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: http://unsettledchristianity.com/justin-martyr-on-the-eucharist/  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?

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

On capitalism.

Confessions of a Catholic convert to capitalism



http://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/02/06/confessions-catholic-convert-capitalism