Vigilance in Love

Image result for dewey wayne waddellDewey Wayne Waddell was born in 1935 and grew up in Georgia, and after completing AFROTC at Georgia Tech was commissioned into the Air Force and completed pilot training.  He married and had a son and in 1967 was sent to Tahkli AFB, Thailand to fly missions over North Vietnam.  On his 47th mission Wayne’s F-105 Thunderchief took anti-aircraft fire and he had to eject.    He was captured almost immediately and sent to the Hanoi Hilton.  Over the years he was moved several times and they worked him over to try and get forced confessions.  He went through many of the same tortures as the other downed pilots that been captured.  Now, because his parachute didn’t open completely, he knew it was possible that the Air Force would think that he was killed – and if they thought he was killed there would be not be a need to release him.  Then at one point, some East German TV guys came to shoot a show they called Pilots in Pajamas and he was to be involved.  He was told not to raise his face to the camera to ensure that his identity was concealed, but every chance he got he lifted his eyes to the camera.  Sure enough in 1968 when the show aired, a US military monitoring program that checked Communist propaganda caught sight of Wayne’s face and shots were sent to the Air Force and then to his family and his status was changed from MIA to POW.  His family had new hope and in 1973, Wayne was finally released after six years of imprisonment and returned to his family.

So, it’s Veterans Day Weekend, but I also bring up this story about a prisoner of war because in a way that is not completely unrelated, we are longing to be reunited with Jesus Christ who has promised to one day return in glory.  As we near the very last couple of weeks before the celebration of Christ coming as our King, the Church presents us with readings that increasingly focus our attention on the end times.  Today’s second reading describes how Jesus will come “a second time, not to take away sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.”  And in our Gospel, Jesus, after warning us of the behavior of the Scribes and their vainglory and their devouring the houses of widows for gain, speaks of judgment.  “They will receive a severe condemnation.”  Even the first reading where Elijah runs into the widow of Zarepath describes a time that would have looked like the end – God had passed judgment upon the Israelites and so they were in the middle of a three year drought where no rain fell upon the earth.  Everything was drying up and dying off.

Why does the Church want us to think about the end of all things each and every year?  For one thing because we are in the end times.  In fact we have been living in the “end times” since Pentecost.  We are in the final battle, but we don’t realize it because it’s already been going on for about 1985 years.  Each of us has been in the battle – we have faced the Beast which is the devil – and we will face him again.  The reason we need to be reflective about the end is that we tend to forget.  It’s so easy to either think of this life as unbearable and we can’t keep going.  Or on the other hand to think that things are pretty good and I’m sure it will always be like this.  Jesus Himself tells us, “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore you must also be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mt 24:42, 44).”

So, what can we learn from Elijah in the midst of great trial.  Well, he does not depend on himself.  Today, Elijah is really really hungry to put it mildly.  He is so hungry that he asks a poor widow who has every reason to believe that she about to die of hunger to feed him before she feeds her own son.  God sends Elijah to the very poorest looking for something to survive.  He has nothing of his natural self to give her in exchange.  Only the supernatural faith that God can supply for her needs.  Had she stockpiled supplies?  Nope.  But, because of her charity to a man of God she has enough for another year – until the end of the trial and the new beginning.

But, just as the widow had to take a leap of faith that Elijah’s God would sustain her, Wayne had to have the guts to look up at the camera to get himself identified and have a better chance of making it back home.  He could have been killed for disobeying.  Elijah, the widow of Zarephath, and Wayne Waddell all have something in common.  They were all living within a hair’s breadth of leaving this world – and they knew it.  We are fragile too, but because our daily needs are more easily met we can forget the love and gratitude to God that keeps our spirits living.

In the Gospel, why does Christ take those Scribes to task?  Is it because they seek for glory?  Not exactly.  Glory is not evil by itself, the problem is they seek it in the world.  It’s as if Wayne were to have wanted to have the glory of being the best, most trustworthy captive and never looked up at the camera so that his captors would be pleased with him.  The Scribes were seeking glory from the wrong source.  They also ate up the poor widows’ money and gave nothing back – they preyed upon the people they should have been protecting.  Then Jesus draws attention to this one widow whose story has been now all over the world, because while she had little to live off, she gave everything back to God.  Wayne Waddell, risked everything of himself in service to his country, and finally returning to his family safely, he has received honors and glory.

We are all in this together.  We get closer to Christ’s return each day.  It is our duty to remain vigilant and to remember the lesson to put everything on the line for Christ and the Truth of His love, for He has done more than show His face – He comes to us even now in the Mass and if we live in hope, than our eyes will be lifted up to His.

Loving God First Reveals the Big Picture

Image result for engaged encounterThere’s this couple, Richard and Linda, whom I just love – and I’m not the only one.  They have been married for 30 years or so, and I know them because I’ve helped them with a few of the hundreds of retreats that they have given to younger couples preparing for marriage.  You can just watch the faces of these nervous, sometimes defensive couples and see how their whole attitudes change over the weekend.  Richard is the kind of man that every guy on those retreats wants to emulate.  He’s stocky, he’s still got a strong voice.  But you notice how gentle he is with Linda.  How considerate.  He’s always got a smile.  Linda is a queen.  She is warm.  She’s certainly the matriarch for the weekend.  She has five grown sons all born within five years of each other, and you know that she’s spent a lot of time praying for them.Image result for kneelers at wedding mass

Richard and Linda give strength and confidence to all of these couples by their witness.  They see in Richard and Linda that they are still so clearly and confidently in love after 30+ years.  But how do they stay in love?  To put it simply – they have not stayed in love.  Rather how have they grown in their love year by year and retreat by retreat.  You see at these gatherings, Richard and Linda share their love stories.  They each recount over and over again to new people how they first met each other.  What their first impressions were.  They talk about the saga of their wedding which went completely differently than all of the plans that Linda had arranged – and that’s what actually made it so memorable and interesting (with that story you definitely see the brides breathe a sigh of relief)….and they talk about married life and raising kids…and today.  In other words, when you see Richard and Linda – you see a unique couple not just trying put love into their lives, but actually living out of the whole story of their love.  Richard walks with Linda not only as she is in the moment, but he values her for her whole life that has been shared with him.  She does the same.  They live life with the big picture of their whole life together before them continuously.

Image result for jesus lawJesus repeats to the Jews that the Greatest Commandment is to love God.  To love Him with everything – with your whole heart, your soul, your mind, and all your strength.  That all you are should be summed up – all of who you are – wrapped up in a ball of effort given in loving God.  Why?  Well, you could take all of the lesser things you love – wrap all of those things up in a ball much bigger than yourself and all of these blessings – even the trials are from Him.  If you see that they come from God, you see them as part of the bigger picture. Image result for person clingy If we forget God, then we lose all sense of the greater destiny of things – we lose the big picture.  And we become possessive and clingy because the moment is passing away.

Notice, though God promises life to us in the first readings.  He not only wants us to love Him and everyone else, but it says, “thus they may have long life.”  What can this mean?  Well, there are plenty of people who have kept the commandments, but who have died or even been martyred for their faith – plenty within the Jewish people.  So what kind of long life does God mean?

I would suggest that God does not mean simply a long life here, but rather the fullness of life – that they would share in His fullness – that of eternity.  Keeping the Commandments is a way of leading us back into the spiritual balance that made paradise worth living in, because we can see the bigger picture.  We have been searching for this peace our whole lives.  It is that desire beneath all of our little desires.

Related imageThere’s a very special married couple in the Bible: Abraham, and Sarah.  Now the Bible specifies that she lived 127 years and that Abraham wept when she died.  Now, while there are some people in the Bible who are recorded as living lot longer even than 127 years, Sarah is the only woman in Scripture whose final age is given.  Some of the Jewish rabbis finds this number very significant.  They see it as a reflection not only of how long she lived, but actually a clue into how she actually lived.  You see when her age is written out in the Hebrew as a kind of eulogy from Abraham, for the number is not simply written 127, but the Hebrew text reads that “the life of Sarah was 100 years, 20 years, 7 years – those were the years of the life of Sarah.”  These rabbis believe Abraham was saying that when Sarah was 100 she was as sinless and pure as when she was 20 and when she was 20 she was as beautiful and as innocent-looking as when she was 7.  She lived differently than others, because she maintained her focus on the whole picture of life in relation to God.

It is tempting for most of us to go through life and see it as various stages.  When we go through one phase, we sort of discard the one before it.  And so on and so on.  This was not the case with Sarah.  That even when her body grew old, her spirit stayed full of gratitude for all of God’s gifts.  She didn’t need to try and relive anything of the past, because she never stopped thanking Him and seeing the wider picture of her whole life – those younger years were still with her.  You know in the Old Testament in many of the stories when their backs are against the wall, someone among the Jewish people steps up and proclaims some awesome prayer recounting to God all of the wonders He has worked for the people, and asks God to make His same power and love present again.  Image result for achior and holofernesActually, in the Book of Judith, the recounting actually comes not from a Jew, but from a Moabite who is being interrogated as to who the Jews are.  That’s how well the story of the Jews became known.  He says that if the Jews have done anything wrong – if they have turned away from their God – than Holofernes (the bad guy) can have at ‘em.  But, if they have followed the Law, then he would do better to walk away.  God will defend the faithful.

This is the kind of life that Christ opens up for us.  Sure, there had been priests offering sacrifice for the people before He went to the Cross, but they were never finished – because their gifts were always separate from themselves.  Jesus however, unites all things to Himself – the Big Picture.  He sums up the whole human experience in Himself and He even takes all of the sins and offers Himself once for all of them.  We have the privilege now of entering into His death and His Resurrection at every Mass.  We do not need to offer our own sacrifice separate from His.  Rather we are invited every Mass to remember all that He has done for us and acknowledge this new chapter in our own life that we did not yet realize that He had foreseen and died for as well.  We can look back over even the story of our nation and our whole religious heritage back to Abraham and Adam – and one could even make the argument that we have the most ever to be thankful for in this life as the story has now grown further than ever before (as continues)….and we receive Christ than with more than simply our love today, but with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength stretching back along our lives.  And in exchange we are able to love the Father, for we are living out the story of the Son’s love for us.Image result for milky way galaxy

Lost and in Need of Guide

Image result for road signOnce when I was back in college, I was supposed to drive to a meeting across the river in Cahokia.  Well, there was some work on the highway and the entrance I planned to use was closed and had a detour sign.  Sure enough, I got lost and this was before I had a phone with GPS.  I found myself driving around the old station wagon in North St. Louis in a poor black neighborhood and there wasn’t much daylight left.  I kept looking for something I recognized, but I didn’t recognize anything.  I began to get nervous.  I felt like I stuck out.  And then to make matters worse, a man from another car started gesturing to me.  He was signaling for me to stop and roll down my window.  I’m pretty sure my thoughts were a mixture of humiliation for not knowing where I was and not wanting to let anyone else know that – that would be to admit weakness in a situation where I was already nervous.  “Can’t I just drive my car?  What could this guy want?!”  But we had come to a stop sign and so I rolled down my window.  “The taillight on your left side is out.”  “Oh, thank you.”  It’s a lesson I have not forgotten.  In my pride and in my fear I was blind to the good intentions that this other person could have.   And he pointed out something else that I was blind to – that my taillight needed replacing.

There’s a quote from Chesterton about how modern men have lost their way…He said that that’s not surprising as they have always lost their way….but today it seems they have lost their address.  In other words, it’s normal enough to wander but we remember the overall destination.  Today, we have forgotten not only our destination, but what home is supposed to look like.  And any confusion about what makes up home in the secular world is only a reflection of our drifting away from the spiritual home of our churches.  Today we have a name for people with no religious affiliation – they are called “Nones.” They are the fastest growing religion in America.  About ten years ago, nones were at about 16% of Americans, now the number has surpassed Catholics (20%) and are sitting at the largest grouping – around 25%.  Chris Stefanick describes this by saying that “I don’t care” is the fastest growing religion.  Still, the vast majority of Americans believe in God.  That’s unusual.  It’s one thing to be atheistic – say, “I don’t believe in God” and then attempt to find some way to form a worldview and try to contribute in your atheist way.  It is sad, but it makes some sense.  But to say, I believe in God (as most Americans do), but I don’t care to do anything about it – on this massive scale – that is a new thing.  We’ve lost our address.  In fact, many of our millennials have never been to a church – they haven’t been baptized and do not yet have that spiritual starting point to call home.  Our faith is a love story, right?  But so many don’t know that they have been invited.  You know if you look up studies on the millennials, there is evidence that they are the most anxious generation in 80 years.  Furthermore, they report feeling the loneliest.

The Good News is that we have so much to offer to this interesting group of “nones.”  I think one of the reasons that they don’t care much about God is that they don’t see Him in a personal way.  God loves us personally.  Everyone here could be happier if we knew more of this.  We are a lot like the Prodigal Son.  His older brother was the one who was supposed to get the larger inheritance, and even as nice a dad as these guys had – the younger son didn’t care for his dad.  Dad, just give me my portion and I’m gone.  He didn’t know his father’s love.  I bring this up because of a cryptic line at the end of the first reading.  “Ephraim is my firstborn.”  That is interesting, because God Ephraim (who was a son of Joseph) was actually the second-born son.  But what happens is that when Joseph brought his two sons before Jacob his blind and dying father for a blessing – Jacob puts his right hand on the younger of the two Ephraim and is set to give the big blessing to him.  Joseph begins to correct Jacob, but he says he has made no mistake.  God wanted to bless Ephraim.

Normal societies would always bless the firstborn son with the job of carrying on the family and a greater portion of everything while the second and third would be relegated to a status of lesser importance.  But God chose Abel the second son’s sacrifice.  Abraham’s beloved son was Isaac who was born after Ishmael.  Jacob was favored over firstborn Esau.  Joseph was favored over firstborn Reuben and Ephraim was favored over Manesseh.  The blind man, Bartimaeus, crying out – it is said that some were upset not because he was asking for Jesus’ attention, but that he only called him Son of David – rather than Son of God.  David was only a king of Israel – the second king, and only the 8th son of Jesse.   But Jesus chooses to answer his cry – He has come to identify with the lowly.  When God says that Ephraim is His firstborn it affirms that in His eyes, this is how important He sees Ephraim.  The second reading recounts how Jesus was told by the Father, “You are my son, this day I have begotten you.”  Each one of us is seen by God as His holy and beloved son or daughter in Jesus.

The world needs to hear that God does not look at us according to how we look at ourselves.  He does not think of us as insignificant.  If we want to show others and even millennials that we are know where own spiritual home is, than we need to think and meditate and pray to receive His love.  God loves us so much He wants to take us somewhere.  Once we know that we belong in the Church we can belong once more in the love story.  This epic passion of a God who longs to open our eyes to the love held in store for each of us, sons and daughters in Christ.

United by the Chalice of Suffering

Image result for jesus passion chaliceJohn and James are so bold today.  They express their deepest longing to Christ – they want to be united to Him not just now, but forever in His Kingdom.  What does Christ do?  He doesn’t blow them off.  Instead He asks them about their ability to suffer.  The path to unity is always through suffering.  Think: who are you the closest to?  You are probably closest to the people who you have suffered with or to whom you have opened up and described your suffering….and they’ve stuck around.  Jesus doesn’t just say, can you suffer with me or will you to die a martyr’s death for me.  He asks if they can drink from the chalice.  Jesus drank from the cup of sufferings and today as we journey further into the discussion of Mass – we’ll look at how Jesus desires this cup, so that He can extend to us the chalice of His Resurrection – the chalice of eternal blessing.

Image result for dr brant pitreSo, the last three weeks I’ve been going through many of Dr. Brant Pitre’s notes from his talk “Why We Worship”.  And last week I was describing the meanings (especially from Scripture) for the Mass and we made it through the homily.  The next big moment I want to describe is the offertory.   After the priest prays over the bread and wine, there is a very interesting prayer as everyone stands.  He says, “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God.”  Dr. Brant Pitre just stops here and says, “What’s the priest talking about?  I didn’t bring the bread and the wine to the altar?  So, how am I offering a sacrifice?  The priest is offering the Body and Blood of Christ to God, but it seems that there is another sacrifice.  The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church’s members: the sacrifice of their lives, their praise, their suffering, their prayer, and their work – united to Christ, the offering of the faithful acquires new value.  Revolutionary.  If you’re not convinced, look to the Bible.  Whatever it was that the priests of the Old Covenant were sacrificing, they would lift up in the air.  What does the priest ask us to lift up in Mass?  The Lord be with you.  Lift up your hearts.  Your heart is the one thing in this world that God can’t have if you don’t give it to Him.  We can hold them back or give them.  Psalm 51 states that the sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart.  If you have a broken heart – give it to the Lord.  The Mass is the place to go.  It was made for you.  At the Cross, Christ offers His Body, and Mary offers her heart that is pierced spiritually with the sword of sorrow.  The priest is like Christ offering the Body, the congregation is like Mary offering her heart.

Image result for seraphimThen we have the Holy, Holy, Holy.  Seems ritualistic – where does it come from?  The Bible: Isaiah 6.  Isaiah is a prophet in the Old Testament and he is taken aloft into a vision of heaven.  He sees angels, the six winged Seraphim crying out Holy, Holy, Holy.  The house is filled with smoke of incense.  Isaiah says, “Woe to me for I am lost, I a man with unclean lips living amidst a people of unclean lips.”  In other words, I am a sinner.  Then one of the Seraphim flew to him and touched a burning coal to his lips.  Your sin is forgiven.  God asks, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah now says, “Send me.”  Why do we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy”?  You are not on earth anymore, you are in heaven – surrounded by angels.  We don’t deserve to be there – we’re like Isaiah, sinners.  To prepare to send us on mission, God is going to have the Eucharist (like He had the burning coal) touched to our lips before He sends us forth.  The Holy, Holy, Holy is also in the New Testament.  John had a vision of heaven….angelic hosts…singing Holy, Holy, Holy…and then all the elders hit the ground.  Why do we kneel down after the Holy, Holy, Holy?  Because that’s how they do it in heaven.  We sing Hosanna which means, Save…Give Salvation.  Where does it come from?  From Matthew’s Gospel when Christ is coming into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Fulfilling prophecy of the King riding in on a donkey.  The Church is saying you’re in heaven, but you’re also like the crowds needing a king and He is coming really soon, like now.Image result for christ donkey jerusalem

Brings us to the epiclesis – moment when the priest calls down the Spirit of God on the bread and wine.  Remember back in the Old Testament that a sacrifice wasn’t completed unless God accepted it.  Sometimes God would show that He accepted it by sending down fire to consume the bull or the goat.  Image result for epiclesisWe can’t see it, but at the epiclesis the priest is calling for an invisible, spiritual acceptance of the gifts of bread and wine – that God would consume them.  This is what is happening when they are transformed, transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.  This is the work of God, but the priest has been ordained and set apart for this sacrifice.  Then we hear the most memorable words, “This is my Body given up for you.”  “This is the chalice of my Blood.  The Blood of the eternal covenant.”  The priest is saying the words, but right up until now the priest has spoken of Jesus in the third person.  “He took bread…gave thanks.”  But here, the priest switches to first person, “This is my Body.”  The priest is speaking, but it is really Jesus speaking through him.  It is like in confession when Jesus speaks to us and forgives sins through the priest.  I absolve you – something he could not do on his own.  But if that happens, why does it taste like bread and wine, look like bread and wine?  Remember the road to Emmaus and that Jesus can appear whenever and however He wants and can make Himself hidden and unrecognizable.  Why?  So, He can be with us in spirit, and we can let go of the fascination with the external appearance.

The apostle Paul tells us that we need to examine beneath our own external appearances – we need to examine ourselves before we receive Holy Communion.  We are entering into the Presence of God.  He writes ““Let a man examine himself lest he receive unworthily and be guilty of profaning quote “the Body and Blood of Christ” that’s in 1 Corinthians 11:27-28….that’s why the church tells us look, if you’re aware of mortal sin of serious sin in your life….before you receive communion…you can always go to worship God….but before you receive Communion – you need to go to confession first….you need to restore that relationship through the sacrament of reconciliation so that by the time you go to the wedding banquet you’re ready to have Him enter into your heart…that’s what the church’s teaching there is all about.Image result for confession

And the priest says, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him….”  And we all say “Amen.”  “So be it.”  “I believe.”  At this moment looking upon the Lord we are caught up into the Book of Revelation where every creature sings Amen and gives glory and praise forever falling down to worship.

Of course the Our Father comes from the Bible.  Jesus in John 14, part of the last supper discourse says, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”  We’re in the upper room and we give the sign of peace.  The priest elevates the Host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  Now he has moved very far away from speaking in the first person, and takes the words of John the Baptist.  That’s a strange thing to say about a man – “Look at that sheep over there.”  But it reveals the role of Christ.  Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.  This is a reference to Revelation 19 and the heavenly wedding ceremony.  Of course, it’s not just a lamb getting married, it’s Christ which brings us to the fact that the Mass is not just a meal and not just a sacrifice: it’s a wedding, the union of Jesus and His Church.  All of us are called to be members of the bride.  She has made herself ready to enter this everlasting exchange of love.Image result for centurion jesus

What are our words?  We’re not as sure as James and John – that we can drink the chalice.  “I am not worthy to have You enter under my roof.”  Those are words from the Bible.  Mathew 8:5-13, the centurion who has a servant lying paralyzed at home in great agony.  But in his humility – I’m not worthy, but you – you can heal him with a word.  Christ says, “Truly, not even in Israel have I found such faith.  Many will come from East and from West…”  and shall what?  “shall sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  We are not just the tax collector, we are not just the blind man, we are the centurion – but it is not our servant that needs to be healed, it is our soul.  These are the words on our lips as we approach Communion.

Image result for woman hemorrhageWe receive and this is the best time for silence.  Forget about work and problems and singing.  Just be with Jesus.  Closing prayer and the priest says, “Go in peace.”  Even this line comes from the Bible.  Remember the scene of the woman with the hemorrhage who has been sick for twelve years who touched Jesus and He turns around and asks about who it was that touched Him.  She comes trembling up.  My daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.  The final words of the Mass.  You’re the woman who is sick and in need of healing, but if we come in faith – we can touch Him and go in peace.  I need peace.  I need healing.  That’s why we go to Mass.  That we might encounter Christ in the sacrament and go and bring our family back to Mass they can be healed and be united through the one who has drank the chalice for this very reason.

Seeing the Unseen

Image result for bridal caveThings are not always what they seem to be on the outside.  My brother priests of St. Louis and I were at a big conference this past week down at the Lake of the Ozarks and during one of the breaks, a few of us went and checked out the famous “Bridal Cave.”  You wouldn’t think that by looking at the outside of this rocky hill that it contained something so magnificent on the inside – namely, tremendous formations taking thousands of years to accumulate.  I think of this young man in the Gospel who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life.  Jesus tells him to keep the Commandments.  This is truly a way to follow God and the moral law is a great big and challenging part of religion.  The man has been doing it all.  He has been paying attention to the law – you could say that he sees the outside of the Law.  He sees the outward aspect of paying honor to God.  But he’s not quite ready to get inside of it and to test his faith in God – to see what a relationship with God is like from the inside.  We know he’s not quite ready because he is still consumed with all that he has – and he goes away sad.

Well, for the past couple of weeks, I have been preaching on ideas that I’ve taken from Dr. Brant Pitre in a series he calls “Why We Worship” and I’ve gone through various aspects of the Old Testament and how these realities (over thousands of years) set the stage for the Mass.  I mentioned how all of the sacrifices are fulfilled in that of Christ.  I mentioned that God is our Beloved who has subjected Himself to the test that He offers to us as His equals.  He gives all of Himself in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  But people might wonder if the Mass is very biblical?  Is the Mass related to Scripture directly?  So, today, I want to reflect on the inside of the Mass itself, and how various parts relate to Scripture and invite us and even enable us to enter into the Scriptures themselves that we might be united to the Word.

So, let’s start at the beginning….Why do we stand when the priest comes down the aisle?  Who is the priest that people should all get up for him to come down the aisle?  In the book of Exodus when Moses was journeying with the people they had a meeting tent where God would come down and meet Moses.  Well, in chapter 33, it describes that whenever Moses would went out to the Tent, all the people would rise up.  So, we rise today to signify that the priest is another mediator between God and men like Moses – and we are all with him in the Meeting Tent or tabernacle.

After the priest and deacon reverence the altar there’s piece that modeled on Scripture for we all make the sign of the cross.  This has become a strictly “catholic thing”, but at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us the line above our sanctuary – to “Go and baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And so we begin Mass with these words calling to mind two mysteries at the same time – the mystery of the Trinity – of who God is and of the Cross – which demonstrates how much God loves us.

Then the priest says, “The Lord be with you.”  If it is a bishop the greeting is “Peace be with you.”  Recall the apostles in the upper room when Jesus first shows Himself on Easter Sunday to them.  They had abandoned Christ and then not believed others and they are filled with fear, but Christ gives them peace.  Perhaps we have wandered during our week, but this same gift is imparted to us in His Risen Presence.

And we jump immediately into asking for Mercy.  The “I confess.”  So this prayer is modeled on the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee that Jesus tells us in Luke 18.  Remember how the Pharisee stands and prays really to himself about how good he is.  Meanwhile, the tax collector stands at the back and beats his chest and says, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus says that he was justified and so as sinners we enter into his prayer.  The very next thing is the “Lord, have mercy – Christ, have mercy – Lord have mercy.”  We get this from the two blind men in Matthew 20:30 who call out to Jesus, as He approaches Jericho.  They cry out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” and when they are told to be quiet, they only get louder, “Lord, have mercy on us.”  Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”  So, we are not only sinners, but we are blind and we desire to see.

It’s easy to get distracted during Mass – to fail to see beyond the visible elements to the invisible.  We are like that blind man, but Christ you can open my eyes.  Lord, I’m a sinner and because of my sin I am bind to your Presence, but You can open my eyes.  We want to see in the mystery that Christ is passing by – that when the priest processes in – that what is really significant is that Christ is passing by.

Now think of how our spiritual blindness is a kind of darkness.  We need a spiritual light – we’ve had the faith to ask for it – and now just as at Christmas night when the news reaches the ears of the shepherds that their Savior had come and they hear the angel choirs ring out, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to people of Good will.”  The Church never tires of singing the glory of that night and so through our faith we join with the angels in their good news that Christ has come and will make Himself known to us further.

We have the opening prayer and then we get to what is everybody’s favorite part of the Mass – the part when we all get to sit down for the readings.  Why do we sit?  Well, we always stand or kneel to pray because in the Bible whenever anyone prays in Scripture they either stand, kneel, or fall flat on their faces.  No one ever sits to pray, but sitting is a posture of being receptive – that is of listening and being open to the Word of God.  You know occasionally even Catholics might ask, “Why don’t we read from the Bible in Mass?”  Well, these readings come directly out of the Bible and frankly while we don’t normally have 25 minutes of preaching, we do cover more Sacred Scripture pound for pound than just about anybody else.  The homily itself is simply modeled on how the Scriptures were read in the Old Testament, for they were not only read aloud, but one of the priests or Levites would then interpret in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament it is the priests and the deacons who interpret Sacred Scripture for all to hear.

Now where do we get this idea of interpreting all of these Scriptures – especially those of the Old Testament?  Well, the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel recalls the first Easter night.  There were those two disciples returning from Jerusalem and they are discussing all that had happened with the crucifixion.  Jesus draws near and walks with them, but they do not see Him.  They are blind.  And He asks them what they are talking about as they walk and one of them, Cleopas, says, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  How interesting for Christ is the only person who knows what fully happened.  But He humors them and asks, “What things?”  And then after their explanation, this mysterious traveler “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  And then remember, they ask Him in and after this breaking open of Scripture they have the breaking of the bread.  It is here, that they recognize Him.  Their eyes are opened and then He disappears.  Why? He demonstrates that this Mass is now the way that He will be with them, as they learn to see the invisible and enter into it.

Do you take this Jesus to be Your God?

Image result for wedding handsWe hear this morning about the faithfulness and indissolubility of marriage and about the love we are to have for children.  But these truths about the nature of marriage and children are not just for us.  God never asks us to live something that He is not living, so He reveals to us that He is faithful and that His love endures within the Church.  Last week I spoke about how the Mass fulfills all those of Old Testament sacrifices, but the Mass is also about union.  Marriage is a sacrament of union between man and woman, and on another level – Mass shows the union of God and His people.

The Mass can really be an obstacle for us.  We often don’t understand it – and before weRelated image even look at why we worship in this way – the sacrifice of the Mass, it is helpful to think of Who we worship.  Who is God?  If the Mass is about union, then Who are we being united to here?  God is a Trinity, and yet He is One, and He loves us and has made us in His image and likeness.  You know that language pops up again when it says that Adam and Eve begat Seth, in Adam’s image and likeness.  So this language of being made in God’s image and likeness is the language of God as our Father.

But God is more than a Father to us.  While we are not equal to God by nature, there are instances when God tests us to see if we have grown in His spirit, and frankly He treats us as equals.  For example, when Abraham is advanced in years, we see God treating Abraham as an equal.  He puts him to what I’ll call the Beloved Son test.  Because Abraham is willing to even give his beloved son, God expands the covenant with Abraham to include in his inheritance all the nations of the earth.  Abraham is the point of union with God .

Image result for galaxyBut God does not start over after we sin, and so not only will He be Creator, but God will redeem us.  Since this involves bringing us back together into one, or uniting us to Himself and to each other – in the act of our redemption, He is also this great bridegroom for His people.  This strange idea that we worship God as Father as the Creator of the Universe, but also the Son as this Bridegroom takes us all the way back to the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

Now, it’s important to note that the exodus from Egypt was not only important for the Jews because they had been in physical slavery to Pharaoh.  That was part of it, but another thing we can’t forget is that the Jews were also in slavery to sin.  They had begun to worship the Egyptian gods and goddesses.  In other words, the Israelite people did not deserve to be set free.  They had forgotten the God of their forefathers, but He is going to set them free because of His Covenant that He had made with Abraham long beforehand.

Image result for nile bloodRecall how the Hebrews finally win their freedom?  Well, it has to do with those plagues.  But the plagues are not random.  God turns the water in the Nile to blood, He sends gnats, He sends frogs, boils, darkness, and on and on until the Plague of the Passover with the death of the firstborn son.  All of these plagues deal with some god or goddess that the Egyptians worshiped and had begun to be idols for the Israelites.  God when He sends the plagues shows that He is the true master of these aspects of nature.  For example, when the Nile is turned to blood – it as if God killed Hapi, the god of the river.  Image result for plague of frogsWe might not see what there is to worship in a frog, but there was a fertility goddess Hecket that was this frog goddess.  When people had a hard time having children they would worship Hecket because frogs lay thousands of eggs and soon there are little frogs all over the place, but in the plague of frogs – they not only came up but they died and left heaps of carcasses all over the place.  Fertility is useless with the True God.  Three days of darkness shows God’s power over the sun which they worshipped.  Finally, Pharaoh was himself worshipped along with his heir, his firstborn son as a god.  So, Pharaoh is put to the beloved son test.  Unfortunately, while clinging to the thought that he can resist the Living God by the might of his will, he places his own ego above the safety of his son.  He fails, as does the life of his son.

The Israelites are spared that because of their offering of a lamb instead.  Well, the Jews leave Egypt and when they get to the Promised Land, they offer the Passover again.  The Passover is at the beginning and the end of their journey.  It is their alpha and their omega.  But the sacrifice went on.  By the time of Christ some 1500 years later, millions of lambs had been offered, because each generation of men were taught to understand that when it came to Passover, they too were spared on that great night when the firstborn of the Egyptians were struck.  So, every firstborn son of all of Israel for all time is saved by the sacrifice of the lamb.  But fast-forward for a moment to Elijah.  Remember when he was up on the mountain and he had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a showdown.  They both make altars and put their bulls on top and the bull to be Image result for elijah prophets of baalconsumed by fire from heaven is the real God.  Think about that.  God subjects Himself to the same scenario as the false god Baal.  But now think back to the plagues.  God shows that Pharoah’s and his firstborn son are not gods because they can’t withstand the angel of death.  And all of the Iraelites are saved amidst the blood of millions of lambs.  But Christ is the Lamb that they are all pointing towards and finally God does enable Him to be offered.  The Passover is finally complete.  They are not only freed from the physical slavery, but they are not freed spiritually from sin.  Christ even proclaims from the Cross, “It is finished.”  He is the Lamb that pays for the blood of all who will believe in Him who will be called the firstborn.  The Father and the Son are subjected to the same test that Pharoah failed, and Christ is victorious.Image result for blood and water flowing out in kidron valley

He unites us all together, but how do we think of ourselves as a bride?  You know in that first reading where Adam sleeps and Eve is taken from his side?  In the time of Christ, the Temple received so many thousands of lambs offered at the Temple that they had to have a drain below the altar to allow the blood to go somewhere.  It went under the temple and mixed with a channel of water that poured out into the Kidron Valley.  Everybody who approached the Temple could see this stream of blood and water from that side.  If you are reading John’s Gospel and the Passion in chapter 19, John who was there declares that as Christ was sleeping the sleep of death and His side was pierced that blood and water flowed out.  John suddenly interrupts his story and says, “He who saw this has born witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth – that you also may believe.”  For Christ is the New Temple, and from this Temple is born a new Bride – from the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist.

God has called us into a marriage that is renewed with this Sacrament that has set us free and brought us into relationship with our Savior and Beloved.

Two Parts to a Hero’s Offering

Related imageOne of the greatest aircraft tragedies occurred on January 13, 1982 when Air Florida Flight 90 took off from Washington National Airport in severe temperatures with ice and snow built up on its wings during a snowstorm.  It failed to gain altitude and crashed through 14th Street Bridge before careening into the Potomac River.  Among the wreckage there were 6 survivors holding onto life from the tail section that was still above water when the first helicopter arrived.  The rescuers dropped a pair of life vests and a flotation ball to a fifty year old man who was the most alert.  He quickly passed them to others.  They came back around and lowered a life line capable of dragging a survivor to shore.  He passed it on to another survivor.  After bringing that person to safety they came back again with the lifeline and he passed it again to another survivor who was taken to the shore.  They had rescued five people, but by the time they returned that final time Arland Dean Williams, Junior had succumbed to the icy water.  He was a hero and a victim of Flight 90. Related image

I mention all of this, because the idea of being a victim is also a term we use in religion.  Victims are associated with sacrifice.  To offer sacrifice simply means to make something sacred or holy – and sacredness or holiness essentially means that something is set apart.  So offering sacrifice means to set something apart.  Finally, to offer sacrifice is the job of a priest.  So a priest sets something apart or aside.  In that sense, Arland Williams was both priest and victim.  He set his own life aside to save others and his own life was the offering that was the victim that was offered up.  His actions ring out a wonderful parallel to the actions of Christ who is eternally priest and victim for everyone.

To get an idea of how we come to understand sacrifice as Christians let’s look at the Old Testament.  In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel both offer sacrifice.  Abel is a keeper of Image result for abel and cainsheep and his gift is that of a firstborn sheep.  It is favorable to God, because by offering a firstling Abel is giving God something precious – it represents his livelihood.  Abel does not know what kind of animal his second-born or third-born will be or if he will receive them at all.  He acts as a good priest because his gift from the first fruits represents great trust.  Cain’s sacrifice is not mentioned as being one of great worth to him and when it is not favorable to God, he gets envious and kills Abel.  In this action, Abel become an innocent victim, albeit an unwilling victim.  His blood cries to God from the ground.

Image result for melchizedekBut not all sacrifices were bloody.  Next up is an episode where Abraham has just won a battle and this mysterious character, Melchizedek comes out to offer the unbloody sacrifice of thanksgiving of bread and wine.  It points very directly at the Eucharist.  We have a priest (Melchizedek) and we have an unbloody offerning of bread and wine, but notice the bread and wine do not become Melchizedek.  He does not declare that people must eat and drink his flesh and blood. Image result for abraham isaac

Abraham is involved as the priest in the next round.  He becomes a wonderful image of God the Father, for he is told to offer his only begotten son, Isaac as a burnt offering.  We should consider how old Abraham was and how long he had desired a son.  He would rather have died himself than make this sacrifice, but he does not complain or question.  Abraham is the priest.  Isaac is technically the victim, but really Abraham is very close to being both because it is his own heart that has to be cut in two….but they are both are spared and they offer a ram. Image result for day of atonement

Finally, the Old Testament describes the Day of Atonement where the high priest would take these two animal victims to bring about unity between the people of Israel and God.  He would take the one goat and slaughter it and sprinkling its blood, he was then able to enter into the Holy of Holies as the sole representative of the year that He might commune with God’s Presence.  But he also would take another goat and confess all of the sins of Israel from the previous year over its head before sending it out – away from Israel into the wilderness where it would eventually die.  But in doing so, you can think of these two victims as almost representing priest and victim.  The goat that goes off continues the actions of a priest in separating farther and farther the sin from Israel, so that the other might be offered up spiritually unblemished.Related image

We ourselves our called to be a priestly people and to offer sacrifice as priest and victim.  You know that second reading from James talks about our hearts fattened by acts of injustice for the day of slaughter.  They are not in the condition to be offered.  Christ informs us that it would be better to lose a hand, a foot, or an eye – to make a bloody offering of them – than to go to Gehenna.  We need a day of atonement.  Interestingly enough, we are told by the Church that we are to make at least one annual confession where we verbalize our sins and put them upon a priest – sending our sins away from us into the wilderness of his silence.  In doing so we are cooperating in the action of the priest – setting our hearts aside from evil that they might be offered to God and made an eternal offering, an eternal victim to Him.  Because Christ is the true High Priest, and has already brought His sacrifice on the Cross into a Communion with the Father that is eternal and beyond the boundaries of time, He is able to perpetually allow us to enter His sacrifice and offer ourselves for the sanctification of others – priest and victim.

 

Your Soul is Not Trivial

Readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image result for guys arguingGuys can get into a lot of pointless arguments…and I am as guilty as they come.  I have argued about why country music is good and about how it used to be better.  I have argued about why rap music is bad and at other times about how not all of it is bad.  I have argued about which delivery pizza place is the best.  I have tried to convince people who went to probably every rival high school from my own alma mater – why their school is not nearly as good as my high school.  I have defended soccer as a real sport, Risk as the best board game, and why men should never wear pink (which is mostly why I will continue to argue that priests never wear pink – they wear rose).  I’ve argued about soda, beer, butter over margarine, devil’s food cake vs. angel food cake, Batman vs. Darth Vader, the beach vs. the mountains, the best brand of shoes, and the why I’m voting this way and not that way.  If I’ve thought about something, there’s a good chance I’ve argued about it.  If I’ve talked about something – you can be certain that I’ve argued about it.  I remember a couple of instances where I stopped myself from arguing.  On one occasion it came up that I’m a little lactose intolerant and a friend of mine chimed in, “that’s not all he’s intolerant of!”  I had to hand it to him.  Another time a friend gave me the nickname “the Great Debater” and it wasn’t because they thought I was great.  I held up only so as not to further prove his point.  So, when the Gospel mentions that as Jesus approaches the end of His earthly ministry and that He catches the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, not only am I not surprised but I’m sympathetic.

Image result for disciples with jesusHonestly, the disciples weren’t dumb.  They were stubborn and they were scared and they were guys.  And it is natural for guys to want to establish where they are in the pecking order, particularly as Jesus is clueing them in on the fact that He will not always be around.  They don’t want to leave the mission He is entrusting them with, but they are uncertain below the surface about how this thing is going to look – and so they start comparing each other.  Now, I don’t think it’s likely that these men just came out and said, “Let’s face it guys, I’m the one Jesus loves the most.”  Or, “I was the one who He called first.” Or, “I’m the one who He called last, because He finally found the kind of disciple He needed!” In the earlier part of this chapter, Christ had just taken Peter, James, and John apart and was transfigured – meanwhile the other apostles tried to heal a boy with a mute spirit, but they couldn’t do it.  Jesus came back down and said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?” Then He cures the boy and the Apostles ask why they did not have the authority to cast out the demon – to which Christ says, “This kind can only come out with prayer and fasting.”  With all that in mind, I think it is more likely that as they are walking along and somebody like Thomas says something like, “Why does Jesus always call Peter, James and John?  I think it’s going to Peter’s head.”  Then Nathaniel retorts, “Really Thomas, maybe you’re just jealous and cranky because you couldn’t drive out the demon.  Maybe you should just fast more and not eat so much.”  “Well, Nathaniel, Thomas doesn’t eat any more than Peter.  Thomas would make a better leader.” “Judas, go count the money again.”

The readings reveal that jealousy and envy are oftentimes the source of our disagreements.  They are based in a fear that our experience in life somehow or another is not going to be good enough.  I don’t have enough attention, or money, or fame, or success.  Others do not love me enough or think of me.  You know the thing of it is – if that’s how you feel, you may be right.  People have been forgotten, they have received little thanks for their labors, even in America – we do have plenty of people who are in even physical need.  Thanks be to God, that Jesus Himself was willing to be deprived – that He might show us a greater truth.

Image result for skittles vs. m&m's   Truth is supposedly the goal of every argument.  If we asked people arguing with each other if they wanted the truth, they would both say yes.  The problem I found in my own experience is when I waste my breath arguing about the trivial things – it tends to increase my pride, because even though I know it is a matter of taste which is better Skittles or M&M’s – once I dig in my heels, than my reputation is on the line.  Furthermore, getting in thousands of these arguments tends to increase my perception that I am right – and on many of the trivial things there is no clear way to be wrong.  And we can begin to think that either everything is just a matter of taste.  So if you think it’s good to follow Jesus that’s fine, but you can’t be any more right than someone who wants to follow Lucifer himself.  The other problem is that we see ourselves to be sole owners of the whole truth.  Truth is real and the bigger issues like who we should follow to receive eternal happiness – there is a clear answer that demands our attention.  On the other hand, the truth is so deep, so rich, so big – particularly the truth that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and that He calls us to carry our cross after Him…But the Good News is that His love is rich enough, deep enough, sacrificial enough – that there is no need to act as if Christ is only ours – or He is loved so much by another that we must be left behind.      Image result for jesus washing feet

The truth is Jesus Himself.  He knows of a wealth that the Father possesses and wants to share with Him.  Jesus knows further that this richness of His Father is available to all of us if we live as His children.  There is a wonderful litany known as the Litany of Humility.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart….from the desire to be loved – deliver me, Jesus.  From the desire of being praised – deliver me Jesus.  Christ, we ask that You reveal to us what we really need – the Father’s love – and help us to see that You have already shared this with us in a manner that cannot be lost if we consider all else as trivial.

Who You Are is Who I Want to Be

Image result for christIf you think back to your English class and how to write good fiction, you might have heard that there are various classic conflicts out of which come our stories: man vs. man.  Man vs. nature.  Man vs. himself.  Man vs. supernatural.  Man vs. technology.  Man vs. society.  I recall a few years ago watching the end of The Amazing Spider-man and the main character, Peter Parker is sitting in class and his teacher says, “It is said that there are only 10 plots in all of fiction, but I believe there’s only one: ‘Who am I?’”  She’s referring to another broader list of plot formats, but I think that her simplification of “Who am I?” could also sum up those various conflicts.  Image result for amazing spider man classroomUltimately, they each involve man (or woman) trying to discover who he is – and all of those plot conflicts have to deal with identifying who he is in various situations.  For example, we could say The Terminator (classic woman vs. technology) asks “Who am I?” in the life of the heroine, as she is pitted against the technology that is trying to hunt her down, and the story reveals if she is the kind of person that can survive or not?  Does she have those virtues necessary based upon who she is in this encounter?

It sounds good — you can use the question “Who am I?” in all of those plot conflicts to analyze stories.  But all of those plot conflicts from English class regard fiction.  In other words they come from the main character who flows out of the imagination of the author.  They should tell us something about the author.  We can get a lot about the author from his characters, but a brilliant author might write about a very simple minded character.  Or a very moral author might write about some awful villains.  The author defines the characters.  We only get to the root of who the characters and why they are in the story when we know the author.  In the Gospel, something very interesting is happening.  God has come down to mankind – to us – to the characters – and He has asked us who He is.Image result for second vatican council bishops

One of the most famous passages from the Second Vatican Council is that Christ, the final Adam…fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”  In other words, only if we ask the question: Who is Jesus? And seek the answer to that question will we truly find out the deepest truths about ourselves.  Why?  Because we did not make ourselves.  Our parents did not make themselves.  Our cause is hidden in Jesus and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God (I Cor 3:23).   Who we are is revealed only by the Divine Author.Image result for ear

Let’s go back to that first reading.  “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear.”  If we went back just one verse, Isaiah says, “Morning after morning He awakens my ear to hear as disciples do.”  Disciples of God are those who are taught the truth, and not any truth – but the truth of how to become more and more like God.  Isaiah goes on to say that he is abused by those who pluck his beard and spit on him as they insult him.  Yet, who can oppose him?  He has the Lord to help him.

Image result for elijah chariotJust before todays’ Gospel, Jesus had multiplied the bread and fish for the second time and was then still questioned by the Pharisees and goaded: “show us a sign from heaven.”  The bread didn’t rain from the sky.  To which He replies that they’ll get nothing.  So right after that episode Jesus finds a deserted place and asks first who others say that He is.  Just think of the answers.  John the Baptist – John had just been killed and the evidence had been shown to many witnesses.  Elijah.  Elijah had lived over 800 years ago and been taken into heaven on a flaming chariot.  In other words, the crowds thought of Jesus as someone who was either back from the dead or 800 years old.  That’s pretty special.  But Jesus asks not only the Apostles the next question, but us as well: Who do you say that I am?  He does not ask the Apostles and He does not ask us this question as if we were part of the crowd.  He considers us among the Apostles as we are brought into the sacred intimacy of the Gospel and He desires to drink of our faith.

Who do You say that I am?  He asks the apostles separate for they and we have shared in divine secrets.  He asks us as if we were on His level.  As if we were gods.  Faith is the doorway into eternal light.  Peter responds that Jesus is the Christ.  We know that in Matthew’s Gospel – it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to Peter, it was God the Father.  When we recognize that Jesus is God – and that Jesus reveals man to himself…we are called to conform more and more with divinity.  That is our calling.  Image result for opens the door

Faith opens the door.  Love is what moves us into the house and begins to live in it.  St. James tells us that if we have faith, but we do not have works – it doesn’t do any good.  It is dead.  If you have a key to a door, but you never use it – what good is it?  How can you prove it actually works?  We must perform those works of love and mercy by actually clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.

One of my favorite films is Gattaca in which two sons are always competing and each summer vacation they sneak away and play chicken by swimming out to sea.  The younger son always wins because he is healthier and supposed to be genetically perfect.  But on pivotal year the older son just keeps going out until the younger even begins to fail and drown.  The older rescues his brother and upon returning the Anton, the younger asks, “How are you doing this Vincent?” Vincent responds, “You want to know how I did it?  This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.”  Christ reveals to us that we are children of God and as such we can imitate Him and give everything.

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Jesus is of course ready to give His entire life, because He knows He can.  When Peter tries to step in and contradict Jesus, He is contradicting His very words of Jesus’ divinity – as if Jesus was not quite strong enough to give that much.  But He is God and He teaches us that there is no limit to how much we can give in love.  Who am I?  Not much.  But who is God?  If God is our love, than we can endure any conflict.Image result for christ last supper

A Most Familiar Enemy

Image result for bored fishPerhaps you’ve been here before: You are in the waiting room of the dentist’s office and you are a little early….and you don’t have your phone.  You tell yourself, “Stay calm…Don’t act alarmed.  Maybe there’s a magazine.”  You glance to the stack on the table.  There are only ancient issues of People and cycling magazines…  You glance at the artwork on the walls…two pictures of random patches of black and red paint.  The music that filters through the speakers above are the songs that you have been trying to avoid since 2003.  The smell in the air is of a carpet that had recently been vacuumed, full of settling dust and old motor of a dirt devil.  Then you spy a fish tank with three fish and a submerged diving helmet, but even the fish must have grown old swimming around and through the diving helmet enough times till now they don’t so much swim as glide gently downwards in the tank along with current the water.  You have been cornered by the greatest enemy facing Modern Man: Boredom!

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The same feeling hits you at the checkout line….or Math class…or even a movie that should have ended 20 minutes ago….Boredom can strike anywhere!  Think of the checkout lane.  You are surrounded by all kinds of sweet candies that could give you pleasure, but they are not a real cure to thoughts of boredom.  We are tempted to look at the sad pain of the celebrities in the tabloids.  We choose pain over boredom.  This is why we find warfare so fascinating.  The darkness of war gets our attention more than trite pleasures, because it jolts our spirit out of boredom.  During peacetime, we substitute sports and gambling – ritualized forms of risk so that we can feel alive.  The modern life can be very predictable and controllable, but also unsurprising and dull.  Our souls were made for more.Image result for bored person

Peter Kreeft writes that “Jesus is the only man in history who never bored anyone.”  If our idea of Jesus fails us by being boring (as has been the case in our culture) we do not have the real Jesus.  Unfortunately, this word “Jesus” that we praise has become a controversial and embarrassing name to us.   Kreeft says that no one is embarrassed to talk about Buddha or Moses or Muhammad, like we are embarrassed to talk to non-Christians and even to each other about Jesus.  If you mention Jesus, the temperature in the room either rises or it drops really fast.  It is the most non-neutral name in the world.  Why?  Jesus confronts us personally.  To the fear of boredom and of fear of embarrassment, our reading says: Be strong, fear not!  Here is our God.  We should be able to say that right now.  We are in in His House.  He is on our lips.  Yet we know that most if not everybody has been bored at Mass.  Why?  Well, we must not be connecting with Jesus. Image result for jesus

Kreeft goes so far as to say that “in response to the miracle in our life that is Jesus – we have produced an almost equally amazing miracle.  As Jesus turned water into wine, we have turned wine back into water…turning the intoxicating wine of the Gospel into a mushy grape jelly.  He came to light a fire, and we have found a way to water it down.”

In our wealth we forget that we need Jesus, but He is not only the cause of our regular food and our drink, but more importantly of the food and drink of the soul.  You may go weeks without really encountering a poor person dressed in shabby clothes as St. James describes in the second reading – with your need to pay attention to them and serve them.  But I doubt you go a day without running into someone who is spiritually undernourished or someone who does not know how to dress themselves in charity. Image result for arrogant man

How can you tell if someone is undernourished?  Well, one of the symptoms is sloth.  I’m not speaking of laziness.  The slothful person might run here and there and everywhere, but they have a passive will.  It is inactive and even its ability to desire is weak in the presence of the True Good.  In other words, the person is needing God’s Presence to lift them up, and He is here – but they don’t properly find the interest in God.  Kreeft says it is the soul’s refusal to eat its food.  So we turn to the spiritual junk food which is violence or we remain in boredom which is a kind of spiritual anorexia.

What is it that these souls need?  Most will admit that Jesus is good.  Some will even admit that He is true — perhaps even His Church is true — some even admit that they should go there, but they just can’t find the desire.  What is missing is beauty.  Beauty is the answer to boredom.  We have forgotten beauty.  More from Kreeft: “Deep truth heals your mind, and deep goodness heals your will, but deep beauty wounds your heart.  Beauty hurts.”  Beauty relieve boredom because beauty is what our soul is made to love.  “Beauty turns our head whenever we see it because it turns our heart.”  There is pain in beauty, because we want to reflect what is beautiful.  “We have never seen anything under the sun more beautiful than Christ.” Image result for easter lily

Think of this man who was deaf and dumb.  Jesus performs one of His most interesting cures on this man – spitting and touching his tongue, groaning aloud…He heals this man so that the world of sound is now available…the man can finally speak – and Jesus says: don’t talk about this.  Why?  That would be the most natural reaction – to simply take all that energy and dissipate it with talk.  Perhaps Christ wants the man to be continually renewed inside with the wonder and joy that could come from revealing his love of God through his actions rather than his mere words.  Ephphatha: be Open!  This is the beauty that the world needs to awaken from its boredom.

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