Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ever touch an electric fence?

The pleasures of child hood
A Reflection on the readings for Daily Mass, June 30, 2016.

Amos 7:10-17
Psalm 19:8-11
The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 9:1-8

When I was younger my grandfather kept telling me not to go down around his garden.   He had this electric fence that he had put in.  He told us not to grab hold of it or it would 'bite' us.   The funny thing was we kind of enjoyed it.  The thrill of doing something dangerous, something we shouldn't be doing... and even better, holding on to someone else who didn't know we were going to touch the fence.  For years I goofed around with that and even found myself as an electrician not being super careful around low voltage.  People warned me that it could be dangerous, the books warned me, my mind warned me, but I didn't care.  I kind of liked it, it made my arthritis pain go away.   Then one day I was wiring a light in a school in Kingsport, Tennessee when my arm brushed the aluminum ceiling grid. It wasn't a hundred and twenty volts, but rather two seventy seven.   I found a new level of pain, one I did not enjoy.. one that left me aching.. one that made me hear clearly in my head the sixty hertz cycle of the transformer.   I thought I was screaming, I was trying to throw it away... but I couldn't move.. I couldn't speak... I was paralyzed.  Eventually it let me go, but I had learned my lesson the hard way.

Amos has been warning Israel of the consequences of their actions.  In the first reading he tells them this is what is going to happen if you keep on the path you are on.  Like me and my little dalliance with electricity eventually it's going to catch you.  As a man whose dad was electrocuted when I was only five years old, you'd think I'd have had more respect for it.   I wanted it though, I enjoyed it.   Just like the society of that time, and even our society today, they are doing things that feel good.   They want them.  They don't realize how dangerous it is.  How much it hurts! Sin and it's glamour tends to draw us in, to paralyze us, to addict us.   We find ourselves falling into the same trap that St. Paul speaks about when he says: "Those things I want to do, I do not.. those things I know not to do, that I do."  It traps us in a cycle where we find ourselves coming back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation time and again for the same sin, the same old temptation.. almost unable to help ourselves.

Just as an animal becomes a stronger beast of burden and more beautiful to behold the more often and better it is fed, so too confession - the more often it is used and the more carefully it is made as to both lesser and greater sins - conveys the soul increasingly forward and is so pleasing to God that it leads the soul to God's very heart.
--Revelations of St. Bridget

That's the key isn't it?  We are unable to help ourselves.  It's only through Christ that we can be cured.  The Gospel reminds us today that when we are paralyzed and unable to move, that's when those around us must pick us up and carry us to Christ.  When we are trapped in sin and unable to get out, that's when we need the Sacraments the most.   We as Catholics have to help those who need God: society, our friends, our neighbors, our kids.    It starts though with a different person: our self.  All of us have some sort of pet sin, something that we haven't let go of.   It's that pesky beam in our own eye that keeps us from being able to see clearly enough to help someone else with a speck or a splinter.  We like touching that electric fence too much to stop.. even though we know it's going to hurt, even though we have tried time and again.  What we've got to do is sit at the feet of Jesus... and let Him say to us, "Your sins are forgiven. Go forth and sin no more."  Then to trust in that... we have to pick up our mat and walk.  

"In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You."--Saint Augustine

Are you ready for that?  As a Catholic that's what Reconciliation (Confession/Penance) is all about.  It's about allowing the Church to carry us in on our mats, to place us at the feet of Jesus and when He sees the faith of the body of Christ he says "Go forth, your sins are forgiven."   That's the greatest miracle of all time.  That God has given us a way to not only move away from the electric fence, but to live knowing that any permanent damage isn't done.   If you need someone to carry you on your mat, call me.  I'll drive you.  I'll wait in line with you and hold the door for you when you walk in.  Then I'll get in line too, because I keep falling back on my mat as well.

His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I'm Not Here to Make Friends....

A new name on white stone
A Reflection for the Daily Readings for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29th, 2016

Acts 12:1-11
Psalms 34:2-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew 16:13-19

Over a decade ago I was going through a rough patch in my life.  A broken relationship, a house that was falling apart (mostly my fault), debt up to my ears, and a stagnant job that provided no chance of advancement.   As I worked one day I received a call from a competitors company who had heard of me and wanted to know if I wanted a job.   He offered me a company truck, a gas card, more money on the hour, and health insurance.  I went to my boss who had told me a few weeks before that I was capped out when I asked about a raise, and I said here is what they are offering.  I didn't want to leave, but he didn't counter or even argue.. he just let me go.  So be it I decided.

I started the new job with gusto!  I went in working as hard as my body could manage, as many hours as they'd let me, running jobs from the very start.  One job finished, another.. people didn't like me.  I didn't remind about breaks, I told them when I thought they were slacking, and I pushed them to finish the job as fast as possible.   I was making the company money.  As I told my help when they'd complain: "I'm not here to make friends.  I'm here to do a job."   So I did.  That broken relationship fell completely apart.  The power and water got turned off at home.   I went on the road and stayed in hotels.  As far as I was concerned I was successful, I was who I needed to be.  I even changed my name from Brian to Ken for a while, to show the new me.. the workaholic.   The man afraid to face his life.

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

Eventually a man who had weaseled his way in through a chink in my armor took me aside at lunch.  He said he remembered the me when I first started, the one who sat in his truck at lunch time reading his bible, etc.  He asked me a few questions and I answered them, evening pulling out my trusty 1611 King James bible from under the truck seat (and having to dust it off).   He said there he is, that's the guy I remember.  It was a wake up call.   It was who I was meant to be, it was who God had made me to be.  Not that I started slacking, no I worked just as hard.  I stopped being a wall though.  I let people in to see the real me.   I treated them with dignity and respect, and earned some respect of my own.  Soon we were all friends and though I was still completing jobs as fast as possible... people didn't complain as much, they didn't get angry and go to the office in the evenings talking about how much of a jerk I was... no I was being the man I was supposed to be.

The world wants us to remain in those chains, you know?  That a successful man or woman must be one who puts the job before relationships.  The one who gets the job done with maximum profit regardless of who they offend, hurt or cause to quit.   God wants us to be free from the chains of life.  That doesn't mean we don't work, the opposite is true there.  He wants our yes to be yes, and our no no.  He challenges us to put in our time as efficiently and skillfully as we can... but He wants us to do so with joy!  To be the kind of person that draws others to them, not pushes them away.   To do so though we can't just say "I believe" and then go on living as we have always lived.  We must become a new person, we have to listen to the messenger when they say "get up! get dressed! follow me!"  Notice that Peter's chains didn't fall off till He got up!

God gives us a new name.  A new name means a new start!  I tried to do it on my own, by changing the name people referred to me by and becoming the man I wanted to be.   I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps and be the foreman that got it done, the one who knew how to get the best out of his men.  I thought that meant intimidation.. but it meant camaraderie.     I thought it meant working without care for those around me, but my dad taught me years later it meant working as a servant to those below you.  Making sure they were safe, cared for, and knowing them.  A man who trusts you, a man who feels that bond.. will work harder for you than a man who lacks those emotions.  I never became a man who sat in the AC while my crew worked.  I hated working for people like that.  I was always right out there with them, pulling cable, running conduit, and digging ditches.  Yes, there were times I had to go to meetings or answer questions.. but in between?  I didn't just stand around talking.. I worked with them.. as a brother, as an equal.

CCC 2159 The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God's name will shine forth in splendor. "To him who conquers . . . I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it." "Then I looked, and Lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty- four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads."

At Confirmation we choose a Saint who lived the Gospels in a way that speaks to us.   It isn't that we want to become that Saint.. but that we want to follow the same path they did when they were alive.  I chose Saint Francis of Assisi.  He was the kind of man I want to be like, one who showed Christ so fully in his life that other men followed Him.   One who lived life in a way that said I believe what I say, I have the courage of my convictions.  That kind of life strengthens us, it nourishes us.. to be strong enough to do what Saint Paul was speaking about in his letter to Timothy.. to pour ourselves out like a libation.   This life is not an easy one.. it means giving up attachment to all things in life.  It means getting outside of ourselves and letting Christ live through us.  It means living a life with a new name.. a name giving to us by God himself.

Saul was one of the worst persecutors in the Early Church.  He literally ripped people from their homes and turned them in, if not standing by while others stoned them.  He thought he was doing right, he was trying to make a name.  He was getting the job done.   Jesus appeared to him and said "Get up.  Follow me."  Saul became Paul and after years of contemplation became one of the greatest evangelizers to the Gentile Nations.   Simon when left to his own devices would come to deny the lord three times, to flee from the scene of the cross, to raise a sword in anger... Jesus gave him a new name, again "Get up!  Follow me!"  When he began to live the name that Jesus had given him, he became Peter.. the rock, the one who was given the keys to the Kingdom.   The man who when he was crucified asked to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy to hang the same way as Christ.

They, like you and I, failed when they tried to live by their own name.  When they tried to write who they were on their own terms, even when it seemed right in their own estimation.   It was only when they accepted the name given to them by the Word, by He who through which everything was made, both visible and invisible, that they began to live life in Christ to its fullest.  To be poured out like a libation for their fellow man and to enter the Kingdom of God on God's terms.   Are you trying to set the terms?   Are you trying to give yourself a name?   Or are you letting God work through you to build up the name He has written for you eternally in the heavens?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why do good things happen to bad people?

The Storms of Life
A Reflection on the Readings for June 28, 2016.  The Memorial of St. Irenaeus.

Amos 3:1-8; 4:11-12
Psalm 5
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 8:23-27

I used to hang out with this friend of mine after work.  We'd sit around having a few drinks.   He'd then bring out his drugs, consume them go on what he called a relaxing trip after work.  We'd then sit and talk about God.   Strange isn't it?  There we were doing things that He would find unpleasant, things which did not draw us closer to Him and yet our hearts still longed for Him.   My friend would talk about how rough his life was and ask why would God do that to him?  Why wasn't life a bed of roses?  Why did 'bad people' get good things, and good people get bad things>  Yet, there we were turning our backs on His grace and preventing Him from being a part of our life fully.   We were like a man drowning in the ocean, beating the hands and face of the Life Guard who tried to pull us out to safety.. and then complaining that no one was helping.

The readings today remind us that God has been sending the message of salvation since the beginning of time itself.   He has been showing us through Prophets, Judges, Kings, and Saints exactly the life we need to live to open those channels of grace.   The life we need to live to be restored to the image of God that we were created to be.  That doesn't mean a bed of roses.  In fact, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of living that life to it's fullest.. and it was far from comfort.   It was  a life filled with grace, a life that changed the world around it, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and sought God's will above all things.  We fall below that threshold so often don't we?   Too often we, like the Israelites, could be called a stiff necked people.  We continually do those things we know God has shown us to be bad for our spiritual health.

St. John Paul the II point out how this Psalm (Psalm 5) of supplication, like so may others in this book contrasts the person who prays with those who do evil.  Because of God's unwavering love and constant care and assistance, we can turn to him in confidence amid the turmoil, sin, and temptation that surround our daily lives.  United to God, the faithful are always secure; through prayer the people of God express their trust in his mercy.  It please God to shower his blessings upon his people and protect them with his unsurpassable goodness.  (Cf. St. John Paul II, General Audience, May 30, 2001) - Note from the Didache Bible (Pg 614, note 5)

When fear overwhelmed the disciples, they shouted out for Jesus to deliver them.   Jesus stood up and rebuked the waves and winds, and there was calm.   It's funny isn't it?   Jesus didn't take them out of the boat to dry land.   He didn't remove the water from the situation.   He didn't take them into the vacuum of space to where the wind itself could never move.   No, he instead brought calm to them.   They were still in the boat, still on the water, still at the mercy of the elements; their location had not changed.. but their peace was restored.  The storm was calmed around them, but everything that created the storm in the first place was still there.  Spiritually I think that's a powerful lesson for us... What God offers us is not necessarily a new location, or change of venue..... He offers to calm the storm... that doesn't mean that stress will miraculously disappear.. but if you let Him, His grace will give you the ability to be peaceful and filled with joy in the same location, the same situation.   That's what Jesus offers us every day.  Peace, joy and love with the grace of God.

The Israelites received an almost ominous threat.  That's because we read into it our human emotions, we anthropomorphize God to try and understand him further.   God said to them through Amos:

So now I will deal with you in my own way, O Israel!
and since I will deal thus with you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel.

God was letting them know of His grace, to see His mercy and justice.  He did indeed deal with them in His own way... through the incarnation.  Just like the disciples we are coming face to face with God himself, in the person of Christ.  When we come to the altar for communion we again come face to face with Christ in the Eucharist and should be reminded that God is right there in front of us... and we should not be terrified... rather we should be bolstered by our faith.. because God has chosen to deal with us in His own way.. love and mercy itself!   Are you ready for Jesus to calm the storm around you?  To rest in His arms in communion?  To draw closer to Him in Reconciliation?  To find peace, joy, and happiness right where you are at this very moment?  He might not remove the bed of roses, but simply open your eyes to the beauty and grace present through the pleasure of their sight and smell.

We are members of the body of Christ, the Church is the boat that keeps us afloat.  As long as we keep Christ in the boat, it's smooth sailing.. we just need to have faith.  Again today the question is asked, "What manner of man is this?"  As you gaze upon the Eucharist, can you hear Him saying, "Who do you say that I AM?"

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Called to Freedom.. but at what cost?

Are you holding anything back?
A Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, June 26, 2016.

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
The Holy Gospel According to Luke 9:51-62

Elijah is sent in the first reading to conscript Elisha into service.  Elisha is apparently not just a poor farmer, but rather from a very wealthy family.   The scriptures record that he had twelve oxen in the field working and he walked behind the last one.  A wealthy family could have one or two oxen, but twelve?  That requires some resources.  Here Elijah  is walking up and asking Elisha to leave the wealth and comfort of his family behind, and follow him in serving God.  Elisha asks for a moment of reprieve to go back to his family and then proceeds to destroy everything he has.   In destroying his equipment and oxen he has secured his commitment to Elijah, he has no reason to turn back now.  

The gospel reading reminds us of this incident as Jesus goes on to talk about the cost of discipleship.   He doesn't paint a picture of ease or comfort.   Many today will tell you that the blessings of God = wealth and comfort.  Jesus often paints a grimmer picture.  He paints the cost of Christianity as taking up a cross, following him, having no place to rest your head, and no time left to make a commitment.   Whereas when Elisha asks for time to go back to his family, Elijah says sure, go ahead.  When one follower asks this of Jesus, Jesus tells him anyone who looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of Heaven.

What's going on here?   Jesus is reminding us that one greater is here, and that the Kingdom is already at hand.   It's not something we have time to wait for anymore.   There is no more urgent time than the present.  While Elijah and Elisha had important things to do, the work of Christ is far more important.   There are souls at stake!  We are called to duty, not in the future, not tomorrow, but right now!  The present.  We must look to the past to keep from making mistakes, we must keep our mind examining the future to see possibilities, but we must live in the present.

The reading from St. Paul reminds us of another truth, that we are called to a freedom, a freedom from sin.  That freedom does not release us from our urgent duty but rather makes it even more important!  This freedom is not a freedom that allows you to choose to do bad things, to simply go on with your life and do whatever feels good and right.   Some will tell you that the freedom of a Christian makes it ok to live your life however you want, as long as you keep saying you belief and trust in Christ.  Trust in Christ is paramount for sure!  But even Saint Paul reminds us that our freedom means being called to love.. called to serve one another, to love another, and to avoid the unclean desires of our flesh.

Pope Francis reminds us today that we, the Church, have a lot of work to do.  We've made a lot of mistakes in the past.  We have persecuted minorities, pushed people the margins, and avoided even entering the homes of those who we felt were 'too sinful.'   This was not the way of Jesus.   He reminds us that Jesus calls us to act now, to go into the field as it were and begin to plow.   We don't have time to look back and desire those things we've left behind.. we like Elisha must burn the oxen and give away the pleasure of it, the thing we desire.   To destroy those instruments that are behind us that want to pull us back in to those habits and sinful desires we once were a part of.  To cut off even those relationships that draw us in, and then?  To serve.  To serve in love.  To serve the marginalized, those on the outskirts of the church, to reach out to those we have pushed away and remind them that we love them.   We still don't condone sin.. but all of us are sinners.    What we are offering is truth... we are offering a relationship with Christ, one in which every person is welcome.. but one which will transform them as well.. one which will call them to leave behind that which is sinful, and to draw closer to the true light of the world, Jesus Christ.

So what about it Christian?  Are you all in?  Or are you holding back anything that will keep you from serving God right here and right now?   The Kingdom of God is not just at the end of time, though it's fulfillment is indeed there.  It is also here and now.. it stood right before men in the incarnation of Christ and offers himself, right here and now in the Sacraments.   Are you ready to receive Him? Or are you looking back?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kings Bishop to Knight 3....

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 23, 2016)

2nd Kings 24:8-17
Psalm 79
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 7:21-29

When I was four years old my dad was electrocuted in the coal mines.   His heart stopped for a while, longer than should have been possible.  Another man kept him going this entire time by doing CPR until they could get an ambulance there.  The road to recovery was long and hard.  I remember though, that it meant he got to spend time with us.  I also remember playing chess.  I was never very good at chess, but what I do remember is that in order to win you need to get rid of their key players.   Going after the pawns doesn't do much.  Getting rid of the queen, a bishop or a rook... now that gets you closer to check mate.

The King of Babylon in the first reading knew exactly what he was doing.  He didn't take every one away into exile, some of them he left behind.   What he did do was take those who had influence.   The politicians who knew how to run the government, the skilled foremen and laborers who knew how to plant, build, design.   Anyone who would help to rebuild society was taken away, leaving only the uneducated, the poor, those who could not stand up on their own.   He left the nation of Israel reeling with no leaders to stand up and lead the people out of bondage.   He returned them to a worse state of slavery than Egypt could ever hope to impose.  A hopelessness, a fear that left them unable to act, unable to move.

The enemy seeks to do the same to you and I every day.   He seeks to use fear to instill in us doubt, hopelessness, depression and a sense that nothing can be done to make life better.  He wants to take all of our virtues, our gifts, and drag them off into bondage.  To repress them so that we can't see the light of day.  Faith, hope and charity are the rock foundations of the society of our soul.  When we begin to falter in these he sees an opening, all he needs to do is get us to instead follow despair, doubt, and hate.  That's when our spiritual life begins to falter.. that's when all that is left of our own faculties are left reeling, unable to act, unable to move towards Heaven, toward's Christ who never left.

You see, just like the remnant of people left in Israel, Jesus never moved.  He has always been there, waiting for us to turn to Him for help.  To realize that He is the key, the Rock on which we can build our faith.   A Rock that is not just passively sitting there, but which helps us to build up and turn into a rock of our own.  Just like Simon Peter, who at one point gave into despair and hopelessness, to the point of denying he ever knew Christ; we too can be transformed into a new person.  God offers us a new name, no longer will we be Simon, but Peter, the rock who guides others to Christ.

First though, we must become the poor.  In many cases the enemy has already taken away our leaders, our craftsmen, and our laborers.  He has replaced the King in our heart with one he has appointed in it's place.  It's only when we let go of all those things we hold on to, all of those things that stand in the way of Christ being the center of our lives... relationships, desires, hatreds... when we become completely detached from the world and it's enticements and instead only trust in God... when we become the true poor, that's when the beatitude is fulfilled:

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."
So what is standing in your way?  What has taken the place of God in your life?  He's not something you just add into your schedule when you find time... but rather, He should be put in your schedule first, and all the rest should be put around Him.  Christian, are you taking time to listen to Him today as He tries to lead you out of captivity?  Out of bondage and into the freedom of salvation?  He is offering you a Rock to build your spiritual house on.... are you taking time to set the foundations?  To receive Him so that He can mold you into a solid structure? Don't be a fool and build on the sand of the enemy.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Will we never learn?

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
Psalm 119
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 7:15-20

It all started with potty training.  I was on a grand adventure in this amazing new world.  My hard headed streak and need to experience things on my own made me see all things as a new challenge that only I could overcome.   So there I was, with my mother trying to remind me that I needed to hang on to the toilet seat to keep it from falling.   Silly person, I know what I am doing!  Then my brother walked away and down came the lid.   The tortured screams of the broken boy, now bruised in places where no man aught be bruised,  who  was so confident and headstrong a second before echoed throughout the walls of the house like shouts in the grand canyon.   You would think that at some point I would have realized that my mother was right....

Then came the stove.  She kept telling me "hot burn baby."  She tried to explain me time and again that when the stove eye was red it was dangerous.   Like Gollum searching for his precious I began to scheme and plan a way to find out why she was hiding this treasure from me.  The eyes of Mordor must have gazed on with bemusement as I pulled a chair from the table to the stove, turned the front eye on HI, and waited in eager anticipation for the glowing relic that had been denied me for so long.   Then I placed my hand firmly on the surface to find that it was hot enough to burn my flesh, why had no one warned me?   After a trip to the doctor, where he informed my mother to first put salve on my burn, and then to spank my butt; one would think that I had now at this point come to understand that my mother was looking out for me...

A fish tank is such a wonderful device isn't it?   Having these carnival fish of ours swimming in our living room reminds me of my first experience with a tank.   My parents set up a tank in our room (my brother and I).   I loved to get as close as I could, pressing my face to the tank and peering in at my new fish friends.   My mother kept telling me I needed to quit pushing my bed over there or I was going to turn the tank over.  So I stopped pushing the bed, maybe I was learning, right?  Instead I would sit on the bed and scoot towards the fish... pulling the bed with me.  Nothing could go wrong now, I wasn't doing what she told me not to do!   A few slight miscalculations on the part of my four year old brain created yet another situation in which things just weren't what I expected.   I scooted, and scooted.. until the headboard pushed right through the glass of the fish tank.   Glass, water, and gasping fish were flooding everywhere!  Oh how wise my mother was, and how stubborn I was turning out to be.

A year or so later, I in my infinite thirst for adventure and knowledge had learned to open the screen door.  Other foolish mortals might pull the handle or push a button... but I had figured out that with my solid five year old body all I needed to do was extend my arms and push with all my weight at a full running speed.  That silly woman who was always nagging at me kept telling me not to do this.  That I needed to stop running into it, and open it 'right'.  Ah, how could she know?  I continued in my newfound bliss to open doors like the brute my father rightly had labelled me.  Then my cousin Michael Paul and my brother Danny locked me in the chicken coop.   I was scared of the chickens.   The rooster liked to jump you from behind when you weren't looking, and the hens would peck you while you gathered the eggs.  There I was locked in, or so they led me to believe.  So I opened the door.. the solid glass door.... with my hands.. and my head.. and my neck.... the neck didn't fare so well.  A trip to the ER and some stitches and I had learned my lesson.. right?

A hundred more stories like this expound my experiences as a youth.  I had a hard head, an adventurous thirst for knowledge, and a confidence that I was always right.   It's an attitude that our youth of today seem to have inherited as well.  Some where along the line we have erred and taught our youth that anything from a previous generation must have been thought up by people who weren't as intelligent, not as gifted at understanding as we are.  That all things that happened two thousand years ago must have been a bronze aged myth and that all of those philosophical musings from even further back are worthless.   We stopped teaching them how to think rationally, and instead began to teach them to regurgitate.

The first reading about King Josiah and the finding of the book of the law remind us that we need to look back sometimes to where we have been, and ask.. where did we go wrong?   After the Babylonians had taken them into captivity the nation of Israel realized that they had been unfaithful to the covenant.  In their zeal to return to God, to return to a time when things made sense, to a time when the nation prospered and the people were at peace.. they began to examine their relationship with God.  In the temple they discovered the book of the law, the rules and regulations about being in that relationship.  "I will be your God and you will be my people."  In order for us to be in a right relationship you need to act like this, God had said.  They realized that the path they were on was the wrong one and they adjusted their course.. to bring them back to God.

The Church in it's infinite wisdom has never stopped living in this way.  There are those who wish for it to remain in the past, to go back to the way things were, and to never talk about anything new.   Then there are those who declare that the Church must progress with the times and look to the future!  As with most things, it's not an either or scenario, but a both and.  We have to look to the past to see our successes and our mistakes.  Only by seeing the damage that has been wrought by this action or that can we hope to not repeat that mistake again.  Only by also seeing the successes that have come from fidelity to our relationship with God can we also see what we need to return to.  At the same time we must have a conversation about society and where it is heading.  That doesn't mean we conform to societies standards, but we need to understand where society is in order to engage with our brother's and sisters in the world.

There are those who want to silence any opposition.  They want only what they are familiar with and nothing to do with the past.  Then there are those who want to go back to the dark ages, with flagellation and oppression. The true Church emerges when we have a conversation about that which is not dogma and we then let God guide us to the truth.  Lately I've been seeing a lot of arguing over pre-marital kissing.  One camp argues that no one should ever kiss before marriage.   Another side argues that you should be free to kiss in anyway you wish, regardless of who or when.  The truth is in between, isn't it?  There are kisses which are pure and loving, that one could give freely without embarrassment to any person in the light of day.  There are other kisses which are clearly meant for lovers, and likely an occasion for sin in the wrong circumstances.   Not having the conversation though prevents us from growing.  We need to talk about these things, both the past and the present, with our eyes on the future.

Our goal as parents, spouses, lay people, and religious is the same.  Help others get to heaven.  As a husband my primary work is to help my family draw closer to God and hopefully lead them to a Sacramental Life.  Jesus reminds us to continually examine what we are hearing.  There are those who will come to you with a message that sounds great, one that hits every bias that you possess, and you hear it and say "This is it!  This is the message I've been wanting!"  Maybe it is.  But what are the fruits of that message?  Have we heard it before?  What were the fruits then?  Too many think that some of these new 'progressive' ideas are unique and original.   Yet, if we look back to previous times we find them to be the same principles and philosophies espoused by Stalin, Hitler, etc.   That's why we can't forget the past... that's why as a Church we look back to how the Church was in the first century and we say "Let's return to this."  Yet, we also look at the world as it exists today and say "This is the language we need to use today to reach out to those who do not yet know Christ."  The Church is rightly called our mother, for she watches out for us and warns us that this action or that can cause harm.

“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke

Are you ready to listen?  I for one am tired of being bruised, broken, bleeding on the floor.  I don't blindly follow my religion, that's not what I am saying... but what I do?  I listen.   I converse.  I think.  I study.  I learn.  I heed.   I hesitate when I see an action I've been told is bad for me.. and I look back to history and ask "In societies where this was commonplace what happened?"  "In families where the father behaved in this manner, how did the kids turn out?"  I still cringe every time I hear a toilet seat snap shut.  We should have the same response every time we are tempted to repeat a sin that has hurt us in the past... We can't live there.. and there alone.  If we only live in the past we will be rightly relegated to someone who is not able to exist in the current times... and we can't just live in the future, where apparently truth just dissolves and people are convinced that any action is OK... rather we must live in the present, with our eyes on both, our hearts and minds open to discussion and reason... and then to pray for God's guidance for our Church, our people, and our selves.  It's clear that what we are doing now as a society is not working... maybe it's time to look back, to ponder, and to readjust our course.  Sometimes we need to take two steps back before taking one step forward.. especially if we are one step from the edge of the cliff.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How much is a pearl worth anyway?

Parable of the Pearl
A Reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 21, 2016)

2Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21, 31-35a, 36
Psalm 48
Holy Gospel According to Matthew 7:6, 12-14

When I was fourteen years old my grandfather gave me my first bible.  Not that we didn't already have bibles in our home, but this one was 'mine.'   I began to study it and go to bible studies on Wednesday nights.  A friend of mine invited me to a 'lock in' service at a Christian school in Wise, Virginia.   My mom and dad said I could go and I was excited.   Not just because I had a thirst for all things to do with God, but because here I was going to spend an entire night locked in a gym with kids my own age.  I did not realize that it was going to be a night that changed my life forever.

Halfway through the night they had an altar call.  I had no intention of going up but I found myself led to the steps.   I knelt down at the base of the platform and began to cry and gave my life to Christ to serve Him with all that I was.  I am still learning what that means, and I've made mistakes on the way, but I have never lost that passion that I felt that night, that yearning to be one with God.   I spent many years arguing, fighting, defending the faith in anyway I could.   I felt I had to make people believe, time was short and they just didn't see.   So I wanted to grab their heads, turn their eyes to Christ and demand that they open them and realize the beauty of what I had found.  It wasn't until many years of this struggle of trying to proselytize that I even began to realize there was a difference in what I was doing, and what I was called to do.   Evangelization.  An offer, not a threat.   An invitation given in peace and love, not forced in fear and hate.

The first reading reminds us of how the world behaves towards our God, our faith.  Hezekiah has just received a letter from an opposing King.  The letter mocks and taunts the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.   What does Hezekiah do?  He doesn't try to force Sennacherib to see the light, he doesn't even try to speak to him, but rather he goes to his knees in prayer and asks God to deal with it.  Why?  Because Sennacherib isn't going to listen.   He doesn't care what Hezekiah has to say.   All the fighting, arguing, and shouting in the world will never bring about conversion.   That's because it isn't our job to convert, it is not our job to convict either.   It's only our job to offer to those who are open to listening.

God reminds Hezekiah that He is the one in control.   He will protect His children and not a single one will be lost.   Then through a miracle in the night the army of Sennacherib suffers a massive loss and retreats to where they came from, without ever a blow from mortal hands.  He promises this in the name of David his servant, for He has promised that the Kingdom and throne of David will last for eternity.   That's the promise that we true, the Church, trust in.  Jesus is the fulfillment of that, the eternal and everlasting King from the line of David that will sit on the throne of judgement for all of eternity.

CCC 303 The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events: "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases." And so it is with Christ, "who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens". As the book of Proverbs states: "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established."

Jesus reminds us that He is the one in charge.   This is not our fight to win, not our argument to battle.  Rather, we are to be fruitful and loving.  We are to offer relationship with God to those who seek it, and to those who don't?  Peace and service. Oh how often we fail at this.   Arguing fruitlessly with those who were shut off to the message before we even began to speak it.   What we have been given is a glimpse of Heaven.  What we have is a relationship with Him who transcends time and space itself.  Something more treasured than anything else we could ever receive.   To offer that to someone who doesn't respect it, who has no interest in even attempting to understand it, well it's dangerous.   It hurts.   It saddens.  To watch someone take that which we hold dear and demean it, to make fun of it... Jesus compares that to casting your pearls before swine. A pig will taste a pearl, maybe even sniff it, but then realize it's not food and just mash it into the ground.

Why do we do this?  Are we afraid that Satan will win?  Jesus has promised that the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church.  God is in charge of conversion.  It is He who speaks to the heart.   We just share in faith when someone is open to it, and tell them of the great love and peace we find in Christ.   Then we give an example of that life through our actions.   We love.   We serve.  We feed, clothe, and give drink to those in need.  We have the unique and blessed opportunity to live in the Kingdom of God now, not just at the end of time, but right now!  God has given us the ability to do that by showering us with His grace through the Sacraments of the Holy Church, the New Zion.  Are you living in the place now?   That's where Mass takes you.  The book of Revelation gives you a glimpse of that eternity, that's why we in the Church follow that rubric of worship here and now... joining with the Angels and Saints around the altar of God with the Son of Man offering himself in Sacrifice at Calvary for our sins.   We then offer ourselves on that altar, joined with Christ, because we alone are not enough to appease the debt of our sin.. but He is.   This is the narrow gate through which we must enter.. through Christ himself.  Do you wish to know more about this "road that leads to life?" I am there to talk when you wish to hear.

Remember as well that parable about the pearl of great price?

Matthew 13:45-46
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Jesus is the merchant who sold all that he had.  He gave his life entirely for you.  He sacrificed all hnor, power, pleasure, and wealth to purchase you.   You are the pearl of great price.  Christian, do not allow the world to convince you to drag yourself through the mud of sin.  Rather hold yourself away from the world as a living Saint, whose dignity is that of a member of the Royal Family.  That we too might stand a chance to walk through that narrow gate into the Kingdom that is prepared for us, eternal in the Heavens.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Teen Angst and Broken Glass.

A light touch is required to keep from breaking the broken even further.
A Reflection on the daily readings for Monday, June 20th, 2016.

2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18
Psalm 60
The Gospel According to Matthew 7:1-15

My mother and dad were good to me growing up.  Father's day reminded me of that.  To look back and see exactly what it was like growing up.  They were always there for me and gave me gifts other kids did not even have.  Most of my friends didn't have a car.  I had several that I was allowed to choose from to use.  I often took that for granted.  There was this one time that my mother asked me to take the garbage to the dump.   This was before curb side pickup for the whole county.  Back then they used to have a dumpster down by the bridge that crosses the lake.  I was so angry!  I wanted to do something else and she dared to ask me to do something before I went off to do my thing.  I stormed out, threw all the trash into the car they gave me, and sped all the way to the dumpster.   When there I threw the trash as hard as I could reveling in the sound of crunching glass, broken bags, and cracking debris.  Then I went to the hatch of the Bronco and slammed it as hard as I could. I had all the windows up.  I learned a very valuable lesson about air pressure in a closed environment.  The rear window shattered out in an explosion covering me with glass.

How could I explain this to my parents? I had destroyed the gift they had given me all because I was angry at being asked to do a small favor on my way to do something else.  The first reading from the Second Book of Kings reminds me of that.  God has given Israel everything.   He has saved them from slavery, delivered them to the promised land, sent messenger after messenger to tell them of His great love and mercy.  In return they continue to ignore his promise.  The Israelites at the time expressed it as God having "put them out of his sight."  We understand that more today as God was offering them an Amazing Grace and they were too stubborn to accept it.   My parents did not turn their back on me when I slammed the car trunk, they were rather offering me the use of the car and all that came with it, with a small request of just taking out the trash.  God never forgets us, He never stops offering forgiveness... but sometimes in our anger, in our frustration we refuse to take it.   We refuse to be faithful to the relationship and that grace is lost.. just like the glass of a window shattered in the antics of a frustrated teen.

Society reels from the impact of not receiving that grace.  We see it today in the actions of our government, youth, friends and families.  What was once considered taboo and personal is now lauded in the streets.  Religion is mocked and relegated to something you just do behind closed doors.  The things that were once considered perversions are now considered sacred and relegated to untouchable and one is labelled a bigot if they speak out against it.  Just like the Israelites they turn their back on the one true God and serve instead the God's of the enemy, the ones who encourage sexual impurities, incestual worship, and even child sacrifice.  The Psalm for today speaks of that reeling, that sense of lost.  That moment when we realize we are no longer being sheltered by God's grace and not because of His actions.  He is always faithful, but we, we often break the Covenant.

You have rocked the country and split it open;
repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering.
You have made your people feel hardships;
you have given us stupefying wine.

Doesn't that say it all? The thing about the Psalms is they often express that deep sense of loss, that deep regret of not having God on our side.. that longing in our hearts for a restoration of that relationship that makes us whole and complete.  Even those Psalms though always end with a declaration of hope, a trust and faith that if we return to the covenants, if we but plead with God with a contrite heart, then He will always be there to return to us.   Hope.

Christ is that fulfillment of hope. Even when all others are turning their back on Him, even when the northern tribes rejected His grace to the point that their enemies over threw them, God was there for Judah.  The remnant need not fear the enemy.   Christ is there for us always, but He requires something from us.  Relationship.  Faithfulness. Covenant fidelity.   He reminds us that first and foremost we are to be looking inward.   To examine our own steps to see if there are any 'specks' or splinters in our own eyes.  That means looking to see if we are right with God.   Are we in a proper relationship?   Or are we pushing God away and rejecting that grace?  Many of us are choosing to ignore the splinters.  Some small vice or some small addiction that we can't control.. and we excuse it.  "I'm not that bad."  "It's only this, at least it's not that."  "I can't help it, but God loves me."   He does indeed, but He challenges you to be better.  To be the person He created you to be.  That means being faithful to His commands, following the rules He established, in the way and through the authority He decreed.

That doesn't mean we never judge.   Too many quote the Gospel without the full message.   It means that we judge as God judges.  God is righteous and we deserve punishment.   He is also merciful and took the punishment Himself.   That's how we judge, with righteousness (truth) and with mercy (love.)   We cannot express a God who is only one or the other.  If God is only the righteous judge, then only the perfect will ever enter Heaven.. and how many of us are that?   If God is only merciful then the Gospel becomes pointless, everyone is going to Heaven so why bother evangelizing at all?  Rather we must judge with both, but only after looking inward and getting rid of even the smallest of splinters.

The thing about a splinter is that it festers.   It irritates and either you remove it?  Or it becomes more serious.  Infection can set in, gangrene, a lost toe or finger, a limb?   Where do we draw the line?  We don't allow it to grow.. we remove it as fast as possible.  That for us spiritually means frequent reception of the Sacraments, even the most under used and often despised Sacrament of Reconciliation.   That Sacrament is a beautiful encounter with Christ Himself in which He offers to restore you to the right relationship with the Father, that we may be one as They are one.   Not only does He remove the splinter of sin by forgiving all sin, but through the penance offered He encourages us to safeguard from getting another in it's place.  We have to grow though!  We have to go forth and try, not just give up and say "That's who I am."  Because it's not.  It's an action you've done, and it's less than you are capable of.

To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone. - Pope Francis

Then we are challenged to go into the world and share that mercy with others.  Not to overlook their sins, but to help them find peace, joy, and a Sacramental life of their own.  To help them encounter Christ first through you, then through the Church.  In Cursillo we call that "be a friend, make a friend, and bring that friend to Christ."   Don't try to take the log out of their eye while you're still not letting God's grace flow into your life.  Form a relationship with them, see Christ in them, love them.   Once a relationship is formed and they see you trying, they see you going to Confession and Mass.. then you can invite them to know Christ.  Then, Christ, the man with no splinters or specks in His eye, can help to remove the log that stands between a right relationship with Him.  Are you ready to do that?  Are you making frequent reception of the Sacraments a priority?  Not something to fit into your schedule but something your schedule fits around?  Are you making Christ, the remover of all splinters and logs, the focus of your day?  Are we ready to stop trying to break the glass of the other even further and instead bring them to the One who can restore them to wholeness?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Who am I?

A Reflection on the Readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Psalm 63
Galatians 3:26-29
Gospel of Luke 9:18-24

Many years ago a dear friend of mine and his wife lost a child.  It was a heart wrenching experience.  I tried to be there for him, tried to comfort and be a true friend.   I did not know what to say.  I did not know how to handle it.  I had never been through that experience and while I did try to understand and emphasize, I truly could not know what he was going through.  I remember him asking me if I wanted to hold her.  She was like a porcelain doll.  Her features etched and fine, premature but there was no doubt in my mind that she was beautiful.  I still to this day remember holding that child and sobbing inside.  Years later, after having lost a child of our own to miscarriage I understand even more.  I know that the heart mourns the life it has not had a chance to live.  My heart still aches to this day, and while I am comforted to know that I have a young Saint in Heaven who is praying for me and watching over me, I still long to see him.  I still find myself in tears sometimes, mourning the loss when some scene comes on the TV or I see a child playing.

In the first reading today we see that same grief.  Written over 500 years before the birth of Christ, we as Christians see a clear prediction to the Passion of our Lord.  "They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn."   The mourning that day will be as great as one of the  'worst days' in Jewish history, the day when one of the greatest kings of their time had fallen in battle.  I was just watching the movie Risen (2016) again last night.  I am struck by the scene at the foot of the cross where the guard says "surely this man was innocent."  His acting was amazing in my mind.  You could see the confusion, the terror, the understanding.  The responsible Psalm captures his emotions in a simple way: "My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God."   As God Himself hung before him on the cross, with water and blood pouring from His side to form the Church that would fulfill that longing by bringing us face to face with our God in the Sacraments, his mind reeled with confusion as that longing and restlessness was confronted with divinity.

St. Augustine said it well when he said "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in thee O Lord." 

In the Gospel we see Jesus asking His disciples the simple question that should resound in all of our hearts, just as it resounded at the foot of the cross: "Who do you say that I am?"   St. Paul talks in the reading from Galatians about being clothed in Christ.  How can we claim to be clothed in Him if we do not know Him?  And how can we claim to know Him if we do not have a relationship with Him?  If I told you I love my wife and family and know them well, and you asked well how is your wife... and I responded "I dunno, I haven't talked to her lately."  You'd say this man is crazy!  He doesn't know his wife?  How can he claim to love her if he doesn't even speak to her?  Doesn't spend time with her? Doesn't know what makes her tick?  Doesn't at least listen and care enough to be present to her?   And so it is with Jesus, we have to get to know Him.  We have to spend time with Him.  We have to learn to do the things He loves,  learn to avoid the things that He dislikes, and above all learn to spend time with Him.

That means two things in my mind: A Sacramental life, and living out Matthew 25.  Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.   Today we listened as Father Moses from the Missionaries of Saint Paul speak about doing just that.  He talked about celebrating Mass in make shift shelters, performing things normally done by nurses and doctors because a life was at stake, feeding the poor, comforting the sick, giving clean water to the thirsty.  He spoke of times when he smelt the flesh of those burnt by Boko Haram and had to minister to those burnt, maimed and harmed by them.   It wasn't till his last story that I began to cry though I was close the entire time.   When he spoke of a woman who walked up to him and said, "Father I loved your story.  I do not have money to give you, but can I give you a hug?"  That alone was enough to make me emotional but his response was amazing:  He said it was such a powerful gift because he carries his ministry in his heart, so when she hugs him, she hugs all those in need, all those he has served.. the women, children, the poor, the destitute, the refugee, the indigent, all those Christ speaks of in Matthew 25.

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ - Mathew 25: 34-40

That's what it means to be a disciple of Christ, to truly be clothed in Him.  It means carrying Him in your heart and all those He cares about.  It means being so immersed in your love and service for others that when they see you, they see through you to the Christ you have been in a relationship with you.  Christ in the Sacraments gives us the strength to go out and share grace with Christ in the stranger.  Are you holding Him in your heart in such a powerful way?  Are you ready to be so united with Christ that you allow Him to not only take you into the Tabernacle with Him in the Eucharist, but to make you into a living tabernacle that goes out into the world to share Him with others?  Jesus has the poor, the meek, the mourning, the hungry, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted with Him, they are with Him always.. are you with them? Not all of us are called to be missionaries, but all of us are called to be disciples, to serve where we are.. to bloom where we are planted.   Are you blooming?  Will He find you when He comes with fruit?  Or will He find you not dressed for the wedding?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oh my, what I must have missed.....

Beautiful Sunset
A sunset I encountered on a bike ride just recently. 
A reflection on the daily readings for Friday, June 17, 2016.

2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20
Psalm 132
Gospel of Matthew 6:19-23

The other day in a Facebook post I wrote about how much better life was now that I actually get out of the house and do things.  What many people don't know is that I used to be a hardcore gamer.   Not just the kind of who played a lot, but the kind who was consumed with the game.  I played a game called Everquest.  It wasn't the only Massive Multiplayer Online game that I played, but it was the one I played the most.  For 15 years I played this game, from the opening day in 1999 until 2015ish.  That's right, I was playing it still just a year ago.  I wasn't nearly as hardcore as I was in the early 2000's though.

I used to only think about that game.  When I was at work I was thinking of what I would be doing when I got home.  I had to be off at a certain time because I couldn't miss a 'raid.'  For a while I was one of the core players in a guild and showed up every day to make sure that things were happening.  I even got to the point where my raid attendance (that is my log in time since we went on a raid every night) was in the high 90%s.  That means that I was on 9 out of 10 days for 4-5 hours, sometimes up to 8.  I once told the person I was living with that I didn't care if the utilities were cut off, I had to have the newest expansion now!  I spent every penny I could on a computer to make sure I could play it.  I didn't think of much else, especially relationships.   It ruined them in fact.  I watched as people got divorces, broke up, new relationships were formed, and even met my future wife there.  I had to learn the hard way that I would only find peace when I took things in moderation, when I put Jesus first.  I didn't have to give up gaming, but it had to be in it's proper place. Otherwise I'd have missed that sunset up there, and many more.

It reminds me of the reading from 2nd Kings, when Athaliah found out that her son had died.  She then proceeded with a plan to kill out the rest of the royal family so that she would be in charge.   The kingdom, it's power, wealth, glory... had consumed her.   It was all she could think of.  Even to the point of killing her own grand children.  Through the providence of God though, her sister saved one of the children and took him to the temple.  Out of love she took him to where he would be safe.  That's an important lesson spiritually there isn't it?  Love means leading someone to God.  In the end, Joash, the young man who was saved, was crowned king.  Athaliah ended up dead for her treachery and evil heart.

Jesus reminds us of that kind of love in the Gospel.  He teaches us that wherever our heart is, that's where our treasure is.  On the one hand we can be like Athaliah, seeking one of those four spheres of influence: pleasure, wealth, honor, or power.  She wanted it so badly that she was willing to kill for it.   Her sister showed us the other side, love.  Sacrificing anything and even at the risk of her own life, she fought for the young man and took him where he would be safe, in the hands of God.  Anytime we put anything before God, anytime we seek power, honor, wealth, or pleasure, before seeking love;  that's when we sin.  St. Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death.  Athaliah saw that in a very real, and powerful way.  Joash on the hand gained all four by first being taught to seek God.

We are members of a royal kingdom, brothers and sisters of the Incarnate God.  In Him we have received life.  Through our Baptism we have received the Holy Spirit to guide us and protect us.  We seek Him in our hearts, in our living Tabernacle, and also in the Tabernacle of the Church, the Eucharist.  It is in Him we find life.  Satan is our Atahaliah.  He seeks to destroy us, to bring us to sin.  When we sin seriously we destroy our relationship, just as I destroyed one many years ago over a game.  If I had been seeking God?  Who knows what might have happened.  I am still a far happier man today, but I have learned that I have to be hidden in the temple with Him to remain safe.  That doesn't mean I never leave the Church building, but it means that I take Him with me and He keeps me with Him wherever I go.

Jesus talks of the blind, those who can't see.   How that if life cannot enter the body, then darkness is there.  I also say that if one keeps their eyes and hearts fixated on something that is dark, something that leads them from God.. then their eyes will scale over with Sin, just like St. Paul and Hosea.   It is Jesus who is our light, our cure.  He is coming to us each day in the Sacraments, in the poor, in the outcast.   He wants to fill us with the light of love, to enshroud us in the armor of God, that we too might be kept safe from the evil that seeks to end our spiritual life.  That means we too need to seek Him, and to bring others with us to find Him... and just as Mary and Joseph many years ago, we will find Him in His Father's House... the Holy Catholic Church.   Are you looking for Him? Last week I prayed a serious prayer in Adoration.. I asked Jesus to take my heart with Him into the tabernacle.  To keep me always by His side, forever, and ever.  May he answer that prayer for each and every one of you, as well.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Setting the World on Fire

A reflection on the readings for June 16, 2016.

Sirach 48:1-14
Psalm 97
Gospel of Matthew 6:7-15

In this mornings first reading we see a list of all the amazing things that Elijah and Elisha did in their earthly lifetimes.  From raising to dead to controlling the elements, we see these men of God were truly endowed with the Spirit of the Most High.  Elijah was of course taken up in the fiery chariots into Heaven and Elisha even continued to perform miracles after his death.  We as Catholics believe that to be a sign that the person has gone on into Heaven with God.   That's why we name those who have been shown with much evidence to have miracles attributed to their names as Saints.

The thing is Christ said that not only would we do the works that he did, but that if we truly believe we will do even greater things. (John 14:12-14)   That whatever we ask, no matter what the task, it will be done.  Of course we know that it requires us to be asking in the right Spirit, to be asking for something which is God's will.  How though can we expect to be transformed into living Saints?  Men and women capable of things beyond ourselves?  Images of Christ himself walking among the population of the world, changing our own environments.

In the Lord's prayer, which we pray at every Mass, we ask for our daily bread.  This of course has the connotation of being cared for, right?  Just as the scriptures remind us that we are more valuable than a flower or a bird, they also remind us that God will provide us for our needs.   So, yes, we ask for food to get us through the day.   The word there, though, in the original language does not say exactly daily, as much as 'super substantial bread.'   Give us this day the bread that is beyond bread, the bread of which it's substance is more than just bread.  The bread that feeds us, that makes us grow.  The bread that does not get consumed by our body to make it part of us, but rather consumes us and makes us part of it!  That's right, the Eucharist.

Christ calls us to be more.  He himself comes to us in the form of our most basic of needs, food and drink.   He then begins to transform us through Communion, through the Eucharist, into himself.   He gives us the power to become living Saints.  We have to be ready though, we have to accept that grace and allow it to transform us.  What does that look like?   What examples do we have of those who have been transformed?  That's why the Church gives us a Canon of Saints.  These are the men and women who it is clear from examining their lives and the miracles around them, are already in Heaven.  Just like Elijah and Elisha, the Saints are those who have lived lives that shout out to God's Spirit living in them, and even after death have been shown to have miracles associated with them.

One of those men was Saint Padre Pio, who was canonized on this day in the year 2002.  Padre Pio was known to do many miraculous things.  From bi-location (being in two places at once) to seemingly being able to see into another persons heart and soul.  He would often tell people in the confessional that they forget "this" sin and then proceed to tell them what it was.  Can you imagine that?  Being reminded of something that the other person has no earthly way of knowing?   Yeah, that would be a powerful moment.  He also received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his physical body.  From levitation to clairvoyance, Padre Pio shows us what being filled with Christ's Spirit can look like here on earth.

Now, of course each of us is called to a different station in life.  Some of us might not be Capuchin Friar's like Padre Pio, nor able to hear confessions.  The thing is, Jesus also reminds us that miracles were not His primary mission.  Rather He was sent to bring forgiveness.   Padre Pio offered this in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It should not surprise us at all that miracles happen in that sacred, Sacramental encounter with Christ.  What is more miraculous than the Prodigal Son returning or the one lost sheep being found?   The angels rejoice when we enter that Sacrament and confess before God himself and ask for forgiveness.  How often do we fail to see the beauty and need of that?  The most powerful part of it is though, that when we leave there we are challenged to take that into the world.

One of my local confessors always has the same penance for me.  "Pray for those you have hurt."  That's a powerful moment.  Even though someone else might be completely unaware of the thoughts or anger I've had toward them, Christ asks me in the confessional to pray for them.  Prayer is a moment that doesn't just change or effect things, but also changes and effects me.  It is a moment for me to bring about that other part of the Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Yes, prayer is a moment for me to bring God's will into my life and to open myself to the grace that can change me into a Saint.  It's not something we aim for just after this life, but something we should be aiming for right now... Where to start?  By going into the world and offering them forgiveness.  The same forgiveness we receive in the Sacraments.  What miracle could be more powerful than that?   Can you imagine if the entire world were 'infected' with the forgiveness and love of the Father?  What can I do? I'm just one person?  Remember, it only takes a pebble to start an avalanche.   Are you ready to be God's whirlwind of flame to set fire to the world?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I stand with Orlando.

Neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek
Prayer, fasting, and alms giving.  These are sometimes referred to as the three pillars of Lent.  Jesus reminds us in the Gospel for today that these are not supposed to be relegated to one single season, but rather to be ways of life that we adopt throughout our days.  He wants us to remember that when we give, when we fast, when we pray; we don't do these things to be seen.  They aren't means by which we get recognition, but ways in which Christ is born into the world to change not only those who receive the results, but those who do the 'work.'  Prayer is an opportunity for us to bring ourselves into line with God, to begin to think the way He thinks, to transform ourselves as much as the world.  Fasting again is a way to put God first, to deny our desire for personal pleasure and comfort and instead to fill it with a spiritual food that goes beyond just what can be seen and felt.  Anyone who has ever given to the poor, served them, fed them... they can tell you right now it is as much a blessing for them as it was for the one being served.

I watched a documentary on Netflix yesterday about Mother Teresa called Mother Teresa: In the Name of God's Poor.   In that short film I was reminded of the call that I feel in my heart daily, a call to service.  A need to be a person who goes out of their comfort zone and into the world to feed, care for, and sacrifice for those less fortunate than myself.  Mother Teresa reminds us that Jesus is there present in the poor, the destitute the impoverished and the marginalized.  It is He whom we are cleaning, feeding, bandaging and lifting up.  "Whatever we do for the least of these."   Not for our own gain, not for personal glory or recognition, but simply because we love.  Mother Teresa loved.  She always pointed to Christ.  She did not consider it her work at all, but God's work.   Anytime someone wanted to interview her she would point to the poor, deflect from recognition, and simply say she wasn't the one who should be seen, but God.

I think of that when I think of the things going on in the world right now.  Especially, when I think of the people who were massacred in Orlando just recently.   Too many are trying to make this into an us or them situation.   Dividing with labels.   You either stand with the LGBT community, or you don't, they claim.  You either condemn all Muslims or approve, others decry!  I stand with every person who was hurt, and pray for all of them, regardless of their orientation or life style.  It's not an us or them moment, that's what terrorists want.  They want us to be divided.  They want there to be a line drawn in the sand that makes us not stand together.  I disagree with the beliefs of many people, from the Muslim to the person who thinks Marriage is not a Sacrament.. but I firmly disagree with violence being the answer to our problems.

Are we truly loving our neighbor?  When we go into our prayer area and pray in silence, are we loving with our thoughts and words?   Are we asking for God's will to be done? Or our own?  I believe with all my heart that the Catholic Church teaches the fullness of truth.  I also know that we don't always show it.   We have a long way to go.  Those who pretend that the Church has always been loving toward the LGBT community are living a fantasy.   There are still Catholics today who do not live this teaching as it is intended to be lived.  How do we grow from here?  How do we show love?   I think Chic-Fil-A has given us a glimpse with their gesture.  Feeding those who give blood, regardless of the orientation of the person who will receive it, regardless of sex, religion, faith, gender or perceived gender..  that's where the true love of Christ is shown.

When we feed the poor we don't need to ask if they are our faith, our race, our gender, hold our beliefs, or any of that.. we just look for the image of God in which they are created.  All of us are created in His image.  From the poor, the outcast, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the Muslim, the Jew.  There is no room for thinking this person is less than that one, or that they need to be loved less.   Anytime we dehumanize another person we are walking the same line that Hitler and Stalin walked.. a line in which that person can be terminated for the betterment of the 'true people.'  No, we are all true people.  We are all loved by God.  We all sin and need His grace.  That doesn't mean we hide the truth or attempt to change it, but that we love in spite of any differences.  That's the teaching of the Church.   That you are made in the image of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  That He loves you and wants to be in relationship with you, and that everything you need to know about that relationship begins with the Incarnation, with the person of Christ Jesus.

This is the truth.  We are not there to convert.   We are not there to convict.  The Holy Spirit is in charge of those things.  We are simply there to offer truth, to introduce people to the man who is the most important man in history, the man who has changed our lives and given us a glimmer of hope in a world of violence and darkness.   Do you want to meet Him?  Are you ready to receive the greatest gift ever offered?  Until you are I am here for you, to help you, feed you, serve you... and once you are?  Guess what, I still hope to be there to help you, feed, you serve you.  That's what it means to be a disciple of Christ.. that's what it means to be Catholic.  In the words of my favorite song, "Will you let me be your servant?"

His servant and yours,

"I must decrease, He must increase."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Musical Chairs

Three Chairs to choose from
In today's first reading we see that King David had it all.   He was rich.  Powerful.  Handsome.   He had an entire kingdom at his beck and call. Not just that, but God was on his side.  If we were to put it in terms of today's society, David's kingdom would be one where every home had a swimming pool, every person was able to eat organic food, and every child had an Iphone 6 at least.  It was a time of prosperity, the golden age of the Israelite kingdom.  Still, he wanted more.   He wanted a beautiful woman that he had been watching from his towering castle walls.  Only one problem, she was married.   So he had her husband killed in order to obtain her for himself.

It's easy for us to stand back and cast condemnation on David isn't it?  Yet, we are in a relationship with God.  A covenant relationship where God has called us to fidelity.  I will be your God and you will be my people.   Every time we choose something over God we are in essence killing Uriah and stealing his wife.   We are going outside of our 'marriage' to sleep with some other god, some other desire in the place of God himself.   St. Augustine said that "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."   Yet, 2000 years later we are still trying to put things into that God shaped hole in our heart.. things that don't quite fit.  They might make us feel better for a time.. but eventually.. eventually they chafe and hurt.  Eventually, what once brought us pleasure simply strikes our conscience like Nathan, reminding us of our sin.   Then we either add more of the same thing.. seek something new... or we can turn back to God as David did.

Fast forward to the scene of Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee.   This woman comes into the house and anoints Jesus with oil, washing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her hair.  Simon is indignant.   How could this man claiming to be a prophet let her touch him.   Simon thought that he was the righteous one, he was better than her!  He observed all the law and lived a righteous life.   She had a key to the relationship though, she was seeking God first.  She didn't let rules and norms get in the way of loving God, she just loved Him!  Nothing would stand between them.  She wasn't seeking love somewhere else, she was only after God's mercy and forgiveness, and loving Him the best she could.. with everything she had, even her tears.

Again, it's easy for us to look back and condemn Simon isn't it?  We always want to be the woman in the story, Mary of Bethany.   We want to be the one pouring out our tears on Christ's feet, and being forgiven.  Sometimes that is us indeed.   Other times we are Simon aren't we?  Looking down on others who do things differently than we.  Condemning them for the fact they aren't good enough, aren't dressed right, aren't as good as we are.  "How does she keep her job acting that way?"  "Why did she get a better review than me?"  "Did you see her kids misbehaving at the store?  She should control them better!"  We worry about others at Mass when we should be crying at the feet of Christ.   We let our own desires, our wants to be first and foremost, instead of being content with exactly what he has given us.  We kill Uriah over and over.

Remember, being Catholic is about being in a relationship with God.  It's about spousal fidelity.   My wife and I have been married for ten years.  It seems lately like she's inside my head.  We think a like.  We even say the exact same thing at the exact same time.  I'm not talking a word here or there, but entire sentences.  I'll often laugh and say "Get out of my head woman!"  The more time we spend together, the more alike we become.  I've found that to be true of every couple that have been married for generations.   Not only do they think alike, they begin to act alike, even to take on the same mannerisms.

That brings me to my final point.  Sometimes we are Mary of Bethany, sometimes we are Simon the Pharisee, but we are called to be at all times sitting in the chair of Jesus.  How do we do that?  Well just like with my wife, the more time I spend with her?   The more I think like her, act like her, and even begin to look and sound  a bit more like her.   It begins by spending time with her.  Crying at his feet in Confession, seeking his love in the Eucharist, and allowing His sacramental grace to transform us and lead us to be Him in the world.  This is what it means to be in a relationship with God, to live a Sacramental life.  What does that look like?  It's a life of joy.   It's a life where yes, sometimes we have to rebuke those who are being like Simon and to remind them of the true joy of sitting at Jesus feet.   It means seeking our relationship with God first and foremost, and allowing that relationship to effect every other aspect of our lives.

It also means realizing that every single person out there is made in the image of God.  Regardless of how they are living, what choices they have made, or who they seem to be.  With this tragedy of another mass shooting in the United States of America that's even more important than ever.  We can never forget the dignity and love that people deserve, because when we try to relegate them to not worthy.. when we try to put them as the other... that leads to tragedies.  Instead, it's time for us to stand up and be Jesus to the world.  If every Catholic lived their life in a way that made the love, joy and peace that comes from sitting at the feet of Christ evident, the world would be changed.  Are you with me?  Are you ready to show that love? As I said before... sometimes we are Simon.. sometimes we are Mary.. and sometimes we are Christ... which one do you think we need to be more often?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."