Friday, March 31, 2017

A sense of presence.

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when someone or something Holy is present.  People who would otherwise use vulgar and rude language seem to have  a filter installed the moment they enter the Church sanctuary.   One who tells raunchy jokes is often more aware of their content the moment a devout Christian is in their presence.   "I'm sorry, I know you don't like that."   There is an opposite response too.  People get annoyed when that person is there at times.  "He's such a buzz kill!"  "Don't invite her, we won't be able to joke."  The very presence of one who is filled with the Spirit can be obnoxious to someone who is very worldly.  Often just the sight of a crucifix on someone's neck or a roman collar will change the very tone of the room, not always for the good.

CCC 2097 To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the "nothingness of the creature" who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.

The first reading today talks about that.   An unknown man is being described, but we two thousand years later can figure out who He is.  They decide to take him down because they are annoyed that He makes them look bad.  Those who live the life they want don't want to be reprimanded for going against morality or ethics.  "I'll do me, you do you."  That's why so many want relativism to reign.  They think as long as it doesn't physically harm someone else, they should be free to do whatever they want.   That isn't freedom though.  Freedom is not being a slave to your desires.   It's being able to choose what is truly good for you and for others, even when it isn't what you want.  It's not surprising that thousands of years later the just ones are still being attacked for making others face the mirror.   From the Little Sisters of the Poor being forced to provide morally offensive services through health insurance by the previous administration, to the genocide of Christians occurring through the middle east.

581 The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi. He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law. Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people "as one who had authority, and not as their scribes". In Jesus, the same Word of God that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old. . . But I say to you. . ." With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were "making void the word of God".

The readings are growing in intensity and today we see how annoyed the world had become with Jesus himself.  They want to kill him and the only thing stopping them is that it isn't time yet by God's plan.  They are no longer hiding their anger, they are openly hostile to Jesus and his teaching.  Not because it doesn't fit the Torah, but because it doesn't fit what they want in their lives.   They are comfortable where they are.  They have grown to enjoy their religion just the way it is.  They don't want to grow.   That's a dangerous place to be.  Anytime we decide we already know it all, we have made ourselves into a god.  We should always be willing to let God grow in us, to make us more like Him.  Are we doing that this Lent?  Are we journeying to Easter with an open mind and heart?  It's more than just intellectual knowledge we need.. it's a head to heart drop.. an encounter with the all encompassing and all powerful God Himself... who reaches out with human arms in the Incarnation to embrace us.

Are you excited for Easter?   Is there a growing sense of urgency in your life?  We aren't guaranteed tomorrow.  The world is growing more and more hostile towards Christianity and morality in general.  What was said only in the darkest alleys of the past is now proclaimed freely on daytime television.   Those acts which once would have been hidden in shame are now lauded in movies and books that Christian and non-Christian alike seem to attend freely.  Language that was once reserved for construction sites and brothels now flows from the lips of our children and labeled humor.  It's time to analyze our lives, our actions, our thoughts.   Then to ask ourselves.. are we feeling any of it?  Is the "world" accepting us just as we are?  Is there any difference in our way of life?  If we were on trial for being Christian, could the world convict us? Good thoughts to meditate as we draw near holy week.

His servant and yours,

"illum oportet crescere me autem minui"

A reflection on the readings for Friday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time: March 31, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Somebody Testify!

Testimony.  Back when I started this journey towards the Diaconate, John McGrath challenged us to write a three to five minute testimony of why we were Catholic.  A testimony is not something foreign to me at all.  Growing up I had the privilege of hearing people testify in Church on a weekly basis.  I even had to give an official testimony in front of the entire congregation to be put on their membership list at one point.  To sit down and write it out though, succinctly and only with the important parts, no rambling... that took some effort.   It's so important though, isn't it?   That's how we introduce Christ to others.  By telling them who He is, and what He has done for us.    A moment for Christ to speak through our words to a hurting person who He loves entirely and completely.  We each should have a Testimony to share.

This morning Father Don pointed out that Jesus used the word Testimony (or a variant of it) 9 times!  Until he said that I wouldn't have known that.  I had already read that Gospel at least 4 times before Mass to write a blog and prepare myself to Worship.  Yet, a word so important and integral to who we should be as Disciples of Christ, had eluded me.  Christ keeps talking about all the amazing people who testify to who He is.  John the Baptist and Moses are two references that any person of Jewish descent would have loved to have had on their resume.   He goes a step further!   He says that God, the Father, testifies for Him.  Think about that for a moment.  What name could you put out there in support of you that would be greater than Being itself?  Greater than the force that holds all existence together.   Greater than God?

The funny thing is we have God giving testimony to who we are every single day.   He tells us in the Scriptures and through the Church what our name is.   He calls us each by name, and loves us each individually as well as corporately.   Are you believing that testimony?  Or do you believe the words of others when they tell you: "You are worthless!"  "You're fat."  "you're ugly"   "You aren't good enough."  "You're not normal."  "You should be more like us."  A lot of the time it's our own testimony that sabotages us.  We can be our own worst critic.   Some of us even give up.  We have an epidemic of our youth committing suicide after being bullied on social media or abused at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.  That's not the answer.  I am here to share with you something glorious... This is who God says you are:

(click the image to enlarge it) 

Don't let the reflection of who you think you are, or who others say you are, take away from who you really are!  

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins

"illum oportet crescere me autem minui"

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time.  March 29th, 2017

How far is the East from the West?

There is such a contrast between this mornings Old Testament reading and Gospel.  It's a subtle one but an important one.  Moses had gone up the mountain to spend time with God.   He told the people he would be back.  God was giving him The Commandments and carving them into stone.  While Moses was gone the people began to grow impatient.  They wanted to do something for God without God asking them to do so.  So they built and idol.  A golden calf to worship and glorify.   So much was their zeal for this that Aaron fell right in with them and helped make the idol.  In this case they had an empty idol in front of them, something that could do nothing.

When Moses sees this he is so consumed with rage that he destroyed the tablets of the commandments that God had made for him.   These people didn't deserve what God had to offer did they?   They had fallen into the worst of sin.  Yet, then Moses does something that proves his great love for his flock.   He intercedes for them with God.  He asks God to abate his anger and allow the people to live.  There were still repercussions.    The people still fell into sin again, and again.   But Moses showed us who God really was.

CCC 210 After Israel's sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the golden calf, God hears Moses' prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love. When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name 'the LORD' [YHWH]." Then the LORD passes before Moses and proclaims, "YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.

In the Gospel reading we have almost the exact opposite of that.  Instead of an Idol standing before them, they have God Himself.   Jesus speaks to them eloquently showing his authority and the testimony that proves who He is.  There is no golden calf before them but they have their own false God.   They have become so hardened in their ways, so empty in their love, that they refuse to even listen to Jesus as He tries to show them again God's merciful love.   They want human praise.  They want recognition.  Jesus informs them that the true glory comes from God alone.   They have committed one of the most common forms of idolatry.. replacing God with empty religion.

CCC 2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon." Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast" refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.

Jesus is the New Moses.   He is the true prophet that was to come.   He is God incarnate.   Just like Moses he stood in the gap.   He intercedes even for those who stand before Him denying who He is.  How great is His love for us?  "As far as the east is from the west, from one scarred hand to another."  He opens His divine and human arms on the cross to embrace all of mankind.   That doesn't mean they accept it, or even believe in it, but for those who do?  Eternal life is the reward.  That means Jesus must be the locus of our lives.   The very point where everything our hearts, minds, and souls aims.

The question is, are we willing to be little Christs?  That means standing in the gap for others.  Praying for them yes, but even more.   Speaking for those who have no voice.  Healing and comforting those who have been abused.  Holding our arms open to all in need, be they refugee or citizen.  Giving our lives if need be to the Gospel.  Not asking for what someones sexual attraction, religion, or whatever other modifier you can place in there; before giving them your hand and lifting them up to their feet.  Looking out for the poor especially, the widow, the orphan and the alien.   It means making love a part of our very being, our lives. Offering them Christ not only in our words, but in our very being.  One must first be a friend, that is the very first step in evangelization.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"illum oportet crescere me autem minui"

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent.  March 29th, 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What is normal, anyway?

I've been rereading a book by Peter Kreeft today called "The Philosophy of Jesus" in preparation for a Philosophy class at the diocese this weekend.   It uses what my dad would call five dollar words.  Metaphysics.  Epistemology.  Philosophical Anthropology, and probably the most common familiar term to most today, Ethics.  All of those terms can be boiled down to simple questions.

  1. Metaphysics - What is reality?  
  2. Epistemology - Knowing what reality is, how do we know that it is real? 
  3. Philosophical Anthropology - Based on those findings, who am I? What does it mean to be me/human/etc? 
  4. And Ethics - With all of the above, how should we live based on reality and our selves? 
People have spoken for thousands of years now about these very topics.  Smarter men than I have wrestled one another intellectually to prove their points, defeat their opponents, and in many ways make our world much easier to live in and understand.  There is a simple answer though.  All of these questions are answered by one name: Jesus Christ.   He is God.  The basis of all reality.  That which holds us all together.  That word through which we were created, and are being sustained and recreated.  To know ourselves requires that we know Christ.  Who He is, and what His life was like.   He is the example of what it means to be fully human.  Who does that make me then?   His brother, adopted son of God, and fellow worker in the vineyard of the Lord.   Then our ethical nature becomes quite apparent.  To be true to ethics is to be true to God, who is all good, all love, all justice.   Therefor ethics derive directly from God, and it is from God that we end up with our inherent dignity and rights that no one can take from us, because they have no right to do so. 

CCC 679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He "acquired" this right by his cross. The Father has given "all judgment to the Son". Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one's works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

In today's reading Jesus reminds us of that simple notion... that God has turned it all over to Him, His son.  Jesus is given the authority to judge all things.  This God-man is able to decide our eternal fate.  That could be a scary thing couldn't it?  Many see Him as some dour and angry gentleman, waiting for one of us to screw up so he can erase us vehemently from the Lamb's book of Life.   Others see Him as some pushover who doesn't care if we sin... and will simply hug us, regardless of what actions we commit here.  The problem with that is a failure to understand what sin is.  

CCC 1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."
Sin is an offense to the basic reality of who we are created to be, who we truly are.   When God saved us He gave us a new spirit.   To sin then is to hurt God, to take His image and run it through the mud... to offend Holy Purity itself.   A newborn child is the most innocent thing we know.  How vile and disgusting it is when someone abuses those children.   God is even more perfectly pure than that, and how many times do we hurt Him?  Do we take the image of Him residing in us and use it to profane, to be vulgar, to partake in things unclean and unholy?  I think the problem is that we see ourselves as being made as sinners and Sainthood as something superhuman, something so abnormal that only a select few get there.   Vatican II made it clear that all of us are called to Holiness, period.. not just the Priest, Nun, or Religious.. not just the Pastor or Minister.. not just the Deacon or Lector.. but every single person is called to Sainthood. 

Christianity adds two men to it's database that secular anthropology does not know: Adam and Christ, the only two innocent men who have ever lived, and Christianity judges fallen men by that norm.  Without that corrective, we inevitably think backwards and misunderstand our present sinfulness as natural and normal, and thus see innocence and even sainthood, as abnormal and unnatural, superhuman rather than human.   Peter Kreeft - The Philosophy of Jesus

I think this sums up Lent in a very powerful way.  It's a return to what should be normal.  A call for us to examine our lives and see if we are living as a child of the light.   Sainthood is what we were created for, and we are given the Holy Spirit to guide us, change us, and help us realize that life.  We've also been given the Sacraments.   One of the least popular ones is Reconciliation.   Why? Because of what I said above.. people see Jesus as angry... but we forget "God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17).   That is the merciful mission of Christ.   To give us a way to relate to God and to see how our lives should look.  The Sacraments to come Face to Face with Him whenever we need in order to be forgiven for our failures, and to draw closer to God.  It's only in being completely filled with God, just as Jesus was, that we will ever truly be able to get out of the way and allow normal to flow through us.   Are you ready to be normal?  Are you ready to be a Saint?  It's not out of reach.. it just requires humility.. love.. trust and faith.  

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins 

"illum oportet crescere me autem minui"

A reflection on the readings for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent: March 29th, 2017. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The desert of our lives.

When I was younger my father used to take us wade fishing.   We'd put on our life vests, grab a fishing pole and just wade out into the river.  I remember one year he took us to Mendota, Virginia.   When I first moved out I could easily wade.  Eventually I found the water fairly deep and being the lazy teen I was, I simply laid back on the life vest and floated down the river.  The trees around the water, the sun shining down, and the gentle sounds of the river made for a scene that simply put me at ease.  When I went to Arizona I experienced something different.  A dry land, parched and thirsty.  A sun that was intense and burning. A heat that made me want to stay inside in the air conditioning all day.

Ezekiel speaks this morning in the readings of a vision in which water flows from the Temple into the dry and dusty land of Israel.   The people had long been in famine and drought.  Food was scarce and water precious.   In his vision he sees water flowing from the temple in such great abundance that it not only becomes impassible to him, but restores the trees of the land bearing fruit in and out of season.  To we who have so much in abundance this image is just a pretty thing, reminding us of a desert oasis we might have seen in the movies.   To those who have experienced starvation, dehydration, and even the death of loved ones to the lack of the basic needs for life... it was an image of paradise.  Water in the desert is life itself.  A water so pure that it made the Dead Sea come to life!  That's why it's such a powerful image of God's forgiving power.

I often speak of my journey before becoming Catholic with just that image.  A desert.   This word is a desert.  A dry and dusty place in which sin often reigns and spiritual nourishment can be hard to come by.  I found some of God's grace from time to time in different ecclesial communities.  A drop of grace here or there.  A good preacher.  Some good music.  Some great worship.  Then there were other times that I'd notice the grace lacking.  A hateful belief.  A sermon of bigotry.   A personal grudge turned dogma.  It was then that I'd wander again looking for this stream that Ezekiel envisioned, this grace filled land in which my soul would be nourished consistently.

That's what I found in the Catholic Church.   The Sacraments are that stream of grace.  It is the ordinary way in which Jesus himself pours out the cooling waters of God's mercy.   Sure, you can look for extraordinary means.   We can find grace anytime two or more gather in God's name and worship in truth.   One does not need to be Catholic to get to heaven.   That's been the solid teaching of the Church for a very long time.  The thing is, if what we Catholic's believe is true?  Why would you wander the desert seeking a single drop, when you could be like Ezekiel and be completely submerged in the rivers from the pierced side of our Lord?

589 Jesus gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct toward sinners with God's own attitude toward them. He went so far as to hint that by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet. But it was most especially by forgiving sins that Jesus placed the religious authorities of Israel on the horns of a dilemma. Were they not entitled to demand in consternation, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" By forgiving sins Jesus either is blaspheming as a man who made himself God's equal, or is speaking the truth and his person really does make present and reveal God's name.

Why do I believe that this is all true?   Today's Gospel is a good example of why.  Jesus in this one healing act has shown not only his mastery over the physical ailment, but also over sin.   The Jews of his time believed that when a man was afflicted, he was a sinner.  For Jesus to not only say rise, you are made well.. but to say pick up your mat.. was to show He was in charge. Not only of the healing, not only of the forgiveness of sins, but even of the Sabbath itself.  Jesus himself instituted each of the seven sacraments of our Church.   That means, just like with the blind man at Bethesda, God has given us instruction.  "Go forth and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven."  "Do this in memory of me."  In doing these things God's grace flows over us in abundance and pours out into the world from the temple, through the open side of the Body of Christ.

1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

Are we taking up our mat?  Only on occasion?  Or every chance we get?  Lent is a time to grow closer to Christ.  We as Catholics believe that it involves the pillars of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.    What better prayer is there than the Mass?  What better fasting than to receive Christ and Christ alone?  What better alms-giving than to not only give money, clothes and food, but to do so with Christ residing in your heart?  Now is the time, today is the day of salvation.  Come out of the desert and into the refreshing stream that will turn you into a tree that provides fruit to the world.  Each moment Jesus is calling to our hearts, just as he did to the Samaritan Woman.  "If you knew the gift of God, and who is speaking to you, you would ask me and I would give you living water, and you'd never thirst again."   Even the desert itself will begin to bloom when it receives enough water. 

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease. "

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time: March 28, 2017. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Mountains crumble with every syllable

Eschatology.  This is the theology of the end of time.  The judgement.  The Day of the Lord.  Where humankind will realize it's final destiny and either be found among the righteous believers by the grace of God, or choose to be sent away into the darkness of despair.   This mornings first reading is definitely about that time period.  God promises a new heaven, a new earth, a place where there are no tears or sorrows.  I've been hearing about this from different ecclesial communities for the majority of my life.  The thing is though, many of us often spend so much time worrying about the then, that we forget to focus on the now.  We forget that the Kingdom of God while an end time reality, is also present here and now in a different way.   That we can experience God now, here, in this moment.. the present.. the moment where eternity meets the now.

  1. the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

 I remember men and women who would spend all their time begging for the end of time to come, while neglecting themselves, their families, their homes and jobs.   All because they felt it useless to do anything with the material world, and only to live for the end of time.  As a Catholic I realize though that it's both.   We must live, as St. Paul said, as one running a race.  Bringing Christ present in our thoughts, words, and deeds; and keeping our eyes, as it were, on the prize.   We can experience heaven right here on earth.. in our families, in our friends, even in our jobs, and most especially in our worship.  The Eucharist is the sacrament that allows heaven to touch earth!   The Mass is a moment when the two coincide so completely that Jesus is made present, just as he said he would be.   That doesn't mean the Church is perfect, or that the people that are in it are perfect, but that we can grow towards that perfection now.  That we can allow Christ to enter us in the Sacrament of the Altar and begin to turn us into small reflections of himself.

1049 "Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society." 

How do we get there?  How do we become the people who live in the present, already in the Kingdom of God in some way?   Through prayer.   I'm not just talking about rote prayers, or prayers of petition and need... those are good but we have to go further.  I mean doing as St. Paul says, praying at all times without ceasing.  Living our life in a way that every action we make, every move is for the Kingdom.   Making washing dishes a prayer to God.   Turning digging a ditch into a moment of worship.  Speaking to God in both silence and in with words. Treating every single moment as a gift, and as a moment in which you do what you are doing for God and not just for man. Realizing with a radical gratitude that Christ is speaking to us at all times, and we should be responding at all times.  Peace in every step, love in every heartbeat.  Being so open to God that He can call you up into an intimate union, into a contemplative experience in which you get to glimpse the beatific vision.   Are you open to that, willing for that?

2616 Prayer to Jesus is answered by him already during his ministry, through signs that anticipate the power of his death and Resurrection: Jesus hears the prayer of faith, expressed in words (the leper, Jairus, the Canaanite woman, the good thief) or in silence (the bearers of the paralytic, the woman with a hemorrhage who touches his clothes, the tears and ointment of the sinful woman). The urgent request of the blind men, "Have mercy on us, Son of David" or "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" has-been renewed in the traditional prayer to Jesus known as the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith: "Your faith has made you well; go in peace."
St. Augustine wonderfully summarizes the three dimensions of Jesus' prayer: "He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in him and his in us."
As St. Augustine said in the Catechism quote "Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in him and his in us."  The Baptized are fully a part of the body of Christ.   Our voice is speaking from that source.   Therefore as Christians let our yes, be yes, and our no, be no.  That means every word that we speak should come from the source of truth, it should be true and loving, because we are made in the image of truth itself.   The image of love itself.  Jesus words never brought death of anyone else.   They always brought life.  Jesus spoke and the royal official believed... and do you not think that the reason his entire house hold became to believe in God, in Jesus as the Christ, because they glimpsed what heaven is like?  Resurrection.  Life.  Love.   That's our challenge today.. are you speaking life?  Or death? Love? or Hate?  Heaven?  Or Hell?  Regardless of what the other says to you? 

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease." 

A reflection on the readings for Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent: March 27, 2017. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Was blind.. but now I see.

Conversion.   It is a slow process for some, and a fast one for others.   In today's Gospel we see a man going through the process of conversion.   He begins blind and unable to see.   He encounters Jesus.  Jesus touches him and he is healed.   Notice careful the words he uses.   They are denying its  the same man because of this amazing change in him.   Some say yeah it looks like him, but can't be him.   Even when his parents say that it is the same man, they don't agree.   Eventually because of his words they through him out of the synagogue.  That doesn't mean as much to us today.. but think about his time... when the synagogue meant being part of life.   It was where religion happened, but being part of the community.  If you were thrown out of the synagogue you were also thrown out of work.. out of business.. out of family.   Today people just take it for granted they could find another place to go to church.. but he didn't have that luxury.  He was ostracized from everything he had.  An outcast.

Then in his worst moment, when he should have been celebrating, Jesus came to him again.   He became a disciple, a follower of Christ, and worshiped Jesus.    A new community with God himself.   A new life.  One that is so obvious to this newborn believer that when they asked who he was, he responded "Eimi."   I am. He responded with the exact same word that Jesus used when he said in Chapter 8 verse 58 "Amen, amen, I say to you before Abraham came to be, I AM."  Let that sink in for a moment. Even though he knew no theology, he had no formal training.. all he had was an encounter... the rest would come later... but for now, this man who could now see knew he was different.. knew he was changed.. and he was growing to be more like Christ by the second.

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.

That's why we must be careful when we speak ill of others, Amen?  The Catechism says that every persons name is sacred. That's important to remember.   Do we treat others that way?   Do we treat them as if we are encountering another image of God?   Regardless of how they live, regardless of the choices they have and are making.... the image is still there, even if obscured by the flesh.   That's why dignity and respect are so important.   We often forget that in the political realm... labeling people with names that either dehumanize or distances them so far from ourselves that we don't even consider their humanity.   Refugee.   Criminal.  Illegal immigrant.  Vagrant.   Miscreant.  Juvenile delinquent.  Low functioning.  Bad apple.... other.. them. they... and many words that are too vile or demeaning to even repeat...

1931 Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that "everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as 'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity." No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a "neighbor," a brother.

Remember that Jesus came to give us sight... to improve our vision that we might see one another as more than just something external, but another self, another person, another creature made in the image of God... Why is it so important that we continually work to increase this vision?  Being a Christian means continual conversion, continual growth, until when people look at us.. they see Christ.   If we aren't growing... if we aren't challenged... if we still have any hate... we still have growth to do.   Yes, I know it's hard.  I know it's difficult because I, like St. Paul, think of myself as the greatest sinner of all sinners.   That is why I can't rely on myself to do it.  I must reach out to the Church and the Sacraments, to the flowing waters of God's grace that can form me.. I must allow Christ, the potter, to take the clay that I am made of... mix it with himself... and form it back into someone who can see just a little more clearly.  That takes humility.   Realizing that I am not strong enough.. and that only He can do it for me... and then having the courage to step forward and let Him.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Let it be done according to thy Word.

The Lord loves each and every one of us completely.  He knows us intimately, and is the only one who can see the depths of our heart and soul.   So much so that there is no created thing which can come close to knowing the real us.  Jeremiah says "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you." (See Jeremiah 1:5)   Is it any wonder then that we should take this day out of Lenten journey to celebrate the Virgin Mary and her unconditional yes to God?  He forms each of us with a task in mind, with a vocation.   With the blessed Virgin, he had the plan to redeem his people.   A plan that was in motion from the very beginning of creation (see Genesis 3:15), a plan echoed through out scripture. This morning we see written around eight centuries before the birth of Christ.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us!"

This is why we Catholics hold Mary so high in regard.   There are those who accuse us of worshiping her, or putting her on a level playing field with God.  Not so.   However, we do believe in the communion of Saints.  We believe that, as St. Paul said, nothing can separate the body of Christ, "not even life or death." (see Romans 8:37-38)  We also believe that Mary who literally bore the Messiah in her own body for nine months did something that no other created being has ever done... gave herself over completely to God.  She was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, just as the Ark was when God's presence descended on it for the nation of Israel.   In all of this she chose to be a part of it.  God did not force himself on her, but offered to her the plan.  She responded with what we call the Fiat, "Let it be done to me according to thy word."

64 Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope. Such holy women as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith and Esther kept alive the hope of Israel's salvation. The purest figure among them is Mary.

Every time we as Catholics pray the rosary we repeat this scripture from the Gospel of Saint Luke. "Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women" (see Luke 1:28)   Why do we do this?  Because we see her as the first and best example of what it means to be a Disciple of Christ.   To give herself over so completely to God with an unconditional yes that allows God to reside inside of her.   To work and nourish that light inside of us so that Christ may be born into the world and into others. To be there when others are in need and to ask her Son to help them.   To point to Christ at all times and say "Do whatever he tells you."   To journey to the cross, when all others seem to have run away, and to stand with our own anguish as we join in the redemptive suffering of Christ for our salvation.  

488 "God sent forth his Son", but to prepare a body for him, he wanted the free co-operation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, "a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary":
The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life.

We also see Mary as our spiritual mother.   At the foot of the cross, as she stood mourning her son, Jesus turned to the beloved disciple and said "This is your mother."  To Mary he said "This is your son."   The Bible then records that "from that hour the disciple took her into his home."  (see John 19:26-27) You and I are the beloved disciples of Christ.   Are we bringing her into our home?   Are we modelling our life in a way that reflects true discipleship?   Are we, as Mary did, keeping all these things in our heart?   Are we saying "yes" to God unconditionally?  Ready to accept the cross, even if it means great loss and anguish to us?  God chose her, just as he has chosen you and I to fulfill a specific role in life.   Are you ready to take on that call? That vocation?   That way of life?  Something to meditate on today as we celebrate Momma Mary and all that she stood for.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, March 25, 2017

Friday, March 24, 2017

Behold the Power of God!

Getting closer to God is a scary thing at times.  It often leaves us confused and wary.  Paradox.   Yesterday in our bible study we talked about that word.   We often say things in our common vernacular that don't make sense.   "I'm nobody."  "That was bittersweet."  "Nobody goes to that restaurant because it's always so busy."  One of the better examples is from St. Paul himself, "I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live."  The greatest Paradox though is truly that of Christ on the Cross.  Here is a man who is defenseless, naked and abused.   He cannot take himself down for he is nailed to the wood.   He has no ability to stop the people and is even being jeered at from the ground.   Yet, we Christians call that in our Scriptures "the power of God."  

 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  1 Corinthians 1:18Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

Mark's gospel is one in which there is a Messianic secret.  The disciples have trouble understanding who Jesus really is.   In today's gospel though.. someone is close to getting it.  So close that Jesus says "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."   How ironic that statement is, since God is sitting right before this knowledgeable Scribe.   What would be your reaction to that statement?  Part of me says that I would hope to be flooding him with more questions!  Yet, another part of me thinks I may have reacted just as those around Jesus did.   "No one dared to ask him any more questions."  We often look back with our 2000 years of Christianity and call out with our hearts, "Why!?   Why didn't you ask the Kingdom of God Himself as He sat with you more?"

575 Many of Jesus' deeds and words constituted a "sign of contradiction", but more so for the religious authorities in Jerusalem, whom the Gospel according to John often calls simply "the Jews", than for the ordinary People of God. To be sure, Christ's relations with the Pharisees were not exclusively polemical. Some Pharisees warn him of the danger he was courting; Jesus praises some of them, like the scribe of Mark 12:34, and dines several times at their homes. Jesus endorses some of the teachings imparted by this religious elite of God's people: the resurrection of the dead, certain forms of piety (almsgiving, fasting and prayer), the custom of addressing God as Father, and the centrality of the commandment to love God and neighbor.

Then I look back at my own life and wonder how many times when I was drawing closer to Jesus did I panic at what He was asking of me.  When he asked me to give up something I didn't want to give up.   When the savior of the world asked me to take up a cross and follow Him to Calvary.   "Can you drink this cup I will drink?" (Matthew 20:22)  How our visions of grandeur make us believe that when the time comes for us to stand before the firing squad with the choice between denying our faith and going home to our family or dying for Christ, we hope to be stronger than Peter on his journey to the dawn of Good Friday's morning.  Our ego gets in the way so many times.  Are we ready to get rid of it all for the sake of the Kingdom?  As a man discerning his call to the Diaconate I am asked that very question.  "Is God enough?"

Think about that for a moment.   That is the very question that is being asked when, God willing I am ordained, I take a vow to never remarry if my wife were to pass away.  To become a celibate man for the Kingdom, for Christ's Church.   "Is God enough?"   Will I be able to live a life that realizes that Christ should be able to fulfill everything I need?   Every desire, every want, every single emotional and spiritual need.  He should be enough shouldn't He?   Then we go to Mass where He descends into the form of bread for us to receive and instead we worry about the music, the lector who stumbles over words, the family whose kid isn't being as quiet as we would like.... our minds are all over the place except right where Christ is.  The funny thing is he is in all of those things... in the lector giving them strength to go through whatever it is in their life that has them distracted, in the musician who is running on a few hours of sleep in the heart of the singers who simply want to praise God the best they can... in that child running too and fro with excitement! 

220 God's love is "everlasting": "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you." Through Jeremiah, God declares to his people, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."

The last few days we have been hearing the same call to repentance from different Prophets in different ages.  It reminds us that God has been calling men from the beginning of time to be in relationship with Him.  In Jesus, God himself came down to make that relationship even more intimate, to give us a way to relate to Him that we can understand.   God wants us to know his love... the immense and pure love that comes from love itself... are we willing to let Him love us?  To live out in our lives that call that He offers continually: "I will be your God and you will be my people"?  Or will we too, when we come face to face with divinity itself, refuse to ask questions?  Or better yet, live out the following(a powerful meditation to spend time on today):

"To embrace a poverty of being subsumed in the Word, a spiritual poverty that calls [one] to listen to the Word and welcome its forming power.  Having the Word of God as [our] only word implies that [one] is more disposed to be questioned by the Word than to pose questions to the Word."  From the Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ by James Keating. 

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins
"He must increase, I must decrease"

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass on Friday of the Third Week of Lent: May 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Stiff Necked People.

This morning I shared with one of our teenage daughters the first reading from today's Mass.   I asked her, without telling her the answer, when do you think this was written?  She said, "I don't know.  It could have been yesterday."   She's right.   It's an accurate description of what it means to be human isn't it?  Even today we are a stiff necked people that don't like to listen.   In the garden of Eden there was only one rule.  Don't eat that tree.... and guess what?  We did.   Then the Israelites have 613 rules.   Guess what?  They broke them. The comes along Jesus who boils it all down to two... love God and your neighbor... and what do we do?   We break it.  Every day.  It only takes a minute of watching the news to see that we too have 'done worse than our fathers.'  

Too many don't understand the fact that we are in a spiritual war.   The scriptures remind us that we are constantly under attack from the evil one.   That we need to put on the armor of God and be ready for battle.  Too many don't take that seriously.  Either they don't believe in demons, or they are so scared of them that they refuse to do anything.   The reality is, we don't have anything to be scared of... but we shouldn't take it lightly either.   Jesus is the stronger man who has unarmed the enemy.   It is so important then that we find ourselves on his side, joining forces with God and not with other things.

Are we listening?  Or are we just going about our lives in our own way.   My daughter is angry with me right now because I won't let her buy Moana.   I told her I didn't want her to see it yet.  Maybe when she is older.   Sure, it's probably harmless right?  The thing is our kids are impressionable.   What they see from us, what they see on TV, what they see from their friends... it all goes into that beautiful brain of theirs and gets ruminated on...   I want her to grow into someone strong in their faith.. not influenced by other ideas of who God is or how the universe was made...  Reason, intellect, math, science... all things I am OK with her seeing.  Those aren't at odds with my faith.   When it comes to faith though?   I want her to know what it means to be Catholic, what it means to be Christian, and above all what it means to be in such an intimate relationship with God that He places Himself into the most defenseless form possible... a wafer of bread that we might let Him enter us  completely.

In the first reading Jeremiah says that the people are so faithless that the word faith doesn't even exist in their vocabulary anymore.  Are we headed there as a nation?   Already religion has been relegated to something that only happens behind closed doors.   The government is seen as the source of philanthropy and the ones relied on knowing who needs what, and who doesn't... and faith?  That's just something you do while singing and worshiping together.  I want my daughters to not only have faith as part of her vocabulary, but part of who she is.   To know that being Catholic means in every facet of your life.. even what you watch, listen to, or say.... Above all I want her to learn to hear His voice.. and to not harden her heart with other things, but to be ready to obey the voice of the Lord and allow Him to lead her in the discernment of her vocation in life.
His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time:  March 23, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not Abolished... but Fulfilled.

As many of you know, I began my walk in life not as a Catholic but as a Baptist.  During those early years as a Christian I went through several different churches.   All along I would call myself baptist, but I attended a Church of God, a Pentecostal church, a holiness church, etc.   Yesterday I heard a song on the radio that reminded me of that journey.   "Get in line right behind me, you along with everybody, thinking there is worth in what you do." (Flawless - MercyMe)   It is a catchy tune, but a little iffy on the theology.  That was kind of the message I got throughout all those churches though.  Nothing I did mattered. Jesus had done it all on the cross.  So why do anything at all?   I fell into the free grace routine and for a while I did things I never thought I would do, all because I had been told "once saved, always saved."

Moses in this mornings first reading tells the people that he is presenting to them the laws of God.   Then he goes on to say that to choose to follow them, we choose life.  That's not a popular thing to hear these days is it?   That life is found when we give up our 'freedom.'   True freedom doesn't come by just doing whatever we want, by just giving into our emotions and feelings.   True freedom comes when we can choose to do good regardless of what we feel or want.   It comes in being able to go through the day fasting even though our body says it's hungry.   In running into a fire to save a child even though it's burning us or fear wants us to run the other way.   It's in telling the truth even though we are scared of the consequences, even if it might cause our own death.   That's freedom... the other option is slavery.  Slavery to our emotions.  Slavery to our desires.  Slavery to our hormones.  Slavery to our sin. Addiction even.  Habit.

CCC 592 Jesus did not abolish the Law of Sinai, but rather fulfilled it (cf. Mt 5:17-19) with such perfection (cf. Jn 8:46) that he revealed its ultimate meaning (cf.: Mt 5:33) and redeemed the transgressions against it (cf. Heb 9:15).

Jesus in the Gospel does not say that we are free to do whatever we want.   He says rather that he "did not come to abolish the law and the prophets."   Instead he says he "came to fulfill them."  He perfected the Law by obtaining the grace to imbue every action with his very love.   Later in that same text he goes on to say "You have heard it said... but I say to you."   In each of those statements he doesn't relax a single commandment, he increases the difficulty of living them in the Christian life.   We aren't just to not kill, most of us can avoid that... but to avoid even getting angry at someone.   Not just to not commit adultery.. but to not even look at someone with lust or think thoughts that would lead us to that.    To not steal is often not a problem, but he reminds us that it's so much more.. not to even be jealous of someone else's possessions or to hoard things that others might be able to use.

I've learned over the years that there is worth in what I have done.   It's not a perfect offering, that's true.   All good that I do comes from the grace of God.   Yet, God has chosen to work through us as his hands and his feet.   We are the body of Christ and we offer up a living sacrifice to God through our works and our deeds.   That's what the Mass is all about.   When we say those words "May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and Glory of his name, and the good of all His Holy Church,"  we are uniting our sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary!   All those works we have done, all the penance we have accomplished, all the love we have shared in the world... is joined to Christ and made perfect!  It's like an analogy I heard in a Bible study with Father Michael Gaitley... we offer a simple apple to our teacher.. and that's nice.. but Christ's offering turns that apple into something more beautiful... places it on a golden platter and carries it into the heavenly throne room as if it were worth millions!  As Saint James so eloquently puts it, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."  (James 2:18 RSV-CE)

CCC 1968 The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord's Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity.

Yes, everything is through the grace of God including our salvation.   Without Christ and the cross we are not able to do anything at all that will get us to Heaven.   God has given us a task though.   He has given us grace but expects us to make use of it, not to let it sit empty.   It's not faith alone.. it's not works alone.. it's both and... Faith.. works.. baptism... grace.. and all of it boils down to love.   That's how Christ fulfilled the law.. by showing what the law was unable to accomplish... an interior change... a movement of the will... a drop from the head to the heart.  This Lenten season make use of the Sacraments to draw closer to that.   Let God through the graces He offers in His Church transform you, and get anything holding you back out of the way!

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Mass on Wednesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time: March 22, 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Song of Azariah

This mornings first reading is an ancient canticle of praise and hope for God's mercy.  As a young man growing up in a protestant church I had never been aware of these songs.  That is simply because they are no longer in most protestant bibles.  If they are, they are put into a section called the Apocrypha or 'hidden texts.'   Why aren't they there?  When the Jewish reformers began to set down their canon they removed them.   Not because they weren't valuable or beautiful, but simply because of a good old case of semitism.  These were written in Greek, not in Hebrew.   The reformers decided that if it wasn't in Hebrew,  it wasn't from God.  Then when the protestant 'reformation' in the 16th century began they wanted to go back to the roots of the Bible.  The texts they used were not from the Septuagint (the texts that all of the Churches had been using since early Christianity) but rather from the canon set around the second century (shortly after the temple was destroyed.)   So out the window went all the Old Testament texts that were not written in the language of Hebrew.

This first song is such a beautiful testament to faith in God.  It calls out for God's providence and protection as the young men are being thrown into the fire.    One of the most beautiful lines echoes the Psalms (or prefigures): "But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly."  Humility.   Mercy.   Those are not qualities we seem to take note of these days.   To be meek is to be weak according to societies standards.  To be merciful is to be naive.   Yet as Azariah stood in the midst of the burning furnace, he did not try to fight with his own abilities, he did not seek to outwit his attackers or protect himself from the flame.   No, he called on God in humility to show mercy!

In Jesus parable this morning we see what we are called to every time we pray the Our Father.   A servant is forgiven for his debts.   He was about to be sold along with his entire family, all of their possessions and their land!   He begged the king for mercy.  The king was lenient and forgave him his debt. He didn't just give him time to pay it, he forgave the loan in it's entirety.  The servant then went out and found someone who owed him a much smaller amount and demanded it of him.  Instead of mercy the servant threw the man who owed him money into prison.   When the King found out he didn't just cast him into prison but handed him over to the torturers!   "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."   Another version says "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

2843 Thus the Lord's words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end, become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord's teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." It is there, in fact, "in the depths of the heart," that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.

Gods mercy calls for us to come before him with humility and repentance.  It also calls us to go forth and exhibit those same qualities of mercy before and to others.  That's hard to do sometimes.  To forgive someone who has hurt us, or even worse, hurt someone we love.   I can't do that on my own.  That's why these songs of the three men in the furnace or so very valuable to me.  They remind me that God is the one who can transform my heart.   Notice it doesn't say forgive with just your lips.  Nor does it say just to make a mental forgiveness.   Jesus says "unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."  That's a radical forgiveness.. an emotional forgiveness.. a spiritual forgiveness.  That's as the Catechism says allowing the Holy Spirit to transform injury into compassion and hurt into intercession.

982 There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.

That's what confession is all about.  It's not some archaic ritual that seeks to embarrass you.  It is a conscious turning of our will to align with the will of God.   It is stepping before the representative of the Church and saying I want to be a part of our community again.   I want to apologize not just to God, but to the entire body of Christ.  That's because sin doesn't just hurt you.  It hurts you relationship with God, and it injures the entire community.   Just saying I am sorry for something I have done to hurt someone, without ever going to them and apologizing directly to their face... is not true repentance.   True repentance requires presence.  Not a note in the mail.  Not a text.  Not a Facebook message, though in some cases that is all we can do these days.   A true apology seeks to look in the eye and say I am sorry.  True repentance has the humility necessary to let our own pride go to the wayside.  Have you done that lately with Jesus and his Church?   Lent is the time, Easter will be upon us before you know it.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent: March 21, 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Strong, Silent type

I can remember going out to my grandfather's house and walking around in the wood working shop with my dad, uncle, and granddad.   There were so many interesting machines with all these different blades, knobs, and pulleys.  The smell of fresh varnish, the warmth of recently cut oak, the occasional whiff of the wood burning tools.... All formed this intoxicating aroma of manliness to me.   I was always interested in doing things with my hands.  I followed my dad any time I could.   He was kind of the strong and silent type.  In the shop they'd talk a little, but for the most part they'd just work together in silence.   My dad had an amazing work ethic.  When we'd do things with him we would be reminded constantly how important it was to give good, honest work.  "Honest dirt" he'd call it.   It was OK to be dirty if you'd earned it.

CCC 564 By his obedience to Mary and Joseph, as well as by his humble work during the long years in Nazareth, Jesus gives us the example of holiness in the daily life of family and work.

We didn't spend a lot of time talking about God or philosophy.   That would come later.   What I remember though is dad could both make me puff my chest with pride or crush me till I hung my head in shame, all with a glance.  I often wonder about Joseph.   What was it like for Jesus with Joseph growing up.   Did he too walk through Josephs shop running his hand over the various projects and imagining what wonderous beast or household item could be made from the various unhewn blocks.  We don't know much about those years, but we do know one thing about Joseph... He was a man of God.   A man of integrity.   A man of mercy and kindness.

When Mary came to him pregnant he could have reacted in any way.    He could have flung her at the feet of the Sanhedrin and demanded her execution.   He could have publicly ridiculed her with a divorce.   He could have screamed at her and berated her, attempt to make her feel his pain, his fear, his shame.   Instead we are told that he was unwilling to expose her to shame.   He chose to love her in what he thought was her sin.  Then when an angel came and told him the truth of the situation, Joseph too chose to follow God's will.   He didn't listen to the advice of others who would have told him to kick her out, send her away, have nothing to do with this young virgin who showed up with a baby bump.   No he simply took her into his home and protected her and the child as his own.

We have a bad habit of doing the opposite.  We see someone who is different, someone who is doing something we disagree with, and we use the bible and God to shun them.   Some will say at least we aren't stoning people like they did long ago!   Well, that is true... but sometimes stoning seems more merciful than the shame and stigma we place on people who then have to hide who they are, or run away from the Church wanting nothing to do with it's judgment and anger.  "Hate the sin, love the sinner!" Many will proclaim that from the roof top and then meet someone who is different, someone who is struggling with same sex attraction or gender identity and instead of journeying with them and helping them find some sort of healing, they push them away.. declaring them unclean, an abomination, hating them.   They are just as human as we.  We did the same with adults with intellectual disabilities for decades, locking them into facilities behind fences and sound proof walls that we wouldn't hear their vocalizations and be disturbed.  Now we are doing the same with refugees, immigrants, and in many cases Muslims.

CCC 2304 Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is "the tranquility of order." Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.

No, I am not advocating that we encourage others to sin.   Nor am I saying that I believe a person should allow sinful acts or spiritual acts contrary to our faith into their home.   I am saying that Jesus told us to love everyone as ourselves, even our enemy.   If I was making a decision that was so very hard on me that it tore my life apart.. I'd want people to be there for me.   I'd want them to love me anyway.  I'd want them to listen to me, not listen waiting to respond.. but listen to hear my story... hear why I am how I am.. I don't think we do a good job of that at all most of the time.  It has to start now.   In our own homes.  In our own hearts.  In our own work places.   Listening.   Loving.   Journeying with.   Sometimes the person you are journeying with goes down a road you can't follow... that's ok... remind them you'll be there when they come back this way.. and love them.   Like Joseph we must be a strong, reassuring presence.. one that listens for God to speak... and then does what God asks us to do.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 20th, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

You can't squeeze water from a rock... but God can!

There is this strange thing about us humans, probably because of our concupiscence, that makes us always be unsatisfied with just about everything.   We see someone else getting something we want, or doing something we normally would do, and we criticize or gripe and complain.   It makes the work place a dangerous place filled with gossip and discontent.   It turns the home into a sad, disagreeable existence. The funny thing is half the time we are content until someone else begins to complain or to point out what we should 'want'.   We have been given so many blessings but then we see a single blessing or benefit we don't have, or a single thing unpleasant, and we focus on it.

One time one of the kids was constantly chatting during Mass, even when I asked them to stop. Finally I came over and whispered, what is the problem?   She launched into a tirade of how this person was doing this wrong, and that person this wrong.   Now on one hand I understood.   It was the Mass.   These people were behaving disrespectfully.   It started to grate on me and soon I was annoyed to.   After Mass though I took her to the side and said "If we constantly watch other people and criticize what they are doing, then we can't keep our eyes on God.  We are doing it wrong."  It's funny how trying to see people as Jesus instead of just another human in the room completely changes how we view the Mass.   There is a gentleman who, God bless his heart, loves to sing.. but can hardly breath.   Sometimes when there is complete silence in our worship, his labored breath will echo throughout the sound system.  Today it happened again.  Many times I've been annoyed by it, thinking they should cut off his microphone!  Or move him back a row!

How shallow are those thoughts?   I often wonder if they are even mine, or planted displeasure by the enemy trying to keep me from focusing.   Today though, my mind immediately went to a First Friday devotional that I had read long ago.   In it, it spoke of Jesus' heart beating in the tabernacle, longing for us.   Today his breathing made me ponder the mystery of the Eucharist, and glimpse maybe a vision of Jesus breathing behind that veil.   Grumbling became something different, because my mind wasn't focused on myself and my comfort.. but on Jesus. On the other.

The Israelites in the desert had the same experience.  They had just left Egypt where they were enslaved and treated harshly.  Now here they are in the desert and have lost sight of God, and instead are just focused on themselves.   Hungry and thirsty they wonder if Moses just brought them into the desert to die.   They no longer even wonder if Moses is being lead by God, but rather accuse him of tricking them.  Then God provides a glimpse of Him again, as He showers them with water from the rocks themselves.  They had already forgotten all the miracles they had witnessed.   Plagues, pestilences, fiery mountains, and parting waters.  All they can focus on is the here and now, their vision of eternity has been limited.    In a way, they are testing God... a prefiguring  of Jesus to come in the desert who when being tempted the same way... proclaimed ¨Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.¨

2119 Tempting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed. Thus Satan tried to induce Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple and, by this gesture, force God to act. Jesus opposed Satan with the word of God: "You shall not put the LORD your God to the test." The challenge contained in such tempting of God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence, and his power.

Then we see in the Gospel reading the story of the Samaritan woman.   All she can think about is water at first.   Here she is in the heat of the day, which shows us that she wasn't part of the community.  All the other women came in the early morning when it was still cool.   She was an outsider.   Then a holy man, a prophet, God himself speaks to her.  One moment she is just talking about water and wondering how this man can make it to where she not only doesn't have to work so hard to get water, but doesn't have to face the stigma of coming out in front of the community... the shame of not being able to be seen with the other women.  The encounter with Jesus not only leads her beyond the mere physical needs of thirst and hunger.. but in the end she runs off as one of the first disciples, an evangelist who leaves behind her water jug!   She doesn't need it anymore!  She's after living water!  Her dignity restored by God himself, she witnesses to the people and on her word (the word of a woman, and a sinful one at that!) brings the people out to meet Jesus and experience for themselves this metanoia experience.

How often have we made that mistake?   The fault of falling into a prosperity gospel mindset, where the physical is what we long for?   Praying to win the lottery.   Praying for a new car.  Praying that God would give us more than what we have.  As if He was simply some ATM with which to get food and drink.  Yes, every blessing we have comes from God... but it wasn't that they wanted water or food... we have to have those things to live... it was that they had already lost their trust in God.   He knows all the birds and the flowers, yet aren't we worth more than that?  That's why we are constantly reminded by the saints that being joyful is part of being Christian.  Oh how I need to work on that!  Being joyful not because you have no adversity, but being joyful despite the adversity!  God didn't promise us a bed of roses, but challenged us to take up a cross and follow Him.   Are we willing to do that?  Do we pray with that in mind? Or are we grumbling in the desert of this world about the lack of what we think we need, when in reality all we need is to come to the source and drink deeply of the living water in the Sacraments of His church?

As Delmar said in Oh Brother, Where Art Though... "come on boys, the water's fine!"

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Third Sunday in Lent: March 19, 2017.