Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homily for the Feast of The Holy Family ... reading ... Luke 2:22-40

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death  before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace." 

 There was also a prophetess, Anna. She was advanced in years. And coming forward at that very time,  she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. 

This time of year we all enjoy Nativity scenes; where we see the Holy Family, infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph. These are peaceful scenes. The words of Silent Night “all is calm, all is bright” describe the mood.  On the night Jesus was born and the angels sang, and the shepherds came; this was a very special night when heaven and earth stood still for a moment and celebrated. But the events leading up to this moment weren't so peaceful. Today I’d like to review these events, through the eyes of Joseph. 

We don’t talk about him much but he is very important to our faith story. 

What we know of Joseph comes from the birth stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Joseph was a simple man, living a simple life, when God chose him to play this remarkable role in human history. While he was living his life in peace, joyfully awaiting his marriage, suddenly everything changed. His beloved wife became pregnant and he didn’t know by whom. That would shake anyone to their core ... and it did him. As most of us would, he decided he couldn’t go through with the marriage. And then God spoke to him.  God gave him a dream. In this dream, God shared with Joseph His dream for the salvation of the world.

Joseph dreamed – God’s Dream – that night!

When he woke, in obedience to God, he took Mary for his wife. The example this great man gives to all of us is how to follow God through difficult and confusing times. His life teaches us that God’s plans don’t always match our plans. Often in our lives things happen that we never saw coming. Certainly that was true of Joseph. Think about what happened to him ... after ... he said “Yes” to God. 

Once married, when Mary was very pregnant – and we all know what that looks like – Joseph had to put her on a donkey and travel 70 miles. That’s from here (Pacific Beach) to Laguna Beach. When they got to Bethlehem – we don’t know the exact sequence of events – but it’s highly likely Mary was experiencing labor pains. I think donkey rides are probably pretty good at bring on labor. Now we all know the anxiety when a woman is in labor, and we are told in the story that Joseph couldn’t find a place to stay. I certainly hope Mary wasn’t in labor when he was going through that! 

We know that he finds a stable.  In our Nativity scenes these sables are always pristine, but having spent some time on a farm as a boy, I’m not so sure that sable was as sanitary as we like to portray it. According to Luke’s Gospel with no family there to help him, Joseph was likely the only one there to deliver the baby. And this was a time in history when it was common for women to die during child birth. Talk about stressful situations!

So here we are this precious child was born and they have this amazing night we celebrate with the Nativity scene. Then with this night barely done Joseph hears that some evil man wants to kill this beautiful baby. Imagine a death threat on your child! Once again He listens to God and must abandon his home and move this little family to a foreign country. Think about these challenges this man faced.
In today’s Gospel we hear how  when Joseph takes Mary and the child to the Temple, to fulfill a simple requirement of their faith, the priest tells them that this child is destined to create turmoil in Israel and that Mary, his precious wife’s heart, will be pierced by a sword. All of these things happened to Joseph. Joseph was just a regular person, like you and me, simply trying to live a good and peaceful life. But God had other plans.  And Joseph became our model of how to follow God through difficult times.

Joseph’s life changed drastically because of something that happened to someone he loved. When Mary said “Yes” to God, his whole life changed too.  Joseph shows us that so often God’s plan for us can be brought about by things outside of our control ... health ... jobs ... love life ... family ... it can all change without warning. And Joseph is our model of how to be prepared when challenges come.

Scripture describes him as “a righteous man,” which simply means he was a faith-filled and prayerful person.  That is why he was prepared to handle these unforeseen events in his life. The only way he could have dealt with all of this is because he knew God, and he trusted God. Joseph is the picture of how we are all called to be.

Being in-touch with God will help us handle the unforeseen challenges, we all experience in life. Mary and Joseph were simply living their lives day to day, just like us, when everything changed for them. And what we learn from their lives is that good things can come out of the challenges we face, even great things. God doesn’t always remove our challenges. He certainly didn’t for Joseph. But He can work in them. 

In our Gospel reading we see two more examples of this in Simone and Anna. They also were simple people, just dealing with the hand they were dealt by life, being faithful to God, prayerfully trying to serve him; and God used them too, to share his dream.

And He can use us too ... just as he did them! Like Joseph and Simone and Anna, God calls us to dream – God’s dream for the world; and to do our part to make it come true.                                                          
God’s will for us – our call – is first and foremost to strive to be ... a Holy Family ... 
to be like Joseph faith-filled and prayerful. His role ultimately was simply to be ... a good father.  That’s our call too ... to be ... a good father ... or ... a good mother ... a good son ... a good daughter ... sister ... or ... brother.

This is our call.

And what does our call ... to be good family members ... look like?
It’s simple really:
            •           Each day ... to love ... a little bit more than you think you can.
            •           Each day ... to forgive ... a little bit more than you think you can.
            •           Each day ... to be a little bit more patient ... than you think you can.
            •           Each day...to be a little bit kinder and gentler...than you think you can

To bring as much joy - each day - as you can.

If each one of us in this church made that resolution, the Feast of the Holy Family would be a huge success; and it would be one of the best and most practical Christmas gifts we could give ourselves and those around us.

It would bring ...

             joy ... to ourselves
             joy ... to our family
             joy ... to our friends
and      •           joy ... to the world. ...

Then in addition to singing  ... “Joy to the World”... 
we would be doing something about it.

Then we will be helping - God’s Dream - to come true.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Then - by his own will
Christ was dependent on Mary.
He was absolutely helpless; he could go nowhere but where she took him; he could not speak, her breathing was his breath; his heart beat in the beating of her heart.

Now - by his own will
Christ is dependent upon us.
Now it is our turn to carry him
to wherever he wants to go, and there are many places to which he many never go unless we take him.
And he cannot speak unless through us,
and his heart be felt except through ours.

Let your faith glow.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Most of us live in such an agitated state that we do not hear the voice of God.  Our minds are so active that His calm voice can’t get a word in edgewise. We simply do not make space to listen, and God’s word takes root in inner peace. This is why prayer is such a struggle for many of us. 
Oh we are people of faith, that’s not the problem.  We know what we believe, those truths to which we hold that help us cope with our lives. So many of us have a reservoir of the great truths and teachings of our faith already in our hearts and minds, we listen on Sundays, we know what we believe. And remarkably that’s the good news, that God can use that reservoir of faith to speak to us. Our God draws out of us this wisdom he has been sowing in us all along. So the amazing paradox is that the God we want so desperately to listen to is a God who often speaks by listening to us.
That doesn’t make sense you say.  How can one speak by listening?  
When we speak to God, his listening heart draws out of us the wisdom he has been sowing in us all along. We need to speak to him in order to hear what we already know. When we speak from our hearts and the reservoir of our faith, into the warm, receptive silence of a God we hear his voice. And when we listen, he tells us the world is far more beautiful that we think. Speaking into God’s warm silence often creates the stillness we need to know that he loves us, to feel protected and listened to. 
There is another mysterious attribute of our God. In the toughest challenges, when all we want is for it not to be. That’s when he speaks loudest from the depths of our faith. Those times when we desperately ask: Does God love me? Do I really believe this?
Does Christ’s life, death, and resurrection relate to my present pain? The God who listens to each of us can draw out the peace he has sown into our souls if we but speak to Him.  
So speak to him ... and listen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mary's "Yes"

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary he said: ““Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”   There followed the most incredible moment in human history.  A moment when the whole world and all the angels in heaven held their breaths as God’s messenger awaited the response of a teenage girl.  It seems incredible that God would have to await Mary’s “Yes” before bringing about the miracle of the Incarnation within her womb.

We must never forget Mary could have said ... “No!”  

God respected Mary’s freedom just as He respects the freedom of each one of us. Everything hinged on Mary’s “Yes” to God.  And Like Mary, God ask each of us whether we will be open to receiving the gift of His grace so that we can be all that He created us to be. He asks you today, this moment, “Will you empty yourself and open your heart, your mind and your entire being so that I can fill you with the power of the Holy Spirit?

Will you set aside your own hopes and plans – your own limited ideas for your future – to do my Divine Will  ... and be truly happy?  

God invites each one of us to surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit, without any conditions or reservations, so that Christ can be formed within us. So that like Mary, we can bear Jesus into the world wherever we may go.

You may imagine that your answer is not so important as Mary’s, that if you say “no” to God someone else will step in to take your place. While it is true that God can raise up others to be His hands and feet on earth. It is also true that He has created us as unique and unrepeatable individuals.  He has a special plan for your life!  And there is no one else who can be what He has called you to be.

Just as God depended on Mary, so He is depending on you.
Who else can love your family the way you do?
Who else can bring the same mix of gifts and talents to your place of work?
Who will share the Good News of Salvation with those around you
if you are not there to live that example and speak those words?

Spend some time today reflecting on your call ... so much like Mary’s ... and place the words of Mary on our lips and in your heart: “ ‘Thy will be done.’ ”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Homily - First Sunday in Advent 2014 - He did come down!

Today we begin Advent the time of waiting.  

It is a time of anticipation, anticipation of the coming of God into the world at Christmas; 
and ... at the end of time.  

Isaiah, the great prophet of the Old Testament, calls out to God:

Oh, that you would 
rend the heavens 
and come down
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought 
awesome deeds!

There is a little part in all of us that wants God to come down from heaven and do something dramatic to forcefully set the world straight. There is something deep within us that really does want God to come to fix the world; to show us He knows what this life is like right now. So with the prophet we call out: “God please come down and set this crazy world straight!”

The beauty of the Advent season is that we are reminded that God did come down. Just not in a way we might have thought he would.  That's what this season is all about, it’s about celebrating the day God did come down – as a gentle child – as one of us. Advent is about appreciating what happened on Christmas day.

A few weeks ago, I was reading a children’s book to my granddaughter and I realized the story represented perfectly what happened when God chose to come to our rescue. The story was about a grandfather who found his grandson jumping up and down in his playpen crying at the top of his voice.  When little Johnnie saw his grandpa, he reached out his chubby little hands and said, "Out, Gramps, out."  The grandfather reached down to lift his grandson out of his predicament but as he did he heard Johnnie's mom stepped up and say, "No, Johnnie, you are being punished. You have to stay in your playpen."  The grandfather didn't know what to do.  His grandson's tears reached deep into his heart.  However, mom's firmness couldn't be taken lightly.  But love found a way. Grandpa could not take his grandson out of the playpen so instead he climbed in with the little boy.

It struck me when I was reading this children’s story that that is exactly what Jesus did for us at Christmas.  Christ Jesus left heaven for earth and climbed in with us. God came down. The Word was made flesh. God in Christ joined us in our need.

God did tear open the heavens. Just not in the way we expected.  God came down and walked as one of us. God came down and wasn't angry. God came down and through an infant said, "I love you. I share your pain.”

But, Advent is not just a time when we recall that God sent us a Savior in Jesus on Christmas day.  It is much more than that. Advent is also a time when we recall that Jesus will return at a time we least expect.  That’s what Mark tells us in today’s gospel:  “Be on watch. Be alert” If Jesus comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep.

You and I live in the important interval between Jesus’ first coming and anticipating his second coming.  And what are we to do as we wait?  Our job is to complete the work he gave us to do. As the reading says, “You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work. We each have a role to play as we await the master’s return, as we await Jesus return.  Before returning to his Father, Jesus told us what this work is. He said: “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Advent is a time when we check on how well we are following this command.
Advent is a time when we call to mind, in a special way, that Jesus came to tell us of God’s love; to show us God’s love; and then, commissioned us to spread that love.

When Jesus returns he will judge us on how well we did.  On how well we worked to spread God’s kingdom on earth.  That’s what we need to think about these next few weeks.

How are we doing ... ? 

Will he find us sleeping; or, spreading his kingdom of love?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't be a stumbling block!

Jesus said to his disciples:
There will always be something that causes people to sin. But anyone who causes them to sin is in for trouble. A person who causes even one of my little followers to sin would be better off thrown into the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their neck. So be careful what you do.  Correct any followers of mine who sin, and forgive the ones who say they are sorry. Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, “I am sorry,” you should still forgive that person.  

The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith stronger!” Jesus replied:If you had faith no bigger than a tiny mustard seed, you could tell this mulberry tree to pull itself up, roots and all, and to plant itself in the ocean. And it would!”  Luke 17:1-6

Jesus says today – sin happens it is unavoidable.  It’s part of the human condition.  But, don’t be the one who causes another to sin.  The word Jesus uses today can be translated as – stumbling block.  Don’t be a stumbling block for someone.
We say to ourselves: 
“I’d never do that!”

What about professing to be a Christian and then being mean and in a foul mood all the time.  To the point others might say, “If he or she is a Christian, I want nothing to do with Church.”  That’s being a stumbling block.  We can’t just talk the talk.  Jesus is saying today, must walk the walk; and be examples of what a Christian looks like, acts like and does.   Like being a forgiving person, as Jesus suggests today.

Is there someone in your life you need to forgive?
Is your lack of forgiveness a stumbling block for others in your life?

I have a friend who is so bitter, and unforgiving, about her divorce she is a stumbling block for her children.  They say, “If my Mom is a good Christian and bad mouths my Dad all the time, who needs that?”

My mother always used to say, 
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” 

It’s almost humorous that the disciples on hearing this instruction to forgive ask Jesus to give them more faith.  We all understand that we need God to increase our faith so we can do the right thing at times. And how does Jesus respond to this request?   He says, we don't need a lot of faith – we just need a faith that is personal and sincere and alive.  

A faith that does not cause others to stumble, and forgives those that injury us.

Monday, November 3, 2014

10 Things to know about Jesus – Fr. James Martin

1. Jesus was poor.
Jesus’s occupation as a tekton, a Greek word usually translated as “carpenter.” But it can also mean “woodworker,” “craftsman” or even “day laborer.” It’s important to note that in the social and economic scheme of things, carpenters ranked below the peasantry, because they did not have the benefit of a plot of land. 

Jesus knew what it meant to eke out a living in a poor town.

2. Jesus saw income disparities firsthand, and he condemned them.
In the Parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke’s Gospel (in which a rich man refuses to care for a poor one), we often think of his words as divinely inspired. And they were: Jesus was fully divine. But they also were informed by his human experience, and that experience included seeing great disparities of wealth in his own life.

3. Jesus had close friends.
We tend to think of Jesus as interacting with his apostles, disciples, and followers. But he also had friends. The Gospels describe, for example, Jesus’s relaxing at the house of his good friends Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says, quite plainly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister.”
It’s a window into the deep relationships and intimate friendships that Jesus enjoyed. He was not simply Messiah; he was a good friend.

4. Jesus instructed his disciples not to judge.
For some reason, this is often difficult for people to accept. Whenever I mention Jesus’s injunction not to judge — “Judge not, lest you be judged” — some people bristle. We are called to live moral lives, and invite others to lead moral lives, but we do so primarily through our own example and by gentle persuasion — not by judging and condemning them. Judgment is left, as Jesus reminds us, to God.

5. Jesus didn’t say anything about gays and lesbians.
In all his many utterances about many social situations and human conditions, Jesus never said one word about homosexual persons. In any event, Jesus himself spoke a great deal about helping the poor, forgiving one’s enemies, and even divorce (which he condemned), but nothing about, and certainly nothing against, gay and lesbian men and women.

6. Jesus always reached out to those on the margins.
If a Gospel narrative introduces a marginalized person, it is a sure bet that Jesus will reach out to him or her. The examples are too numerous to mention. He meets a Roman centurion, and rather than forcing him to convert to Judaism, he heals the man’s servant. He meets a Samaritan woman (someone viewed as a foreigner or even an enemy for Jews of Judea and Galilee), and rather than condemning her, engages in a friendly conversation. He meets Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho and therefore the “chief sinner” of the area, and even before Zacchaeus offers to repent, Jesus offers to dine with him, a sign of acceptance. Jesus is continually reaching out to people on the margins, and he asked his disciples to do the same.

7. Jesus can’t be tamed.
Thomas Jefferson went so far as to construct his own “Gospel” by (literally) scissoring out the miracles and other traces of his divinity. Like many of us, Jefferson felt uncomfortable with parts of Jesus’s story. He wanted a Jesus who didn’t threaten, a Jesus he could tame.  But Jesus cannot be tamed. The people of his time could not do this, and neither can we. Scissor out the uncomfortable parts and it’s not Jesus were talking about — it is our own creation.  Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus was . . . Thomas Jefferson.

8. Jesus really did perform miracles.
Many people are uncomfortable with Jesus’s supernatural power and other signs of his divinity. But an immense part of the Gospels is taken up with what are called “works of power” and “signs” — that is, miracles. Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was never in doubt in the Gospels. Even his detractors take note of his miracles, as when they critique him for healing on the Sabbath. The question posed by people of his time is not whether Jesus can do miracles, but rather the source of his power. The statement that Jesus was seen as a miracle worker in his time has as much reliability as almost any other statement we can make about him.

9. Jesus struggled, even in prayer.
Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That’s a basic Christian belief. It’s also a mystery, that is, something not to be fully understood, but pondered. And one of the most telling windows into his humanity comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he is confronted with his impending crucifixion. Jesus asks God the Father to “remove this cup.” He is saying, in essence: “If it’s possible, I don’t want to die.” Eventually, Jesus accepts that his coming death is his Father’s will — but not before struggle and prayer. Later, when hanging on the cross, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” This is not a person who does not struggle: Christians do not relate to a person who cannot understand our own human struggles.

10. Jesus rose from the dead.
Not everyone believes this about Jesus, because to believe this is to be a Christian, and not everyone reading this is Christian. The Gospels portray the apostles as abject cowards during the crucifixion: most of them abandon Jesus; one of them, Peter, denies knowing him; and after his death they are depicted as cowering behind closed doors. That’s hardly something that the Gospel writers would make up.   But after the Resurrection, they are utterly transformed. The disciples move from being terrified victims to men and women ready to die for what they believe. Only something dramatic, something visible, something tangible, something real, could affect this kind of change.

Jesus really and truly rose to the dead. For me, that’s the most important thing to know about Jesus

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I prefer a Church which is bruised,

hurting and dirty

because it has been out on the streets


than a Church 

which is unhealthy 

from being confined 

and from clinging to its own security.

Pope Francis

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's All About Love ... Homily - 30th Sunday OT cycle A 2014

We hear words today in our gospel reading that lots of us have heard many times before.

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
  with all your soul, and with all your mind;” and,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Hearing familiar words like these today reminds me of the story of an old priest who met a member of his congregation who began to boast:  “Father, I have been through the gospels many times.” Rather than praise him the priest said gently: “The important thing is not how often you have been through the gospels but how often the gospels have been through you.”

The purpose of the gospels that we read each week at Mass is not to recreate the words and works of Jesus ... but to let them recreate us.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel Jesus says something to his apostles that we need to really contemplate deeply.  He said:

“These people have become close-minded and hard of hearing.
 They have shut their eyes so that their eyes never see.
 Their ears never hear. Their minds never understand.
 And they never return to me for healing!” Matthew 13:15

Sadly ... those words often describe us

We come to church with our ears and eyes so full of the cares of our world we don’t look or listen deeply with open minds and eager hearts. Our hearts and minds are so full of our own thoughts and worries that we don’t really let the words of the Gospels flow through us and change us.  God’ wants this experience we share each Sunday –  this time together – to so touch our hearts that we are changed by it; recreated in some small way.

Let’s listen again and this time try to hear it and let it deeply impact our hearts:

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart ...
 with all ... your soul ... ... and with all ... your mind.”
“You shall love your neighbor as you love your very self.

Is this your experience ... ?
Do you really love the Lord God that way? 
Does your love for Him consume all of you ... heart  ... mind ... and ... soul?

To love God that way, like any loving relationship, requires spending time with Him – quality time. If you never give God any time, can you really love him like that?

Wouldn't it be transformative if we really lived this commandment? To "love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.  And, love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Jesus placed love of neighbor alongside love of God for a reason, because he knows that they are completely linked.  God can feel so distant that he’s hard to love that is why he gave us each other.

There is a story about a young woman who was in great distress because she had lost a sense of God in her life.  She complained to her elderly grandmother, “Why doesn't God let me feel His presence? If only I could feel Him and know that He has touched me.”  Her grandmother said, “Pray to God, right now.  Close your eyes and pray to him.  Ask Him to put out his hand and touch you.”  The girl closed her eyes and prayed fervently.  Then she felt a hand on her hand.  “He touched me.  He touched me,” she cried out.  Then she said, “You know, his hand felt just like your hand.”  “Of course it was my hand,” her grandmother said.  “That’s how God works.  He takes the hand that is nearest and uses that.”

Loving God and loving our neighbors are completely connected.  That’s why Jesus answered the man’s question, that day, the way he did. Jesus knows the best way to connect to God, to love God, is to love someone.  And the truth is we cannot truly love our neighbor apart from loving God.  We cannot separate the two.  We show our love for God, by the way we love our neighbor. "What you did for the least of mine you did for me," God said. And in the end that’s all that really matters.

Any of us who have had the privilege to be at the bedside of someone in their final moments, when they stand on the edge of eternity, know that you will never hear someone say, “Bring me my diplomas! I want to look at them one more time. Show me my awards, my medals, that gold watch I was given.”  When life on earth is ending people don’t surround themselves with objects.  What we want around us is people – people we love – and have relationships with. In our final moments we all realize that relationships are what life is all about. Love is all that matters in the end.

This is what Jesus is really saying to us today. He is saying: Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter unless it is about loving God, and loving the people he has made?                                         

Today let’s all allow these words about love sink in deeply.
Let them go – through us – and change us, recreate us.

And then Jesus can heal us. And, use us to heal others. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What good can come from suffering? ... you ask. "Awareness"

No one wants to suffer.
But ... we must learn that suffering is part of the journey of growth.
It is inevitable in the human state.  All humans suffer.  So the question becomes:

What do you do with suffering?

No one is happy for the suffering - who would be, who could be?
But ... that does not mean that there are no benefits - no blessings.

What good can come from suffering? ... you ask.  "Awareness"

The end of the world for a caterpillar is ... a butterfly.

Suffering can - if we allow it to - helps us to shed the unimportant.
We can become more aware of what is really important in life.
It focuses us on what truly matters.

The blessing in suffering is that you are happy
for for the new level of intimacy that the suffering brought you to.
Often you only know this - after the fact.
You usually can't see it in the suffering.
Perhaps days or weeks or even years later, one day you realize -
"God is so real to me now.  How did I get here?"

Suffering's greatest gift might be that you learn to live in the present moment.
You become fully alive in the moment.

All the expectations of the world drop away when we suffer. You stop caring about an other's approval.  Suffering can allow one to no longer march to the drums of society, but rather become someone who dances to the tune of the music that springs up from within.

When you are ready to lose your life ... you live it.

An Italian poet once said:
"We live in a flash of light; evening comes and it is night forever."
Our earthly life is only a flash and it is so easy to waste it.

Suffering can make you desire not to waste a moment ... and that is a blessing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Show me the coin."

They asked Jesus.
Tell us what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" 
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
"Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? 
Show me the coin that pays the census tax." 
Then they handed him the Roman coin. 
He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" 
They replied, "Caesar's."
At that he said to them,
"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God."

Matthew 22:17-22

"Show me the coin."

In this reading, Jesus brilliantly dodges another trap set for him.  Taking a tiny little coin with Caesar’s image on it Jesus said: “give to Caesar what his Caesar’s;” and then he drops a bomb shell on his adversaries by saying: and give “to God what belongs to God."

Yes, of course, we must do our civic duty and pay our taxes, but the more important question is: What are we giving God?  Few of us shirk our civic duty; all of us pay our taxes.  But, many of us are shortchanging God.   And, the currency that matters to God is love.  What God values from us is love of neighbor.  What He values most is compassion.

Jesus was saying that day that we have a dual citizenship.  We are citizens of two worlds, citizens of this world and citizens of heaven.  We too must give to Caesar – the government – what is their due; and God what is His.

  • Are you giving to God what is God’s?
  • What about our lives belongs to God? 
  • Everything?
  • So what do you owe him?  

Don't be cheap!

That is what we are called to contemplate this week in our reading.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Proverbs 3:1-6

My child, do not forget my teaching,
take to heart my commands;
For many days, and years of life,
and peace, will they bring you.
Do not let love and fidelity forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then will you win favor and esteem 
before God and human beings.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
on your own intelligence do not rely;
In all your ways be mindful of him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Call to the Vineyard

A man had two sons.  He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order.  He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?  Matthew 21:28-31

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul says something powerful, unbelievable really. He said:

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality 
with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the 
form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.”  Phil 2:6-8

Wow, that is so incredible.  
Jesus, who is God, emptied himself to become a slave – for us! 
Why would an all-powerful God do that? 

Jesus, who was God, in complete humility, emptied himself of himself to serve us. If he is our model as Christians, what does that tell us? Our call as Christians is to like Jesus, to be humble and serve others.  But the world tells just the opposite.  The world celebrates vanity, and tells us to watch out for number one.

In the reading above from Matthew's gospel, Jesus Invites us today to come to the vineyard and do God’s work. The vineyard imagery is a place where God calls his people to labor with him in the midst of the world. It is where his sons and daughters work in order to receive the reward of his kingdom. And the values in the vineyard – in God’s kingdom – are different than that of the world.  The world tells us happiness comes from acquiring possessions, receiving praise and having more. "The one with the most toys wins."

Jesus says – that’s a lie. He told us: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the Good News's will save it.”  God is calling us to live differently, to humble ourselves as he did and serve others. Jesus said in God’s world – in the vineyard – “The humble are exalted. The exalted are humbled.”

God calls us into his vineyard every day, just like he did those two sons in the parable.  And truth is most of us can find a bit of each brother in our lives. At times we say; "Yes, Sir ... I will go to work in the vineyard."  But, do we make it to the vineyard?  We say: “Yes, sir,” but then never let go of the world, never do anything to bring compassion and healing to the world. We never humble ourselves, let go of our agenda, and serve others in God’s name. We put on a good show about our faith.  We come to church regularly, but in our hearts, we never let go of the values of the world. We don't really want to change.  And in truth, this little piece of our life, the part we call "church," works just the way we want it to. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is how often I realize that I am the one who needs to hear the message most! 

The truth is we are all, also, a little bit like the son who said: “NO Lord.”  We say “no” by sinning, being selfish, and choosing the world over God’s vineyard. All of us have had those moments of selfishness and been anything but humble. Then we discover that what we thought would make us happy doesn't.

That is what happened to Saint Augustine one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  His young adulthood was a stormy period. It included fathering a child out of wedlock. In his twenties, Augustine moved to Milan, Italy, where he became a professor of rhetoric; a very prestigious position for a young man.  His personal life, however, continued to be stormy and wayward.

While in Milan, two things happened to him. First, he became increasingly unhappy with his personal life. Second, he became attracted to Christianity. It was in this frame of mind that he sat down one day and began to ponder his life. Suddenly he broke into tears and began to cry out to God: And you, Lord! How long will you be angry with me? Forever? Why not at this very hour put an end to my evil life?

Augustine said later: I was crying out like this when, suddenly, I heard the voice of a child. It seemed to say, “Take and read! Take and read!” I stood up. For now the voice seemed like a command to read the Bible. I got a Bible and opened it. The first words my eyes fell upon were from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

They read:
“Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Let us conduct ourselves properly, as people who live in the light of day—no orgies or drunkenness . . . no fighting or jealousy. But take up the weapons of the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop paying attention to your sinful nature.”  Romans 13:12–14

When Augustine read this, he stopped. There was no need to go on. He says: “My heart was suddenly flooded with a light that erased all my doubts. And my soul was filled with a deep peace.” The Confessions of Saint Augustine (condensed and adapted)

That’s what happens when we finally enter the vineyard ... we find peace.

We need to ask ourselves the same questions Augustine did:
  • How content are you with our present life?
  • Are you dissatisfied with your present relationship with God?
  • Do you wish you had a closer relationship, a closer connection, with Jesus?
  • Are we ready to work in the vineyard, ready to humble ourselves, and help     others, especially the needy?

If that’s the case, what all-important first step might we take?
  • For some of us maybe that step is the sacrament of Reconciliation. Maybe we need to go to confession.
  • Maybe it’s simply to begin tonight to spend a few minutes in prayer before going to bed.
  • Or maybe you need to begin a small bible study or faith sharing group to support you.

We are all being called to the vineyard.  Will we go is the only question.

Welcome to the vineyard Jesus says.  Let’s go be productive together.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Covenant – Margaret Halaska ... I love this !

knocks at my door 
seeking a home for his son.

Rent is cheap, I say.

I don’t want to rent. I want to buy, says God.

I’m not sure I want to sell, 
but you might come in to look around.

I think I will, says God

I might let you have a room or two.

I like it, says God. I’ll take the two. 
You might decide to give me more some day. 
I can wait, says God

I’d like to give you more, 
but it’s a bit difficult. I need some space for me.

I know, says God, but I’ll wait. I like what I see.

Hm, maybe I can let you have another room. 
I really don’t need it that much.

Thanks, says God, I’ll take it. I like what I see.

I’d like to give you the whole house 
but I’m not sure

Think on it, says God. I wouldn’t put you out. 
Your house would be mine and my son would live in it. 
You’d have more space than you’d ever had before.

I don’t understand at all.

I know, says God, but I can’t tell you about that. 
You’ll have to discover it for yourself. 
That can only happen if you let me have the whole house.

A bit risky, I say.

Yes, says God, but try me.

I’m not sure— 
I’ll let you know.

I can wait, says God. I like what I see.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Names are important ...

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” 
He said to them,
“But who do you say that I am?”  
Simon Peter said in reply, 
“You are the Christ, 
the Son of the living God.”  
Jesus said to him in reply, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 

In this reading from Matthew we hear about the power of a name. 

Jesus says to his disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?” or, what name do you give me. Simon speaking for all of them names him:  “You are the Christ.” Then Jesus gives Simon a new name – Peter – the rock.

The name "Christ" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The word messiah literally means "the anointed one" So why is Jesus called “the anointed one?”

At the time of Jesus and the apostles to be anointed, literally, is to have sacred oil poured on one’s head because God has chosen the person for a special task. Priests, prophets and kings were anointed. Kings were anointed during their coronation rather than receiving a crown. So the Messiah – the Christ – the anointed one – was to be the leader of the Jewish people, promised to them down through the age by their prophets

They were expecting this leader, who they believed would be  the "King of Israel." They were expecting a king who would govern the people of Israel and lead them back to greatness.They didn't understand that his kingship was not of this world.  The Christ they expected would be a powerful worldly leader.  Jesus created a new definition of the messiah.  One who took our sins away and opened for us the Kingdom of Heaven

Jesus Christ – the anointed one – in the way he  lived, died and rose again, showed that He ultimately fulfilled all of the “anointed” roles … 
priest … prophet … and … king.

And Peter that day for the first time named Jesus the messiah. Giving him this name transformed the mission of the 12 Apostles.  Jesus was no longer merely a teacher, a spiritual leader they admired.  He was the one promised by God, called to build God’s kingdom.   Calling Jesus the Christ changed everything for them.

Then Jesus then turns to Simon and does the same, he names him – Peter. The name "Peter," from the Greek petros, signifies more than simply a stone, or a rock, Its meaning is more like bedrock.  It is solid, foundational, and immovable.

Jesus' naming of Simon – Peter – is also a significant moment for the 12, and for the entire church they would found.  Peter was called to lead. He was called to be the foundation of this new church.

In calling him Peter – the "bedrock" – on which the Church was to be built Jesus gave Simon
•           a name … to live into …
•           a name … to cling to … when times get tough …
•           a name … to fulfill … for the rest of his days.

The names and the nicknames that we give one another can have great power. They can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  What names and nicknames have you been given?  What names do you claim?  And, what names do you need to discard because they do not serve you as a child of God?

There are a few names my brothers gave me growing up that I’ve had to discard. 
In anger we often call each other names,  names that harm.  We all need to learn to let go of these names – names that have damaged us.

And there are some names we need to claim. In an increasingly secular society some of us are reluctant to claim the name "Christian" because of negative associations others have given the name.  We need to be brave enough to claim the name Christian.  And then, through our actions, give it a new name in society; as Jesus did with the name Messiah. Just like Jesus, by our living unselfishly – by living for others and dying to ourselves – we can give it a new definition.  Let the world say because of us, because of you and me, " See how these who claim the name Christian love one another "

At our baptism each of us was given certain names by the Church that we need to claim.

Like Jesus,  we too have been anointed. At our baptism the priest or deacon anoints us and gives us names. When the Chrism oil is applied to our heads the following words are said over us.  Listen to these words and claim them for yourself.  After the water is poured over your heads you are anointed and these words are spoken:

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.

As a baptized person you are a member of the body of Christ.   Do you own the titles, the names, Priest – Prophet – and – King? These are the names given to YOU at your baptism.  These are names that Christ wants you to claim, just as Peter was asked to claim, and live up to, his name.

  •     A prophet is a messenger sent by God, a person who speaks for God. Someone who reveals God and communicates to people the truths that God wants them to know.  He, or she, witnesses to God, calling people to conversion.

  •     A priest is a mediator, or bridge, between God and human beings. Offering prayers and sacrifices for others. We are called by our baptism to offer prayers for our-selves, for each other and for the Church.

  •      A King is one who leads others.  Each of us is called to be a leader for Christ

How are you doing in these names –  these roles – you have been given?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Does anyone go on dates anymore?

I was talking with a group of young men at church the other day and was given astonishing insight into the current dating scene. As I sat down with them to talk about life, I found something concerning: none of them were asking women out. 

Does anyone go on dates anymore?

All the guys were living a very dynamic social media life, where everyone knows a lot about each other – their favorite restaurant, what they did on their last vacation, and if they are in a relationship – but very few of them were “dating.” When I asked “Why?” Most of the men said they were fearful of “messing up” or “ending up with the wrong one”. This fear caused them to seldom date and keep female relationships plutonic and confusing.  Wow I was shocked.  And I kept thinking - that's just not right! 

I’m not even sure Christian men know how to ask a girl out and go on a date. This explains to me, why so many great Christian women at our parish are frustrated - despite our parish having one of the best young adult ministries in the country.  They are frustrated because guys aren't stepping up and asking them out. So listen up guys. Stop being afraid and take a girl to coffee. It’s not a marriage proposal. It’s just coffee.

In looking for “The One”, Christian men can easily get caught in the trap of never asking women out at all because: "She might not be 'The One'".  That’s just crazy.  The only way you will ever find “The One” is if you date enough great women to know when the right one comes along.  So stop hiding behind prayers, vague intentions, group hangouts, and TEXT MESSAGES! Great Christian women are just waiting for real Christian men who are willing to step up and date.

It seems that you men are such good guys that you obsess over questions like: “What if I’m not going to marry her?” “What if I hurt her?” “What if I don’t like her after we date for a few weeks?” Men, listen up! Stop over praying and over-analyzing and start asking! Stop the group hangouts and text messages with no clear direction. If you are clearly leading her on step up and ask her out, or stop leading her on. Group hangouts are great, but find time for one-on-one where your intentions are clear.

So here is some advice from a old Baby Boomer who dated lots of great women back in the day: Find a girl who you think is interesting and attractive and ask her out in person or over the phone (no texting). When you are on the date, put away the electronics and talk.  After you go out, call her again and ask her out again. This may sound a bit crazy to you guys – but that’s how it’s done.  And then, if you decide that it just isn't there, be straightforward. Tell her kindly you won’t be calling anymore because you aren't interested in a romantic relationship. Don’t waste her time.  Don’t tie her up in her best dating years, if you don’t intend to move forward, free her to find someone else. If you tell her you don’t want to date any more.  It will sting a little for her, but it’s better than leading her on for months and her having hundreds of discussions with her friends about what’s up with you. Be a man and don’t hide behind vague intentions and confusing relationships.

And ladies, the truth is we guys are a bit dense most of the time. If you are confused about a man’s intentions—just ask him to clarify. It’s your responsibility not to let him lead you on.  I know that’s harsh, but it is your responsibility. And come-on guys, it’s time to be a man and take girls out on dates.  Try a little “Prince Charming” and see if it isn't a better way to find “The One”. Rather than relying exclusively on prayer asking if she’s the one for you—talk to her and ask her to go somewhere with you. And then sweep her off her feet.

Stop praying, start asking. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Parables - Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle A - Matthew 13:24-43

It’s fascinating how Jesus taught.  How he used these simple parables to teach us. The parable is a story where Jesus draws comparisons between one thing and another. In the parable of the mustard seed, the primary point of comparison is the contrast between the smallness of the seed – the smallness of the start – and the greatness of the result.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.  

Jesus is telling us how God chose to build his kingdom. He chose to do it in a small way. A baby born in a stable, who grew up and at the appointed time recruited 12 very ordinary men, in a remote providence of the Roman Empire. Jesus doesn't tell us why God chose this way; as the old saying goes: “God works in mysterious ways!”  And God’s way of building the kingdom is in the small things of life.

So his message for us today is don’t wait for some big thing, some great call or mission. God works in the small things. The qualities Jesus taught us to seek were not the ones that made us feel important; just the opposite – humility, love, patience and mercy – were the virtues he valued. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” – “Blessed are the meek” – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Which means that none of us can say: "Well, I am a nobody, too small to matter.” because God says it’s all about small things.  

At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks again about the final judgment. And he says what will matter to God is not material success, great accomplishments, or the great missions we take on. The only things that will matter to God will be our little acts of kindness. This passage tells us “The King will say:  ‘I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least important of these followers of mine you did it for me!’” (Matthew 25:31-46) The kingdom of heaven is built on each kind word, each small act of compassion. Those are the seeds of the kingdom.

We don’t think much about these daily little actions. But each is a seed that has the potential to change a life, and the lives of all who know them. Jesus is saying that’s how the Kingdom grows – slowly; one branch at a time, one leaf at a time, one person, one life changed by some small kindness at a time. Our call as Christians is to let go of the need for something big.

When we talk about faith, what we are saying is we accept God’s kingship in our life. We let Him rule. And this faith is like a seed that we need to nurture, to grow.  

What are the weeds that choke out our faith?  We know what they are! We know those things that choke our spirits.  For some of us it’s excessive partying. For others it’s making money our God.  For some of us it’s pessimism, hopelessness and fear. Many of us are unwilling to forgive someone, and that hatred is choking our spirit. A few of us have become paralyzed by grief. Jesus is asking us today to root out these weeds; to root out attitudes and ideas that have taken hold which have no place in the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ parables are designed to tease our mind to startle our imagination to make us think.

The mustard seed story challenges us to think small; to see that even though we are one small person, if we grow our little faith, it can be a blessing and to those around us.

The story about the leaven – the yeast – challenges us to ask: “Do I have patience with God’s work, His slow and seemingly hidden building of the Kingdom, or will I be impatient and always seek something around the next corner.

The story of the Wheat and Weeds challenges us to ask: “Can I leave final judgment to God?  Can I let go of judging others? Can I live a good productive life, a life that bares good fruit, even in a world full of weeds – full of sin.”

Jesus used these simple, mundane things – seeds – yeast – weeds – to present to us life-altering challenges. His use of these small, common things is a lesson for us by itself. The message is that the most important lessons in our life can come from the small moments, the mundane moments, from the  small challenges we face each day.  In each of the small moments of our lives we fashion parables too; little stories and events that build the kingdom of God.

  • When the woman next door, who has been unpleasant – even mean for years – falls ill and her neighbor brings over a meal made with love and stays for a visit — a parable is taking place.

  • When a mother loves her teenage daughter, even though she just screamed “I hate you!” and slammed the bedroom door – a parable is being lived.

  • When a husband and wife stop in the middle of a stupid fight and forgive each other – a parable is happening.

  • When an infertile couple conceives then goes ahead with the planned adoption anyway, because that child needs a home — a parable appears before our eyes.

So what will it be in your life?  That’s really the question Jesus is asking today. 
What parable of the kingdom will be made visible in your life?

When you give it over to God;  when you live in the power of the Holy Spirit in all the little mundane things and moments, then the Kingdom comes alive in your life.  

And Jesus says … then … you will be a light to the world …                          

Then … you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.