  Me?  I went home and took a necklace from my mom's jewelry box.  It was a gorgeous golden thing with lots of sparkles.  I knew for sure that I'd win the competition and get the girl! I gave her the necklace and of course she chose it over the record or whatever it was, and there I was.. with a girlfriend.  I didn't know what to do with her.   Now things were awkward and I had to try and figure out what to do with a girl.  My second grade brain hadn't quite caught up to the concept of dating.

Later that evening my mother was in a panic.  One of her favorite pieces of jewelry, worth several hundred dollars had disappeared.  I had never seen her so sad, so anxious.  I felt horrible.   I had taken something that wasn't mine to get something else I wanted.  I went back to school the next day to explain to the girl that it wasn't a cheap necklace and that my mom wanted it back.  The girl got angry with me, gave me the necklace back, and went with the other boys present.  I returned the necklace. My mother told me if I had just asked, she would have given me something to give the girl.  It took me years to learn the fullness of that lesson: gifts only mean something when they cost us something, a true gift is sacrifice, and secondly... relationships should not be based on how much the other gives me, but on how much we give each other. No one should have to buy friendship, it should be free.

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi.  That is the day we Catholics celebrate the thing that makes us uniquely different from all other Christians in the world.  The Eucharist.  We believe that at the words of consecration the body and blood are transformed (transubstantiation) into the body and blood of Jesus Christ himself. We believe in the real presence of God himself in the sacrament.   We don't think it is just a symbol, but rather a reality that Christ himself promised at the last supper.

the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

We believe that when we attend Mass we are transported outside of space and time, that Heaven for a moment kisses earth and that Christ is made present to us.  It is not a new sacrifice, not a re-sacrifice of Christ, but the very sacrifice of Calvary made present to us through the mystery of the Holy Spirit.  We receive then the body and blood of our God himself in the form of the Consecrated Host.  That Host then begins to transform us, if we allow it, into the body of Christ.  We are made one, as He and the Father are One.   We are being formed into the image that we were created to be, the person we were made to be, not the one we have become because of our fallen nature.

That's what it means to live a sacramental life.  It is not enough to only receive, but we must give.   Not enough to simply take this wonderful gift that Christ has given us through the Church, but rather we must become it!  We must become Eucharist for the world, our bodies broken and our blood poured out to the other.  No longer can we simply want our own desires drive our efforts but instead we must get our ego out of the way and allow Christ to shine through us.  "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  It only means something when sacrifice is involved.   Just like when I was a child I wanted to take my mother's necklace and receive the reward for myself, today I must instead give of my own gifts, of my own treasures, sacrificially.. only then does it mean something, only then am I walking in the footsteps of Christ himself.

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells them "Give them some food yourselves."  How often He still says that to us today.   Just like the disciples, instead of realizing who it is that is speaking, we begin to wonder if we have enough.  Despite all the times we have seen Him provide, despite the times we know He has multiplied what little we have to offer into a spiritual bouquet that above and beyond anything we ourselves could ever imagine.. we begin to count what little we have.  "I could give, but then how would I pay for this or that?"  "We should take care of us first."  "Why should we support those who don't work?  They should earn it too!"  "Refugees?  Take care of X person first, or Y person first."

Notice what Jesus does next?  He takes their offering, He blesses it, divides it, and gives it back to them.. and they give it to the world.   That's what the Eucharist is all about.   He takes the bread we offer Him, He transforms it into His very Body and Blood.. then He gives it back to us... to give to the world.  Our calling is to bring that Eucharist out into the world and to become it!   To be Him, His hands, His feet.  To be the Body of Christ in the world, broken for it.. poured out for it.. blood sweat and tears..  until the entire world has been transformed, until every person has encountered Christ and the offer of forgiveness of sins.  As we journey into Memorial Day we should be reminded of all of those who did just that.  All of those who poured themselves out on the battlefields, the ditches, the deserts and oceans.   They died that we could have this opportunity to be free, but we cannot forget.

As my wife and my kids and I sat around the campfire tonight, I began to pray evening prayer.  It struck me just how lucky we have it in this country.   I could hear the neighbors talking about their lives.  The kids were playing on their cell phones.   The other neighbors were cooking and discussing juice cleanses and such.  The sun was setting slowly through the trees and the clear blue sky simply watched as we were oblivious to the blessings that God has bestowed on us.  How many people were somewhere in this world starving to death as I ate my potatoes and onions?  How many were stuck in refugees camps at some border not allowed to pass into the safety of some other country?  How many would give anything to have the cold water bottle that was laying a few feet from me in the grass unfinished?  We have more than enough, way more than enough.  Why do we hesitate when God calls us to "give them something to eat?"   There will always be enough.. and if each of us simply gives a pebble... we can start an avalanche.  It's only when we start to make a difference that the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the broken and the less fortunate will begin to be healed and taken care of.

As a popular meme goes:

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Friday, May 27, 2016

In season or out of season?

This morning at Mass the Gospel reminds us that even Jesus sometimes is in a bad mood.  As he walked in the morning hours, hungry and irritable, he came upon that poor fig tree.   It hadn't produced any figs.  Granted it wasn't the 'season' for figs, but that didn't stop Jesus from cursing the tree. This tree was acting like every other tree in the world.. just doing what all the other ones were doing.  Deacon Bill calls this story a parable in action.   Just like the stories that Jesus often tells to teach us spiritual messages, this action of his and it's results is in and of itself a lesson to be learned. All too often we want to wait till the time is ready by our standards, we want to be in control.   "I'll have kids when we can afford it."  "You know I'll get cleaned up when things get easier."  "I'll stop smoking after this audit is complete."  "I just need a few more drinks to get me through this month."  Jesus shows us a simple truth, God expects us to be ready "in season and out of season."   He wants us always producing fruit, regardless of what is going on around us... regardless of if we feel like it.  He wants us to be different.. not following the flow of things of the world, but of the things of Heaven.

There is a tree in my front yard that reminds me of this parable.   A few years ago a friend of mine lost her son to a drug overdose.  I noticed that afternoon that the tree was only getting leaves on half of it's branches.  Today it stands much the same with half of it looking pathetic, and half of it healthy and green.  The bark on the side that does not bloom is riddled with holes and falling off, and on the other side strong and firm.  It was as if that tree lost part of itself.  I wrote a poem about that, how that losing someone can be like that... like losing half of your self.. losing your way.  That tree is still plugging away trying, even if it doesn't feel like it.. even if seems like the world is against it, some disease eating away at it trying to sap it's strength.. it still struggles to find breath, digging in it's roots until it finds the nourishment it has to keep going.

CCC 1832 The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity."

You and I are called to be like that.   Regardless of the pain and suffering we might endure.   Even if the entire world turns against us, father against son, mother against daughter, friend against friend; we are called to continue to produce fruit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We are to bloom where we are planted and to produce those fruits.   Peter reminds us in the first reading that the greatest of all these fruits is love, because love produces all of the others.  He challenges us to let our love for another be intense.   Another translation says let your love be fervent.  That is hot, burning and glowing!  Visible.  Apparent.  On the surface not just under it.

My wife and I have been married for ten years today.  For all of those years she has stood by my side, even when pain and illness made it impossible for me to stand as well.  She watched and cared for me as I had my back surgery and through the long, tedious recovery.  When I had my knee operated on, through many kidney stones, and days in which the pain was so horrible that I did not even move from the couch.  All through this she showed a fervent love, a love that bloomed and produced fruit regardless of how I treated her back.  There have been times when it wasn't smooth sailing.  Every couple argues at some point, every couple disagrees.  The thing is I don't remember those times as much.   When I think back I remember that kindness, the laughter, the smiles, the patience, and the trust.

1642 Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony." Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:
How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.

I think that's why Jesus reminds us today that sometimes we've got to turn over the tables that get in the way.  Every relationship has rocky moments.  For some, that means walking away.  I've heard hundreds of people say "we just fell out of love."  That does happen.   It happens when you let the tables get in the way, when you let the money changes fill up your temple, when you let the roots starve your growth until you produce none of the fruit.  Love isn't just a sappy feeling that makes you have butterflies in the stomach.  It's a choice. An action.  It's deciding each and every day to stand by someone, even when they aren't pleasant.  It is being willing to fight for the beauty that is the person you are and the vocation you are called to.  You are the temple of God.  You and your spouse are one, joined together by a Sacrament that transcends this visible world.  Are you willing to fight for it?  To dig in your roots and continue to bloom even when it seems like the bark is falling off and the ground is filled with rocks?  Are you ready to look into your heart and life and ask where are these money changes and tables that stand in the way of my relationship with God and my spouse?  That's what it takes to produce fruit.  I haven't always been the perfect husband, and there are many days that I am not a pleasant man to be around... but I do know this.. I want to turn over those tables, to drive out those things which inhibit me from producing fruit, and to grow day by day into the man and husband that God is calling me to be.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I'll Meet You There

In the early nineties I did a science fair project that got a bit of recognition at the local and state level.   It wasn’t that great a project when I think back on it.  I wrote some software for a computer that generated images based on Fractal Geometry and Iterated Functions.  Basically creating pictures from math.   At one point I got several awards and qualified to be sent to not only the State Science Fair but the International one in Biloxi, Mississippi as well.  I was ecstatic and so were my friends and family.   My mom and dad gave me enough cash to take everyone out to eat pizza.  Since my little Dodge Daytona was full already my brother was going to be dropped off at Pizza Hut with us and we would all celebrate together.

We drove the thirty minute ride back to Clintwood from Wise, Virginia listening to music, chatting and laughing.  As we pulled into the Pizza Hut parking lot we noticed that not only was the parking lot full but there seemed to be a line out the door.  My friend Michael suggested we go to another pizza place down by the post office.  I had never been there and they assured me the pizza was better.  Twenty plus years later and I cannot even remember the name of the place.   What I do remember is that we were having a great time until my mom came marching through the door with that look on her face.  You know the one where you are in so much trouble that you know not only your middle name is going to come out, but your last one too?  My brother had been sitting at Pizza Hut for over an hour waiting for us to show up.  I had completely forgotten him.
In my exuberance of being able to take my friends out to eat and my pride at celebrating my winning project I had forgotten him.   I had made it all about me.  Myself.  I.   I still to this day think about that day.  How my brother had to sit waiting for us.  How I didn’t even think about him.   How that I was so self absorbed that all that mattered was impressing my friends and filling my own stomach.  It was all about “what is in it for me.”   

That’s the image I get from the Gospel for the Mass today.  James and John seemed to be asking Jesus that very question.  “Hey Jesus, what is in it for us?”  They aren’t worried about the other disciples at the moment, not worried about the people who are following along afraid.  Instead they want a reward in the kingdom to come.   Jesus shares with them what their reward is going to be:  You are going to die.   James and John had just heard Jesus declare that He was going into Jerusalem to die.  They declare they can drink the same cup He is going to drink.  That’s a hard cup to think about, but they declare like we often do “We can!”  It’s easy to say, but harder to do.   Yet, they did.  All of the Apostles but one were martyred for their faith.  They drank that cup.

In Peter’s epistle he reminds us that we are challenged to love one another intensely with a pure heart.  I didn’t love my brother back then the way I should have.   I was too worried about myself, about my own needs.  Jesus declares that we must drink of his cup.  That means to die.  Now here in America at the moment we don’t often have to worry about dying as a martyr for our faith.   The challenge though is a spiritual one.  Are you willing to die to yourself?   To your own needs?  To look outside of yourself to serve the other?  That’s our call as Christians.  To be servants, humble and meek of heart.   To serve the widow, the orphan, the poor, the refugee.  To worry less about our own reward and more about our brother sitting alone waiting for a meal and companionship.  We have no idea who will be here tomorrow, so we must live in the present.  So are you ready?  Oh how easy it is to say “We are!  We can!”  But Jesus is saying to each and everyone of us: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  Are you ready to put yourself aside and let Christ live through you for those less fortunate?  With man this can be impossible, but with God all things are possible.  

We are called though to realize that Christ is in every person we meet, every person we see. "Whatever we do for the least of these, you do for me." How many times have you walked by your brother as he sat desiring communion, desiring a meal, desiring just a moment of your time? This time when I say I will meet you there, I’m not going to forget.  One day I hope that my brothers and I can sit across from each other at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and share in that communion that is self giving, self sacrificing, and all encompassing.   

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pull em up!

There is a saying that my friend uses.  He says "get ready, be ready, stay ready."   The first reading from 1st Peter reminds me of that saying.  Peter reminds us to gird up the loins of our mind.   That doesn't seem to say a lot to us in today's society.   Our clothes are normally already split up the middle.  Jeans, pants, shorts.. we can easily go from walking to running without really worrying about any preparation, as long as we pull them up ;)   Ages ago people wore robes though.   To gird your loins meant to tie them up, to form them into a kind of pant so that you could run freely.  If you didn't, you would likely trip and fall.

It has another echo though that we as Christians should be aware of, one that our Jewish brothers and sisters would see almost immediately.  That of the Passover.   Be ready.   Have your shoes on.  Eat with your staff in your hand.  Have your loins gird and ready to go.  The Passover is coming and you need to be ready to leave.   What good would it be for you if God came and freed you if you couldn't outrun the army of Pharaoh?    So gird your loins.  Get ready, be ready, stay ready.

Peter talks about girding the loin of our minds though.   "Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy."  Peter is challenging us to be alert because the devil is prowling about like a lion to devour us.   He wants us to fail, to sin.   Not only that, he wants us to wallow in our sin.. to think we are too bad, too horrible for God to forgive.  We must be ready at every moment.  Aware of what we are seeing, listening to, thinking.  Not out of some fear of doing something wrong.  No, out of love for Christ.

Jesus goes on to talk about the reward in Heaven, the reward for being Holy.   Just like the Apostles we are challenged to examine everything in our life and get rid of anything that prevents us from living our calling.  Even if it means giving up family, friends, wealth, power, success, pleasure, and honor.  All of those things will be restored 100 fold in Heaven.  Why?  Because of Christ.   Christ is the fullest revelation of God.   Everything we want to know about Him we can learn from the incarnation.  First and foremost, we see that Christ emptied himself of his power, of his glory, of everything that made Him God, to become a man.  To experience us fully, to draw so close to us that we ourselves can then draw closer to Him.   In Heaven, Christ will be our light, our glory, our honor.  It will be more amazing, more pleasurable, more real than anything we have ever experienced.

We don't have to wait till then though.   We can experience Christ fully right now, Heaven fully right now in the Sacraments.  The book of revelation gives us a view of Heaven, and we see that view lived out in the Mass.   At Mass, Heaven kisses earth!  It requires though that we gird up our minds!  Get ready, be ready, stay ready.   That's what we need to do before Mass.   We need to be ready for what is coming.  That means we need to be aware of what is coming.   It means we need to be in a state of grace.   It means we need to fast before receiving Him.  It means we need to go into mass with reverence and devotion, with the proper dispensation for receiving the grace of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.   In the Eucharist we can experience exactly what Jesus was speaking about... the fullness of God coming to reside in our minds, our hearts, our souls.  Do you believe that?   Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Monday, May 23, 2016

That's Not How I Want It!

In Today's Gospel we see one of the most beautiful phrases in Sacred Scripture, at least in my humble opinion: Jesus, looking at him, loved him.  Oh how that should resound in our hearts and our souls as we think of Jesus doing the same for us.  Here is this young man who has done everything he has been taught but he still feels something more is necessary.   Why do we call him a young man? As Archbishop Barron said, "Because he came running up."  We know little else about him except his desire to get to Heaven and that he knew he must come to Jesus for the answer.  That's really a lesson in and of itself isn't it?  When we have to make a decision, when we have a crisis in life, when we want to know an answer... how often do we go around asking everyone else their opinion before speaking to our friend, our brother, our Savior first?

The young man calls Jesus good.  Jesus responds with that inquiry, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone."   So many have interpreted Jesus words here to say that he was just a man, that's part of the problem of interpreting scripture outside of the faith in which it was written.  We can't interpret this verse without looking at not only all the rest of scripture but what the authors believed.   Jesus was not telling the man not to call me good but saying "Do you know who I am?  Do you know why you sought me out?  I am the Son of God.  That is why I am good."   He knowing the young mans heart goes on to say you already know the commandments, follow them.  The man knows that's not enough, how do we know this?  Because he pushes the point.   "I've done all this.  I need more."  That's when He turns and looks on him and loves him.  Oh how wonderful a moment that must have been.  What more can the young man offer? What more can Christ ask of him?

In the book a Rabbi Talks with Jesus, Jacob Nuesner posits that to all of this Christ adds only one thing.  For Neusner it's something unfathomable.  Something that if he had heard himself he would walk away.  For those of us with faith though, those of us who are Christian, it makes perfect sense.   Jesus does not add or take away from the law, but he fulfills it.  To the young mans list he simply adds one thing: Himself.   "Get rid of all the things holding you back, and come and follow me."  The young man was rich and this was his folly.   This was what he was clinging too.  This wealth was exactly what stood in his way of "letting go, and letting God."  It seems like a simple thing doesn't it?   This young man was faithful and he believed.   He knew where to find the answers and now exactly what was left for him to go on to live in Heaven with God the father for eternity.   Yet, he walked away sad.   I imagine when he ran up he thought that maybe Jesus would exhort him, "Well done good and faithful servant!"   Or maybe he thought that it would be something simple like go to this place and do this thing.  

It reminds me of Naaman the Leper who came to Elisha for healing.   He expected some quest, some Holy Grail to have to find, in order to receive this miraculous cure.   When Elisha told him something so simple to do.. he rejected it and stormed off.   How dare this holy man tell him simply to dip in the water?  It wasn't until a servant convinced him to give it a try that he received God's blessings.   If the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”  So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  

Like Naaman and the rich young man, sometimes we want our relationship with God to be more complicated than it is.   We go to Confession where Jesus himself meets us Sacramentally and then we wonder afterwards if we did enough, if the priest gave us enough penance, did I remember everything?  Or we come to the Eucharist and we worry whether or not we are doing everything right.. do I need to do this first?  Or this after?  Kneel? In the hand? On the tongue?   We spend so much time worrying about all the extras, trying to make it into our own Holy Quest that we forget the simple nature of what God has offered us.. He has added just one thing: Jesus.   I'm not talking about ignoring reverence.   I am talking about making the moment about Christ and not ourselves.  Both men walked away from an encounter with God because it wasn't what they wanted in that encounter.   It wasn't how they wanted it to be.

How many have done just that today?  "I don't like the priest."  "I don't think I need confession."   "Why should I go to Mass every Sunday?"  Jesus says, "Come and follow me."  He gave us a Church with authority.   That Church has shown us the revealed way to do things.  What is standing in our way?  For some of us it's not wealth, not all of us have the same condition this rich young man had.. nor do we know if this man ever turned and followed Christ... what we do know is that he had an attachment to something other than God.  Where is mine?   That is the question we must ask today.   "If Jesus asked me to give up X and come and follow him, would I go away sad?"  What is your attachment?  Don't miss an encounter with God because it isn't how you thought it should go... rather, let Him lead you to the truth.  Jesus is looking at you and loving you, how will you respond?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Fountain of Hope

Today is the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.   A feast day in which we celebrate the mystery of who God is.  God is one being.  That is something all of the different, major religions descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Christians though believe that though He is one being, one God, He is three co-eternal persons.  That is what we Catholics mean when we say it is a mystery.  It doesn't make sense to us as a 'person' to consider being also part of another being.  Yet, we are much the same aren't we?  My wife, my daughters, and I are all a family.  We are one unit, made up of separate people.   The trinity is more intimate than that.. but the Church has long held that the family, the domestic church, is the visible sign of the trinity and a witness to the faith we profess.

Jesus reminds us that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the truth and will proclaim to us all things that were belong to Him.  That's a beautiful promise that many of us have rejected or forgotten here two thousand years later.  When we look around we find not just one Christian family, but over forty thousand Christian denominations.  All of them claiming to be led by the Spirit, all of them claiming to know the truth, but all of them holding different beliefs.   Just the other day a friend was telling me that at a church they had attended the Pastor had said that all of the miracles in the bible were not real, they legends.   Then another Pastor at another church declared that Jesus did not actually die, but rather was in a state of deep sleep, a coma perhaps?  We see the results of this fracture, this drifting from the truth handed on by the Apostles and protected by the Church Father's, throughout all of our societies today.   From the people who protest military funerals and declare that God hates people who have same sex attraction, to those who say that everyone is saved and you can live whatever hedonistic lifestyle you want to live.

The Church has long taught that the fruit of the Spirit is a necessary sign of His presence in our Church.  In the Morning Prayer of the Divine Office this morning one of the intercessions proclaims: "Come, Holy Spirit, that we may show your fruit in our lives: charity, joy, peace, equanimity, kindness, generosity, long-suffering, patience, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity."   Isn't that a poignant reminder of what it means to be the body of Christ?   It means to be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.  That's what we are to learn about the trinity.  That they aren't struggling for glory and honor, but sharing in it.   They aren't breaking ranks to form their own godhead, but rather are one God.

When I grew up as a Protestant, I began to realize that something was amiss.  As I shopped churches looking for the one that had the truth, I watched as people left one church to form another over some of the most interesting things.   At one point I watched as a church split because one preacher said it was OK to smoke and the other felt it was a sin.. so the congregation split too forming another church just down the road.  Everything else was the same... but that one thing.   Then I sat and listened to that man preach about the ills of tobacco smoke while he spit in a cup from his 'chaw.'   I journeyed from the Baptist faith that I had grown up around into the Pentecostal arena and listened to people shout out in tongues and fall out in the spirit.   I was even known to speak tongues and raise my hands while shouting Amen to the preachers message.   Then one day I sat down because I didn't feel God in it.   Someone turned around demanding to know what was wrong.. and I said nothing, and he declared I was no longer saved because I didn't speak tongues anymore.

"Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit, and a varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone."    God decides where He goes and whom He saves.  I truly believe that.   I do not know who will be in Heaven with me, but I imagine that there are going to be some Catholics who are truly surprised when they come face to face with some Protestants who also will be in wonder.  Then there will be others whom we expected to be there and we will look down in sadness at their condition.  What I do know without a shadow of a doubt is that Jesus left us a Church to guide us.   That Church wrote the New Testament scriptures themselves.   Yes, God can go outside of the ordinary means of salvation to save anyone he chooses, but if you're standing in a desert with a water fountain next to you, do you take a drink?  Or stumble through the hot sands hoping to find a drop somewhere else?   The Church is that fountain... God has given Peter the keys to the vault of grace and mercy, and it's available to every person who seeks it in earnest.

It's time for us to stop trying to write our own Gospel and be united.  One faith, one baptism, one Church.  Jesus asked his Apostles to do just that, he prayed that they might become one, as He and the Father were one.   What is the bond that connects the Father and the Son?  It's the Holy Spirit. It's love.   Jesus then breathed on his Apostle's and sent them on a mission to evangelize the world.   In the words of Saint Athanasius written in the 6th century (which may seem harsh to some):

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.

It's time to come home.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Irony of it All.

A man named Pilate posed the question "What is truth?" nearly 2000 years ago.    The irony of asking that question while standing before Truth itself is still echoing in our society today.  Mankind tends to think of himself as the source of truth instead of seeing it as a static and concrete reality that exists outside of ourselves.  Isn't it just like us to think of ourselves as the center of the universe?  I think we often use that concept to allow our egos to justify our own actions.   The youth of today have this saying, "I'll do me, and you do you."   That is, if your truth does on impinge upon my truth, we can get along.   Truth is more than that though.   Truth cannot just be generated by current societal norms and practices.  If it did, then if whatever we believe to be true is "true".   That means that Stalin was right in what he did, so was Hitler.  That makes rape OK, as long as you think it's OK.    No, all of us understand on some level that truth has to exist outside of ourselves, that some things are evil no matter who thinks they are OK.

In the first reading today we see St. James continuing his exhortation on morality.  He gives us this statement: But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,” that you may not incur condemnation.  Some see this as a simple statement that means don't make promises you can't keep, and that's there in a small way, after all James was just writing previously about not making plans for tomorrow without realizing that it's only if God wills it that you do so.   It's more than that though.   It's not a lowering of our promises, as with most of the Gospel it isn't setting the bar even lower than the Law of Moses did, it's raising it.  It all revolves around that ironic image of Jesus as the incarnation of Truth.

By virtue of our Baptism we are infused with the Holy Spirit who guides us to all truth.  We are made in the image of the living God, even more so after He condescended to become man.  That makes Jesus the image which we strive to emulate.  When James says make your Yes, yes, and your no, no.. it means that every single word we speak must be taken as seriously as any oath.   We as Christians are expected to speak Truth, to live Truth, making every action, every idle word count.  No, this is not a leeway to never worry about keeping your word, or to never take anything you say seriously.. but rather a challenge to take every single yes or no we say as seriously as if God were saying them.   When we break our word, when we lie, we sully that image... We are the temple of God, His Spirit has come to rest in us.   Lying, speaking a non-Truth, is profaning that Temple.

This is not a new problem. While our society is on a rampage at the moment trying to redefine truth as fluid, ignoring reality itself to define everything from marriage to DNA as circumspect, even in the time of Moses they could not live out the reality of what God had planned for us.   Jesus reminds the men asking him questions that it was not because God wanted it that way, but because of the hardness of our own hearts that concessions were made in the Dueteronomistic laws. It's funny though, these men sat in front of Jesus asking questions, and yet they did not want answers.  Here they were questioning God himself but rather than seeking Truth, they were seeking to trap him.  Herod had already put John to death for daring to question his marriage.  Jesus answer was just as harsh for Herod as Johns had been, in that both Herod and his wife had rejected their spouses, divorced them, that they might enter into an incestuous relationship together.

With all of that in mind, what Jesus had to say about marriage is one of the most important things for us to remember in society today.  The family is the building block of any society.   Without it, society cannot continue.   People have to come together and raise children or society itself will of course die out.   Even more so, marriage is an image of the trinity itself.   The Father (parent), the Son (child), and the Holy Spirit (the love between them.)  For those of us called to live out the vocation of marriage, we are called to do so in emulation of God.   We of course will always do so imperfectly.   Man alone is incapable of living out the pure love of God, to be infinitely compassionate and merciful.  That's why we need the Holy Spirit in our lives.   Jesus quoted Genesis when he said that a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one.  Two shall become one.  Mathematically that's impossible right?  1+1=2. 1-1=0.   The only way for two to become one is by adding a third.  3-2=1.   Only when we add God to our relationship and make Him first can we ever hope to live out the Sacramental marriage.

One of my favorite sayings is "A person's heart should be so lost in God that anyone seeking a relationship with them must first find one with Him."   Another saying I heard recently is "If Catholics lived out a sacramental marriage, the world would change."   I think our challenge today is similar to that.  "If Catholics lived out the truth, making their yes, yes and their no, no in all things, the world will change."  Are you ready for that challenge?  Just like 2000 years ago as Pilot and the Pharisees stood before Truth itself, we today encounter the same Divine Person in the Sacraments.   When you prepare yourself to stand before Jesus in the Eucharist ask yourself, "Is there anything in my life that I am still holding on to because of the hardness of my own heart? Lord, help me let that go and cling only to you." 

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Salted with Fire.

Salted with fire.  Jesus uses some interesting words in the Gospel for tomorrow. The image of salt puts us in mind of food.  It reminds us that salt is necessary for life.  It's also a natural anti-bacterial, a preservative.  It brings out the flavors of the food while at the same time killing germs that might make it spoil.  Fire also is something we use to cook, but much more.   It does indeed purify, but it can also kill.   It warms but can also burn.  It's dangerous but intrinsic to the survival of man.  Without fire we would still be living only in the tropical reasons eating only fruits from the trees.  Fire improves life but anything it touches changes.

Both of these images remind us of something that changes us, cleanses us.   Both can hurt but both are beneficial as well.  Anyone who has ever gotten salt in a wound knows that it stings!  Yet, it also helps to kill the germs.  Spiritually both of these images indicate a cleansing, albeit maybe a painful one.   A cleansing that every single person will go through, not just the good and not just the bad, but every one of us.  The thing is, we have heard this image before throughout the history of Christian theology.  "God's love is an all consuming fire."   "We are the salt of the earth."  The image of the burning bush comes to mind.  It did not consume the bush, but it transformed it.   The ground on which it stood was then holy ground.   So in God's case the fire  doesn't consume everything... but it does change everything it touches.

St. Paul tells us the parable of man whose house was burnt to the ground, and he declares he was saved as by fire.  The only thing that made it through were the gold, precious gems, and precious stones.   All of the wood, hay, and stubble was destroyed in the process.  I think that's the image that Mark wants us to envision in today's reading.   Those things which are from heaven, those things born of charity (love), are what will remain after the house burns down.   Those things which are not of heaven; selfishness, ego, hatred, anger, addiction, disordered attachments; these things would be consumed by the fire.

I have heard God's love described as an all consuming fire that is fueled by sin.  Just like a log that you throw on the fire, the more sin, the more the flames burn.   In light of our belief as Catholics that explains Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory like this:   Those who refuse to let go of their sin cling to it in the life after this.  They have no desire to let go of it and the more they are washed by the love of God, the more it burns, the more it hurts.  So they run for eternity trying to get away from the love of God, hating him more and more... instead of just letting the sin go.  Those who die with some attachment to sin but are on their way to heaven must be pure before entering.  So they bear the burning... while trying to let go of the sin.  Until the sin is burnt out, until there is no more fuel... they simply must endure it as they grow closer and closer to God's love.  The greatest ache they experience is knowing they are on the way to see God.. but their own sins, the things they did not let go of in this world, that is what is keeping them from going directly to him.   That is purgatory.  Not a new place, not another chance.. but a process by which you are cleansed by God's burning love.  Then those who are pure, those who have no attachment to sin, have no need for purification.. those we call Saints.. because they are right there in Heaven with God.

James in the first reading gives us a laundry list of sins.   He condemns those with wealth who do not help those in need.  Those who cheat the poor.  He declares all the ills that we today know as Social Justice.  This is the fuel.   These are the things which make God's love flare and burn.   It's only when we allow him to purify us, to cleanse us.  To let the Holy Spirit transform our hearts and our minds until we no longer hold on to those sins.. and the sorrow, the remorse, the bitter conscience... is replaced with love, joy, faith, and hope.  That's what the Sacraments are all about.   Letting God's love wash over us.   It may not always be pleasant, but it's cleansing.   It may not be something we want to go through, but it's necessary.

Jesus uses some hyperbole to talk about the need to cut off those things which cause you to sin.  The Church Fathers have long seen these parts of the body as symbols for intimate friends.   Jesus is calling us to examine our friendships... that it's better for us to walk into Heaven without that person at our side.. than for us to follow them down a path that leads to both of our destruction.   He declares that it is better to have a millstone tied around our necks than cause a child of God to sin... that goes for us.. and for them.  I think that's the challenge today.   To ask ourselves, in what ways am I being held back?  What fuels am I holding on to?   What do I need to let go that God's love might flood over me and purify me?  Are there any poisonous, caustic relationships that I am in that I need to take a break from? Remember salt enhances flavor, it brings out the nuances of what is already there.   It's time for us to remove those things which are unpleasant to the taste, and replace them with that which will last forever.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A vapor in the wind

Several years ago I sat in a bible study with a woman who I had never met.  There was some small talk but for the most part she kept to herself.  She seemed very shy, very timid, but at the same time you could instantly tell that she was searching for something.  For three weeks she attended that bible study and each time I thought to myself I need to spend some time getting to know this person, let them know that we notice her.  Then one day she missed.   I meant to call her and ask how she was, if there was anything I could do.   A week passed and I meant to do it again, but things got in the way.  Another week and I hear her name in a news blurb, she had committed suicide.   As we gathered for the bible study that next week there was that empty chair.  I could picture her face, searching for something, for someone.   Each time I could hear myself thinking, "there is always next week."

James reminds us in the first reading that we should not take today for granted.  He compares the human existence to a puff of smoke, something that fades quickly.  For a few years there I fancied the idea of learning to smoke a pipe.  I wanted to learn to blow those smoke rings you know?   I had a professor in college who smoked this fragrant apple tobacco and he would blow these intricate designs in the air.  So beautiful, but so fragile.   Those rings would float towards the ceiling and then just as rapidly as they had formed they would dissipate and there would be no sign of their existence. So it is with man.  Just as that woman had been there one day, the next she was not.  A vapor in the wind.

That's why we cannot take one day for granted.  We cannot wait for tomorrow to do the things we know are the right things to do.  As James says,  for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.   We have to start today.   Living our lives with no concern at all for the future, putting our faith in Christ to protect and guide us.  A friend of mine gave me a plaque tonight that said "Let not your hearts be troubled..." (John 14:1)  Such a strong reminder that not only should we remember that our plans are completely contingent on God, that we cannot add a single day to our lives by worrying about them, but that we also are challenged to be a people who are known for their love and joy.  Pope Francis put it so eloquently when he said that all too often the Christian face has more in common with a pickled pepper than with a life filled with joy.

Today's Saint, Pope John the 1st, gave us an amazing example of simply following Christ.  He was sent by the emperor to bring back a portion of the Church that had fallen into the Arian heresy. The Arians had fallen into the belief that Jesus was not God, but rather just a very wonderful creation.  John did not want to go but he listened to the directive to go and he went.   On his return the very man who sent him on this mission had him killed because he had begun to believe that John was conspiring against him.  John could not have seen this coming.  Any plans he had for the future were worthless.  As we hear at many funerals "there is a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to live, and a time to die."  We must trust in God to see that plan for us, and to live each day to the fullest of our ability.

Our Psalm response for tomorrow, one of the beatitudes, speaks of it in a way that is eloquent and more powerful than any words I can come up with on my own.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs!"  It is when we get our own ego out of the way and begin to live our lives with God's purpose at the forefront of our minds that we truly begin to step into our inheritance.  Every day at Mass we pray "thy will be done, they kingdom come." That Kingdom isn't just something that we have to wait for the future for, but it's something that we can experience in the here and now.   We do that by following God's lead, by realizing that only He knows what the future holds for us, and trusting that He will protect us and provide for us what is best.   The only time light produces a shadow is when something gets in the way.   I think the readings encourage us to begin to ask, am I putting anything in the way of the light which God has given me by virtue of my baptism?  Am I casting a shadow?  If so, how can I get out of the way and let Christ's light shine through me into the world, that they may look at me and not see me, but see Christ himself shining through me?

I think that is part of Jesus message in the Gospel.   While it could be seen as a call to ecumenism or a call to kindness, and probably is.   It's also a moment in which the disciples seem to be irritated that someone else would dare to do good works in Jesus name without being one of them.  They aren't too concerned that someone has been delivered from a demon, but rather want to put a stop to these impostors.  What about for our spiritual life though?  I think we have to look inside and see if there are places in our lives where we allow our pride to prevent us from seeing the good being done around us.   To really examine our conscience and find anything that is an impostor, anything that draws us away from God.   Then to begin to push those away, to move towards rather those things that are doing good, even if it means giving up something we really enjoy.  That's the only way we can clear out those things that are casting shadows into the world.  All of this begins with a Sacramental Life, putting Christ first.  

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lex Orendi, Lex Credendi?

For tomorrow's daily mass the readings continue to examine the Epistle of Saint James.  He continues to encourage us to work for God's kingdom and to avoid things of the world, things of the ego and of the flesh. He uses some pretty strong words, indeed.   He compares worldly things to adultery!  Why would he do that?   Because this thing we live as Christians is a relationship.  We, the Church, are the Bride of Christ. Greed, pride, and disordered attachments to worldly things are the very cause of our conflicts, arguments, even wars.  When we do these sorts of things we are breaking our relationship with Christ, we are 'cheating' on Him with something worth much less, with something inanimate.  It's a rejection of the one we should love completely and instead replacing it with something that doesn't fit.

You know those kid games?  The ones where you have all these different shapes and you have to fit the correct game piece into the right hole?  Well, each of us is created with a God shaped hole in our heart.  We can force something into it, for a time.. and it might even kind of fit.. but eventually it rubs us and chafes us.. because it's not the right shape, not the right size.  Only when we take a God shaped object and put it in a God shaped hole does our life become complete.. anything less... is adultery.. it's cheating.. it's avoiding the rules of the game and jamming something that shouldn't fit in there to try and fill up that hallow, empty place.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

James reminds us of that saying: lex orendi, lex credendi.   That is: how we worship is how we believe.  If we worship as if God is the most important thing in our lives then that will help us form our belief, and vice versa.  If you worship like God is a thorn in your side, something that chafes and makes life harder?   So will you begin to believe.  I pray the liturgy of the hours every day.  I pray about an hour in the morning, fifteen minutes midday, and an hour a night.  Sometimes it's tedious and my mind wants me to think: I could be doing other things!  My favorite show is on!  The yard needs mowing!  I could be running or riding my bike!  So many excuses flow in that make me want to skip it.   If I continue to do that though, I am choosing the wrong shape to fit in my God shaped hole.   If I act like God is just something to fit in my schedule, well then I'm gonna start feeling that way.. treating him that way... Instead if I realize it's a gift to pray for the Church... a gift to spend time with the creator of the Universe praying the words He has revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.. If I instead treat it like the most precious thing in my life instead of something to just fit in, and I put God at the center of my day and then put everything else in my calendar, well that's when I am living out our relationship to it's fullest.

Jesus reminds us of that with a simple phrase: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”  A child is so trusting, aren't they?  Yesterday I got to see my twin nieces.  It doesn't matter how long it's been they run up to me, hug me and ask me to lift them up.  They play with me and of course want to see my phone.    They trust me.  There is joy in their eyes and hearts, a joy at seeing one that they love.  It reminds me of that poster in our lobby at the Church, the one for Food for the Poor, which reminds us of Matthew 25.   When did I see you thirsty?  Whatever you did for the least of these.   When did I see you hungry?  Whatever you did for the least of these.  When did I see naked?  Whatever you did for the least of these.  We are all made in the image of God... every person out there; especially the downtrodden, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the immigrant, the poor; are not only God's children but to be seen as Christ in the world.  We are challenged to not only receive Christ in the Eucharist, but to go forth and look into the world with his eyes... we should look on those in need of our help with that same joy that my nieces exude when they see someone they love.

When we leave Mass it's not enough to just go home and wait for tomorrow, it's not enough to simply go about our day not thinking about Christ.   We are challenged instead to go forth and live our faith.  That Latin phrase has another part: Lex credendi, lex orendi, lex vivendi.  As we worship, so we believe, so we live.  The way we act in our worship, leads us to believe certain things, and believing certain things leads us to live a certain way.  If we worship in the Mass in a way that shows we believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist, our belief will grow to reflect that.  As our belief grows our lives will change.  We will go forth into the world attempting to feed the poor, give drink to the thirsty, comfort the widow and the orphan, find home and safety for all in peril, house and protect the refugee, and share Christ with every person we meet.   Both readings reflect a simple truth.. all of this requires humility.   It is in being a servant that we emulate Christ the most.  Are you ready to be a servant?  What better heart can Christ fill than the one that reflects His own?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A seed planted

Yesterday evening I had the immense pleasure to attend the graduation ceremony where our oldest received her high school diploma.  While there they had several speakers from the class.  I was very impressed to see one of the kids from our own church get up and give one of those talks.  This young man is one of the smartest, most gifted men of their generation and I was very impressed with what he had to say.  While all of them had wonderful speeches, his showed a deep understanding of the human condition and the ills of the world.  He didn't throw out warm anecdotes and funny stories but rather challenged his fellow class mates to go against the mainstream currents of the world.  He challenged them to kindness.  A simple message, but one spoken from the heart of a man who had experienced it's life changing effects for himself and hoped to spread that same change into a world much in need of it.

In this mornings first reading we see St. James reminding us of the very same message!  He tells us that jealousy and selfish ambition are of the demonic and earthly realm, not of the heavenly one.  If you just take a look around at the world today you find those two qualities in almost all of our entertainment, politics, and even what seems to be the social norm.  I don't think every person out there is possessed by demons, though I do think demons are real.   What I do think is that we lack the other, the key, the answer to those problems.. kindness.   St. James goes on to say "the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace."  Kindness.  Charity.  Love.   That is truly the answer.     Those are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday we celebrated that great feast where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, Mary and around a hundred other disciples in the upper room.   That spirit came to bear fruit in their lives and they marched out into the world to deliver both a message and a fruit.  They marched out to spread kindness, love.  In the Gospel today, as we return to ordinary time, we see Jesus casting out a demon from a young boy that his own disciples could not cast out.   Notice the demon did the things to the young boy that James described: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.  When the demon was active the boy lost control, he threw himself into the fire, foamed at the mouth and could not function.   It paralyzed him.   Just as those sorts of things paralyze our society.  It's only when both sides are loving, kind.. that anything happens.

You see we as Catholics are good about prayer, and that's a good thing.  Jesus even reminds us that only through prayer and fasting can this sort of possession be cast out.  So keep praying, keep fasting.   Some will tell you that it is through faith alone that things happen with God.   Others will tell you only works, keep doing good stuff.   We are Catholic.  It isn't either or.  It's both and.  Keep spreading love through acts of kindness, and keep spreading faith through your prayers, fasting, and a Sacramental life.  Our society is in need of kindness is a way that it has never been before.  Yesterday as this young man gave his speech I expected a standing ovation.  His message was a poignant one and one long over due.   After his speech I stood up and began clapping and watched as some others did the same.  He didn't get the ovation he deserved and I began to realize, that just as his speech began with a statement that many would ignore it or roll their eyes.. so it ended as well.   This young man is going to go on to great things, I just hope his classmates realize what a gift he offered to them in parting.   He's planting seeds all around.   Are you, like this young man, helping to water them?

Last night I was reminded that there is still hope for our younger generation.  Too often we see people only pointing out flaws, ignoring all the good.   This young man reminds me that there is a lot of good in their hearts and that with his efforts, and hopefully those of every person listening to him as he journeys through life, our world can grow to be a better place.  

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Key to Understanding Others

In our world we tend to place people into boxes of our own creation.  We speak of what they believe, what they think, without ever experiencing that life for ourselves.  In tomorrow's first reading we see a new series of events in St. Paul's life that mirror the trial of Jesus himself.  Most notably the fact that King Herod Agrippa II (the grandson of that Herod in Jesus trial) wants to "hear what he has to say."  (Luke 23:8), and secondly that to Festus (think Pilot) he saw Paul as innocent of charges and it being just a religious dispute (Luke 23:4, 15, 22)   Paul here is being tried by an outsider who then appeals to someone else to help him understand it.   Why Agrippa?  Well because, for better or worse, he was the politically kept "king of the Jews."  Festus here was appealing to someone who knew Jewish custom and belief, or at least enough of it to find out the answers he needed to write a letter to Rome about the proceedings.

How often do we ourselves try to judge others based on what we think while we are truly outside of that situation?  As a protestant years ago I would tell Catholics what they believe and why it was wrong.  How did I know?   I had read things online, or in books, or heard rumors.   I had never even set foot in a Catholic church.   I was an outsider, peering into a world I did not understand, one that was just familiar enough to make it seem like I understood it, but far enough from what I knew that I truly had no foundation from which to judge.  That didn't stop me from doing just that.  Now as a Catholic, looking at my faith from the inside, everything makes perfect, reasonable, and logical sense.  I understand why we do things and what they mean.   I know where to find my answers, and amazingly with our faith we have our beliefs written down for everyone to see.

The thing is, you can't read it from the perspective of an outsider and hope to understand it.  It's like learning a foreign language.  I've been studying Spanish off and on for most of my adult life.  Guess what?  I still don't get it.  I can say simple phrases like: Where is the bathroom?  How are you?  The newspaper is on the table. When I watch Spanish television though I hear these words come out and they make no sense to me.   Phrases, customs, thoughts... abstract ideas... I have to go to someone who speaks Spanish and go OK someone said this, what does it mean?  If I plug it into 'google translate' it just comes out as what I would get if I listen to it, but when I go to someone who knows Spanish, who grew up with it, they can tell me what it means and it's like a light bulb comes on... "That makes so much sense in the context it was used!"

Why then do we try to tell people what they are thinking?   Is it just our human nature?  Maybe.  I've been a Baptist.  I was a holiness Pentecostal for a time.   I was a protestant for a majority of my adult life.  I've been there and I understand exactly why people come at me as they do.  It's not an attack just to attack, but rather it's what we've been taught to do to 'help you.'   Your eternal destiny is indeed paramount.  They want that for you, but the means of getting it can be wrong.  Today, as a Catholic, I still want that for you.  Guess what though?  It doesn't matter what I want.  It matters what God wants and what you want.   So instead of trying to proselytize you into the fold?   I offer a relationship to you with Christ.  It takes two people to be in that relationship, and one of them is you, the other is Christ.   If you want to be a part of this family, great?  If not?  I'll be sad and pray for you, but I can't force anything on you.

I think that's what speaks to me currently about the reading from John in tomorrow's gospel.  There is so much there, from the different words used from love, to the three time denial and three times confessing his love, etc.   For me right now that one little phrase jumps out: "and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Ten years ago I sat in my yard with my friends telling them that I was studying the Catholic faith but there was no way I'd ever be Catholic.   Today?   I am discerning a call to the Diaconate and spreading the Catholic faith in any way I can.  Why?  Because I stopped trying to tell Catholics what they believed and instead asked them.   I got off anti-Catholic Protestant websites and instead began to read the Catechism, the Bible in light of it, and Catholic documents.   What I found is that from the inside, looking at the authentic teachings of that Church, that not only could I see where they were coming from.. I couldn't disagree with them without trying to twist or do back-flips.  

So here I am, with Peter trying to say Lord, you know that I love you.   I too have denied Him at times in my life, hiding behind the walls of my own ego and hubris.   I too have seen that look in his eye when the cock finished crowing and his gaze turned in my direction.   I too will be eternally saying to Christ that I will try to feed His sheep.  Not all Protestants are anti-Catholic.  Some in fact don't even know what they are "protesting."  They've just always been that faith and have never looked outside of it.  That kind of faith is important and commendable.    At some point though when you are in a relationship with someone you have to start learning more about them.  It's not enough to just say I love Jesus, without proving it by trying to learn what He likes, what He doesn't, and why.    The place where almost all of us begin that journey is the Bible.. but the question comes to mind... how can you understand a book written by the Catholic church... without getting on the inside and seeing what they believe?  I promise you.. it will help begin to peel back that veil that St. Paul speaks of and shed a great deal of light into exactly what it is we Catholics believe, and why.

Not only that, but it sets the tone for interactions with other people.  We cannot claim to understand someone if we never listen, if we never let them tell us, and if we constantly project ourselves on to them.  Our society tends to put everyone into their own box.  We try to say that all illegal aliens are like this, all refugees are spies or enemies, and the poor are simply men and women who are too lazy to work.  How do we know that without being on the inside?  How can we claim to know what it's like to be a refugee if we've always lived in a safe suburb?   How can we pretend to know what it's like to be 'dirt poor' if we have an air conditioned home with plenty of food in the pantry?  How can we judge someone as a spy or enemy without first taking time to see where they come from and why?  God doesn't call us to judge where someone is going or their motives behind it.  He only calls us to judge concrete moral actions.  Even then, he doesn't call us to condemn and browbeat those who 'sin', because we all do that.. what he calls us to do is to edify, uplift, feed, clothe, and give drink to those in need.. regardless of who they are or where.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Politics and Religion...

A friend of mine reminded me of how easy it is to get drawn into the political turmoil that is being made even worse by our American mainstream media.  While not necessarily always false, too often they are simply portrayed in a way that is either negative or makes a single scapegoat out of a situation that has not only a much more varied and nuanced truth but also has the involvement of many people.  We do have to be aware of who these people are, and what they've done.. but we also have to bring into the arena compassion and not forget the dignity of that person.  Am I defending any of the candidates?  No.  I personally am not a fan of the political stance of either of the front runners.  Simply reminding myself that kindness is paramount and that we must check our sources diligently to find the truth.

In tomorrow's Gospel Jesus reminds of us of that as well.  “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."  Jesus sent the Apostles with a unique mission that we too take on, but they fulfill in a specific and distinct office.  These Apostles were chosen to initiate that mission, to be the first to evangelize the world, and to go forth with the authority of Christ himself to forgive sins and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  They were sent into the world to teach the word of truth.  Christ is that word, it is in him that we understand exactly what their mission was and exactly what our mission is.

Jesus is the Father's Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, he "called to him those whom he desired; . . . . And he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach." From then on, they would also be his "emissaries" (Greek apostoloi). In them, Christ continues his own mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." The apostles' ministry is the continuation of his mission; Jesus said to the Twelve: "he who receives you receives me."   (CCC 858)

How then do we see the Christian church divided?  The Apostles appointed successors, of that we see the truth in the appointment of Matthias. (Acts 1:12-26)  Eventually these became known as Bishops and the Chair of Peter as the See of Rome.   For 1000 years there was only one church, the Catholic church.   Then men started breaking off of it and making their own version, deserting the teaching of those Apostles.   The very Gospel which Paul declared we should reject even if "an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed."  (Galatians 1:8)  How do we justify that in our own minds?  I did myself for many years, mostly because I was unaware of history.   Mostly because I had spent all of that time only reading a book, a book that belonged to the Catholic church, without listening to the author.  That would be like taking a book on science, reading it and then ignoring the writer when he tells me I got it wrong.

Why is it important?   Because in Jesus Christ we have the fullest revelation of God.. the final revelation of God... everything we need to know is in that revelation.  If that is true, if we truly believe that Christ is the Son of God and that He Himself is a part of the trinity.. then knowing Him.. being in relationship with Him, learning about Him... loving Him is paramount.  We can't know Him if we don't get the full story, if we don't realize He is more than text on a page.. but a living person.   He didn't stop being man when he went to Heaven, and he didn't stop being God when he came to earth.  He will be the same person for eternity, and the Apostles knew Him, walked with Him, learned from Him.

In Jesus Christ, the whole of God's truth has been made manifest. "Full of grace and truth," he came as the "light of the world," he is the Truth. "Whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." The disciple of Jesus continues in his word so as to know "the truth [that] will make you free" and that sanctifies. To follow Jesus is to live in "the Spirit of truth," whom the Father sends in his name and who leads "into all the truth." To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes or No.'"  (CCC 2466)

Jesus is that Word of truth.   So take advantage of that.   Begin to read and study history, both secular and Church history.   Look at the writings of early Christians and see what they believed.   Find your way to one of successors of the Apostles,  of which only the Catholic churches can claim an unbroken line of succession directly to one of the twelve themselves.  Then open yourself to the reality that Christ has poured himself out into our lives through the Sacraments of those churches to bring us into full communion with Him and the Father.   "I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one."  What more perfect description of communion can you get?  Than to receive Jesus Christ himself; body, soul and divinity; into your very body? All too often people smear the Catholic church and drag it through the mud.. but it's time.. it's time to check your sources and to see exactly what we believe.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In the Hands of Mercy and Grace

In tomorrow's reading we see Paul continuing to prepare his followers for his departure.  For a time he has been teaching them, working alongside them, joining them for dinner and fellowship.  It's time though for him to move on.   Time for him to follow Christ where he leads, and in this case it leads him to uproot his life and journey back to Jerusalem for Pentecost. He doesn't leave them empty handed though.  "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)  Grace.   Paul leaves those he loves, those he has come to know, in the hands of God and God's grace.

Grace is the means by which we have faith.  Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. (CCC 2021) Grace is the very means of our salvation, it is the prime mover in the process of our justification.  It is the very Word of God itself which indeed will "build you up."   The Catholic Church has from its very beginning venerated those sacred writings that constitute a portion of the Deposit of faith.  They are not all we have though.   It is not just Sacred Scripture but Sacred Tradition that complete that deposit.  What the Apostles were given was not handed on in the form of a book, but rather was given to their disciples in an oral fashion. Later a portion of that Tradition was written down.  That's what we know today as Sacred Scripture.

The Church then revealed to us more of this sacred deposit of information by continuing to write down more and more, until we have what we know today as the Catechism.  Isn't it interesting that many Christian denominations reject all of the other things outside of scripture?  Even when scripture itself declares that it is the Church that is the "pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Timothy 3:15 John even informs us that he only wrote down some of what Jesus did "so that we might come to believe." (John 20:31 Then he goes on to say that if anyone attempted to write down everything Jesus said or did, "the whole world could not contain those books."  (John 21:25) Yet, we try to put God in a box.. and limit His grace.  The thing is, either we believe the words of Scripture, or we don't.   If we choose to agree with only those things in the Sacred Scripture that we agree with and ignore those we don't?  Well it isn't God we are believing in, it's simply ourselves.

So what has the Church then given us?  An outpouring of grace.  The keys were given to Saint Peter who then gave them to his successor and so forth, until we have the modern day Roman Catholic church.   Does it look exactly like the first century church?  No.   It has been influenced by men over the centuries, but it still has that divine rudder, that steers man who leads it.   In fact, if you read the writings of Justin Martyr you can see the echoes of the Mass as we know it today, sometimes even verbatim.  Here is where we believe that the Holy Spirit has preserved our Church that the 'gates of hell may not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18)  That even though men are involved and make mistakes, and boy have we made them, the Holy Spirit will protect His Church and continue to guide us.

How then do you and I get access to this grace?  It's freely given in the Sacraments.  These are the Ordinary means by which we receive the grace of God.   The Church in it's infinite wisdom has seen that when you are properly disposed to receive God's grace, when you are truly repentant of your sins, and you come to the Church asking God to forgive you and change you; then through the very words of Christ himself amazing things will happen!  Bread will become flesh, wine will become blood, and sinners will become Saints.  Don't get me wrong.. the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for Saints.   Every man and woman who walk through those doors has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The thing is though, with God all things are possible... even a sinner like me can be used by him to be transformed and to help go forth to transform the world.

How though?   By discerning our vocation, by discerning God's call, by asking Him first and foremost what He wants of us.   We do that again, through Grace.

The Holy Spirit is "the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body." He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity: by God's Word "which is able to build you up"; by Baptism, through which he forms Christ's Body; by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ's members; by "the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts"; by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called "charisms"), by which he makes the faithful "fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church."  (CCC 798)

Just like Christ himself, who is both fully God and fully man, the Church is both divine and human.  We make mistakes, and we should be willing and ready to call ourselves on it.   Yet, the moral teachings, the dogmas of the Church, have never been wrong.  They call out to us of a divine origin, of a Sacred Deposit, of a treasury and storehouse filled with mercy, love, and justice.   The Chair of Peter has that key, and he has declared it open in this year of mercy.   Why not step forward and let that Grace wash over you?  Let God fulfill that prayer that Jesus prayed over his disciples in you today, Let him consecrate you in Truth!  Jesus is that truth, the Eternal Word of God.   He'll never force you into a relationship though.. he'll never make you do anything you don't with your own free will choose to do.. so make that choice today.. to step forward and say, "God I am ready for a true relationship with you, guide me through your Church, through your Sacraments, and through your Word, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, Eternal in the Heavens."  

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."