Monday, July 31, 2017

We are at war.

July 31, 2017

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Lectionary: 401

EX 32:15-24, 30-34

PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23

MT 13:31-35

I’m not here to make friends.   That was part of my erroneous motto when I first became an electrical foreman.  The companies had sent me out to get a job finished and that was my goal.  The way I had been trained is that the company comes first.  I think that’s one of the two most common extremes.  Some leaders seek to please the people, letting them run amok and doing what they want.   Others are so strict that the people themselves cease to matter.  The reality of leadership should be somewhere in the middle.  Not either or, but both, and.   A good leader is one who never asks her/his crew to do anything they also wouldn’t be doing, and at the same time never forgets that the people he/she works with are just that, people.  That way both can be done.  The people can be respected for their dignity while at the same time getting the task at hand finished.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a military man.  His mind was set up for that kind of regimented life.  So when he found himself wounded and confined to a room, imagine the turmoil going through his mind.  Before even the radio or telephone, let alone the internet, this man had only one recourse to entertainment in his hours of solitude: books.   He found himself spending hour upon hour reading the only two books available, a book about Christ and one about the Saints.   This led to not only his conversion but one of the greatest forms of spiritual prayer known to the church: the Spiritual Exercises.  Ignatius realized that even when lying in the bed wounded and recovering, we are still at war.    There are forces out there that want to tempt us and a fleshly body that often has desires of its own, which must be handled and not always given into.

Aaron made that mistake, he was the first kind of leader, the one who gives the people what they want.   While Moses was on top of the mountain, they formed an idol and began to worship with orgies and revelry.  As they came down the mountain one said it sounds like a battle, the other that it sounds like a drunken party.  Both were right.  It was a battle for souls.  One that can only be handled with the armor of God, and the sword of the Word.  So how do we begin?  I think that what we learn from St. Ignatius is that sometimes we have to stop trying to fight the war on our own, and spend time with God in silence alone.  It’s in those moments, using spiritual aids such as good books, prayer time, the Sacred Scriptures, and above all the Sacraments; that we begin to truly become closer to God and find our way toward the Kingdom.

Are you taking the time to do that?  A friend of mine and I were just talking earlier about how easy it is to let life get in the way of our relationship with God.  It requires discipline.  Jesus said that those who are not obedient to Him do not have life in them, and are not part of Him.  Don’t wait till tomorrow. Don’t let the devil convince you that you’re already in trouble, why not start when things get easier.   Start now.  Today.  Make some time, even if it’s just a few minutes, to sit with God in silence.   Listen to His voice as He leads you, like He led St. Ignatius and all the others, further into a relationship.  Then realize that you too are called to be a leader, regardless of who you are.  By baptism, you are priest, prophet, and king.  Which kind of leader are you?  The one who lets everyone do whatever they want, regardless of the risk to their soul?  The kind that doesn’t care about the other but only your own glory and comfort?  Or the one who gets the job done, while still growing in relationship with the people, and keeping their dignity intact.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Get a fresh look at some old rules.

July 28, 2017

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 399

EX 20:1-17

PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11

MT 13:18-23

In the desert, God gave this nomadic tribe of warriors ten simple commandments to live by.  We have spent thousands of years unpacking that decade of seemingly elementary rules.   The Israelites themselves began to understand their significance to daily life as they grew from a simple warring tribe into a great nation.  They took it seriously that they were to be God’s people and that their lives should reflect that to the world around them.   What began as shall not kill, began to be digested into how that applied to revenge, livestock, and accidental death.  God never changes, nor does His commandments, but our understanding of the great mystery of who He is and what His law means to us is still developing and will continue to do so as long as man exists.

The funny thing about that parable in the new testament, one that we’ve been seeing frequently at Daily Mass and Weekends for some weeks now, is that every time we see it, it still speaks to us freshly.  Unpacking just the meaning of the sower and the seed, and then digesting it in reference to today’s society and culture, requires looking at it freshly time and again.  While we are different every day, every year, we still have much in common with that primitive early tribe of warriors.   We still have those who respond with gusto and fall away.   Those who turn the law into some kind of rigid system that does not allow love.  Then there are those who are open to God’s prompting in their hearts, and they let those simple commandments blossom into an amazing plant, the Church.

Humanities understanding of who we are has grown a great deal over the centuries.  As Catholics, we separate the two commandments of “coveting your neighbor's goods” and “coveting your neighbor’s wife.”   Why?   We realize that no human is a possession.  A wife is a person, with her own free will, her own desires, and passions.  There is still much to work on.  While the deposit of faith is complete, divine revelation has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus and He is the key to understanding the mystery of who God is.  We are still working on human dignity, from conception to natural death.   It is a constant struggle to obtain equal rights for all people.  There are prejudices ingrained in us so deeply that many of us don’t even know that they are there until we stumble upon them.  So we cling to what we know, and we build upon it.  Never contradicting it or changing it, but realizing that it is in the inner self that change truly begins.

The interesting thing about spiritual gifts is that in order to keep them we must let them grow.  We must share them in a world so in need of love that it is hurting.   We can’t keep all of it bottled up inside.  We honor God, we put Him first in all things, and that puts life in perspective.  Someone the other day said, “I know your anti-exercise….”  No, I am not anti-exercise.   I am all for exercise and healthy eating.  What I am, is anti-putting-anything-before-God-in-my-life.  That means exercise, eating right, watching television, listening to the station, even just sitting on the couch vegging out requires that it be for the right reasons.  We need to rest, God even kept that in his commandments.  We need to be healthy, or we can’t serve our families or churches.  What I need in my life, to keep in the forefront of my mind, is that my spiritual health is more important than all of those.  It’s not either or though. All of those are still important!  They shouldn’t replace our faith though, but supplement it and nourish it so that it can help me grow into that person God has created me to be.

Seek the treasure!

July 30, 2017

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 109

1 KGS 3:5, 7-12

PS 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130

ROM 8:28-30

MT 13:44-52

All of humanity yearns for an encounter with the divine.  Even those who profess atheism are designed to yearn for God.   As Saint Augustine once phrased it:  "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you."   In Solomon’s dream, he had such an encounter with God.  How would we respond?   If you came face to face with Jesus, what would you say?  There is a popular song that says “I can only imagine.”  Will I dance for you?  To my knees will I fall?  I often wonder if given that one “wish” that Solomon was given, what would I ask for?

Solomon, like the rest of us humans, doubted his own abilities.   His worthiness.  He said he did not know how to act.  With all that responsibility being foisted upon his young, inexperienced shoulders, he turned to the only source he knew of for help.  He did not ask for success.  Nor did he inquire for more wealth, military prowess, or even a larger harem.   All he asked for in his moment of need was wisdom.  To be wise enough to lead his people according to God’s plan.  He trusted that knowing right from wrong, being able to understand God on the level of truth, would be enough to make the kingdom great.  To be a good leader he must be the kind of leader that makes decisions that go along with God’s will.

As an Aspirant to the Diaconate, I understand this doubt.   The feeling that I am not worthy.  Knowing how often my heart is tempted to sinfulness and my flesh has a mind of its own, why would God call such an unworthy creature to his service?  Why would he choose someone who isn’t already well acquainted with theology, the Saints, the Church, and all the other things we have been studying?  Because He qualifies the chosen.   By choosing to remain humble, to realize I am not worthy and never will be, but that God has chosen me to do things, it is then that I am able to pray with Solomon and all the Saints for the kind of wisdom and humility that only comes from a personal relationship with God and His people.

That also means having what Solomon calls an understanding heart.  There is a wonderful book out there, no longer in circulation, called the Understanding Heart by Msgr. Brady.  In this book, he talks about the need for those of us in ministry to be able to listen without interjecting ourselves into the conversation.  To truly be present to the person speaking to you in a way that lets you understand who they are, not in the context of my story, but solely in the context of theirs.   That means not listening to respond, but listening to learn.    In this way, you can die to yourself, let you fade away for a moment, and simply be Jesus listening to His brother or sister, and affirm who they are.   That’s a powerful way to do things. To truly step into their world, their shoes.   Not to simply agree with them but to know how they feel and why.

I think that’s a big part of what God’s plan is for all of humanity.  I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is presented to every single person, whether they are looking for it or not.  In today’s Gospel, we see several parables of people finding the great treasure in a field.  Some of them were looking for it, and once they found it they sold everything they had to buy it.  Others stumbled across it, not knowing what it was or even that they were seeking it, but simply were tripped up by this change in their lives.  Then they did something so foreign to the way we live in our capitalistic consumer based society:  they sold everything they had just to buy this one treasure.  

Part of the wisdom that Solomon asked for was already present in him.  He knew that money didn’t buy happiness.   That happiness could only be found with God.  Wisdom requires us knowing that material possessions will not make us happy.  No amount of money, sensual pleasures, fancy cars or diamond rings are going to make life better in the long run.   They fill that empty ache in our hearts for a time, but eventually, we find they weren’t enough.  If we continue to seek that same ‘high’ again, we just go in a spiral for more and more.   The man who craves more finds that more is never enough.  It’s always just out of reach.  Just over that next hill.

That’s because the Scriptures reveal to us that true happiness comes in the form of a cross.   Not a cross only at specific times, but one that we carry for our entire lives.  That doesn’t mean that every person will suffer chronic pain, though some do.   Nor does it mean that every Christian will be poor materially, though many are.  What it does mean is that we have to be detached from all that we own and have.  That all of those things must be secondary to the walk with Christ down the Way.   A Priest on Relevant Radio once said: “When we are in love with the cross, it is a cross that is no longer a cross.”   It means realizing that there is something greater than this world ahead and that we should be getting our bodies, minds, and souls ready for the next life.

We also see this parable of the net cast into the sea.  Like those nets, God doesn't just call one type of person, denomination or religion.   He calls all of us.  He casts his net into the ocean and drags up everything that comes in contact with it.  That doesn’t mean every person will remain in the net.  Nor does it mean that everything caught will be kept as good.  Just like fishing in the ocean, some things are pleasant for food and others are thrown in the trash or back in the water.  At the end of time, all of us will be faced with that.  We will face the true Fisherman who will ask us the same question that He asks in the Gospel today.   “Do you understand all these things?”

Do we?  Just because we are in the field doesn’t mean we are the wheat.  Many people sit in the pew without ever being converted.  God’s kingdom is not one stormed by force, but only with humility.  He offers to us so much mercy, so freely that all we have to do is ask for it.  Seek it through the ordinary means He has established.  The Sacraments.  The Church.  The Sacred Scriptures.   All of these are nets that reach out into the world scooping up all who come in contact with them, but it’s not enough just to receive them.  We must receive them with a humble contrite heart and afflicted spirit.   There will be many at the Lord’s table that we did not expect, and many of us who seem to be surely going may not make it.  We must be more than just active, but living in Christ.   We must be unattached to the world, and completely dependent on God for all things.

Christ is the great treasure, hidden in the field.  What so many have failed to grasp over the centuries are the simple truths expressed to those on the road to Emmaus.   Christ is hidden in the Old Testament and manifested in the New.  Only by the Cross and the Resurrection can we ever begin to understand the mysteries that are contained therein.  It is Jesus who is the key to all fulfillment, all prophecy.  The wise man finds Him in both the Old and the New.  It requires searching.  Once you find it, you must cherish it, keep it buried in your heart and get rid of all things which draw you away from Him.  

Do you understand then all these things?  Go and do.  Act.  Go into the storeroom of grace that is the Church, bring out the Old and the New into the world and help them find that treasure as well.  It shouldn’t be hidden anymore.  It doesn’t diminish when someone else finds it too.  Rather, it should be shared with everyone.  God’s plan is for us to have a future, not to have harm.  Are you helping that plan along?  Seeking the lost children of the Father out in the world?  It is indeed a personal relationship, but not just a personal one.   It’s a communal thing we have here.  The body of Christ.  The body should work together for the health of all, not just for their own.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A break dancing priest? Say what!?

July 26, 2017

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 397

EX 16:1-5, 9-15

PS 78:18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28

MT 13:1-9

My ten year old and I have been going to Mass together the last few days.   I don’t force her to go to daily Mass.  I invite her.  The last two days she has really had no choice.  Her sisters weren’t home and I had the honor of being lector so I really wanted to go.  It was great having her there.  She walks around with me as I do things.  Genuflects towards the tabernacle and feels comfortable enough to join in on discussions.  She also talks kindly to the other people there when they interact with her.  It’s good to see that she not only respects our religion but also has the demeanor of someone who is really kind and patient with others.  That’s important to me as a parent.

With today being the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, I think it’s important that we remember that.  Our example is the first and foremost pedagogy for our children.  It’s not someone else's job to teach our children their faith.   It’s great when a Church offers Religious Education or a Bible Study, but those should be secondary tools to flesh out what they already know.  They should see us, the parents, living a Sacramental life.  Sure, there are times they aren’t going to come when you invite them to Mass.  There are gonna be days when they roll their eyes at you when you offer them the opportunity to go visit Jesus in Adoration or to go to Confession with you on Saturday.   The key though is they must see it!  Let them say no.  Let them roll their eyes.  But let them see that you believe!  

We don’t know much about Joachim and Anne.   We know their names only from a document that isn’t even considered divine revelation, an apocryphal book called the Protevangelium of James.   Any details we have on their lives are possibly legends, though some have claimed to have visions to see them.  None of that is required belief, all private revelation that you can believe or not.   What we do know about them is the kind of girl they raised.   They raised a devout believer who said an absolute Yes to God’s plan in her life.  Even if it meant suffering and persecution.  What kind of kids are we raising?  My kids are good kids.  We would all say that right?  What they need, what they deserve, is a good set of parents.  Parents, who no matter what life throws at them, trust in God and head to the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and Prayer.

Let them see you praying.  Alone and together.  Let them hear you saying a rosary, doing Lectio Divina, or the divine office.   Make sure they know when you are going to Mass and never let them forget they are welcome, and that you want them there!   Make sure they know you want them to be a part of your faith life, that you feel more complete when they are with you.  That’s what this faith should be about.  I am better with Jesus, and I want them to know Him so He can show them the best of themselves.  So far I’ve spoken only about parents, but this applies to all Christians.  Aunts, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends, teachers, priests and religious.   Let the youth see you practicing your faith, and not just practicing it, but being joyful in the process!  

Recently there was an uproar over a Priest who was break dancing.   Should he be doing that, some gasped!?   Yes!   Let him dance!  Let the youth see that the Catholic faith isn’t supposed to turn us into sour pickles that have no fun.  It's supposed to free us from the shackles of sin that we can find holy and righteous ways to be joyful.  Dancing, adoring, praising, singing, and sitting quietly.  There are times for all of it.  Jesus should bring us life, not death.   Joy, not sadness.  Peace, not anxiety.  There will be times when we feel the whole gambit of emotions, just like the in the Psalms.  There will be ups and downs.   We need to show them where to go when we experience both, and that should be to Jesus in the Sacraments, in the Church, and in each other.

Is your cup already full?

July 27, 2017

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 398

EX 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20B

DANIEL 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56

MT 13:10-17

In the modern day of the internet, we seem to have a paradox.   While on one hand, we have one we have a nation of people who tend to avoid reading difficult and challenging books, on the other, we seem to have developed an entire nation of experts on every subject.  With the advent of the digital search engine, we have become a nation of honorary google doctors, lawyers, and political analysts.   One of the most common, and perhaps to only me, most annoying phrases that seem to be used in the vernacular is “I know.”  No matter what the subject matter or the depth of the conversation, everyone already knows.  It is as if we are afraid of not knowing, of appearing uneducated or ignorant.

In Jesus parable today he reminds us of a spiritual reality.   He is not talking about taking away our precious toys.  God is not our Bilbo and we are not Golem.  What He is speaking of is a plague among our current culture.   That if we already have all the answers, how can we learn anything?   People seem to grow in anger if you dare question their ability to do anything.  Criticism is received as a personal attack, even if the intention of the person giving it is of the most beautiful in nature.  We almost seem to think just having knowledge is the same as understanding it.   Try that with any field of specialization and the results can be devastating.   I know the theories behind a particle beam accelerator and what it does internally on a quantum level.   Put me in charge of one?  I’ll mess it up.   I know it... But I also don’t know it.

Just so with our faith.  If we feel like we have already arrived, how can we grow?   If we do not feed our faith with Scripture, Prayer, the Sacraments, and all the other means of grace in the world; how then can we keep hold of it?  The devil and his spiritual cohorts are seeking to strip you of that faith at every moment.  The volleys of temptation rain down from outside the walls of our spiritual armor and if we have not refreshed it, we are more apt to fall into them.  He who has a little faith and does not seek to grow it will watch it dwindle until eventually, the fire blows out.  He who is on fire, and kindles that fire, and allows the Holy Spirit to fuel it, will continue to grow.  Unlike the laws of thermodynamics, in the spiritual realm, you do not get diminishing returns.  The more faith you have, the more you can receive.

I know what it means to receive the Eucharist.   I have studied for years and I know the theology and the definitions of those big words used to describe it.  If you ask me to speak about it I can talk for hours (some say I never shut up).   The thing is, do I really know?  If I did, would you be able to keep me away from Mass?  From Adoration?  From Confession?  If the world truly understood what the gift of the Church is, the pews would not only be full, but there would be lines into the parking lot and beyond.   The sound of the Church bells ringing would cause everyone to pause and give thanks, even if they weren’t at the Parish itself.  I think today we should ask ourselves, am I open to learning?  To growing in reverence and holiness?  Or is my cup so full of answers that I have no room to let God in as a teacher?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The wheat and the weeds.

July 23, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 106

WIS 12:13, 16-19

PS 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16

ROM 8:26-27

MT 13:24-43

My friend, who I will refer to as the Huckleberry, and I were just talking the other day about our summer assignment.  As men going from Aspirancy into Candidacy, we have been given the task of writing a daily homily for the Mass readings each day throughout the summer.  Huck and I were talking about how easy it was to fall back into the same thing that we wrote about last year, and how often it seemed like it was the same message over and over.  That’s not a bad thing, as long as the message is good, right?  There is also something to be said about freshening up that image and making it speak to the current climate politically, socially, and economically.  “Know your audience.”   That’s always good advice.

This got me to really think about the parable of the wheat and the weeds though.  I’ve been writing this blog for around seven years now.  In that time I’ve come across this parable a few times.  Each time I’ve written about false wheat (Lolium temulentum, Darnel).  I’ve talked about the properties of this weed and how much it mimics real wheat.  Darnel though doesn’t look like wheat in one particular moment, and that is at the time of harvest.  Wheat gets heavy and the dried stalk can’t support the weight of all its fruit, so it bends over.  It bows down.  Darnel is light and the fruit is fake, it has no weight.   So it stands up straight and tall.   That’s a good message to remember, both that real fruit has substance, and also that true Christianity requires humility.  It requires us to bow at the end of the harvest to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not to stand tall with a false sense of pride.

I didn’t want to write that same message this year.  So I’ve spent many hours in prayer, mulling over the parable and the readings for Sunday.  What I want to talk about first off is what it means to be a weed.   A weed is a wild plant, growing where it is not wanted.   That doesn’t mean a weed is useless.   In fact, sometimes a weed can be very useful.   What it does mean is that the weed is not producing the fruit the farmer wants.  It also means that it is using up the nutrients in the soil, the water, and potentially the sunlight that the other plants, the crops, need to be fruitful.  Some weeds even look more attractive to the eye than the plants that produce the fruit.   They smell good, they have nice looks to them, and as far as production?  They grow fast and haphazardly.

To be a weed then means to not produce the fruit the farmer intends from that plot of land.  It means to grow however it wants to grow.  As I was ‘weeding’ my little garden out front this morning I noticed lots of little plants growing.  Plants I didn’t put there.  Plants that the seeds got there from other places.  I also noticed that one of the fruits on the tomato plant had started to rot.   Its end was starting to drip and it looked bruised and unpleasant.  Something important is there for the rest of us.  This tomato plant wasn’t bad.   It was growing exactly where I wanted it to grow.  It was producing exactly the kind of tomatoes I expected it to produce.  Yet, the fruit here wasn’t what I wanted out of it.  So I had to remove it.  I had to prune it.   The fruit on its own wasn’t bad…  but it wasn’t the fruit I had in mind.

A lot of times we want to be the farmer.   We want to point out the fruit of this person or that person and declare them the weeds.   In our hubris, we want to be the one who decides which one of us is the good plant, producing the good fruit, and which one of us is the weed.  That’s not our job.  Now there is a difference in looking at fruit and deciding if it’s good.  That’s discernment.  There is also a difference in warning our neighbors that the fruit they are producing is bad fruit.  That’s important work for the Christian brotherhood, to help one another and aid a reformation.  It’s quite another to declare them a weed.  Worthless.  Not able to produce fruit.

The thing is all of us have produced bruised and broken fruit.  We’ve produced lumpy apples that no one in our American supermarkets would want to buy.  Our cucumbers have been too watery at one moment, and at others dry and cracking.  We’ve suffered from blossom end rot, and root rot from too much of this or too little of that.  That doesn’t make us a weed.  It makes us human.  It makes us a plant that is struggling to produce that perfect fruit that only can be produced with the grace of God as our nourishment and care.

As the soil in the garden, it’s our job to receive our seeds directly from Him. We aren’t the farmer.  We don’t get to choose which seeds are good for us and bad because He can see things and knows things we don’t.  What we have to do then is discern which seeds are growing which plants.  All too often I want to be just the wheat when I’m also the dirt.  I’m the clay that He has molded into a man.  To produce the wheat we must first work on the soil.  Even the way I said that was wrong.   We must first let the farmer, not ourselves, tend the soil, and that requires putting ourselves into the hands of Jesus with all things.

Then we are also the plant, as in this parable.  We take the seed we’ve been given and we try to nourish it.   That means continually working with God, receiving the grace He has offered us through the Sacraments, to continually replenish the soil.  Almost like a supernatural Miracle Grow, the Eucharist floods us with everything we need to produce fruit.   Then the gardener has to prune those branches that aren’t working so well.   Even branches that might seem like good things, branches that on other plants produce tremendous fruit, might have to be pruned from your life that you can continue to grow where He has designed you to grow.

For some, a casual drink is an opportunity to relax with others and to spend time speaking and witnessing, for another that same drink is a poison that must be removed.  To the person who has a great deal of time taking on a new ministry might be just what they need to flourish and grow, but to the man who is already doing what He is called to do and is at his limits physically and temporally, another ministry might make other fruits rot or drop to the ground because of lack of attention and nutrients. That’s why discernment is so important.  Those called to ministry are often the same people, doing all the work.   You find the same people on the Pastoral Council, serving as Lectors, Commentators, and Eucharistic Ministers.  None of those are bad things.  We are a big garden, with lots of plants, and some of them need to step in and produce fruits.  Sometimes those who are already growing need to say no, that their yeses may be more abundant in the area they are already called to be.

I think the most important lesson though of all of this, the one that is most abused in this world, is we are not the gardener.  We are not the ones called at the end of time to sort the wheat from the weeds.  We are just the plants who must channel our energies into the fruit that we are designed to produce.  We must make sure our roots are going into the right parts of the soil, drawing from the tree of life itself, drenched in the water that flows from the side of Christ in the Sacraments, that our fruit may be both nourishing and pleasant to the senses.   We don’t get to kick the weeds out of our midst.   We also don’t get to decide who is a weed and who a proper plant.  All we get to do is grow, and help them grow.  

How do we do that though?  We point them to the right sources of nourishment.  We show them the best place to be to receive the rays of the sun.   We move out of the way that they too can see clearly the warm rays of life that stream down from the Eucharist.  We journey with them realizing that they too are plants just like us, that even the ones who aren’t producing the best fruit, have in some way produced some.  That each person produces both good and bad fruit at different stages of their life.  It’s not too late for them, and it’s not too late for us.  As long as we are still growing we have a chance.  As long as life still flows through the veins of our mortal bodies, we have the option of becoming that plant or that weed.

We then, like the Christ we so emulate becoming, become lenient and merciful.  We look at the fruit being produced, and even if it’s not the best we laud them for their efforts.   We mourn the loss of good fruit as it falls to the ground, knowing that it was an attempt that was broken by the storms, the evil of the world.   We clearly label those fruits which are not welcome in the garden, and we trust in the Church to guide us to the correct soil, the right nutrients, and the pure water that flows from the throne of God.  Then we don’t try to be the one plant who grows up to block all the others.

That, my friends, is the other thing that I would declare a weed.   A plant that blocks the other plants from growing, that tries to push them out of the way that they don’t hinder his growth.   That’s never the attitude that a garden wants.  The purpose of a garden is to grow the most fruit, and maybe even more importantly, the fruit the gardener demands of it.  A garden that is grown to nourish a man should have a multitude of colors and shapes.   One fruit alone will not nourish forever, nor would it be the design of most gardeners.  It requires all of the fruits, all the different shapes, sizes, and colors.  If one plant were to grow up to block the sun from all the others, the garden would suffer. If it were to dig it's rooted in to try and take all of the grace of itself, neglecting to share it and pass it on to the rest of the plants?  Then it would starve the rest for its own self.

What Christ calls us to though is to be servants.   To be the plant that grows with and for the other plants.   That moves its leaves to the side, not seeking to be seen for its own worth, but to point to and guide others to the source of Life, Christ.  The image of the book of Revelation says that there will be no need for moon or sun, lamp or candle, for Christ will be the only light we need.  That’s our calling.   To point to that light.  The source of all life and nourishment.  To grow to produce fruit, but also to reach out to all of those around us and help the entire garden succeed.

The gravest error in Christianity today is the notion that it is just a personal relationship with Jesus.  That somehow I alone have access to God, and that your walk, your salvation has nothing to do with me.  This notion that it’s a personal relationship is true, but it’s not just a personal one.  It’s also a communal one.   It’s an entire world of people who are in this garden.  Not just the ones in our pews, or in our faith.  Are we reaching out to them to show them the better angle for the light?  Or helping them find their Abrahamic roots to guide them to the fresh water that flows deep underneath?  Do we make sure we don’t crowd them out, suffocate them by our own growth in such a way that they are repelled by our attitudes? Our false piety?  Our overbearing attitudes?

Are we a candle in the night, a will-o-wisp dancing enticingly along the path leading them toward the true source of enlightenment?  Or are we simply a spot light, harsh and abusive, blinding the vision and scorching the eyes.  Do we help them to see for their next step toward Eternity? Or are we causing them to stumble off the path, clutching at the wounds we have caused, reeling away from the garden that they so need to be a part of? With all that in mind… am I a plant in God’s garden, or just a weed pretending to be useful, but causing more damage than I can heal?  It’s not too late… but we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.  Now is the time of salvation, now is the time to get the Confession that the bad seed might be removed from our particular plot of soil, that we can begin to reach like a new seedling toward the light cautiously in this new world of wonder.   To stumble forward from the mediocrity of lukewarm life, and onto the path that leads down the aisle toward the Eucharist, elevated and offered for us.

Let’s not journey down that aisle alone.  Let’s reach out our hand in offering to all people, giving them generously of all the grace we have received at that Table.  Not holding on to the nourishment we have received until it rots on our limbs, falling to the ground to lay swollen and uneaten.  But freely giving of what we got from no merit of our own, pouring that grace right out onto the next plant and the next so that all of us can produce a harvest the likes no man has ever seen before.   The gathering in the barn is the goal, and no one wants to be at the wedding feast alone.  You make me more complete.  You make me better.  We are better together.  One bread.  One body.

What do you thirst for?

July 25, 2017

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

Lectionary: 605

2 COR 4:7-15

PS 126:1BC-2AB, 2CD-3, 4-5, 6

MT 20:20-28

Our world has become one of comfort.   In the United States especially, we have become almost hedonistic in the way we view things.   We want our burgers our way, our food fast and also luxuriant, and our cars to have leather heated seats and automatic everything.  We avoid suffering at all costs.  Almost every home has an air conditioner, every car as well.  That hurts?  Take a pill.   Go to the doctor.  Get some narcotics.   Going through a rough patch?  Emotions out of control?  Throw some pills at them and get numb till you get past it.  Don’t get me wrong.  As a man with nerve damage and constant back pain, I take my share of medicine to sleep at night and get through the day.  But what about willingly giving up comfort?  Choosing to go hungry?  Turning off the air conditioner and sweating it out?

We tend to think of the cross as special moments, an occasional thing.  On the feast of Saint James, we are reminded that the cross is supposed to be a part of our lives, every single moment.  “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”  What does it mean then to be dying at all times?  To be constantly given up to death?  It’s not talking about being sick and ill for the sake of suffering, though that can become a beautiful life.   It’s talking about mortification.  Choosing to be hungry that others might eat.   Willfully suffering that another might have comfort.  Giving up this that they may have that.

During Lent, we are pretty good at that, though sometimes we just give up chocolate for 40 days and go right back to eating with no change in our lives.  Jesus reminds us to be servants to others.   That our goal is to drink the cup that He drank.  That our goal should be to be so in love with Christ that we will give up our dinner that someone we don’t even know might have theirs.   That we go into the coffee shop on Monday and buy a black cup of coffee for a dollar, instead of the double foam decaf chai mocha latte for $7.50 that we really want, but then we go further and give the $6.50 we saved away to someone else.  Someone in need.  It means willingly mortifying ourselves, to gain discipline and obedience, not to gain honor or glory.  

So the next time we approach that cup, that chalice at Mass filled with the precious Blood of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ; the next time that we look into the eyes of the minister who raises that cup of challenge up and says to us “The Blood of Christ”; that in that moment when we are about to respond “Amen.”; that is when Christ is saying to us: "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?"  That’s not a chalice that goes away on some days and comes back on another.  It’s a lifetime of mortification, a commitment to relieve the suffering of others, even at our own expense.  Without thought of reward, honor, or dignity for me, but only with the thought of the other.  Can I drink that cup?  Lord help me, because I want to say with John and James, “I can.”  I’m not strong enough on my own, so give me the grace to be more like you.
Mother Teresa taught that when Jesus said “I thirst” on the cross, He was thirsting for us.  For our love, our companionship.  That in His death, all He could think about was me.  This sinner who has hurt Him so many times in the past, was what consumed Him as He took His last breath.  When I do fast, I find that all I can think about is food.  I end up planning dinner for hours as I wait for that time to appear on the clock for me to be able to eat again.  I am consumed with it.   All other things seem overridden by that desire just to eat.  That’s how He felt about me.  Now He asks me to do the same… to take that cup into my heart and for me to go out and thirst for you… all of you, regardless if know you, like you or if you can do anything for me.  Are you ready to say that Amen? Think about that very carefully as you walk forward to receive Him at the next Mass you attend… what it truly means to stand up there in front of God and man and say “Amen.”  Then to go forth, to share that cup with the world.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Between a Rock and Hard Place

July 24, 2017

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 395

EX 14:5-18

EX 15:1BC-2, 3-4, 5-6

MT 12:38-42

The Israelites had found a new freedom as they journeyed out of Egypt.  The men and women who had seen God work his mighty miracles for them, saving them from the hand of Pharaoh, now marched around the countryside and eventually camped at Pi-hahiroth.  There they found themselves in a very dire predicament indeed.  To the north was Etham, the “shut in”.   They couldn’t go in that direction.  To the west was the Migdol watch tower, a rough and unpleasant terrain that would be difficult to pass.  To the south was the mouth of Pi-hahiroth, surrounded by water.   To the east the red sea, and the looming mountain of the ocean god, Baal-zephon.  Surrounded by dead ends, rough waters, and false gods; they panicked at the sight of the Egyptian army in all it’s might approaching from the only pass to the south west.  

They begin to grumble against God and Moses.  The same people who watched the plagues flow freely on the nation approaching in chariots could see no way for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to free them from this predicament.   They start demanding another sign.  They start wishing they were back in slavery, why come out into freedom just to die in the desert?  Give us back our sins, our flesh pots, and our bondage!  Moses tells them to be still!  In Hebrew it is written, “Have peace!”  Then God tells Moses, “Why are you calling out to me?” Did Moses know the plan?  Maybe, maybe not.  What God reminded Moses was just follow through.  Stand your ground, and go where I tell you when I tell you.

How often do we start out strong on the walk in faith and then when confronted with the mountains of temptation looming in the distance, surrounded by the enticements of our old lives, and hemmed in by the rocks of confrontation begin to doubt?  Begin to grumble and cry out?  Why do I go through all this?  Why put me through all this?  Look at them over there, blessed beyond measure and living a life of luxury and sin, while I struggle?  God tells you first off to have peace!  You know the plan.    Secondly, stand firmly on the solid ground.   The ground of your Baptism, the ground that parted the waters of eternal life and allowed you to march through.  Then to march where and when He tells you to.  Keep trudging through the path He has shown you until you get to the other side.

Almost 1500 years later, with God himself standing mere feet in front of them, the Israelites gathered around Jesus demanding yet again another sign.   They had seen Him feed people, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and even bring the dead to life.  They who knew the stories of their ancestors and that God provided said: “Just show me a sign that it’s all real, just one more!” Oh how we bargain with God!   Just make it clear to me God and then I’ll start moving.   Tell me one more time!  Like Jim Carrey in the movie Bruce Almighty, we drive down a road filled with signs telling us we are going the wrong way and keep demanding for a different answer, one we are more comfortable with.  God has given us the greatest sign of all, in the risen Lord.   Then He gave us the Eucharist in which we encounter that same Christ every single day if we choose in the Mass.   So have peace, stand firm in your faith, and receive Him as you march forth on the ground He has swept clear of all that stands in your way, into eternal life.

Friday, July 21, 2017

In the first reading today we see the institution of a ritual so important that God told the nation of Israel to set it as the head of their calendar. The most important date of the year, the beginning of time itself, was held on the same day as the Passover sacrifice.

July 21, 2017

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 393

EX 11:10—12:14

PS 116:12-13, 15 AND 16BC, 17-18

MT 12:1-8

In the first reading today we see the institution of a ritual so important that God told the nation of Israel to set it as the head of their calendar.   The most important date of the year, the beginning of time itself, was held on the same day as the Passover sacrifice.   The Jewish people did not just believe they were partaking of a new Passover each time, but that in some way they were transported outside of time back to the original Passover.   It wasn’t another Passover, not a new event, but the one and same event being made present to them in the ritual.  That’s quite a bit different than the theology that some have where it is just a ‘symbolic ritual.’   Where as some would say that it represents the original Passover, most would rather it be said that it “makes present” the Passover.

The New Testament authors, including St. Paul, were quick to say that Jesus was indeed our Passover.   It is in Christ that we find the true liberation from sin, the true freedom from the Egypt of this world.  We find it so hard though to not only trust that promise but even more so to live it out in our daily lives.   As children of God, we have been given the freedom to reject sin and to make choices that are not guided by our lower, base instincts.   We aren’t irrational animals at the mercy of our chemical reactions no matter how much some scientists would have you believe.   Our minds are greatly complex and above all the animal kingdom, as far as we know, we are the few that possess the ability to reason out our response and overrule our instinctual desires.  

There are two erroneous ways that people then look at the ‘rules’ of the Church.   Either they view them as a trap and constricting, something that takes away their freedom, or they tend to view them as something that must be followed at all costs, regardless of the result.  Christ reminds us in the Gospel today that these rules are what bring us freedom.  They aren’t there to make life miserable or to cause people to starve.   The Sabbath was created for man, to give man rest.   The rules aren’t there for the Sabbath as it has no need of them, it’s just a day.   They are there to give freedom and rest from the toils of the world.   To relax in the arms of our loving savior.  All of these rules, regulations, even canon law, are there to provide us a means of freeing ourselves.   To help us make correct decisions because our future doesn’t depend just on the moment and what feels right, but on where we will spend eternity.  Hell is real.   It’s not just something old people told kids to scare them decades ago.

With that in mind, that’s why we are so serious as Catholics about the Eucharist.  Many say we should just open the table to anyone who wants to come, any age, race or creed.  St. Paul had a different statement about the Eucharist, he said that anyone who receives it unworthily is guilty of the body and blood of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:27).   He also reaffirmed time and again that the bread and wine we receive are not just bread and wine, but truly the body and blood of Christ.  When one steps forward in a Catholic Church to receive Christ in the Eucharist, that Amen they say?   That is a statement that means “This is true.  I believe.”   What is true?  All of it.  Everything the Church teaches and everything it believes, I also believe.   That’s a big statement and an even bigger responsibility.  If it were just bread and wine, or even crackers and grape juice… that Amen doesn’t mean much.   But if it’s truly what we believe… Christ himself… body, soul, divinity….. Do we approach it as such?  How important is it in our lives?   If Christ is our passover, is He the first thing in our calendar? Or just something we add in when we find time? If like the Jewish Passover, the Eucharist transports you back in time making present the Cross at Calvary, how reverent and cautious should we be kneeling at the foot of The Cross?