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.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Homily 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus said to the crowds:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

He said,
“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
With many such parables
he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.
Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Homily - 

Our Gospel reading today offers two images of seeds growing.  In the first parable, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like seeds that are planted and beyond our sight they germinate and grow ultimately bringing forth a harvest.  In the second parable, he tells us that God’s kingdom is like the smallest of seeds that can grow into a large plant.

One interpretation of these parables is that we must trust that our smallest of efforts – like a tiny seed – even when we can't always see it, can grow into something amazing.  God can break through into someone’s heart through a word or action that often to us seems insignificant. 

One of the most impactful moments in my spiritual life came from something I heard Fr. Richard Rohr once say on an audio tape. Years ago, I drove to Los Angeles frequently for work, and I decided to make that drive-time productive by listening to Fr. Rohr's bible study tapes.

What I remember most was something he said in an unprepared prayer. He said in a little prayer to begin his lesson, a prayer off the top of his head, something that changed everything for me.  He said: “The experiences of our lives if we let God use them are the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he would have us do.”

It doesn’t sound like much does it?

What I was going through at that moment in time made this little message life changing. You see I had cancer at that time and because of this short statement, I began to think of the cancer as something God could use.  This simple sentence in a spontaneous prayer changed everything for me – in a moment. 

Jesus is telling us with these seed parables that we should be aware that the smallest things we say or do can have an enormous impact.

Jesus' ministry must have looked so small to an outsider.  He converted very few who heard him, and even his closest disciples remained relatively clueless throughout his ministry.  And yet from that small start, his ministry changed the world. We just don't know what our small word or action might do. But Jesus tells us today that's exactly how God's kingdom is spread!

Paul tells the Corinthians – and he tells us – in today’s reading, “We need to walk by faith, not by sight.”  We need to trust that God is working even when we don’t see it. If we let God use the experiences of our lives – the good and the bad ones – he can use our small lives to increase his harvest.

Cancer stripped my life down to what really mattered.  You find out when you are seriously ill that the only thing that matters are the people you love.  The only thing – in the end – that counts is loving others. 

That simple little saying from Fr. Richard Rohr allowed me to give that experience over to God for him to use.  Which changed the whole course of my life; I am a deacon today because of this simple phrase.

Hearing this Gospel reading on Father’s Day makes we think of this message in the context of being a Father who has raised four children. The text talks about how God plants the seed of his kingdom inside us. Which is truly the most important job a Father has, to plant the seed of God’s kingdom in their children’s hearts.  And our reading today tells us we need to be patient; even though it's not always easy to see God's kingdom growing inside our children or us.  Even though we don’t seem to be getting holier and our kids often are not responding as we think they should, we shouldn’t be discouraged. Instead, we must keep on cultivating the seed inside our family and us; especially by praying and by receiving the sacraments.

Raising a family takes lots of patience.  Sometimes parents see little evidence of maturity in a child.  What do parents do when this happens? They love the child even more and go on being patient.  Our job is to plant the seed of God’s kingdom in our hearts and the hearts of our family members, and then we must trust God and be patient.

God is trying to grow something special in each one of us, something beautiful, something infinitely more marvelous than any tree could ever be. If we trust God, things will work out in God's own time and in God's way. I'm living proof of that statement for sure.

I survived cancer, and God used that experience to change me and to change my family. If we let God use our experiences the day will come when God’s kingdom will emerge from our heart and grow into something glorious. So the message in today’s readings comes down to this: God planted the seed of his kingdom in your heart, and your job is to nurture it. If we stay close to Him and offer our lives to Him, we never know how He might use us to plant the seeds of hope in someone else.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Down through the ages, our theologians have told us God is love. Saint Augustine taught that the Holy Spirit is – the bond – of love between the Father and the Son. There is such an immense love within the Father and the Son for each other that it spills over into our lives. A love as sweet as a breath or as passionate and powerful as a windstorm.

Scripture scholars tell us the Bible suggests that the apostles receive the Holy Spirit at two different events. In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus appears to the apostles and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them and sends them on to continue his work. Breath symbolizes life.  In the creation story in Genesis God breathed over the waters.  He also breathed on to the clay of the ground and formed the first human being. The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is Ruach – which is feminine by the way – and it means breath or wind. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them the moment seems peaceful, the Spirit is personal, as personal as your next breath.  Saint Basil once said, "Through the Spirit, we become intimate with God."  And this moment – between Jesus and his apostles – seems intimate and sweet. In that intimate moment with Jesus, the apostles breathed in the sweetness of Jesus’ love.

In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how at Pentecost they experienced the power of the Spirit as a rushing wind an invisible mighty wind with noticeable miraculous effects. Perhaps these two very different accounts of the Holy Spirit coming give us a hint of how we can expect to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives. Sometimes as gentle as a breath and other times as powerful as the wind. The Holy Spirit is unpredictable. 

Sometimes the Spirit comes to us like a breath, as sweet and gentle as a kiss. In the sacraments we experience the sweet kiss of the Spirit, the breath of God filling us.  Hidden in the waters of our baptism is the invigorating gift of the Spirit – washing us and cleansing us. When we gather at the Lord's table, we experience the Spirit in Eucharist. At the moment of consecration, the priest prays:                                                       
“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus.”

Like the dewfall, the Spirit gently and lovingly unites us into one Body transforming us into the Body of Christ as we receive the body of Christ.  This is done as we share the sacrament as a community. 

But we must also be ready for the wind and fire, a powerful driving force urging us to do things we never thought possible. On Pentecost, disciples gathered in that room experienced the love of God as a passionate driving force. The Spirit caught everyone by surprise rifling through the upper room like wind – or fire – compelling them to fly out of the exists speaking words they hadn't known five minutes before. The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is unpredictable who sometimes inspires us to do bold things. No one in the upper room in Jerusalem that day expected to speak a new language. Certainly, Peter did not expect to give his unrehearsed sermon, and I'm sure he was surprised when 3,000 people converted. The church was born in that moment of unearthly, unimagined strangeness when the fire and the wind inspired them to do bold things they never dreamed they could do.

Has this ever happened to you? 

Maybe you can remember a time when you said just the right thing to someone, and you didn't know where your words came from.  They came from the Spirit.

There may have been a time when you were inspired to do something bold you never dreamed you would do like move or change vocations. Think back was that the wind or fire of the Holy Spirit calling you to something new?

Perhaps in a time of prayer, or when reading the bible, or in nature, you were overwhelmed with awe or with a sense of peace and understanding. Like a fire burning in your heart. That came from the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in sacrament and inspiration for a purpose.  St. Paul tells us God deploys each of us – to do what He has for us to do – and gives us the gifts to do it. And what He has for us to do might surprise us like it did the apostles that first Pentecost.  And it may be way beyond our competence like it was for them.

Saint Paul said to the Corinthians and us today:
“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 individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

Today is a good day to ask ourselves:                                                                                                       
                                                               What gifts have I been given? 
                                                               What service am I called to?
                                                               What assignment does God have for me?