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.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Can the Doctrine of Hell ever be reconciled to the Doctrine of the Love of God?

I think that the doctrine of hell can only be understood by having the doctrine of love.  There is a story that is circulating the internet that claims that Albert Einstein once argued that evil was not something that was created, but that it was the lack of something else.   Just as a shadow was not actually something of it’s own, but a lack of the light that was blocked by some object or person.   Evil then would be the absence of good, or the absence of God.   We see that in action a lot with our own spiritual walks in that usually when we something we have done is not good, it’s not because God didn’t will the good, but it’s because we got in the way with our own wills and cast a shadow as it were on the world.

With that understanding it’s easy to see where the ideas of eternal pain and torment come into play.  If God is all that is good, and all good comes from God, then everything that is not good would be present with the absence of God.   Those people who willingly chose to not be with God would then find themselves in a very horrible position indeed.   God who is everywhere, all places and all times would be ever present but they would not benefit from it.  Rather they would experience what cutting of God does.  The opposite of love is hate.   The opposite of light is darkness.  The opposite of pleasure is pain.  The opposite of contentment is discontent.   An eternity consisting of all things negative and unpleasant, no wonder there would be ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

This is what makes the image of the demonic banquet at the end of the Screwtape Letters so powerful and apropos.  God is a creator by nature.  He makes something out of nothing.   The devil is a consumer by nature and takes that which is something and devours it until it is nothing.  Whereas God continually feeds us with his love and relationship, the demons must destroy relationships and consume hatred to sustain themselves.  

There is another image which I have been meditating on as of last.  That is the image of “God’s love is an all consuming fire.”   That which is sinful is combustible and cannot remain in the presence of God.  That is why not only heaven and hell make sense, but so does purgatory.  For those who have no sin left, God’s love washes over them like a wave of goodness, filling them with all contentment and joy.   For those who still have some attachment to sin but have chosen to be with God for eternity, purgatory consists of those sins being ‘burnt’ out of them.  God’s love then burns in the sense that it is purifying as a silversmith his ore.  They eventually let go of the sin and can enter the presence of God fully and freely.   For those who die completely attached to sin, they refuse to let go of it.   Choosing instead to continue to be burnt by their own stubbornness to let go.   Since they receive no good graces and only that which is found outside of God, they can never let go and for eternity feel the pain of that which continues to burn.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

The Pods

In today’s readings we see the familiar story of the prodigal son.   It’s something we hear every year and often is the subject of many retreats and reflections.   It’s a great parable, as are all of Jesus’ wonderful metaphors and analogies.   I’ve put myself in the returning sons place before, thinking of all the times I’ve squandered the things I’ve been given or been rude to my parents.   I’ve put myself in the other sons place as he grows angry at those who get what he feels he deserves, even refusing to come into the banquet.   I’ve put myself in the father’s place, running out to meet the returning son and trying to smooth the ruffled feathers to bring in both children under the same roof.   Today it dawned on me, I’ve never put myself into the hands of the man delivering the pods. 

What?  The pods?   It’s interesting that I never even noticed this person until today.   The scripture says “he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but no one would give him any.”   These were carob pods which many people still eat today in place of chocolate. This man in need was asking for food, maybe to more than one person.. But they would not be swayed to give him even the scraps that they fed to the animals to fatten them up.  How often have I been that man? The one who was blessed with so many things, but used them for my own gain?  To me the pods represent those gifts we have been given, not just monetarily but also our spiritual gifts.   The swine represent that which is unclean, that which is sinful.   Am I using my gifts for my own joys?  My own good?  Or for the true good of the other?  When the prodigal son at rock bottom asks me for food, do I refuse to give it to him?  

Saint Frances de Sales said we should seek to grow the good that is in another for their own sake, not ours.  That’s so important in our lives.   To not only stop to recognize the good that is in another, but to spend time helping them to grow in that charity.   That means journeying with them, regardless of their situation.  It also means to “accentuate the positive not the negative.”  That’s a difficult thing to do at times.   It doesn’t mean that we do not share the truth.  It does mean though that we have to meet the person where they are.   That when we find them wallowing in the mud and slime of the world, we are there with the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit to share with them and feed them.   It means we must stop putting our pearls before swine, feeding our own wants, egos and desires. 

All too often that man-made glory feeds our egos.   We see that conversions are happening, people are having a moment with Christ before our eyes and we think “I did that!”  It is a high!   It makes us want to do it more, frequently not simply for God but because we want that consolation.   We want that good feeling.   The world has invaded the religious sphere with that thought, hasn’t it?  “I don’t like the music.”   “The homily was boring.”  “We always do the same thing, again and again.”  “The pews are too uncomfortable.”  “But baseball!”  There is something to be said about beautiful liturgy.  Music that swells the soul and makes us burst forth in joy!  We don’t need a performer though.   Not a stagehand who doles out the performance and revels in the accolades.  That is just taking these beautiful gifts that God has given us and throwing them on the ground for our own sinful gluttonous demons to devour.  It’s when we truly offer those gifts to the other, for the good of the other, that’s when the prodigal is fed by the hand of God through us.   Then we can journey with them back to the Father’s banquet to join the party as well. 

To do any of these requires humility.   The ability to step outside of ourselves and encounter the other.   To see them standing there begging for some kind of spiritual nourishment.   That’s what the devout life is all about.   Joyfully ‘living out our relationships in love.’    Love is never selfish.   It never serves just the person.   It is rather sacrificial, self giving, and filled with God’s presence.  It is an act of will that puts the other first, and in doing so, draws others to the Christ light that shines forth from us. As a prominent preacher once said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” 

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Rock Bottom.

Rock bottom.   That place that we never think we will hit.   It seems so far away with it's infinite depth in our minds.   Yet, at some point most of us find it.   It is that point where what we thought we would never even think about has become something tangible, something we desire.  For some it's with alcohol.  Some with pornography.   Yet others it comes when a chain of bad decisions has woven a web of poverty and sin.   This is where the son had found himself.   In a foreign land, broke and desolate.   So desperate for food that he was willing to eat the pods the pigs were feeding on.  If you've ever seen a pig in a sty eating, you know that even if the food had been pristine when it was placed in, it is no longer so.   It is covered with mud, feces, and sometimes even blood from the pigs themselves fighting over the food.

That's where he found himself.  In this parable the pigs represent the ultimate in sin.   The unclean.  The untouchable.   No one would even go near them if possible but here the young man is tending them!   Caring for them and cleaning their stalls.   He has taken all the gifts the father gave him and simply cast them away wantonly without care.  The sin in his life has become so great that he is a slave to it... he can't even find food without the sin involved.   To eat the pigs food... was to become one of them.   He is no longer and individual, but a slave to the sin.  He is about to become the sin.   The point in addiction when one has to choose to own the addiction or let the addiction own them.

He then remembers his father's house.   It's comfortable there. Warm there.  Clean there.   Even the lowest in it are treated with good food and kindness.   He wants to go back and be a slave there.   His mind tries to convince him he isn't worthy.. and guess what?  He's not.  Neither are we.   Yet, the moment he turns to go to his fathers house.. his father sees him and runs out to him.   He doesn't wait till the boy gets cleaned up.  He doesn't wait till the filth he has been working in is washed away.   He runs out to him and does it for him.  He has him dressed in fine robes and gives him the signet, the symbol of family.   That's how God sees us, Amen?   He runs out to us in the Sacraments and clothes us in Christ Jesus.   Satan will try to convince us that we are too unclean.   I've heard it said that Satan tries to convince us that a sin is nothing of consequence before we commit it, but after we commit it he will try to convince us that it is unforgivable.

So if you are there, at rock bottom.. or even headed in that direction... now is an acceptable time, today.    Don't wait till tomorrow... or till the bottom of your fall hits you in the face.   Turn to God.  Run to him.   Know that He will make you worthy.  You have to let Him though.   Alone we can do nothing, but with God at our side, whom shall we fear?   Run to the sacraments.   Get to confession where God will cast your sins away to the depths of the ocean.  Receive Christ in the Eucharist where God's compassion will trample your sins underfoot... That's what Lent is about for all of us.  To look at our lives and ask ourselves where am I headed?  What decisions have I made?   Am I going down that road that takes me to another land?  Where I will be hungry and thirsty for God's love?   Or are my feet on solid ground?  

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Saturday of the second week of Lent: March 18, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Green with Envy

Jealousy.  It's been affecting human kind since the fall, the prime example of which involved two boys and a rock.  It is so normalized in our society that we don't just get jealous of others, we seem to get jealous for others.   Just recently I became involved in a conversation with people about the Diaconate rule that if a Deacon's wife dies he is not allowed to remarry.  It seems people who aren't Deacons are angry of that rule, and even some men who 'used to be' Deacons have simply broken it and remarried.  The primary defense seems to be it's not fair.   One man even compared having a wife to a habit, as if she were just something he was used to being around.   Claiming that he needs that habit so he should be free to remarry... My wife not a habit my friends, she's so much more than that.   She is the other half of me... why does someone think I could replace her with another?   She's not replaceable.  If I am ordained I will gladly make the promise never to marry again, I won't want to.   I will need support from my friends, family, doctors.... You can't replace a person in your heart like that, it doesn't work that way.

In today's readings we see the results of that jealousy being played out before our eyes.  First with Joseph being sold into slavery by his own family, then with Jesus predicting his own death at the hands of the people.  The parable shows the son being killed for his inheritance, trying to take the kingdom by force.   How often we do that don't we?  Decide we know better than the Holy Spirit and the Church established and guided by Him.   "We should do it this way!" "It's not fair."  "Times have changed, so should we!"  Just this morning I read a news article about the president of a college tearing into one of the colleges own alumni in a very demeaning and derogatory fashion.  Why do we do that?   Just like the Pharisees often we don't repent of our own jealousy but instead scheme and plot our way out of it.

Just so with Lent isn't it?   We try to find ways to get around the small amount of fasting and abstinence asked of us by the church.   We humans don't like discipline at all.   Just a few Friday's out of the year and we look for ways around them, especially when it comes to a day like Saint Patrick's day.  Now don't get me wrong, I understand.  It's a celebration day, a Feast day.. but so is Sunday, right?   The problem is we don't just go back to our normal habits on those days, we tend to go overboard.   Using the day as an excuse to eat way to much, drink too much, and party!  When in reality what we should be focusing on is not what is the bare minimum I can do.. but realizing we are in the vineyard of the Lord.. the Church with it's hedge around it, and it's towers and wine press.. and the son has come to be with us... do we return to the Landowner or do we throw the Son out?

The virtue to combat envy is kindness.   It seems so simple doesn't it?  I am reminded of a simple little meme on the internet where a boy is looking into another boys bowl and complaining because he doesn't have as much.  His father takes him to the side and says "The only time you should be looking in someone else's bowl is to make sure they have enough."  Last night I came across an article where refugees from Africa were only being fed 850 calories a day.   I sometimes have that much (or twice as much) for breakfast.   Oh how many of those calories do I wear around my waist while men, women and children starve.   Lord forgive me!  That's why we need that discipline... that Lenten trio of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  To bring us back to serving Christ in the least of these...

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Friday of the Second Week of Lent.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Like a deer to running streams

The world is a place where it is very difficult to remain chaste.  From the way many dress, the way we speak, to the advertisements that appear on a computer, the human heart is inundated with opportunities for an impure glance or thought.  Pornography is just a click away and what many years ago would have been hidden behind the counter or in a dark back room is now displayed proudly in the open.  It has become a desert of sorts in which faith is expected to be lived behind closed doors and not out in the public sphere.  I suppose it happens for each generation that their children grow up to be a little more liberal, a little more remiss in their dress, their thoughts, words, and actions.

Today we have this amazing image in the readings of a tree beside the stream of water.  While the rest of the world may be in famine and drought, the tree by the source of drink remains green and still bears fruit.  That to us should be some very clear imagery.   From the rock in the desert that Moses cleaved in two with a staff to bring forth drink to the Israelites, to the water that poured fourth from the side of Jesus on the cross, the bible is rife with expressions of water as both a gift from God and a necessity for life.   Rightly so as the people who lived, and continue to live, in Palestine know the reality better than most of us who have never experienced the life of a desert people.  Water is life giving.  It's necessary.

The beautiful thing about the Church that Christ set up before He ascended into Heaven is that we no longer have to be searching for a drop of grace here or there in the desert of the world.  Rather we can simply go to the stream that flows directly from the throne of God himself.   In a world that despises things of holiness, things of virtue, we need to become those trees that stand by the stream and continue to be green.   We should stand out.  Not because we are trying.  Not because we are wanting to draw attention.   Rather, because in a world where people are thirsting for God, they truly will notice when the 'water' is in your life.   They'll see your happiness.  Your joy.   Your ability to get through things with prayer.   The hope that is yours as a child of God.  They will want that, even if they don't quite understand it.

The question is, are we being a tree that bears fruit? The world is laying at our door step begging like Lazarus, covered in the sores of it's own sin.   The hounds of hell revel as they lick the wounds of iniquity and decay.   Are you offering life?   Or are you shutting yourself inside with the treasures you've been given, feasting on the grace of God without sharing it?  A quick test is to simply read the twenty fifth chapter of Matthew.   Jesus will remind you quickly that what you do for the least of these, you do for him.   How are we treating the refugee?  The widow?   The orphan?   The people with intellectual disabilities?  Our neighbor?  Our children?  Our spouses?  Is our tongue a weapon of life? Or death?  As Moses said to the people in the desert, Christ says to us now:  I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you.   (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19-20)  Plant yourself firmly in the stream of the Church, make time for prayer, avail yourselves of the Sacraments, and then go out into the world and share the gift you've been given with those who so desperately need it.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for daily Mass, Thursday of the second week of Lent: March 16, 2017.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Around The Water Cooler

Jealousy and gossip have a way of poisoning the mind and making things seem different than they might actually be.   Years ago I was working for a company that had several employees who were just never happy.   Every time I was around them they would complain and gossip about the boss and office workers.  They always had a story about this or that thing that was being done, or this or that person that was being treated better.  It wasn't long before I too began to be unhappy with my job.  I'd go to work sad and have no real desire to do anything other than get a paycheck.   It wasn't that things had changed.. it was still the same job, doing the same thing, for the same pay.. but somehow I was beginning to hate it.  Eventually I left to work for another company.   The funny thing was my situation was almost identical, almost the same pay, same kind of people, same kind of 'office politics', but I was happy.  

Jeremiah suffered from this same sort of human interaction.   People didn't like the things he was doing either, so they plotted to kill him.   Instead of looking to their own hearts and changing their ways, they wanted God on their terms.  So they poisoned the minds and hearts of those around them until they too were angry with Jeremiah instead of at their own sin.  It's a horrible thing to have those who you love, those whom you want the best for, turn on you and hate you for your faith.  Our world encourages it though these days.   The shows on television show fathers to be bumbling fools who are always oblivious to what is actually going on, and mom for the most part is absent or some sort of psychopath.   The kids are often the heroes, or the only ones capable of doing anything.   It's a slow sort of poisoning that enters the mind and changes our thoughts.. much like the gossip of my coworkers years ago.

In the Gospel the disciples are mumbling with jealousy at the request of the two sons of thunder to be at Jesus right and left hand.  He had just announced that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem but instead of being sad, or trying to build up each other to courage, they begin to grumble about honor and their place in the kingdom.  Isn't that just like us humans?  To become indignant at the actions of others instead of looking inside at our own failings?  That's when Jesus gives us the key to ending jealousy, the key to breaking the cycle of poisoning.  The antidote if you will.   Humility.  "Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

As Catholics we should not participate in such things as work place gossip, but rather work diligently and joyfully.  That's hard to do sometimes isn't it?   It is even harder when we have one of those other workers who consistently berates the management or moans and complains about things.   St. Francis de Sales in his work "Introduction to the Devout Life" tells us that when we see this sort of thing happening we should do something.   Either speak up about it, walk away, or in some way show the person you don't want to be part of such negativity.   That doesn't mean when there are legitimate issues that we should not speak up for peoples rights, or even go to management with ethical issues and complaints.  What it does mean is that what comes into us, comes out of us.   What we watch, what we hear, what we see... all form our memory, which is what our other faculties act on.   We should be ever mindful of that.. be it television, radio, or workplace conversation.  That way we can emulate Jesus Christ in all things in a way that is proper to our own vocations.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for daily mass on Wednesday of the second week of Lent, March 15, 2017.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Diamonds out of Dust

Justice.   It's a word we throw around quite a bit.  By it we often mean simply fair.   If other people can do it, so should we be able to.   If it hurts someone else we should not be allowed.  So on and so forth.   It has a different meaning though that is just as important if not more so.   The Latin word justus gives the subtle flavor of 'what is due.'   What we deserve.   Now that changes things quite a bit doesn't it?   Especially when we talk about divine justice.   What exactly do I deserve?  Nothing at all.  Or rather, nothing good anyway.   If we truly got what we deserved from God we would be in trouble.   "The wages of sin is death" after all.

That's not what He gives us though is it?   No, rather he blesses us in abundance.  I remember sitting on the bank of the Mississippi river last year meditating on that very thought.   The sun was coming up over the trees in the distance.  Birds were chirping.  Off in the distance I could hear the faint echo of a barge as it pushed it's way against the mighty river to deliver all the goods and services we have at our fingertips.  I had a glass of cold lemonade in my hand that was sweating in the warm summer air.   Little insects were flying back and forth from the flowers and the breeze was just enough to make the warm, moist air pleasant and cooling.   All of this was given to me, a man who didn't deserve it.    I thought to myself "Man, this scene would be perfect if a deer would walk out of the woods right now."

Ah, that's the rub isn't it?  We always think we can one up God.   He had given me a scene from a romance novel to woo my senses and call to my heart and all I thought of is how I could make it better.   He still loved me.   Knowing the kind of person I was, a man fickle and demanding, He still chose to give me that scene to show me how much He loved me.   That's the truth about God's justice is that it is tempered with mercy and love.   What about our justice?   In today's reading, Isaiah reminds us that we are to make justice our aim, especially to address wrongs and help the widow and orphan.   That's because God shows us that though justice has the notion of what is due, what is merited and what is deserved... God's justice doesn't rely on our merits.. but on the merits of Christ.  

We receive from God what Christ deserves.   That means beautiful days to sit and relax in perfect still moments.   It means gifts of food, family and friends.   The real rub though becomes seeing God's perfect moment in the rain with a flat tire.   Seeing the proverbial deer coming out of the woods while in the E.R. with a kidney stone.   Being thankful as we watch someone passing away with cancer or having a radical sense of gratitude as we watch our bills pile up and credit cards get maxed.   It's knowing that what we are receiving, no matter how horrible it may seem at the time, is simply better than we deserve and in some way is forming us.   When we are under pressure, as the song goes, He is making diamonds out of us.   Then in response offering every person we encounter not what we think they deserve, but rather treating them the way God treats us... as if they were Christ standing right before us.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent, March 14, 2017.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Holy, Holy, Holy!

Recently I was reading an article on an evangelical website about a street preacher in Bristol, England who had been arrested for 'preaching the Gospel.'   Eventually there was a trial and he was forbidden to go back to the same place and spread the word.    That's alarming.   Is it true though?   Was he really arrested for preaching the Gospel?   I'm not so sure.  After reading many other articles it became apparent that it wasn't what he was doing as much as how he was doing it.  He would purposely seek areas were the people he was condemning frequented.   His speech was often interlaced with disparaging remarks and hateful rhetoric, all the while declaring that if he received hate, well that's what Jesus said we'd receive, right?  It began to remind me of some of those sects that we have/had in America.   (The branch Davidians, West Boro Baptist, etc)

In today's reading we see something that reminds us that this is not the way the Gospel goes.  Yes, truth must be shared and no, we should not be door mats that everyone can walk on.   However, Jesus changes the tone of Leviticus 19:2 to bring out something very important for us:

Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy Leviticus 19:2 NAB
Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 NAB

That's a very subtle shift in phrase that makes a huge difference in understanding.   Jesus reminds us that to be like God, to be made in His image, is to be merciful. It's not enough to just emulate God in action our very heart has to change.  We have to have that internal conversion,  not just an external configuration to rules and regulations.  

Last night I spent a few hours re-reading the Letter to the Hebrews.  In what I consider one of the greatest treatise on apologetics ever written, the author let's us know that this is exactly what the new covenant is about.  Where the old covenant simply configured a people on the outside to look like God's people, Jesus established a new one that changes the heart itself.  When we are changed, when we are filled with God on the inside, when our hearts realize what God has done for us and how little we deserved it... how then can we turn and berate others for being unworthy as well?  It reminds me of the parable of the servant who was forgiven of a very large debt and immediately upon his release demanded and refused to forgive someone who owed him far less.  That's not to say we shouldn't speak the truth, God forbid!  It means we must do so in love.. for the good of the other.. and to show them in our words, actions, and thoughts the merciful love of the Father.

That's what Confession is all about.  If we truly understood this Sacrament of God's mercy and love we'd be running to it.  The lines would extend outside the Sanctuary and into the streets.  Instead we find less people going and even fewer who believe they should need it.   It's not a have to.. it should be a want to.   In the confessional we encounter Christ in all his glory.  In Hebrew there was no word for 'very'.  Instead they repeated a word to indicate it's degree.   Amen, Amen meant this is really the truth.  When describing Christ in his glory they would say 'holy, holy, holy.'   That is Holiness in perfection.   That's who is there... but taking Jesus own queue we can also see that in the confessional we can describe our King, our Lord, as 'mercy, mercy, mercy."

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Special Needs?

I've spent the week working with a group that serves those people in our community who have intellectual disabilities and many who do not speak using standard verbal communications.   It's been a very powerful exercise in both my understanding, my willingness to change, and my need to get out of the way and let that person speak for themselves.  During this time we watched a video about a certain Martin Pistorius who had lived trapped in his own body for many years.   It completely floored me.   I am going to share that now, please watch it:

How different the interactions with these beautiful souls became after watching that video.  Instead of seeing them as people who couldn't learn or couldn't communicate.. I saw them as people I just wasn't able to understand.   It really isn't them that have a problem as much as we who expect them to be just like we are.  I've always viewed them as images of pure joy, people blessed with the ability to love unconditionally.   I still do... yet now I know under that surface is an intelligence that in many ways could be greater than my own....Before I almost had this notion in my mind that they weren't 'smart enough' to know better.. that unconditional love was a result of not understanding what the world was like.. naivete even.  It is truly I who was naive.   

Often when we are in these situations we seek to be Christ.  We want to get out of the way and allow Christ to work through us on these individuals... even asking God to 'heal them' and make them 'normal.'   Yet, we don't take the moment to think that in reality.. it's Christ looking at us from them, with a pure love that is neither unintelligent nor naive... a love that loves us.. despite our shortcomings... despite our lack of empathy... even despite our arrogance and ego.   A Christ who can be transformed before us into the splendor of heaven if we just take a moment to look for Him in their eyes.   To take a moment to listen with more than our ears.. but with our eyes.. our hands.. our soul.  

These men and women don't need to be fixed, they need to be understood.   We need to find ways to interact with them in their language, finding out what their wants and needs are.. who they want to live with and don't... who they want to love and who they don't want to be around...To do that we must be spend time with them.   We must love them, care for them, assist them, and above all be present to them.  

Then we have to stop thinking of them as 'them.'   They are part of us.   They aren't a community over there, and our community over here... We are community.   Too many expect parents with children who express themselves in alternative methods to keep them at home, or to avoid any place where 'adult' behavior is expected... How narrow and rude our focus when we try to exclude those who don't speak the same way we do just because we feel uncomfortable in the way they speak.   We must integrate every person into our community, giving each person, regardless of mental ability the same basic choices that you and I enjoy.  Only then will we not only begin to see the light of Christ shining from them in an opportunity to love, but also begin to transform ourselves to where we can look on every person with the love of God. 

His servant and yours, 

A reflection on the readings for Mass on the Second Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2017. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Dialogue with a Pope

A reflection on the book "Called to Communion" by Pope Benedict the XVI.

In a recent bible study we were discussing Blessed John Henry Newman and his writings on the philosophical concepts of assent and certitude. During that conversation we had a real life demonstration of what those mean as two of the women involved began to vocally and emphatically declare purgatory a nonsensical idea. To those ladies it did not make sense because it didn’t feel like the kind of thing the God they had in their minds would do to someone. After a lively discussion in which many different metaphors and similes were used to try and elaborate the reality of purgatory to them both, they still could not assent to the teaching. They also remained obstinate in the fact they refused to do anymore reading on the subject and were just ‘too old to change.’
That seems to be the attitude of the American society as a whole as of late, and it has definitely infiltrated the ranks of the Catholic church in America. The entire notion impinges on something that many do not take seriously, the authority of the Church itself and more especially of the chair of Peter, to ‘bind and loosen.’ Pope Benedict in his book Called to Communion goes as far as to say that the very words used by Jesus as he installs Peter as the Prime Minister of His Church has “cosmic and eschatological significance.” Peter, much like these two ladies in my bible study, has moments of both the Spirit and the Flesh. So much so that we see a cycling of both in the very narrative in which Jesus hands Him the keys. In one moment Peter's statement that Jesus is the Christ is attributed to ‘not the flesh and blood, but the Spirit. Then a few lines later as Peter decries Jesus destiny to be crucified in Jerusalem, Peter’s statement is of flesh and blood and Jesus labels him a satan, and tells him to get behind him.
This simple illustration of what it means to follow the Spirit reminds us that every man makes mistakes. When we leave the Church up to our feelings, up to our emotions, we too often stand in opposition to God’s plan, to which we must be reminded that we should ‘get behind Him.’ Feelings, while valid and important, can often lead us to do things that God himself has shown us to be wrong. That’s why, as we tried to teach the two ladies in the study, assent is just as important if not more important than certitude. In realizing that the Holy Spirit is in charge of our Church we must, even when we do not understand, assent to those teachings that are Dogma and doctrine. It does not mean we cannot discuss them, elucidate on them, or further understand them. It does mean that we must at some point submit and say “I just don’t understand, but because it has been revealed to the Church as Tradition, I assent to it and hope one day to find certitude.”
That is why the notion of the Church as a living memory is so valuable to me. Pope Benedict writes so eloquently when he says “In both her Sacramental life and in her proclamation of the Word, the Church constitutes a distinctive subject whose memory preserves the seemingly past word and action of Jesus as a present reality.” The living, organic nature of a Church that exists throughout all of time but still expresses itself in the moment, is a powerful thought. While still a mystery beyond human thought, finds a way to elucidate the very nature of what it means to be Church. It’s not enough for my own personal thoughts, feelings or interpretations to reveal what God has in store for all of mankind. They must match both the written and oral Tradition of the living Church, as it is stored in the Sacred Deposit of faith. Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium; along with the lived out experience of the people of Faith throughout all of Christendom, must be in agreement with those things we now start to ponder.
That’s what it means to be in Communion with the Church. It’s popular today to use the phraseology “I’m Catholic but” or “I’m Catholic, except for.” There is this notion that has steadily gained grown since the time of the reformation that somehow it’s merely a personal relationship with Christ and Christ alone. When we examine the Scriptures and the lived experience of the Church fathers we find that is simply not true. Christ came to give us a Church, a gathering. In that Church he established the Twelve, representing a new Israel. With a new Israel He established a new center of worship, a new temple, His own Body. To be in Communion then means not just in communion with God and God alone, but with God and God’s community.
It’s funny though, that even though many will agree with that statement, they mean clearly the community they can see and feel. For many parts of the Christian world the idea of Church is merely those alive. That discounts how many Christians have lived before and their experience of God and understanding of His revelation through the Incarnation of Christ. It is only when we begin to encounter Christ on His own terms that we begin to see the truth of what Christ has intended. A Church with the authority to make proclamations, safeguard the truth (both oral and written), and bring people to life with both Jesus and His Body. That’s what it really boils down to: God and us, not just God and me. It is a personal relationship yes, but not just personal.
The danger of what these ladies are attempting to do, is that heresy often breeds heresy. Deviation at one point of doctrine often leads to a collapse of even more. We have seen that with the 40,000+ denominations in Christendom today. What began as a reformation that had many important reforms in mind, became over time a dissolution of the faith till in many ways certain denominations no longer even resemble the faith that the Apostles handed on to their followers. When we decide that we are the sole decider of what is authentic faith and that our emotions are the guide, we make ourselves to be God. We then find ourselves no longer in communion but at an arm's length, and potentially no longer even part of the body, but an outsider looking in and hoping to be chosen when the teams pick sides.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday!

It's Ash Wednesday.   A day in which more than a billion people have the opportunity to receive Ashes on their forehead in a reminder that yes, they too are going to die one day.   A reminder of the verse from Genesis 3:19: "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (NAB)   Lent officially begins today.  A season of penitence in which we Catholics are reminded of the three pillars: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.  It's not surprising that the readings for today's Mass are somber reminders of the need of repentance, of metanoia (an internal change of direction) that comes from an encounter with Christ, our Lord.

In the first reading of Joel we see him speaking to a people who have been devastated.   In this post-exilic period, the people were beginning to look beyond just a hope of a restoration of the people to their ancestral home, but towards an eschatological reality.    An extreme famine had destroyed much of their food and a swarm of locusts have overrun their land.  The people saw this as a punishment from God to be followed by a "great and powerful people" who would once again take over their land.   Joel reminds them that the problem is that people are just being outwardly men and women of God, but inwardly they have not changed.  God reminds us again and again that conversion is primarily a matter of the heart.  As the great Saint Paul has said time and again, "without love you are just a clashing cymbal or sounding gong." 1 Corinthians 19:1

A clashing cymbal.   Years ago I was in the high school band as a percussionist.   I'll never forget the times in practice when I knocked over a cymbal or dropped one.   The eyes of the band turned at glared at me.  The sound was more than just annoying, it was grating on the nerves.   Especially after it had happened more than once!    That's kind of where we find ourselves as Christians for much of the time these days.   People don't want to hear the message anymore because it's just being shouted and ringing out like a cymbal dropped in a quiet room.  It's not that we should stop sharing the message!  It's that we must needs be visibly and spiritually changed by it first before anyone else will believe that there is anything to it.

That's what Lent is all about and the readings are loud and clear in their call to us to be authentic in our worship.   Whether you find comfort in praying a rosary, silent meditation, or a walk through nature... the purpose of that is not to let others see you doing it, but rather for you to grow in faith, and just as importantly in love.  God is not interested in empty shows of piety.   He wants to see love from us.  Love for our neighbors, our enemies... even ourselves.   What happens when an entire people live out the life of authentic faith? Joel tell us "Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people."   What a beautiful thing indeed!

St. Paul reminds us that today is the time!  Not tomorrow, not next week, but that NOW is an acceptable time.  The day of the Lord is not just an eschatological realty, but it's present here and now.   All of us are going to die.   Who is next?  Maybe a morbid thought.... but in reality we don't know.   Any of us could be the one to go.  Are you ready?    Is your life the kind of life that you want it to be?   Are you the kind of person that God has created you to live as?  If not?  How do we have that metanoia experience?   Prayer.  Fasting. Almsgiving.  It's not enough to do just one or the other.   We must spend time with God.  It's a relationship.   At least 15 minutes a day.  Don't aim for the minimum.  Aim for a relationship!  You wouldn't just spend 15 minutes with your spouse or your boyfriend/girlfriend, would you?   No, a real relationship requires time and presence.  

Fasting..  that's not very popular in our culture unless you are trying to lose weight.   It's a reminder to you though that what is truly important is not food, not coffee, not soda, not the gym, not even the social media that makes you feel so warm and fuzzy... but rather God.   Fasting is all about saying to yourself you know what?  I've let this become too much of my life and I need more of God in there.  Therefore I'm going to do less of this, and more of God.   Almsgiving is the natural response to that.   When you fast from coffee?  Don't replace it with dandelion tea.  It's against the very nature of fasting to get rid of one thing and replace it with another that is just as expensive or enjoyable.   No, when you give it up take that money and give it to someone who has less.   The widow, the orphan, the refugee.  

Then Jesus reminds us that we aren't to simply do it to be seen.  No this is a matter of internal change.  It's a matter of living a life that draws us closer to that true contemplative experience, that union with God that our hearts crave and call for.   It's replacing all the things that stand in the way until prayer is not something we do just a few minutes a day.. but something we do with every waking breath, with every heart beat.   I am not there, but I so want to be.. and I know there are clear things that are in my way.  Do I have the courage to remove them?  Here is my prayer for Lent.   I wrote this as part of an assignment for the Diaconate and I want to share it here for all of you.   Feel free to use it, to remodel it, to change it to make it more personal.  Praise God if it brings you one step closer to Him.

Heavenly Father,
My spiritual life reminds me of that old rose bush in front of my friend Paul’s house.  Every year Gail comes by and prunes it back until there is nothing left but a few nubs, yet every year it begins to grow and blossom.   As Lent approaches I am painfully aware of the pruning that needs to be done yet again.   Every year I grow closer to you, and every year I allow other things to begin to creep in again.  Give me the courage and will to again reflect on my life, on my focus, and on those branches that need to be cut back, or even completely removed.  Guide me closer to you in all things.  Help me to bring you fully into all areas of my life, and into all relationships.   I want to blossom with fruit worthy of one who you call son!   Infuse me with your Holy Spirit in such a way that my meager branch can begin to resemble the true Vine, that those who know me might know Him.  

This and all things I ask in the name of your Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.


His servant and yours,


"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for Mass on Ash Wednesday: March 1st, 2017