Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Princess and the Pea

December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 5
Reading 1 : IS 40:1-5, 9-11
Responsorial Psalm: PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
Reading 2:2 PT 3:8-14
Gospel: MK 1:1-8

It took a great deal of my adult life before I realized what it truly meant to love another person.   Growing up I had no idea what a Sacrament was.   I did not know that Holy Matrimony was a channel of grace through which God made it possible for two people to begin to love each other unconditionally.   It wasn’t until I began to research the Catholic church that I stumbled upon this teaching and my eyes were opened to the problems I had been having in relationships.  Then watching Julie, my precious wife, love me completely even at my worse.  It changed for me what love was.

 In the first reading from Isaiah, it talks about comfort.  “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”   For most of my life, I would have told you that being comfortable meant being free from pain.  It meant having enough money to buy whatever you desired.  Comfort was having plenty of food to eat and enough soda to make it through a long night of computer gaming.  It wasn’t until after I had my spine fused, twenty-six bolts screwed into the vertebrae, and six feet of titanium rods inserted into my body that I began to see a new vision of what comfort truly was. 

 Comfort is having no wrinkles in the sheet when your back is so sensitive that you feel like the “princess and the pea.”  It is found in having a wife who smoothes those sheets every time you move because you keep causing the wrinkles yourself.   Comfort is your spouse walking by your side, helping you take painful step by step, to make sure you don’t give up and stop moving.   It is in waking up from another drug-induced stupor, where you are trying just for a moment to hide from the pain, and finding that welcoming face of the woman who isn’t leaving you for being less, isn’t leaving you despite your bad mood, your inability to care for yourself, and despite the fact you feel like less of a man because you may never be able to provide for her again.   True comfort comes from watching her work hard, long hours to continue to provide for the family long after many others would have walked away.

 As we journey together through this Advent season, crossing into the Second Sunday, remember that is what Christmas is about.   God is offering you a new Exodus, a journey from the slavery of sin, into the life of a child of God.   Like my wife, who has shown me more than any other human what it means to be like Jesus, He is constantly waiting for you to just open your eyes and see that He has never left your side.  He offers you a relationship deeper and more intimate than any relationship you have ever had.   One in which you receive all of Him, nothing held back, Body, Soul, Blood, and Divinity, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

 I think that is part of why we Catholics are so intent on preserving Holy Matrimony.  It is more than just a document, more than just a relationship between two people.   It is life creating!   It is inviting God into your lives in order to bring about new life, to bring Comfort, to bring the graces necessary to even hope to live a life that looks like the one my wife has shown to me.   We Christians are the Church, the Bride of Christ.  He offers us that same relationship.  He also calls us to be His Body in the World.  Take some time this Advent to pray, go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ask yourself how are you showing comfort to others?   How can you be more like Christ?  How can you let Him be born into your heart so fully that when others lift their eyes from yet another stupor brought on by the drugs of this world, they see Him waiting to lead them out of it?  Then, go and be that person.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Firmly on the Rock of Humility

December 7, 2017

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 178
Reading 1: IS 26:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: PS 118:1 AND 8-9, 19-21, 25-27A

There is something very uplifting about examining yourself during the Advent season to prepare yourself for the arrival of the Lord in our hearts, for the daily rebirth of Christ living inside of us.   There is also something very humbling about the same process.   I don’t mean that false humility that makes us say “look at how humble I am becoming,”  but rather that true humility that doesn’t think less of himself but rather thinks about himself less often.    I found myself in a room full of people just the other day bragging about my abilities.   Not that simple matter of fact statement of what I am capable of.   That in and of itself is never wrong.  Being humble means you know who you are, both the good and the bad.  No, I found myself speaking with pride and vanity about myself.   I should apologize to all of those who were there for when I did my examen later in the day I found myself ashamed of how I acted.

I don’t believe in coincidences.   So when last night I was actually thinking exactly of that moment and my brother in Christ, Dave Womac, began to pray for our safe departure from class with words that spoke of humility and emptying ourselves, I knew God had put that on his heart for that very moment.   Then when I got up this morning to begin meditating on tomorrow’s readings I knew instantly that a theme was beginning to emerge, the theme that Advent should bring about in all of our lives.  Yes, humility.   Isaiah proclaims this morning that “He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.”   It almost seems arrogant in and of itself for me to begin to think that God wrote these words with me in mind doesn’t it?   Yet, I do believe that is how He operates.  Why?  Because it’s only in becoming “poor in spirit” that we can truly begin to get out of the way and let God operate through us.  It is only in preparing an empty manger, a simple dwelling that has nothing else cluttering it up, that we can create an altar worthy of Christ, and Christ alone, in this temple that God has created in our hearts.

I believe that truly the rock foundation of our faith is exactly in humility.  That is why I believe that being called to the Diaconate is so foundational to who I am as a man.  A servant.  Someone who is called to exemplify Christ in my actions and words.   It is when I try to build on my own abilities, not in humble recognition of the talents and gifts that God has given me to share with His Body and build up His Church, but rather as the basis for my calling that I realize how much sand and straw are all the things that I have to be proud of.   Everything I have is from Him.  It is only worth something because He is the source, the creator who endowed me with those gifts, and the rock that I must build my faith on is that truth.  

C.S. Lewis once wrote in the Screwtape Letters this following statement attributed to one of the senior devils in advice to the young tempter: “Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility.”  Today is the feast of St. Ambrose, a man who once ran when they asked him to become Bishop because he knew he was not worthy.   Then when they insisted and installed him anyway, he spent his life studying to show himself approved.  Learning the truth of the Scriptures, reaching out to the poor and marginalized, and fighting heresy with gentle words, sound reason and logic.  I know my mistake always occurs when I begin to think “I am starting to be a little humble.”   There is an old joke that I used to tell flippantly, but it illustrates this:  “They gave me the most humble pin in high school.  Then took it away because I wore it.”  Humility is the basis of all the virtues.  But be careful, “Lord teach me humility” is one of the most dangerous prayers you will ever pray.   Opportunities to learn to be humble are not often pleasant.  

So let us pray with Enzler and with Dave Womac, a man who truly inspires me to be better, this beautiful prayer from Enzler’s Way of the Cross:
My Lord,
I offer You my all­--
whatever I possess,
and more, my self.
Detach me from the
craving for prestige,
position, wealth.
Root out of me
all trace of envy of my neighbor
who has more than I.
Release me from the vice of pride,
my longing to exalt myself,
and lead me to the lowest place.
May I be poor in spirit, Lord,
so that I can be rich in

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Baking Cookies and singing songs.

December 6, 2017

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Lectionary: 177
Reading 1: IS 25:6-10A
Responsorial Psalm: PS 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6
Gospel: MT 15:29-37

As we begin our travels through this season of Advent it seems that the excitement is palpable, tangible.   My own excitement for the celebration of the birth of Christ is only amplified by that of my children who have been listening to Christmas music, baking dozens of cookies, and simply looking forward to gathering with family for the holidays.  Likely most of us in America will take this opportunity to overindulge in food and drink, but the one thing we seem to do a good job of is gathering together around a table.    The table is something we have lost in many homes as the gathering place of family, instead, it being the television if there is a gathering at all.   It’s good that we take this opportunity to once again gather around the food that has been prepared so skillfully and just spend some time cherishing one another and reminiscing of the many things that have happened throughout the year. 

In the first reading, we again see this beautiful image of a banquet where everything is rich and decadent.  A feast set for those who waited patiently, enduring till the end.  "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"  Imagine the sense of urgency and desire that the Israelites had for the Messiah at the time of Jesus birth.   They had been enslaved in Egypt, then again by the Persians, the Babylonians, and now the Romans.   Every time they thought they were on top of the world, someone came in and knocked their feet out from under them.    The promise of a Prophet, a Davidic King, who would come in and restore Israel to its former glory would be so cherished and longed for.   Much like a child waiting for Christmas day to open their presents, it would be hard to wait!  Then comes Jesus of Nazareth who gives us a very different image of the Messiah, the one who suffers and dies for our sins, that we might have life everlasting.

1000 This "how" exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies:

Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.

In the Gospel, reading we see Him performing a miracle that we Catholics see as a foreshadowing of the Last Supper.   Jesus takes their limited resources and he multiplies them into something powerful.   Seven loaves of bread become enough to feed four thousand, with a great deal left over.  While we should indeed be excited for the return of Christ and to pray longingly for the day when He will come again to redeem all of creation, we should also be longing for the Eucharistic feast in which Jesus once again multiplies our meager resources.   Taking simple bread and wine offered by the people, he turns them into a feast that no one is worthy to consume, and then He invites us to gather around that table.  A feast that isn’t just at the end of time, isn’t just on Sunday, Christmas day or Easter.   The wedding feast of the lamb has begun and it is offered to us at every single Mass where we the Body and Blood of our Lord is offered to us as food for the journey.  In that small host is the power of God that promises to “destroy the veil that veils all peoples, The web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces; The reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.”

1329 The Lord's Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meal when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread, above all at the Last Supper. It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection, and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.

The Eucharistic assembly (synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church.

Do we treat the Eucharist with the reverence and honor it is truly worthy of?  One of the things that we are reminded to do during this season of penance and preparation is to get to confession.   We are fortunate enough at our Parish to now have a Priest who is available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation before every Mass.   Take a few minutes, this season especially, to get to Mass a few minutes early.   Go see Jesus before hand to confess and have your sins forgiven, make a true act of contrition with an honest effort to not fall into sin again, and then step forward with trust and faith to receive Him who brings life and mercy.  Yes, Jesus was born 2000 years ago into this world.  Yes, He died and rose again, ascending to Heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.   And, yes, He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.   In the meantime, He comes to us each and everyday in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar to give us the strength needed to continue this race, this spiritual battle we are fighting for the salvation of souls.  Are you ready?  Get ready.  Be ready.  Stay ready.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Do you hear what I hear?

December 5, 2017

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Lectionary: 176

Reading 1: IS 11:1-10

Responsorial Psalm: PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

Gospel: LK 10:21-24

In this beautiful section of the prophecies of Isaiah, we see a glimpse of the end of time, when creation will be made new and death itself shall be subjected to Him(1 Corinthians 15:26).   The lion and the lamb, the bear and the cow, the child and the snake.   All predators listed directly beside their prey.   Yet, no blood is spilled on the Holy Mountain of God.  The Scriptures remind us that all of creation is groaning for the redemption of the world(Romans 8:22), and this beautiful pericope itself gives us a glimpse into what that can look like.   It reminds us of the necessity of taking on our new nature, the nature that Christ instills in all of us when we are reborn through our baptism.  In a world that is still full of predators that roam about seeking the ruin of souls (1 Peter 5:8), we must be on our feet in order to be prepared to defend our lives and be ready for the birth of Christ into our souls.
672 Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love and peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by "distress" and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.

Birth is difficult.  Anyone who has watched someone be born knows that.   Those who have experienced it first hand can probably give you much better details than I can.  What I do remember is when my nephew was being born, his mother went through one of the hardest labors I had ever seen.   Her hands became cramped, her face was lax as if she had a stroke, and she was screaming in pain.  I remember being in the chapel of that little hospital praying earnestly for deliverance and a safe birth.  Thank God there are doctors, nurses, and midwives who know how to help when things get to this point.   That is what we who are preparing for the birth of Christ anew in our lives must keep in mind.  The Church is that midwife, that doctor.   It gives us the grace we need to be able to see with new sight, hear with new ears.  Isaiah says our delight will be the fear of the Lord(Isaiah 11:3).   The fear of the Lord has  fallen out of favor in many Christian denominations these years.  They want the therapeutic loving Jesus without the judge of mankind coming at the end of time.  They want the new spirit born in them, without the travails of mastering their own passions and desires with mortification, fasting, and prayer.

1299 In the Roman Rite the bishop extends his hands over the whole group of the confirmands. Since the time of the apostles this gesture has signified the gift of the Spirit. The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words:
All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.
Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgment and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

What then are we to make of this beautiful image in the old testament?  I think the key to understanding it is in that interesting list of attributes for him who the Spirit of the Lord rests upon.  If you look closely they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the Church teaches we receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It is through the use of these gifts and helps that the Church helps us to deliver Jesus into our world.  If we use them Jesus will not just be in us but will be active in the world, recreating Creation as it were in every thought, word, and action we perform.   That’s what it means to pray at all times without ceasing.   To be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world full of predators, full of lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!  We are called to be not of this world, but to see with the eyes of Jesus.  With eyes of mercy, love, and redemption.  Then Jesus will say to us as He says to the Apostles in today’s Gospel: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.”(Luke 10:23)   That is eyes that see Jesus Christ alive and well in the world, the Kingdom of God active right before our very eyes, in the least of these, our brethren.  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

On to Candidacy, One drop of oil at a time.

There is nothing like feeling unprepared.  This morning as I got up I went through my mind at how unworthy I am as a man.   I am not the most educated man.  There are men out there with Ph.D.’s who speak many different languages, some languages that aren’t even spoken on this planet anymore.  Men and women with much more eloquent voices, who are more attractive, more charismatic, and more holy than I have ever hoped to be.  The devil has a way of making us so very aware of our flaws.  I am so aware of those.  So aware of them that I even had nightmares this week of being stuck in a confessional during communion, unable to find my way out.  Just running in circles unable to get out from behind this wall of sin that I just never can seem to break.  Yes, I am a sinner.   A fallen man who needs Jesus and all of those wonderful Sacramental Graces that He has given us just to even have a hope to get to Heaven.

Today’s Gospel reading speaks of those virgins who came unprepared, they had their lamps but forgot the oil.  They sat outside the gates trying to get the other virgins to give up their oil, but if they had they too would have been lost in the darkness.   They had to wander off into the town to try and find the oil.  I think that is telling right there isn’t it?  Here they are outside the gate of Heaven and where do they go to try and find fuel?  Where do they try to find the source of the light that can even hope to give them holiness?  Into the world, they go.  Instead of waiting at the gate with the others, instead of trusting that God would provide them everything they needed, they left.  How often do we ourselves do that?  Do we question if our lamps are full enough?  Do we look to others to fill them for us?  Or even look to worldly things to try and fulfill the desires of our hearts that only Jesus Christ can fulfill?

When I prepared to lector for Mass tonight the first reading really struck me as completely appropriate to today.   What are we seeking?   Those men who have discerned a calling to ordination and today have been officially recognized by the Church as candidates to be ordained in 2020?  Wisdom is high on our list.  Wisdom doesn’t hide in a corner, it isn’t something hard to find.  It’s a gift that God sends out to find us.  When we get up and head to the gate to seek her, she’s already there waiting.   All we have to do is open ourselves to God and He will fill our lamps.   Where are you getting your oil?  Confession?  The Eucharist?  The sacramental grace of your Marriage?   Are you accessing the oil poured out on you in confirmation?  The grace He has given you at Baptism?  Oh if only we realized how much oil is already in our lamp ready to burn.  I feel like today Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)   

Today when I said I do, not only did I feel the weight of those words, not only did I realize the cross I was picking up, the yoke that I was taking onto my shoulders… there was a lightening of load.  A relief.  A peace.   I went to confession afterwards, and then to Mass.  At Mass I cried a little.  Like most men I tried to hide it, maybe unsuccessfully.   Why?  I don’t know.  I do know this.  I want to be at that gate, with a lamp full of oil.  I want to be ready for the feast.  I don’t want to be outside with Jesus proclaiming “I do not know you.”   My heart would break.  It breaks a little even thinking of it.   That dream I had, the one where I couldn’t get out of the room to find Him in the Eucharist, knowing He was just on the other side of the wall… that was one of the scariest most vivid dreams I have ever had.   How about you?   Do you want to journey with me?  Let’s become Saints together.  One step at a time.   One drop of oil, one drop of pure water, one Sacrament at a time.

Please pray for these men, they are part of the gifts that God has given to me to help me. Their wives as well, for they have shown me what it is to be truly holy.

The Rockford Diocese Diaconate Class of 2020

Victor and Rosario Solis
Tim and Mallory Pignatari
Bob and Nikki Collins
Greg and Jeri Farrell
Bill Kearley
Mark and Vivian Ennis
Jamie and Sandy Schilling
Jose and Maria Aguilar
Dave and Eileen Womac
Neal and Maureen Carpenter
Stu and Kathy Dobson
Steve and DeAnne Besetzny
Mike and Karin Alber

Brian and Julie Mullins

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I am Batman. Are you a vigilante too?

October 24, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 474

ROM 5:12, 15B, 17-19, 20B-21

PS 40:7-8A, 8B-9, 10, 17

LK 21:36

LK 12:35-38

We are never guaranteed tomorrow.  When we lose someone we love this comes to us in an abrupt way, almost a slap in the face.   Many years ago when my grandfather passed away I didn’t go see him in the hospital that time.   He had been in so many times.  I had gone many of them.  I eventually got used to the call that he was in there, and then the one that he was back home.  I meant to stop in that day.  I even thought about it as I drove home from work, but I was so tired.  So tired that I turned off my turn signal and decided to come tomorrow and see him instead.  I think part of me was afraid to face him in the hospital knowing this might be the one. It was hard to see him slowly fading away.  

My faith got me through it.  I don’t remember crying at the funeral.  I do remember being sad.  I remember thinking about the Bible and all the conversations I had had with pappaw.  I knew he was a man of strong conviction, a man of strong belief.  I still believe to this day that he is with God.  I’ve had many small signs over the years to give me strength and remind of that fact.  Today’s readings call us to remember that in a strong way.  Though the first reading reminds us that we are much like Adam, that we have faults and flaws and live in a fallen and often sinful state; it also reminds us that we are called to be more like Christ.  That when given the opportunity to defend the virtue that God has bestowed us on we have a chance to be more like Mary in saying yes, than like Eve in saying no.  To be more like Christ in hanging on the tree to die before eating of the forbidden fruit to try live outside of God's will.

The gospel then reminds us of what that looks like.  It is not a life of just forgetting what Christ has taught us and living however we want.  Not a life of sinfulness and hedonism, but one in which we examine ourselves daily to see where we stand.  It tells us to be vigilant and oh boy do we have to be!   One look at the television shows of this age, the news and the rampant pornography on the internet, and any Christian knows that the devil is on the prowl seeking whom he may devour.  How do we stop him?  By throwing ourselves at the mercy of God first and foremost, but also taking concrete steps to avoid sin.  Putting our computers in public places where others can see what we are doing, cutting off access to the channels that give us images that trigger any inordinate desires, even getting rid of them if need be.  Jesus in his one parable says to cut off our hand if it offends us, and yet many would balk at getting rid of Cable TV or HBO.  

Vigilant.   Watchful. Observant. Alert.  Coming from the word for a vigilante.  One who takes upon himself the responsibility of policing the neighborhood.  Batman.  “I am Batman.”   That’s a common joke on the internet but think about that for a moment.  By telling you to be vigilant Jesus is saying specifically “It is YOUR responsibility to police your soul, your mind, and your heart. “    He has given us all the grace we need, are we using it to police our lives?  Or are we expecting him to do all the work?  It’s not either or, it’s both and.   We must cooperate with grace.  God will never force himself upon us.  Grace is free, but it comes with a cross.  

His servant and yours,

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Blind Leading the Blind

October 8, 2017

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 139

IS 5:1-7

PS 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20

PHIL 4:6-9

MT 21:33-43

After we left the hospital in Chicago Friday, Julie and I walked for about an hour back to Union Station to catch a train back to Elgin.   The stress of driving in downtown traffic had begun to weigh on me.   The hour-long walk back and forth was well worth not having to go bumper to bumper for the same amount of time, sometimes more, with people yelling, beeping their horns, and throwing up pleasant finger salutes at my skillful driving.   I try to pay attention to the people in the area as I walk.  I don’t know if it’s paranoia or my fascination with watching others, maybe even a combination of the two.  Shortly into our walk, I noticed a woman standing on the corner of an intersection turning slowly.    

Then I heard her calling out “Someone, please.  I just need some help.   I need some directions.”  I don’t know downtown at all.   I informed her of that.  I noticed she had a dog with her.   Julie hadn’t noticed that I had dropped out of step with her and was walking ahead of me.  I asked the lady what I could do to help.  She wanted to find her way to Michigan Avenue and all she wanted to know is which way was East, or at least which way the Lake was from here.  That would help her figure out where she was.  I told her I think the lake was behind me.  That didn’t seem to help.  I couldn’t figure out why I was confusing her.   I figured it was because my directions weren’t making sense.  I told her Julie was good at figuring out directions and would be back soon.

Julie came walking back and I explained the situation.  She pulled out her phone and pulled up a map.   We both began to make motions to the street signs, the phone etc.   The lady asked, “Are you showing him or me?”  At this point, I figured I should stop pointing too.  I thought she was getting upset that we were both talking at the same time.  Julie said I’m showing you.   The lady laughed.  “That won’t help.   I’m blind.”   Everything began to make sense.  The reason my directions weren’t helping?   I was talking about landmarks, pointing at buildings, motioning this way or that.  I’d point and say Over there by that sign.   So I told her that if she would follow the direction I was standing in, it would get her to Michigan Avenue.   She said that didn’t seem right, but she was going to trust us.   I walked on with Julie and when I got to Michigan Avenue, I turned around and waited.  A few more minutes and here came the lady with her trusty pup.  I called out to her, “Michigan Avenue is the street right in front of you.”   She thanked me, turned to the right and started walking confidently as if she knew exactly where she was now.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, we see Jesus talking to people with a parable that two thousand years later, after his death and resurrection and the establishment of the Church, makes complete sense.   I wonder if the men listening to him stood dumbfounded like me wondering what on earth he was speaking about?   The imagery of the vine probably made sense.  Easy enough for an observant Jew versed in the Torah to get that image of Israel from what he was saying.  The prophets, Kings, Judges, and so forth they probably got as well.  What about the landowner sending his Son?   The Son being killed?  The owners being kicked out and new owners taking over?  That would have been a very strange message.  A hard one to hear, a scary one maybe.  

Like me standing on the corner in Chicago, I was just as impaired as the lady I was trying to help.  I had a lack of vision to the situation.   Even though the clues were right in front of me.  Cataracts on her eyes.   The specific harness on her seeing eye dog.   The way she moved when I spoke.  All of it should have given me a clue that she couldn’t see well at best, and likely had no idea where I was pointing.   It wasn’t until my “eyes were opened” that I was able to see clearly to help her.

I think that’s part of the message of this parable to us now, 2000 years later.  Even today we miss Jesus because we don’t open our eyes to the people right in front of us.  He might be standing right in front of us and the clues are right there.  Until we look back on them, we just don’t see him.  We don’t take the time to really look at what’s going on and why.   Luckily Julie had enough patience to come back and help me to meet Jesus in this woman in Chicago, who then helped us to help her.  How often do we fail to find him though?  Do we like the owners of the vineyard refuse to accept the message he has for us in our lives?   

There are so many things in this world that try to pull us this way or that way.  Pleasures and temptations, joys and excitements.  Things that constantly entice us and draw us into a continual stimulation of the mind.   St. Paul reminds us that the true goal is not to simply live in the world and enjoy its pleasures, though having pleasure is not in and of itself a bad thing. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”  That’s really the key.   It’s when we fill our lives with all of those things, take time to really open our eyes to God standing right before us, that we find Jesus has been there all along.   

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What does it mean to be in ministry?

The last few months at our Parish have been marked by some difficult transitions and changes.  The diocese has required that all volunteers take a program called "Protecting God's Children" before continuing and for many this was the "last straw."  Then I hear others complaining about the burden that has put on them, as they notice their name more and more frequently in the slots on the upcoming Masses.  It is definitely trying, especially for those of us who are more introverted or have busy lives to take on more and more tasks.   The problem I think that underlies all of this is we seem to think of ministry as another job, something we do.

Ministry is not something we do, it's who we are.  It's a calling first and foremost.  The Priest doesn't just take on a job, he becomes something more.  The Deacon does not just become a more involved layman, he becomes a deacon.  I would challenge that any ministry at Mass does not give us a new set of jobs, but rather reveals who God creates us to be.  Yes, I definitely know there is a difference between the ordained ministries and those of the laity.   Ordination configures us to Christ in a way that changes who we are.  Much like the bread and wine we believe is not just a symbol, but the substance is changed... ordination changes a man.  It configures him to Christ in a special way.  I am not trying to lower that concept or change it.  I believe it whole heartedly. 

What is important to note though, is that all of us are made in the image of God.  That same God who created us calls us to serve through the example of His Son, Jesus Christ.  To serve using the particular set of gifts and talents that we have been given, not to become just like someone else, but to realize who we truly are.  Being a greeter is not something you take on because you want recognition, or because you want a "job" to do at Mass... it's because you feel God calling you to use your gifts, your smile, your generous ability to praise others, the warm handshake you have always had, to be the face of Jesus as they arrive at Mass.  Lector involves using your voice, your ability to remember, and your skill full use of eloquent speaking abilities to speak the Word of God to those gathered around.  It's to be the mouth of Jesus. 

Every single ministry at Mass, and I would challenge all Christian ministries of the world, are the same thing:  they are revealing who God created us to be.  The real you.  The authentic you.  The you that Christ died for on the cross.  So no, lectoring at Mass every weekend of the month is not a burden on me, it's a privilege.  Yes, my frail humanity can be stressed by the thought of doing it constantly.  Let me do it.  It's who I am.  We need people like you.   Every single one of you that is Baptized into the body of Christ is called to serve His Body.  You have a unique set of talents, gifts, and abilities that no one else possesses in the exact formula that is you.  So don't think of this challenging ministry as something that is burdensome or tiring... think of it as an opportunity to be closer to Christ in every single way.  

Pray each and every day that God will reveal to you where He wants you to serve.  Then realize that Protecting God's children is not about you, or about the Priest, or the insurance... it's about the kids.  Are my kids worth your hour?   Don't you want to know how to make sure that whoever hurts a child gets put into a place where they can't do it again?   Then go out and join that ministry, be the person you were created to be, and realize that being in ministry does not only happen behind the doors of the Church building, but it is who you are.  It is the most authentic expression of who you were created to be, in the image of God. Special.  Unique.  Fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Click here to get your free ticket!

August 30, 2017

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 427

1 THES 2:9-13

PS 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12AB

MT 23:27-32

Print your free ticket now! 

A friend I know was given one of those automatic coffee makers that take a little cup and turns it into a steaming cup of fresh, gourmet bean water.   It was a little dirty so they spent some time cleaning it up.  After some polishing, some general purpose cleaner, and a few cups of hot water they put it on the counter and there it sat gleaming waiting for the first use.  A few days later a smell began to fill up the house.  At first, we didn’t know what it was.  Eventually, we narrowed it down to the coffee maker.  The outside looked great.  The coffee itself seemed ok.   The smell that came out of that thing?  No one would want to put that in their body.  

Jesus today talks about one of the greatest problems with Christians in today’s society, likely in all time periods.  That many of us are just like that coffee maker.  We spend our time at Church on the weekend, we clean up our act outside, and to the rest of the world, we look like really good people.  The inside never changes though.   The tombs that Jesus spoke of were decorated on the outside to make them look expensive, beautiful and clean.  Inside though was the rotting and decaying corpses of those who had gone on, swelling and stinking in the heat of the desert sun.  Just like that coffee maker, they were producing things that looked like healthy, yummy cups of expensive brew, but what was really coming out was dark and rotten.

The problem is that so many people try to do the change alone.  Yes, you have to work at change.  It won’t just happen overnight for most.  In a world where racism is still very much alive and people defend the right to murder innocent, unborn children, it can seem like we are lost.  Pornography has now become a mainstay of television and new evidence shows that our children are being exposed to hardcore porn as young as six years old.  How then can we hope to stand alone?  We don’t have to.  We have been given every tool we need to clean up the inside, especially as Catholics who have Confession.  Not only do we get the guarantee that He himself gave the Apostles that whose sins you forgive are forgiven, but we receive extra grace to help us keep it clean and wholesome inside.  

So are you making use of that?  The grace and Sacraments were given to us through the Church to help us not only begin to look more like Christ on the outside but the very presence of Christ inside of us changing us to look like the image of God we were created to be.   If you haven’t been in a long time, maybe now is time to start thinking about it.  One of the more beautiful things our new Pastor has done is begin to offer Confession before every single Mass.  That means every day of the week someone is hearing confessions.  It’s available in English, Spanish or even Polish.  What are we waiting for? An invitation?  I just invited you.  Come join me, I need it too.