Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I need more!

We are always looking for something a little more exciting, a little more stimulating.  As a young man I put that into action when it came to church.   I went around looking for worship that was a little more upbeat.   A little more loud.   From stage band worship to Pentecostal shouting, I kept going to find that next mountain top experience.  Wherever I was, regardless of the quality of the music, or the eloquence of the preacher... it wasn't enough.   I needed more... because the one thing I was doing wrong was trying to find something for me in it.   I wasn't worshiping God because it was the right thing to do.  No I was trying to find my next experience, me... my.. I... ego.

In our search for the perfect experience we often forget exactly what we have been given.   The enormous gift of the Holy Spirit is too frequently ignored or placed in the back of our minds.   As Christians we do not believe the Spirit is just some sort of non-tangible, ethereal force that can be controlled with enough knowledge or somatic gestures.  The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Trinity.  One we should have a relationship with.  One who as St. Paul eloquently puts it describes to us "spiritual realities in spiritual terms."  When our minds are so caught up in our own selves... that's what St. Paul calls the natural man... that's when we are unable to experience fully who God is.   It's in this ignoring of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in us, that we completely miss the amazing gift we are endowed with!

In our daily lives we are bombarded with desires and emotions.  From the flooding of sexual images in the various media to the constant attack on the sanctity of marriage we are called to be worldly, natural people.   What God wants to give us though is a fuller existence, a more joyful reality that exists.   He wants to give us the life He created us for!   We are called to be Spiritual people, a living temple for God.  Just as Jesus commanded the demon in the Gospel to be quiet and come out of the man in the synagogue, He is calling out to those things which stand in our way of being who we truly are.   He is telling our addictions, our sorrows, our fears... "Be quiet!  Come out of my child!"  We have to let go of our self though and let Him work in us through the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism.

We do not need a better Parish.    The music whether excellent or sub-par is not why you are there.   The homily, while an important and beautiful part of the spiritual nourishment you receive, does not have to be the best or most powerful one.   The Priest does not have to be the kindest or most generous man alive, he alone is not who you are there for.   You are there for Christ.   Present in the Sacraments of the Holy Catholic church.   You're not going to find a different one the next town over... He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.    It's not about you, it's about Him!   That's why we go to Mass... to worship the most High God.   Not to get something out of it.   Now if there are problems in those other areas?   Do something about it instead of bickering and gossiping.   Join the choir.  Become a Lector.   Join the building and grounds committee.   Volunteer on the Pastoral Council so you can get to know the Priest.. but above all spend some time speaking and listening to the Holy Spirit in your prayer life... for it is through Him that we can "understand the things freely given us by God.

A Prayer for Today

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Addiction comes in every shape and size.

Most of you know that I am a computer gamer.   I have been since I was a young man.  My parents got our first computer when I was around eight years old.  I learned to program it in Basic.  Then we upgraded to a computer that had actual games on it!  I used to sit up all night playing.   Later in life I was so addicted to playing these games that I once told a friend "I don't care if the power and water get cut off, I am going to get the new expansion of that game!"  I did.   The power and water did get cut off... but I was content, I had my new game.   I chose games at that point in my life over everything else.   Work was a way to afford playing.   Sleep was a hindrance.

The readings for today remind us that the key to combating these sort of things is very simple.   It's not a magic pill.  It's not an overnight solution.   It's not an easy task.   What it is though is straightforward.  It is love.   God's love.  Not the love the world has to offer, but true love.   Love for God.  Love for life.  Love for truth.  Love for His Word.   Herod had tried to replace that love with the pleasures of life.   His desire for this young woman dancing caused him to make promises that he did not want to fulfill.  In the end they cost someone else their life.   Addiction has a way of doing that doesn't it?  Taking life?  Even in the less obvious way of taking a life that could be filled with joy, happiness, and the presence of others and replacing it with solitude, fear, and unhappiness.

Again, simplicity.   Being a disciple of Christ does not require that we have every Scripture passage memorized, or even a single one of them.   It doesn't require you to have a PhD or Master's degree in any sort of High Christology.   What it does require is effort.   It requires love.   It requires an honest examination of our life every day to see if we in anyway have replaced God with some addiction, some earthly thing.  Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that there are four ways these manifest themselves, four spheres:  power, wealth, honor and pleasure.   Is there any desire in your life that goes before God?  So much so that you are willing to suffer for it, instead of for Him?   That's where we have to get our lives in gear.   To turn from whatever it is.  Sports, school, theater, friendships, work, the lottery, gambling, drinking, gossip... whatever the vice is, to turn from that to God... to put Him first and foremost in our lives and become the disciple we were meant to be.

On this Feast of Saint John the Baptist we are reminded of the simplicity of the message he delivered.  He did not come in fancy clothing.  He did not come wearing robes with fancy scrolls on the borders.   He did not come with long winded speeches to be recorded for posterity.   No, he came dressed in camel hair eating the things he could forage from nature.  A beggar on every outward appearance, but a man who relied solely on God.   A man who simply said "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand."   A man who was willing to die for that faith and to stand up to those in power and say "No, what you are doing is wrong!" Jesus is that Kingdom.   He is present for you every day.  Alive and risen.  In the Sacraments, in the tabernacle.   Just waiting for you to come to Him and find true happiness.   Are you ready for that?

Are you doing your part to prepare the way for the coming of Christ into the lives of others?  Are you guiding their feet into the way of peace?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist: August 29th, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

And the lava flowed into the sea...

I remember as a young man seeing video of a volcano for the first time.  The lava was flowing down the mountain into the ocean.   When it touched the water, it roiled and exploded.   Such raw power, such destruction!   I was filled with fear that such a thing could happen to us!  I knew there were no active volcanoes anywhere near our home in Virginia.   Yet, the image was stuck in my mind and for days I couldn't sleep for fear of seeing them in my dreams.  That's the image that the Israelites experienced first hand in the desert of God.   Loud booming sounds, smoke and fire, lightning and thunder.   An image of God so terrifying that they begged Moses to go intercede for them for fear that just hearing God's voice would cause them to die.

The author of Hebrews gives us a different image of God.  That of a 'festal' gathering.  A party!  Recently I went to a wedding with Julie's family.   It had been years since we had been to anything of this sort.  With work and the kids we just couldn't find time or the money to go.   When we arrived though, we were welcomed with open arms and warm familial hugs.   We didn't feel out of place, but rather felt we were part of the family... The words that come to mind are: familiar, warm, inviting, peaceful, joyful, welcome.   That's the image we get of Heaven.   Not something to be feared, but a place to long for.   A gathering around the wedding feast of the Lamb where "everyone knows your name."

The key to being invited though, the key to the entire walk of the Christian life, is humility.   Not some false humility where one puts themselves down in order to make them look even more 'humble' than someone else, but a true sense of humility in which we realize exactly who we are.  An honest assessment of ourselves. A recognition that we are indeed sinners, and yet are called adopted Sons/Daughters of the most High!   That we are fallen in nature but chosen in calling.   Acceptance of the fact that we are holy, set apart, consecrated for God... not in some haughty manner, but in gentle, silent awe filled wonder that we are who God says we are.... that kind of humility allows us to take the lesser seat.   To sit at the foot of the table.  Because we know that's where we belong... and if God left us there?  We would have no qualms, no quarrels of sitting with the least of our brothers....

It's there that we encounter Christ in the here and now.   In the eyes of the distressful disguises that He chooses to wear.   In the outcast, the orphan, the widow... the broken, the fallen, the addicted, the scared... yes, there that we sit with Him at the table... Yet we are called to be like Christ in all things, yes?   To be not just guests at the wedding, but co-hosts with our adopted Brother.   Are you doing your part?  Are you going out to the honored guest and lifting them up to a higher place?  It's in the sick, the poor, the angry, the unappreciated, the fallen away, the mangled up, chewed up, and spit out person that we encounter Christ face to face... are you helping Him find a higher place at the table?  Christ deserves the seat of honor.. the highest praise... the best meal and the best plates... are you offering Him the best you have?  Or are you leaving Him sitting at the lower end of the table while you sit with those who make you comfortable?

We have work to do Church... more especially I have work to do.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

 A reflection on the readings for the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 28th, 2016.  Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Truth. What is truth?

We often judge people based on our own vision of them.   I had a neighbor once who was a cranky old man.   Everyone warned me to not only stay away from him, but to keep my kids away from him too.   One day I walked over and asked how he was doing.   He was having some issues with his house and couldn't go up under it to check on it.   I ended up crawling under his trailer for a few minutes to find that his heat tape had been unplugged.   I plugged it back up, problem solved.   Over the next few years I got to know him pretty well.  Yes, he was cranky.  Yes, he was pretty inappropriate at times.   He had a huge heart though.   I had judged him wrongly by listening to others talk about him, and even in my own way expected certain things out of him.  My vision is limited.

God on the other hand looks inside the person.   He glimpses the inmost emotions of our hearts.   In today's Gospel Jesus declares that Nathanael  is a man with no duplicity!  Nathanael tells it like it is.   In fact, he is just a little bit rude in what he has to say today.  As the kids would say: "savage."   When he hears that Philip thinks Jesus is the Messiah he responds "from Nazareth? pfft."   The one thing Jesus knows about Nathanael is that he is who he is, whether you are there or not.  Honest.  Maybe to a fault.   The thing is though, Nathanael is then astounded that Jesus knew something very simple about him.  Jesus reminds him that greater things are to come.

deceitfulness; double-dealing.
synonyms:deceitfulness, deceitdeceptiondouble-dealingunderhandednessdishonestyfraud,fraudulence, sharp practicechicanerytrickerysubterfugeskulduggerytreachery;More

You see, this man who is astounded that Jesus saw him in the mundane, would go on to realize that it is in the mundane that we can see Jesus.   We judge people so much that we fail to see Him in them.   We are so busy looking for those big mountain top moments, that we fail to encounter Him in the silence and in the other.  So many think that if I could just become a missionary, or if I were a monk or a nun, then I could be Holy!   You are Holy now!   Yes, there is something amazing about being on a retreat or in Adoration for hours on end... but that same Jesus can be present to you in your every day life.   That is truth!

It's not enough to only encounter Him at Mass, though this is our most important prayer.   Worship should be a priority in our lives.   However we should be attempting to encounter Him where we are, when we are.   There is this saying: "if slaughter houses had glass walls, the world would becoming vegetarian."   I don't know that it is true.   What I do know is that if all walls were transparent we'd see that every person out there has some sin in their lives.   Sin that we tend to hide behind walls, in closets, or under the guise of perfection.   It's we, the sinners, who He came to encounter.  He comes to encounter us daily.  Not just once a day, not just once a week, not just here or there.. but He wants to encounter us every second.   Until our live becomes living prayer, a perfect communion with the Father, one that is only possible when we begin to let Him show us the world, through His eyes.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle: August 24, 2016.  Revelation 21:9b-14; Psalm 145; The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:45-51

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Leaving the Nest

The eldest of four is moving out today.   She ventures into the world to experience it from a different perspective.   I remember doing the same thing shortly before my eighteenth birthday, though I did not move very far away at that point.   Like my parents, I've tried to help her to be prepared for what life has to offer.  Not just the roses and enjoyments, but also making sure she isn't completely unaware of the gritty and horrible side of life.   As parents that is our job.   To prepare them for the world.  To give them the tools necessary, the knowledge to go forth and become who God has created them to be.   As she moves out I pray and hope she finds joy in this life, but more especially that she lives in a way that reaches towards eternity.

So often we reject that knowledge though, don't we?   I remember that I began to do things 'my way' as soon as I got on my own.   I did go to church, but not as much as I should have.   I didn't put the Gospel into action in my life.   I wasn't a horrible person on the inside, but my actions bespoke a brokenness that was evident to those of faith.   I had been baptized but I wasn't living out that calling to it's fullness.   I thought as long as I have faith, that's all that matters right?  That as long as I believed in Jesus, confessed him with my mouth, I was 'saved.'   It seems I was rejecting a lot of the knowledge that my Father had given me as well.

God in today's readings promises a renewing.   He promises that He will take away our stony hearts and give us hearts of flesh.  The Psalm of David's lament reminds us of that longing for God's joy, for a renewing of that Spirit with in us.   When we are broken those words are so powerful to read.   To remind us that God can clothe us in righteousness and salvation.   That the invitation to be renewed has already been offered and needs to be accepted.   You and I both have been offered the invitation to the wedding feast, but it takes more than just accepting it to attend.

The Gospel reading is one that many people avoid.   It's one that gets rid of that notion that one can just confess with their lips, believe, and be saved.   It reminds us that we must 'do' something.  Saint James phrases it this way, "Faith without works is dead."   When all of the people who should have been at the wedding refuse?  The King calls to the ones in the streets, the outsiders, the broken, the widow and the orphan.   He invites them all to the feast and He seemingly provides for them a garment to wear.   One man shows up without it.   The King inquires how he got in without being dressed for the occasion and then casts him out.   It's not enough to just receive the invitation.... you must have a change, do something, put on the garment.   What garment?   Saint Paul expresses it to Timothy in this way: "The aim of this instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith."    That is the garment.   He also says "If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing."

At a homily a few days ago Father Don spoke of Metanoia.   That fancy Greek word which means to turn around, to change.   It has a stronger meaning.   It has a connotation of turning inside out.  Today we might say "flipping our life upside down."   That's what it means to put on the garment, the arraignment for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.   It means to turn your life around completely.   To stop living for self, and to embrace the tools the Father has given you to become the person He has created you to be.   It means to stop doing it "my way" and to start living out the thing we say at Mass every time we attend: "thy will be done."

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time: August 18th, 2016.  Ezekiel 36:23-28; Psalm 51; The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 22:1-14

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I did it my way

I’ve told this story before.  The story of sitting on the riverbank of the Mississippi at the White House in Saint Louis, Missouri.   How that the sun was shinning, the birds singing, the river flowing it’s long easy strides.   That I was sitting there meditating on being thankful and how awestruck we should be at the generosity of God.   There I was having this beautiful moment of relaxation with the beauty of nature when the thought occurred to me:  This moment would be perfect if a deer would just walk out of the woods right now.  God had created a moment in which I could encounter Him on a greater level, a moment in which the temporal could touch the infinite… a perfect moment.   There I was trying to be God.

Our first reading shows us that times haven’t changed much in that regards.  Just like I on the riverbank that Mark Twain made famous sought to perfect a moment that was already perfect, the world tries to tell us what makes us happy.   Frank Sinatra once sang a song called “I did it my way.”  In that song he lauds that his life is coming to an end, and that he always did it his way.  Later in his life he was known to complain about the song.   His daughter said he described it as like having something on his shoe, something unpleasant that you just couldn’t get off.  It was too ego centric, too self serving.  It reminds me of that saying the kids have, “I’ll do me, and let you do you.”   You be your own truth, and I’ll be my own truth, and we’ll be both be happy.  Yet, very few of us are happy.

The Saints show us a different way.  In their emulation of Christ they instead put others first.   They put their egos aside and serve God and man instead.   They let their own wants and needs go to the way side.  They aren’t concerned with honor, or glory, or riches or fame.   Recognition at the end of the day is not their concern.   Mother Teresa was once told by someone that they wouldn’t do what we she did for a million dollars.  She replied, “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars either!”   She realized that the true reward is not in the comforts of this life, but in the joy of communion with Christ.  Not just in Heaven, not just in the Sacraments, but also in each other.  In the faces of those distressing disguises that Christ is wont to wear: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the sinner.

Christ on the cross shows us the fulfillment of life.   The Disciples were confounded when He said that it was near impossible for a rich and wealthy person to enter the kingdom of Heaven.  The Jews in first century Palestine, like many of the people today, had a sort of prosperity Gospel understanding of how things worked.   The more God loved you?  The more you had.  The less favor with God?  The poorer and sicker they were.  Jesus turned that on it’s head.  The first, the most honored, wealthy and powerful King of all times and places?  Died destitute on the cross.  The first was last in the eyes of the world, but the last in the eyes of the world? Is first and foremost in Heaven.    That’s true happiness… right there on the crucifix.   A man with no wealth, no power, no honor, no pleasure…. But living out the will of the Father.   Dying in the place of all of us as the greatest act of love in the history of everything!   

That’s our challenge as well.  To die to self that we might serve others.   Not to make God an afterthought… not to get everything else in order first, and then.. After work, health, retirement, vacation, school, kids and all the other things we add in there, to find a moment for God… Rather to put God in their first.. And then place the rest around Him and in His arms… That is lasting joy.

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass for Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time:  Ezekiel 28:1-10; Deuteronomy 32; The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 19:23-30

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Like and Oil and Water, so are the days of our lives.

I moved out of my parents home into a house they had generously given me when I was just shy of eighteen. I remember making many, many mistakes.   One that comes to mind this morning involved being in a hurry to get back to whatever I was doing but trying to cook at the same time.   I decided to deep fry some 'tater-tots' so I could have a quick snack.   In my hurry to get back to the computer, or tv, or whatever it was... I forgot to take off that little plastic cover you put on top to keep the oil from getting stuff in it.  A few minutes later I smelt smoke.  Running into the kitchen I saw fire literally licking the ceiling tile!   I grabbed the thing off the oven and put it on the floor so the fire couldn't touch the roof.   Then I grabbed a glass of water off the nearby counter and threw it in it.   As flames engulfed my face and hair began to dissipate like the morning dew, I realized the truth of the saying oil and water do not mix.

I believe that to be the crux of the message from Jesus in the gospel today.   Some would use this verse to allow anger and hatred to rule in their lives.  To claim that anyone who stands in their way is simply doing so because they are a 'good Christian.'  Jesus is not giving us permission to be hateful.   He is not saying that we can ignore the rest of the Gospel and lose our joy, our kindness and our love.   No, rather He is giving us a dire warning.   That good and evil do not mix.   That often the response to our Christian walk and the message we bear will be an explosion.   That like the oil that splattered on my legs going straight through the skin, people will often blow up and respond with anger and division.   We are to love them anyway... to care for them... even at the cost of our own lives, our own desires.

In today's world were people soften the message of Christ, the cross becomes a thing of the past.   That's not what Jesus demands of us.  These three readings grouped together remind us of the price of discipleship.   That our goal is not one of flowers and rainbows, gentle currents and soft beds, but the discomfort of Calvary.   We are challenged to live our faith with joy amidst persecution, love amidst hate, a friendly demeanor when all others are bearing down upon us.  The early Church realized that Christianity was a call to martyrdom, a call to give up our lives if need be, without rejected the faith.   In all of this they realized that God's mercy was beyond anything we could fathom, but that the call was not lessened by that, but strengthened in the example set forth by the incarnation of God himself and the Way of the Cross.

With Christian martyrs in the recent news, displaced Christians being persecuted and martyred in many nations, and some making the claim that "in this century [we are[ witnessing more shedding of Christian blood than any of the previous twenty"; our eyes turn toward the past and the future.. but we must need live in the present.  You and I in the comfort of America likely will not be called to give our lives for our faith, though it is not out of the realm of possibilities.    The challenge for us at the current moment is: to die to our own selves.   To live our lives in a way that shows us to be servants of Christ.   To look for Him in every encounter with others and ask How can I feed them?  How can I give them drink?  How can I clothe them?  That means both physically and spiritually.   To ever be prepared to give "an account for the hope that is in us." (1 Peter 3:15)  Is there anything standing the way of that?   Anything stopping me from serving the widow, the orphan, the refugee?   The victim and the bully?  Until we become detached from those things which stand in the way of complete abandonment to Christ and His calling, Paul reminds us that we "have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood."  

What is preventing you from being the person you were created to be?  Fix that first.  Work on your relationship with God first and everything else will fall into place.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time:  August 14th, 2016.  Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; The Holy Gospel according to Luke 12:49-53

Thursday, August 11, 2016

But you don't count......

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about being Holy.   My friend Jamie loaned me a book about this topic (How to Be Holy: First Steps to Becoming a Saint, Peter Kreeft) and it has been heavily on my mind.  While we were talking a few other people joined in.   We were talking about struggling with sin.  At one point someone turned to me and said, "Yeah but you don't count."   As if being in formation for the Diaconate or being a very active Catholic in my religion made my struggles with sin and temptation less of an issue.   I think we have that image of Christ sometimes.  As if He was made in a way that made it easier for Him to be perfect, easier for Him to be Holy.

Ezekiel in his prophetic utterance this morning gave the people of Israel a glimpse of two futures.  One in which the city itself would fall into exile with the royal prince being cast out, and another in which the royal Son would be given the same treatment.   Jesus picked up his baggage and carried it out of the city.   Up onto a hill where the darkness settled in.  Some would dismiss this as a solar eclipse, mere coincidence.  I would chalk it up to creation itself mourning that which we did not see.  Like the prince of Jerusalem, Jesus was veiled to His people.  They could not see Him for their own sin, their own failures.   In a way, they said to Him as well, "You don't count."  

In Jesus parable again I see that theme.   The first servant goes to the judge and He offers him mercy.   The servant goes out into the world, a man who should be filled with joy at his fortune.   Instead, his greed kicks back in.   He wants to get back to where he was before.   Instead of sharing the mercy he has received, he finds someone who owes him money and begins to choke him.  He has him thrown into prison in anger.  When word got out the Master was furious and demanded an account of him.   It was as if the servant was saying "I am important enough for grace" but my fellow servant, well they don't count.  Them.  The other.  They... those guys over there... they don't count.

We as Christians are challenged to be Holy.  Not just me, not just the priests and religious, not just the holy rollers or bible thumpers... every single one of us is called to be a Saint.   To be like Jesus, to follow in His footsteps.   His footsteps are the way of the Cross.   That means shouldering our own crosses and marching out to our own deaths.   Now most of us aren't going to be martyrs.   Many of us are going to die in our sleep, in some way that isn't glamorous or extraordinary.   That doesn't mean "you don't count."   It means that God is asking us to die spiritually.. to our egos... to ourselves... to live our lives in a way that says to every single person we encounter "You matter."   To everyone of them, regardless of their station, religion, legal status, political party, sexual orientation, lifestyle, or what have you.   To say to them "As God has shown me mercy, so I show it to you."  Are you offering His love to others?  Or simply holding inside?

You count.  You matter.  You are Holy and loved by God.   Stop letting the enemy convince you otherwise.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass on Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2016.    Ezekiel 12:1-12; Psalm 78; The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 18:21-19:1

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Spinning out of control

The past few days have been hectic for me, but I am sure they have been even more stressful for my wife and the kids.   School is starting soon.  That means band camp, volleyball practice, school shopping, and all the various other things that go on to prepare for that.  On top of that, the internet has been acting funky and the cable guy/gal was scheduled to be here today.  That meant I needed a clean house.   I still have this phobia of letting people in without it clean.  So for a few days they've been doing laundry, washing counters and mopping floors.  I was a foreman when working and even to this day I feel the need to tell people what to do, to be in control.

It's hard to relinquish control, isn't it?   To give up everything to God to allow Him to be the one in charge?  How often I think that I know better.   If I were to do this, I'd do it this way.  This moment would be perfect if.... my spouse my be better if.... prayer time would go better if... The thing is, every moment, every person, every thing in our life... is a gift from God.  It is a seed that He has given us.  A seed to be nourished, planted, germinated.... to grow.   In order for that to happen it must be sown... it must be given over to God.  It must be allowed to change, to grow, to die to itself and be transformed.   That means letting go of control... to stop grasping and holding on to what was, and letting God give us what is to be.   Something better.. something we might not be able to see.

Saint Lawrence was an amazing example of a man who was able to do this.   He sold everything that was left after seeing the Pope martyred and then went to be grilled alive.   While they were cooking him over open coals he said something to the effect of "turn me over this side is done."    The modern mine would call this a waste, a tragedy.  A loss.   It was a seed.  A seed that must be prepared to die that something more beautiful could grow out of it.  Saint Lawrence's death while sad and tragic, was the leading cause of the conversion of the entire city of Rome.  Out of his death came life.  Just like a seed in the ground dies but then grows into something beautiful... we must die to our plans, and grow into Gods.

So that is the challenge I believe in today's readings.   To ask ourselves, Where am I holding back?   What am I holding on to?  What has God given me that I am not ready to let go back to Him?  It's easy to give him that which is going wrong isn't it?   To say God this is horrible in my life, I'm giving it to you.. offering it up!  What about the good things?   God my relationship is perfect with this person... but if it's not your will, then your will be done.     That's a bit harder.... To give him myself?  My memory?  My intellect? My will to do with as He pleases?  That I work on.. but to give over control of my family?   My heart?  To be willing to suffer and die... or God forbid.. to watch others suffer and die?  Am I ready to do that and still praise God?  As I watch a dear friend going through the loss of her mother, I wonder... how would I react?  Lord, help me to be the man you've created me to be.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for The Feast of Saint Lawrence: August 10th, 2016.    Corinthians 9:6-10; Psalm 112;  The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 12:24-26

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I just walked on by....

It doesn’t make much sense when we think of sheep as an economic value to leave ninety nine of them in the wilderness to go out and search for one single lost item.   Fiscally it would be reckless to do so.  You leave ninety nine of them without protection in order to go find a single one.   The return on the investment would be astronomically minuscule if the other 99 were gone when the shepherd returned.   In the ways of man, with our concentration on self comfort, wealth, power and honor… it makes zero sense.   In the economy of salvation though… it makes perfect sense.

Christ proclaimed this mystery when He said that He came as a physician, not to heal those who were already well, but the sick who were in need of Him.   There are many people out there who have that holier than though attitude.  The notion that we are the saved ones and them?  They? The ones over there?   They are the sick.  If that is so, then Christ is not after us.  After all how can He offer us Salvation if we don’t feel we are the ones who need it?   That’s why the Church looks the way it is now.   The world tries to hold us to a standard of perfection.  Those Christians have to be perfect, but those who aren’t religious?  They can do whatever.  The Church is not a museum for the perfect, but a hospital for the sinner.

That’s what the Sacraments are all about.  A moment of encounter in which the sick go into to see the physician.   In penance we go in with our symptoms and come out after a shot of medicine and a prescription of how to maintain that health.   In the Eucharist we go forth for a checkup in which Christ enters us himself.   It may sound silly but sometimes it reminds me of that movie Inner Space, where they shrink down and go into a persons body to try to get rid of whatever is ailing him.   Christ does that, He takes that work on the cross and applies it to us.   He comes into us again and again to help push out those things that aren’t quite right, those little things that keep us from being perfect.   It is He, who through a lifetime and beyond, who makes us perfect.. Who turns us into Saints.   We need Him.   He knows that.   So He makes it happen.

Today as I was venturing around Belvidere I walked through a pretty harsh neighborhood.   The water there looked as if it was coming straight out of a sewage pipe.  People were walking around in gang colors.  I passed by a ‘Relaxation Station’ that touted with bold words that if you took the full package the lady of your choice would ‘join you in the Jacuzzi’.  Another place warned that not only could you not wear saggy pants, but that ‘gang activity would not be tolerated on premises.’   I was nervous to say the least.  Then a man walked by in raggy clothes and torn pants.   His shirt open revealing sunken ribs and obvious signs he had not eaten or bathed in a long time.   He asked me for a dollar and I said ‘I don’t have any cash on me.’   That was the truth.   Yet Christ had just walked by me and I didn’t recognize Him.   I didn’t offer Him what I did have, a moment of compassion, a prayer, a conversation… I just kept walking.  One of the lost ones might have been going by and unlike the Savior, I didn’t go after Him but returned to the safety of the ninety nine.  

That’s why I need Him.   Because I am not there yet.  Forgive me.

His servant and yours,

“He must increase, I must decrease.”

A reflection on the daily readings for Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time: August 9th, 2016.   Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Psalm 119; A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The party don't start till I walk in...

In many movies we see the youth getting away with throwing a party while the parents are gone.  The party gets out of control and the house is trashed.  The parents, who were supposed to be gone a set number of days or hours, for some reason come home early.  Somehow the kids get everything cleaned up as if by magic before they arrive.   In the movies this seems to work so well that the parents are none the wiser to what has happened in their home while they are away.  In real life?   Well, it doesn't ever seem to work out that way.   

In this day and age our lives are highly scheduled and our lives filled with digital communication.  Not only do our kids know when we are supposed to be home, but they often receive a text on the way or a phone call from the car.   With all of this information we humans tend to be less ready for the arrival, not more.  We get distracted by all the things that are bombarding us and instead of doing that which we know to do?  We end up 'shinied'.   Distracted.  Unable to focus on what needs to be finished.  The parents arrive and not only aren't the kids finished?  They haven't started.  In this case it's not just the kids, but the parents too.   We know someone is coming over and we meant to clean, but the show was on... or we should have gone to confession... but the game was on... We schedule to do things, but then we find other things to do and forget the schedule. 

The thing we lose about this Gospel parable in today's modern age is exactly how hard it is to be ready for the Master when he returns.   Jesus talks of a man coming back from a wedding to find his servant up and waiting.  The servant's just doing what he should be doing right?  It's what he is for.   He's not doing something extraordinary on the surface, he's just serving his Master by being ready for his return.   When will the master be back?   Now that's the hard part.   Weddings in first century Palestine were not like they are today.  They were an involved affair!   Taking several days, a week or more!   The servant couldn't possibly stay up the entire time, could he?  How diligent would he have to be to be ready and waiting for the Master's return?  Unlike us He wasn't going to receive a text or phone call during the week to say "I'll be back on Friday!" 

I believe that the readings for today are a call to Stewardship and preparedness.   They remind us of what Pope Francis was trying to teach us in Ladauto Si.  We have been given charge of a home, a place to keep up and take care of.   We aren't doing a very good job of that.  Not just creation, which I am a big proponent of, but also our selves and each other.  The Master has given us signs of his return, but informed us that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows the day of His return.. only the Father.   So we must be diligent.  We must be ready for Him at any time.   Like the servant in the parable, are we awake?  Do we take care of the world we are given?  Our own bodies that are temples of the Holy Spirit?   Others that we encounter during the day?  As my friend always says, "Get ready, be ready, stay ready."  

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 7th, 2016.  Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke 12:32-48

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What's for dinner?

I struggle with my weight.  I've always been a large person and had a love/hate relationship with food.  I guess the main reason is that, like most mortals, I love the taste of those things which are bad for me.  That is why we try not to keep them in the house.  Then I find myself wandering through the kitchen looking for something to eat and not being able to find something that fits the bill.   I open the pantry, I stare into it, I close it.   I repeat that same procedure with the refrigerator, the freezer, and the cabinets.   Eventually, back to the pantry.  Soon we are picking up the phone and ordering something or going out to some restaurant.  It's not a good thing for my weight when I do that... I don't need a 'buffet' anything.

We take that for granted, don't we?  As we were driving to Ohio this past weekend we got stuck in the traffic for Lollapalooza and the baseball game.  For hours we were literally stopping and going, moving only a few feet every minute.  My daughter and I were being silly and waving at people we didn't know, pretending to be royalty travelling through our kingdom.  I noticed that on one of the subway platforms one of my subjects was digging through the trash for something to eat.  There I was, severely over weight, not realizing how good I really have it.  Here is a man, as important and loved by God as I am, digging through the waste for food.   I, who have plenty to eat, often ignore the buffet before me because it's not good enough.  This man, who digs through the trash for that which I throw away, is happy with anything he can find to eat.

The sad part is we do that with relationships as well.   Society tells us that sex is just something we do.   It tells our kids that masturbation not only feels good, but somehow is healthy for them.   It encourages porn as a way to spice up things.  Then it tells us that marriage is a thing of the past and that relationships were not meant to be permanent or even monogamous.   If it feels good do it!  That is the mantra of many these days. They look at the Church and it's buffet and simply pick and choose, or better yet walk away to another church that can give them that which seems to fill their sensual pleasures in a more pleasing way.  Crumbs.   But as it is written: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NABRE)

Even more wretched is that we do that with our relationship with God.   We would rather choose to sit in a chair and play a game than to go to Mass.  To spend Friday night at a Baseball game, rather than at Adoration.   We would rather not have the permanence of the Covenant but want all the benefits.  The music isn't good enough, the sermons are too boring, confession makes us feel uncomfortable, and that one guy breaths so loudly that you hear it over the microphone from the Choir.   So we walk away from the pantry and look for a new source to feed us.   We settle for crumbs, crumbs that sometimes are beautiful and fulfilling, but they are just a glimpse of the banquet that God has set for us.   He offers so much more than we can even pretend to understand.   He offers us a glimpse into reality, a reality so far and beyond the things we detect with our senses and into a realm that exists outside of time.   Eating crumbs is good, but why not go to the table and sit with the Master?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the daily Mass readings for Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time: August 3rd 2016.   Jeremiah 31:1-7;  Responsorial from Jeremiah 31; A reading from the Holy Gospel According to Matthew 15:21-28

Monday, August 1, 2016

Give them some yourselves....

I once worked with a young man who had some serious sin in his life.  If I am honest with you, I was a part of those sins from time to time.  His life had turned into one great big party that truly stemmed from a depression at the state of what had become his daily existence.   I once asked him why he didn't try to do better, why he didn't give up the drinking and the drugs, and go back to church.  His answer was one I will never forget: because I am chosen as I am.  Someone had spoken a prophecy over him as a young boy.  They said he would grow to serve the Lord.  He was informed that God didn't expect him to change, but to keep being the person he was.  So he didn't.

The person who spoke this 'prophecy' over him did it for his own good.   It was to encourage him to grow, to become closer to God.   I spoke to someone about it years later and they said yeah, I just wanted him to feel good about himself.   We see the result of that in both this young mans life, which to this day continues to spiral downward, and in the first reading of today's Mass.  Hananiah tickled the ears of those around him.   Instead of giving them a true prophecy of God he comforted them with platitudes and encouragements to make them feel better.   As my grandfather would have said, "He tickled their ears."  He told them what he felt would encourage them, make them feel better.. but it wasn't the truth.  It cost Hananiah his life.   God is that serious about sin.  Lies are never to our good.

God is truth.  There is no duplicity in Him.  There are no lies in Him.  A man once told me that all relationships require lies, that at some point you have to lie to get along.   I disagree.  I prefer what Father Simon said the other day on the radio.   "Speak the truth in love, but you can't love without speaking the truth."  (paraphrased)   You see tickling someone's ears.. telling them what they want to hear, instead of the truth... it doesn't make things better.  It encourages them to continue on down that road.  One cannot repeat the same action, the same way, with the same people, in the same environment, over and over.. and expect a different outcome.   God wants us as members of Christ's body to go out into the world armed with the truth, and to pass it on to others, always in love.

He wants us to be emboldened to do this.  So much so that in the Gospel Jesus reminds us that we are to be like Him in all things.   He asks us to feed others.  The disciples where looking out for the others.  They were concerned that they had not food and it was late.  Jesus, instead of sending them away, said "give them something yourselves."   Here they were, with Christ, the living bread of life; yet they had no idea what to do.  Mary, at the wedding of Cana, gave us the premier example.   "Do whatever he tells you."   You see, Jesus was about to feed the people the Truth.  Truth itself, incarnated in His own flesh.. the bread from Heaven.  He expects us to do the same.   He takes what little we offer, the meager small amounts, and He turns it into something divine.. a feast for the world.   That's why we proceed to the altar with bread at Mass... we offer something so paltry, so meager.. and it becomes Christ himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.   Then He gives it to us and if we allow it, transforms us into living Christ's... parts of His body.. to "go forth, glorifying the Lord by our lives."

Are you feeding others?  The answer is yes... but what are you feeding them?  Remember this from the Gospel... Jesus had just lost his friend, his cousin.  John had been killed and Jesus was just trying to take some time alone.   When he saw all the men, women and children gathering around He did not explode in anger and demand they be sent away.   The Apostle's likely had that in mind as well, that Jesus needed some time to grieve.. some time to recover.. but Jesus had pity on the crowds.   How do you respond when interrupted?   How do you respond to the presence of another in need when you yourself are in need?   Do you give them your bread?

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass on Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary time: August 1st, 2016.   Jeremiah 28:1-17; Psalm 119; A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 14:13-21