Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Can't find God?

Fr. John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, writes about a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:

Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders.

It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn’t what’s on your head but what’s in it that counts; but on that day. I was unprepared and my emotions flipped.

I immediately filed Tommy under “S” for strange… Very strange.

Tommy turned out to be the “atheist in residence” in my Theology of Faith course.

He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father/God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew.

When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?” I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. “No!” I said very emphatically.

“Why not,” he responded, “I thought that was the product you were pushing.”

I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then I called out, “Tommy! I don’t think you’ll ever find Him, but I am absolutely certain that He will find you!” He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.

I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my clever line – “He will find you!” At least I thought it was clever.

Later I heard that Tommy had graduated, and I was duly grateful.

Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer.

Before I could search him out, he came to see me.

When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.

“Tommy, I’ve thought about you so often; I hear you are sick,” I blurted out.

“Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It’s a matter of weeks.”

“Can you talk about it, Tom?” I asked.

“Sure, what would you like to know?” he replied.

“What’s it like to be only twenty-four and dying?

“Well, it could be worse. “Like what?”

“Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life.”

I began to look through my mental file cabinet under “S” where I had filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)

“But what I really came to see you about,” Tom said, “is something you said to me on the last day of class.” (He remembered!) He continued, “I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, ‘No!’ which surprised me.

Then you said, ‘But He will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time. (My clever line. He thought about that a lot!)

“But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that’s when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven.

“But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success?

“You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit. Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit. I decided that I didn’t really care about God, about an afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class, and I remembered something else you had said:

‘The essential sadness is to go through life without loving.’

“But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them. So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him. ‘Dad.’

‘Yes, what?’ he asked without lowering the newspaper. “Dad, I would like to talk with you”. ‘Well, talk’. ‘I mean. It’s really important.’
“The newspaper came down three slow inches. ‘What is it?’

‘Dad, I love you, I just wanted you to know that.’ Tom smiled at me and said it with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him.”The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried, and he hugged me.

“We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning.

 “It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me.

“It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years.

“I was only sorry about one thing – that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to.

“Then, one day I turned around and God was there.

“He didn’t come to me when I pleaded with Him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop, ‘C’mon, jump through. C’mon, I’ll give you three days, three weeks.’

“Apparently God does things in His own way and at His own hour.

“But the important thing is that He was there. He found me! You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking for Him.”

“Tommy,” I practically gasped, “I think you are saying something very important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love.

“You know, the Apostle John said that. He said: ‘God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him.

“Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now. Would you come into my present Theology of Faith course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn’t be half as effective as if you were to tell it.”

“Oooh… I was ready for you, but I don’t know if I’m ready for your class.”

“Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call.”

In a few days Tom called, said he was ready for the class, that he wanted to do that for God and for me.

So we scheduled a date.

However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more important than the one with me and my class.

Of course, his life was not really ended by his death, only changed.

He made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever heard or the mind of man has ever imagined.

Before he died, we talked one last time.

“I’m not going to make it to your class,” he said.

“I know, Tom.”

“Will you tell them for me? Will you … tell the whole world for me?”

“I will, Tom. I’ll tell them. I’ll do my best.”

So, to all of you who have been kind enough to read this simple story about God’s love, thank you for listening.

And to you, Tommy, somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven–I told them, Tommy, as best I could.

If this story means anything to you, please pass it on to a friend or two.

It is a true story and is not enhanced for publicity purposes.

With thanks,

Rev. John Powell, Professor,

LoyolaUniversity , Chicago

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A little long ... but a great article on capitalism.

Confessions of a Catholic convert to capitalism

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Homily - The Beatitudes

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven."

This list of qualities Jesus says we all should embrace is something most of us have heard before ... maybe many times. And it might be that we are so familiar with this list we call the Beatitudes that we have stopped recognizing how shockingly radical and challenging they are. The formula Jesus gives us for living life is radically different than what the world says will make us happy. 

“Blessed” are ... the poor ... the mourners ... the meek ... and ... the persecuted?

That sounds kind of strange to our ears; doesn’t it?  Our culture says just the opposite, focus on security, on keeping your health. Our culture celebrates the wealthy, famous and the powerful. They are the one’s our culture tells us are the most fortunate and so the happiest.  

Jesus says today that’s just not true. That’s wrong!

If you really want to be happy – blessed – he says live these Beatitudes. He instructs us to embrace this surprising list of traits fully; even though they are completely counter-cultural. Then later in this same speech, he tells us not to worry about the needs of this life.  He implies that if we just live these by these values, God will take care of us.

He said: “... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The beatitudes Jesus preached about that day are the way he wants us to orient our life.  They aren’t things to do at all; they are core qualities that define a person who wishes to live a blessed life. They are the essence, the heart of what it means to be a Christ-follower ... a Christian. Jesus is giving us a formula for living a meaningful and joyful life. The Christian is called to a life that is a paradox; a paradox that says that living a life sensitive to suffering can lead to a joy-filled life.

Take the beatitude about mourning, for example, Jesus said those that mourn are blessed. Really?  How does that work? We ask. When we hear this Beatitude, we think of those who grieve at the death of a dearly loved family member or friend, or someone suffering some grave injustice. And we interpret what Jesus is saying as: “They will be comforted in this life  or the next.” But maybe he is saying something a bit different. Perhaps Jesus is inviting all of us, even those whose lives are not sorrowful,  to become blessedly happy by embracing the sorrows of others.

Jesus is saying
-       that mourning with others and helping them through their sorrow
-       hungering for justice
-       being merciful
-       being a peacemaker
That’s the path to living a blessed life.  That’s the path to true happiness.

Jesus is saying to us today, if you want to be truly happy don’t spend your life seeking to be thought of as wise, strong and successful. If you want to be truly happy,
-       seek to be compassionate.
-       seek to bring justice to the world
-       seek to help those who mourn
-       seek to be merciful
-       and a peacemaker 
-       stand up for what you know is right even if you get insulted and persecuted for it. 

Notre Dame University highly honors one of their alums who understood this teaching Dr. Tom Dooley. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Dooley enlisted in the Navy as a doctor. One hot July afternoon off the coast of Vietnam his ship rescued 1,000 refugees who were drifting helplessly in an open boat. Many of the refugees were diseased and sick. Since Dooley was the only doctor on the ship, he had to tackle, single-handedly, the job of giving medical aid to these people. It was backbreaking, but he discovered what a little medicine could do for sick people like this. He said in a book he wrote about his experiences:  “Hours later, I stopped a moment to straighten my shoulders and made another discovery — the biggest of my life. I was happy treating these people. Happier than I had ever been before.”

Dooley’s experience that hot July afternoon changed his life forever. When he got out of the Navy, he returned to the jungles of Asia and set up a small hospital to serve the poor and the sick. Dr. Dooley explained the paradox of the Beatitudes this way; he said:  “To be more aware of the sorrow in the world than of the pleasure can bring joy to life. If you’re extra sensitive to sorrow” he said “and you do something, no matter how small to make it lighter, you can’t help but be happy (blessed). That’s just the way it is.”

The “poor in spirit” are the people who are totally detached from worldly things and totally attached to heavenly things. They are the people whose focus in life is serving God and each other, who regard their personal needs as secondary. The “poor in spirit” are found not only among society’s lowliest people but also among its most successful people.

We have a fantastic example of that right now in our Pope – Pope Francis; arguably the most famous man in the world. He lives it; he models poor in spirit. In the grandness of the Vatican, he lives simply and reaches out to those who suffer. Images of his tender touch for those who suffer are everywhere; washing the feet of men in prison for example. That is being poor in spirit. That is embracing that loving like Jesus loved brings true joy. And whenever you see a picture of the Pope you see the JOY all over him. 

The Beatitudes of Jesus present a model for finding joy that is contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by prevailing American wisdom. 

We need to think about that.

Pope Francis said to the crowds at World Youth Day;

“Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and “thinking small” when it comes to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts! To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by.”

Let’s not just scape by, read the Beatitudes again at home and open your heart.

Today ask Jesus to show you how to live them out – every day.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Be careful what you wish for - you may miss out on life.

An American businessman was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied only a little while.

The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you.  You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat.  With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery.  You would control the product, processing and distribution.  You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will this all take?"

To which the American replied, "15-20 years."

But what then, senor?

The American laughed and said that's the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.

Millions, senor?  Then what?

The American said, "Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

Monday, January 16, 2017

You say: “It's impossible."
God says: All things are possible. (Luke 18:27)

You say: “Nobody really loves me."
God says: I love you. (John 3:16,34)

You say: I can't go on.
God says: My grace is sufficient. (II Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)

You say: “I'm too tired."
God says: I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28-30)

You say: “I can't figure things out."
God says: I will direct your steps. (Prov 3:5-6)

You say: “I can't do it."
God says: You can do all things. (Phil 4:13)

You say: “I'm not able."
God says: I am able. (II Cor 9:8)

You say: “It's not worth it."
God says: It will be worth it. (Rom 8:28)

You say: “I can't forgive myself."
God says: I FORGIVE YOU! (I Jn 1:9 & Rom 8:1)

You say: “I can't manage."
God says: I will supply all your needs. (Phil 4:19)

You say: “I'm afraid."
God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear. (II Tim 1:7)

You say: “I'm always worried."
God says: Cast all your cares on ME. (I Pet 5:7)

You say: “I don't have enough faith."
God says: I've given everyone a measure of faith. (Ro 12:3)

You say: “I'm not smart enough."
God says: I give you wisdom. (I Cor 1:30)

You say: “I feel all alone."
God says: I will never leave you or forsake you. (Heb 13:5)


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Homily - Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Today we celebrate the feast of Mary, the Mother of God.  Around the world, some of the most expensive and impressive buildings ever built are dedicated to Mary, The Mother of God.

Enormous cathedrals, filled with art so stunning its value is incalculable, all dedicated to her because of the birth of Jesus. In shrines around the world, millions of pilgrims come to places like Lourdes France, Mexico City, and Fatima Portugal to honor Mary – the Mother of God.

But ... if you or I  were to stumble into the cave that silent night with those shepherds, who smelled of their sheep; and saw a little child wrapped in a simple blanket. If we came, the night of Jesus’ birth and saw this woman who is so highly honored. We would probably be stunned by how humble this scene was – how miserable this scene was. My guess is that Mary’s simple, country girl looks would surprise us. She wouldn’t look much like the title Mother of God.

In a way, we are too familiar with the Christmas story. Its paradoxes and its stunning “absurdities”
fail to shock and amaze us. Not only is the Lord not born in a palace as would befit him. He is not even born in a warm house. He is born in a filthy, smelly stable not far from animal dung; a cave down beneath an inn while people comfortably lodge above. Clearly, there is a message in this; in how Jesus came into the world.

The humility of his birth, the humility of his Mom, tells us something of how he views the world, and of how we are called to live as his followers. That holy night only a few hidden souls, a few humble shepherds were invited to notice or experience this, the most amazing birth in history.

Why? ... Why so hidden? ... Why so lowly?
Why was such a humble girl chosen to be the Mother of God?

The message of Christmas is that we have a God whose deepest desire is to be “with us” – all of us. No matter how humble or how unimpressive we are, his humble birth and his humble mother tell us: He’s with us. ... He’s one of us.

The message of Christmas is that God doesn’t want to let us alone, but wants to reach out and be with us – no matter who we are. I read a story the other day that illustrates this idea well. It’s a true story told by a baby’s mother, which seems appropriate on a day we celebrate Mary’s  motherhood.

A family was on a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles to visit family for Christmas and they stopped in a small town – King City – and found a diner to get some lunch. They had their baby son Erik with them. They were the only family in the diner.

Soon after sitting down, Mom heard her son Erik squeal, “Hi-there!”  Erik’s little face was alive with excitement as he banged his little hands on the metal high chair. The Mom turned to see the source of Erik’s merriment. She turned and saw a man in a tattered rag of a coat obviously bought by someone long ago, dirty, greasy and worn; baggy pants; toes that poked out of would-be shoes; and a face like none other a toothless smile with gums as bare as little Erik.

The man shouted out from across the diner “Hi there baby! Hi, there big boy! I see you, Buster!” Mom and Dad exchanged that look that was a cross between, “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.” They made it through their meal with little Erik and the bum still sharing love. The bum shouted across the room “Do you know patty cake?” Do you know peek-a-boo?..

Erik just continued to laugh and answer “Hi-there!” Every call was echoed. Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. Mom and Dad were embarrassed and humiliated.

They finished quickly and headed for the parking lot thinking “Lord just let us get out of here before he speaks to Erik or me.” But it seemed the Lord and Erik had other plans. As mom drew closer to the man, she turned her back to side-step him, as she did Erik had his eyes riveted to his new best friend. He leaned over his mother’s arm reaching with both arms in a baby’s pick me up position. Erik was lunging for the man.  The man said, “Would you let me hold your baby?”

Erik was already there not much could be done.  Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship. Erik laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.
The man’s eyes closed, a tear hovered beneath his eyelashes. His aged hands, full of grime, pain, and hard labor, gently, so gently, cradled little Eric’s bottom and stroked his back.

The Mom said she was awestruck.

The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened, and he looked at the mom.  He said in a strong voice, “You take care of this baby.”  Pulling Erik from his breast, unwillingly, longingly, as though he was in pain; the man handed Eric back to his mom.  He said “God bless you, Ma'am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.”

With Erik in her arms, she ran to the car. Her husband was wondering why she was crying and holding Erik so tight. And why she was saying over and over, “My God, forgive me. Forgive me.”

I would suggest the meaning of Christmas is Erik.

Erik is God.  Erik is Christmas.

Erik is God’s arms, zeal and passion for us just tattered bums with our tattered lives, our tattered hurts, our tattered relationships, and our tattered sins.

Erik is like the child Jesus; a fierce little baby who makes no distinctions but would embrace the least likely.  And that is what Christmas is about. It’s not sentimentality. It’s not soft.  It is as hot and hard as any romance.  It is Gods fulfilled desire to be with us. It’s God encouraging us to embrace with love those that challenge us the most.

If God is not with us and if God has not embraced our tattered lives, woe to us, there is no hope.

Jesus entered the world so humbly to tell us he is one of us, all of us born to a woman. He is just like us. Like the ragtag shepherds who worshiped Jesus that night in the manger, we are called to kneel before – our humble God – and rejoice.

His humble birth ... to a humble girl ... is a big fierce hug ... for everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Homily 1st Sunday Advent - 2016

Thanksgiving is behind us and now we prepare for another great holiday – Christmas.  Decorations go up; presents are bought. It’s a very busy time.  Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a time the Church sets aside also, to prepare for Christmas. The purpose of Advent is to remind us who we are Catholics to add the dimension of faith, to add a spiritual dimension to our Christmas preparations.  Advent asks us, as we prepare for the holiday, to remember to keep Christ in Christmas.

Today is a day to ask ourselves: How am I going to do that for the next four weeks? How am I in the busyness of this season going to stay focused on what this season really means – the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior, into the world?  We get so busy with life it’s easy to neglect our spiritual lives.

Some friends of mine, long time victims of the stress of everyday activities, recommend sneaking spiritual moments into the world of work. A nurse friend says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients to remind her that the person she is about to treat is more than their disease. That’s how she tries to stay awake to the spiritual dimension of the people she helps each day. One friend pauses in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby of his work and stops for a moment to say a little prayer. He notices he is more patient and respectful when he remembers to do this.

In the second reading, Paul says don’t get so caught up in the routine of life you stop thinking about the big picture.  He says: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Jesus says the same thing in the Gospel today – WAKE UP! This life is fleeting.  He says: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” This warning is not to create fear, just the opposite. It’s a call to trust in the message of Christmas. Jesus comes to save. The spirit of Christmas is all about having hope, hope that God has a plan for our future. Hope in the primary message of Christmas that God sent Jesus to save us.

I saw a story recently that illustrates this message.  A few years back a devastating earthquake killed 30,000 people in Armenia.  Minutes after the tragedy, a father ran to his son’s school building and found it completely collapsed. Remembering that his son’s classroom was in the rear corner of the building, he ran over to it and began digging, pulling away the rubble with his hands.

Other parents, weeping nearby, tried to stop him, saying, “It’s too late! They’re all dead! It’s too late!” Even the police tried to dissuade him. But he kept on digging. He dug for 36 hours without stopping. In the 38th hour he heard a voice, the father screamed, “Armand!” The boy shouted back, “Dad!” Then began an incredible conversation; the boy shouted up from the rubble: “Dad! There are 14 of us down here. I told them not to worry. I told them that you’d come.”

That’s the Advent spirit; Armand has it. It’s all of us who believe in Christ letting everyone around know it’s going to be alright. Jesus is coming to save us. 

There are so many parallels in this story with our world right now.  The world is full of people like the ones in this story. There are people like the grief-stricken parents standing around the collapsed school after the earthquake. They see our world in a state of moral and spiritual collapse. They see nothing but a mountain of crime, war, drugs, immorality, corruption and disrespect for all forms of life.  So many people have given up and only stand around, lamenting the situation.

There are also people like the children trapped inside a world that feels like moral and spiritual rubble.  They feel like theirs is a helpless situation.  They see no light. The only thing that can give them hope is people like little Armand and his father – people of faith.  Hopefully, people like us. We are called to be people who like Armand’s father see the same mountain of moral and spiritual collapse but refuse to give up. We are called to be like little Armand and have faith that Jesus is coming to save us.   We are called to people who keep working at their faith until we bring light into the darkness.

Like Isaiah says in the first reading, “Let us walk in the light of the Lord!”; or, as Paul says in the second reading, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Put on the armor of light.” Hopefully, this story is an invitation to us to do this, to become like Armand and his father, to be voices of hope in our world. It starts by keeping hope alive in our hearts by being like my nurse friend who found an easy way to keep Christ in her heart; to put on Christ as she does her job.  Like my friend who takes a moment to pray before work at the workplace Christmas tree, so he keeps the light of the Lord – the spirit of Christmas – in his heart all day long.  Advent is all about keeping hope alive and sharing our Christmas hope with others.  It’s about trusting that no matter how dark and hopeless things seem, we know Jesus comes to rescue us.                                        

This year be a beacon of hope to others in your life.
That’s the best way to keep Christ in Christmas.