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 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.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gospel - John 4:5-42 - The Woman at the Well.

Can you hear how radically changed that whole community of Sychar was through this encounter between Jesus and a rather imperfect woman? Most Jewish men would have looked down on this lowly Samaritan woman, but Jesus treated this woman with dignity, and it changed a whole community.

This story reminded me of an event that is seared in the minds of many in my generation;an event that not only changed a whole community but our whole country. In 1957 the federal government ordered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas to become racially integrated.  The image of armed shoulders escorting nine very dignified, stoic black girls and boys into school is something none of us who saw it will forget.

Melba Patillo was one of the nine Black students escorted to class by U.S. marshals. Whites lined the sidewalk and jeered as she went into school. In the course of that year Melba was spit upon, tripped and called names. What pained her most, however, was being ignored by the other students. She wrote a book about her experiences entitled: Warriors Don’t Cry.  In it she writes: “All I wanted them to say was, ‘Hello, how are you? What a nice blouse.’ ” Melba recalls lying in bed at night filled with fear. But she rarely cried because her grandma kept telling her, “God’s warriors don’t cry.” One day she wrote in a diary:  I am growing up too fast.  I’m not ready to go back to Central and be a warrior. I just want to stay right here listening to the songs of Nat King Cole. The story of Melba Patillo highlights the whole problem of prejudice. And she represents the kind of change one person can make in a community.

Unfortunately prejudice is as old as the world.  And it was part of the world in which Jesus lived as well. Jews harbored a deep prejudice against the Samaritans. Jesus spoke out against it forcefully, in a variety of ways. He shocked his Jewish listeners by making a Samaritan the hero of one of his best-known parables: the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Many Jews were no doubt irritated when Jesus pointed out that ten lepers were healed one day, but the only one to return to give thanks was a Samaritan. And many Jews were no doubt shocked to learn that Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink from a common cup Samaritans used. It was like a white man in the south in pre-civil-rights days asking a black woman for a drink from a common cup that blacks used.  Even the Samaritan woman was shocked, saying to Jesus:  “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” But Jesus did something even more dramatic to make a statement about the prejudice against the Samaritans of his time. He revealed to this lowly woman who he was, Jesus tells the woman that she has been married to five men and she was living with a man who wasn't her husband. He knows us through and through.  Shocked that he knew this, she responds: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he.”

The woman left her water jar, went into the town, and exclaimed to the people there “Come meet Jesus!”  And they came, and they believed.  And – what did she tell them?  The most simple thing imaginable. He knew me.  He knew my whole messed up history, and he didn't judge me. He loved me, and offered me new life. That’s the “living water.”  It’s the unconditional love of Christ.  A love we all experience through our baptism.  New life, and a call to mission!

The Samaritan woman was the least likely person imaginable to become a missionary, to become an evangelist.  A woman, a Samaritan woman at that!  One who started out as an outcast – like Melba Patello – she became Jesus’ very first missionary to the non-Jewish world … amazing!

That Samaritan woman is all of us.

That’s the message in today’s Gospel for each one of us.  We can change our world, our community.  We are qualified.  We are good enough.  We are all sinners like that woman.  And we too can respond to our encounter with the mercy of Christ -his unconditional love of us- the way the Samaritan woman did.  We can share with others the Good News.  That our God knows us, and loves us – as we are – and offers us new life!  The living water of Divine life. Being an evangelist isn't hard.  It’s just telling others what we've found; sharing our story.  

There are 67 million Catholics in the United States.  Only 24% come to Mass once a week regularly.  That means there are 50 million Catholics that are inactive in their faith.  Statistics show that the best missionaries to inactive Catholics are … friends … neighbors … or family members. Statistics also show that nearly two-thirds of all Catholics who became active again do so because a friend or relative invited them to return.

That is our challenge.  There lies an area of missionary work that every Catholic in the church can … and should … become involved.  We all know inactive Catholics!  If you truly want to make this Lent something special, make a loving invitation to someone you know to come to Mass with you one week.  You never know, your simple invitation might be the cause for them finding their way back to the Church.  

If Jesus can change a whole community through the witness of one humble woman,  and nine courageous black kids with a sense of mission can change an entire country, we can change our world too – our community – our family.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to be an evangelist, just read this Gospel again,  no one was less likely in the time of Christ for this call then a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and was living with a sixth man.

You are worthy! You are capable! And, you are called!  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Something to contemplate today from Anne Lamott:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt. 

The opposite of faith is certainty.” 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Worry.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”
(From the Gospel of Matthew 6:24-34)

OK tell the truth, how many of us hear these words and say: Are you kidding Jesus - don’t worry?!                                                                                          
We look up to heaven and ask Jesus:

Have you read a newspaper lately or watch the evening news?!
Have you seen my relatives?
Do you know how hard it is to make a living right now?
My health issues make not worrying about tomorrow a big challenge.

My guess is we can all come up with our list of the things we’ve worried about within the past few weeks. God knows the world seems a mess right now.

So what is Jesus talking about  “don’t worry about tomorrow.”
The truth just might be he is sharing with us a remarkable formula for happiness.

He is saying we have a choice. He says we can’t serve two masters - worry and joy - worry and happiness. You can’t obsess over the future and your material needs, and joyfully and gratefully embrace the gifts God gives us in each moment.  You’ve got to choose.

Jesus is telling us in these simple sayings that all our anxiety is about the next day. It’s about what tomorrow will bring.  And that won’t make us happy.  Jesus is telling us we must get free of the next day, let it look after itself.  If you free yourself from worrying about whatever troubles the next day holds and address each day as it comes – calmly - in a spirit of thanksgiving;  you will become free of the troubles that belong to the next day.

Jesus in a simple way is saying something really important:
That ... worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow's troubles; it takes away today’s peace.

Jesus is telling us to give ourselves to the task of today, to live in the present moment. He is saying if you live in the moment and find the best you can in it, you’ll be less stressed. You’ll be happier.
To that, we might say well, what about the trials? What do we do when they come?

My wife Linda is one of those rare people who actually lives out this teaching. She doesn’t worry. “God will take care of it” is her favorite saying, or "pray, hope and don’t worry." Another of her favorite sayings gives you insight on this question of what you do when the trails hit. She says: "Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s learning to dance in the rain."

We have a choice. We can either spend our days worrying, making worry our God. Worrying about the future, worrying about money making that the focus of our life. Or, we can spend our days focused on God’s gift of the present moment, living in a place of thanksgiving and gratitude for the moment at hand. Jesus says to us today live in the moment. Life is a banquet.  And the tragedy is that most people are starving to death.

There's a story about some people who were drifting on a raft off the coast of Brazil perishing from thirst. They had no idea that the water they were floating on was fresh water. The river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea. That is what Jesus is talking about. In the same way, we're surrounded with joy, with happiness, with love. Yet we are so focused on tomorrow most people don’t see it.

When Jesus says to us: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.” He is calling us to live in the present moment. We seek God’s kingdom by being aware of God’s presence all around us every moment just like that fresh water surrounding the boat, unseeable but there and lifesaving!

Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness. Protestant theologian Karl Barth said: “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude,”

The way to let go of worry and be happy, the way to not worry about tomorrow is to be aware of the action of God - the Kingdom of God - each day in our life and live every day in gratitude.    

That is the way to be happy. It’s just that simple.

A Sacramental Church

I often get questions from my Christian brothers and sisters on how the Catholic experience is unique and different.  My response is that we are a “sacramental church.” So how is that distinctive?

All Christians believe God gave Himself to us 2000 years ago on the cross.  All Christians embrace Jesus through his Word – in Scripture.  But some believers also embrace him in a very real way through Sacrament. We believe that God gives Himself to us literally in Sacrament.

Sacraments are not human works.

Baptism is not a human work, a profession of faith and commitment to God. Baptism is a work of God, God’s declaration concerning the person baptized not the person’s declaration concerning God. You often hear Catholics say a sacrament is a sign.  But it is not “merely a sign,” it is a “reality.” God is acting through the sacrament. Baptism is not a sign of God’s cleansing; it is God cleansing. Eucharist is not a sign of an absent Christ; Eucharist is Christ present. God gives Himself to the baptized through the gift of baptism, and in the Eucharist, in reality, He gives Himself to us physically. The bread and wine are not mere symbols of his body and blood - they are indeed His body and blood.

That is why the Catholic Mass will always be the same year in and year out all around the world. Our worship service has been the same for two thousand years; as you can read from the year 155:  While our worship may not be as entertaining and exciting as that of other Christian denominations, it is what we have always done.  And thus, Catholics will remain faithful to this history; and true to our understanding of Christ’s unparalleled real presence at our worship service.

The Catholic Church is a sacramental church and always will be.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

American Catholic or a Catholic American?

“What’s the difference?” you ask. It’s a matter of attitude.

An "American Catholic" is someone fully immersed in the American culture and attends Church when and if it makes them feel good.

Americans value freedom first and foremost; especially the freedom of choice and freedom of speech. We are independent, individualistic, and are completely at ease with being different from each other. American Catholics are becoming extremely informal in their lifestyle and their views toward practicing the faith. They attend Church when they feel like it, and it's convenient.

In our American culture, we work hard – too hard sometimes – and we believe that time is money. Our laws protect homosexuality in the United States and, for the most part, homosexuality is not looked upon as deviant.  In fact, our sense of freedom labels very little as deviant.  Personal freedom is our most prized characteristic  We are a culture obsessed with technology, sex, and success. When you are an American Catholic, you bring all of the above to your faith.  You celebrate the freedom of the culture and tap into the faith only to the point that it affirm your beliefs.  If you are challenged by the Church on your cultural views it makes you uncomfortable, and when that happens an American Catholic will often choose avoidance rather than compliance.  Many Catholics are leaving the church over the issue of same-sex marriage and treatment of gay and lesbian people. The fact that the Church was so active in promoting opposition to same-sex marriage at a time when the public — in particular, young people — were voicing strong support, certainly hurt the Church and presents a continuing challenge in trying to get millennials involved.  It may be a contributing factor in Church attendance shrinking at alarming rates.

A "Catholic American" is someone whose faith is first in their life, and that faith influences how they view everything else.

Catholic American's are those Catholics who have a strong sense of their faith forming them deeply. They are more often quite active in their faith and thus, have a slightly different slant on faith and culture.  The culture of excess is a challenge to Catholic Americans.  They tend to be charitable at their core.  They embrace the teachings of the Church that call for us to be full of love for and goodwill toward others. Their attitude tends to be less selfish and shows a deep concern for the welfare of others. They view supporting the needy, being generous to those with less, as a core cultural attribute. Working to help the poor and needy is essential to what being Catholic means to them. Catholic Americans attend Mass at least weekly.

That does not mean that Catholic Americans don't think for themselves. While they are more likely than other Catholics to have opinions that align with church policies and teachings; many of them disagree with church teaching about what constitutes a sin in some sexual and family-related areas. Many do not agree with the Church’s stand on the use of contraceptives.  Some believe living with a romantic partner outside of marriage does not constitute a sin. Still others believe we need a more welcoming attitude toward those who have remarried after a divorce without an annulment. And even quite a few Catholic Americans feel homosexual behavior is not a sin.  If they do embrace these views, they harbor them close to the vest.  Their goal is first and foremost to be a good Catholic, and they keep their personal opinions to themselves.

If you had to point to the biggest difference between an American Catholic and a Catholic American, it would seem to be their sense of mission.  A Catholic American sees it a fundamental responsibility to represent their faith in a public way.  They feel a mission to impact society in a positive way through the sharing of their faith.  They want to be a force for good in our society and the Church.

An American Catholic, on the other hand, is swimming along in the culture just trying to fit in.  They have little or no impact on society or the Chruch.

Which are you?