Spiritual Half-Time

Related image“Come apart and rest a while.”  It sounds so wonderful and refreshing just to imagine Christ saying that to us.  This Gospel is used at a lot at retreats…which always seems strange, because as soon as Christ and the apostles get away from everybody they are immediately swamped by people again.  The only time they have apart is the time where they are all rowing together and looking for a place to stop.  Actually, I think the whole thing is kind of Christ’s plan.  Hey you think you need a break – look at how desperate these people are out there.  They are longing to be led.  You might be tired….in fact you might be even more tired physically now that you’ve been rowing, but you already have what they want: you have a purpose….You have a leader. Image result for masses of people jesus

Actually, the word retreat when used to describe the act of taking some time away to pray is a little strange in itself.  Retreat is a military term.  And militarily it’s not something that you are supposed to want to do.  You would never start off a battle with a retreat.  There’s the old fighting spirit that this or that team “Never calls retreat!”  But, retreat is not the same thing as surrender.  Surrender involves the leader or a delegation from the leader going to meet the opponents and giving up.  Retreat on the other hand involves the leader taking his side in the direction away from the opponents as quickly as possible to find cover, so that they might keep on fighting.  The idea is to regroup, to treat the wounded, to reflect on the mistakes that have been made, address weaknesses, and to make a new strategy to win. Related image

Christ has called us sheep, not soldiers – but yet He still calls us forth to battle.  Spiritual warfare is different from the material warfare of this world.  In a worldly battle – fighting a material enemy is all about divide and conquer.  Dividing an army from their supplies of food and ammunition, breaking down their lines of communication so that their leader cannot get the message to the troops, and finally separating sinew from bone with the sword and soul from body.  Fighting our spiritual enemy is all about uniting to un-conquer – or to liberate.  Yes, Christ desires to unite His people to Himself, but not as their tyrant, as their Divine Bridegroom.   We will find our greatest freedom in unity with Him.  And not only freedom, but when we finish today’s scene next week, Jesus will show how He is the new supply line of food when He multiplies the bread and fish.  He ultimately gives us His Spirit – the perfect communication of God’s presence to us.  In His Cross and Resurrection, He will reunite Flesh and Blood for the victory of New Life. Image result for kurt russell coach miracle

Still, even with Christ as our shepherd – today, if we thought of Christianity as a team – the papers have been trashing our team and given up on our chances.  We had a lot of promise, but it looks like our Shepherd is not around.  Things seem pretty dark.  In the first reading, God takes the shepherds of His people to task and in our own day leadership has come under fire.  Many of the sheep are scattered.  Well, I went and looked through some clips of famous half-time speeches.  One of the coaches rallied his men by stating that “this game is not for nice people.”  In a way, that is very true.  As Christians, we are certainly not supposed to be mean.  But we are supposed to get in the thick of things.  We could only be “nice” if we stayed on the sidelines.  Alexander the Great once said, “I’m not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I’m afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”  Christ always has the heart of a lion who tells us the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.  Perhaps this very week we can besiege heaven with our prayers and lead others off the sidelines – away from simply being respectable and nice and into some form of charitable service. Image result for army of sheep led by a lion

You know it’s so easy to get down on our condition and the lack of goodness in culture.  I’m guilty.  Another coach put it simply: “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”  What we have is a great opportunity within the darkness of our world.  It might seem crazy – why would God let His Church become so battered?  Yes, many sheep seem adrift.  People in our own families and friends have lost their sense of direction.  But, we who are here have a tremendous opportunity.  The pressure builds from the outside (and even from the inside) – but it can push us to make an act of complete trust in Christ and move us to love each other in the Spirit knowing that our lives depend on our faith.  Jesus has called us to have the very unity that He shares with the Father.  We were never going to achieve that unity in peaceful pastures where we could all safely comfortably spread out.  Is there any reasonable way to expect that if we were all doing fine that we would need that kind of unity? That kind of love?  It is when the chips are down when things are so difficult on the outside and we are so torn on the inside that we need to draw close to one another.  Maybe that’s how the Church will begin to turn the corner.  We will finally be brought into such a tight unity that others will see us and know once again that there is something unique about Christianity and sense that they are truly missing something….and through the Spirit – they will realize they are missing Someone.  File:Botticelli, Pala della Convertite.jpg

Remember if physical battle ends in the death of the enemy – that is in the greatest physical division….spiritual battle is all about seeking the greatest unity: that of our hearts and minds with Christ, who is our Shepherd and our friend.  He gathers, He brings us to the meadow, He helps us to increase, He knows each by name, and none of His flock shall be missing.  How does He achieve this?  One coach yelled out and then repeated for effect, “We didn’t come this far to get this far….we didn’t come this far to get this far.”  We are in this battle till it is done.  He unites us by calling us all into the spiritual unity He creates by giving Himself on the Cross.  Because He is God, He is able to fulfill the Law.  Because He is man we can follow Him.  Because He is God, He can ascend and so our trajectory is beyond the terrain of this life.  This life is a zero-sum game.  If I win, you lose.  In Christ, our lives find the ladder to a new terrain where you can win and I can win.  If we follow the Shepherd and give everything, even when we seem to be rowing without physical relief we will find our refreshment, for His call for us to come apart to rest is only for a while so that we might the more fully come together and awaken as one.

Looking For The Cure

Image result for alexander the greatAlexander the Great was one of the most powerful men in the world, but at one point he fell ill.  None of his doctors had the guts to try and cure him, because they were afraid that if they failed – they themselves would be put to death.  Finally, one of his physicians named Philip boldly made a concoction and told him to drink it quickly.  However, one of Alexander’s other counselors had just written him a letter stating that Philip was trying to poison him.  Alexander read the letter and put it aside.  Now, as Alexander took the potion from Philip with cheer and with assurance began to drink, he gave Philip the letter to read.  Philip was beside himself, throwing his hands into the air and then falling upon the bedside – but he nonetheless told the king to lay aside all fear and finish drinking his medicine.  To make the scene even more intense, the treatment worked at first by drawing all of Alexander’s strength deep within himself so that his pulse slowed to nothing and he appeared to be dying.  And then the tide turned and he rapidly regained his constitution and returned to the head of his army.

Image result for amos the prophetTrust is essential.  If Alexander had not trusted his doctor, Philip, he would have died.  And if Philip had not trusted in his own medicine, he could not have urged Alexander to keep drinking it even when it first made him weaker – knowing that if his patient died, he would not long outlive him.  But for there to be trust there must be communication.  In the Old Testament, the trust of the Israelites on God relied in knowing what God wanted through the Law and the prophets.  Our first reading however, reveals just how rocky that relationship could be.  You would think that even bad news from a prophet was better than hearing nothing at all from God, but bad news was mostly what the true prophets brought the people – because they did not want to change.  In our little passage today, we do not even hear what Amos has been saying – we just hear the reaction: Get lost.  Go sell your false visions for money somewhere else.  Ouch.  Amos had been prophesying God’s wrath against the wealthy and idolatrous people of Israel.  Amos brought a tough medicine and the people were unwilling to take it….so what happens?  The communication with God broke down, and Amos’ words came true as Israel was conquered. Image result for Pope Paul VI

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary since the release of what has been called a prophetic document in the Church:  Humanae Vitae.  Basically, Pope Paul VI became one of the most hated figures in Church history because he put down in writing the reasons behind why the Church would continue to preach the Gospel of human life and speak out against contraception.  But Paul VI seeing the way the rest of the world was already racing, also made some prophetic claims.  He stated that there would be an increase in marital infidelity, a lowering of moral standards, an additional incentive for youth to break the moral law, a loss of reverence due to women, and the reduction of women to mere instruments of men’s satisfaction. Image result for birth control

Was Paul VI a true prophet?  To begin: is there any doubt that the health of marriages has declined over the last fifty years?  Yes, there are many other factors besides contraception – but in the first ten years of legalized birth control, the divorce rate more than doubled in our country and has stayed around 50%.  Similarly, is it not true that moral standards have dropped?  The breakdown of family and the false promise that sex can be purely recreational have left many youth with even less ability to learn restraint and proper boundaries.  Without the perceived consequences of children, men often expect the highest forms of physical intimacy with women in even casual relationships.  Meanwhile it is not only men who use women and look upon women as objects  – but society frequently encourages women to denigrate themselves so that they might be deemed desirable.  Paul VI also made all of his predictions against what he admitted was a common fear of the last century: overpopulation.  This past week however reveals another sad fruit of contraception, as the European Union now admits that the number of deaths in their countries is exceeding the number of births.  Man’s attempt to control the future in so many ways is endangering the future altogether.Image result for europe death birth

Of course, the Western World is powerful, but like Alexander the Great it is sick to the point that it stumbles looking for a cure.  Unfortunately, the world barely trusts the Church at all.  Now Alexander or his men could have put Philip to death, but while the Church has suffered for a cure that has largely been ignored, and she cannot be entirely killed off by the world – nonetheless she calls on the world to see her lowliness and the fact that the Church needs the cure herself.  And the good news is that things don’t always have to get worse.  If we listen to Humanae Vitae, all of these trends will begin to get better.  All the same, there are councilors who would tell the world that the Church is trying to poison it (while offering no other alternatives).  What is the cure?  Nothing other than the message of Jesus Christ Himself.  He became weak for us in particular to show us that He was willing to die that we might live.  Christ is willing to trust the Father with His whole life, that His life might show the glory of God – His love and forgiveness.  He trains His apostles to have the same confidence by sending them out with nothing but the clothes on their backs when they preach the Gospel.  They live and are successful, because they are not trying to control everything and are able to learn trust in the Father.

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Even the natural ways of family planning that the Church has promoted since the 1970’s can in a sense be manipulated in the effort to control the size of one’s family, yet couples who invest themselves in following the guidelines of the Church most often find that it opens their hearts to trusting God.  They learn generosity and due to the sacrifices that they make are more apt to consider their spouses with the love and dignity they deserve.  If you would like to know more about natural family planning, you can attend a course through Mercy Hospital’s fertility care staff and if you let me know I’ll gladly pay the fee for any person interested.  We were all chosen in Christ before the world began and He has chosen to bring about many more through us. Image result for christ heal

He’s Coming

Image result for christ walkingImagine you could freeze the time in one of the parables and try to wake people up — like the parable of the wedding feast….or Lazarus and the rich man….or the parable of the prodigal son.  You were able to tell the wedding guests to go the feast.  Hey, I don’t think you understand.  This is not just one more wedding!  In this wedding feast, the bridegroom is God Himself!!  If you miss this one, you will be wailing and gnashing your teeth.  Trust me.  Or yeah, Rich Man – Lazarus may seem like he’s not worth much, but give him some food.  Trust me.  Get him some medical treatment.  You’re not going to regret it.  Alright, older brother, yeah, your younger brother has done wrong in the past and it seems that your dad is playing favorites, but trust me that your father still loves you and you lose nothing but a bad reputation if you simply go into the feast. Image result for christ preaching

The parables were Jesus’ way of relating to us how personal God is, and without talking directly about Himself….He is talking about Himself!  We might get that without a lot of difficulty.  But how easy it is to relegate them to the past.  Jesus was speaking to His contemporaries.  Yes, just like He is speaking to us.  He is real and He is personal today.

Image result for prophet ezekiel                                 Before we heard about Christ showing up in His hometown today we heard from Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was a man on fire.  He once slept on a brick that represented the City of Jerusalem for over a year to warn of its coming siege and downfall.  He was intense.  Anyway, one of the telltale signs you are reading Ezekiel is his use of two terms, “Son of man” and “Lord God.”  Son of man was to keep people aware that while he spoke and related the mighty word of God, that he himself was a mere mortal – infinitely below God.  Another way to reinforce the supreme nature of God was He would not just say, “God” or “Lord,” but rather “Lord God.”  When you combine these together and use them frequently enough, it might be the difference between always referring to your neighbor as “Phil” or instead always introducing him in discussion as “That esteemed and generous man of whom I am a humble neighbor, the benevolent Mister Phil.”  You get the point.  Ezekiel knew that God was mighty and he was tiny…and over the centuries his audience picked up on this distinction in their own lives. Image result for hammering nails wood

We have to remind ourselves that Jesus lived this small unassuming life of a common man for thirty years.  How did He prepare Himself to be nailed like wood to a bunch of wood to ultimately fix the universe?  By Himself day in and day out hammering nails into wood to finish or fix much smaller projects.  He said Himself that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.  But He also demonstrates that if you live by hammer and nails, you die by hammer and nails.  In other words, the kind of person you are as you live is the kind of person you will be as you die.  But all of His great goodness was undercover.  The people of Nazareth likely saw Him and compared Jesus and His family to their own and their importance to their own status and reputation.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were so quiet that no one probably took any offense.  They were safely on the sidelines of most public thought.  Perhaps they were the kind of people you might go out of your way to invite to an event so that they wouldn’t be forgotten.

Image result for jesus in nazareth              But as our Gospel today begins, if we could freeze time and go personally to the individuals of Nazareth and shake them up a little: look, people of Nazareth: He’s coming!  You wonder at how He could get all of His teaching and take offense at Him.  Is it just because He challenges you?   You know He is one of your own.  You know He is another Son of man just like you.  You wonder how He has suddenly become the talk of the surrounding towns and you might be jealous of this attention from one whom you seem to have underestimated.  You claim to want a miracle to showcase His power, but it really seems possible that you just want to have Him get so far out in front of you that you can’t be blamed for not having assessed Him correctly – for if His miracles are flashy – He becomes someone who is so different from you that you have no need to try and imitate Him.  He would be a great mascot and warrior, but we couldn’t expect you to follow His way of Love.  Listen, people of Nazareth: wake up.  He is both God and man and He hides His glory only that You might have the chance to be hospitable, to show Him love and devotion to Him and so become His humble and closest friends.  You have a great opportunity if you just treasure Him and cling to Him with love without demanding anything.  Trusting in His love for you with faith. Image result for son of man clouds of heaven

You know it’s easy for us to disregard Jesus in the same kind of way that Nazareth does.   Now that He has conquered the world, we are every bit as much His hometown.  We are the New Nazareth and in many cases, He has already come and we’ve not noticed.    He is coming.  Every word of His has either come true or will come true, and He says that He will return.  While we don’t have to power to go back into history and freeze time, this reading today should give us pause to consider.  Jesus is real and He is personal.  He wants to be in your life.  That sounds as amazing as it is.  But Christ is demanding as well.  We must repent to be really begin to see Him more consistently and we must keep turning towards Him and away from our various impulses.  He is only demanding, because He has so much to give us and yet we allow ourselves to get so distracted.  And He is coming.  We will either see Him when we die or we will see Him as the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven at the close of history.  As the son of Man, He reminds us that we are called to strive and reach out for the same perfection of love that He gives us.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Faith Limits Limits

Image result for p 59 airacometThe year was 1942.  Critical research was being done in aircraft propulsion in the United States to counter the ever-inventive German scientists across the pond.  American aerospace researchers had reached the testing phase for the first US jet aircraft, the P-59 Airacomet.  Nobody here in the states had heard of or seen a plane without a propeller – that simply wasn’t supposed to make sense – it was like picturing a car without wheels.  But to keep things under the lid, the crew at Edwards Air Force Base in California went the extra mile.  When it was on the ground taxiing around the ground personnel would put a fake wooden propeller on the nose so people wouldn’t notice anything strange, but it would somehow be removed for its actual flight testing as Chief Test Pilot Jack Woolams employed a new kind of subterfuge.  He couldn’t hide the plane, and so because to see a plane for the first time without a propeller would be so memorable, he decided to make himself look even more memorable by donning a costume.  Pilots who happened to fly near him would come back to base and report that they saw a fast-moving plane without a propeller, but they would also describe how it was being flown by a gorilla wearing a derby hat and waving a cigar at them.  These pilots reporting such things would inevitably draw a laugh from everyone and have to take a trip to the AF psychologist – who would convince them that they couldn’t have really seen a gorilla flying a plane, “because everyone knows you can’t fly without a propeller.” Related image

In other words, these pilots were more ready to believe that a gorilla was flying the skies than that there could be a new plane without a propeller.  Their ability to believe what was before their eyes had limitations.  I mention this because we often don’t realize that we operate within limitations or that we conceive of limitations for others or even for God that are not necessarily well-grounded.  The trouble goes back to the devil.  Many theologians believe that the devil rejected the idea of serving a God Who would become man.  That the infinite God would subject Himself (as it is written in our second reading) to the limitations of our human conditions – that he would become poor that we might become rich was too humiliating.  In response the devil asserted himself believing himself to be greater than a god with such limitations….and he fell from grace.  Now, the devil is cut off from God and defeated and the limited on every side by the finite nature of his self.

Related imageAdam and Eve were then convinced by the devil to follow Satan and get rid of their one limitation, but God had warned them that this would result in a limitation that they could ignore: death.  God did not make death, but He made humanity subject to death in the case of their turning away, that they might encounter a reason to turn back to God, the need for His mercy….faced with this choice between their own pride and His mercy they seek His merciful goodness and live.

Image result for christ carrying crossChrist comes to show us this route.  He takes up our limitation to capture it and make it a way towards life, but first He desires to sanctify every aspect of human life.  We should look at our Gospel with this I mind.  Every aspect of authentic human life is touched by Jesus.  For example, both by playing as a child and by working as a carpenter He shows that these are both good and valuable to human life.  He sanctifies human life in the womb of Mary and He consecrates motherhood by being born to her.  But the rest of the biological difficulty that women face throughout their adult life is also demonstrated to be compatible with holiness today.  It is no coincidence that the girl is twelve years old and the woman with the hemorrhage has been bleeding for twelve years.  Twelve is a number that represents a kind of universality.  Together these women represent the fragility of womanhood in general from the beginning of womanhood to women who have endured problems in their reproductive system for years.  Neither could be helped by doctors.  The life of the older was cut off from the heart of the Jewish people for she was unable to worship God in the Temple until she was healed.  Death was about to take the girl and this older woman had been dying since the younger was born.

Image result for woman who touches jesus garmentFaith breaks through limitations.  This woman who was limited in so many ways, did not make her project her limitations or the limitations of the others who had probably kept so far away from her onto Jesus.  She believed that a mere touch could make her whole.  She only wants that while He makes her whole to remain untouched by her, so that He can go to the Temple.  It’s helpful to know that when she touches Christ and power goes from Him to her, He is not weaker.  It is rather the kind of spiritual power that is conveyed by a teacher.  Think of a teacher teaching a student a lesson.  It is not as though because the student acquired the knowledge, that the teacher lost it.  In the same way, this power went forth from Christ, but He is not diminished.  He says, “Who touched Me?” because He wants to acknowledge her faith publicly and to show her that the power of His love is even stronger than she thinks.  He can touch her and remain pure and purify everything that He touches.

Test pilot Jack Woolams used a gorilla mask to fool people into trusting in the limitations of their own knowledge and keep them in the dark.  Christ does the opposite.  He shows people what is possible in Himself, so that we might come into the light that opens us up to the true possibilities that emerge when we love the Father.  In raising the little girl from the dead, Christ shows He has no limitations of His own.  When He embraces the cross it is to connect with us and to take hold of our big unavoidable limitation and put a limit to it.  Embracing the cross is the key to freedom from boundaries in Christ.

Image result for resurrectionPerhaps there’s been a point where you wanted to give more to someone and yet you remembered that the surplus you had was not endless – whether that was a surplus of time, energy, some form of monetary gift, etc.  If you gave as much as you wanted you felt you would endanger your own livelihood.  The second reading advises us to share with those who need and promises that all will have enough.  God will ensure that we have what it is that we truly need.  Having to hold onto our things as if they themselves are what will sustain us is a limitation that we do not have to accept.  Frankly, if our hands are wrapped around our attachments, we will not be able to receive the spiritual gifts.  When we give therefore of whatever skill or time that we have and abandon our selves to Christ, we will joyfully discover that He fills us again with unending mercy.

 

The Pointman

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Happy Birthday, St. John the Baptist!  We celebrate a great feast today – the feast of our parish.  You know birthdays are not always easy though.  When we are kids it may seem that our birthdays never come.  They.  Take.  Forever.  And if one of our siblings has a birthday – lookout.  Jealousy city.  We want our birthday and wonder why all of the attention is on them.  It is so hard not to help them open their presents and blow out the candles.  I think part of us is unused to being in the background and we fear that we might be forgotten.  Then when we are older and it seems our birthdays come more often we don’t really want them.  Oh no, you don’t really have to put all of those candles on there.  We think back to our youth and believe that we are missing some great quality that we used to have, and believe that others see us in this same light.  If they know how old I am they might remember what I used to be.  They will forget the goodness that I have now – in the present.

But today is John’s birthday and he loves life.  Birthdays allow us to grab the spotlight – which John doesn’t seem to have been afraid of – and then to focus all of our attention on Christ.  He has been doing it since before he was born when he leapt for joy at the approach of Jesus in the womb of Mary.  Mary had come to help Elizabeth and John and John draws attention to Jesus.  The giving of his name frees the tongue of Zechariah, his father, who then glorifies God and prophesies how John is preparing the way for Jesus.  John then goes into the desert and does everything to get people to wake up and repent.  You know it’s not easy to repent.

Back to the birthday thing for a second.  Birthdays in the modern world are a great example of the challenge.  We are challenged because while it is institutions like the family which help us to remember things like our birthdays and celebrate them.  Yet the decline of the family has hit us the point that many may feel isolated from any kind of institutional memory.  Then we have to do all the remembering on our own.  No wonder it may seem harder than ever to admit a mistake.  We can easily feel like we’re the only ones who will remember the good things – better not admit we have made any mistakes or even more attention will focus on the bad things about us.  But, if we are not able to repent, we will not sense the need to celebrate the One whose presence demands our repentance.

So John humbles himself over and over to draw attention to the coming Great One.  Now imagine the biggest day of John’s ministry when Jesus….whom John from before he was born has been saying… “Get ready for this guy”….all of the sudden “this guy – the guy who we’ve all been waiting for” walks up and instead of declaring Himself to be the Savior – rather He asks to be baptized too.  Jesus says in other words, John I want to humble myself before you too in this way that has all about preparing the way of the Messiah!  Can you imagine that moment?  John could easily have been tempted to think: “Let me get this straight – I’ve been heralding your lordship my whole life and now you want to humble yourself before me and treat me as if I am Your lord?  I don’t get it.”  But Christ knows the whole picture.  He knows that if He is baptized, and humbled even below John – even submerging Himself beneath the water that John pours – that He will be exalted (the last shall be first) and He will pave the way for us…We can follow the same pattern: if our life is one of dropping to our knees, we will one day be lifted to Christ’s feet.

But beyond a mere lifting up of the lowly – which Jesus models for us – Christ solve another difficulty.  You see John is right when he says that he is not worthy to stoop to loosen the straps of Christ’s sandals.  He cannot connect with God on his own.  But while the Baptist is not worthy to approach Christ, Christ shows that He wants to connect so much that He will humble Himself to meet John in his lowliness and even get beneath it so that a connection can be made.  God is with us when we let go of our excuses and repent of our sinfulness.

The joy that comes from forgetting ourselves of course does not end there.  It spreads.  Not only are we enabled to rejoice in the freedom from sin that comes from repentance, but we are enabled to rejoice in the joy of others.  That whole birthday problem when we are jealous of the attention that is focused upon another – God in remembering us and being with us in all things gives us the ability to truly rejoice in others’ joy when they seem to achieve some impressive notoriety.  When we are able to rejoice with others our joy does not cease.   Christ has conquered death and gives us the ability to love Him and rejoice in this glory eternally and always and now.  St. John, the spotlight is on you and you have shared it with Christ and we rejoice that in forgetting ourselves we can connect with the exalted and the lowly at the same time.

Like Father Like Son

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Happy Father’s Day!  What an exciting day and a great chance to share our joy for all those fathers in our families – and to remember our fathers who have gone before us.

Now, every family is different – and every father is unique.  In addition to my dad being the guy who introduced me to baseball, soccer, stuff about outer space, an interest in camping and the outdoors – he was also the real force of discipline in our house.  My mom was not to be trifled with, but nobody wanted to have dad come home to a bad report.  But really more than the times he was upset with me, I remember the times he would have been upset – but somehow I corrected course on my own and he never heard.  For example, in my grade school everybody was supposed to learn cursive handwriting in third grade, but I learned at least how to read it in second grade.  I was walking back from the principal’s office to my class and he had given me a note in cursive….As I began to decipher the note it read something like, “Dear Ms. Vest, if I have to see Tim again in office, I will be calling his father.  Mr. McKenna.”  I had just learned to read cursive, but I didn’t care for it dawned on me how much trouble I was going to be in if I didn’t pull it together….so I did!  As time went on, my father’s most effective tool was just speaking to you in that disappointed way.  Even a simple look could pierce your conscience.  Nobody wanted to let either of our parents down.

One of the things essential to parenthood is consistency.  As we grew up and learned how we were expected to act, my parents didn’t need to do as much because they were inside of us.  My dad’s voice was in my heart as a guide.  Traditionally, when it comes to the consistency of our mothers we are so close to them physically – being inside of them for 9 months and then literally on their hip or at their side during those early years – there is a consistency of physical presence.   But fathers on the other hand, give us a consistency of our boundaries.  What we can say…or where we can go…How we can act.  They teach us what we should be afraid of – if anything.  We are less physically linked to dad in how we are brought up.  But, have I grown into the kind of man that my father is or was?  That is not a trivial question.  It takes an act of belief to find the answer.

In a similar way, God the Father is not visibly connected to us.  We must make an act of faith when we profess to be His children or consider that the Kingdom in today’s Gospel is meant to be shared with us.  But God tells us that this is how He operates.  God is all powerful and He could have chosen to make us as powerful as He wanted from our very beginning, and He could have used examples of the biggest most intimidating creatures as models (like an entire tree!!) for us.  But in our first reading, God tells us that it is from the topmost branches that He will tear off a little shoot (we’re not talking about a big tree limb – just a little tip top shoot).  It is from this branch He will start His new majestic cedar – meaning His people.  Jesus states that it is from the smallest of seeds that His kingdom will take its beginning.  Our identification with God is not at first meant to primarily be one of His power.  (His power only comes after we learn to be good in all circumstances).  And so we learn to become the good soil in which the Kingdom of God can grow from the smallest beginning.  But staying humble and learning to listen to His voice happens through discipline.   The Letter to the Hebrews explains, “‘For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’  God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

Jesus is the Firstborn son and receives this discipline.  The Letter to the Hebrews states that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”  Why?  It is not as if Jesus was ever disobedient, but that Jesus went through even the Cross to show us that our suffering can ultimately bring us closer to the Father.  His Kingdom is worth our obedience and even our suffering.  Jesus explains to us in John’s Gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.”  It is because Jesus conforms His actions to what He sees Our Father doing, He receives the power of the Father.  He goes on, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” and “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”

The next time you suffer – step back.  See how Christ is present in your life.  Is He perhaps calling you to imitate Him as He gives Himself without complaint?  Can you receive criticism without resentment?  Can you handle being gossiped about without returning fire?  Being forgotten about might seem worse than either one, as many fathers today might be forgotten by family in one way or another.  But do we remember that we are remembered?  If so, we can begin to see the trials of our lives as events that can discipline us to be like God.  The word discipline is close to the word disciple for a reason.  Those who live according to the spirit of God and strive to see all things in His design are His disciples.  This is an integral part in walking by faith and not by sight, as we draw closer to the judgement seat of Christ – God-willing as His brothers and sisters.  Thank you to all Fathers who have guided us to the consistency of seeing good behavior as good behavior and evil behavior as evil and have yet reminded us that true judgment is in the hand of the Son.

No More Evictions

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A couple of weeks ago, I was asking some kids to name their favorite movie.  One of them blurted out, Home Alone: a modern classic.  If you’re not familiar with the movie, the trailer starts out with a big surburban family running around trying to get ready and leave for the airport and the movie trailer voice says, “When the McAllister family left on their Christmas vacation,” and you see them all scramble through the airport and just make it onto the plane…the movie voice continues, “they forgot one..small..thing” and you see the mom on the plane begin to panic as they are flying over the ocean, “KEVIN!!!!” So, Kevin is 8 years old and no sooner does he begin to enjoy his time ruling the house by himself, then he realizes that a couple of burglars who call themselves the Wet Bandits are trying to find a way to break in and take all of their valuables.  With the parents of the house gone this should have been easy, but the rest of the movie reveals so many ways that little 8 year old Kevin turns the family home into a house of horrors complete with burning hot doorknobs, falling irons, an escaped tarantula, and marbles that make these burglars fall terribly onto their backs.  Kevin is Rambo on Flintstones Vitamins.

Well, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we have these readings that in one way or another deal with the home….and we basically learn why things never seem quite right in this life.  We always have some kind of yearning for something more perfect….more lasting…more joyful. Why?  It’s simple: in the first reading we learn that we are not at home here.  We don’t make it all the way to the line where God puts Adam and Eve out of Eden, but we do hear Adam accuse Eve of giving him the forbidden fruit.  In other words, before God evicts Adam and Eve from the garden, Adam has already evicted Eve from his heart.  There is a problem in the house of mankind from the beginning.

Just look at Christ’s own family situation.  He comes home with a crowd of people from Jerusalem who are all excited about Him.  But His cousins and relatives at home say, “He is out of His mind.”  Then, those who should be a part of His spiritual house – that is the scribes who are meant to be instruments of the word of God…rather accuse Him of casting out the devil with the help of the devil.  They have evicted Christ from their hearts.  In a very quick response, Jesus describes the strong man and his house.  Think about it this way: the strong man is Satan.  All of the world that is not already tuned into Christ and the love of God is his house of the devil.  That’s a lot of people.  Jesus says that He has come to bind up the devil.  He will enable all who recognize the goodness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to be freed from Satan’s grasp.

The problem for the scribes is how are they to be forgiven by Christ if they deny the Holy Spirit?  In other words, as long as they are against Jesus, they are against the one person who has bound the strong man.  So, even if He tries to free them from Satan, they are not going to know where to go.  In Home Alone terminology, it would be as if the cops tried to come and rescue Kevin from the siege upon his house by the Wet Bandits.  If Kevin didn’t really believe the cops were real, but thought they were just more bad guys – well, he wouldn’t be able to stop guarding his house – and if he actually hurt any of the police than he might himself wind up in worse trouble and he would no longer be the hero of the story.

You know there’s actually two ways to look at that sin against the Holy Spirit.  One way is to simply deny that there is any evil at all.  It’s as if the cousins of Jesus think He’s crazy to be doing all of this exorcizing in the first place.  In other words, denying that there is a devil.  We can be tempted to think that things here are normal – that they are about as good as they are going to get.  We can look around at all the dysfunction in all of our families and think – well, everybody has issues – so this is just how it is supposed to be.  There is no shortage of love and in so many cases, parents are working just as hard or harder than they ever have before, but that doesn’t mean that we are really at home.  Just about everybody has been wounded by people from their families, and in defense we often not only evict them from our hearts – but we are letting them back in.  We are not forgiving.

The other angle on the sin against the Holy Spirit is to find a problem with Jesus as the One who can forgive sins.  For they believed that “He has an unclean spirit.”  One of the most amazing realities that Christ teaches us is that He can forgive sins.  How?  Well, He has it on good authority that the Father wants Him to forgive sins.  Of who?  Everybody.  This honestly would seem to present a difficulty before the Incarnation.  Maybe you wanted to forgive someone, but perhaps God Himself did not yet have it in His will to do so.  Christ’s message is clear: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  He goes further to extend His Spirit to us in the very words of the Our Father.

I was driving the other day and listening to Catholic Radio.  The speaker made a very good point.  He was describing the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  He said forgiveness is simply no longer wishing any kind of payback or revenge upon another person…no longer wishing bad things for them.  That’s it.  We are called to forgiveness.  Reconciling with another person involves more – it involves some kind of restoration to the relationship which is frankly not always possible.  But forgiveness is essential for us to receive the same through the Holy Spirit.

How do we get back home?  We have to let others back into our hearts.  We recognize that there is sin in the world….that we have sin in our lives and others have sinned against us….and where we have evicted people from our hearts than forgiving them.  Before Christ it would have been harder to forgive people.  You might have wondered, “Is it just my will to let this go and not God’s will?”  But Christ reveals to us that is the will of the Father that we forgive all  who have injured us.  In doing so, we are capable of loving all that He loves and in becoming His brothers, and sisters, and mothers by bringing Christ forth in and around us.  St. Paul refers to a great glory that is being produced for us by our faith that perseveres.  While it may be possible to think too much of our own glory, but it is not possible for us to think too much about our own brothers and sisters and our desire that Christ be born and grow in them – that we all might be members of one house – and find ourselves Home Together.

Happy Memorial Day

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Readings for Today

Happy Memorial Day!  You know if you reflect on that rather simple greeting, “Happy Memorial Day,” it might be a little confusing for a moment.  We are saying something like, “Have a happy day reflecting on the memories of those who have died for our country.”  Some might think this just seems too difficult or even contradictory in itself.

Consider the biblical character Job.  At one point Job says to his wife, “We receive good from God, and should we not also accept evil?”  In other words, God gives all of the gifts that we receive and should we not also accept that He takes them back at some point?  It is faith that helps Job believe that this accepting of evil (giving back to God His own gifts) will all work for his benefit.  In his commentary on Job, St. Gregory the Great recites the portion of Ecclesiastes where it says “On the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and on the day of affliction do not forget prosperity.”  Gregory goes on to state that if we forget our affliction in the good times we can fall through excessive joy – perhaps in being imprudent by failing to consider the transitory nature of the gifts we receive.  On the other hand, it is good to be consoled when we are afflicted with memory of past blessings and the knowledge that blessings may be bestowed again lest we fall into despair.

Truly, we do give everything back to God – even people.  We cannot hold on to even these greatest of His blessings.  And yet Memorial Day today is a beautiful day.  It is a bright, sunny day.  Many of us will be with loved ones who are present and consider those who have gone before and particularly those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Our position is not unlike the man in the Gospel today.  Christ tells him to sell what he has and give to the poor and come after him if he desires eternal life.  Christ bids us to have the same detachment.  Now, the man sees what he has and is not ready to let anything go.  We ultimately do not know what happens in the end.  It is impossible for him alone, but if the Holy Spirit can open his eyes to see that he can’t take it with him….maybe at one point he does give it all and follow Christ.

The men and women of the military are ready to give their lives.  May it be that they desire to give them up not only for a noble purpose (defense of our homeland), but to Our Lord.  We pray that those who have already done so may receive everything back one hundredfold through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  He is their inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.  May they rest in peace.

 

 

Loving God with His Own Love

Related imageHappy Trinity Sunday!  We must love the Trinity with great fervor, but I think Moses in the first reading indicates a challenge.  He is describing the great miracles that the Israelites have witnessed, but he has to remind them.  We have received great miracles and gifts as well, but most of us have not seen physical manifestations of the miraculous.  It is even easier to forget.  All of our lives and everything in the world is somehow given to us, and yet how easy it is to ball the whole thing up and just to treat it all as “reality.”  It can all seem too overwhelming.  I recently saw this spoof of a reality contest show like The Voice which seemed to demonstrate a similar overwhelming amount of gift.  Perhaps you’ve seen one of these shows where the host or judge found out the backstory to the contestant and then surprises them with over-the-top undeserved gifts and they just can’t keep from going crazy with gratitude.

The parody opens and of this panel, the middle judge says, “You’ve all come so very far, but now it’s time for us to say goodbye to one of you.  First off, Katinka…Katinka what happened?!”  And you see between these two hip young contestants there is this old woman looking like a homeless person wearing all her winter clothes – a big coat, scarf, finger-less gloves, even a stocking cap.  Katinka is looking downcast at the ground holding her hands together and as she comes forward the judge says to her, “Yes, Katinka, what happened?  Katinka you broke down in the middle of your song darling.”  Katinka shakes her head holding back tears, “I’m so sorry.  I just got news that my mother is very sick and I have not seen her in many years.”  The judge sounds concerned, “Oh, my goodness…well, um Katinka we actually heard about this and we wanted to help Katinka so we actually flew your mother in from Uzbekistan and she’s actually backstage right now watching the show.  Come on out mum!”  This older woman comes in smiling and they hug while this dreamy wish fulfillment music plays….but the judge continues, “Katinka, that’s not the only thing…we got her treated by the best doctors and she is now 100% healthy” and the mom does a cart-wheel… “Now, Katinka in the process of going to your mom’s home, we were completely shocked and appalled by the condition of it….so we decided to renovate your shack and include all new state of the art technology and appliances….and this modern American two story home is in the place of her home…I know it seems like we should be done Katinka, but last night while you were sleeping we had New York’s best hairstylist come in and give you the biggest makeover of your life and the stylist comes in and takes the hat off and reveals shiny blond hair.  And it keeps going on as she keeps freaking out more and more….until in the end she’s off the show because she can’t sing.

It’s ridiculous, but I say there’s a grain of truth in the whole thing in for us whenever we see God as this kind of one dimensional grand wish fulfiller….because in the end, if we can’t sing we’re off the show.  When it comes to our faith, the ability to “sing” might be described as the ability to love God for His own sake.  To love Him with His own type of pure love.  Now, suppose one of the reasons that we forget the Trinity is if we are supposed to reflect the Trinity….uh, I’m only one person – how I am supposed to see in my life this Trinitarian unity…and furthermore if we see God as this Being Who has given us everything….well, how are we supposed to imitate that?  We don’t have our own reality talent TV show to give somebody a new makeover of a life.

God in His essence is not aloneness but meeting.  God is not a mere individual but a society.  The oneness of God is not sheer mathematical thing, but is the oneness of love.

Let’s remember that we are made in the image and likeness of God, but we don’t have to stress over reflecting the Trinity.  Rather, Christ comes that we might imitate Him.  In fact, in dying, Jesus allows Himself to be divided open that we might enter into His Person.  Jesus allows death to make a hole in His life that we can enter into Him.  If we can enter into Jesus through His death (aka through our baptism) we can meet God.  He is in Second Person of the Trinity and as we living in Him we are brought into this relationship as a beloved son/daughter loving God as Father with the Holy Spirit.

Still, this is more of what God does for us.  What do we do for Him?

Well, as it is Memorial Day Weekend, it seems fitting to consider some of our finest for a moment.   Jason Dunham was a marine serving as a squad leader in Iraq on patrol in April 2004.  There had been a firefight, and in the aftermath his unit was sent to search vehicles for insurgents.  As he approached one vehicle, an insurgent jumped out and Dunham and the insurgent fought hand to hand until Dunham had wrestled the insurgent to the ground.  Yet, Dunham saw that the insurgent had pulled the ping of a grenade and let it go.  Without any hesitation, Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and his body bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding the other marines from the blast.  His life saved those of two other marines. Image result for jason dunham medal of honor

I mention this example of which there are countless other stories of heroism throughout history, because while the Father eternally begets Jesus, His Son…The Son did not want to remain as the only Son.  “The only Son of God made many sons of God.   He bought brothers [and sisters] for Himself by His blood; He made them welcome by being rejected; He ransomed them by being sold; He honored them by being dishonored; He gave them life by being put to death.”  And He told us to do come after Him with our cross – and men and women like Jason Dunham have done just that.

Jason Dunham had already been a man of sacrifice.  He had already begun dying to self.  We are not supposed to wait.  God gives everything to us – it seems preposterous.  What do we give Him?  Well, by taking up our flesh, we not only gave Christ the ability to die, but we crucified Him.  We gave Him His death and in doing so He glorifies the Father in a way that gives not only everything back, but brings forth His brothers and sisters.

The whole reason He is able to die and rise, is because His nature is shared by the Father and the Holy Spirit.  We enter into that death whenever we pray.  We cannot remain isolated in our egos and pray at the same time.  As soon as we pray, we pray through the Son to the Father – with the love that is the Spirit.

Jesus did not wait to die before He went to His own death.  In the Eucharist, He demonstrates for us His love by giving His own Body and Blood before He physically goes to the Cross and because He takes this time and by giving this food to them and to us, He gives us the chance to enter into His death and to meet Him there and to love with His own pure love.  Glory be….

The Greatest Comeback

Related imageHappy Pentecost!!  Okay, so I was watching this comeback video – the official title was, “The greatest race comeback you will ever see.”  Basically it was a women’s relay race and the camera’s pretty far back so you watch these little figures run.  The woman out in front – you can rightfully predict – she’s not going to win if this video is all about the greatest comeback in history….there’s a woman about ten paces behind her who is really pouring it on and beginning to catch fire, but then out from behind her is another racer who starts kicking it up and who begins to take the two leaders when suddenly as the camera is showing the figures cross the numbers at the finish line you realize there is a woman who comes in at the bottom of the screen who actually crosses first.  It’s only then that I realized there was a big red arrow in the video pointing her out every once in a while.  I went back and played the video again.  This runner was not only out of my radar, but not even the announcers really saw her, because of how far behind the other runners she starts her lap.   It’s a gap of about eleven seconds.  One of the announcers cries out in some kind of Irish accent, “Here she comes from the depths of Hell pumping through.” It was incredible.  As she finishes her body simply goes limp and she falls to face like she’s going to need another comeback.   Image result for grace ping 2016         So, then there was another video that I caught right after that one of another women’s race – this time it was high school cross country on a pretty elite course.  It was completely different, but just as interesting.  You see the woman who got out in front led the entire race and never flinched or faded….but it was a seventh grader named…Grace Ping!  It struck me that these two women could be an image of the Church.  The human element like the “greatest comeback” woman coming from behind (whom I was not able to find a name for – so it could be all of us), never really supposed to win – eeks it out with its last gasp.  Then there is also the divine element, ever youthful, also under the radar – but never tires, effortlessly gliding through the course.

Image result for birthday of church  Today is the birthday of the Church!!  Perhaps one of the misconceptions is to think that God comes down from heaven only to go back up and leave us pretty much alone.  It is easy to think that God dwells in heaven and we dwell on earth.   But this feast is all about heaven and earth coming together.  They’ve come back together nevermore to be divided.  Heaven and earth had been growing further apart in a sense as time went on.  But, Christ came to reconcile the two and last week Jesus went up into heaven, not to simply perch Himself there, but to bring heaven down to earth or pull more and more on earth into a heavenly life.  Think of the Our Father: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The Book of Revelation speaks of heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth.  Christ is the embodiment in Himself of what is heavenly (God) dwelling with what is earthly (man) in one Person.

Image result for toddler with smart phoneThink about the original split between heaven and earth.  The first major tear comes when Adam and Eve become convinced that there is only one thing they lack to be like god.  It would be like a toddler thinking that the one thing that separated it from being mature is the ability to hold your smart phone.  No, a baby with a smart phone is still a toddler.  Later, the people who build the tower of Babel seem to have given up on God.  They no longer want to take from Him, but they’ve built this tower to make a name for themselves independent from the name of God.  All they need is their togetherness.  We could spend all day listing groups of people who thought they were better than others, and yet ended up scattered in their pride.  God is a unity, not of pride, but of love.  Finally, the Pharisees claim to want God, but in truth they act like they don’t need Him.  They spend all their energy separating themselves off from sinners thinking it is the way to holiness, and then when Jesus comes along and reveals His divinity while He walks, eats, and heals sinners – allowing them to touch Him – the Pharisees are confounded.  They deny that God could be dwelling with them as this Son-of-Man and believe they can deny His right to live entirely.

Image result for dove            The world still seeks to take authority away from God just like Adam and Eve, and so it needs the Church today to receive a new Pentecost.  If we listen to God, while God is so high above us (greater than an adult is from an infant) – in the Holy Spirit, He makes us His child and wants to send the fullness of His gifts to elevate us to Himself.  There are still people in the world who seek to unite groups of men and women together apart from God to prove their elitism.  There are forces seeking to dominate others and make a name for themselves.  Therefore the world needs the Church to receive a new Pentecost!  Our languages have been confused, but the Church has the capacity to spread the one faith in Jesus Christ and His unifying message of sacrificial love.  There are still people in the world who believe holiness comes by separating themselves off from others.  Perhaps by forming their own new religions or simply dropping out of the faith of their fathers, spreading division.  Therefore the world cries out for the Church to receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the conviction that all have sinned, but all can receive the mercy of Jesus if they admit their own sin and humble themselves to ask.    Image result for living water         The world seems like the woman who goes into her kitchen looking around for something to drink – parched with thirst, but the faucet is shut off and there is nothing in the fridge.  She forgets that there is another source of water.  Living Water that years ago she had known.  If we turn to the Holy Spirit – the answer is the spring of living water that is ready to well up from within her should she simply return to the faith in our Father and the love that has sent His Son into our lives.  We are ready for another comeback – perhaps the greatest comeback of all time!  Many have forgotten about the Church.  She has been written off, but she is still running.  Even as she flags, she is moved by divine power.  Let us pray, Come Holy Spirit!