Monday, January 29, 2018

Faith–religion–is all about mystery.  I am not talking about that which is unknowable, but that which is entirely knowable. God will always be mystery and God will still be knowable. So how do we engage the mystery that is God? 
It’s in becoming aware of our powerlessness that we gain faith in something greater than ourselves.  If we believe we are powerful and have all the knowledge we need about life and its meaning, then we have no need of a higher power.

The spiritual journey, the journey to knowing God, is a journey into the mystery of our own powerlessness. Life is the best teacher.  Life is full of disappointment, betrayal, abandonment, failure, and rejection, and that is the stuff of religious education. It’s the losses, disappointments, and failures that are our best teachers. When we embrace our brokenness, we can begin to embrace the one who loves us just as we are.  We need to let go of the lies the world offers and open our hearts to what’s real, then we can begin to discover the knowable God. 

We often muse about why so many people in church have white hair.  It’s because they have traveled this journey of life’s disappointments and have come to know the knowable God who loves them unconditionally. They have come to realize the emptiness of selfishness and greed. Real spiritual growth comes when we let go of our addiction to self.

How do we know when we have found God? When we begin to focus on the other. When there is an increased capacity for compassion, forgiveness, and love.  When we begin to turn away from the all-demanding self and turn our eyes and hearts out to the other, then we are starting to discover the knowable God. 

Jesus said that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. He also said if we spend our life trying to find our life, we’ll lose it; on the other hand, if we spend our life letting go of our life, we’ll find it. 

Our culture is made to order for this spiritual journey. We love to define our self almost entirely by external achievements, by external appearance, by skin color, by the car we drive, where we live, and so forth. Which of course is all illusion; or as Jesus said about the rich man who built more barns - foolishness. There’s something more in life than accumulating money and possessions. There's something more in life than worrying about what others think of us. Eventually, we all figure that out whether we find God or not. 

So how do we know God? We find Him when we’ve let go of all of the obscurities that blind us to Him. When we transcend the illusions of the world, we begin to know the very knowable God.  As Christians, we are so fortunate because we follow a God in Jesus who modeled it for us.  We follow a God who loves us so dearly, he became one of us to show The Way. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

REPENT - We don't like that word very much. Homily 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Mark 1:14-20

In the Gospel reading, Mark gives us the first record we have of Jesus preaching. His first sermon was short and powerful: 

“The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

One word – leaps out of that message. A word we Christians aren’t too fond of - REPENT.  
It sounds so negative when we hear the word – repent. It often causes us to call to mind those things that make us feel guilty. So, if you are like me, you pretty much avoid the word. But the truth is to “repent” in the language of the gospels - Greek - it means something a bit different.  The Greek word is metanoia. Repentance – or metanoia – is not merely a moral call to stop sinning. Rather, it refers to what we might call “conversion,” changing one’s mind, heart and life toward God. Shifting the focus of our lives. The kingdom that Jesus preached is about transformation. To repent is to transform yourself. Jesus is asking us to make a turn in our life. Not so much to turn from something, but to turn to something.

To repent is to turn inside, to look within ourselves and ask – What am I doing here? Is this the way God wants me to live? The answer may be … “YES” … but you won’t know unless you look within. To repent is to turn to Christ and accept the Gospel – the Good News – he brought to the world. And let it change our lives for the better.

One of the most significant saints in our church's history is an excellent example of this.Saint Augustine’s life as a young man was characterized by loose living and a search for the answers to life's fundamental questions. He would follow various philosophers, only to become disillusioned with their teachings.  He had success and lovers. He should have been happy, but he wasn’t.  He went one day to hear the preaching of the local bishop Ambrose.  He went only to hear Ambrose's eloquent style of speaking for he was a famous orator. But what he heard that day led him to a new understanding of the Christian Faith. He had this metanoia, this change of heart, Jesus called for in his first sermon. Augustine said it felt as if his heart was flooded with light. He turned entirely from his life of sin to a life that embraced the Gospel – the Good News. He was Baptized by Ambrose the following Easter. Later, reflecting on this experience, Augustine wrote about this turn to Christ. He said in a prayer to Christ. “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Augustine went on to become a powerful influence on the spirituality and the theology of the Christian Church. He became one of the Church’s greatest theologians – a Doctor of the Church.

How do you turn toward Christ as he did? Not just a “book learning” of Jesus but let him get inside of you; to have an experience like Augustine and feel as if your heart is flooded with light. To repent means to turn toward Jesus and open your heart and mind to his message. The first thing is you must get to know him. Augustine met Jesus in a sermon at church and then learned more as he prepared for his baptism. You can hear Christ speak to you at church, in the words of the Bible, and he can speak to you in your life. Listen for his invitation to metanoia – a change of heart. But be prepared to let him shake you up and to love you and stir something up you never felt before. This transformation – this metanoia – comes with an invitation

We hear today the story of the first four people who turned their lives to Christ and left their old lives behind to follow him. Jesus' first disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, and John respond to God's call by abandoning their old life. They got out of their fishing boats and let Jesus lead them. God seems to choose the most unlikely people to believe in the Gospel and to proclaim the good news. Those four simple fishermen knew a lot about bait and nets but little about preaching and building a church.                             
Today he still does the same thing. He calls an elementary school teacher, a stockbroker, a waiter, a lawyer, a nurse, a firefighter, and even retirees. And he wants us all to be fishers of men. He wants us to be changed by the Gospel – the Good News – to repent and to experience metanoia, to turn toward him.  No matter who we are.

And then he sends us out into the sea of humanity to go deep-soul fishing, because the Church's primary business, and so each Christian's primary business, is the fishing business. 

Your neighborhood is a lake full of fish. 
Your office is a lake full of fish.                  
Your school is a lake full of fish.
Your family is a lake full of fish.                                                                             

When Jesus said, "I will make you fishers of men,” He was saying,                                
“I will take you … 
with your personality
your background
your testimony
your influence
and I will use you to catch men and women, and boys and girls, and bring them into my family.” When we offer Christ our skills, he will use us. When we accept his invitation, we find the fulfillment of our life’s work. St. Augustine said it well in his prayer at his moment of metanoia, at the moment of his invitation:

“You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”