Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Junk on the Bottom

When I was a child I used to love going fishing with my dad.   I remember one particular trip in which we used a net to gather shad to use as 'live' bait.  My dad would stand on the front of the boat working patiently to get the net just right in his hand.  Then he'd throw it out in a graceful arc and it would land open in the water.  He'd try to teach us to do the same but I was never patient, always rushing and just ended up throwing a clump of string into the lake.  Then we would draw it back in.   Sometimes it would have shad in it.  At other times a piece of tree branch, some algae, slime, or even the occasional piece of garbage.  There is something about going out and doing something together with a parent that just builds memories.

To me this parable from Jesus reminds us of our own spiritual lives.  God loves us just as we are, and asks us to come as we are.   The thing is: He loves us too much to leave us there.   He wants us to grow.  To become more Holy.  To become Saints.  Our lives are often like a net.  Everything that we are dragged by leaves an impression, a memory.   What we listen to, what we see, what we read... all of this influences our mind, our memory.  It is indiscriminate on what it picks up.  A detail here, a smell there, a vision here.  We need to be vigilant in seeking out those things which are good for us, and avoiding that which is bad.  We spiritually have to search through our nets looking for that which is food, and discarding that which is not.

The other thing that I think is probably most important is to remember that we are not the Master.  We are but servants on the boat.  Like my dad on the boat when I was so young, we aren't even able to cast the net without His help.   It is Christ who teaches us how to sort through this mess called life.   He is the one who can see clearly from above, while we are stuck with our simple tunnel vision.  He teaches us through the Church, through the Sacred Scriptures, and through holy women and men how to live this life to it's fullest.  That's why it is so important to spend time with Him.  To learn from Him.  To get in the boat and ask questions.   To sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary and just rest with the King of Kings.

The Old Testament reading for today talks about a potter working with clay.  Clay is hard to work with when it's dry and cracked, but if you add enough water to it, it will become supple and giving.  Are you being clay?  Or stone?  Are you listening to the voice of the Lord and being pliant and bending to give way to His will?  Or are you struggling against it?   Fighting to keep your own way?  Enough water and it will feel like you are drowning.. the trials of this life often feel that way don't they?   Those trials are opportunities to be molded.. to grow... to push out those things which are standing in the way of being good clay.   Don't let the voice of the enemy convince you that you are part of the refuse, the junk caught in the net that needs to be thrown away.  You are called to be a Saint!  Don't think of that as something meant for someone else!  It's for YOU!  It's for me!  Let's do this together!

Being a Saint doesn't mean being perfect.. it doesn't mean never making a mistake or falling... what it does mean is being open to the molding of God and growing.. it means not staying as we are.. but growing towards Heaven.  It means trying! Will you try with me?  I want to go to Heaven and I want you to be there with me!  We are more complete together!  Remember when you start to feel like you aren't worthy, when you start to feel like you are part of the junk, that when my dad would see something that he wanted to throw back.. I often saw a treasure, something I could make into something.. something that my child like eyes saw as important and worth notice.   Have a child like faith in God, because He saw enough in you to send His only Son to die in your place, that you might be able to spend eternity with Him.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time: July 28th, 2016.  Jeremiah 18:1-6, Psalm 146, A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 13:47-53

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What does it mean to be among the wheat?

It's hard to trust when things are difficult.  As a child I was blessed with a good home.  We had more than we needed and parents who loved us.  Spanking and other forms of punishment were rare but respect was held in high esteem.  When things got rough we were always told "It'll get better."  It did.   It was hard to see that though during the rough times.   When mom and dad were both hurt and unable to work it seemed like we would never get our heads above the water.   It took a lot of effort to trust both them, and to trust God, that things would work out for good in the end.

I had a long conversation with a friend that reminded me of how hopeless things can seem.  Just turning on the news or watching one of the political conventions can truly make things seem as if they are going to Hell in a hand basket.  War, famine, terrorism, Mass killings, climate change deniers and climate change fear mongers.... where does one find hope?   Many years ago I spent all of my time sitting on the computer researching the 'end of the world.'   I was consumed with it.  I kept my mind so fixated on the negative things happening trying to tie them to this or that, that I never took time to truly fix my mind on God... on trust...  One is hopeless when they have no good to cling to.

When we read the Sacred Scriptures we see an overarching promise: God will provide!  He looks out for those who are poor and helpless.   He takes care of us in our time of need.   He cares for us more than we can fathom and He has promised that we will be among the wheat at the end of time when the harvest comes.  His Word has been planted in our hearts and we have become heirs to the promise that was given to David, a promise of an immortal Kingdom that will last forever.   Jesus in the Gospel, in explaining this parable to the disciples, gives them insight into something that should give us joy!  It should make us exuberant and our souls exulting with Hope in the promise of God himself!

What though does it mean to be wheat?  The children of the Devil are the false wheat it says, and the children of God the true wheat... How then can we tell the difference?   That's the thing about false wheat (Darnel), it's very hard to tell until it's ripe.  You see when wheat begins to ripen the grain begins to become too heavy for the shaft to support... so it begins to bow down.   Darnel doesn't do this... it remains upright.  The difference between real wheat and false wheat is that real wheat bows down.  It doesn't remain too proud, too egoistic, to self consumed to kneel in humility.  Are we being wheat then?  Are we kneeling before God and obeying His teachings as received by the Apostles?  Or are we doing things our own way?  Refusing to bend or submit?  Will you be the wheat or the chaff?

Today we are reminded of Saint Anne and Joachim, the mother and father of Mary, the grandparents of Jesus.   It is a day we should pray for our parents, for our grandparents, and for the humility to be like their daughter Mary.   May we learn to be like her in all things, the Immaculate Disciple who gave a complete and resounding Yes to God's plan in humility and love.   In all things she replied "Do whatever He tells you."  So call your parents, call your grandparents, call your children today and wish them love, wish them happiness, and pray for them that they too may have the grace to be His servant too.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass for Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, the Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne: July 26, 2016.   Jeremiah 14:17-22, Psalm 79, The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 13:36-43

Monday, July 25, 2016

Perfectly Imperfect

People do change.   Their base personality and faculties define who they are, not their behavior.  Behavior is something we do, not who we are.  The man I was in my twenties is not the man I am now, nor am I the man I hope to be ten  years from now.   What is important is not who we were, but who are now and who we are becoming.   That's what being a disciple is about.  Changing from the fallen person we have become into the person we were created as and to be, with Christ giving us the premier example of how to do that.

The twelve themselves were imperfect men.  They argued.  They fell short at times in understanding what Jesus was saying.   They had petty rivalries and jealousies.   At the foot of the cross we don't see those who jump up to say they would die with Him, save for John.  Impetuous Peter denied Him three times and went on to be the first of all the Apostles.  The thing is they were all changed, they all experienced a radical about face in their lives by encountering Christ.  All but John were martyred for their faith.  John was tortured as well and they tried to kill him, but when they failed they exiled him to a remote island to lessen his influence.  All were imperfect, but all were created for a purpose.

You see their character never changed.  You and I were created to be the person that we are.  God gave us a personality, intellectual abilities, a mind to think to with, a heart to feel with, and a memory to help us learn.  All of this he handed us with free will.  God does not ask you to become a mirror image of someone else, but rather to live the walk of Christ as you are able, in the way you are able to do it.  That doesn't mean we all don't do the same action.. but that we do it to the best of our ability as who we are.  For some that means being in the choir.  For others a Lector.   For still others helping with kids in the back.  For one a mother or father, for another a single lay man or woman on a missionary journey.   For some it means going across the world to experience new thrills... and for another staying right where they were born for their entire lives to serve those in that community.   God has a purpose for each and every one of us, and designed us unique with that purpose in mind.

We like James, John and Peter are quick when asked to drink of that cup to resound with an emphatic "Yes Lord!"   Do we truly count the cost of that? When your cup is drained to the dregs and all that is left is one drop of drink along with the dust and grime of daily life in some muddled mess that a seer might try to read for a glimpse of the future, are you ready to give that away?  Society teaches us to be selfish and to hold back that last part for ourselves... and while it's important to get away in prayer and to live our primary vocations as good parents, family, priests and servants; we are asked again by Christ are you ready to pour your life out like a libation?   To pour out every drop until you give your very life for another?  Not just the ones who are dear to you.. but the ones who challenge you?   The stranger?  The angry man at the office that gets on your nerves?  The one who breaths like Darth Vader while you're trying to listen to someone speak?  To the woman who talks bad about you?   To the widow? The orphan?   The homeless man on the street who smells of alcohol?   The refugee whose faith has been portrayed as one of a killer?  The guy who chews potato chips so loudly it sounds as if fire crackers are going off in your skull? Will you pour it out to them?   Christ did on the cross.  That is what He is asking you right now, when he says "Can you drink the cup that I shall drink?"

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection the daily Mass readings for the Feast of Saint James: July 25th, 2016.   Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 126; The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 20:20-28

Saturday, July 23, 2016

So soft and cute...

There is this overwhelmingly powerful scene in the Fellowship of the Rings in which Galadriel is tempted.  Galadriel is already a powerful figure with great magic and power.   The ring though would make her even stronger, so powerful in fact she could control the entire realm.  She has this amazing line in which she says "I will be great and terrible as the dawn!"  We have lost the meaning of that word.  We see terrible as something horrendous, horrible, ugly, or bad.  


[ter-uh-buh l]  exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful

In Abraham's time this was the image of who God was.   He was the all powerful Lord, the creator, the judge and the king.   For Abraham to stand up for those people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would have taken a great deal of courage.   We lose that sometimes when reading the old testament.  Here Abraham is facing God and saying, Hey can I change your mind?  What if only... over and over.  Not only asking God for a boon but also thinking he might be testing God's patience.  How scary should that be?

Christ on the cross stood in the gap for us as well.   Knowing that not a single righteous man could be found, Christ went in our place to suffer the punishment.   All of us deserve what Sodom and Gomorrah got.  "The wages of sin is death."   None of us can say we haven't sinned either.  So here we have Christ, fully God but also fully human... going to the cross in complete trust of God but still aware of His great power and the terrible visage, but also seeing the Father.   That was something most of that age were unable to bear, to think of God as Father, and even today there are religions in the world that will find it blasphemous to do so.  Christ gave us that gift while nailed and tortured in our place.

I think that's part of the message that God has given us in the Scriptures and through the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   To trust in God.  To see Him as Father.   To know He will only give us what is good.   Yet, to remind us that what we do is make a bold claim.  That we are approaching the all powerful, omniscient God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   That it is an audacious thing to step forward in His presence and say "God give me..."   We should never forget though, that we aren't just praying for 'bread', but also for the will of God.   So we are saying "God give me... but if you know something better... your will be done."   Never forget that last part.  Never forget who it is we approach, and what is at stake.  Abraham knew what was at stake as He prayed for the people, and his prayer was unanswered... Christ knew death was the cost and He suffered it to save us.... Do you realize what is at stake?  Are you ready to pick up your own cross? To stand in the gap for others in prayer?   It's a privilege that we should never take for granted.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection the readings for Mass on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: July 24, 2016.  Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke 11:1-13

Friday, July 22, 2016

I wish you were more like....

One of the worst mistakes we can do in a serious relationship is to compare the one we love with the past.  "I wish you were more like your (brother/father/mother/sister/cousin)...."    "When we were dating you would..."   "All you ever want to do is sleep, when I first met you we always..."  It's even worse if you compare a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend to someone you used to be in a relationship with!  It demeans.  It tears down.  It hurts.  It's a failure to encounter that person in the here and the now and a grave mistake indeed.

C.S. Lewis in his journal titled "A Grief Observed" wrote of an encounter with a person from his past.   After his wife's death he had become somewhat of a social recluse and an old friend called on him.   He was excited at the prospect of seeing him after all these years.   After a few hours with the fellow he found that his memory of him was not quite the person he really was.  In fact, after seeing some of the ticks and quirks of the persons personality he realized that he did indeed remember that person after all... but his memory tended to leave out details.. to tailor itself to Lewis's own likes and dislikes.   It was an astounding moment when he realized that his wife was more now than any memory that he could have of her.   He was failing to encounter her in the now, and instead remembering her in the past.   Even though she had died, she was still with him in ways that were even more complete and astounding.

“All reality is iconoclastic[..]The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness.... And this, not an image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.” - C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed 

I think that when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb she was doing much the same by living in the past.  That's part of grief after all.   The Resurrection that Jesus had spoken of so often was simply a thing she had relegated to the future.   Even the vision of the angels speaking to her from inside the tomb did not bring her out of her funk.  The Master himself stood behind her and he failed to recognize him.  She was looking for an image of the man, one she had in her mind... but the real Jesus was right there before her eyes.   It took her hearing her name called by God himself to recognize him.   It took an encounter with God, with Christ in His resurrected form to jar her out of herself, out of her own thoughts.. and into the present.

CCC 2158 God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.

We as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances must encounter Christ in the present.   To take time to look for him and listen for his voice to speak to us from the mouths of others.  As a parent I know just how difficult this can be.   To look for the image not only in the stranger but in those you live with every day.   This is the only way we can meet them exactly where they are and as who they are in order to journey with them through this life.   It takes stopping to listen for Christ to speak our name through the mouth of those created in His image.  Are we taking time to do this?

P.S.   Father Don Ahles' homily this morning touched on something that we should take note of, especially in light of what I wrote above.   Pope Francis has taken the memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene and turned it into a Feast.  That means that everywhere around the world it must be celebrated by Catholics.    He wants us to sit up and take notice of who Mary Magdalene really is, not who history has attempted to portray her as.  A grave error has been done to her image in that she has been confused with other women in the bible.  She was a wealthy woman who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry.  The Eastern Church calls her the Apostle to the Apostles.  She was not the prostitute but rather the woman who was delivered from seven spirits.  She then was sent to tell the Apostles themselves the good news.  We should take note of that too and realize that sometimes our image of her is clouded too and we need to encounter who she truly was that we may encounter who Christ is and what His message is to us.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflections on the Mass readings for the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene: July 22, 2016.   Song of Songs 3:1-4; Psalm 63; The Holy Gospel According to Saint John 20:1-2, 11-18

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lead me into the desert....

When I first got out on my own life was pretty good.   I was working a job at minimum wage.  I had my own place.  My own car.  I had a phone, internet, and food in the fridge.  Then I got a job making twenty five dollars a day driving a bus going to college.   The bills were getting paid.   I was eating well and had many friends.   The summer after I got my Associates degree I decided to get a job as an electrician.   I started making quite a bit more money.   I soon forgot how good life was at the start and began to live at this new level of 'wealth.'

It wasn't long until the bills weren't getting paid.  I had a lot more stuff for sure.   I ate more, partied more, had even more friends.   My relationships were getting more shallow though as I sought more and more enjoyment.  I was making more money than I had ever had.   I had a new car, well new to me.  I had plenty of books, a top of the line gaming computer, high speed internet, and on and on.   I was unhappy though.  Relationships started to fall apart.   Bills stopped being paid.  After a break up with a girl I thought was the 'one,' I took a job with a travelling electrical company and began to go on the road.  I went back to simplicity.   Life was starting to look pretty good again, and it kept getting better. 

The first reading reminds me of that journey.   The Israelites met God in the desert of all places.   In a land where they had to count on Him for food and drink.   They had a relationship and journeyed together.   Then He took them into a land of abundance and immediately they began to put more and more into their lives.  They turned from the one who would give them living water and instead tried to find that fulfillment in things. Just as I had done in my years as a young adult, and just as we tend to do today, we constantly look for that thing which will make us happy.  Sitting around day dreaming about what we would do if we won the lottery instead of looking for the gift that is already there... God himself in the Sacraments. 

The thing about the Gospel to me is that every person heard the same parable, every person encountered the same Jesus.  The Disciples, though, sat at His feet.   They didn't just encounter on a superficial level.   They wanted to be closer, to learn more.   They asked questions.  They journeyed with Him.   That's what relationships are about.  Time spent together.   That is why that little verse from Hosea is so powerful: "So I will allure her, I will lead her into the desert." (Hosea 2:16) This isn't God trying to pull you into the sparse desert to die.. it's a lover wanting to take you back to the simple times.. to where we met... to the beginning of our relationships.. to the way things used to be.  It's God calling to us to have an authentic encounter.  To remove all those things from our hearts that stand in the way of receiving the one thing that fits, the one thing that matters.   To get rid of all these empty, meaningless things... and encounter Him: in the Sacraments, in Sacred silence, and in His most distressing of disguises... the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee, the sinner and the saint. 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time: June 21, 2016.  Jeremiah 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13; Psalm 36; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 13:10-17

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Speak Life

There are so many times that I have been given the opportunity to be an evangelist for Christ and allowed my fallen human nature to get in the way.   I was at a Cracker Barrel with some friends.   I went up to the register to pay on the way out.   A young man behind the counter commented on my necklace.  He said he had been meaning to get something to wear.   He said he just didn't know which to get because he was, and I quote here, "A Catholic and a Christian."   It was a moment to evangelize, a moment to teach and tell him that all Catholic's are Christians, but not all Christians are Catholics.   I didn't though... I just talked about the different kinds of crucifixes and crosses and encouraged him to get one.   Something inside of me kept me from going further and encountering this person on a deeper level.

Jeremiah reminds us that God encounters us on so deep a personal level that He Himself forms us in our mother's womb.   We are reminded time and again in the Sacred Scriptures that we are created in the image of God.  Like a loving artisan, God works directly and intimately with our very being.  Making us into one race, not many.   Each person created unique with a distinct personality and specific gifts.  He knows us before even our parents are aware of our existence.    How much more personal a relationship with God can we have than to be created by Him, not as some identical automaton among the many.. but as an individual, a singular diamond... a treasured possession.

We are made in the image of the God who speaks and creates.   He speaks life.   He speaks love.   He, the Father, spoke one single Word.   That Word was revealed to us in the incarnation as the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us."   Jesus is the Word of God.   In every action Jesus provides a perfect example of evangelization.     He never proselytizes, even the son of God never seeks to force conversion... He instead encounters the person.   He gets to the heart of the matter for those who are seeking to come closer, those who are trying in earnest to find God.  He never tells them to just continue sinning or misses an opportunity to reach out to a fallen child of God, but rather touches them in a way that leaves them hopeful or challenged.  That is the image of a God who never leaves a person behind unchanged.

In the Gospel parable we see the Word of God being planted like a seed.   The myriad temptations of this world seek to harden the soil of our hearts.   To create an environment internally that inhibits the growth of that seed.   The devil and evil spirits prowl about seeking to devour, to destroy any hope of that seed forming.  They want to pluck the seed out before it has a chance to change us.   Pleasure, honor, power, and wealth all seek to grow up in our hearts as false idols to choke out and destroy any image of God within us.   We must be co-workers with the Lord, laboring to prepare the soil of our hearts to not only receive the Word, but to nourish it and let it grow within us as a fertile and rich environment for Life.    That is what has been planted in us, the Word of eternal life, Life itself.

Then, we also must become planters of the Word.   Going out into the world to speak Life.   In a world hurting with racial divides, abortion on demand, rampant drug use, hatred towards the police sworn to protect us, and a million excuses that desire to create in us an environment where we justify sin... In a realm where men and women fleeing persecution by regimes of hate are turned away by 'Christian' nations.... In a society where speaking about Christ is in and of itself taboo, casual sex is on the rise, the family and marriage are being relegated to things of the past, and selfishness is even lauded in the music.... We are challenged to speak Life.. to speak Love... to speak hope.  To the poor, the broken, to the hurting... we are to be an image of the Word... one who never is complacent towards sin, but always encounters on a personal level.. and leaves every person they encounter changed in some small way.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A Reflection on the readings for Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time: July 20th, 2016.  Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10;  Psalm 71; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 13:1-9

Monday, July 18, 2016

Oh Deer......

Recently on a silent retreat we were encouraged to meditate on thankfulness as we sat on this beautiful outlook, overlooking the great Mississippi river.   The previous afternoon during our one hour of fellowship I was telling my friends about the frog I had been meditating on the morning before.   They told me about humming birds, eagles, deer, rabbits, and butterflies.   How wonderful the diversity of life in this place! As I sat there watching the golden rays of the sun crest the morning sky, a butterfly passed by.   A red tailed hawk flew overhead and a rabbit scampered on the trail below.   The breeze was picking up and I was in awe of the beauty of the moment.  Then I thought, this moment would be perfect if a deer would just walk out of the forest right now.

How frustrating that must be for our Heavenly Father.   To be in a relationship with a stiff necked people who are never happy with what He offers them.  Here I was meditating on being thankful for the moment and even in that moment had notes for God on how to make it better, instead of just being content and happy with the beauty and grace I was already receiving.  There are times when I am just in an ill mood.  My wife tells me when I am in that mood she can do nothing right, nothing seems to calm me down.   How horrible that must be for her!  To not be the cause of my angst and yet be the one to receive the annoyances and ire. God gets even worse from us.

In the Gospel for today Jesus has brought to the people the glorious and wonderous news that God is offering forgiveness to all people!   Eternal life!  He offers it with a simple message, love God and your neighbor.  It's not a new message, but the same message God gave to Moses in the desert.   Simply live what you already know to be true and you can live forever in Heaven with God!  "You know what would make this message even better Jesus?   If you were to do a miracle here for us to prove it."  It was their deer.   Instead of realizing the beauty of what was right before them, God himself incarnated in the person of Christ, they wanted more.

He comes to us every day in the Sacraments offering that same salvation and He challenges us to live the message we already know to be true in our hearts.  As Moses said last week in the readings, It is not in some far off land or in the skies that someone must go and get it for us, it's right here in our hearts and on our lips.   Love.  Saint Camillus De Lellis, our Saint for the today, reminds us how to live that out.   By greeting Christ in His most distressing of disguises.   That whatever we do to the least of these, the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, the angry young man with a gun, the police officer shot in the line of duty, the family left behind... whatever we do for these, we do for Christ.   Are you ready to encounter Christ?   In the face of the sick and dying?   The old and the young?  The refugee?  The Muslim?  The Jew?  The Atheist?  We need to stop asking God to give us a sign to push us out into the world to do good, and just do good.    He's already given you a sign that goes beyond anything else you could ask for... He rose from the dead that you too might have eternal life.   Now go spread the good news!

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A Reflection on the readings for Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time: July 18, 2016.  Micah 6:1-4, 6-8; Psalm 50; A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 12:38-42

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Excuse the Mess!

How easy it is to forget the important things in life.   In the story of Martha and Mary we are reminded that some things are more important than the to do list.  Martha was running around hectic trying to get everything done that she felt needed to be done for her guests.  Mary though was sitting at the feet of Christ paying attention to Him.   I need to be reminded of this.  I am kind of anal when it comes to having a clean house and when we do have guests I am often the Martha.   Cleaning, washing, doing dishes I should have already finished, anxious and stressed.  I am missing the important thing, the guest.

Growing up my mother had a philosophy that went something like “house work can always be done, my kids will only be with me a short time.”   The house often wasn’t clean.   The laundry sometimes piled up well above the laundry basket.  The thing was we knew we were loved.  Mom spent as much time as we would let her with us.   We played, we laughed, we cried.  We did it as a family.   It’s a philosophy that all of us could learn from, especially when it comes to relationships.

Just the other day our friend Jennifer came over.   I was in the middle of a game online with three other people and while she stood talking to Julie, I kept playing.   I justified it because I was not alone in the game and three other people out there in cyber land were counting on me to finish this mission.  In reality I was missing an opportunity to sit at the feet of Christ.   To encounter Him in my friend who is made in His image.   To just be present, to treat her with dignity, and show her that she was more important to me than any game.  As rarely as we have guests in our home you’d think I would learn this lesson already.

Even more so, we have to remind ourselves to make time as well for that relationship with Jesus Christ in prayer and devotions.   Too often we fill our schedules up and then look for an hour here or a minute there to fit Him in.   When in reality we should simply empty our schedule and put Him in there first.   To make time for daily mass if possible, scripture study, Liturgy of the Hours, a rosary, or even just some silent time in which we listen for His voice speaking to us in the whisper of our hearts.   Are we making time for Him?  A relationship does not function if the two people never discourse.   Try it for a few days and you’ll find that even though you’re taking time to sit at Jesus feet, everything else seems to get done as well.  

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

A Reflection on the Mass Readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: July 17, 2016. Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke 10:38-42

Friday, July 15, 2016


"My dwelling, like a shepherd's tent, is struck down and born away from me."  A shepherd's tent is a hastily constructed tent that is only intended for the night.  Something that if the wind picks up is blown away and no longer to be found.  When the shepherd's move on they are often left in place and within a short time nothing is left but tatters and rags. One would be hard pressed to even tell what it was that had stood there.  It reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the house circled in the tornado and you could see all of this being carried off with it.  Our dwelling though, is our body.  Hezekiah feels that his life is over and he mourns the loss. 

The readings remind us that this life is fleeting and finite.  That our only hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth.  Hezekiah calls out to Him and He performs a miraculous healing and even makes the Sun itself move backwards in time to prove it will come about.   We often do a lot to extend our lives.  We diet, we exercise, we go to doctors time and again.   Those are all good things.   Do we take it to God in prayer?  He is the source of life itself.  Why do we only tend to do the physical while ignoring the spiritual half of our lives? 

One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. - Pope Francis

Some take it to extremes though.  Saint Francis at the end of his life looked back on all of the mortification he did on himself, the rough life that truly destroyed his health, and he realized that that was not good either.  God did not create us to live lives of dour, resent-filled hours.   He created us to be at peace and filled with joy.   Yes, to be a temporary structure, but one that is so filled with love that it is not concerned with the next moment.  A structure that just provide shelter to those in need in the present, not consumed with the ills of the past or the fears of the future.  Mortification is important, but we have to be careful how far we take it.  If it draws us closer to God?  Continue.   If it makes you feel hopeless or despair?  Get rid of it. 

Jesus reminds us that God gave us everything He gave us for our own benefit.  Even the Sabbath was not meant as something to make you starve yourself, but a day of rest in which you could commune with God and with one another.  It is not a rule made by a tyrant who sits around all day waiting to cross your name out of His book of life the moment you make a mistake, but one made by a loving Father who realizes His children often forget that they too need to take a day to rest and recover.  Be a shepherd's tent, but don't let the world blow you away before it is time.  Take a moment each day to recover, and a day each week to rest and contemplate the wonder of God's great gift to us.   All of our life is a gift, and the Gospel a treasure to make us fully human, not to punish us and turn us into 'sour pusses . ' 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A Reflection on the Daily Mass readings for Friday of the fifteenth week of Ordinary time: July 15, 2016. Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8; Isaiah 38:10, 11, 12, 16Matthew 12:1-8

Thursday, July 14, 2016

I am a grown man, I'll eat what I want to eat!

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
- Jesus

In my teens I attended an evangelical church that taught that these words meant that we were free to do anything and everything we wanted.   So I did.   If it felt good I did it, if it tasted good I ate it, if I wanted it? I took it.  That's freedom right? After all, freedom means being able to do whatever you want when you want, right?
 I want to defend myself and say "I wasn't a horrible person."   Yet, when I look back on some of the things I did I am not sure I can make that claim and be honest with myself.
True freedom is not being a slave to our passions and desires.   It means being able to say yes or no, regardless of what our minds or bodies tell us to do.  A person who is truly free can be chaste and avoid doing those things which his body desires.   They can avoid being a glutton, no more cake for me please, I've had enough.   They can walk into the flames of a fire to save another soul even though the pain of the burns they receive scream at them to run the other way.   That's true freedom, being disciplined enough and free enough to decide for yourself, regardless of what peer pressure, hormones, and all those other influences call for you to do.

The thing about a yoke that I did not realize as a teen is it is only easy when you go where it is leading you.  When we read that verse from Isaiah we see the path of the just is smooth and and level.  The just.  That is a person who lives out the justice of God, not a person who simply does what they wish.  When we go along with God's will, when we seek out that which is good and noble, that's when the yoke is easy and the burden is light.   That doesn't mean a bed of roses.   Today is the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.  This young woman walked with the yoke of Christ on her shoulders.  In reward for it her people starved her, threw rocks at her as she went to church, and eventually she had to flee to a different area to live in peace.  In all of it, she went where Christ asked her to go.

The reason the yoke is so easy though is it's something we are innately wired to do.  Yes, there are those out there who have been broken by society, their parents, or traumatic experiences.  All of those are created in the image of God, we were born to live out the simple truth of God's justice: love.  When Moses spoke to the people earlier this week he said that the message we have received is not something lofty in the skies that we must beg a bird to go get it, nor is it something distant and hidden that we must send someone on a quest to find it, rather it is already on our tongues and written in our hearts.   We already know what is right to do, but we choose to do what is easy, what is comfortable.  Are you listening to God when he speaks to you?  Are you following the yoke when it pulls to the left or the right?  Or trying to forge your own path?

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, July 14, 2016. Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19; Psalm 102; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 11:28-30

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

She died in her sleep...

My daughter knows that if she asks me for something to eat I will give it to her.  It did not matter if it was two in the morning or the afternoon, if she was hungry I fed her.   I explained to my wife that one of my father's relatives had a daughter who asked for another piece of cake very late in the night and her mother refused to let her have it.   She sent her to bed without that piece of cake.  That daughter died in her sleep.  To this day I will feed a child, regardless of what time it is, if they tell me they are hungry. 

Think of the boldness of those of us who proclaim that God is our Father.   In the prayer that Jesus taught us we say simply, "Give us this day our daily bread."   Recently when meditating on this I pictured myself as a child with my hands out, simply asking God for a piece of bread.  The image in my mind reminded me of the stance we take when going up to receive communion in hand. We place our hands forward as a throne, like children, like beggars.  In asking simply God rewards greatly, giving us not just bread, but the body soul and divinity of Christ.  He gives us more than we ask for, far better than we deserve.

As Christians we are called to live out our lives in the image of Him who we have been created in.  That is, we are to emulate God in our actions, in our thoughts, and our words.  That's a challenging thing when you think of the image of God as Father, as the one who is being asked for sustenance, peace, and tranquility.  He provides freely, generously, and more powerfully than we ourselves even expect.  Forgiving our sins, meeting both our physical and spiritual needs, while also helping us to move forward and grow into the person we are created to be.  We can find the source of that image in Christ himself. 

That's our challenge then isn't it?  To be childlike in our faith in that we trust God to reach out to us and give us what we need, but also to be the image of the invisible God to those who are hurting, frustrated, and lacking in their lives.  We ourselves receive Christ in the Eucharist, then we must go out into the world and share it with those who have not.  By giving food and drink to the widow, the orphan, the refugee... the moment they ask, and even more than they ask for.   Also, in giving spiritually to all in need.  This is what it means to love.  To treat people as a whole, not as a part.  To interact with them more than on a superficial level, but on a level that unites us as one body.. That's what happens when we encounter Christ at the Mass... are we allowing that to happen when we encounter Christ in His most distressing disguises? 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A Reflection on the Daily Mass Readings for Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary time: July 13, 2016.   Isaiah 10:5-7, 13b-16; Psalm 94; A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew 11:25-27

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To Turtle or not to Turtle?

A Reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time: July 12th, 2016

Isaiah 7:1-9
Psalm 48
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 11:20-24

When we are surrounded by evil our fearful instinct is often to close in on ourselves.  After the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, all of the gas stations closed and even the man I worked for sent us home out of fear that other things would happen.  Here the Israelites in the first reading were surrounded by their worst and strongest enemies and they trembled and quaked.  Just recently our country has experienced another set of crimes and people have reacted with fear, telling their kids to stop going around cops out of fear of both the cops and those who would hurt them.  Drawing in like a turtle to protect our own seems to be the default for humanity.

The Psalm reminds us though that if God is the one building the city then there is no need to fear.   That when He is with us we are protected by His strong right arm.  When we trust in God we don't close in on our selves, we might proceed with caution but we proceed with confidence in knowing that man can never do anything to our immortal soul.  We reach out with love to both those who are hurting enough to harm the ones they fear are the enemy, and those who are completely innocent and caught in the middle of a struggle they did not start.  It requires though that God be the one in control.

In this message there is a sense that we as a nation must return to God.  We have removed prayer from our schools.  Taken down any religious imagery that might 'offend' someone.  Relegated religion to the inner corners of the Sanctuaries behind closed doors and told God He is a thing that only need be addressed on Sunday.  In doing so we have made love, the primary focus of the Christian ideal, something that also hides behind those doors.  It is in returning to God that we as a nation can bring that love back out of those doors and into the very hearts of those who need it the most.

Change, though, begins in me.  The Scriptures tell us that if the builders labor to build the temple, then in vain do it's builders labor.  After coming back from this silent retreat, even knowing the things I know, I've been trying to rebuild myself into the man I felt God calling me to be on the retreat.   I got very frustrated yesterday when I realized that I was failing to do just that.  It's because I need Him to do it with me.  I do have to work on it, I have to try.. but over all I must do it in conjunction with Him, not by myself, and not Him alone.   Not because He needs me to do anything, but because that is how He chose to do things... with us and through us.  So we start with that, man building with God, building himself into the man God has made Him to be.  Then out into the world we go living the life He has designed us for that others might also be drawn to Him.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Monday, July 11, 2016

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time: July 11, 2016.

Isaiah 1:10-17
Psalm 50
The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 10:34-11:1

This morning as I was reading the Mass readings for today, I was reminded of something that happened this weekend on the retreat that I think fits in nicely.  One morning I was standing in the lobby watching the sun rise over the Mississippi River when I noticed a tree frog climbing up the inside of the glass next to me.  Every time I would move he would freeze and begin to lose traction, sliding back towards the floor.  As long as he did not look away from what he was doing to watch me he would climb towards his goal, wherever that was.  It was only when he looked at me instead that he would end up right where he started.  That to me speaks rather eloquently of what Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites about.

He was chastising them, not for sliding down the door, but for not climbing at all.  They had become so complacent in their sin that they were just continually offering sacrifice.  They were no longer truly offering their hearts to God with contrition.  Now they were just sitting at the bottom of the door, not even bothering to try to change.  Why bother climbing?  We are just going to slide back down.  They had lost sight of their goal and were simply looking around at all the distractions.  Isaiah was reminding them to get to climbing again, to start doing more than just hollow ritual.

God calls us in the same way to make love our focus and justice our aim.  In the Gospel we see an echo of that line from Isaiah when Jesus speaks of the reward a disciple will receive for giving a cup of water to the thirsty children.  Jesus knows this is controversial, a teaching that the world will not want to follow, but one that we must do.  After reading some news articles of the events that transpired in our country while I sat in peace and silence listening to God, I realize even more how important that is today.  In one of the readings just yesterday we were reminded that praying for someone without giving them what they needed was worthless.  That doesn't aim the arrow at the center of the target.. but somewhere off to the side.

This is how we climb our door, how we gain traction to get up the glass of life.  To reach out to those in need.  Those who are thirsty and hungry.  To feed them and give them drink.   That's both physically, for we have many hungry widows, orphans, less fortunate and refugees who need our help; and spiritually.  There are many young men and women out there who are hurting right now.  There is a void there that needs to be filled, something inside that causes them to lash out.  What are their needs? The only way to know is to listen.  Is to have an earnest conversation and say, "How can I help?"   Then to help.  Not just to get a good glimpse of the door that needs to be climbed.. but to start climbing it together.  We climb our door by helping them climb theirs.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

You don't know anything!?

A Reflection on the readings for Daily Mass for Thursday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time, July 7, 2016.

Hosea 11:1-4, 8e-9
Psalm 80:2ac, 3b, 15-16
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 10:7-15

I was haggard and disheveled.   I hadn't slept a wink.   My wife was even more tired than I was.  Our daughter was refusing to sleep.   She had decided that night time was day time, and day time was night time.  It was turning our life into a topsy turvy mess.  Here it was two A.M. and she was bouncing off the walls.  My wife was asleep in a chair where she had finally succumbed to her fatigue, having to work again in a just a few hours.   My eyes were blood shot and cracked and I kept saying go to bed!   A few hours later I called my dad and mom and I apologized to them for all the times I had kept them awake as a child.  I knew I had been hyper active and all those years I got upset when they asked me not to eat candy or drink soda... how many nights had I done just this to them?

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”― Mark Twain

Kids always seem to know better than their parents.   There is something about the aging process that makes a child who hits pubescence seem to think that anyone older than them must simply just not understand life.  All of a sudden no one else is right, everyone else is either stupid or crazy, and only I can ever figure out the truth.  It makes it hard for parents, but the much more difficult cross to bear is that it hurts.  It makes our hearts ache for that child.  Knowing what we had to go through to learn, knowing that they are making mistakes that will lead them to pain and sorrow.... that is the silent sword that pierces the heart of one who loves their child.   We've been there, even if they don't believe.. even if they don't think we can ever understand.... we've had our hearts broken, we've had our lives riddled with sin, we've been down those roads.. some of us to places we won't even talk about.

The first response is often anger, isn't it? "Why won't you listen!"  "I'm trying to help!"  "Won't you just learn from my mistakes and not make the same ones?!"  Growing up that's how I heard that verse from Saint Matthew.   "Shake the dust off your feet" and move on.   They weren't worth getting worked up over, just find someone else to proselytize was the message I received.   It's not the one I hear today when I read those words... it's rather a reminder of what we see at the end of the reading from Hosea... "My heart is overwhelmed and my pity is stirred.  I will not give vent to my blazing anger...[] For I am God, not man."  God isn't calling us to reject those people, to shake the dust off and leave them to lose their way.  He's rather saying, do not let fear cling to you.   It's as if He is saying "I've got this."  Don't let the dust of the situation cling to you, drag you down.. take away your joy and peace.   Rather trust in the Lord, you're God.   Lift them up in prayer and leave it to Him.

That's a hard lesson to learn isn't it?  Offer them at the foot of the cross.  Like the Blessed Virgin Mary we are challenged with standing and watching as a 'sword pierces our own soul.'  She is our example, the ultimate of discipleship.  Even when she did not understand she kept all of it in her heart and thought about it.  She did not discourage Him from this path, but rather, she asked Him to perform the first miracle of his ministry.  That's our other thought... to lift them up, to say Jesus.. we are asking you to turn the water of their life.. no matter how dingy or used it may become... into something exquisite... a wine fit for a king.  That's the interesting thing about that miracle isn't it?   These were the ceremonial cleansing jars.. where people washed their hands and feet from the trip.  Water was precious (is precious) in those lands.   They wouldn't waste it and did not know about germs or such.. so they just washed and put it back.  Yet it became the most beautiful of wines did it not?   Their life, our lives... are in His hands.  Are we ready to be transformed into wine?

My Dad When I Was...
4 years old:
My daddy can do anything!
5 years old:
My daddy knows a lot!
6 years old:
My dad is smarter than your dad!
8 years old:
My dad doesn't know exactly everything.
10 years old:
In the olden days when my dad grew up,
things were sure different!
12 years old:
Oh, well, naturally,
Dad doesn't know anything about that.
He is too old to remember his childhood.
14 years old:
Don't pay any attention to my dad.
He is so old-fashioned!
21 years old:
Him? My Lord, he's hopelessly out of date!
25 years old:
Dad knows a little bit about it,
but then he should because he has been around so long.
30 years old:
Maybe we should ask Dad what he thinks.
After all, he's had a lot of experience.
35 years old:
I'm not doing a single thing until I talk to Dad.
40 years old:
I wonder how Dad would have handled it.
He was so wise and had a world of experience.
50 years old:
I'd give anything if Dad were here now
so I could talk this over with him.
Too bad I didn't appreciate how smart he was.
I could have learned a lot from him.
I sure do miss him.
from Ann Landers

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My First Stitches.....

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Wednesday of the twelfth week of Ordinary Time, July 6, 2016.

Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12
Psalm 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 10:1-7

Today is the Memorial for Saint Maria Goretti

Maria Goretti was born to poor farm laborers in Corinaldo, Italy, in 1890.  Like Agnes, Lucy, and Agatha, virgin martyrs of the early Church, Maria willed to suffer death rather than the destruction of her purity.  She was eleven when nineteen-year-old Alessandro Sereneli attacked her, intent on raping her.  Even as she struggled in Alessandro's grasp, Maria begged him to consider the gravity of the sin he was about to commit.  He stabbed her fourteen times.  She died two days later after great suffering, freely forgiving her attacker.  Legend has it that she appeared to him in his prison cell and gave him fourteen flowers, one for each wound.  Maria is the patroness of purity and protector of Catholic youth. 

I was around four years old when I needed my first set of stitches.  My cousin Michael and my brother Danny thought it would be funny to pretend to lock me into the chicken coup.  I was deathly afraid of the chickens, especially that big white rooster.  If you turned your back on him to get the eggs he would flog you from behind.  Something about those wings flapping and the loud yell from his beak terrified me.  They sent me in on a dare to get an egg and then acted like they were leaving.  Then they sat down behind the chicken coup.  In my fear of the rooster I ran terrified towards the door and through myself into it with both hands.  I remember standing there with my head down because my neck hurt after having pushed right through the solid glass door.  My cousin Michael ran up and asked me if I was OK and I just kept looking at the ground.  Finally he said look at me, are you OK?  When I looked up he saw all the blood and the last thing I remember was him calling out to my mom in a shaky voice.

We sometimes do that don't we?  We run from something that is scary without looking to see the even scarier situation we put ourselves in.  If I had known then that rushing through the glass would hurt so much I would rather have faced the rooster.  We as Christians are called to an even scarier situation.  The cross.  We are called to face it, to be faithful to our covenant with God.  The Israelites in the first reading for today were treating God like a good luck charm.  They were scared of going back to where they had been, slaves in Egypt.   Instead of just keeping the covenant and loving God with all their hearts, they build more temples, more altars.  They couldn't see that in trying to run from Egypt they were running towards idolatry, towards sin.

When Jesus called the twelve he warned them continually that they would have to bear the same cross as He.  As Christians that is what we are called to.  We are called to face the cross... We can do it now or we can do it later.. but we must face it.  Look at that list of twelve men.  All twelve of them had to face the cross, they had to face death.  Judas did it in betrayal... he ran from the cross towards the plan he wanted to live.. trying to force Jesus' hand.  10 of the others were martyred for their faith. Peter, the first among them, was crucified upside down.   John?  Well John stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, took her into his home, and when they tried to kill him years later?  They failed.  So they ended up exiling him to an island where he died of old age.

On the feast of Maria Goretti we are called to do something, to face our cross.   To bear it with dignity, joy, and forgiveness.  Maria went to her death protecting the covenant with God.  She was faithful.  She didn't try to force God to do it her way, but rather even tried to save her attacker.  Like Christ she died forgiving him.   We too are called to face that cross.   Both by emulating Mary, the mother of God, and being present at the cross of Christ.. standing at the foot of it continually gazing up on our Lord; and like the Apostles and Maria Goretti, in being willing to bear our own cross... dying for our faith if necessary to bring others to God.  Are you ready for that?  Are there attachments holding you back?  Have you become so attached to God that if faced with the option of betraying Him you would rather die?

“Humility is the safeguard of chastity. In the matter of purity, there is no greater danger than not fearing the danger. For my part, when I find a man secure of himself and without fear, I give him up for lost.  I am less alarmed for one who is tempted and who resists by avoiding the occasions, than for one who is not tempted and is not careful to avoid occasions. When a person puts himself in an occasion, saying, I shall not fall, it is an almost infallible sign that he will fall, and with great injury to his soul.”
-- Saint Philip Neri

Our society makes purity and chastity into a joke.  God calls us though to understand that intimacy is not just sex, and that love does not always fulfill itself with intercourse.  Sometimes love requires that we hold back those desires we have for both the good of that person and ourselves.  Why are we living our lives for this small time frame here, instead of for an eternity beyond?  If we truly believed that eternity was awaiting those who lived a life of purity and chastity.. would any amount of personal pleasure be worth trading that for?  Your'e going to spend eternity somewhere.. which way are you running? Today we are asked to choose... will you stand united at the foot of the cross?  Or run headlong into a field for just a few silver?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

And you can too!

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time, July 5th, 2016.

Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13
Psalm 115
The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 9:32-38

My wife and I had a relaxing and beautiful Fourth of July.  She, Moira, and I road our bikes around town a couple of times.   First to eat lunch at Subway.  Then to go see Haley at work and get some of the vegan Italian ice she keeps telling me about.  It was a day of peace, reflection and joy.  A day to remember that we are free enough in this country that my wife and I can go riding downtown with our kids and not have to worry about being attacked.   She can wear exercise clothes and not be in fear of her life or being beaten for exposing too much skin.  A day in which we celebrate that freedom, but also have to think deeper.

The readings remind us about something that we often don't think about anymore in our society.   Americans tend to think that freedom means I can do whatever I want, I don't need discipline... if I want this I eat it... if I want that I drink it.   If I like this person I sleep with them.  As long as I do not hurt anyone else, what does it matter?  "You do you, and I'll do me."   That's not freedom though.  Freedom is not giving in to every single whim that your body, your desires, asks you to give in to.   True freedom is being able to say "I know I want that fifth doughnut, but I also know it's not good for me.  So I'm not going to eat it."   True freedom is being able to step back from your situation to ask, Is this good for me?  Is it good for them?  Which action leads to a long term good not a short term pleasure? True freedom must produce fruit.

  The stalk of grain that forms no ear can yield no flour

Though Hosea was talking to a people a couple thousand years ago, he could also very well give the same message to us today in the United States.   We have become complacent.   In our search to make freedom into our deity we have forgotten where we have been, who we were, and why we had become that people.  A Protestant reformer once said that a man should just sin because where there is sin, God's grace abounds.  So he encouraged people to sleep with their chamber maids when their wives weren't in the mood, or to eat till their stomachs were close to bursting in gluttony because somehow that made God's grace even greater.   That just doesn't seem right does it?  Why do evil so that good can come from it?  Rather than do good that good can abound?  When we forget our past... when we forget the things that have happened to us before... we fall into the same ruts.. the same sins... we stop producing fruit that is worth eating.. and become just a stalk of grain that has no ear... no flour... nothing worth eating.. and even what we have?  Is feeding the wrong type of person.

The Gospel reminds us though that when Jesus looks out on us, lost and confused in the crowd, He looks on us with compassion.  He sees us as a flock scattered in the mountains with ravenous wolves seeking to devour us on every side.  He seeks to find us, first and foremost with the call in our hearts.. but secondly by sending the Church to find us.. to guide us.. to give us discipline.. yes discipline.. that we might be truly free.  Sounds almost like an oxymoron doesn't it?  But true freedom comes form discipline.. it comes from putting our emotions, our desires, and our urges on the back burner and asking.. what is the true good that I need to do?  How can I produce fruit?  He calls us not just to be the fruit.. but also to be the laborers of the harvest.  That means that we first have to discipline ourselves.. but then to go out and help others to see the beauty of what Christ has to offer us.. by living it with joy, with peace, and with patience.  He wants to heal us... so that we can go out into the fields and help others to be healed too.

So are you doing that?  Are you working to produce fruit?  Are you trying to help others produce good fruit too?  That's why we Catholics consider it our responsibility to get involved in politics, in education, in all walks of life... why?  Because fruit is there... it's either good or bad... and we must stand up and say "This is wrong."  or "This is right!"  That's a fruit right there!  To stand up against the grain of what society tries to tell you is good and say "No.  That only seems good... and it probably feels good in the moment.. but it leads you to a place that is not good.. and does not feel good."  That's true love..... not just giving others what they want.. but rather giving them what they need.  The harvest is plentiful and abundant and Christ is calling you to go forth and help those who are struggling.. the ones who aren't producing fruit.. the ones who are falling away and starting to lose soil... starting to lose root... and saying Here, let me water you... let me feed you.... Let me serve you the least of these.. the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the sinner and the saint.... let me help till the soil and draw the bucket.... that you too might join me in producing the grain that Christ has sent us to grow...

That's our calling.. not just to think about ourselves... but to try to help every person we meet to come into a living relationship with Christ... to get to Heaven.... because that's the goal isn't it?  Starting with working on ourselves and our families... but then.. going into the world and living in a way that says I am producing fruit and you can too.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Can you do the Robot?

A reflection on the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time, June 03, 2016.
Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20
Galatians 6:14-18
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Society wants to blur the lines between male and female, man and woman, father and mother, man and wife. They want us to be convinced that in order to be equals, we must do things in the exact same way.  As a dad I know that there is something more amazing about a mother's love, something that is sought actively by the children because of it's qualities, because of it's comfort.   Yes, there are differences and I'm not painting all men and women with the same brush.. but I do find that the girls want their mommy when they need comfort and their dad when they need something done.  Mom seems to be kinder, gentler, and more understanding.  Dad is often brash and abrasive, but will defend them with his dying breath.  The image we have in scripture today is of a mother, Jerusalem, Zion the dwelling of the Lord.

Oh that you would be comforted by a mother, fed by her, protected by her and guided by her.  Christ gave us the Church to do just that.  He didn't give us a book, for that matter He didn't write a single word with his own incarnate hand.   Rather He gave us apostles, He gave us the Gospel, which the Church then gave to us in book form.  The Church is our mother, our guide.   She is there not to create tension or punish us, but rather to guide us to that joy and comfort that God promises.  That comfort ironically comes from being disciplined.  True freedom comes from being able to make a choice with your intellect even when your senses and desires try to pull you in the wrong direction.  The Church gives us guidelines on what is good for us, what is going to make us "flourish like the grass." 

Why do we do that?  Not to earn the ability to do miracles, or to revel in the fact that demons tremble at the name of Christ, not even for being a healer or a speaker... or any sort of gift.   Those are secondary to the greatest miracle of all, the miracle of salvation.   That's right, Jesus' mission was not primarily to be a healer.. but to remind us that "in the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those dwelling in the valley of darkness and death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."  Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation to God... restoration of a broken relationship.  That is the greatest miracle that Christ offers us.  He tells us to rejoice because our names are written in Heaven!  How beautiful a thought, oh how happy a day! 

He sends us out like the disciples.  Into the world to be witnesses to this forgiveness.  Not to be grumbling or complaining about that which we have received or have not, but to accept all things with humility and graciousness.  To pass blessings on those who you meet, wishing them peace!  Yesterday I was thinking about this during Adoration.   As I often do I prayed "God get rid of all that is me, and replace it with you."   I've always thought that a good prayer.  God seemed to say to me, "That is not what I am asking of you."   He doesn't want me to become a mirror image of Him, an automaton who simply does everything the way He does, when He wants, exactly as a robot.   If He wanted that, He'd have made that!   Rather, He wants me to be ONE with Him, as He and the Father are one.   I was bowled over.   He wants me to go out into the world as me, spreading the message He has given me, with the words that my faculties allow me to use.  

That's right, when He sent 72 out, there were 72 individuals.. all working together as one unit to provide one message.   Each one though was an individual, unique, loved by God... created with the personalities and temperaments that God desired them to have.   "He loves me for me!"   Jesus told me to stop using Him as a scapegoat and asking Him to simply take away my free will and instead have some discipline, to work to use the brain, soul and spirit He gave me to become the man I am made to be.   That doesn't mean that all Catholics will ever look the same, or sound the same.. or act the same... but we will have the same message, given with our own unique ability to say it, live it, and pray it.  Are you ready for that?  It's time to stop praying for a supernatural conversion that takes away those things we struggle with, and instead receive the grace that He has been pouring out on us to allow us to bolster our own discipline to grow closer to Him and further away from Sin.  

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."