Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Islam: A religion of peace?

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Turn your life flip upside down.

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Who is to blame?

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

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

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

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

His servant and yours,

Sunday, October 2, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened here today?’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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