Friday, May 31, 2019

What is a Christian?

Like Jesus we are: children of God, brothers, and sisters for the sake of others.

There is nothing selfish in our call as a Christian, it is a call to live generously and sacrificially for others. 

How are you doing?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

God loves us unconditionally!

A homily based on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 - The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Saint Paul said to the Corinthians:

"All of this is a gift from God, 
who brought us back to himself through Christ.
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, 
no longer counting people's sins against them. 
And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation."

St. Paul is saying something we all need to embrace. He expresses what we as Christians believe about God. Paul is saying that Christ died for our sins - your sins and my sins – our debt is paid in full; our sins are no longer counted against us.

Do we believe it?

In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus confirms what Paul is saying. I want to give this story a bit of a modern twist and see how we react.

Suppose for a minute you had a friend who had a nice estate held mostly in safe investments like tax-free municipal bonds, and that he had two children a son and a daughter. On the request of his daughter, your friend converts half of his assets to cash and gives it to her and adjusts his will accordingly leaving the rest of his assets upon his death to his son.  She takes off for San Francisco gets a fantastic apartment in the city. She lives big, lots of nights on the town. Her cool new Silicon Valley friends convince her to invest her inheritance in a series of risky new tech stocks.  A slide in the stock market leaves her broke, and the cool new friends are nowhere to be found.  Then you hear that just the other day she comes back home to her Dad penniless. Your friend is overjoyed at her return, and he is touched by her sorrow at having blown her inheritance. He comes to you for advice.  He thinks he should revise his will to divide his remaining assets between his two children.

What would you advise?

How do you think the brother would react who loyally worked with his Dad to maintain and grow the family estate? Most of us would tell our friend to embrace the loyal son and say to the daughter: “Sorry you got yours and blew it. Right?

But Jesus tells us that's not how our God thinks.

The idea that God’s love comes to us with no strings attached seems to go against every instinct we have. It’s just too good to believe. Can God’s love really be unconditional?  Many of us have a vision of a God that demands we never mess up, we believe we must earn God’s love. The God that Jesus describes in the parable about the prodigal father – the loving Father – who demands nothing and is unbelievably generous in his forgiveness, love, and mercy just seems too good to be true.

Isn’t it just and fair to give more to the good people and punish the people who mess up? Shouldn’t there be some merit to our salvation?

The shocking truth Jesus introduces us to in this parable is that grace does not depend on what we have done for God … but … what God has done for us. The great theologian Karl Barth once said the definition of God comes down to this one idea – God is the one who loves.

This parable might be better named “the parable of the loving father.” or “the parable of the lavishly generous father.” The Father that Jesus came to tell us about offers us grace that is lavish, extravagant, irrational. A grace that does not count our trespasses against us!

How do we experience this grace in our lives and how do we show this grace to others?

There are three characters in the parable of the prodigal son two sons and a father. My guess is most of us identify with one of the two sons when we hear this parable. But the truth is the call of this story is to identify with the Father. Our goal as Christians is to be like the Father loving, forgiving, and generous.

In his book “Capital of the World” Ernest Hemingway wrote about a father in Spain who had a son named Paco. Because of his son's rebellion, Paco and his father were estranged. The father was bitter and angry with his son and kicked him out of the home. After years of bitterness, the father's anger ended and he realized his mistake. He began to look for Paco, with no results. Finally, in desperation, the father placed an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “PACO, ALL IS FORGIVEN, MEET ME AT THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE AT 9 A.M. TOMORROW. LOVE, YOUR FATHER.”

Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and Hemingway wrote when the father arrived the next morning, there were 600 young men all named Paco waiting and hoping to receive the forgiveness of their fathers.

There are so many longing for the love of the Father; our call as ambassadors for Christ is to show those in our lives that kind of forgiving, generous love. Our call is to be like the Father.  Ready to forgive. Eager to restore a relationship because God has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.

Are we ready to show this forgiveness to those in our life? No matter the injury?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Love Your Enemy

Love your enemy …
Three of the most challenging words Jesus ever said. Love your enemy.   How is that possible?
There’s a story about Jesus that gives us a hint, it isn’t in any of the gospels. It is a story actually attributed to a Muslim, a great Sufi teacher.  It goes ….

As Jesus and his disciples entered a village …
some of the villagers began to harass Jesus …
shouting unkind words and harsh accusations. 
But Jesus answered them by bowing down 
and offering words of blessing. 
A disciple said to him, “Aren’t you angry with them? 
How can you bless them?” Jesus answered, 
“I can only give what I have in my purse.”

The purse in this story is, of course, a metaphor for our heart.
The word Jesus used for love in this passage was Agape. The love Jesus is talking about is not the love of lovers – Eros – or even the love of close friends - Philia. The love Jesus is talking about - Agape - is instead an attitude of thinking positive thoughts, wishing the best for other people even enemies.

We saw this love displayed even at the worst moment of Jesus’ life, as he hung on the cross he prayed for his executioners. Why? Because that was all he had in his heart.  That’s who he was. Jesus is asking us today to take a good honest look at ourselves because we too can only give what we carry in our hearts – our purse. And the truth is this advice, to love our enemy, is much more practical than it sounds at first.

Nelson Mandela, the leader of the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, who became the first black president of South Africa, spent 27 years in prison. If anyone had a right to hate his enemies he did. Mandela once said something we all should think about. He said … 
“Holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies from it.”         

To fill ourselves with love for our enemy as Jesus tells us to rather than the poison of hate is in truth a prescription for our happiness. Martin Luther King Jr. – our great civil rights leader – once said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.”

On March 30, an1981 President Ronald Reagan had just finished a luncheon talk at the Washington Hilton Hotel. As he and his entourage left the hotel, a gunman fired six shots. The president and three of his aides were hit. He was rushed to the hospital where they saved his life. Later, Reagan described in his biography what went on in his mind as doctors began working on him. The president said: “I focused on the tile ceiling and prayed. But I realized, he said, I could not ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed-up young man who shot me.  We are all God’s children and therefore equally loved by God. So I began to pray for the young man.” Having prayed for him, Reagan could then calmly ask God to help him, which God did. That inspiring story from Reagan’s biography brings us to today’s Gospel. “Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you.”      

It is remarkable that in such a critical condition President Reagan should recall that hard teaching of Jesus. It is even more remarkable that he not only recalled it but put it into practice instantly. How do you do that? How do you become the kind of person who lives with love so ingrained in us that it’s the way you respond, it’s what you are carrying in your purse?

What’s in your purse?  

When we are hurt, attacked, insulted how do we react?  We have a choice with hatred or with love. In that choice lies our growth and our happiness.  We can drink the poison of hate, or we can return hate with love. If we have filled our purse – our hearts – with love we will choose love as a response.

What’s in your purse?

One of the most dramatic examples of loving one’s enemy, of returning love for hate, came for me from the story of a prayer that was found at Ravensbruck WWII concentration camp where 92,000 women and children died. It was scrawled on wrapping paper near a dead child. The note was a prayer for his captors, his executioners.

The prayer says …
O Lord remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will. Do not remember the suffering they inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to our suffering: 
  • our comradeship with one another
  • our loyalty to one another
  • our courage
  • our generosity
  • and our greatness of heart … that has grown out of all this.

And when they come before you for judgment, let all the fruits that we have reaped through our suffering, be their forgiveness.

You have to wonder how this boy could writing this message of love he could because it was what was in his heart his purse.

What’s in your purse?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Homily - The Wedding Feast at Cana

This Gospel story today is so good. One of the great gifts John gives us in this Gospel story is to take Jesus out of the clouds and bring him down to earth.  Here he is with his mom and friends at a wedding. How normal is that? Imagine that day Jesus dancing and laughing and enjoying himself as we all do at weddings.  And just in case you don’t think he was enjoying himself that day do the math on the amount of wine he made. Six stone water jars each holding thirty gallons filled to the brim that’s 180 gallons of wine; or about 800 bottles of wine.   For a party that had been so good, they ran out of wine!  Jesus is my kind of party guest!

A few years ago, when Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show, he was interviewing an eight-year-old boy one night. The young man was asked to appear on the Tonight Show because he had rescued two friends from a coal mine. As Johnny questioned him, it became apparent that the boy was a Christian.  Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school.  When the boy said he did, Johnny inquired, "What are you learning in Sunday school?" "Last week.” The boy replied, “our lesson was about how Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine." The audience started laughing and applauding.  Keeping a straight face, Johnny asked, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy squirmed in his chair.  It was clear he hadn't thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, "If you're going to have a wedding make sure you invite Jesus and Mary!"

And that is precisely the message of today’s gospel. It’s not complicated it’s simple. Make sure you invite Jesus wherever you live and wherever you go – he is a great friend to have around.   

There are two take away messages from this Gospel story. The first is if we know Jesus and turn to him in our needs, he will abundantly pour out his love into our lives. And the second message is a bit more subtle. It’s about the power of His mother’s intercession.

Let’s talk about the first point. In every life, there are times when the wine runs out.  It happens to us all. Maybe it’s a health issue, or money troubles, a marriage running on empty, the loss of someone we love.  None of us is immune. And the message of this story is that in those moments Jesus stands ready to help.  Everyone has times when the wine in our life runs low the moral of this story is that in those moments if we turn to Jesus, he can bring life and joy to us, and bring it in abundance. It’s ours for the asking!

Do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus?                                                           
Can you turn to him when you need some help?

The second point of the story is about Jesus’ relationship with his mother. People are often curious about our Catholic devotion to Mary Jesus’ mother. We seek out Mary’s help because it is clear to us how close she is to her son.  In this reading, there is a delightful, and actually quite funny, interaction between Jesus and his mother.  As women so often are Mary is aware and sensitive to the difficulty the host is facing; and with great empathy, she simply turns to Jesus and says – “They have no wine.”  That’s it, no big explanation, no pleading just 4 simple words – “They have no wine.” And he knows exactly what she means and what she expects.  That level of non-verbal communication tells us volumes about their relationship. Jesus then does what many of us do to our Moms, he kind of dismisses her request and says – Mom, how does your concern affect me? Now notice what his mother does when he says this. She totally ignores him! She simply turns to the servers and says “Do whatever he tells you.” What a rich scene …!  She knew what he could do, and she knew he would do it because she asked him. Now doesn’t that make you want to ask her for help when you need something!  We pray to Mary because we know her requests of Jesus are irresistible.

She said to the waiters that day, and she says to us today, "Do whatever He tells you." This is the only command given by Mary recorded in the New Testament. So if you are looking for miracles in your life, if you need a refill of joy and meaning, take Mary’s advice and – “Do whatever He tells you.”
And where do we hear his instructions?  The Bible tells us how to do the will of God and bring abundance and joy into our daily lives. Do you read the bible at home? Our good priests here at St. Brigid when they offer Mass and share a homily help us to hear Jesus.  Are you coming to Mass regularly? Quite prayer time is an excellent time to listen. Are you taking time for quiet prayer each day and listening?

The lack of wine in this story is a symbol for the emptiness of our life without Christ.  This sign – this miracle – teaches us that when the wine runs out just as he transformed that water, he can transform our lives. The point is that with Jesus the impossible becomes possible that’s the miracle.                                                                                                                   
Yes, that day he turned water into wine, and today he can turn frowns into smiles, whimpers of fear into songs of hope, sorrow into joy. He can restore the joy to a marriage and meaning to our lives.  Jesus is all about transforming people’s lives for the better.

And the Church tells us we are the body of Christ. He works through us now. In the 2nd reading St. Paul said we all have a gift to give. Can you recall a time when your life transformed someone else's?

When is the last time YOU turned water into wine?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Prayers are tools 
not for doing or getting 
but for being and becoming.

Eugene Peterson

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Author, Alex Renton, an English journalist, wrote that his six-year-old daughter came home from school one afternoon with an assignment.  She had to write a letter to God.

The little girl sat down and wrote,

"To God – How did you get invented? From Lulu"

The project expected the parents to answer the letter.  Poor Alex could not write the response. You see, he is a devout atheist. Neither could his wife. So instead of making something up, he asked the
experts. He sent his daughter's letter to the local pastor and then thought – what the heck – and sent it even to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The local pastor wrote back: "My reply would be along the
lines of - 'God is like us, he wasn't invented, but unlike us, he has always been there. God is like someone we've always loved, we don't remember when he came into our lives because like the people we love who have been there all our lives it's as if we can't imagine what it would be like without him.'" That wasn’t bad but maybe a little heavy for a six-year-old to read.

Then much to Alex’s surprise, the Archbishop himself wrote a beautiful response. It is a touching example of how a Bishop can humble himself and take the time to write a letter in response to a little girl's quest for truth and make a bit impact. Here is his response. Lulu, your dad, has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It's a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this:

"Dear Lulu - Nobody invented me, but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised.  They discovered me when they looked around at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn't expected. Then they invented ideas about me, some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some
hints, especially in the life of Jesus, to help them get closer to what I'm really like. But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!  And then he would send you lots of love and sign off. I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I must do the best I can on his behalf.  Lots of love from me too. Archbishop Rowan

The letter not only moved Alex's young daughter, Lulu, it also moved him to see God differently it tore down some of his walls. He was impressed with the Archbishop's kindness and wisdom. That’s how God works. He appears to us most often through other people. God does not write letters but the Archbishop was doing what he was supposed to do, he spoke in God's name just like the apostles he bore witness and gave testimony, testimony that is shockingly good news!

The Apostles were terrified and startled beyond their imaginations that day when they experienced the risen Lord.  And Alex like them was shocked and move beyond his wildest dreams when experienced God’s love through the kindness of the archbishop. When we experience it the love of God can be shocking and surprising!

At the end of each Mass, we are given the same instructions as the apostles received that night we too are told by Jesus to go out and be his witnesses to the world just like that good archbishop. We say: “Go in Peace, Glorifying the Lord by Your Life” All of us are called to witness to the resurrection and the love of God. That’s the deal with our faith.

Why us? Why in the world did the Lord choose men and women like us to help him?  The answer to that is shown in the good bishop’s letter, the answer is: Because we can love! The world is a different world today because Jesus’ love changed us like it changed Lulu’s dad and like it changed the apostles that day. Jesus says to us today: "You are witnesses of these things." Go out and spread love spread the Good News.