Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pentecost Sunday Homily - Gospel of John 20:19-23

During the Cold War at the end of the last century, Berlin was divided in two; a wall separated East and West. East Berlin was part of East German which was controlled by the Soviet Union. In East Berlin, they erected a 1200-foot-tall broadcast tower which was intended to celebrate the superiority of the Communist system.  But the plan backfired, and this tower did just the opposite. It constantly reminded East Berliners of what they were missing. The tower was designed a few years after the Soviet Union had beaten the United States into space with a spherically-shaped satellite named “Sputnik.”

Communist officials intended this tower to be a showpiece to the West. But instead, a fluke in design turned it into a giant embarrassment. Whenever the sun hits the tower a certain way, the tower turns into an enormous shimmering cross.  West Berliners quickly dubbed this Christian symbol in a Communist country the “Pope’s Revenge,” divine retaliation for the government’s removal of all crosses from East Berlin’s churches. An embarrassed government reportedly tried painting the tiles to eliminate the cross without success.

Something similar happened in Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus. Those who put Jesus to death hoped that the cross would be a symbol of how they blotted out the Christian movement.  But instead, it did just the opposite. The Christian movement began to spread like a raging forest fire. With the cross, it’s most potent image. It spread so spectacularly that by the year A.D. 64 it had become a powerful force in faraway Rome. It became so powerful that the Roman emperor Nero made it the target of an all-out persecution.

How did Christianity in 30 short years grow from a tiny spark into a raging infernal? 
That amazing story is told in the Acts of the Apostles.   And the starting point for that extraordinary story is what we heard about in today’s readings. The Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised to send his disciples descended upon them on Pentecost and transformed them. Like the sunlight turning that tower into a Christian symbol. The Holy Spirit - lit up - the apostles - and made them into the body of Christ, alive and on fire, spreading the message of Jesus to people of all nations and languages.

The apostles that day went from being a confused body of human beings, and in a moment, they were transformed into a courageous body of Christian believers. They went from a cowardly band of disoriented people and in an instant were transformed into a single body of witnesses which became one of the most powerful organizations on earth ... the Church.

It’s easy to read these stories and to marvel at what happened that day some 2000 years ago and think – wow – that was incredible and unique. But the truth is what the Holy Spirit began on that first Pentecost was just the beginning - a start - that is traced down to us today, here in this church. What started that day is left to us to complete. Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, each one of us received the Holy Spirit in a personal way, through our baptism and our confirmation. And like the disciples of Jesus, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for a purpose.

You might be saying in your head right now ... Who Me?  ... No way!

But listen to how St. Paul said it to the early Christians:

           There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;                                              
            there are different forms of service but the same Lord;                                                      
            there are different workings but the same God                                                                      
            who produces all of them ... in everyone.

To each one of us, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

Today is a day to ask ourselves: What gift of the Spirit have I been given?  What service am I called to do? Today our readings call each one of us to take an active role in the Church’s work of bringing the Gospel to all peoples.

This might mean being the very best Christian mother or father we can be, making sure our children hear the Gospel.  Living our faith so openly, other parents are inspired to bring the faith to their children. Perhaps we are given the gift to live our faith so attractively that those we work with wish to know the Gospel, and what it is that makes us a joy to be around. Maybe we are called to support the missionary work of the Church – with both monetary and prayer support.  We can help mission work being done by our parishioners Katie and Betty who go to Ecuador to help spread the faith or Cece and Jim who bring the faith to the high mountain regions of Peru. They bring the gift of light through solar power while also bringing the light of Gospel to people's souls. Maybe the Holy Spirit is giving you the gift to bring the light of Christ to those living in prison. The Holy Spirit might be calling you to join with our Kairos prison team – that brings the light of the Gospel into the darkness of Donavan prison.

The Holy Spirit has anointed us so that we can put into practice and live out what we profess on Sunday.  Let’s ask ourselves with deep conviction:

What gift of the Spirit have I been given?  

What service am I called to do?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Helping the poor ...

Pope Francis said:

People cannot sit back and be indifferent or unresponsive to growing poverty in the world as a privileged minority accumulates "ostentatious wealth," 

If you are like me you read this - you are inspired to do something - and you can't figure out what to do. Right? So let's do something!  We are in the planning stages for an event that will package thousands of nutritious meals for the poor.

My "big dream" is to have a day where we come together and package 1 million meals. 
I know that seems too big of a dream ... but God asks us to "think big".
If you'd like to help make this event a reality - 

The Deacons of San Diego Present:  One Million Meals Sunday

Let me know if you would like to help me make this dream come true.  

Deacon Mike

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Grace is something you receive not earn. We so often disbelieve this truth, because we want to earn it.  We love to think of ourselves, and have others think of us, as strong and virtuous.

When we approach “grace” with our ego engaged we lose the ability to take in unconditional love.  We like to be worthy. The problem is that God works from a different playbook. He doesn’t work in a world of scarcity, in a world of winners and losers.  God is humility and generosity and love.  He can’t help it because it is his very nature.  He can only operate in a world of unconditional grace.

Our economy of merit does not comprehend free love. Jesus said to the apostles, “I call you friends.” Friendship, not servant-hood, is the relationship God seeks. Most of us prefer being servants. Divine friendship is simply beyond our imagination.

Our culture worships winners; we prize the ones who compete and win.  Our culture is built on competing, producing, and achieving – winning and losing; which makes us blind to the unconditional gift.  We don’t understand it. We can’t imagine it.  We haven’t earned it.  Or, if we are honest, we can't imagine the one we are judging is worthy of it!  We only understand winners and losers.  Being worthy is everything.

Christianity that is based on a win/lose worldview will always be judgmental and small. It will never make real the generosity of God.  Faith and religion will remain just another thing we attain in a life lived for acquiring. The spiritual path – and life itself – will be mere duty instead of delight.  Delight for all basking in God’s unconditional love.

God loves us all - unconditionally - delight in it!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Emmaus Road

From the Gospel of Luke chapter 24 verses 13-35 - 
"... two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred."

This Gospel story is one of the most compelling narratives in all of Scripture. Two disciples are walking down the dusty road to the village of Emmaus. Their talk concerns the crucified Jesus.  I imagine them walking slowly, trudging along, depressed by the events they witnessed this week in Jerusalem. Their words come slowly like their pace, "I can hardly believe it. He's gone." ... "What do we do now?" ... "Peter's should have done something."  As they amble along a stranger comes up from behind and says, "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help overhearing you. Who are you discussing?" They stop and turn. Other travelers make their way around them as the three stand in silence. Finally one of them asks, "Where have you been the last few days?  Haven't you heard about Jesus of Nazareth?"  And he continues to tell Jesus all that has happened.

What a fascinating scene two sad, confused and sincere disciples telling the story of how all is lost. And God in disguise listens patiently, his wounded hands buried deeply in his robe. They say, "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

"We were hoping" … now there is a phrase we all can understand.

 How often have you heard a phrase like that?

We were hoping ...  that the doctor would have better news.
I was hoping ... that she would marry me.
We were hoping ... our jobs wouldn’t be eliminated.

Those are words painted gray with disappointment.  What those two disciples wanted didn’t happen. We know that feeling.  What we wanted didn’t come; what came we didn’t want.  The result is always the same: shattered hope. We’ve all been there. We know what they felt like that day as they trudged up the road to Emmaus dragging their sandals in the dust, wondering:

"What kind of God would let me down like this?" 

When we are in a state of confusion and despair like them. God could be the fellow walking next to us, and we wouldn't know it. You see the problem with our two heavy-hearted friends was not a lack of faith, but a lack of vision. Their petitions were limited to what they could imagine – an earthly kingdom.  They never dreamed God had something bigger in mind – the salvation of all mankind.

You have to wonder if sometimes God's most merciful act is his refusal to answer some of our prayers the way we expect.

Our two friends walking on the road to Emmaus that day hoped for Israel to have a great earthly kingdom. But that goal was not God’s goal. We should not be too hard on the two men on the road that day. We are like them so often, unaware of what God is trying to accomplish. We often try to limit God by our preconceived ideas and misunderstandings.

Our problem is not so much that God doesn't give us what we hope for as it is that we don't know the right thing for which to hope. 

We are so often like the those disciples that day who missed what Jesus was doing. Did you notice how Jesus reacted to these two bewildered disciples who missed what Jesus was doing by dying on the Cross?  He chastised them. "Oh, how foolish you are!  You are slow of heart to believe.”

"You are slow of heart." What does Jesus mean – slow of heart to believe?

When Jesus expresses his disappointment, he does not talk about their minds or their intelligence.  He does not call them ignorant or stupid. Instead, he talks about the state of their hearts. For Jesus, it’s all about the state of your heart. He was telling them to stop trying to figure it all out intellectually and to start seeing it with their hearts. He wants them to see the love! The love God poured out on humanity through his death on the Cross.
He is telling them you missed the point!  It’s all about LOVE, not defeat. And then the scripture passage says, Jesus showed them how the scriptures (how the Bible) reveals that God would express his love for us – this way – from the very beginning.

That day it says that after these disciples encountered the risen Christ their hearts went from slow to believe to burning – to being on fire with faith. When he vanished from their sight that day, they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Maybe there is a hint for us in this line about what this reading means for us.

If we want to have a heart burning with excitement for God, maybe we need to break open the scriptures. When was the last time you sat with the scriptures and allowed them to open your heart?

Jesus calls us to see life with the eyes of the heart:
A heart burning with the fire of faith.                                                                            
A heart burning within for justice.
A heart that is red-hot to share the Good News of the scriptures, to share the Good News we know and others are desperate to hear.

If you are feeling the desire to have an encounter with Jesus as those two disciples on the Emmaus Road did, then maybe you should set aside some time each day to meet Jesus in the scriptures.

If you are a young adult, we have a Bible study group here on Wednesday nights, come encounter Jesus in the scriptures. Our “Connection to Christ” small groups also use the Scriptures as a foundation for their discussions, and you are all invited to join a C2C group. There are great daily meditation books that help us know the scriptures; like Magnificat, or Living with Christ, or The Word Among Us. (www.magnificat.com) (www.livingwithchrist.us) (www.wau.org)

The message of the story of the Road to Emmaus is this.
If you are longing to meet Jesus ...                                                                                              
If want to have a personal encounter with Christ                                                                          
If your faith feels a bit slow of heart right now and you need some fire.              
If you want to get your heart burning within.

Then it’s time to open the scriptures.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Jesus is it any wonder they killed you that Friday.
You called the better people a breed of vipers,
You told them that their hearts were black sepulchers with fine exteriors,
You chose the decaying lepers,
You spoke fearlessly with unacceptable strangers,
You ate with notorious sinners,
and you said that streetwalkers would be the first in Paradise.
You got on well with the poor, the bums, the crippled.
You belittled the religious regulations.
Your interpretation of the Law reduced it to one little commandment: to love.
No wonder they avenged themselves.
No wonder they took steps against you;
No wonder they approached the authorities, and beg them to get rid of you.

Lord, I know that if I try to live a little like you,
I too shall be condemned.
I am afraid.
They are already singling me out.
Several of my friends are about to drop me.
Lord, I am afraid to let go of the world,
And yet, Jesus, I know that you are right.
Help me to fight,
Help me to speak,
Help me to live your Gospel
To the end,
To the following of the Cross.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Lent - The Raising of Lazarus

It’s so easy to build TOMBS for ourselves, easy to become bound up by the cares of the world. It’s so easy to be distracted by life’s problems. The Easter challenge is to hear Jesus’ call to us – come out of our self-made tombs.

The Story of Lazarus is just a great story full of powerful human emotions; emotions that you and I also experience – like ... sorrow ... fear ... love ... bravery ...  and joy.

When Jesus said to his apostles "Let us go back to Judea" the disciples remind him that the Jews were just trying to kill him.  And we hear the disciples say “let’s go die with him.” You can’t help but be impressed with their courage and understand their nervousness about facing possible death. When we see Mary collapse in tears at the feet of Jesus, we know her pain, her sense of loss.  When Jesus weeps, we know what it feels like to stand with a friend in their sorrow, to see someone we love who is hurting and weep with them.

jesus weptThinking about that scene of Jesus weeping; we need to appreciate that our God knows what we go through in life. We have a God who stood by his friends in times of trouble.  We have a God that when we suffer in our daily lives is right there next to us, weeping with us; a God who shared our humanity and knows our human experience.

But this story is not just about human emotions.
It’s about faith.
It’s about the hope Jesus brought to the world.

When Jesus says to Martha: "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"  He is speaking to us too.  We too have been told what Jesus came to accomplish and many of us, like Martha, believe; which makes us EASTER people.

We are people do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The story of Lazarus is a call to each of us to embrace our own resurrection, our own victory over death. The distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that we have a future. When Jesus brought Lazarus out of the tomb after four days that was the final proof for us to believe in his resurrection. The raising of Lazarus was a foreshadowing of Easter morning.  It was a pivotal event that helped Christians to have confidence in Easter.

Lent is almost over.  Easter is just a few weeks away. How blessed we are to be people who have hope. Hope is such a gift, especially when we are suffering in this life.

Forgive me for telling a personal story, but I had a Lazarus moment in my life that I’d like to share with you. 1998 I was diagnosed with cancer, and it wasn’t cancer that the doctors can always get into remission. There was a high probability that I would die. But thanks to the right doctors, and the many prayers of my friends and family I survived.  My friends and family, like the disciples, said to Jesus for me - ”The one you love is ill.” God heard those prayers and restored my life as he did Lazarus.

Facing death and then recovering changes you. Things you thought were so important just don’t seem as important after looking death in the eye.  The human problems we face seem trivial in comparison with the Spiritual journey you find yourself on.

Before cancer, I was a Catholic but didn’t give my faith much of my time. I was too busy. We tend to build tombs for ourselves in this life, to surround ourselves with things that block out the light of our spirits. Like Lazarus, I was in a tomb, a tomb of my own making. I had allowed materialism to bury me alive. I was wrapped up in my humanity and not living like someone who was aware that the Spirit of God was dwelling in me. Paul said it well – when we focus on living in the flesh, it’s hard to please God.
Cancer reoriented my life so much for the better that I can honestly say if I could go back and choose not to have cancer or to have cancer I would choose cancer because of the changes it made in my life.

What changed?
I learned that God gives us a spirit of love.  I learned that we are only satisfied in life – really satisfied – when we are in touch with LOVING others.  Cancer broke me out of the selfish tomb I had created for myself, and I began to look for ways to serve others, to love others. I certainly would have never become a deacon if not for cancer.

lazarus-tombCome out … from the tomb of worry, and enter the new life of trusting God to find a way.

Come out ...  from the tomb of materialism, and become a person that lives for others.

Come out … from the tomb of busyness and enter the new life of finding time to live in touch with your Spirit.

Come out … from the tomb of self-centeredness,  and enter the new life of self-sacrifice, a life of loving and helping others.

Whatever our particular tomb might be, Jesus in his love for us, is calling us out.  Jesus stands at the door and calls to us, "Come out!" and live like people who will never die – live in your spirit.

                    “I am the resurrection and the life,
                     Whoever believes in me, even if he dies will live,
                     And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
                     Do you believe this?”

When we answer –“YES Lord, I believe,”
He says to us “then roll back the stone, come out of your tomb and really begin to live.