Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hot Sands

Julie giving birth

Around ten years ago I had an experience that completely changed my life.  It began though around nine months before that.  My wife and I embarked on a journey of learning, though she had quite a bit more knowledge than I at that time.  The three other ladies in the house had to learn how to prepare for this as well.  Things had to be cleaned, locks had to be installed (or reinstalled.)  Various damaging things that could harm the imminent birth of our child had to be moved, secured or disposed of.  Life was changing and we had to work hard and discipline ourselves to prepare for those changes.

My wife had to change her diet, so we changed with her.  Things we normally might have eaten would have to be given up so that the child would be nourished with the proper vitamins and nutrients.  We worked hard on making sure that things didn't happen that would injure her, including avoiding high stress activities and anything that might jossle or jar her stomach in a negative way.  For nine months we prepared for that birth, for nine months we had to think and ponder what it might be like.  I was supposed to be infertile.  The doctors had told me this for years.  My wife and I had resigned ourselves to God's will in this matter.  We had not given up hope, but we didn't have a great deal of confidence that anything would come of it.

Then one day she took a pregnancy test and our world was changed.  It was filled with worry and yet joy.  Would she be healthy?  Would she have special needs?  Would she make it?  Would it be a he or she?  All things we waited till birth to discover.  Then that November I got to experience second hand what childbirth is like.  I've heard it said that a kidney stone is worse than childbirth.  If my wife's ability to give birth to children is the norm?  Then I'd say a kidney stone is a LOT worse than childbirth.  She gives birth like most people walk across hot sand.  If you move your feet fast enough it doesn't hurt too much.  The doctor came in and said "Ok, it's time."  And then? It was over.  There was this child of mine staring at me with my own face in miniature.  I watched as the nurses cleaned her and gave her some shot to boost her immune system and as the drop of blood dripped from her thigh she began to cry in pain.  I wanted to protect her but I knew it was best for her, so I stood and waited for them to hand her to us.  I knew right then I would do anything for this child, anything, even if it meant my own death.

There it is for all of you who wonder why we bother with Lent as Catholics.  Lent is the pregnancy.  It is that time when you prepare, when you discipline yourself, for that life changing event.  You get rid of those things that are harmful in preparation to nourish your new life.  As the reading for this morning says, "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."  In Baptism we die with Christ and rise again a new person, filled with the Holy Spirit and the grace of God to go forth and change our lives.  Easter is a chance to renew that, to rekindle that romance, to draw closer to God and be more like Him.  Lent prepares us for that.  Just like with the new baby coming, anything that can hinder the growth of our new life, anything that might 'kill' or harm that new life, must be removed.

The thing is, it can't end with Lent.  Lent is not about giving up something meaningless in order to go right back to it afterward.  Lent is about preparing for that delivery of New Life that we receive in the Eucharist!  Just like you don't just ignore the baby after it's born, you can't ignore your new self either.  You have to feed it the right things, discipline it so that it can know right from wrong, nourish it, cherish it, and help it to grow into something beautiful.  That's what Easter reminds us to do.  We still have to keep those things out of our lives that we learned to remove during Lent, and continue to do those things that make us grow spiritually.  First and foremost of those is the Sacraments, but second and like to them are the corporeal works of Mercy.   Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, comforting the sick and mourning, visiting those who cannot get out or are imprisoned... yes these things make our new life grow.  They nourish us and enhance us.

It's not something we can forget.   That's why we in the Catholic church consider Sunday a mini-Easter... it's a reminder every week that we have to continue to feed our spirit with the nourishment of Christ in the Eucharist, in Confession, in prayer and in works.  Here you are with this new life cradled in your arms, and for those of you who are parents?  You have other lives to nourish and guide that they too might grow in their faith.  It's our responsibility to guide, nourish and cherish those lives.  When you gaze at them, when you gaze at your own spiritual walk, when you gaze at the Eucharist.... ask yourself, "Would I do anything for them?"  That's what Christ asks of us.  The walk of a Christian is not an easy one, not a thing that we simply do at Church and forget about later.. it's about looking at the people we like the least, the ones we have the most hatred for.. and trying to see Christ in them... because once we do.. the world changes.. our lives change.. and with God's grace and help?  Hatred can become love.  Injury? Pardon.  Doubt? Faith.  Despair? Hope. Anything is possible.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I'm not ready.

It's the end of Lent.  Today marks the start of the Holy Triduum.  At the Catholic Mass we relive these events that led up to the crucifixion of Christ so that we remember them always.  Tonight is the night that we spend with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, trying to stay awake as we pray with him.  It's also the night where we gather together in the Sanctuary and we watch as our Priest takes off his robes down to just his alb and begins to wash the feet of parishioners from all walks of life, both male and female. There is so much richness, so much treasure, so many pearls of great price to be learned from watching these events unfold before us and hearing the accompanying scriptures pronounced and sung.

It takes me back to my first Easter as a Catholic.  There I was trying to stay awake in the Garden.  I watched as many others walked out within just a few minutes of placing Christ in repose for adoration.  I had uncharitable thoughts.  "What you don't have time to spend more than a minute with Christ?"  "Why are you leaving so soon?" "Lord why can't they stay awake."  It was almost as if I were the Pharisee standing in the temple saying "Thank God I am not like this sinner."  Then the Eucharist caught my attention.  It was as if the Lord was speaking directly to me. "Can you not stay awake with me one hour?" My Lord reminded me that it was not they who were asleep.. but me... I was watching everyone else, but not watching Christ in the Eucharist.. not spending time in prayer with him.  I'll never forget that humbling lesson.

That's part of what is so amazing about being Catholic.  We don't just have a personal relationship with Christ, though we have that.   We also have a communal relationship with him, and better yet, we have a tangible, tactile relationship with him as well.  We believe that when the Priest says the words of consecration, the words that Christ himself gave us, that bread is transformed... that wine is changed... it's not just bread and wine anymore, it's substance has changed.  It is truly the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and savior.  Think of that for a minute!  He not only comes down to see us, to be with us, to remind us of his presence in a substantial way; but he also allows us to receive him into our bodies to change us.. to mold us.. to bring us into that divine life that he promised.  We don't have to wait for the time after time itself ends for us, but we can experience Heaven right here and right now.

The book of Revelation used to scare me.   I used to spend hour after hour trying to pick out the right people in the news, the right signs, the right 'end of time' events... I was consumed with trying to find out when Armageddon was coming.  Then I read a book called The Lamb's Supper by Scott Hahn.  That book promoted an idea that was not new, one that the early church fathers held as well, that the book of Revelation was a vision of Heavenly worship.. Oh my how that changed my view of the Church and the Eucharist.. I began to see the flaming lamp stands around the altar, the Priest standing in persona Christi, the angels and saints gathering around and offering their prayers up as incense.. the prayers of the saints on earth... Oh yes, I began to see that God truly was present.. that Revelation was a glimpse of Heaven kissing earth.. A glimpse of the Holy Mass.

So tonight, tomorrow, Sunday... whatever Mass you are attending.. and not just during Easter, but for the rest of your lives.. Lift up your eyes to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar and say with Peter, "“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”  That's what this is all about.. about the Eucharist.. about Christ himself... about His perpetual sacrifice, his todah to bring us into communion with the Father again.. to bring us into a communion with God that is so amazingly beautiful, but so challenging that in John chapter 6 we see many of his disciples stop following him when offered it.  This is not easy.. Are you ready? To sit with him in the garden?  To walk with him towards Calvary?  To pick up your own cross and head to your own Easter?   Not alone I am not.  I am not ready Lord.. but thanks be to Adonai that he has sent his only son to me in the Sacraments of the Holy Catholic church to help me have to grace to take one step in front of another.

Lord give me the grace to strip myself of all my outer coverings and walls, to expose myself to those who need their feet washed.. the widow, the orphan, the alien... may I be given supernatural humility to put myself to the side and provide for what they need.  May I be a servant leader like you... you who are so humble that you will come down as the most defenseless thing ever.. a piece of bread.. to provide me with everything I need, both physically and spiritually.. May I too pour myself out, may I place myself in the hands of those who are hurting and be a sacrament of your love for them as well.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hear the Sounds of Hearts Returning to You

Not Everyone was happy to see Jesus
This afternoon and tomorrow morning Christian’s all around the world will celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem.   This celebration leads up to Holy Week and Easter, our greatest and most important celebration.  Last night as we gathered together to relive the stations of the Cross, we meditated on what it might have been like for Mary to experience this journey alongside her son.   A mother watching her child be welcome in such a powerful way on Palm Sunday, only to see him a few days later being ridiculed and murdered.  It was so very powerful for me personally, that as we looked up at the wooden cross held high above our heads and read the 15th station, the Resurrection of Our Lord, my heart too felt as if it would burst with joy.   Tears streamed down my face and I found it difficult to say the words, not because of my sorrow but because of the immense ecstasy that I felt pouring out on me.

This morning as I prepared to be a lector for Palm Sunday it struck me again that we as Catholics do that a lot.   We don’t just sit passively and watch someone preach or perform, but on many of our special holidays we relive the events.  We read the entire experience from Scripture with one person reading the narration, another the response of specific people (centurions, officials, pharisees, etc), the Priest reading the words of Jesus, and the entire audience the words of the ‘crowds.’  The story of Palm Sunday to many is just that, the story of one day two thousand or so years ago, in which one man had one experience.  We as Catholics do not see it that way.  Last night at the Stations of the Cross I was reminded of that truth.  At the triumphal entry there were two kinds of people… there were those singing “Hosanna,” and those plotting revenge.    There were those waving palm branches, and those sending daggers from their eyes.

Last night’s Stations reminded me of that.  At each stations we are asked a question, challenged in our walk.   Are you condemning Christ to death in your actions and words?  Or are you bringing instead life and joy? Are you looking on as Jesus begins the walk to calvary? Or are you participating in carrying his cross? When Jesus falls are you helping him get back up?  Laughing at his failure?  Being compelled like Simon to do something you don’t want to do?  Rushing forward like Veronica to comfort and console him? Crying for him but missing the message? Are you stripping him of his clothing and dignity?  Or trying to restore him to the place he deserves? So many questions that there isn’t enough space in any amount of storage to contain the words that could be written about these simple 14 events.

The thing is they, like the scripture and tradition they are based on, speak to us in the here and now.   They aren’t just about the time of Christ, but they are about our everyday life.  Once again I must quote Blessed Mother Teresa as she paraphrases one of my favorite pericopes of scripture:

“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.”

As Christians we see Jerusalem as the early model of the Church.   So when we see Jesus being welcomed and reviled by the same people, we must ask ourselves.. How are we doing Church?  When St. Matthew wrote those words in scripture he reminded us that we as the church must see Christ in every person we meet, not just in the building.  Though Jesus is substantially present in the Sanctuary of the Eucharist, he is not trapped.. Not limited to that place.   He is in every person we meet, every encounter we have is a moment in which we can serve Christ.  So how are we doing?   Are we welcoming them into our lives, into our domestic churches, with fanfare and joy?  Or are we like Simon carrying their cross only because someone forced us to?  Like Veronica are we wiping the face of those who need comfort? Or are we pushing them away?

In our current political sphere we see people who want to build walls, evict families from our presence, even if it means separating mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, infants from caregivers.   How do we reconcile that with the message of Christ?   It is to the alien, the refuge, the widow, and the orphan that we must look for the vision of Christ in our lives.   It is to them that we must give a drink, not pluck their beard leaving nothing but bloody and raw skin.  We must offer them dignity and clothe them with respect and love, not tear apart their clothes and gamble them away for our own comforts and benefits.   We must rush forward to see him as a Mother sees her only child.. To see their suffering as our own.. To be like Mary and see their pain as a sword piercing our own hearts.. That we can strengthen one another.

Yes, we have an opportunity here to help those who are fallen by gossip, trash talk, bullying or teasing.. To help them get back up.. Clothe them with the armor of Christ, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. So we must look around and ask those questions of ourselves, to examine our lives every day, and say when I am standing at the water cooler am I building up or tearing down?  When we take a smoke break are we gossiping or edifying?  When we are away from parental supervision and authority figures are we watching things that help build each other up?  Or watching things we know will tear someone down?  Do we glorify God with every breath we breathe?  Or are we letting Him down?

It’s Palm Sunday.  Let us lift our branches both in the Sanctuary and in the world! As you go forward to receive that Sacrament, the Most Holy Eucharist, remember that it's not enough to just receive Jesus.. it's necessary to journey with Him... to pick up our own Cross and journey to our own Easter... That's what it means to live a sacramental life... Not just to receive it.. but to give it away. Not just to be aware of Christ.. but to allow the Sacraments to transform you into a 'little Christ' who then can begin to transform the world. Are you ready for that?

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

That's Your Daughter

child of God
The daily readings of the last days of Lent have had a definite theme to them.  From the woman caught in adultery, to Abraham becoming the father of many, to Jeremiah tomorrow lamenting his misfortune; we see a reminder that we are called to action.  Jesus constantly reminds us that as the Son of God he does what he has learned from God.   Just like our own children do what they see us do, Jesus can only do what the Father has shown him and told him to do.  That's a strong call to us who claim to be Christian isn't it?

Jeremiah talks about how those against him are whispering about him behind his back.  Those people who were once his friends are now plotting his downfall.  Jeremiah is often seen as a foretype of Christ.  His friends deserted him because he was delivering the message of God.  They got upset because he was challenging their lives and bringing to light their sins.  In the end they killed him, just as eventually the people killed Jesus.

In the Gospel we see something quite like that happening again.  Here Jesus has done nothing wrong, he has been healing the sick and the blind.  He has been preaching the truth and delivering the word of God.  Just like Jeremiah the people who should be on his side are plotting against him.  They've gathered up stones with which to stone him for claiming to be God.  Jesus takes it stride and asks them how they can not believe what they have seen?  He challenged them, even if you don't believe me, believe the works.. for if I do the work of the Father, then the Father is in me and I am in Him.

Sometimes when my daughter does something my wife will look at me and say, "That's your daughter."  It's not always a bad thing, but most of the time it is ;)   The truth is though that you can tell that she is my daughter because she does things like I do them.  Jesus reminds us of that in the Gospel... once again he challenges you and I.. if we are Christians.. if we are truly the sons and daughters of God.. then we should be producing the works of God.   We should be producing fruit.. people should look at us and say "That's God's daughter/son."

So who are you today?  Are you gathering up stones to cast at others for doing what you should be doing? Are you the one whispering against your friend at the water cooler?  Or talking about them behind their back?  Gossiping and tearing them down?  Or are you producing fruit that reminds people you are a child of God?  You're made in the image of God... are you living up to it?  Or are you reminding people of someone else?  Just as Jesus said, you too have been called and sent into the world... are you living in a way that points to Christ?  Or to the world?

That's what the Eucharist is all about.  The Eucharist is a moment when Heaven touches earth.. when God descends to meet us and be received body, soul and divinity into our bodies.. that we might be transformed. That we might become more like him.. that we might be restored to that image he created us to be.. that we might do things like he does.  I don't know about you.. but I want the Saints in heaven to be grinning as they look to the Father and say, "That one.. that's your child."  How my soul longs to hear Him say in return, "Yes, yes he is."  "Well done thou good and faithful servant."

His servant and yours,

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beware the Ides of March

In college I used my talents and knowledge of computer hardware and software to get a job working in the Computer Lab.  It was a pretty lackluster job that involved mostly sitting down at a computer playing games, waiting for someone to come ask me for help.  It was pretty uneventful most of the time.  Then one day I was witness to something that really made me stop what I was doing and listen.   At one of the terminals closest to the door, where everyone in the lab could see and hear them, a couple began to argue.

I said argue.. But in reality, she was apologizing as he consistently berated her and put her down.  “You’re always doing this!”  “I’m sorry.”  “Why can’t you learn, you’re so stupid!”  “I said I was sorry.”  “I’ve had dogs smarter than you!”  Followed by silent sobs.  After about five minutes of this I scooted my chair back and began to stand up.   I had heard enough.  I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do, I just knew that the blood was thumping in my ears and I was seeing red.  He heard my chair moving and he stood up and waved his hands around the room, “We are with the psychology department and this is a performance designed to see how people would react to emotional abuse in a public setting.”  She then stood up and began to pass out flyers asking us to fill them out.  “How did you feel?”  “Were you going to do something about it?” “If not, why?”  “If so, why?”  Etc.

Five minutes.  I often wonder why it took me five minutes to even begin to respond.  Was I scared I might get hurt?  Did I not truly believe what I professed to believe? Was I just embarrassed that they were doing this in public?  In the old testament reading for tomorrow Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were put to the ultimate test.  King Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they worship the image he had created.  He wanted them to worship like everyone else.  The other people were jealous of them and pointed out that they weren’t doing it.  So the king had them brought before him and demanded that they follow suit, be like everyone else.  They refused.  In his rage he threw them into the fire.  Then he was astonished to see not, 1.. Not 2.. Not even just 3… but 4 people dancing the in the fire unharmed.  The fire was as hot as it could be, and yet they lived.  The king was converted by their example.

Unlike me, and the many other students in that room, when push came to shove they stood up for their faith.  They scooted back their chairs.  Immediately.  We in America have been waiting for our five minutes, our breaking point.   Our nation has consistently eroded down the values, ethics, and moral stances until we are beginning to look like the sinful nations of old.   While studying the Wisdom literature yesterday I came across this line: “[...]a nation ruthless[...] that has neither reverence for age nor tenderness for childhood.” (Baruch 4:15)  Doesn’t that sound familiar?  We see more and more of this in our own society.  The devaluation of life, the encouragement for euthanasia and abortion, the constant ‘humor’ that laughs at the elderly and reduces parental figures to nothing more than punch lines.  

How do we find the courage to stand up?  The courage to push back our chairs and move toward the other?  To use our words to bring back Lady Wisdom into our midst? Courage to walk into the burning furnace and trust in God’s provision.  

Notice that about their prayer before being cast into the flames?  “We have no need to answer you in this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”   How much faith these three men had.  “Thy will be done.”  Just like Jesus in Gethsemane they prayed for deliverance, but trusted in God’s will.  Even if it meant their death, even if it meant going into danger, they were not turning their back on their faith.

2473 Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Jesus reminds us of that simple truth in the Gospel for the day.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were free, because they knew the truth.  We can be free too.  Not necessarily free from suffering.  Not free from death.  But free from an attachment to our own wants, free from the need to worry so much about our actions, free to choose good because of the nature of who we have become.  That’s why we pray in the Our Father “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  We are asking God to help us let loose of those attachments that keep us bound here, and instead to trust in his provision.. Come what may.

We as Christians can and should be praying for things, for health, for provision.  But God is not an ATM that we might enter the right code and get whatever we want.  Suffering is a difficult thing.  It’s not something we accept easily.  It is though, something that can be used for the good of God.  What would I do today if I heard this same interaction?  I’d hope my chair would go back much faster… that others might see the God whom I serve in my actions, and in my words.  How about you?   Are you pushing your chair back and walking into the furnace?  Are you ready for whatever God sends your way?  Or are you still hunkering down in your chair hoping that it ends soon?

Today is March 15th, the Ides of March... we have the ability to stand up in our chair and head to the voting stands to make a difference... to vote for that candidate that best represents our faith, that has the best chance of bringing about the justice that we as Christians should crave.  I'm not going to tell you who to vote.. but I encourage you get out of the chair and cast your ballot.   Every time we go forward for the Eucharist, we are filled with the same power, the same deliverance that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced in that furnace.  Are we willing to take that Eucharist power out into the world and let them see it?  To dance in the fire with the creator of the universe and say "It doesn't matter what the outcome, I will do Your will Father!"?  That's what living a Sacramental life is all about... 

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Baby, something is happening here

It’s been a rough few days.  I haven’t really felt like doing much of anything so I ask for forgiveness in not having written on my blog.  My daughter and I both have had some sort of fever with aches and pains.  She’s had the rougher part of it, not desiring to eat or do much of anything.  Today is a bit better.  She is goofing off some, eating a little, and even giggling.  How often we take those little things for granted don’t we?  Our giggling kids, the pranks they play, their constant noise.   “Keep it down!”  “Don’t do that in the house!”  “Go outside if you’re gonna make all that noise!”   It is when they are struck with a sickness, absent, or missing that we begin to realize how much we cherish those gifts.

In Sunday’s reading Isaiah is calling out to the Israelites to remember their first date!  How often we think of the desert as a punishment, as a time when the Israelites were being beaten and trained like we do to our marines!  Toughen up!  

Hosea says it a little differently, he says: "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.”  Let us go back to our first date!  When our relationship was fresh, when we were alone and it was just you and I! Even creation calls out in appreciation for the miracles that God had performed for his chosen people.  This was a time for them to get to know each.  A time of butterflies and giggles, of new experiences and understandings.  In this desert wandering the Israelites were learning what it means to be in a relationship.  Just like when we first fall in love we begin to ask what does she like?  What doesn't she like?  When I am with her how should I act?  Should I text her now? Wait till tomorrow? Is it too soon to call?  God was wooing his people.. Offering them the freshest of water, the finest of foods…

As we draw toward Easter the Church has chosen these readings from Isaiah to point to what God has done for us.. ‘Behold I am doing something new!”

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.   (Jeremiah 31:31-33 RSV-CE)

Saint Paul in the second reading talks about what that means for us, the new Church, the gentiles and the Jew united as one body of Christ.  God has wooed us again.  He wants us to have that relationship with him so strongly that he came down as a man, to suffer and die for us.  Saint Paul talks about suffering with Christ!  We aren’t perfect, Paul is clear on the fact that he does not see himself as perfect either… but we can grow.  That’s what our desert in Lent is all about… about learning to be in relationship with God… taking a moment to look back and say when was our first date?  Do I still feel that way?  Do I still get butterflies in my stomach when I am confronted with the Lord of the Universe in the Eucharist? Do I rush to the confessional to see him on my lunch break in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do I miss him with fondness of heart and aching soul when I am unable to visit?  Do I still long to be next to Him?  Is Jesus still the love of our life?  Or is he going to the back burner?  We should yearn to be able to say with Paul:

I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession.Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

Then we come to this amazingly beautiful story in the Gospels where Jesus sets the example of forgiveness.  This woman is the epitome of one who has left behind her first love.. One who has abandoned what it means to walk with God.  She is living a life of adultery.  Her partner in crime is conspicuously absent.  They throw her at the feet of the Master and demand to know, what should we do?  Do you stand with Moses? Or with Rome?  Either way Jesus would lose.. But what does Jesus do?  He writes in the sand.  What did he write?  We don’t know.  What we do know is whatever it was… made the men condemning her turn and walk away.. Then he restored her relationship with God.. he looked her in the eyes and said “Neither do I condemn you, go forth and sin no more.”  Come back to me in the desert… read the words I have written in the sands of your heart and let me woo you again.. I love you that much.. To forgive you, to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Jesus is offering each and every one of us that opportunity in our own desert of Lent.  He is making a way in our desert, offering us living water.   He is writing in the sand something so powerful, a word so strong, that the enemy who seeks to make us feel distant from him will have to turn and flee.. And then offering us the same thing he offered her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”  Are you ready to take his hand in the desert, to walk with God as his people?  Is your life changed in such a way from that personal relationship with God himself and his family that people can see it at work in you?  What does it look like?  

Every person is living in the desert of this world… from the poor, to the widow, to the refugee.. All of us are living in the world.. But we are destined for greater than that.. We are destined for walking hand in hand with our creator… to be lifted back to the dignity he created us for..  You and I with our words are writing in the sand of this world… we are writing a word for others to see… as you bend down before the world, speaking forth words that should bring life and dignity.. Words that should show you to be the people whom God formed for himself… ask yourself this one question: What words are you writing in the sand?  Do your words bring forgiveness?  Do your words turn away the mob seeking to stone and condemn? Whose child do people see you as?

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sail on Silver Girl

Lately, as most of you know, I've been having some kidney issues.  As part of the treatment for this 10mm kidney stone my doctor suggested I invert myself to 45 degrees every night after having consumed sixteen ounces of water.  They already took the step of doing lithotripsy to break the stone up into smaller pieces (hopefully).   Now the goal is to use gravity and fluid to get those pieces up out of the bottom of my kidneys and through the bladder to freedom.  The Exodus of the kidney stones eh? So I've been taking this old box spring and placing it on the couch to create as much of an angle as I can.  Then I drink my water, wait thirty minutes and lay with my face downhill for half an hour.

What I did not expect is that my daughter would love this time.  She can't wait to get on the mattress and lay next to me reading or watching TV.  Daddy are we going to do that tonight?  Then we play around, I poke her and tickle her.. and sometimes I roll over on her and mash her like I forgot she was there.  All the while she's giggling, reading, or often just falling asleep.  It's a comforting time.  It's an amazing moment of bonding that I will cherish for years to come.

Yesterday my buddy Clyde Joshua came over while I was cleaning out the garage and it reminded me of when Moira was very little.  He was walking around asking questions, pointing at this or that, or laughing and running away when he thought I was going to 'get him.'  He would follow right in my footsteps and hand me this or that, and mimic the things I was doing.  Moira used to do that when she was very small.  In fact, she mimicked not just the good, but the bad.  Isn't that how kids learn to do the bad anyway?  Children remind us of that fact when they pull out those special words in front of grandma or at school.  They become their parents.  Sometimes I open my mouth and my dad pops right out...  That's a big responsibility!

Today's Gospel reminds us of that truth, and gives us a better option.  Jesus is always upsetting the cart.  He never walks away with people indifferent.  Either they love him or hate him, but they always make a choice, they are always challenged.  Today they are mad at him, again.   He has just equated himself with God!   Today we would just kind of laugh if someone did that... "they're crazy!"  It was very serious to his contemporaries.   Serious enough they had him killed for it right?  Then he goes on to speak that truth, that children do what their parents did.

Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also.

There is that pesky Amen, Amen again.  Remember, in the Semitic languages often there are no superlatives. (Good, better, best would be "good" "good good" "good good good", brings a whole new meaning to Holy, Holy, Holy eh?)  Amen means that what he is saying is truth.  It has that connotation of this has been confirmed, it has been supported, it is upheld as the truth.  So to say Amen and Amen.. he's saying this is the truth of the truth!  It's as if Jesus is saying "Pay attention to what I am about to say!"  Then he goes on to affirm that notion that as the Son he mimics his Father.. he follows in his footsteps.  If God raises the dead? So does Christ.  If the Father heals the sick? So does the Son.   If He frees the captor and forgives sin?  Well so will Jesus himself.

That brings an amazing level of depth to that reading from Isaiah in which God lists off a litany of the things he will do to bring his people back to him, back to freedom, back to love.  He declares he will feed them, give them drink, protect them from the elements and never forsake them.  Regardless of what they ever do he will always remember them.  That's a powerful promise to us today as well.  God wants us to be in relationship with Him.  Jesus himself is offering a personal invitation to each and everyone of us to be in this amazing personal covenant, not just a private one with God alone but in communion with his entire Body, the Church.
That begs the question for those of us who claim to be a part of that Body though... If children mimic their parents, then who can we claim as ours?  When I was young my daughter would follow me around, just as Clyde Joshua did yesterday.  The words I used? She used.   The things I did? She did.  The places I went? She went.  I was just telling my friends last night that Saturday of last week I had a bad day.  You know those days when you wake up and the world seems off kilter?  I couldn't get out of this bad funk.  I was snappy.  I was rude.  I was a jerk.   I stormed around like some monster seeking to destroy an enchanted forest.   My wife and kids took the brunt of it.  If anyone had seen me that day, would any of them been convinced I was a Catholic at all? Probably not.   I wasn't acting like my Father at all.

How then do we know how to act?  We emulate the Son.  He healed the sick, he cured the blind, he fed the poor and hungry, he offered forgiveness and compassion to all he met, and above all he proclaimed the Kingdom of God.  Are we doing that?  Do our actions show others that we are Children of the Most High?  Are we reaching out to the poor, the destitute, the widow, and the orphan?  Are we welcoming the strangers who come into our midst?  Are we building walls or bridges?  As we journey through the last remaining days of our desert of Lent, let us take time to examine who we are... to draw closer to God... so that when people look at us, they can say "Now there is a child of God, there is a person who loves others!  There is someone I want to be more like."

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Visions of Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head

We have a tendency as people to draw in on ourselves, to leave the outside world to wallow in it's own miseries while we protect our own.  One of the churches I went to growing up had that sort of notion built into their theology of what they felt a Christian should do.  One year the Pastor decided he was going to take his family to see the Smithsonian and visit the capital.  He came back preaching a message of Hellfire and brimstone, declaring the world lost. He had apparently gotten out of his car to see two men holding hands walking down the street, quickly packed his kids up and drove back to our small coal town.  From that day on he never left the area as far as I know.

That is part of the problem with us as a people, not just a church.  We become very closed minded.  Our comfort zones take over and we begin to close out anything that begins to draw us out.  That leads to those thoughts that make us start to quantify what it means to be one of 'us'.   "We eat meat.  Drink beer.  Speak English. Carry Guns. If you don't like it get out." says one seemingly popular meme on Facebook.  For centuries the popular idea of church was to draw in on ourselves.   The Catholics had their own little village around the Parish, the Protestants theirs around their church, etc.   The kids didn't play together.  The parents didn't talk unless it was work related and they were forced to.  All stemming from prejudice, from hate, from injustice.

The vision we have recorded in Isaiah as the author begins to close out this magnificent volume of poetry, prose, and theological insight is a world in which none of these things exist.  A world in which their is no pain, no sorrow, no death, no more crying and distress.   I heard many a preacher expound on this end of time place in which the lame would run on legs that work, the deaf would hear, the blind see, and all sorrows be relegated to a past that we no longer even remember.  What a vision that is, what a dream, what a thing to come.....

The thing is, it's not just a place to come.  What Isaiah is describing is the Kingdom of God.  What Isaiah is describing is what Jesus was proclaiming when he opened that scroll and declared that scripture was fulfilled in their hearing.  What does that Kingdom look like?  One of the confirmation students asked a question about it, something along the lines of "How are we not going to be bored in heaven?"  They had seen the artwork, heard the descriptions, and for them.. it sounded boring... eating the same meal every day.. talking to the same people.. never on their phones, never watching TV... they couldn't understand it.  I told them one of my favorite parables (forgive me if you've already heard it.)

Back in ancient times the stable was directly under the house.  A man had two cows that he kept for milk in his basement.  They had never seen the outside.  They couldn't remember anything other than now.. other than the basement, the water and the hay.  One night the farmer who owned the house through a grand party.  They had live music, dancing, food and fun.  People joined around the tables having a great time.  Laughing, giggling, sharing, drinking, and laughing again.  It went way into the night.  After many hours of all of these strange sounds, scents, and goings on.. one cow looked at the other and said, "What is going on up there?"  The other replied, "I don't know.. but that must be some really good hay!"  They could only describe it from their own experience.. they had a small glimpse of what was to come.. a minute experience of what would happen if they went up to that party... but they described it in the only way they know how.. from their experience.

That is what Heaven is like.  We can't tell you exactly what it is going to be like, but we can describe it as best as we can with words.. even that will be inadequate.   A feast, a party.. communion... those are all good starts.  So I asked our students to talk about things they liked to do.. how does that make you feel?   We came up with a list of adjectives to describe those things and categorized them into two columns: good and bad.


God is good.  To be with God means to be good.  To be away with him means to experience bad.  All of those things in the good column... that's what being in Heaven is like.  You know those moments when you're out watching the sunrise and you just get lost in the moment?  For that moment you aren't worried about the bills, or the decisions your kids are making, or that rattling in the front end of your car... your content.. you just are.. comfortable.. peaceful.. tranquil.. For some it's that sunrise, for others it's catching that big fish, or listening to their wife sleep peacefully at night.  It might be that first kiss, or the last one.  Dinner with a friend or a night in at home... it looks different for each of us.  What we do know though, is that God is involved in those moments... all good things come from him.  

That's what Isaiah is trying to describe to us.  We have to avoid that notion though that we should bottle up in a room and wait.  Too many Christians are only waiting for the Kingdom to arrive at the end of time.  They are hiding in the room fearful of the world, that it might taint them.. that they might be infected by the sin of others...   Jesus came though to bust us out of our rooms.. to send us to the proclaim the message to the ends of the earth.  The disciples themselves gathered with Mary the mother of God and locked themselves in a room for prayer.   The Holy Spirit descended on them in a dramatic and miraculous way and the doors were thrown up!  They marched out in the town square declaring the kerygma to the all who would hear, and hear they did!  That's our challenge as authentic, intentional disciples. Not to try and hide in our church, but to get out into the world and bring about change... challenging the morals, measures of judgement, values, philosophies, metaphysics, epistemology of the people to become more adherent to those of God. (Evangelii Nuntiandi §17-24)

We don't have to wait till the end of time to experience that.  I think that's part of the frustration of Jesus in the Gospel as he talks about how everyone demands a sign.. everyone wants more from him than the message.. they don't want to do it themselves, they just want Jesus to take care of it.   He just came from the Samaritans.. the 'other'... the 'they'... guess what?  They didn't need a sign.  They didn't need a miracle.   They just came out on the witness of a woman, a woman who was of ill repute... and they came to believe in Christ.  He didn't move a mountain.. he didn't change the world first for them.. they became disciples out of their love for the Scriptures, the message proclaimed, and for Christ himself.  Are we like them? Or like those in his own home town who wanted to throw him off the cliff?  Do we truly believe what we are given?  Are we going out into the world proclaiming and changing the world to be more like the Kingdom of God?  Or telling God to do it himself?  Church is not behind a closed door.  It's not just on Sunday, or just when you are at daily Mass... we are the Church and it's our job to bring God's presence into the world, into our policies, into our politics, into our judicial judgements, into the very fabric of who we are, to all ends of the earth. 

Sure, God could and will at the end of time, do it himself... but he's offered you something far more greater and noble.. the opportunity to create with him.. the opportunity to be a witness to truth, justice, and joy.  Are you doing that?  That's what Lent is about.. it's about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan.. it's reaching out to those on the margins, those hurt by the Church, those hurt by their own actions, in the streets and the hedgerows and saying, "God loves you."   It's not just sitting in the room to receive the message yourself, but taking that message out with you to the ones who aren't there.. bringing them closer to Christ.  Remember it's not just enough to feed them, clothe them, shelter them... without at some point bringing Jesus to them... It's not going to be easy.. Jesus himself was rejected in his home town.. and many only came out to see him perform, like some street magician...  but He has sent us a Holy Spirit.. someone to help us, guide us, and give us the strength and courage to bring this message to others.  Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving let us grow closer to Christ.. so that we can bring Him, His message, His Kingdom... to the very world itself.. that we might experience those good things.. those things which Isaiah spoke about in some way here and now, and that not only us.. but everyone else might see those things.. and say.. I want that too! 

How appropriate that we also talked about Baptism in the early church.  How that catechumens fasted for three days, then spent the entire night in prayer separated from the rest of the Church. They were bathed and put on pure white robes.  Then as the sun rose in the east, the church doors would burst open and here would come these newly cleaned, pristinely dressed, new Christians through the door into the Church where the others had waited all night.. to receive Jesus for the first time.. Think of that imagery for a moment.. you've been waiting all night in anticipation.. you're in the dark.. and the doors burst open, and in through the arch comes the bright rays of a newly risen sun... and in the midst of that glorious vision you see these beautiful people glowing in their freshness.   That's supposed to be you!  Is that what people see when you come into the world?  Happiness?  Joy?  Freshness?  Goodness?  Are you wearing your baptismal robe like a sign of beauty and peace?  Or are you hiding it under the grime of the world.  

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Saturday, March 5, 2016

How much is enough?

When I first moved out on my own life was pretty good.  I worked several jobs to keep up with what few bills I had.  I drove this old beat up Dodge Daytona that had literally half a million miles on it.  It was so old that you had to be careful where you parked it.  If you parked facing downhill it was a turtle on it’s back.  No amount of friendship could repay the times my buddies had to push me out so that I could get into first gear and actually move the car.  Life was grand, wasn’t it?  I had internet.  Water… Power… I was getting a college education.   Had friends, family, and no one could ever accuse me at any time in my life of looking like I was starving.   I was working three jobs and putting a little money in the bank. It wasn’t enough.

That summer I got a job working as an electrician.  I intended to go back to college and get another degree after the summer... I started making what I thought was really good money.  My beloved cousin Becky and her husband Denver helped me to get a Geo Tracker.  I upgraded to faster internet, got a new computer, bought tools and clothes.  I still lived in the same run down house, and yes.. I was still very bad at managing my money so I never had any.. but life was good.  I had food.  I had a roof over my head.  Had people who loved me.  I was learning about God and going to services when I could.  I worked more and more, further and further away.  Overtime was better money so if I only got three hours of sleep a night that just meant more to spend!  And spend it we did.  It wasn’t enough.

I never went back to college. I got used to making more and more. Life was good. I didn’t realize how great those days were really, until one winter when I didn’t have anything.  As I said above, I’ve never been good at managing my money.  I spend it.  I give it away.  I buy things and give that away.  I consume it.  I like my food.  I like my trinkets and gadgets.  So as I stood over an old rusted out wood stove in the basement of my home, looking around at the walls that were only twigs and ground up dust, I was beginning to hit rock bottom.  I had always been comfortable.  Always had food.  In fact, if I hadn’t been so proud that winter I could have eaten at my mom and dad’s house.. they would have fed me… but there I stood cooking beans inside the tin can they came in.   Eating them with a pocket knife.  They were the best beans I’d ever had.   Hunger has a way of doing that to you doesn’t it?  No power.  No water.  No heat.  No insulation. Middle of winter.   My car was gone, long story that one.  I had my work truck though.  I had my per diem so I could eat during the day.   What I didn’t have was money to keep those comforts I had taken for granted.  

Then God led me to Illinois.  I met a woman who I cherish everyday of my life, and she gave me a family.  My life became affluent, rich, wealthy.    I’m still broke.   That’s the funny part.  I still am horrible with money.  I still spend it.  I still give it away.  I still want those gadgets and trinkets.  What God showed me though is that there is more to this world than just comforts, though I must admit having heat in the northern winter is a very nice thing.  He showed me that love, that relationship, that communion.. that’s enough.  Anything else is extra.

The Israelites were travelling the desert for forty years being led and provided for by God himself.  He poured out mana from heaven to nourish them.  He made water flow from the rock to give them drink.   When they began to complain it wasn’t enough?  He sent quail into their camps until they had eaten enough that it ‘ran out of their nose and they began to loath it.’  (Numbers 11:20)  He poured out his love on them.  Then offered them the promised land, all they had to do was trust.  It wasn’t enough.   God wasn’t enough.  They fled from the task.

So He led them around until they were ready. Prepared them to go into the promised land under the lead of Joshua.  They had been complaining about the monotony of their food source, of the mana itself… so he gave them fresh grain and bread from the new land.  He delivered the city of Jericho into their hand by miraculously making the walls to fall to the ground.  He had just given them this new land, promised them all of it, showed them the abundance of fruit and grain, and promised to be with them.  It wasn’t enough.  

Seven days they were in the promised land.  Seven days they marched around Jericho.  In seven days they had become successful and been shown that God was definitely with them!  For Achan though?  It wasn’t enough.  He wanted the silver and gold of the men of Jericho, so he took it against God’s commands.   Why are we like that?  God gives us more than enough.  When I first got out of highschool and moved out on my own?  I made $25 dollars a day.  I had everything I needed.  No debt.  A car.  Friends. Food.   A house.  Later I was making $50, then $100 a day, then $200… the more I made, the less I had.. the less time.. the less things.. the less friends.. less.   The more material my life became.. the less I had.

I was less thankful for all those things I had when I had them, you know?   I think that was the problem with the Israelites.. they weren’t thankful for what they had.  They had God himself!  He was feeding them, giving them to drink.. and it wasn’t enough.  Adam and Eve made the same mistake didn’t they?  They walked face to face with God in the Garden.  They weren’t happy with that.. it wasn’t enough.  Joshua led them into the promised land!  They were restored completely from slavery, out of the desert and back in right relationship with God! Things were back to normal, back to the way they should have been! It wasn’t enough.

I think we often forget that when we go to Mass.  When we hear this parable of the prodigal son we think, Yeah I know.. the sinner returns.. the brother gets mad.  Guess what though? I think we often have more in common with the older brother than those who are just coming to dinner for the first time.  Have you ever noticed how excited a convert is the moment he gets to receive Christ?  For that moment, if not for the rest of his life, God is enough!  How about for us as we go for our hundredth? thousandth? or even multiple thousandth communion?  Are we happy with it? Do we still cherish it?

In the Gospel the older brother complained because his father hadn’t cut up a fatted calf for him and his friends.  He takes for granted all the mercies and benefits he has had bestowed on him by his father over these years.  His brother has been lost, has not been present to receive dinner every night.  The older brother has.. he’s been fed every day, been given drink every day, been loved every day.  He has had the Father all to himself.. Yet here he is jealous the moment his brother comes home, and refuses to come in.  All of a sudden, it’s not enough!

God feeds us with the true bread, manna from heaven.  Are we being completely aware of what it means to receive that?  Are we taking it for granted that the grace is there every single day? That God is providing for us every day?  True bread, true drink, Jesus Christ himself; body, soul and divinity? Oh that we might never take it for granted, that we might never grumble of those things we think we need more of.. that like Saint Francis of Assisi we are satisfied with the least of all things.. with Christ himself.  

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica.  After finishing it he took it and placed it before the crucifix of God as if to say, God? Is it good enough?  He began to pray and listen for an answer.  He heard the crucifix speak to him and say, “You have done well.  What would you like as a reward?”  Saint Thomas replied, “Only you Lord, Only you.”  He is enough.

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.