Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Worry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sacramental Church

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

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

Sacraments are not human works.

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

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

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

American Catholic or a Catholic American?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which are you?

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Beatitudes

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven."

This list of qualities Jesus says we all should embrace is something most of us have heard before ... maybe many times. And it might be that we are so familiar with this list we call the Beatitudes that we have stopped recognizing how shockingly radical and challenging they are. The formula Jesus gives us for living life is radically different than what the world says will make us happy. 

“Blessed” are ... the poor ... the mourners ... the meek ... and ... the persecuted?

That sounds kind of strange to our ears; doesn’t it?  Our culture says just the opposite, focus on security, on keeping your health. Our culture celebrates the wealthy, famous and the powerful. They are the one’s our culture tells us are the most fortunate and so the happiest.  

Jesus says today that’s just not true. That’s wrong!

If you really want to be happy – blessed – he says live these Beatitudes. He instructs us to embrace this surprising list of traits fully; even though they are completely counter-cultural. Then later in this same speech, he tells us not to worry about the needs of this life.  He implies that if we just live these by these values, God will take care of us.

He said: “... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The beatitudes Jesus preached about that day are the way he wants us to orient our life.  They aren’t things to do at all; they are core qualities that define a person who wishes to live a blessed life. They are the essence, the heart of what it means to be a Christ-follower ... a Christian. Jesus is giving us a formula for living a meaningful and joyful life. The Christian is called to a life that is a paradox; a paradox that says that living a life sensitive to suffering can lead to a joy-filled life.

Take the beatitude about mourning, for example, Jesus said those that mourn are blessed. Really?  How does that work? We ask. When we hear this Beatitude, we think of those who grieve at the death of a dearly loved family member or friend, or someone suffering some grave injustice. And we interpret what Jesus is saying as: “They will be comforted in this life  or the next.” But maybe he is saying something a bit different. Perhaps Jesus is inviting all of us, even those whose lives are not sorrowful,  to become blessedly happy by embracing the sorrows of others.

Jesus is saying
-       that mourning with others and helping them through their sorrow
-       hungering for justice
-       being merciful
-       being a peacemaker
That’s the path to living a blessed life.  That’s the path to true happiness.

Jesus is saying to us today, if you want to be truly happy don’t spend your life seeking to be thought of as wise, strong and successful. If you want to be truly happy,
-       seek to be compassionate.
-       seek to bring justice to the world
-       seek to help those who mourn
-       seek to be merciful
-       and a peacemaker 
-       stand up for what you know is right even if you get insulted and persecuted for it. 

Notre Dame University highly honors one of their alums who understood this teaching Dr. Tom Dooley. After graduating from medical school, Dr. Dooley enlisted in the Navy as a doctor. One hot July afternoon off the coast of Vietnam his ship rescued 1,000 refugees who were drifting helplessly in an open boat. Many of the refugees were diseased and sick. Since Dooley was the only doctor on the ship, he had to tackle, single-handedly, the job of giving medical aid to these people. It was backbreaking, but he discovered what a little medicine could do for sick people like this. He said in a book he wrote about his experiences:  “Hours later, I stopped a moment to straighten my shoulders and made another discovery — the biggest of my life. I was happy treating these people. Happier than I had ever been before.”

Dooley’s experience that hot July afternoon changed his life forever. When he got out of the Navy, he returned to the jungles of Asia and set up a small hospital to serve the poor and the sick. Dr. Dooley explained the paradox of the Beatitudes this way; he said:  “To be more aware of the sorrow in the world than of the pleasure can bring joy to life. If you’re extra sensitive to sorrow” he said “and you do something, no matter how small to make it lighter, you can’t help but be happy (blessed). That’s just the way it is.”

The “poor in spirit” are the people who are totally detached from worldly things and totally attached to heavenly things. They are the people whose focus in life is serving God and each other, who regard their personal needs as secondary. The “poor in spirit” are found not only among society’s lowliest people but also among its most successful people.

We have a fantastic example of that right now in our Pope – Pope Francis; arguably the most famous man in the world. He lives it; he models poor in spirit. In the grandness of the Vatican, he lives simply and reaches out to those who suffer. Images of his tender touch for those who suffer are everywhere; washing the feet of men in prison for example. That is being poor in spirit. That is embracing that loving like Jesus loved brings true joy. And whenever you see a picture of the Pope you see the JOY all over him. 

The Beatitudes of Jesus present a model for finding joy that is contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by prevailing American wisdom. 

We need to think about that.

Pope Francis said to the crowds at World Youth Day;

“Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and “thinking small” when it comes to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts! To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by.”

Let’s not just scape by, read the Beatitudes again at home and open your heart.

Today ask Jesus to show you how to live them out – every day.