Saturday, April 30, 2016

Blowing Hole, and I don't mean me!

Many years ago my mother and father took me on a trail ride through the mountains of Virginia.  After many hours we arrived to this place called the blowing hole.   Way up on the top of the mountain was this hole in the ground that extended down and out onto the face of a cliff.  It's unique shape caused the wind to blow through in a way that made it whistle and howl like a creature of it's own.   I had never been this high up before.  From there we looked down into Kentucky at the beautiful scene you see in the image I've included.  It gave me an idea of how big the world was.. how grand.. how expansive... it changed how I saw things.  In a sense, it gave me a vision that the world was much bigger than I had ever imagined.  I was not very well travelled and had only been out of the general area couple of times.

In tomorrow's readings John had a vision as well, a much grander vision than my own.   In his vision though he says this unique phrase that shows his eyes were opened to something that is world changing, at least to me.  "I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb."  How astounding that must have been to the people reading this document.  The temple was the center of Jewish worship.. it was where God was... he lived in the temple.   Everyone journeyed to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifice and to be close to their God... yet here John is indicating a change of things.. The temple is the God and the Lamb.  How confusing this image must have been to the monotheistic religion that they practiced.   To accept that statement required a lot of faith, especially to those who connected the Lamb to a person.. Jesus.  How could God's temple be a person?

Yet that's exactly what we are challenged to believe in the Gospel isn't it?  "“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."   St. Paul takes this even further by indicating that you and I are the temple of God.   Wow... imagine that rocking statement for a moment.  That we will be the resting place, the place where God will live.. the place where worship will take place will be internal, in our souls, in our bodies.   It requires something though... many will tell you that all we have to do is believe right? That it's faith alone.... yet if we take this scripture seriously, Christ indicates we must keep His word to become the temple.

For Catholics, that becomes very evident when we read John chapter 6.  That is the Bread of Life Discourse... if we keep Jesus word, he will come and dwell in us.   Whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood... has life.   The Eucharist is the key to being that temple.  Jesus told us to do it... he gave us the words, the actions... and he said if we keep those words, he will dwell with in us... then we walk forward and receive Jesus Christ, body, soul and divinity, in the consecrated Host and he comes to dwell in us.   Do you take that seriously?  This is why so many people worry about being irreverent in the communion line.. about dressing well for Mass... about silence in the Sanctuary.  Not because Christ doesn't accept us for who we are.. but because we are temples... are we acting like it?   Are we keeping them presentable?  When we go forward to receive Christ into this meager temple, are we disposed to receive that grace? Or are we just punching a card?

Then it's not just enough to be the temple.. we also go out into the world to bring God to them.   He is in our hearts, part of us.. we are the outward vision of him.. Jesus hands and feet for the world.  Are you journeying out into the world to offer them a vision of God? Or of your own version of God?  Is the temple you present to the world a temple fit for a King?  Or is it one you run down with the graffiti and decay of sin?  How do we present a proper temple?  The works of mercy.   Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, etc.  Are you decorating God's temple with love and good works?  Or painting it with your own self ego and sinful desires?  We have work to do church.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mission Impossible.

In tomorrow's readings we see Paul trying to follow the will of God.  He has recruited Timothy, a man who is both Jew and Greek to accompany him.  The message of the Gospel would be that much easier to spread to a new culture when you have "one of their own" with you.  Yet, he seems to be confounded at every turn.  They try to go into Asia but are prevented, into Bithynia and it is not God's will.   I imagine that is frustrating.  Here he is doing exactly what he has been called to do, and yet the Holy Spirit prevents them from going into these areas.  Imagine the frustration.   The doubt.  Then that night he has a vision of a Macedonian speaking to him and asking him to come into their country to help.  As soon as the vision was revealed they set out to seek passage into Macedonia to do God's will.

How often do we do the same thing in our lives?   Many of us are 100% sure of our calling, of what God wants us to do.. and that's a noble and good thing.  However, our calling is to do the will of God and that requires discernment.  It requires taking time to ask God exactly what he wants from us.  To follow his lead.  How can we ever know what his lead is if we don't spend time listening?  That's something our culture doesn't like, isn't it?  We have portable phones, music players, streaming devices... ear pieces that allow us to stand in a room with others and listen to some event thousands of miles away.   If we just look around at a restaurant instead of staring down at our cell phones people think we are weird or odd.  We are even encouraged to have music playing in the background of our homes so that when we arrive it isn't silent.. but rather welcoming and warm.

Somehow we got this notion that silence is bad.  That being alone with our own thoughts.. that sitting in meditation waiting for God to speak to us is old fashioned and a waste of time.  Yet, that's when God speaks to us the most.. in the silence.. when we stop using him as some sort of heavenly ATM and instead realize that He is a loving father with whom we have a relationship to maintain.   That means not just talking to Him, but spending time listening.  How then can we prepare for our mission if we never listen for that mission?  The Eucharist is the key.  It is the entire foundation of our Catholic faith.  Receiving Him, adoring Him, spending time with Him, listening to Him... that's what it takes to find out exactly what he wants from us.

The world wants us instead to blare our music, listen to our television shows, and constantly be bombarded with external information.  It's almost as if we are scared to take a moment to find out who we are.. and who He is.   Jesus warned us of this though.  In tomorrow's Gospel he talks about how the world hates him.. and as such, will hate us.   If people watched your day, would they see Him?   Or would they see just another person?  If they looked at your browser list would it look like everyone else's?  If they looked at your Netflix history would they be impressed?  He talks of persecution and he says the reason for it is "because they did not know the one who sent me."

Do you know Him?  Are you listening?   Each day is an opportunity for that, and opportunity to be more like Christ and less like the world.  That's what Church is all about.. it's about unity, growing together in faith, being the Body of Christ... the Sacraments draw us closer, and allow us to receive Him.. to be filled with His grace and His love.   Don't shun them... and take a moment today, and every day, to sit in silence and listen for His voice to find out what His plan is for you.  The fullness of God has been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  He gave us the Holy Spirit, a Church, and the Sacraments to lead us to an informed conscience and a holy formation.... It is time for us to avail ourselves of that tremendous grace and follow where he leads.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

And of Us.

I haven't been writing a lot during this ordeal with my kidneys.  My mind is still fuzzy from all the medicine and to be honest, I sleep more than I stay awake.  I've been doing something my spiritual director told me to do though.   In this time when I just don't have it to pray with words, I am praying with my pain.  You know that old saying?  Offer it up.   Instead of trying to put it to words.. I just offer my pain to God.. not for an intention, not for my purposes.. but for his.  I'm not avoiding the pain medicine.  I was at first.  I thought at first maybe this was my call, that God wanted me in pain to suffer for him.  It took me a while to figure out though that God doesn't want me in pain... but when I am in pain, he wants me to still turn to him.

One of my favorite poems growing up was this:

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

In tomorrow's readings we see this calling of individuals.  Since even my youngest days I knew that men were called by God, chosen by him to do things.  One of the things I never really noticed as a protestant though was that little phrase there in acts: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.  People often ask me why I am Catholic.. why am I going through the diaconate.. why spend 7 years of my life in discernment when I could just listen to God and he would tell me where to go and what to say.   Why?  Because of that verse and other verses like it.   God didn't give us a book.  He didn't give us just the Holy Spirit... but also the Church.  Jesus didn't write a single word that we have recorded, besides an incident in the sand.  We can only guess what he wrote there.  What he did give us were his disciples, his Apostles, and they began (as evidenced by the Scriptures the Church gave us) to make decisions on how things would work after Jesus left, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus in the Gospel shows us again that it is not our own calling, not our own decision whether we will serve God the Father.  It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”  That's why I am going through this process.. that is why I went to His Church.. the original Christian Church.. the Catholic church.   It has existed since the time of Jesus with an unbroken line of Apostolic authority.  As such I defer to the Church to help me understand my calling.   They in turn offer me training and formation.  They offer me the Sacraments to assist me in the journey and knowledgeable Priests, Deacons, and lay men and women who are uniquely and extremely qualified to assist me on this journey.

At our last class each man who was discerning this call got up and gave a small speech on two of the many topics that we covered throughout this year of aspirancy.   I was constantly amazed at how each person had their own unique way of presenting the material and yet, each one spoke the Gospel truth with their words.  Each of us has been chosen, called to something... God willing to the Diaconate itself... and each of us is charged with using our unique personality, abilities and gifts in living out that call.  We can't do it alone though.. we must turn to the grace of the Sacraments, to the grace of the Church, unleashed by the keys of Peter to pour out on us at any time we ask for them.   Why not make use of them? Why avoid that channel of grace?  Jesus is waiting for us to come back to him.. to be a part of his life.   God is calling you... he has revealed himself fully to you in the person of Jesus Christ..  He wants to show you the way to live an authentic, full and unique life with an abundance of grace, love and hope.   As Robert Frost mourned in his poem, there are different roads to be travelled and you cannot travel both.   Yet God loved us so much he gave us a signpost to lead us, one which can be read with careful prayer, guidance and listening to the Holy Spirit and the Church.  What are you waiting for?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Monday, April 18, 2016

So help me, I dropped it.

Offer it up.  Suffering can draw you closer to God.  Just trust he has a plan in this.  Words that I myself have thrown out when someone else was suffering.  How can suffering draw you closer to God?  I had an inkling before these past few pain ridden days, but the clarity that I see with now is different.  I can't tell you how your suffering will draw you closer, but I feel the need to share with you how mine did.

Until the other night I would have told you that the one time I experienced true pain was about seven years ago.  It's a day which I will never forget.  I had just had my spine ripped open by a doctor.  Rods, screws, and various twisty pieces of metal lanced into my frame like a sadistic pin cushion.  A living voodoo doll for someone very unpopular.  The pain was unbearable.  Then I experienced true pain.  Sure, I would have told you then that I had been in pain all day.  After that day though, pain had a different meaning for me.

Just after my surgery they needed an xray of my spine with 'weight' on it in order to make sure everything was bolted together properly.  So they wheeled me, mostly sedated, down a hallway to a room designed to torture and haunt my dreams for years to come.  Over by the wall were two bars... they told me to hang on them.   That's right... put your hands on the bar, we need you to hang all your weight on your arms while we take an X-ray of your spine.  They were not kidding.  So I did as asked.. they lifted me up, I couldn't even put weight on my legs yet... placed my hand on this rod and said ok hang on.. and then they lowered me till all my weight was hanging there.. hanging on those freshly spiked screw holes... twisting through those muscles which had been sliced through just days before.

Everything went white.  I couldn't think.  I couldn't breath.  I didn't know who I was.. or what I was doing.. all I knew was, "I have to hold on to this bar."  So I did.  I don't remember what decade it was that they came back to get me... or how we time traveled back to the present day, but eventually, centuries after the command to hold on.. they pried me off the bar and into my seat.. and I lost consciousness.  Everytime I see that scene in the passion of the Christ where they give him the cross and he embraces it, holding it.. almost reveling in the pleasure of that knowledge that he is holding on... I am reminded of what that feels like.

This time in the ER I experienced a glimpse at the living stations of the cross.  Up until this point it had hurt.. it had hurt bad..  enough that this man asked to be taken to a hospital... asked to be moved into a room with needles.. like a vampire asking for daybreak.  I shuffled in towards the room, a familiar one.. it's our date room... some how they always put us in there... as we drew closer the pain hit.  I gasped a few times, moaning out loud.  Then I couldn't see.  My eyes had become overwhelmed.  I felt the tears going down my face.  I felt the shame of crying out loud like a child, weeping in front of all these people... I gasped out something to the effect of, "I can't do it."  So help me God.. I dropped my cross.  Everything was white again with pain.  I couldn't think.  I couldn't move.  I couldn't speak or breath.  All I could do was stand there and exist.

Then my wife, the living Simon of Cyrene, put her arm around me and said just walk with me.  She moved me into the room and onto the bed.  For eternity I lay there waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for pain pills, waiting for something..  Then the nurse informed me she couldn't give me the medicine they had prescribed because I was allergic to it.  I was going to have to hold this cross again.. guess what?  I dropped it again. I begged her for it.  Please just make it go away!  Do something!  She told me she couldn't give it to me because I could stop breathing.. I didn't care, I said.. that'd be better than this..

Sunday my wife brought me the Eucharist and I felt unworthy.  I received Jesus asking him to forgive me for carrying the cross so poorly.  For giving up. You see, I now know the answer to what I would do if I were on the cross... would I go to my death?  I've always said I hope so.. but Jesus took more pain than me.. and begged for forgiveness... he suffered willingly for others, refusing the wine to numb his pain.  Me?  I cried out for anything..  sure I tried to offer it up.. I tried to pray a rosary.. but the words wouldn't come.. an our father? and nothing but moaning escaped my lips.  I sat musing over this while praying my morning office.

Then he showed up.   At the door.  Offering me communion.  His name was Deacon Mike, but I knew him the moment I saw him.... Jesus was there before me.  I felt shame.  Misery.... I told him that I had already received and he said, "Can I bless you then?"  I acquiesced and he placed his hand on my forehead.  He said in a gentle voice something that I will not forget any time soon.  God has created you unique.. so go forth in comfort living your life with joy as the person he created you to be.  No one else can do it the way you do.  Then he blessed my wife in a similar fashion.  Warmth flooded through me.

Yes, I dropped my cross.  I'm not Jesus.... but you know what?  I've picked it back up.. because he's making me more like him.  I am going to try to carry it with joy.. knowing that through this pain and this suffering I learned first and foremost.. who I am not... but secondly, I am more aware of who He is... and even if I have to drop it 100 times more... I will do so.. if only to glimpse Him for a moment saying how much he loves me.. as he helps carry the load I am unable to.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Are yall ready for this?

As a man who is discerning a call to diaconate tomorrow’s first reading really speaks to me about that call.    The most amazing part to me is how skillfully Luke has worded the death of the first Christian Martyr, Saint Stephen, to show how it mirrored the very death of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  

They both spoke with Wisdom and no one could resist their arguments - (Acts 6:10, Matt 13:54)
Both had false witnesses testify against them - (Acts 6:11, Matt 26:59)
The Pharisees stirred up the crowd to turn against them (Acts 6:12, Matt 27:20)
Both were brought in before the council for trial - (Acts 6:12, Matt 26:59)
Both were falsely accused of Blasphemy (Acts 6:13, Matt 26:65)
Both were accused of breaking the Law of Moses (Acts 6:13, Matt 12:2)
Both were associated with high priests - (Acts 7:1, Matt 26:3)
Stephen was dealing with the same people - (Acts 7:1, Matt 26:57)
Both prayed for forgiveness of their executioners - (Acts 7:60, Luke 23:34)
Their bodies were both buried by devout men - (Acts 8:2, Matt 27:59)

That is the ultimate goal of Christianity isn’t it?   To have our lives so configured to Christ that when people look at us they see not us, but the image of our Lord and Savior lived out in our actions and words.  Stephen managed this in a way that led to martyrdom.  Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. (CCC 2473) Not all of us are called to Martyrdom.  Many of us may live a long, productive life that ends in a quiet and peaceful death.  That doesn’t free us from not only needing to be more like Christ, but it should be our desire!  We should want to be more like Him!  To live in a way that not only honors his memory, but makes him present to those around us.  It reminds me of Philip, who we do not see being martyred but still presenting himself much like the story of Stephen.  

When we look at these two men we see clear examples of what we are being called to do.  We are being called to live our lives in a way that images the life of Christ.  A life of faith and obedience to God the Father.  One in which we go forth regardless of the danger or consequences that might be involved with preaching the Gospel of Christ, even if it means going to our own death.   Why?  What is in it for us?  What is worth all of this hubbub?  That’s where the Gospel begins to point us.  

Jesus has just performed some major miracles in the presence of these men and women on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  The people have all the evidence in their presence to say that he not only multiplied the bread, but also somehow miraculously crossed the sea in the night without a boat.   This man has done something which is not natural, something that only God should be able to do, he has command over the elements!  He forms reality around him, changing the storm into calmness, water into something which can be walked on, bread into something which multiplies and feeds beyond it’s capacity.  

Yet when they come to him, they aren’t looking for the right thing.  Their stomachs are empty again… they just want more food.  I can imagine the people seeing a new way of life in which they just follow this man around for free food and entertainment.  Jesus goes on to give them the bread of life discourse, in which we Catholics see the Eucharist.  The Old Testament is filled with examples of God providing for his people:  Thus the flood and Noah's ark prefigured salvation by Baptism, as did the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea. Water from the rock was the figure of the spiritual gifts of Christ, and manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist, "the true bread from heaven.”  (CCC 1094)  Unlike the manna which their fathers had eaten in the desert, which only fed them for a day, Jesus was offering them something more powerful, something more filling, something greater than that bread which must be gathered every day.  He was offering them his very self.. Body, soul and divinity… in the Eucharist.    He offers you the same today.  He is offering you eternal life.

Are you ready for that?  Each of us is called to specific vocation, to a specific way of life.  You are the only you there is.  Pope Francis reminded us of that in his simple, yet eloquent way:

You are called to journey this life in a way that leads to eternity in the presence of God.  You are called to be the best you, you can be.   That doesn’t mean you have to be like me… your calling is unique.. The way you do things is unique.. God made you to be you, but to be the real you requires living a life in conformity to the image in which you have been made.. In the image of Christ.. Are you ready for that?  It begins anew every time we step forward and receive him, responding Amen…” All that you have said, we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.

Friday, April 8, 2016

What you see, isn't always what you get....

Many years ago I watched this movie about hackers in which one of the young men quoted the bible: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  I loved that movie quote.  The thing is, I never would have thought all those years ago that I would have used that very quote today to describe my spiritual journey before becoming Catholic.  I did experience God during that journey.  I experienced his presence, his Scriptures, and even glimpses into his body as kind and loving men and women tried to help me grow closer to Him.  I also experienced the opposite.  Periods in which people would funnel their own hate and bias into scripture and through scripture.  When people would demand you stop asking questions or reading anything outside of scripture.

I think the perfect example would have to be my understanding of the book of Revelation.  For many, many years I thought of revelation as a line by line commentary on current events.  I watched the news to find things that lined up with people in the scripture, events that might have some kind of connection to the Antichrist, the Beast, the Dragon etc.  I honestly lived in fear of those times to come.  Would I be ready?  Would my family make it?  Is there any time left?  Will I be able to stand up to the upcoming 'tribulation' period? I believed our God was going to come and snatch up the Christians and leave the rest of the world behind to suffer in anguish for not choosing him fast enough.  Not very kind of God, and not very lovely to imagine in my mind.

Then I read an amazing book by Scott Hahn, the Lamb's Supper.   I took time to digest the information in that book and to examine it in light of the writings of the first and second century Christians. In a sense, I began to grow up.  I still believe the book of revelation can have things to teach us about the current times.  I also think that it could give us a glimpse into the future, sure.  What I believe first and foremost though is that it is a book written with a preterist perspective that gives us a firm and sincere glimpse into what worship looks like in Heaven.  Not just in Heaven, but a glimpse into the metaphysical reality of what the Mass truly is.  That's an astounding thought isn't it?  This is a written account of what happens at Mass as we all gather together and Heaven kisses earth.

With that in mind let's again read the second reading for this coming Sunday:

I, John, looked and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea,
everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Think about that for a moment... when you go to Mass and the Eucharist is elevated before you.. when the Priest lifts up the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ before you... that is happening right before your eyes.  The countless numbers of those who have gone on before us are gathered around the Lamb who was slain and calling out to Him.  All of those men and women who you have loved who have died in Christ are now next to you in the pew blessing God with their lips, exalting Him with their souls.   How about you?  Are you joining them in this blessing with your heart?  Are you participating as fully as you are capable with the faculties he has given you?  Do you sing the hymns with the angelic choirs?  Pray with the priest during the collect? Or are you just checking your watch to see if it's time to go?  Glaring around at others judging them instead of focusing on Christ present in a unique and substantial way right before your very eyes?

Just like with Peter, Christ is asking you a simple question when you come forward to Communion.  When the minister raises up the Host and says "The Body of Christ," imagine Christ speaking to you....

"Do you love me?"

How do you respond?  It's interesting that in that encounter Jesus asks Peter three times do you love me, but we lose a hint of it in English.  He asks him do you agape me?  That is do you love me so much you are willing to sacrifice yourself for me?  Do you love me that much?  Peter says I phileo you lord... "I love you like a friend."   Oh how that must hurt.  Jesus asks Peter if he loves him completely, more than life itself.. and Peter responds you know you're my bro man.   So Jesus asks again? Do you agape me?  Again Peter responds you're my bro.. we're friends man.  Then Jesus sighs and asks again... "Do you love me like a friend Peter?"  The Scriptures record that Peter was distressed as he responded "Yeah, that's right.. I love you like a friend."

Then Jesus says to him, there will come a time when you are ready to agape me Peter.. a time when you will grow into the man I have created you to be.. I love you completely Peter, and I accept you where you are.. but I love you too much to leave you there.   When you found out I was dead?  You went back to your old ways, your old life... but that is not what I ask of you... I ask metanoia, change.. So go forth, and take care of my flock.. because you are no longer a child.  "Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus was speaking of the death Peter was to experience...  Peter was eventually crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

Jesus is asking you the same thing when you come forward to receive the Sacraments.  "Do you love me?"  Think of that when you say Amen this time... are you saying "You're my bro"?  Or are you saying "I love you completely, sacrificially, I will give anything for you."  There is a saying that goes around anytime someone wants to justify whatever their 'pet sin' is.  I hear this so often "Jesus loves me just the way I am."  I agree... but he loves you too much to leave you that way.  He has created you for so much more.. He has created you to be perfect, as the Father is perfect.   That is what "charity" means.. it means loving as God loves... loving so fully that you are changed.. you are molded.. you are formed into the image of God that you were made in.   Are you ready for that?  I think all of us, every time we come forward to receive our Lord and Savior, should be asking ourselves.. have I put away childish things?  It's time for us to grow up.  It's time for us to listen to that final command from the Lord when he says "Then follow me."

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Can anything good come from Clintwood?

Fifteen years or so ago the company I worked for hired this electrician from Baltimore.  He was supposed to be "all that and a bag of chips."  The one thing I do know, this man could finish a job faster than any other foreman that worked there.   I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder at the time because I was a foreman too but they kept putting me on his jobs as one of his helpers.  I did my job though.  I got fast at what I did, and I helped bang them out.   It wasn't until I'd been working with him a year or so that things began to show up that were iffy.  A problem on this job, a receptacle over here, etc.   Call back time and again to jobs he had finished in weeks, little things that added up to weeks or months of time repairing or fixing whatever it was that was wrong.   In the long run, you can't make money doing that... we spent more time on his jobs, but it always showed up as service calls, etc.

Finally it all came to a head when he asked me to do something that was just wrong.  He wanted me to install a heater with the wire coming through a concrete wall with no pipe, no insulators, just bare wire.  I refused.  So he sent me to work on the roof while he had someone else do it.   Then he asked me to just "stick a ground wire down a pipe" for a ground.  If you know anything about electricity, that's dangerous business.  This on a 200 amp disconnect.  I refused again.  He sent me off the job.   Soon I wasn't allowed on his jobs.  I kept getting crap work from the boss, and this hotshot kept getting all the high paying, overtime things.  He got the company truck, the gas card, the new tools etc..  I got to drive my own car several hundred miles a week, provide my own tools, and so on.   At the time I even kicked myself a bit.. everyone kept telling me just do what he tells you and things will get better.. "Everyone else does it, don't worry about it."  "If you want to make money you're gonna have to learn to cut corners...."   "You're from Clintwood, Virginia.. you should just do what you're told.. who else is gonna hire you?"

Then one winter we were working on a Church and the owner of the company showed up.  You could tell by the look in his eyes that something was wrong.  It turned out that on the roof of that job that I had been told to push a bare wire down a pipe, someone had touched an AC unit and been killed.  I looked at the man before me, I gave him that look... he knew, because I had told him when I was sent off that job why I was sent off.   I had still been punished, but I had stood up for what I knew to be right.  That company changed quite a bit after that.   Short cuts weren't taken anymore and profit wasn't as important.  The owner was a good man.. I know that... but he had allowed things to happen in order to make more money.

That's kind of what I get from the Acts of the Apostles.  Here are these men who have been arrested, thrown in prison and freed by an angel in the night. These were the same men who before were hiding in a locked room so no one would find them.  The same men who had run on the night Jesus was arrested, who had deserted him in his time of need.   Here they are, standing up to the very authority that all their life they had been told was the one to listen to.  This was the Sanhedrin!  If you listened to anyone as a Jew, that's the group of people you should be hearing.   Yet, they stand up for Christ, regardless of the consequences.  "We must obey God rather than men."   It would have been much easier to run away when they were arrested and freed.  Instead they go right back out and begin to preach again.  Later in that chapter we find them being flogged and beaten for this very action, and what happens?   "They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."

What about you?  Are you willing to stand up for your faith?  Most of us are not called here in the affluence of America to be Martyrs.  The question is though, what is God calling you to?   Each of us receives a calling.  Each of us is being asked by God to do something.  For some is to be the best mother they can be.  For another the best accountant.  Another the best lawyer.   Our Catholicism doesn't end at the door of the Sanctuary... it is a part of us.   When we receive Christ in the Eucharist we are to go out into the world and be among the world, but not of it.   That means we are a Sacramental people.. we ourselves are a sacrament to the world.. we aren't just lawyers.. we are Catholic lawyers.   We aren't just teachers.  We are Catholic teachers.   We aren't just writers... we are Catholic writers.   Are you ready for that?  Bringing your Catholicism into the world even it means losing your friends?  Your family?  Your job?  The other question I must ask myself when I read this is, do I go forth rejoicing when I am dishonored for him?  Or do I go back to the upper room and lock myself inside spiritually?

We Catholics are given the greatest gift of any possible one.  Saint John says:

The one who comes from above is above all.
The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things.
But the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life

That's what we receive in the Eucharist.   How is it that we receive that which is above all, that which pours out God's grace with no limits into our soul, that Blessed Sacrament of the Altar which imparts eternal life and then go forth sour, angry and unchanged?   We cannot.  We must not.   When we receive Jesus into us we must be open to that grace which he pours out on us freely... allowing Him to change us.. to make us more like God... to make us people who speak of heavenly things.. to testify to what we have seen and heart.. like our brother and savior, Jesus Christ.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Look Into the Light

Most people who know me, know that I used to be a commercial electrical foreman.  One of the first things I would do on a construction site would be to get up some sort of lighting.  The first lesson I learned out there in the field was that it's very hard to have quality work if you can't see what you are doing.  It was amazing though how much detail came out when you really lit up the place.  A counter might even look pretty decent with the lights off, then you turn them on and the dirt and grime of the construction process was evident at a glance.  Then I began to see some shady practices that went on out there in the world of commercial sales.  Customers would request certain 'temperature' bulbs for certain applications.  One large food supply store would ask for red tinted bulbs in the meat section to make the food look fresher.  A package of ground beef with a slightly grey tinge would take on a nice, even red hue when placed under these lights.  Another would ask us to lower the wattage in the kitchens so that it wasn't as easy to see the imperfections or lack of cleaning.

That brings me to a spiritual reality that works on those same lines.  The closer you get to light, the easier it is to see imperfections.  The closer you get to the purity of God? The more obvious the filth and dirt in our souls becomes.  That's what sin is really, it's a marr, a missing of the mark.. a dirty spot on our soul.   If you read any of the writings of the Saints you'll see that as they drew closer to God, they felt worse and worse about even the smallest smudge.  After all in a relationship shouldn't we feel bad about the slightest of infidelities?  There are two reactions though that one can have.  One can draw to the light, see the smudges and be convinced they need to clean it up; or one can flee from the light and go for those things which they prefer to the effort it takes to carry their cross.

We humans are fickle things aren't we?  Most of us know exactly what we need to do to be closer to God in our lives.   We like those things though that feel good, that reward us temporally and physically.   We have that pesky concupiscence that makes us want power, pleasure, honor, and wealth.  Christ in the beatitudes challenges us though to put those things in their proper place.  To instead draw closer to the light, to examine any and every log that we might find in our own lives before ever considering to look for even a speck in someone else's.  

Today's Gospel reminds me of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  All too often people run from Confession.  Why?  Jesus says it very plainly: For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.   We don't want the light to expose what we've done.   In our basements, in our private times, behind closed doors, when not everyone sees.  We fear what the Priest might say or think about us, or even at times we cling to that sin.. the one we don't want to give up.. the one we know we should.  That's pretty much the definition of Hell isn't it?

You see, our faith teaches us that Hell is a choice we make.  It also teaches us that God is an all consuming fire.   Fire burns.  What does God burn?  He burns out the sin.   The Sacred Scriptures tell us that God is a refiner at the furnace, purifying us like gold or silver.  He melts us down and slowly removes the dross.  Someone once told me that the way a refiner knows that the gold or silver is ready is when he can see his own reflection in it.  Think about that for a moment.. when God can see not us in our actions.. but His Son, Jesus Christ.  What happens though when we don't let go of sin? It burns.... I truly believe that for those who have any attachment of sin, that's what happens after this life.  Those who die with no sin attached?  Straight to Heaven.   Those who have an attachment but want to let go of it, and want to cling to God?  Purgatory.  Those who refuse to give up the sin?  Hell.  For eternity God's love washes over them trying to remove this sin from their soul.. this stain... and it burns... but they hold on to it and blame God for the burning.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.   It is God's hope that by sending his Son, the light itself, into the world that it would help every single person to see the areas of sin they needed to work on and remove them from their lives.   That's what the Sacraments are all about.   Confession cleanses us, it allows us to walk into the light and say Lord, give me the grace to remove those things that being in your presence makes me aware of.  Then the Eucharist, oh that marvelous and beautiful Sacrament that is the sign of our faith!   In it Christ himself comes to us and washes over us with his love and embrace.  I am never more aware of my sins than when I come up that aisle to receive Him into my body.  I trust though, that as I draw near to the purest of all lights, and as even the smallest speck of venial sin glares at me, and the demons of this world call out to me and tell me I'm not worthy... I place it all at the foot of the cross and say, "You are right.  I'm not worthy.  I just trust my Savior."  As John said, "Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned."

So ask yourself this morning what is standing in your way?  Like the Apostles in the first reading, each of us has a prison that we've been locked into.   God has been sending his angels to us in the dark night of our oppression to open the doors and to send us on our way to tell others about this life.  What is your prison?  What is holding you back?  What sin has you locked behind it's doors preventing you from living that life of joy, freedom and faith that comes with the grace of God?  Let Him open the doors.  They are locked but God holds the key, and He Himself handed that key to the Church.  Go receive it for yourself in the Sacraments.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tear Down the Wall

When I was fresh out of college money was pretty hard to come by.  To try to make ends meet five of us moved into this one trailer and pooled our monies to make things happen.  It was an interesting thing.  On the surface one would have called us a community.   All of us professed to be Christians and attended church a few times a year.  We even talked from time to time about the Bible and listened to religious radio on lunch breaks when we could.  The thing was, we shared a home.. but you wouldn't say we were sharing much else.  One of us even had a shelf that contained their stuff.  I remember once when the brother of one of the guys living there drank something off the 'shelf'.   All of us gasped!  That's the 'shelf'!  You're in trouble!  Sure enough, when that roommate came home the first thing out of their mouth was, "Where is my stuff!"

That's a far cry from the ideal isn't it?  In the first reading for today's daily Mass we can see what the early Christians considered the ideal community.  Everything they had was in common!  They shared it all.  There were no shelves, no 'hey that's my shirt', everyone sold any money they had and the community leaders distributed it evenly so that none were lacking in need.  It's easy for me to look back at that living arrangement and pick it apart and say hey, we didn't meet that ideal at all did we?  Yet, if I'm honest, looking at any household today we can often find similar situations.  Someone upset because someone else wore their shirt.   Someone mad because their phone is dead because someone was playing on it when it was supposed to be charging... someone upset because the last thing of ice cream is gone and they didn't get any.   Pretty standard for any family isn't it?

The interesting thing about this reading from the history of the early church is that it's talking about an example for them to look up to.  Barnabas, the son of encouragement, lived in such a way that they felt we should all learn from him.  He sold what he had and brought it to the Apostles to distribute as they saw a need.  As a man who greatly admires Saint Francis of Assisi this truly touches my heart.  How many of us are willing to do that?  We complain every time we turn on the radio and someone is asking for money.  You can see the eyes roll and hear the sighs at times when a priest gets up during the year for the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal.  "There they are asking for money again."   "Why is it everytime I come to church they want more cash?"  "Don't they have enough?" Or better yet, "Why don't they sell everything in the Vatican and give it away to the poor!"  (Ask me about this last one sometime, my answer may shock you.)

Imagine though, another situation... if every one of us who professed to be Christian... gave like we should?  If we opened up our bank accounts and gave 1%, 2%, 10%... 100%?  What if instead of trying to pretend we own the money we earn.. we rather acknowledge that it was all a gift from God?  Then we put our money, our time, our talent, all of it... where our mouths were.   If every person in our Parish gave 10%?  I imagine we'd never have to ask for money.   Rather, we'd see a need and meet it.   This year we saw a need, $6,700 dollars... and we met it.   It took some time, but through some sacrificial fasting, prayer and almsgiving we are going to be able to build a well.  That's beautiful!  That's marvelous!  That's the way it should be!

Yet, there is something more that must be faced.  Lent is not a time to simply change for a season, and go back to who you were before.. No Lent is a time of metanoia, transformation, changing from bad habits to good... Lent is over, but the giving should just be starting!  That's why we as a Parish are looking at raising even more money, giving throughout the year and not just during the penitential season leading up to Lent.  Maybe we'll build a house?  Feed a village?  We are still discussing this as a pastoral council.

The Gospel reading talks about the wind.   The word there for Spirit and Wind is the same word! The breath.... the wind... the Spirit... the word has the connotation of presence.. of life.   When someone is unconscious you put a mirror under their nose to see if they are breathing.. with breath is life.  That's a powerful thought.  Jesus is there in the tabernacle.. breathing.. waiting for you.  Where he is.. life is.   Where he goes.. life goes... Where he is rejected? Life is rejected.  In the Eucharist is all of the life force in the universe.. the ultimate wind.. the ultimate Spirit... God himself. So you are given that gift.. that life.   You receive into you the breath of God.. something that cannot be contained but is greater than yourself.   Are you going out into the world with it?  Are you breathing life?

Some people have told me that when they enter the Catholic church they feel a presence.. like someone is there.. even when the Sanctuary is empty as far as they know.   That's Him.  That's the breath, the wind.. the Spirit..  That is Christ's presence in the tabernacle.. it is tangible, you know he's there.. I have never experienced that in any other church.  Yes, I've found beautiful prayer spaces.  I've enjoyed uplifting concerts.  I've prayed with men and women of many faiths and denominations.... I've never been in any of those churches empty and felt the presence I feel when being before the Eucharist.  That brings me to one other thought... When people meet you, when they pray with you, when they visit you or you visit them... when you converse, when you share, when you break bread together... do they feel His presence in you?  Are people aware of the breath of Christ, the Holy Spirit, in your life?  When you go from Mass at the end, when you are dismissed by the priest or Deacon.. they say "The Mass is ended, go forth glorifying the Lord with your lives."   That's not a dismissal to go back to your old way of life.. it's a challenge to go forth into the world as a living tabernacle, a temple of God... when people are in your presence they should know He is there too... it should change you... and they should know by your actions, words and deeds that you are a Catholic and a disciple of Christ.

So, the question becomes: "If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Let Him Ask Again

A drop in the desert
There are so many things we try to do to get good health.  One doctor tells you to eat high fat, another high protein, another no fat, low protein.  One high carb, another low carb.  This one tells you to use aromatherapy.   Another to take this pill and that.  Yet another tells you to avoid pills and simply stick needles into certain places of your body.  All of them claim to have the answer.  It becomes quite confusing to the average person to try and figure out exactly what they should do and eat, what they should put in their bodies, what they should avoid... Yet we find people going to great lengths, eating extreme diets, concocting various potions and chemicals, all in the search of adding a few years to their life.

How many times in the movies have we seen people take upon themselves these massive quests to find a cure, or to save the one they love.  Indiana Jones risked his life navigating the maze of death to get the holy grail that he might save his father who had been shot with a bullet.  He was willing to risk his life for just the chance that he might save his dad.  In other movies we see people seeking rare flowers in the heights of the trees in the jungle, seeking out estranged guru's hidden from sight in order to find the secret to their condition, or even like Eddie Murphy, climbing the highest peaks of some strange country to find a temple to retrieve a scroll that will save many lives.

We do that still in our own lives sometimes don't we?  We look for the right herbal treatment, or the right natural remedy.  We ask doctors for medicine to cover up our symptoms that we might live a semi-normal life.  If someone told you today that you should load up your family and head to some other continent because the cure for cancer was in a plant in the middle of the desert, would you pack up that loved one and head out?  Many of us would.  If my daughter were dying and I were told I had to climb the highest mountain to pick a blooming rose on the 3rd of december at midnight, I'd likely be willing to do it...

The thing is though, it's Divine Mercy Sunday.  It's a reminder to us that God's mercy is infinite, it's an ocean waiting to be poured out on us.. all we have to do is accept it.  When I was a Protestant I did find God's grace.   God's grace is available to all people.   I'd feel the Holy Spirit at a prayer service, while listening to some preacher on the radio, while praying with some friends at work... yes, his grace was there.   It was though like I was searching in the desert looking for those moments.  Looking up to the dry, blistering sky I would occasionally find relief from the arid world around me. A drop here.. a drop there... just a moment of relief...

Then I found the Church... I found Him.. I found that river of life that Jesus told the woman at the well about.  Instead of a drop here or there... there was enough of God's grace to pour over me, around me, and through me... all of it right there in the Eucharist.  How much of that grace has God offered to the world and the world refused?  In the Divine Mercy Chaplet we pray about the fount of life, unfathomable divine mercy.. An ocean of mercy so deep it can never be sounded.  An ocean of mercy that is beyond comprehension, God himself, descending into a piece of bread... something defenseless... to allow me to receive Him into my body... to place that Mercy into me.. to consume it.. to let it flood through my body and change me.. to help me to grow into Him.. to be more like my savior and my Lord..

We seek concoctions, potions, spells and incantations to cure things which are temporal....... To ease the symptoms of a much less serious illness than that of apathy, that of spiritual sloth.  Do we realize how important Mass is?  How important it is to receive Jesus Christ; body, soul and divinity; into our own body to help us become what he intended us to be?  It's not enough to just receive that Mercy.. it's not enough to just tap into this ocean and consume enough for our own needs... No.. you see, you are a conduit.. The Eucharist fills you up, just like a cup... if you are full?  There's no more room.  God didn't design us to be just a cup.. He designed us to be little Christ's.... to pour ourselves out, like Christ did on the cross.. to take this living water and turn it into a transforming flood to mold the world into the image of His kingdom.

Are you ready for that?  To go out into the world and give away what you have been given?  To hand the mercy and forgiveness you have experienced through God's abundant grace and love to those who need it most?   The widow, the orphan, the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed.. and yes, to your enemies.. to those you like the least.. to those who are most unlike yourself... That's what God is calling you to.  He is coming before you in the Eucharist and saying to you, as he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Now it's up to us.. to say back to Him... to look up at the Mercy of God himself, to look up at Jesus in the Eucharist, and to say with Mary, the Mother of God, and all the Angels and Saints in Heaven, "My Lord and my God!”

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."