Don’t Be A Poser: Love with God’s Love

ladybug

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Welcome to the Third Session of the Advent Preservation Society, (APS for short).  The first week we talked about how Christ came and died for us all to make us ready for His new Advent, for His second coming at the end of time.  Last week we discussed how we wrap up things that are worth giving away, and these gifts are unwrapped if we really love them we wrap them again.  This is especially true of weddings which is the very thing that Christ is coming for – to marry us and to cloth us in His glory.  Today, we rejoice because although He is not here yet, He is not an imposter – nor should we be caught posing.  Now, speaking of Advent and “arrivals,” I’ve had hundreds if not thousands of guests in the last few months – maybe you’ve had a few of them yourself: ladybugs.  Ladybugs everywhere.  People have told me that the rectory gets more than most places – that is like ladybug paradise.  It might have been fitting that I describe ladybugs while I’m wearing this rose vestment, but then I found at that these ladybugs are all a fraud.  That they are posers, pretenders – that they are actually harlequin ladybugs and they smell bad if you smash them.  Not very ladylike if you ask me.  Reminds me of an old beer commercial.  There was this guy getting off a plane in a big airport and there were the various chauffeurs and greeters with signs.  So, this guy goes up to one of the chauffeurs and asks if there is Bud Light in his limo.  The driver replies that there is, and so the guy says the name as phonetically as he can, “Well, then I’m Mr. Gal-ee-week-ech.”  The Chauffeur eyes him and says, “You mean, Dr. Galackowitz?” to which the man straightens up and confirms, “Yes, I am.”  Then you see him in the back seat of a limo drinking the beer and playing with all of the limo extras in the back.  “First time in a limo, Doctor?”  The imposer replies quickly, “In a limo this small.”  The message is drink Bud and you can be a poser who gets what you want.  Posers are a dime a dozen.

Rejoice!  Today is not a day of posing….even while today is not the feast of Christmas and the Real King of Kings has not yet shown His infant face, it is Gaudete Sunday and we rejoice for the true Christ is near….and we rejoice because for once we have a representative in John the Baptist, who has the chance to assert himself and pretend he’s someone he’s not and he lays off.  He doesn’t take the bait.  Because John does not play messiah, he will get the opportunity to baptize the Messiah.  In the Gospel we read that John testified “so that all might believe through him.”  How does that work?  Well, if John would have pretended – some would have believed him as the messiah – but not all.  But everyone can believe that John is not the messiah.

Today John goes on to testify the Pharisees that there is one among them who they do not recognize who is coming after him.  And in our own age, Christ is hidden.  And yet He is coming.  This period of time where God seems absent goes all the way back to the beginning.  In God’s apparent absence for some period of time, Adam and Eve were tempted to bridge the gap by acting as if they had a right to something they didn’t – they were tempted to pose.  They wanted to raise their status and equalize things a bit with God.  The serpent says if they eat the forbidden fruit they will be like God.  On the other hand, consider the strange testimony of John the Baptist: I’m not him, not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet, just a guy in the desert thank you…his message is simple: I’m not God!  It takes the self-humiliation of John to identify Jesus for the Word was made flesh in such a humble fashion – the lowly foster son of a carpenter.

If Advent is the season we need which is why we’ve forgotten it, Gaudete – this command to rejoice is the crown jewel that has been lost.  Why?  Because today we celebrate not that Christ is born, but that while He in not born yet, while He is nowhere to be seen, He is near.  Our prayer is simple: I don’t know how you’re going to fix things, Lord…I can’t even see you – but not only do I know you will make this all work out, I am rejoicing even as I stay humble.  So I don’t have to pose.  I don’t have to fix it myself.  Jesus, I trust in You.

John the Baptist actually teaches us how to love in our situation: that is we are still fighting the good fight.  John always loves from the heart of Christ – with the Love of the Holy Spirit.  He never tries to love with his own love.  It’s perfect that he is always near the water, because Christ describes His love as living water.  He tells the woman at the well that believers would have in their bellies fountains of living water springing up to life everlasting.  John had this.  Imagine this pitcher is the capacity to love your neighbor.  John loved his enemies.  You might think not.  He called them a brood of vipers.  “Who told you to flee from the coming wrath.”  Ahh, but he is admonishing them because he loves them.  As a common man he would have no patience to waste his breath.  But he does not try to love them with his own love, he holds the pitcher to the heart of Christ and has enough love to tell them how to prepare: “Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” John shows us how to love with the unfailing merciful love of Christ.

But then John does even better.  He shows how to gain true happiness by loving always and only from the heart of Christ not only our enemies, but even our friends, those dearest – who we think we have something exclusively good enough from ourselves.  Here we are tempted to take the vessel of love of neighbor and carry it away in a carefree manner, but as we drink in the love we share it gets low ….you can tell this when and we have not the means to when our love feels pain when it seems our neighbor does not satisfy or return our love, when we our sad when our neighbor’s conversation turns away from us, or we sense that another is loved more than us.  This never happens with John.  Because he never took the vessel away from Christ’s heart, but only loved even those closest disciples of his with God’s love (meaning He always saw them as God’s and not his own in his prayer and in his hopes for them)…because of this John cries out “Behold the Lamb of God” and sends St. John the Beloved Disciple and St. Andrew off to follow Christ and leave him alone.  He is happy.  They will learn to drink from Christ’s love and he will receive an undying spiritual love from them even if it is from a distance.  We have not love in us naturally.  To think so is to pose.

Rejoice!  If we remember that we are not gods, then we can pray the APS prayer: God, I have no idea where you are, but I know you’re coming and you will fix this.  Here is my heart, fill it constantly and let me love all others in communion with You constantly – seeing that You the Greatest Reality: the reality of Love.

Advent 2: JB the Wrapper

Image result for wrapped christmas presents tree

Welcome to our second meeting of the Advent Preservation Society (APS for short)!  I hope your Advent is simple and full of peace.  I’ll be honest, even for APS members there is a limit to waiting on Christmas.  One year I think my parents overdid it a little.  I came home from college for Christmas and there was no tree…and a couple days passed and there was no tree on December 24th.  We had done the real tree route for a couple of years, but those were all gone.  My brother had to gun the engine and hightail it to the store.  We literally got the last display model and had it boxed it up to take it home and save Christmas. Related image

But that is a fitting exercise – boxing up the display and then unboxing it to put it up.  It was a good Advent exercise.   Speaking of exercise, while we heard from our APS spokesman, Isaiah, again this week – he was pointing towards our APS personal trainer: John the Baptist.  You know if we were looking for a regular personal trainer we would all look for someone who appeared better off than us in whatever capacity we wanted to develop, right?  I mean if we wanted to become strong, we would look for someone who had lifted a lot of weights.  Or if we wanted someone to show us how to run faster, we would find someone who looked the part.  Enter John.  Or exit John – for he goes out and leads us into the wilderness. Image result for john the baptist locusts

John is a spiritual guru.  Literally his whole life is one of pointing towards Our Lord.  There he is in the womb leaping up in the spirit.  Christ is literally wrapped double from John’s perspective as they are both concealed in utero.  John leaps up and passes the grace of this gift that is Jesus to his own mother who then sings forth in joy.  Then, John wraps himself again in this wilderness.  He goes off into the desert and has the people falling all over themselves to get out to him.  He literally becomes the wildnerness eating off the land.  He was wrapped up in camel’s hair to further enshroud his message with excitement.  The Church fathers see his eating the honey as foreshadowing the Christ who will feed on the sweetness of the gentiles.  Those same fathers saw John’s cuisine, those leaping locusts – symbolizing how Christ would catch the Pharisees who would leap up in their false piety before falling back to the earth.  John’s voice challenges the people to become a gift by recognize that they need a savior.  They should prepare by washing themselves – wrapping themselves in the water of humility – the water symbolic for their thirst for renewal in Christ.  When John is thrown in prison, he continues to wrap Jesus in mystery when he asks his men to go and seek for themselves if He is the Christ or if they should look for another.  At the end of his life, John’s head literally leaps off his shoulders when Herod dispatches him.  John had called Herod out for a false marriage, and in the process foreshadows Christ – the true head of Judah.  Jesus, was cast out of the city walls and killed on the Cross, so that after rising from the dead He could be the head of all of the nations.  John wraps.  Christ reveals.  John wraps up.  Christ reveals more.Image result for bored adults christmas

Herein lies the need for the Advent Preservation Society!  We have been celebrating Christmas far too much as adults.  That is we have not wrapped enough to appreciate the very wrapping of Revelation.  Adult Advent/Christmas looks like this:

  • You make a list of people that need a gift
  • You go the store and buy the things (not gifts yet)
  • Best part….you wrap the gifts (grueling exercise, but actually touching the meaning of Advent)
  • You let the people unwrap the gifts
  • You clean up all the mess

This most exciting part is seeing the gifts unwrapped and bearing so much promise….but all too quickly we are in Christmas hangover mode.  Christmas from a child’s perspective is much different.  It starts off with the presents under the tree.Image result for happy kid christmas

  • Find presents under the tree
  • Unwrap the presents (revelation)
  • Unwrap the presents even more by playing with the gifts (using imagination)
  • If a good boy/girl – wrapping the presents again by putting them back in the toybox

The toybox is a wonderful way to hide away the gift that is ours until we open it back up and we can relive the whole surprise at what we’ve been given. Marvellous Girls Walmart Toy Box Little Tikes Plastic Toy Box Little Tikes Girl Toy Box Unfinished And Treasure Chest Toy Box Toy Storage Target Unfinished Wood Toy Box Spiderman Toy Box Toy Organizer

Advent and Christmas are simply an example of humanity all becoming poetic about this same reality that is always going on from the top down.  God plays this cosmic peekaboo each night. He hides away the sun and wraps the world in the starry wrapping of night.  Each morning, the gift that is a new day is revealed.  A cloudy day only means more wrapping – a longer Advent – that will reveal a more brilliant sun piercing Image result for bow fridgethrough.  Christ comes and makes our world new – every last corner of it is rich with reward.  It is an ancient wisdom that tells us to make our beds: to wrap them up that we might prize sleep with a most serious relish and we would do well to put a bow on the fridge to remind us of wonders that it holds.

The wrappings of Advent are the wrappings of a wedding.  We long to reflect how Heaven and earth are joined in the crib and so we bring the outside inside.  That’s the meaning of the tree standing tall and lean in your living room.  And we light up the outside like it’s the inside with all of the yard displays – as if we have guests perpetually waiting to rejoin us.  It’s the same wisdom of a wedding where not only is the bride wrapped up with her friends, but even the groom and even four or five of his friends are wrapped up.  We do it because it’s a little strange.  It’s out of the ordinary.  It’s the meaning that has everything in this church wrapped.  We wrap the altar in cloth, we wrap the chalice in cloth, we even wrap the priest up to point towards the great union that is about to occur.

One more thing about John the Baptist.  He says he’s not worthy to loosen the strap of Christ’s sandal.  Some ancient writers have said this is because John’s followers were taking off their sandals get in the Jordan, because they are sinners.  But this Christ will need no baptism from sin.  He’s no sinner.  Another take is that in ancient Judaism when a bridegroom refused to take as his wife the woman he ought to take, and there is another relative of hers who wants to take his place and offers himself to be her husband instead…this new man then took off the first man’s shoe.  That is he takes off the Bridegroom’s shoe and thus becomes the bridegroom.  John the Baptist essentially says, “Not only am I not the groom, but even if He did not want you (People of Judah) to be His wife, I am not worthy to take you instead.  I am not the Bridegroom.”  Maybe they’re both right.  Either way, John is not going to start unwrapping our Lord. Image result for john the baptist

Christ surprises John as He desires Himself to be wrapped in the water of sin.  He goes right into the same water that has poured over so many, and enables Himself to be found.  Christ allows Himself to be hid in the same way in the Eucharist, as He is wrapped away again in the Tabernacle.  He has come to give us the fire of grace.  He comes to dwell in our souls.  He longs for our hearts.  They can bear him in this life if  we wrap our Lord in charity, and so long as we reveal His joy –  we can leap up at the gift that is life and take flight.

 

Out of the Old…

Image result for getaway carHappy Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe!  But so that Christ can truly reign as our King, He must bust us out of prison – out of the Old Order of sin and death.  If you will, this Church is basically a massive getaway car! 

                In the ancient world the order of sin and death was understood all too well and so they understood Christ’s mission.  Let me give you an example: The City of Corinth had two famous brothers.  Timoleon was the younger brother, but he was brave.  He was more prudent and gentle, but he hated tyranny.  Timophanes was the older brother – he was impetuous, headstrong, brash – craved absolute power.  Timoleon would often cover up for the mistakes of Timophanes and make them seem trifling next to his successes.  Once in battle, Timophanes had fallen from his horse and was in danger of being crushed.  Timeleon fought over to his side and held his shield over him, receiving many javelins and strokes of the sword to his own body and armor – he at length with much difficulty obliged the enemies to retire, and brought off his Timophanes safe and alive.  But not long after the fight, the city of Corinth hired 400 mercenaries and put Timophanes in charge of them…yet and made himself the tyrant.  Timoleon was in anguish and felt the guilt to partly his own for he had helped Timophanes attain this power by hiding his faults.  So, Timoleon went to his brother to reason with him that Timophanes should reject such an unhappy ambition.  His attempt was rebuffed.  Timoleon returned with Aeschylus and Satyrus who joined with him pleading that he reconsider.  Timophanes began by laughing at them and then flew into rage at which point, Timoleon stepped aside and stood weeping with his face covered as Aeschylus and Satyrus drew their swords and ended the life and reign of Timophanes.

                In other words, here is this man who tries with all of his might to save his brother – in the public eye…on the battlefield…but in the end, his fight is in vain.  He cannot save his brother from himself – from his pride and thirst for power.  This was the story then and continues now everywhere that the name of Christ remains unsung.  Because they recognized sin and its partner death, people welcomed the Good News of the Gospel.  We do well when we similarly realize that we deserve punishment if left to ourselves, for then we can see Christ for the Eternal Remedy that He is. 

                Now one of the obstacles to breaking out of prison is thinking that we deserve to stay there and rot.  In the Old Order like Timoleon – this would seem to be the last word.  He had failed to win his brother and shared in his guilt.  We share in this same inability to achieve the good on our own.  That’s where Christ succeeds.  He snuck into our fallen world as one of us, only without sin.  And because He stepped in front of us to be executed, He has the capacity to share His innocence with us.  He can forgive our sins and clear our names so that we might have a chance to follow His path.

                But what if the prison doesn’t seem that bad?  Our world can seem comfortable and the Cross, this vital tool to burrowing our way out can seem anything but comfortable.  Thankfully, Jesus is urgent even when we are complacent.  He gives us today’s Gospel (Mt 25:31-46) just two days before His Last Supper.  It’s like class where everyone is happy-go-lucky and not interested in the material until just before the test and then everyone is pumping the teacher for the questions to the exam.  Christ knows that we need to focus on what’s important and so He gives us the whole test – every question: did you feed the hungry?  Did you clothe the naked?  Did you find Me when you had the chance?

                One last obstacle remains: it might seem impossible to bust out.  The bars reach the stars.  This is why the test is written the way it is.  This is why Jesus became poor in the first place.  For one thing, He lifts up the entire state of poverty and dignifies it.  This is the condition in which all of us stand in one way or another.  Christ enables even the poor the chance to give something to those who seem rich.  Without the poor, the rich are trapped in their possessing.  The poor give an inestimable gift in receiving.  We all have this chance, but we have to die to our pride and accept a gift.  But once we begin to give when we are poor and to look for the poor when we are rich – then all of a sudden there are gaps in this prison’s order everywhere.  Every poor person is an escape hatch.  

               And here’s another challenge – Christ wants us to always see Him there.  Remember back to those high school athletic awards assemblies at the end of the season.  One in particular stands out for me.  I had gone out and wrestled my junior year with no previous experience.  I think the coaches were just surprised that I kept coming out day after day to get tossed around.  I think that because that is what they said about me at the awards assembly!  But I took that as the compliment that it was intended to be.  No matter how much you acted like you didn’t care during the season, that night everybody is on pins and needles about how the coach considered their effort.  Take that thought and multiply it by infinity – when every soul is before Him all together.  There will be people you love and admire whom you have forgotten, and before them all every conscience will be opened to each individual to see and understand their sentence. 

               How good it is that we have the poor and that Christ comes to us poor in this Eucharist.  Even Timoleon is not left without hope.  Perhaps his fellow Corinthians prayed for him and ill-fated Timophanes, for the dead are the poorest of the poor.  Each and every Mass they are remembered as we united ourselves to Christ and through Him to all of the Universe that has loved Him back.   

                 

Failure: Doing Less with Less

I’ll let you in on a secret.  You, as a Christian, have been given a life or death mission.  It’s kind of like we are in an adventure story where there’s just a ragtag group of resistance fighters left.  We have an infinitely precious treasure that must not only be defended but spread to others (like an antidote against a raging virus) and the good guys are hunted by all of the forces of darkness with the clocking ticking down.  That story resonates in our culture still – because it is the Gospel – the story out of which our culture grew.  Braveheart.  Star Wars.  Muppet Treasure Island.  All masterpieces of the sacrifice and glory.

Triple Threat 2

            The servants in Christ’s parable are heroes – they are to represent Christ (who is the Master) and to use His gifts (understand here the talents) to spread the Gospel until He returns.  We look around and often others have more gifts than we do.  That’s life.  We have to avoid the kind of thinking that might have plagued the third servant.  “There is a reason I was only given one talent.  The Master knows I am the weakest prospect.”  We can be quick to shortchange ourselves.  Fears can multiply.  The servant might have thought: “The Master is not likely to miss one penny if I screw this up.”  Just so, we can think God is cold and exacting, which blankets our fire until we become lukewarm.  The servant settles on inaction: “Better to just lay cool and bury this in the ground – I’ll get back to doing whatever it is that I know how to do anyway – take care of myself.”  And now that we have given up any thought that our lives really matter in the bigger picture that is the cosmic struggle for good…we can spend our energies where we want – pretending that listening to our will keeps us happy – while we become more and more desperate to find meaning on the inside.      

            As other servants work in their various vocations in life, attempting to love, and making progress that sometimes looks too easy…we along with the third servant might begin to doubt their motives.  People on the sidelines have begun to talk about them and this makes us feel even better about hiding our spiritual light under a bushel basket.  Perhaps the thought comes in, “If the Master wants this money to grow – he can do it himself.  I don’t know if the other servants are in it for him, but I wouldn’t blame them if they took a little for themselves.  Why should anyone work themselves to death just for his benefit?”  Of course, that’s a lie.  Christ is not using us and discarding us.  He wants us to take part in glorifying the Father that we might share in His glory.

            The third servant still calls himself a servant of the Master – in today’s world, he would still call himself a Catholic.  But his energy and time was on the things of the world.  He was not fanatic.  The Master doesn’t need him, for he knows there is something miraculous about the Master.  He could harvest where he did not plant and gather where he had not scattered.  The master could just as easily bring forth more money from his burial spot in the ground if he so choose – like a magician pulls a rabbit from a hat – or like Christ multiplies bread by the thousand.  Let him do the multiplying trick then when He gets back. 

            When we forget the spiritual impact we have on the universe, our imagination is handicapped and only operates in one direction.  We imagine our fears are worth serving, rather than our great loves – especially the greatest of loves – that of Goodness itself and of our greatest desire: to actually be good.

            Eventually the master returns indeed, and we get a glimpse into what might have been.  He says to the servant that his imagination should have noticed not only the greatness of the master, but his own potential.  The master doesn’t bestow his talents by accident.  Not only is the master capable of harvesting what he did not plant – the servant could have reflected the seemingly magical quality of harvesting where he did not plant by investing the master’s money in the bank and collecting the interest.  Here he would not have worked any harder than he had in burying it.  In other words he could have trusted somebody – anybody – even if it were just one miserly old soul at the bank – and then he could have shared the master’s gift of sharing. 

             We were made in Christ’s image which means we have been given His gifts.  Where we find ourselves coming up short on gifts we can think of St. Paul who rejoices not in his strengths, but in his weaknesses.  He doesn’t bury them, but enables Christ to work His greatest miracles through them to the point that Christ tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore we can rejoice on all sides.  The man with the least natural ability is often he who is called to perform the greatest service.  He might have been the only one to see that the Master can bring forth abundance from virtually nothing.  To return to the analogy in the parable, if the servant had placed the money in high risk/high yield stocks – he might have multiplied the harvest 20, 30, 100 fold.                         Think of the good centurion.  He is a man far away from home.  He knows battle and He knows loyalty and He sense in Christ the Lord of order and love.  Knowing his own strengths and using a little imagination, He extends them to Christ.  “I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  He is here with us in Spirit, urging us to our feet, to keep our post.  For, in the Eucharist, Christ comes into us to return the favor – to demonstrate how He invests in us.  For He does not want to buried in us, but to live in us that we might know that we are Sons and Daughters of Father and brothers and sisters of His, and we have this short life to share the greatest treasure that we have: that all of our lives with all their weaknesses and even their redeemed sins mean something in the story of love. 

Wake When There is Time

Image result for clock at midnight

The other day I got a text message from my dentist – well, not my dentist, but my dentist office…okay, it wasn’t the office exactly, but some automated texting system to alert me that my dental cleaning is coming up.  Now, I am thankful for this text being a couple weeks early because it gives me just enough time to think that I can change my life and floss more so that my dental hygienist will be happy.  There’s still time – and the text alerts me that in the not too distant future there will be a reckoning.  She will make a judgment upon my teeth – and even her little dental scrapey thing kind of looks like a reaper’s scythe.  It’s good to be warned.

Image result for dental scraper

            The parable of the Ten Virgins is kind of like that text message.  It is meant to wake us up by telling us a story of when there won’t be any time left to correct our lives.  It is a story with the clock stopping where it began: at midnight – when comes the judge to judge.

            There is so much symbolism that has been discerned from this story, but before we can really pay attention to its message, the characters have to matter to us.  I can think of two obstacles right off the bat – that these characters are all maidens (they are all women), and they are all virgins.

             Any guy at this point might naturally be tempted to think that there’s not much room for him in the story.  But, the ten virgins represent the Church, that is all of us at the end of time – and while they are depicted as women, it is more significant that we remember that the whole Church is to be the Bride of Christ.  Women and men are all joined together in the Church, and form one Bride prepared to meet His returning power and glory – in other words, all of our souls (whether we are men or women) are configured to receive the spiritual presence of God in a manner that will be a torrent of spiritual ecstasy and joy.

             So, the feminine idea of this Church bride does not leave any Christian out – whether they be male or female and neither does the idea of these individuals being virgins.  Virginity, as stressed here, represents a quality of the spirit – not the body.  This spiritual virginity is imparted to all of us by the Word of God at baptism, and it can be renewed in the confessional.  The Word of God gives us grace to leave aside the giving of our spirits to anything that is not God as we are drawn through Christ to worship the Father.

              You see, bodily virginity is great, but all bodies go through change and decay.  Our spirits are made to live forever by living for God – the One who does not change.  If our spirits are focused simply on getting various pleasures for the body or for winning the praises of fickle men, they will be barren.  If we are always willing to exchange the transitory pleasures of the body and goods of the world to serve others than we will be able to keep our spirits pure and open to God’s eternal love.

            Now, we perceive the world and all its pleasures and pains through our five senses, and that’s why the early fathers of the Church say Christ speaks of five virgins that are wise and five that are foolish.  In other words, some are able to keep focused on Him, and yet some lose themselves in their five senses by lunging after the pleasures and trying to avoid every pain. 

            St. Hilary describes the lamps as the very bodies of these maidens, and the oil as the fruit of their good works.  You know how Christ refers to some people who are dead as “only sleeping,” well, when we hear that these ten virgins fall asleep, they have truly died.  At midnight when again, the time is now simultaneously old and new (caught between the ending of one day and the beginning of the next), the Bridegroom Messiah arrives and the Fathers elaborate on the maidens trimming their lamps as the returning of their souls into the bodies to awake from sleep, and they reckon up to themselves their works for which they hope to receive eternal blessedness at the Judgment. 

Image result for ten virgins

            The lamps of the foolish are going out because while they had done some works and had some of the oil of charity – their works were done primarily to be seen by others.  They were only outwardly bright, but inwardly the lights of their spirits were failing.   They cry out to the wise: give us some of your oil.  This is how they are used to considering themselves good – others would praise them.  So in asking for oil, it is as if to say, “Declare for us that you have seen our works – give witness to our goodness.”  It sounds very much like the clamor of grade school students who have not done their homework and want to copy from a friend.  It’s not that the wise are not interested in helping, but they cannot attest to the inward condition of the foolish, they cannot speak for the spiritual innocence and love of the foolish which they cannot see, but the Bridegroom can.  He will see for Himself.  They advise them not to go to the judge without the oil of charity – go and buy some from the poor.  Only it’s too late.  The poor are wonderful merchants who are glad to help us procure the interior good of our souls – the spiritual love that will help us to remain always centered on the things of God, that is, the love that persists.  But, the time to love the poor is not in the future when we are out of time, but now. 

            We are called to love Christ and to burn for Him.  While we can’t see how pure we are, we can seek Him in His deepest poverty, the poverty of the Eucharist.  He treats us to an ostentatious display of poverty.  Revealing Himself as a simple, pure, inexpensive consumable.  If we have hearts that serve those weakest – we will rejoice that is this poor one who is the doorway to living in the Kingdom of Love now.

Weaned to Love More

John Pridmore.pngJohn Pridmore was a member of the mafia in London.  He was a so-called gangster, an enforcer, who used to carry a gun and sometimes a machete in his life of violence.  He had a collection of sports cars and more money than he knew what to do with.  He lived a life of promiscuity, and was filling the emptiness of his life with the same drugs that were the cash-crop of his corner of the underworld.  One day to impress one of his boss’ friends, he hit a man so hard that the man seemed to stop breathing and he realized (as the man lay there) that he didn’t care at all whether the man was still alive.  His victim ended up surviving, but John was startled that he had become so dead inside that he didn’t care about what happened to this man.  A little later, John came into his apartment and sensed a voice coming from inside himself, possibly by way of his conscience – John recognized the voice was that of God.  It revealed to him that he was on the way to Hell.  Now, in his work with the mafia, John had been shot and stabbed, but he says this was the most terrifying moment of his life.  Not because he was sorry but out of a fear of Hell, John cried out for another chance.  Another sense pervaded his soul – that of being lifted up, and John prayed for the first time in his life: “Up to now what I’ve done is take from you, God.  Now I want to give.”  With that, John felt the love of God, the Holy Spirit come pouring into him.  It was better than any drug he claimed, and while it lasted but a moment in that moment he knew God loved him.  Up to then he always thought he was worthless – that it didn’t matter whether he lived or died.  But in this moment it did matter.  Now, the only person he knew who had any faith was his “mum”, and so he went and told her the event.  She said that she prayed for him every day of his life.  Nine days before this she had prayed a novena to St. Jude…the patron saint of hopeless cases.  John went on a retreat and made a confession for the first time in his life.  The last twenty-five years John has written books and travelled around speaking about his experience of God’s mercy. 

            Todays’ readings have something of a wakeup call in them.  In the first reading God reveals to the priests of Jerusalem that He loves them, despite their sins – but He does not hold back from warning them of the consequences of their actions.  If they do not turn back, their plans will come to nothing – in fact they will backfire.  Why do they treat others as if they are less than themselves?  Is not God the true Father of all people?! 

            In the Gospel, these same themes come up again.  The Pharisees are focused more on themselves and looking holy than on caring for the people around them and giving the honor to God.  They empty the meaning of the word Rabbi by teaching things they do not practice.  It is not in being a rabbi that there is an issue.  Christ Himself is called rabbi.  The sticking point is their being called rabbi when they do not truly teach.  The same with the word, Father.  The fact that we call priests by the word “Father” has been a point of contention with some Christians, but Christ’s real issue is not with the word, but in thinking of any man as the one who has given us the beginning of life.   He says, “Call no man your father.”  The Church could have tried to eliminate the calling of natural fathers, “father,” but rather than harm the family in this way needlessly – she has seen fit to call priests “father” as well – not to be an honor for these men who are priests, but rather that by calling these men who baptize us into eternal life we might be reminded of Christ’s message: that we have one Father in heaven.   

            Today is the beginning of Vocations Awareness Week in the United States.  God calls everyone to holiness – to become like He is through the giving of one’s entire self in love.  The Psalmist says, “I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child….a weaned child on its mother’s lap.”  John Pridmore himself had lived a life taking from everybody, helping a drug culture to suck the life out of society – until that experience of God and he prays to begin giving his life back to God.  All of us are called to grow to maturity in Christ.

            Yesterday night I was out at a High School with the priests’ team.  We had a big practice with an arranged game against some of St. Dominic High School’s finest soccer stars.  Needless to say, we were outgunned.  But I was told beforehand by Karen, who’s been working in our office that her son was on the practice team for St. Dominic, and so during halftime I went over to say hi to our opponents and I met this young man.  He is interested in the AF and the Naval Academies.  I asked him if he wanted to fly.  The academies are not an easy road to being an officer – and I knew that one of the big advantages is that if you want to fly, you’ve got the best shot if you’re an academy grad.  “Flying might be cool.  My thing is I want to serve.”  His answer was perfect – he has the true mentality of someone interested in attending a “service” academy. 

            We grow in holiness when we recognize that we can’t do anything on our own.  But what’s more we believe in God’s love.  We have to believe in His Presence and that He loves us as personally as any mother loves a child – with even more gentle affection than St. Paul.  And that He gives us life and that our sufferings are opportunities to be weaned from a merely mercenary experience of God….but that we might ultimately give love without expecting anything back (just like God).  It is in this deep trust that we become ready to receive more. 

            The part of John Pridmore’s testimony that I’ll never forget is the end.  He flat out says, “I don’t want to be a saint.  A saint’s somebody who goes to heaven.  I want to be a great saint.  The great saints are those that lived their lives trying to get others to heaven.  Truly, Jesus prepares us for this in the Eucharist.  He gives Himself to us – all of Himself – that He might makes us saints – called home to our Father who gives us the beginning of our lives and our true end.

Making the Turn

Image result for quandary peakI want to go to the mountains.  I always want to go to the mountains.  I’ve gone out to Colorado a number of times and it is always sad to drive past the last real mountains on the way back home, just as it is always a joy to drive to see the first mountains begin to take shape as you are heading into higher country and even more of a thrill to drive up into their twists and turns. 

                There are quite a number of holy mountains in Scripture: Mount Horeb, Mount Moriah, Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Olives, Calvary.  Mountains are a kind of trysting place between God and mankind.  We go up and get closer to the heavens….up there on the mountain God does not have to come so far down to meet us — almost as if we give His back a little bit of a rest.  The giving of the Law/the Beatitudes on a mountain reveals to us that if we live by this teaching we will reach this lofty destination – we will ascend.  In this first reading today, Isaiah describes the Mountain of the Lord.  All peoples will be provided for there with a feast of rich juicy foods and choice wines.  This mountain will definitively end the human experience of death forever – and tears will be wiped away.  The whole Image result for snowboarder dudepicture is so epic it might be worth saying in your best surfer/snowboarder voice: “Woooah, I’m glad God came and saved us – let us party so righteously!!!” And we will dwell with the Lord.

                I used to have this wiry history professor who wore these wiry glasses and he would stump the students.  His quotable quote was, “Don’t try to outfox the fox!”  His most notorious riddles came in the form of ancient political cartoons from the 19th century that he placed towards the end of his tests.  One in particular showed these alligators with open mouths coming out of the water.  But if you turned the whole image sideways, you would see that the alligators’ mouths were bishops’ miters.  The whole thing was an anti-Catholic slam, but you had to make the turn to see both perspectives.  Image result for 19th century political cartoon bishops miters alligators

                Making the turn is critical in our faith.  We have to remember that we are physical, but recognize and move into a spiritual understanding of God and love and creation.  We have to make the turn from the personal way of looking at life to the communal – to the greater communion.  We have to make the turn from seeing God’s invitation as extended to all in a general way to ourselves in an extremely intimate way.  If we fail to make the turn, we run a high risk.  For example, the chief priests and Pharisees who were looking for a Messiah are being addressed by Jesus in the parable of the King and the wedding feast.  But if we think of our future in a physical way – mountains, wine, and food Image result for feast rich foods(good in their own way) – but see what God offers in a merely material way…and the King offers fattened cattle, this may not seem enough.  The one man has his own farm.  The other had plenty of money through his business – the physical doesn’t strike them.  They reject the Lord.  They do not take their bodies to the feast.

                There is another example to watch out for however – the man who goes, but has no wedding garment.  Now, this second string group is interesting in that it includes the good and the bad alike.  How do the bad get into the wedding feast and presumably have a garment?  Well, the bad are invited and show up, but they must not stay bad.  They put on a garment through conversion.  Their garment perhaps is one of great thanksgiving personally for being called to such a feast.  Or perhaps one of imploring King’s mercy and forgiveness; one of the personal repentance needed in relationship to the King they long to see.  Perhaps the man without the garment was one of the bad who merely despairs of not belonging there without the initiative that those others who need conversion take.  The good should not take their status as deserved.  Their garment must be one of gratitude and thanksgiving at the generosity of the King.  Perhaps the man caught without the garment is one who considers himself at home without any additional movement of his soul – that the King is lucky to have him there.  The lack of a proper garment in either direction seems to indicate a failure to make the turn from our previous mode to one centered on God.

                Our whole situation in the world today seems to increasingly call us as a nation, as a Church, as a species to make the turn.  To see ourselves personally called and communally connected to God.  The increasing scope of the disasters that threaten us have the ability to call us to think as a body – one that is threatened altogether.  From North Korea and Iran and their ambitions to the super-volcanoes that have been reported to be charging up to the emerging technologies that may push mankind largely out of the workforce, etc. are all issues against we will rise or fall together. 

God certainly allows these various scenarios as consequences of our own free will, but He wants to unite us in love rather than fear.  And so in the midst of these readings and in the midst of His imagery of juicy rich food and choice wines and fattened cattle that are slaughtered, He extends to us Himself.   We are not merely called to be guests to the party and these foods are not to be treated as merely as something physically nice and yet superfluous.  They are juicy, rich and fattened – not to keep us in our Image result for eucharistlower nature – but to allude to the presence of something hidden.  One of the Church Fathers states that the fattened cattle are fattened with the Holy Spirit Himself.  It reminds me of an old Eucharistic Litany that hails our Lord as the “Bread of Fatness.”  He delivers Himself to us physically (but in a size and manner that does not entice us on its own) and spiritually, having given His very Soul and Divinity into this most sacred food.  If we make the turn together, we can share in the Communion that lifts us up to the mountain of the Lord – together and beloved.  We have been called as guests and should we make the turn we will yet remain as the Bride.       

Look Up, Not Down

Image result for grapes

So, I was watching another episode of the Twilight Zone and in it, Oliver Crangle is a bitter man bent over a desk most of his day in his room.  He spends his time either calling up employers and reporting on various people who Crangle has determined are Communists or individuals who are morally objectionable and filing thousands of names away with all that he has learned about them in his efforts to personally identify and root out all evil in the world.  One of the people whom Crangle happens to misidentify is a doctor who Crangle has labeled a murderer, for a patient in his care once passed away.  Crangle has been calling the hospital and demanding he fired, and so his wife pays Crangle a visit to implore him to cease and desist.  Yet, Crangle has no sympathy, and it becomes more apparent to the audience how demented he is as he looks out the lofty window of his high-rise at the people below.  It is hard to tell how he differentiates the evil people that he sees from anyone else as he merely cackles and says, “They’ll all be two feet tall!  At 4 o’clock I’ll turn them all two feet tall!”  The woman leaves, understandably shaken by Crangle’s excitement. 

            This show popped into my head the other night when someone was asking me about the shooting in Las Vegas.  How do we explain it?  What does the Church have to say about such things.  The shooter in Las Vegas looking down out of his window perhaps had a similar view on humanity to Oliver Crangle.  It was all beneath him.  He had determined that he was the law and the arbiter of the law himself.  But before we look down our own noses at anybody – even at such sad examples of humanity as Oliver Crangle and the Las Vegas shooter – our readings today should get us to slow down.  Both of the readings reflect God’s abundant graces and care that He has provided for us.  He has made nothing evil.  But, in the first reading, God speaks about Israel itself as the fruits that were wild when they should have been good.  And the Gospel speak about the leaders of Israel who wanted to keep the fruits of Israel for themselves to the point of murder. 

            It would seem to me that wild grapes would be grapes with a sour taste…some kind of inferior quality.  It is as if God is suggesting that Israel did not want to live and grow according to the Law and so they soured in on themselves – rather than offering their sweetness back to God, they spent all their sweetness on themselves and the flavor went bad.  Aren’t we tempted to do the same thing?  The first reading says that God looked to Israel (and really to us) for judgment, but not in that we judge others or even ourselves, but that we judge the various courses of action we can take – and choose those that correspond to love and self-sacrifice and that bring us into closer communion with God and neighbor even if at our own expense. 

           Perhaps if we had more of a knowledge, a clearer knowledge of what God has in store for us.  Scripture says, eye has not seen, ear has not heard – what God has ready.  But while we don’t know the entirety of the reward we strive to attain, we can look to Christ Himself who did reveal certain attributes when He was with His apostles after the Resurrection. 

             We are told by St. Paul to live above the flesh in this life – to live according to the Spirit.  Well, if we do sacrifice in our bodies and we do not grow sour, then we will experience the conquest of the imperfections inherent to our bodies.  Instead of our spirits seemingly turned all around with pains and sadnesses flowing from our lower nature, rather our bodies will conform to whatever our spirits will.  For example in this life our bodies occupy space to the limitation that other bodies cannot share in that same space.  Our bodies exclude other bodies.  While Christ’s risen Body still occupies space, it is able to move through doors (which is how it is believed that He appeared to the Apostles in the upper room though the doors were locked).  At will, He can allow it occupy the same space as another body without ceasing to be.  The body also becomes incorruptible – in other words – just as the soul cannot be physically damaged or lose its life….Jesus has died and risen no more to die.  The wounds in His hands and His feet hurt Him no longer.  Every resurrected body will enter this same condition.  The spirit is enabled to use the glorified body as in instrument in any activity it desires – as Christ wills that His Body ascend into the heavens to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  All of these gifts shine forth because the soul is completely impregnated by the Spirit. 

            If life is so good (and remember these are just the tip of the iceberg – things we can glean from Christ) and yet we know that we will be joined to everyone more personally with those who are now perfect strangers tighter than some couple married for 77 years.   This is the promise to us if we bear fruit.  Repentance is worth it.  Today’s society needs the self-sacrifice of those who believe in something greater.  Let us then drop out of the conversations wherein some group blames some other group.  Let us look up at others rather than down at them.  Let us think of ourselves as part of the overall problem for we are growing in the same vineyard.  If something is wrong in the vineyard – then on some level we are all in need of mercy. 

            Those last few words remind me of the need to judge my course and leave off with judging persons – whether myself or another.  That Twilight Zone episode ends famously at 4 o’clock.  The man has worked some dark miracle and all the evil people are now just two feet tall, only he’s the only one who shrinks. 

            The Eucharist is the Resurrected Flesh of Jesus Christ and allowing Himself to be with us – He condescends from on High.  Christ gave His Body and Blood to His twelve apostles and spread His life among us that we might live as members, not for ourselves.  This seems like a good idea even with its difficulties in this life.  But if we subject ourselves truly to the Body of Christ and seek to see ourselves as much in the need of God’s mercy as everyone else we will inherit a glory that shares everything we have with others, in exchange for a share in the very glory of God’s infinite love and joy.

Right Where We Want ‘EM!

Back in the day, there were many times when my dad and I would be watching some game and the good guys would be down without much chance of coming back and he would say, “We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em.”  As in, the bad guys are overconfident and we are in perfect position for the comeback of the century.  Perhaps Image result for themistoclesthis was never more true than in the case of Themistocles.  Themistocles lived about 500 years before Christ.  He was a famous admiral and leader of Athens and he knew the threat of the Persian Empire and their desire to seize his country.  So Themistocles inspired his people to construct a fleet of 200 ships.  They were built, put to sea, and manned from bow to stern with sailors and warriors.  Sure enough the Persians came to invade and Themistocles guided the fleet into position to fight in the close quarters around the multi-pronged land of Salamis, but when the Persians swept in with something like 1000 ships – the Greeks did not want to fight and were planning to head home.  Themistocles knew that they could never challenge the Persian fleet on open water and that if they did not fight when they could in the narrow seas and the straits to which he had guided their course, they would lose any advantage against such a huge number of ships and all hope for their homeland would most certainly be lost.  What he did next was gutsy.  Themistocles sent his servant to the Persian King, stating that he, Themistocles, now sought a victory for the Persians and hoped to be rewarded for his change of heart.  He said that the Greeks were ready to try and escape (which was true) and that the Persians could hinder their flight, and destroy all their sea forces if they acted quickly. Image result for battle of salamis The Persians therefore surrounded the whole area with their ships and advanced – tightening the noose – and Themistocles had ‘em just where he wanted!  In other words, so long as there was any opportunity to escape for a time the Greeks had wanted to flee and Themistocles could not rouse them.  However, now that there were surrounded and would have no choice but to fight – fight they would.  With their backs against the wall, they battled like lions and in the close quarters of the straits of Salamis – the numerical advantage of the Persians was lost.  As the Persian ships began to sink, the invaders melted away.

Now, in every good ship there are three types of leaders.  You need a navigator – someone who can see what’s coming ahead and help direct the course.  You need a first mate.  That is somebody who can be a mediator between the captain and the crew and help relay information both ways – up the chain of command and down.  And you need a captain – somebody who is the king, the boss, the 800 pound gorilla, king of the Jungle to ultimately be the decision maker. Image result for helmsman

Themistocles played the role of the navigator/seer over the whole battle – and also the Captain and decision-maker.  But, Christ has all three of these leadership traits and so in the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, we have prophets (scholars and mystics) – who are like our navigators, priests who fulfil the role of first mate – right there in the trenches, and bishops who wield the authority of Christ the Head in their diocese – ultimately looking to the pope, our Holy Father in Rome for leadership in faith and morals.  But even the pope has to listen to an authority beyond Himself.  He has to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines that have been handed down in the Church.  So, with respect to the Church militant, he is the head.  In respect to God, he is part of the body.

We are constantly called to conversion – to understanding our role about when to lead and when to follow.  The key to conversion is humility.  Jesus Christ Himself “did regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather He emptied Himself taking the form of a slave.”  If Christ humbles Himself, it is so that we can follow His lead.

But, we often fail and we have a word to describe a group of people that loses their sense of humility and forgets how they best operate harmoniously to the point that they seize power – we call it a mob.  That Greek Admiral Themistocles was essentially Image result for mobfacing the beginnings of a mutiny by a mob.  He not only saw the great conversion they required, but had the humility to realize he could not change their hearts on his own.  He had to reach out and influence even his enemies to hem them in on all sides so that they sensed again their need for leadership – they were a body that needed a head.

Christ certainly knows the tactics of the devil and He knows the will of the people.  Time and again they wanted to make Him a king, but only a king of their stomachs – to give them a little more comfort on this earth.  They wanted to carry Him off in mob fashion after the multiplication of the bread and fish, but He slipped away.  So, He casts aside earthly power and He even allows evil to encircle Him and seemingly take every avenue of escape away.  His very life is lost, but never His soul – and His soul returning to lift up His Body has given us all a means of escape.

Christ does the same with us.  He does not try and force His will upon us and allows us to sin.  It is our ways that are shortsighted when we sin.  He established a Church that is a permanent prophet to the world who always proposes the truth and yet is perpetually mocked and ridiculed, even as it teaches the same singular truth capable of liberating mankind from isolation and darkness.  Our Lord has our enemies right where He wants them, and He even allows us to be encircled that we might realize our need to make our stand with Him.  He is the true leader in every facet.  His truth does not change. Image result for Christ Suffered

We may think we would love a God who would adapt to our way of thinking, but then we could not find communion with everyone else.  If God was always changing what was true to satisfy each individual – we would never all share the same truth.  His truth is Love, the Love of a Father for His children, the love of a Brother for His little brothers and sisters, and in the Eucharist – the love of a Father offering Christ His Son and our Brother for us all.  The truth of Christ’s teachings do not change, and we can see the more clearly if we band together in the humble need for conversion.

 

Perspective

Image result for stacks of cashImagine a person who just won the Powerball – hundreds of millions of dollars – and then that same day was complaining because gas prices had just gone up 10 cents and they acted as if their whole day was just ruined!  Wouldn’t you think that person would have to be extremely out of touch with what’s important?  They are now multi-multi millionaires.  Shouldn’t that outshine a couple of dollars at the pump to keep their day in the “good category?” 

            Or imagine a person who was getting married and everyone was all excited for them and there Image result for flower girlwas all of the tremendous run-up to the wedding and all the photos and everything, but then at the wedding they become jealous at the attention that is given for a few moments to the flowergirl – that would be ridiculous.  Hey, you’re getting married – share a little attention – it’s still your wedding – the cuter the flower girl, the more beautiful your ceremony anyway. 

These are completely fictitious examples, and it shouldn’t take much maturity to see how shortsighted these two people would be if they were real.  It is like they are three year olds – they understand what they want, but they have a hard time seeing the bigger picture.  But I would say that this kind of thing often happens to us.  What’s worse is that when we are tempted towards a sort of adult toddler mindset we can find it very hard to trust anyone else trying to help us put things in perspective or point out some other way.

            God’s ways are not our ways, but God does not tell us that because He is happy about it.  You might say the same thing about a three-year old.  As far as the ceiling is above the floor, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts.  Probably so, but I don’t take joy from that difference to the point that I don’t want a three-year old to continue maturing and growing into an adult that can relate to me.  In just the same way, Jesus teaches us this parable to help us reevaluate.  So what’s going on anyway?

            Well, for starters the vineyard can be thought of as the People of God.  The marketplace where all of the workers are originally found waiting to be hired is the world.  The day encompasses human history.  Image result for analog wall clockThe different hours are seen as the different ages of the Salvation history – so dawn till nine would be Adam to Noah.  The age from Noah till Abraham would be 9 o’clock to noon.  Noon to 3 would represent Abraham to Moses.  3 o’clock to 5 o’clock would be Moses to Christ and 5 o’clock to 6 o’clock (the twelfth hour and the final hour of the work day) would be the time of Christ and His Church.  Now God had called the Jews to work in the vineyard from early on in this day.  They share in the covenant and become a people from the time of Abraham.  This parable is a lot like the end of the Prodigal Son parable where the older brother has served the father the whole time and gets angry at the mercy towards his younger brother.  The Jews are the older brother and in this parable the workers who have been out in the field.  The Gentiles are the younger brother and in this case those called by Christ into the People of God.  The Jews did go and work and they do start early in the day.   But work isn’t all bad!  Adam in his sin had disobeyed God.  Work done for others – that is – work done in the vineyard allows us to cooperate with God and gets us outside of ourselves.  Even when the thorns of creation prick us, that is when we suffer in our work, we can remember that Christ was crowned with thorns and made even this suffering into a most holy thing.  The worst of our work can draw us the closest to Christ.  Furthermore, I don’t know too many people Image result for standing aroundwho like standing around.  There is not much meaning to be found standing idle in the world.  Those who labor in the vineyard of the Lord have the potential to unite all of their efforts to God. 

            The problem is not recognizing the payment.  The payment is not only the denarius which represents one day’s labor – or the money to live on through tomorrow.  The payment is life meaning something today with the promise of more.  The payment is life itself or the love of God.  If we want to be grateful for the life we will have in eternity, it is worth our while to start being grateful for the life we have today.  The sacrifices of the Israelites and the Jews especially have been told and retold by the lips of Gentiles in a way that those who came late to the vineyard can never replace.  Their lives when they were lived in love of God are celebrated and honored because they have taken on the meaning of God’s chosen bride. 

            The problem is that all of us want to compare ourselves and how we feel we have been treated.  We compare ourselves to others and we compare ourselves to ourselves.   If we simply accepted God’s gift of life we could begin living our life with eternal meaning (the meaning of Christ’s love) now.  We as Christians, we have been called in this last hour.  While the whole body of the Christian faithful has been working in the vineyard for far less time, we are capable of laboring according to Christ’s teaching of love and grace and sacrifice – and thus with Christ, we can accomplish a great fruitfulness and many Christians have, as the Kingdom of God is now spread throughout the world.  While those coming early have labored according to the Law, the Christians have labored for the Father – and therefore have received Him as their very reward, a reward that is open to all and lacks nothing. 

            Christ calls us to a higher way of thinking, to a maturity that desires even to remain in the field like St. Paul if that is for the good of others rather than go onto our reward.  In the Eucharist, Christ continues to pay us with the gift of Himself, planting Himself in our hearts that we might bring forth a harvest before the day is done.