Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Getting to Know You

In the readings for tomorrow's daily Mass, the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas,  we continue our survey of the second book of Samuel.   In this particular reading we see King David's response to God's promise to him.  God has just promised him an everlasting kingdom, that David's throne will last forever.  David wanted to build a house for God, but instead God built an eternal home for David!  We see David as the quintessential king of the Jewish earthly Kingdom.  Scripture claims that David was a man after God's own heart. (Acts 13:22)  This particular pericope shows us exactly why.  David's response is not to gloat, his response is not to cheer and brag;  no, David responds with great humility.  He wonders in a prayer of thanksgiving who he is, or who his family is that God has even allowed them to come this far, let alone make such a generous and merciful offer to him.   He prays for his people.  He submits himself to God's will completely, proclaiming God's words to be truth and life.

David realizes as the Church proclaims today that God's word is truth.   It can be trusted.   It does not return to him void, but it accomplishes the task for which it was sent. (Isaiah 55:11, CCC 215)   That's because God himself is truth.  He doesn't just have that characteristic, but he is the source of all truth.  (CCC 2465)  That is why we as Catholics do not believe in relativism.  We believe that truth itself is static, it does not change.  That's because truth exists outside of ourselves.  If it only existed inside of us, as some sort of intellectual endeavor, then every person is right.   That would mean believe that Hitler, Bundy, Stalin, etc. were all right in their actions.  Their belief that people should be murdered was truth... it just wasn't our truth.  "You do you, and I'll do me" the kids say.  "We will agree to disagree."  "Your truth is yours, but I believe...."  That is a dangerous slope.  One I do not wish to tread down.

Jesus gives us another way.  He tells us in the Gospel that the light of God cannot be hidden under a basket, but that God's word must be placed like a city on a hill, for all the world to see.  God's truth is not something that is hidden, it's not some Gnostic truth that can only be found with the right words, right rituals, or right amount of intelligence.  Rather, God's truth is evident through reason, logic, and rational thought.  Nature itself calls out to the existence of God and to the basic truths of our universe.  God has given us a Natural Law, one that calls out to not only his existence, but to an order.... It calls out to a static truth, a source of truth outside the human experience, a truth that says some things are just wrong... period.. no matter who does them, no matter what they believe... It says that in essence, it doesn't matter what your opinion or my opinion is.. the truth is not affected by opinion.. but exists in and of itself.

Saint Thomas Aquinas saw this miraculous nature of the universe and spent a great deal of his life studying and writing about it.   His genius has formed the philosophical nature of our faith as we have come to know it today, and has been a major influence on mankind.  He was indeed a light for God, shining throughout time to lead people to the truth.  He worked tirelessly to explore proof of God through scientific and philosophical means, and indeed wrote many documents proving just that. As a Protestant I believed in Scripture Alone... oh, how sad that must make the Father when he has given us such beautiful insight into his nature throughout the ages.  Two thousands years of writing completely ignored, reason and logic out the window, a church pushed to the side out of ignorance.. yes, a city on a hill that Luther tried to put a basket over.

You see, the Catholic church sees dogma as a light along the path of faith, a light to illuminate our path and make our footing secure. (CCC 89) God shines his light into the darkness and nothing is hidden from it.  There is a catch though.  In order for us to be the light of the world, we must come into a closer union with Christ.  It is a shame when the love of Christ is hidden behind a lukewarm spirituality.  His heart must ache terribly at all the grace that is refused by his children out of their own free will.  We must find a way to express that light, to bring that heart out into the world.  It finds its fullest expression in mercy, peace and love.

Those were the qualities of King David that God saw as a heart after his own.  A merciful, peaceful, loving King.  You and I are baptized as Priest, Prophet and King.  Jesus Christ is the epitome of that role.  Thomas Aquinas saw him as the ultimate end, the meaning to all things.  If you want to understand peace?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand joy?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand the beatitudes?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand patience?  Look at Christ on the cross.  You want to understand mercy?  You guessed it, Christ on the cross... Obedience.. humility... despising earthly things... detachment.. all found in this one man, this one figure, this one God.  

Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire that which he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.  (Collatio 6 super Credo in Deum)

Aquinas saw the glory of who God was.  He wrote volumes upon volumes about the mystery of God.  In the end though, he came to realize that God was so much more than we can describe with mere words.  God is so immense, so beyond understanding that Saint Thomas declared before his death when asked to continue writing he simply stated "I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me."  At that point Thomas had gone beyond the point of trying to capture God in mere words, and sought only Christ himself.  He desired only one thing for all his labor, Jesus.

We have much to learn.  Knowledge is indeed important.  St. Jerome said "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." (CCC 133) We need to spend time with the written word of God in order to understand who God truly is.  Reading the writings of Saint Thomas and the early Church Father's is a worthwhile endeavor, something we should all strive for.   The wealth of information there is something beyond value, something that should never been hidden or taken lightly.  However, the goal is not knowledge.. it's relationship.  The goal is Christ himself.  It's not getting ot know an equation, but a person.   It's not memorizing a text, but having a conversation. 

Jesus taught his disciples in parables.  Those parables were not intended to be hidden and coveted as a knowledge that only a select few were given.  Rather, they were to become the teaching of his Church.  His Church is here to lead us, to guide us, to teach us... but more especially to bring us into relationship with the God of the universe.  That's what the Sacraments are all about.  That's what the Eucharist is all about.   Book learnin' can only take us so far.. we must spend time with Him.. we must receive Him.. we must listen directly to Him.  That is why the Sacred Scriptures declare that the Church is the pillar and source of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and the Church in turn declares that the Eucharist is the source in summit of our faith(CCC 1324), because in the end this is about a marriage... between God and man.  You have been invited to that great wedding feast, as both a guest, and as a member of the bride..... In the end, it's all about Christ!  Do you know your husband?  Do you know your Lord?  It's time to get whatever is standing in the way out of the way, to look up at Him during the Mass and say "Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief."  (Mark 9:24)

His servant and yours,
Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Isn't that the way they say it goes?

As we continue the narrative in Daily Mass in the second book of the Prophet Samuel, we begin to see King David desiring to do something magnificent and mighty for the Lord.  In the process God begins to ask him, did I ask you to do this?   Have I ever complained?  During all this time have I ever said "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" (2 Samuel 7:7)   It's not that David's idea was a bad one, in fact God promises him that his son Solomon would do just that.  The thing is, David's idea was the thinking of man, not the thinking of God.  David wanted to do something good... God wanted to give him something awesome, something more, something eternal.  God then goes on to promise that not only will Solomon build him a house of worship, but makes one of the most important promises in all of the history of Israel, declaring: "Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever." (2 Samuel 7:16)

Isn't that the way it always goes?  God has something planned for us, and we think we know better?  The thing is that God wants us to learn a simple and profound truth, that he is truly our Father.  We are a part of the most important family, the most influential, a royal kingdom that lasts forever.  The word became flesh, so that we might partake of his very own divine nature. (CCC 460)  The thing is though that we see from all of Sacred Scripture that God wants us to remember that everyone is part of this family, especially the widow and the orphan.  We as Catholics believe in a preferential option for the poor.   That is, God himself is their protector, their Father. 


Father of orphans and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
    he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
    but the rebellious live in a parched land.

We as Catholics are called to remember that at all times.  To realize that this Kingdom is made up first and foremost by those who have nothing to give in return.  That unless we are like little children, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.   We see that truth proclaimed in the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem on an ass.   Who greets the King of the Universe?   The children and the poor, those are the subjects of His royal kingdom.   It isn't the King and Queen, the wealthy aristocrat who comes to scatter palms and sing Hosanna, but rather the poorest members of society who rejoice at his arrival. (CCC 559) Jesus entry into Jerusalem itself mad manifest that Kingdom which David was promised, the eternal Kingdom, completely revealed to us in his death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven.

Our Gospel reading then goes on to give us a parable to help us understand this Kingdom that he has come to bring about.  Jesus does a great deal of teaching in parables.  He doesn't explain it to everyone, rather he spends time explaining it to his disciples.  The Church has long held that the reasoning for this is because of the nature of their teaching office and mission.   How could they teach what Jesus taught, without understanding it?  Then he promised to send the Holy Spirit to remind them of his words, and to help them further spread this kingdom to the ends of the earth.  (John 14:16-17,  John 14:26)   That's one of the things about our faith.  It's difficult to understand Christianity without being an 'insider.'  For those who stay outside of the mystery, those who never experience Christ, everything remains enigmatic.   When I first began to study the Catholic church, that word Mystery... infuriated me.   It was only as I drew closer, began to ask God to teach me, began to truly listen to His guidance and approach it with an honest heart and open mind... that I began to see that it is truly a mystery.. because God is more than any human mind can comprehend.  

This parable of his reminds us that we are all called to discipleship.  We have been given the gift of the Word.  It has been planted into our hearts.  Our souls call out to be filled with Him.  St Augustine said, "our heart is restless until it rests in you."  (CCC 30)   We must realize though, that call demands a response.  It demands a choice.  We can be like the person who simply lets it be snatched from our grasp.  We don't want to know.  We don't want to choose.  We just walk away.  We can be the person who is on fire for a time, but then some trial comes along.. some suffering... and we want nothing to do with God.   We can be a true disciple, we can nourish that seed through prayer, through meditation, through the Sacraments... until it begins to grow and overflow... changing not just ourselves but the world around us. 

We often forget how beautiful and glorious a gift the Eucharist is to us.  The Catechism says that "This Sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, through Christ and the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1153).    Mass is a family reunion.  It is a moment where God himself is made present.  It has been said that at Mass, heaven kisses earth.  Think about that for a moment.  Heaven does not become part of the earth, but you and I are lifted up to be a part of heaven.  We receive Jesus that just as he became man, that we might become more like God... he becomes bread, that we might consume him and be transformed... to be drawn into that divine life... that eternal life.   The Catechism goes on to say that these "liturgical actions signify what the Word of God expresses: both his free initiative and his people's response of faith." 

Faith demands a response.  Mass is the start of the response.  Our actions, our words, our communion... they are a sign that we are soil ready to be prepared.   Even if we have rocks and briars, we are opening ourselves to the greatest Farmer in the universe... through His Sacramental presence he will prepare us.  Do you think of that when Jesus said I go to prepare a place?  Well he does indeed do that.  I also believe, that through receiving Him here and now... we can begin to prepare a place in our hearts.. a dwelling place... a temple for God himself to live inside us.  Heaven is not just then.. it is through all of time and space... and it can be right now. 

This parable shows Jesus coming as the final prophet, the prophet par excellence.  He comes to give us a message that just like his predecessors.. some will reject, some will follow for a time and then fall away, some will never water or take care of, never encourage, and some will be fertile soil.  Isaiah declared:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Jesus is the Word of God, the Word that was spoken to create all of the universe.  Not a thing was made that was not made for him, and through him.  (John 1:3) That Word is being spoken to you, right now.   There is only one thing that can stand in it's way.. you.  A light never casts a shadow, unless something is in it's way...  So what kind of soil are you?  Are you a mirror reflecting the light of Christ for the whole world to see?  Or a bushel basket trying to hide it through your words and actions?   He is there, waiting for you in the Sacraments.. he doesn't expect you to be perfect, he doesn't ask you to wait until your life is put back together.. no, he wants you to come now.  Come to see him in Confession, then go forth and sin no more.  Let him turn you into a fertile soil, that His Word might bloom in your heart.. and together we (The Body of Christ) can change the world.

We have work to do!   Let's begin by being more like God and reaching out to those he chose as the first in his Kingdom.  The poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien.   They need us, and guess what... we need them.  If we start there, God himself will build an eternal dwelling, a house not made with hands, eternal inside you.

His servant and yours,
Brian












Monday, January 25, 2016

Turn this mutha out?

Tomorrow is the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus.  These are two of the companions of St. Paul whose conversion we celebrated this morning. These men were faithful to the gospel of Christ and as such were left in charge of communities as presbyters.  Paul challenges them to live upright moral and faith filled lives.  A good example for all of us.

Then we come to the Gospel reading.  So many misinterpret this encounter to be one in which Christ was rude to his mother.   How can that be?  If Christ broke a commandment then he's not the Christ we claim him to be.  In order for this to make sense we have to look at it from the Apostolic teaching that we have received from the Church fathers and through the church.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”

How easy it would be to put our own personal interpretation on this.  To say that Christ was taking Mary's role in salvation history and making it into something insignificant.  Something minor.  We know though that Scripture informs us that Christ was without sin.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Now in order for Christ to be the man we claim him to be, the propitiation for our sins... he must be this man who knew no sin.  Otherwise our faith, our religion is indeed in vain.  So if he is free of sin, how then could he have been dishonoring his mother?  That would be breaking the commandment which requires us to honor our mother and father, would it not? 

The Church fathers give us a much different view of this though.  In view of the rest of Scripture, in view of the teaching of the Apostles, we find that they did not see this as a moment in which Christ lowered Mary's position.. but rather expanded and fulfilled the Kingdom of God.  Jesus wasn't making the kingdom smaller... he wasn't making his family more refined... he was expanding it. He was showing us a very simple truth.  We are a family.   We are the body of Christ.  We are brothers and sisters.  We have a mother.  We have a Father.   We are one.  What we do affects one another. No man is an island.

In fact, Jesus says something so important to understanding this encounter.   He says "Whoever does the will of God."  Who can we say did the will of God more than the Blessed Virgin and Mother?  She gave an unconditional yes to his plan.   She gave birth to the Messiah.  She raised him.  She nursed and comforted the savior of the world.  If she, of all people, does not fit that qualifier, what hope have you and I?  No, Jesus wasn't narrowing the scope of his spiritual family.. he was broadening it.   He was expanding his family to include all people of faith.   To bring us together as a family.

We see this further expounded at the foot of the cross when Jesus says to his beloved disciple, behold your mother.  Mother behold your son.  Are we not the beloved disciples? How then do we reject Mary from our homes, from our lives?  How do we demean her and pretend she is not part of the spiritual family, as if she were just a box that God used to do something and then discarded.  What kind of loving God would that be?  One which just chose any old person to be the mother of his son?  In fact, we would claim that God makes each of us unique and beautiful.   He creates us with a plan for our lives.  He loves us completely, giving his very life for us.  Why then do we try to say that Mary was just any old person then?   If we are unique, how much more so the woman he designed and chose to be the mother of his son? 

Twenty years ago I would have dismissed any talk of the Blessed Mother.  I'd have told you she was just any old sinful person.  Today?  I will defend her.  Why?  Because I see her for who she truly is.  The new Eve, who gave an unconditional yes to God.   Who received a message from an angel of the Lord instead of a message from an angel of darkness.  I see her as the New Ark of the covenant, a tabernacle of flesh in which resides the true high priest, the true commandments written in flesh, the mana from Heaven.  Indeed, I see her as the disciple par excellence.    She allowed herself to be a conduit of God's grace to the world.  She continually pointed people to her Son.  She encouraged God's will to be done at all times.  She was present when the Church gathered.   She was there at the foot of the cross, weeping for her son but stoic.   Yes, if you want to know what it means to be a disciple?  Learn who Mary of Nazareth is.  

For indeed, she is the Queen of Heaven.  One cannot read Revelation 11-12 and not see her as the woman clothed in the light of the sun, crowned with authority over all of mankind.  You want to talk about a repressive religion?  Find the one that rejects the Virgin Mother.... Find the one that rejects her as important because she's just a woman... that's not my religion.  No Catholicism sees her as the most important human being to exist besides Christ himself. 

What about you?  Have you invited her into your home?  Into your life?  She doesn't replace God.. no... she's just part of the family.   God let's us all do that doesn't he?  He let's us share in his glory.   He wants us to be his hand and feet.  He wants us to be conduits of grace. The same with the spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ.  He is not offended when you show her love.  Rather, I believe he is happy to know that you love her too.  Don't worry... you can't love her more than he does.

His servant and yours,
Brian

"I must decrease, he must increase."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Can't Help Falling in Love

The readings for tomorrow's daily Mass are so rich and beautiful that I am not sure I can do them justice with mere words.  There is so much there, so many lessons.  The story of Saint Paul is such a powerful testimony that it should make all of us as Christians find hope and beauty in the mercy and grace of God.  We see a man who previously had been binding and capturing Christians, abusing and torturing them, leading them into prison and even sometimes killing them; being blinded and led by Christ into a prison of darkness, one of Saul's own doing.  Then being freed by the Holy Spirit and led out by hand to serve God and bring his message of salvation to the World.  There is no doubt about it that Saul of Tarsus was a major influence on how we as Christians understand our faith today.

The thing that was missing in Saul's life was truly charity.  He had zeal for God's word, we see that for certain.  He had studied under Gamaliel.  He was truly an educated man, a Pharisee of Pharisees.  His pedigree was immaculate and without error.  His actions though were not of a man who loved others, but rather of a man living with zealous fear.  You know, when your way of life is threatened you immediately lash out at others?   We do that a tremendous amount in our society.  We lash out at the different.  We abuse and put down the other.  The strange.  The them.   We want our comfort zone.  We want things not to change.  Every generation is guilty of this.  The thing is though, charity is the thing we need most.  It is that which Jesus talked about when he said the greatest commandment was to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.   Charity is love.  It comes from the Latin word Caritas, which means love for your fellow man.  The Church has declared that "Charity is the soul of the holiness to which all are called: it "governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification."  (CCC 826)

It goes further than just going to church on Sunday.   This Sunday at Mass we heard the beautiful reading of Saint Paul where he declares that we are the body of Christ and that we cannot just reject each other off hand.   We need each other.  The thing about a body is it, it needs certain things to function.   We need a brain.  We need lungs.  We need certain parts and without them we will surely die.  St. Thérèse Of Lisieux said "If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn't lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. [..] LOVE, IN FACT, IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT'S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE - IT'S ETERNAL!"  (CCC 826)  We can do an awful lot of things without love, that's for sure.  What we cannot do is claim to be Christian, claim to be a part of the body of Christ without it.  Without it.. we are just a noise.. (1 Corinthians 13:1) an irritant.   A resounding gong, a noisy cymbal.  There was nothing I hated more in band than when one of us percussionists dropped a cymbal on the floor.  The sound was grating, irritating, everything ground to a halt. 

How then do we find love?  First and foremost we find it in the Sacraments of our Holy Mother Church.  It is through these sacraments that we encounter Christ in the fullest possible way.  It is in reconciliation that the fullness of God's mercy is loosened by the promise made to Peter, whatever you loosen shall be loosened, whatever you bind shall be bound. (Matt 16:19)  It is through the Eucharist we receive Jesus himself; body, soul and divinity; into our own bodies to guide and change us.  To make us more like Him, to fill us with his love.  In Baptism and Confirmation we receive and are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us.  The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity's communion with men. (CCC 747)

Yes, you and I are called to love.  We are called to more than just a weekend visit with Christ.  We are called to apostleship.  We are called to be intentional disciples.  In the Gospel reading we see Christ commissioning his disciples to go forth and preach the Gospel.   This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline. (CCC 75)  More so, the signs and miracles that accompanied them testified to the power of their calling and to Christ's presence with them through the Holy Spirit.  It testified to God's love for mankind, all of mankind, and to the fulfilment of Christ's promise that he would be with them all ways.  (Matt 28:20)

All of us are called to this apostolic mission.  That's what it means when we declare at Mass that we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  It is a universal call, one rested on the authority and mission of the apostles.  We are called to do the same in our own station of life.  Not just the priests.   Not just the nuns.  Not just the deacons.  Not just the pastoral ministers.  Every single one of us.  In fact, the Church believes so strongly in the call of the lay faithful that it declares that "The apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without the laity."  (CCC 900)  It is through you and I that we see the world begin to change.  We are challenged to engage in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will (CCC 898).   We are out in the world.  It is up to us to bring Christ into our environment.  Into our families.  Into our work places.  Into our politics.  Challenging the world to a higher moral standard.  In every action, and every thought.   We are in the world but not of it.  We still have an obligation to our fellow man to bring them the good news.   To protect those who cannot protect themselves.  To bring about policies that protect the unborn, the widow, the orphan, the refugee.   To help the homeless, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, give drink to those who thirst. 

The Catechism tells us that the Church is like the moon. (CCC 748)  She has no light of her own.  She simply reflects the light of Christ.  You and I are the Church.  If all we do is receive the Sacraments?  We are like a black hole.  We take and take.  We never give back.  We are not full of love.  Rather we are parasites, trying to draw on God's grace for our own selfish reasons.  Rather, we are to be reflecting, sharing, pouring over.   Our joy should be so beautiful and powerful that when someone looks at us they see that light of God shining out and ask, what is it that they have?  How can I get some of that?  It is in giving that love becomes full.  It is when our Church, you and I, are so filled with love that we become a part of that universe.  An eternal universe.  One that transcends time and space.  God is love.  If we do not have love?  We are not part of him.  Oh how I long to be part of Him!  How I long to serve him completely and get my ego, my self, out of the way.  My mirror has smudges... oh Lord grant me the grace to clean them off.  Let me be a pure reflection of your glory, for I am a poor one at best. 

What about you?  Are you a mirror?  Or do you suck in all the light you can get never offering it to the world?  With everything going on right now; political rallying, march for life, primary elections, war, refugees dying trying to flee those wars, natural disasters, snow storms on the East coast, flooding, theft, vandalism, and so much more; are you pouring out God's love to help those in need?  Remember, as Mother Theresa said:

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”

I don't know about you.. but I have work to do.

His servant and yours,
Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Saturday, January 23, 2016

If I could save time in a bottle....

In the first reading we see this very intriguing event.  Ezra has stood up in front of the people and read to them the Law of God.  As he read it to them they begin to weep and cry.  They were sad, scared.  They heard all the things they were supposed to be doing and realize they were so far from that.  Was there any hope?  Ezra comforts them and says get up, God is good! This is a day Holy to the Lord.  It's a feast. Go eat and enjoy!

Sometimes we have that reaction ourselves.  Jesus gave us the beatitudes to remind us that the ten commandments require detachment.  They require humility.  They require being more like Christ.  When we hear that.. when we are honest... sometimes we want to fall down on the ground and say.. I'm not worthy.  Who am I but a worm?  A sinful man, unworthy of your grace, unworthy of your love.  Satan helps with that doesn't he?   He whispers in your ear "remember that thing you did?  Remember those words you said?"  He wants you to think you aren't worthy.. he wants you not to accept God's mercy, God's love.

We have to be careful not to get to where God's mercy is never great enough.  We have to avoid simply having hellfire and brimstone preaching without the immense love and mercy of God.  God is not a hateful tyrant, stomping around upstairs just waiting for you to make a mistake.   He's not up there with an eraser, glaring in your direction like that teacher who hated you... just hoping he can erase your name from the Lamb's book of life.  No, he's a loving Father.  He has to chastise because he is just and true, but he takes no savor in doing so.  He does not hope you will fail.. he longs for you to soar with the eagles.

At the same time we have to avoid God becoming buddy Jesus.  We cannot see God as only love without justice, only mercy without righteousness.  He is both and, not either or.  He offers the grace, but if we do not accept it, he is bound by who he is, by his own very nature, to have no choice but to punish us.  We choose that, you know?  God never chooses bad for us, but how often do we out of our own sinful ignorance and concupiscence choose that which is not for our own good? Too often.

That's why Jesus came to die for us.  To make us part of the Body of Christ.  Each of us is entirely and utterly unique.  No one can do anything like you can do it.  No one has the same skillset, same thought patterns, same exact life... only you are you.. and God loves you entirely.  So much so that he wants you to be a part of His body, a part of Him.  He wants us to work together to form one working organism... with millions of unique jobs to be done.  He's calling you to be a part of that..  To be a part of His Church, because it needs you.  Somewhere there is a job to be done... whether in the church itself through Holy Orders, in the service at the mass, or out in the world witnessing with your work ethic and joyful attitude. 

How do we get there though? On our own we have trouble always being joyful, don't we?  We are supposed to be bringing life into the world.. but too often we bring the opposite.  We tear down.  We yell.  We get angry.  The Key is in the responsorial Psalm.  You're words, Lord, are spirit and life.  There it is.. the key.. The Word of God is life itself... It is in receiving that Word, in internalizing it, in allowing it to change us.. that we become more like God.. we become life givers, not takers. We become lights, not darkness.  That doesn't mean you lose your uniqueness.  God doesn't make you into another clone, another zombie... he says to you, You are my unique child and I love you.  I don't expect you to do things the same as everyone else.. but I long for you to share my life giving love with others in your own unique way. 

He has given us the beatitudes to follow.  To show us how to be that life giving person.  These call us to detachment.  They call us to righteousness.  They call us to love.. But more importantly they call us to Christ.  They describe perfectly the man of Christ.   They describe Christ on the cross.   A man who was happy.  A man who was detached.  A man who cared for others, despite his own circumstances.   A man fully given to God's will and mission, while still being completely unique.  They very Son of God.

It is in receiving Him, Christ, that we can even hope to have the grace of taking up our own unique crosses.  We as Catholics believe that the Eucharist is that person.  It's not a thing. Not an it.  Not just bread.  Rather, it is truly the substance of Christ, Body, Soul and Divinity.  When we go to Mass we are truly receiving the Living Word of God.  We get fed from the table of the Sacred Scriptures and the table of the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Two liturgies, one table.  Two different bites, one single dish.  Heaven kisses earth and we are lifted up to be with God, with the Angels and Saints in Heaven.  We come into God's presence, we are brought face to face with Christ on Calvary. 

I imagine for some that's as shocking as what Jesus did in the gospel when he proclaimed to the people that He was who Isaiah spoke of 400 years ago.. the Christ.. the Messiah.. the one to liberate the people.   Then, he backed it up. He performed all those things which he read about. 


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.


That promise was not just to them... but to you and I.  He comes to us today in the Eucharist and says to you:  Are you poor?  Is your spirit lacking?  Is there something you need in our relationship?  Let me fulfill you.   Are you captive to some sin?  Is there something in your life holding you back from giving yourself to me 100%?  Let me free you.   Are you blind to my love for you?  To my presence in your life?  Is it too hard for you to see my hand at work in your life?  Believe in me and I will open your eyes.  Are you oppressed?   Is there something pushing you down?  Is your own ego or addiction a tyrant keeping you from accepting my mercy? My child let me be your salvation.

Today is the Sabbath, the daily Holy to the Lord.   I challenge though that all days, all moments, every second.. is Holy to the Lord.   God himself entered time in the person of Christ and through his presence has sanctified to God every thing.  Every moment was created for you.   Every second of your life a gift.  Christ came to proclaim to you a lifetime of forgiveness.  A lifetime of freedom.   A lifetime of joy and gladness.  Are you ready to accept it?  Are you ready to be filled with joy?  Start with the Eucharist today.  Live the beatitudes.   They will draw you closer to Christ and Christ will show you that indeed, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

It's almost as if Christ is singing to you that Old Jim Croce song:


If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

How about you?  If you could save every moment of your life in a bottle.. and relive them... would you relive them for God?  The Bible is our love story.. Christ is our lover.. we are the beloved... Is he enough for us?  Every time we choose something else... well, we have become spiritually poor.  We have become blind.  We have become oppressed.  We have become idolaters.  Even then.. even when we have fallen once more... like a concern parent he reaches out to us and tries to help us up... and he calls out.. and says.. I still love you.. come back to me.  I am right here.. I have come to bring liberty, freedom, and joy... let me free you and love you.



His servant and yours,
Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Can Ring My Bell?

Photo by Jeremy Wheaton
Today was a very somber day for me.  I watched some news reports today coming in from Washington D.C.   The March for life was still going despite the impending winter storm.   People were still sharing the witness of their faith.  They were going to make a difference.  They were doing something.  Raising awareness.   Showing that they disapproved of what we have become as a country, of what we have allowed since that day in 1973 when Abortion became a legal reality.

As I stood at the bell in front of our church I wondered, what can I do?  Here I am a man with a crippled body.  A spine made of titanium that no longer bends.  I am unable to work.  I am in constant pain.  I can't make the trip to D.C and then be able to do anything.  Even if I could, the march itself would definitely take it's toll on me.   It would be worth it, I am sure.  I stood there watching the snow drift down like Mardis Gras confetti, grimacing from time to time as this stupid kidney stone twinged.  Donna's voice called out the beginning of the prayers of the rosary and we responded.  Between each prayer I would ring the bell. 

Fifty eight times.  Fifty eight times the bell called out through the neighborhood.  Fifty eight times it echoed off the houses, the windows, the tomb stones, the trees.  I wonder if anyone heard it's lonely cry as it drifted through the snow.  Or did the snow muffle the anguished toll making everything seem light and fluffy as wintering precipitation is wont to do?  

Abortion.  We avoid that word don't we?  I want to do similar here with my blog to what Deacon Bill did at our communion service today.  I want to share some numbers.  I want to make people more aware of what is actually going on.. put it into perspective for those who think it's not a big deal.

There have been almost 59 million abortions in the United States alone since Roe vs. Wade.  That's nearly the population of California and Texas combined.

There have been 65,000 abortions in the U.S. this year alone, and remember it's January.  That means in two months the entire city of Rockford, IL would have been aborted.

There have been 2,329 abortions in the U.S. just today.  That means every two days there have been as many people killed as there are living in the town of Genoa, IL.  That means that every day more people die than at Pearl Harbor.  Every two days more people die than at 911.   That means that every minute there is an abortion in the U.S.  Worldwide that number is even more.  Worldwide there have been 1,157 abortions since I began writing this blog.  Worldwide that number is 1,402,387,111 abortions since 1980. 

Let's try to think about that.  Here is a visual that really struck me.  Let's for a minute compare it to counting sheep.  You decide you are going to count one sheep for every abortion since 1980.  You count really fast right?  You know it's going to take some time.

In 1 seconds, 10 sheep go by.
In a minute?  600.
In an hour? 36000.
All night, 12 hours? 430,000 sheep go by.
A week? 24x7? Counting every second, no sleep, just counting? 6 million sheep.
In a month? 25 million
After a year?  300 million.
So if you manage to keep going... never sleeping, never stopping, never resting.. one sheep a second.. counting and counting... In 3 years and 3 months.. you can count a billion.   You only need to go another year and a half to get to 1.4 billion.  The scary part?  You just spent over 5 years counting.. and in that time?  Another 10 million will have happened.

That blows me away.  What does that have to do with our readings for today?  In our readings we see Saul being in a very precarious position.  He goes into a cave to relieve himself.  Isn't that some tasty reading material?  While he's in his most vulnerable position, David who Saul has been trying to kill, sneaks up behind him and cuts off part of his cloak.  David's men then want to rush out and kill Saul before he can even get his armor back in place.  David instead goes out and shows Saul that he truly doesn't mean him harm... if he did?  He'd already have killed him.  Saul realizes that God had delivered him into David's grasp, completely vulnerable, unable to defend himself and professes:

Great is the generosity you showed me today,
when the LORD delivered me into your grasp
and you did not kill me.


Oh doesn't that sting?  Every day God delivers into our lives the opportunity to choose life.  He delivers into our grasp the most defenseless of people... the one who not only cannot defend himself but also cannot even speak for themselves... How do we choose to respond?  How does God want us to respond?  David knew that Saul had been anointed by God, chosen by God.   He refused to lay a hand on him.  He responded with generosity.  He responded with kindness.  He responded with love.  How much more so is the child designed by God in the womb chosen by God?  I hope that we can honestly say that the generous, kind, and loving thing is to choose life.  Not to blame the unborn for the sins of their fathers and mothers, but to realize they are a gift no matter how they got there.  They are innocent of any crime, unlike Saul who could cry "You are in the right rather than I; you have treated me generously, while I have done you harm."  If David, a foreshadow of Christ, chose to give life to his enemy; how much more so do you think Christ himself would ask us to choose to give life to the innocent?

Then we have the New Testament reading which shows us the calling of Jesus to the disciples.  The scripture reading says first "Jesus went up on the mountain."  This means an encounter with God.  Moses went up the mountain to meet God.  Elijah went up to the mountain to meet God.  Jesus goes up to the mountain to be with the Father.  Then he calls them.  God calls us just like the disciples.  When Jesus called them he chose them.  They weren't a mold.  They weren't all the same.  Some were quiet.  Some were crude and rough.  Some were educated.  Some were working men.  Some, the Sons of Thunder, were loud and boisterous!  They all had one thing in common.. they were chosen... they had a mission.

You and I are chosen too.  We are each different.  Some can do this, some that.  Some are apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,   for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.  All though are called to bring about God's will.  All are called to bring justice and righteousness to the less fortunate.  To protect the window, the orphan, the alien, the refugee... the one who cannot defend him/herself.  How much more so the unborn? You and I are called to protect them... but how?  Each of us has our own way, our own path.

While I was ringing that bell I thought this is it.  This is what I can do.  I can offer up my pain.  I can offer up my suffering.  I can write.  I can talk.  I can share.  It's what you can do too.  You can find a way to make a difference.  You can pray.  You can write letters to congress.  You can be present to an event.  You can tell someone about the numbers.  You can make sure that every person you know, every child whose life you are influencing knows that all life is precious.  That every person deserves dignity and respect from womb to tomb.  That's what it means to be a disciples of Christ.. it means going out into the world to bring God's Word into our environments.  It means making people aware of wrongs.  It means being a Son of Thunder when necessary, using our voice as loudly as necessary to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

His servant and yours,
Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Saint Agnes, Saint Agnes, Let Down Your Hair

Today we have the Feast of Saint Agnes. This extraordinary young lady lived a life that would put most of us to shame.  She is lauded for her purity and chastity, and her story is one that should make each of us question our own dedication to Christ.  At a young age she dedicated her virginity to God.  She felt such a personal relationship with Christ that she desired not to be married, but rather to go through life with God as her only spouse.  So strong was her desire that she turned down the advances of many men.  It was a dangerous time to be a Christian though.  Diocletian was emperor and he was very much known for his persecution and killing of Christians.

Eventually she angered the wrong people and she was turned in.  The emperor had her paraded before statues of the roman God's and demanded that she worship them.  She refused.  So he had her stripped naked and thrown into a brothel. Imagine that. She was only thirteen years old.  Being stripped, standing in this place where people were doing unimaginable things.  Legend has it that when they took her clothes off and stood her up for everyone to see her hair instantly grew longer to cover her entire body.  Then someone tried to rape her and was struck blind.  Another tried to rape her and was struck dead, and then at the prayer of this young Saint came back to life.

They continued to try and torture her and kill her.  Even at one point trying to burn her alive and she was unharmed.  Tiring of all of this, someone killed her by the sword.  All the while she refused to give up her relationship with Christ.  She refused to give in and be like everyone else. She kept her purity.  Her virginity. Her chastity.

We have lost that notion in our society these days.  So much so that it's even unpopular to even talk about it.  Our television shows are filled with casual sex, couples who are not married but live together, friends with benefits.   So much so that a happily married couple is very rarely portrayed in today's modern cinema.  Even our fairy tales have been remade into something of a soap opera where Snow White and Prince Charming are sneaking about behind Charming's wife.  It's funny how we have this notion that we are more civilized today.  We would blanch and cry fowl if someone where to suggest that a thirteen year old be married today.  Oh but they are children!  I agree.  Agnes' time was a different time for sure.  Yet, in today's society more and more thirteen year olds are sexually active and more often than not are on some form of artificial birth control.

Our readings show us two things that we can bring into this conversation.   In the first reading, Johnathan goes to David to warn him that his father, King Saul, wants to kill him.  Then Johnathan goes to Saul while David is in hiding and pleads his case.  This is one of the major things we should be doing.  Scripture records Johnathan and David as being best of friends.  When Johnathan saw his friend in trouble he did not stand idly by, he interceded for him.  He warned David of the danger.  He then went to the King to beg for reason, to beg for mercy.  We should be doing this for our children, for our nation.   We have a King who is much more reasonable, infinitely more merciful.  It is up to us to stand in the gap and pray for them.  We also must speak to them.  Warn them of the danger.  If we don't, who will?  We are the hands and feet, the body of Christ.  We must continue to act to change the world to where His will, will be done.

Then we see in the Gospel the answer to all of societies demons.  People were pressing on him.  A huge crowd had approached to find healing, relief from their physical sorrows.  Immediately upon seeing him unclean spirits would fall down and cry out the truth of who he was.  Too often we only want that physical healing.  The truth is though that if we come to Jesus, he will heal us all.  What we need to do though is to have an intimate and personal relationship with God.  We need to know him.  We need to be completely aware of who he is.  Then to share that with others.  Jesus healing ministry was second to the work he came to do.  Physical miracles are awesome, do not get me wrong... what would be more awesome is a spiritual revival throughout the world.  The only way to bring that about is to get down on our knees and cry out "You are the Son of God!"  Only when we get to know Jesus, when we have a relationship with him so powerful that others can see it in our walk and in our talk.. only then will they be drawn to him as well. 

There in the tabernacle is the key to every ill that society has.  It is the cure to our sexual epidemic. It is the cure to our slothfulness.  It is the cure to our perversions and sins.  In the Eucharist, in the Sacraments, we come face to face with the living God and his mercy pours out upon us.  The Holy Spirit, through the power and grace of God, has transformed simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Even the demons recognize him, how can we fail to?  At times I think we all do.  That's why it is so important to make frequent reception of the Sacraments a part of our lives.   If even the demons fall to their knees crying out that he is the Son of God, how much more so you and I who believe?  It is time for us to be witnesses to the truth.  It is time for us to spread the Gospel.  The good news.  It is time for us to restore chastity to our society, to live as examples of purity. Not out of egotism and false piety, but out of love for Christ and respect for our respective vocations.  Are you with me?  Shall we let down our hair?

His servant and yours,
Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Living Water

In Tomorrow's Gospel reading we see Jesus experiencing one of those human emotions that many of us can truly empathize with.  The Scripture says that he looked around at them with anger.  Oh, anger, how I wish to be rid of thee.  Sometimes though, we should be angry!  Here Jesus shows us one of those times.  These same men have been confronting him for some time now in the readings.  They accused him of blasphemy for healing the paralytic who was lowered through the roof.  Then again on the Sabbath for his disciples working and not fasting.  Now here they are once again, thinking in their hearts that he is sinning for healing.  

They aren't watching him to get an example of how to live the Gospel.  They are refusing to see him for who he really is.  They are blinded by their own jealousy, their own fear of losing their influence, their own humanity.  Jesus demands to know, is it wrong to do good?  Is it wrong to save life?  Christ taught us that lesson over and over, that though we should avoid unnecessary work on the Sabbath, works of mercy always supersede our desire and need for rest. 

The Pharisees though did not see God standing right before them.  The Son of Man was standing in their midst, showing them the true breadth and width of the Law, that is he was showing them how to Love.   He offered them a relationship with God.  He offered them a way of living that put the law in it's proper place, as a means to bring rest to the weary and justice to the land.  Instead, they have chosen time and again to refuse his message, to reject his call.  This not only angered him, it grieved him.  Doesn't that normally happen?  When we are trying to give someone something that we know will be good for them, when we offer them love and hope, and they reject it for something they think is better?   Doesn't it frustrate us?  Anger us?  Grieve us? 

Jesus of course heals the man with the withered hand.  He shows us by his own actions the example that we should be following.  He teaches us that our relationship with God is first and foremost, and that the way we live that relationship is through a relationship with one another.  It is in loving others that we serve God the most.    The Pharisees were stumbling over Jesus doing good on the Sabbath, demanding rather that he sit and rest, avoiding work, fasting.  They forgot the words of the Prophet:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:...
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."


Isn't that then our lesson for this reading?  God desires mercy more than sacrifice, obedience more than burnt offerings.  He wants us to follow Him.  God created the Sabbath to show man that he could both take the rest that he needed and still emulate God.  God didn't need the rest, we did.  He took our own nature and emulated it so that we could then in turn be more like him.  How generous a God is that?  Then he gave us His Son, the visible sign of the invisible God.  He gave us the perfect example to follow.. so in being like Christ, we become more like God.

We are in a world that is filled with temptations and trials.  We constantly have to fight our desires, our flesh.  The early Church Fathers talk about how David and Goliath is the story of the Church, of the fight between Satan and the Body of Christ.  David has given us an example of one who doesn't trust in armor, or trust in swords.  He doesn't put his faith in his own ability to beat Goliath, but rather in the Holy One of Israel.  He steps on to the field armed with only with the tools of a Shepherd.  In the end he is triumphant with just a sling and a stone.  The Lord is our rock.  It is when we arm ourselves with the Rock of the Lord and launch it toward our enemy that we can hope to beat him. 

That means reading Sacred Scripture.  That means studying the Word of the Lord.   That means receiving the Sacraments, often, reverently, and with expectant hope.  That means being more like Christ.   That means reaching out to the widow, the orphan, the refugee.... There is this image from the book of the Prophet Amos that says:

But let justice roll down like waters,    and righteousness like an everflowing stream.


Isn't that what our Church is?  The Eucharist is the source of life, the living waters, the presence of Christ himself.  How much more so should that stream overflow out of us and into the world?  Do you think of yourself as a fountain?  Are you letting Christ overflow from your heart that the rest of the world might experience just a drop of his justice?  Oh, how parched a land this world is, and how refreshing a single drop of that heavenly water to the soul in need.  We have work to do!

His servant and yours, 
Brian 

"He must increase, I must decrease."  


Monday, January 18, 2016

Breathe In Me, Father Breathe in Me

Tomorrow at Daily Mass we continue the story of the Prophet Samuel.  Today we talked about how that God had rejected Saul for not being obedient, for not listening.  So God sends Samuel to anoint a young Shepherd Boy.  David was the King that everyone looked up to in Jesus time.  Solomon was great, but David was greater.  Not because David was perfect.  Oh no, all of us know that David was a very flawed man.  From adultery to murder, he was a sinner just like the rest of us.  He though had a propensity for doing God's will. Because of this God had him anointed as King of the chosen people.  That's what we need to be doing isn't it?  Trying to do God's will.  Discerning what God wants in a given situation, and then going and doing that... regardless of the cost.

The thing about it is, like David, we are going to fail sometimes.  Our kids are watching.  Our families are watching.  Our friends are watching.   That's ok.  We should fail.  We aren't perfect.  The thing is, what are you doing when you fail?  David gives us the example of how this should be.  When he realized he had sinned against God he immediately confessed his sins and turned back to God.  That's what we need to be teaching, through our words and actions.   Not that we are perfect, not some kind of egotistical piety, but rather... a true piety... A sincere confession.  One like David proclaimed in Psalm 51 when he poured out his heart poetically:


Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
 

David was God's anointed.  He was chosen, anointed, and given authority.  He was a prototype for someone to come.  You see, Messiah means anointed.  Jesus is the Messiah, God's anointed par excellence.  Jesus came doing God's will perfectly.  He gave us the example of how to live.  That's why we must begin to slowly become more like our Lord and Savior.  Our goal in this life is to be like Him, to grow more holy and to become Saints.   That's what Baptism is about.  In Baptism we are anointed Priest, Prophet, and King.   We too are anointed.. we are little Christ's.  In Confirmation we are strengthened, again by the Holy Spirit with the oil.  We are sent into the world as part of the body of Christ to bring about God's will.   We should strive to be more like Jesus, more like David, in that we work to make it a habit to do God's will.   We need to become predisposed to always follow God in everything we do.  We might fail.  Our response to the failure should be like David's.   We should come to God in Confession and then get back on that horse. 

How do we do this?  Frequent reception of the Sacraments is a good start.  The Eucharist is an amazing thing.  It's the only food that you can eat.. that consumes you.  You have to let it though.  Think for just a moment about what we believe.   We believe that Jesus Christ is coming into our bodies, all of Him.  The power that created the universe.   The power that holds it all together.   The creator, the almighty, God himself.. comes inside of us.  We can't consume him... unless he let's us... and likewise, we have free will.. he won't consume us, unless we ask him to. 

Jesus talks about the Sabbath to the Pharisees.  They are accusing him of breaking the Law.   His disciples are picking grain and eating it.  Jesus reminds them that there are obligations, sacrifices that must be made on the Sabbath.  The Book of Numbers (28:9) talks about work that must be done on the Sabbath.  That work does not violate the Sabbath, why?  Because it is serving God.   Jesus reminds us time and time again that serving others IS serving God.  That when work needs to be done to heal, to share, to love... then do it.  The Sabbath was made for our rest.  We weren't made for the Sabbath, it was made for us.  We rest when we have to.  We worship God... but we never stop caring or loving. 

As we continue through these few weeks of Ordinary time, we must begin to realize that Lent begins in just a few more weeks.  Lent is a time in which we give up something.  I think we should think carefully this year.  Lent is not a time for just giving up something, but rather a time to change.  It's a time to give up something that draws you closer to God.  Sure, give up chocolate... that's fine.. but what do you do with it?  Go further.  We are challenged by the church to do three things.  Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.  Prayer is often easy enough.  Plenty of Stations of the Cross, Divine Office gatherings, Adoration hours etc during Lent.  Fasting most Catholics are pretty good at.  We choose something to give up.  Facebook, chocolate, coffee, smoking.  The Almsgiving though.. that one I think all Christians can work on.

So this year, as you think about what to give up.. ask yourself.. If I give up chocolate.. what can I do with the money I would have spent on that chocolate?   If I am giving up coffee?  How much do I spend on coffee... then go out and give that money to a worthy cause.  There are plenty of people out there who can use it.  The poor.  The refugee.  The veteran.  The widow.  The orphan.   That's what Lent is about.  You are to be a little Christ.. a deliverer, a messiah, one to lead people out of oppression.  You are to free the captive.  Part the waters.  Feed them.   Provide for them.  Guide them. 

Then when Lent is over it isn't supposed to stop!  Lent is supposed to be a time to draw you closer to Christ.. to allow God's spirit to so overwhelm you that when people look at you, they begin to glimpse Christ himself.  In your words.  In your actions.  In your love. 





Augustine wrote, “Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis; illi carni adjungitur ecclesia, et fit Christus totus, caput et corpus - “The Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us; to that flesh is joined the church, and there is made the whole Christ, head and body.” (On the Epistle of John 1.2)
 

Think about that for a moment.  Christ is the head.. but we are the body.  We receive Him in the Sacraments.   We become priest, prophet and king.   That means we are to show people how to worship, how to have a relationship with God.    We are to bring God's word to them.  In season, and out of season.  We are to speak about Jesus, speak about love, speak about the Word.  We are to aid in reformation, and admonish, but above all to love.   Then we are to protect, to guide and provide for.  A good king is not a tyrant, but rather a defender.  A man who steps up for the one who cannot speak for themselves.. those forgotten.. .those marginalized by society.  He doesn't just care about those subjects in his court.. but all of his country, all of his people. 

That is our challenge, to realize our anointing, realize our need to serve God at all times.. and to realize that it is in serving others... that we serve Him best. 

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
Mother Teresa

I don't know about you, but I have work to do.  Let's not forget the refugee, the widow, the orphan, the unborn... Let us live our baptismal calling as more than just a Sunday devotion, but as a way of life... Let's allow Christ to come into our bodies and consume us, to change us, to make us more like Him.. that we too might partake of his divine nature and be transformed into an eternal being, a being made of pure love.

His servant and yours,

Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How About Another Round?

In today's Gospel reading we have a very familiar event, one that every Christian should have heard of at one time or another.   John portrays it as the first event in Jesus public ministry.  The wedding of Cana.  It's interesting that the Bible too starts out with a wedding, then ends with a wedding.   From Adam to the banquet at the end of time, God shows us just how important his relationship is to us.  He shows it as a thing of joy, as a wedding, as an event that blesses the couple and all those around with joy and happiness.  

At this wedding though something sad happens.  The couple runs out of wine.  The party isn't over and they have run out of drink.  Oh how embarrassing!  In this culture it's a loss of face, a loss of honor!  Mary quickly runs to Jesus and informs him of the need.  Then in complete faith of her son she turns to those present and says, "Do whatever he tells you."   That's our first lesson.  The first disciple, the one who said a complete yes to God, always points to her Son.  We should listen to him, do what he tells us!  We too, then, as disciples of Christ should always point to Christ!   How powerful a lesson we receive from some of the few words recorded from our Blessed Mother in Sacred Scripture.

Then another thing happens, Jesus tells them to fill the jars with water. Jesus was more than capable of doing it himself.  He's about to change the very nature of the substance, how much more difficult would it have been to fill up the jars with it?  God can do anything he chooses.  That brings us to a truth about God though, a truth about our relationship to him.  The truth is that God can do everything, but he gives us the honor of being a part of it.  He allows us to be his hands and his feet.  He allows us to fill up our jars with things, with works.  He is going to make the wine, but he expects us to bring him the water.

That's one of the things about us as Catholics.  We know that no matter how much we work, no matter how many times we do prayers, they mean nothing without Christ's help.  We don't believe that we can ever provide the wine... but we work to provide the water.  Not because God hasn't already done the work of the Cross, but because he takes our offering and unites it with the work of His Son, to make an acceptable sacrifice.   He takes our lives... our water... and he transforms it into a beautiful, fragrant, vintage wine.    Oh how wonderful and glorious this truth is.   That no matter how imperfect my work, how imperfect my faith, imperfect my efforts... God will transform them into something worth seeing. 

That's love isn't it?  It's kind of like a child coming to their mother with a gift for their father and saying mom.. I have this little apple and I want to give it to dad.  The mother gets out the best plate, the fine gold china, and she puts the apple on it.   Then she places decorative paper around it and turns it into the gift fit for the King.  The father then sees this gift, perfected in it's beauty, and he is happy.  He would have been happy enough with the gift of the apple, right?  But both the child and the mother feel he deserves better. 

That's what this whole thing is about.   That's what Mass is about.  That's what the vestments, the gold vessels, the incense, the music... all of it is about dressing up our meager offerings.  Not because God doesn't cherish them just the way they are... but because God deserves better.  Then in the Eucharist we offer the one thing, the one gift that is worthy of God... that is the most precious gift he gave to us, the gift of His son.  We offer the Son back to the father, starting with bread and wine... something not worthy.. something plain.. the fruit of the vine and the work of human hands.  Then the Holy Spirit dresses them up, transforms them.. changes them into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Oh happy day!   Oh divine mercy! 

That brings me to one more point.  It doesn't matter how hard you try.. the inside of this vessel of ours is going to be filled with an imperfect person if you only do it on your own.  You can 'fill the jars with water'  but if you don't bring Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into the picture.. it's just gonna be water.   If your jar is like mine.. that water isn't perfect.  It's not pure.  It's murky and muddy, and filled with the grime of this world.. but praise be to God that through the Sacraments, he can take even the yucky water that I offer and transform it into the finest of wines!  Are you ready?  Is there anything standing in your way?  Get to those Sacraments! Come to Him, the King of Kings, and offer yourself to Him.. and let Him transform you into the person that he created you to be... Free to worship him without fear, Holy and Righteous in His sight, all the days of your life!

His servant and yours,
Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

First things First

A few of my friends shared a video by Steve Harvey, a very successful comedian.   He seems to have several different versions of it, but they all point to the same message.  That at some point, you have got to jump to be successful.  I think it's a good message, but it is missing something.  In the version on Facebook he quotes the Bible and makes the message sound like a good, strong Biblical principle.  It almost though becomes that sort of prosperity Gospel that we hear from various Protestant ministers out in the world, it misses something, it misses discernment.  Steve goes on to say that when you jump, sometimes the Parachute (which he attributes to God) is not going to open and you're going to crash into the rocks.  Then he tells you to keep jumping until it does open.  That makes God out to be this entity that acts like a lottery.

The problem to me with this message is that God is always faithful.  It is us who are unfaithful.  Yes, we should jump if it is God's will.  That's when we will have a parachute.  God never hurts us on purpose.  He does however, permit us to hurt ourselves.  If we are jumping off a cliff over and over and bashing into the rocks?  It's because God didn't ask us to do it.  It's because we are after our own goals, our own wants and needs... and God has something better for us.  How do we know? How do we find out what he has in store for us?  By listening to Him.  I'll talk more about that in a minute.

Today's scripture readings for daily Mass give two prime examples of what I am talking about.  In the first reading we have Phinehas and Hophni.  These are the sons of Eli who we have been hearing about the last few days.  They aren't the best example of holiness.   In the book of Samuel it says that they slept with the women who served in the temple and cheated God and the people out of choice portions of the sacrifice.  They took more than they should have, and even took the beast pieces before the sacrifice was even offered up.   These were men who had become complacent, they were doing things for themselves instead of the Lord. 

The Philistines gathered to attack Israel.  The forces of Israel gathered and marched out on the battlefield only to suffer a great defeat.  Over four thousand men died in this first assault.  The Elders gathered togethered and began to question, why did God allow this to happen?  Then instead of going to the temple and asking for God's guidance, they simply decided to take it into their own hands.   They went to the temple and grabbed the Ark.  Phinehas and Hophni jumped!  They came with the Ark to the battlefield with no protests.  After all, the Ark was the presence of God!  As long as the Ark was there no one could lose.  Yet, not only did they lose... but Phinehas and Hophni were killed and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. 

One could say this is one of those examples of your parachute not opening, sure.   I think that would denigrate the severity of this loss to the Israelite people.  They had lost the Ark!   The Ark was the presence of God for the Jewish people.   This was his throne!  This was where He lived!  God was gone from them, his presence was stripped from them.  They did not ask him for advice.  They did not discern his will.   They simply assumed that he would do whatever they wanted. 

Then we see in the New Testament reading a man with great faith.  Being a leper he was an outcast.   A man of social stigma who was not allowed to join in worship, come to town, or eat with others.  He comes to Jesus and speaks words that all of us should consider a priveledge to recite: “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  This is a man who understands God's will, right?  He knows that God doesn't heal everyone.  He also knows that Jesus is the source, the Word, the place to go for healing.  He asks God to heal him, trusting, but not assuming.  If you wish.  Jesus does indeed.  He charges him then to tell no one, but to fulfill the law by going to the temple and offering up the sacrifice prescribed by Moses.

This man then goes on about his way telling everyone!  One minute he was conceding to God's plan, then the next he goes off on his own.  What happens next is what happens so often in our own lives, because of his own plan, God's plan is hindered.   God has already revealed to Him what he wants him to do.  Instead of doing it, he does his own thing.   Jesus became so popular, so famous, that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  I imagine whoever won the Power Ball last night is going to know what this felt like.  Everywhere Jesus went, someone needed something.  Anyone who needed healing came out of the woodwork.  People pressed in on every side just trying to get a moment in with him.  It took his mission of proclaiming salvation to the people and turned it into a 'miracle show.' 

I think that is where our lesson from today's readings comes into play.  Discernment.  We must get to know God's will.  What does He wish.  We are already blessed so abundantly with life itself.  Everything on top of that is just icing on the cake.  So often that's all we are after.  More luxury.  More adventure.  More wealth.  But what does God want from us?  What is his plan?  Phinehas and Hophni paid the ultimate price for not following God's will.  While many of us will never be called to that sort of punishment, we must realize that the wages of sin are death.  If we drift too far from God's path we can too end up in a spiritual death.  Or we can be like the Leper, realizing God is the means to get out of our disease, our discomfort, our sorrow.  All too often that is when we turn to God isn't it?  At a funeral.  During a natural disaster.  A time of personal stress and sorrow.   Then afterwards, we forget God's plan for us.  We take matters into our own hands during time of prosperity.  We run off and do whatever we can.  Sometimes going directly against what God has asked us to do.

How do we know God's will?  That's where the Sacramental life comes into play.  We turn to Jesus Himself.  We receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass (daily when possible!) and allow it to slowly consume us, to change us.  We go to confession regularly to keep our hearts and minds focused on God's will in our lives and on living a life of true piety and faith.  We come to the Sacraments of Healing.  Then we spend time with the Scriptures.   We pray them.  We listen to God's Word speak through them.  We turn to the Church Fathers for understanding and interpretation.  What did the Apsotles teach them?  What did the first Christians believe?  Then we spend time in silence.  We listen for God's voice.  That's something many of us fail to do. We must make time for Sacred Silence.  A time when we aren't doing all the talking.  When we are doing the listening.

Then when you are certain this is where God wants you to go, this is the direction he wants you head in, this is the cliff he wants you to jump off of... then by all means, you can and should do so!  Discernment first, jumping second.   Otherwise you're doing exactly what Jesus warned against in his temptation in the desert.  Satan told him to jump off a cliff... don't worry God isn't going to let you dash your foot against a stone.  Jesus responded, "It is written, though shalt not tempt the Lord your God."  Jesus understand that God isn't sending us here to get beat up.  He is sending us here to be faithful yes, but obedient as well.    Following His will.  Not our own.   It's not about vacations, trips, and sports cars.  Those can be nice things.  It's about making the world a better place.  It's about living a life of obedience to Christ and service to others.  It's in living the beatitudes that we see true happiness.  And it's in discernment that we find God's will for us in our lives.

His servant and yours,

Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name

The last few days I've talked about what Ordinary Time is (this post) and how that it begins to order our lives toward Christ (this post.)  That's what our liturgy is about.  The liturgical year is ordered in a way to bring the Christian's prayer life into a basic rhythm, that is to bring it rhythm with Christ.  We've seen in the previous two days the story of Hannah and the birth of her son Samuel.  Today we find the continuance of that story in our first reading.   Hannah had given her child back to God, she ordered her life, every part of it, even her children toward God.  So much so that she brought him to the temple to serve God from a young age.  Today that sounds odd.   Our modern sensibilities think it strange to give a child up, so much so that there is a negative connotation even on adoption.   We need to work on that. Adoption can be a beautiful and much needed way of respecting the life that God has entrusted in our hands.  What Hannah did was not only honorable, it is commendable, as any mother or father of a child called to the vocation of Priesthood can attest to.

Samuel is being trained by Eli in the temple.  Eli has gotten is now old, frail, and blind.  Samuel hears someone calling his name and runs to Eli.  Three times this happen, each time with Eli telling him it was not he who was calling him.  Through discernment, Eli is able to help Samuel realize that God is calling him.  So Samuel goes back to his room and waits for God to call him.  He does, and it begins a relationship with God that changed history. 

What do we learn from this encounter?  We learn first and foremost that God calls us by an individual name.  He knows us personally.  He is not a distant, transcendent God that is not involved in our lives.  Isaiah says it like this, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1)  You and I are unique.  No one else can ever replace us.  The catechism says it in such a beautiful way:

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. (CCC 2158)

Let that sink in for a moment.  Each of us is made in God's image.  Each of us has a name, a label.  Everyone's name is sacred.  Wow.  As a man who was raised in the South, I remember growing up how important a name was.  Even to this day I get furious when someone lies about me.  There are a lot of things that I can handle with grace and humility... but lying?  Dragging someone's name through the mud is a horrible thing.  You are taking that unique individual and attempting to turn them into something they are not.  Taking their label, the one God called them by.. the name He chose through their parents. A sacred icon of the individual... could you imagine how politics would change if we actually lived this teaching of our Church?

Then we come to the Gospel reading.  What does this event here seem to do with Eli and Samuel? Remember, Ordinary time is all about ordering our life toward Christ.  That means when we read the gospel we should be thinking: Ok God you called me by name.  You love me for who I am.  I am unique and made in your image.  I have a dignity and should be respected by all.  How can I draw closer to you? The answer is in the life of Christ. 

A friend and I were just talking about what it means to be human.  For some, human existence is only here.  Only now.  For the Christian existence extends beyond the mere temporal realm and into eternity.  Well, how then can we know what a human is like if we only experience the now?  Through the one human who has experienced both.   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  That Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  That Word is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the fullness of revelation, because he is the fullness of humanity.  Not just the humanity we know and experience, but the way humanity should be.   The way it was before the fall in the Garden of Eden.  It is through Jesus that we see what our potential truly is, and in being more like Him that we become the fully unique individual that God has created us to be.

You see, concupiscence keeps us from being that person whom God is calling to. Grace allows us to grow into this person.  God loves us just as we are, that is true.  He loves us too much to leave us there.  In Jesus we see a man who heals.  A man who lifts up.  A man who gives of himself in serving the poor and the sick.  In the Gospel he is busy on a Saturday, when most people are sitting around and relaxing, He is going into the homes and making the world a better place.  That is our first example, and a profound one.  It's not enough to just go to Church.   It's not enough to just go and preach or listen.  It requires taking that Sacramental Presence of Christ out into the world and giving of your self to those in need.

Then we see another example.  Jesus goes out alone in the middle of the night hours and begins to pray.  He takes time off to spend time with the Father.  Silence.  One on one time.  Our soul needs and craves this time with God.  We need to take time throughout the day to pray.   Time to reorient, to order our day toward Christ.  That's what is so beautiful about the Liturgy of the Hours.. it reminds us to stop at Morning, Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon, Evening, and Nighttime to spend time with the Scriptures.  These rhythms are intended to nourish continual prayer(CCC 2698).  To lead the Christian to pray at all times without ceasing.  Just like a habit takes time to form, by praying every day at regular intervals  we draw our soul into singing praise to God continually. 

That's the goal isn't it?  To become so much like Christ that we can receive the grace he pleaded for us when he prayed:

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. . (John 17:11-12)

That brings me to my final point for this post.  You and I have a unique name, a beautiful and dignified name.  We also bear the name of Christian.  Our actions, our words, our sins.... they all show the world who we are.  The name Christian shows who we should be.  Are you living up to it?  It is a Sacred Name.   A name that demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.  Are you dragging it through the mud?  Or are you trying to display that dignity for others to see?  Not out of any sort of false piety or egotism.. but rather out of the humility of knowing that you are not worthy of that name.. but God loved you enough to bestow it on you through His son.

His servant and yours,
Brian

"I must decrease, He must increase."