Monday, March 26, 2007

Sin's consequence and God's revulsion.

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2007: Third RCIA Scrutiny
Mass Readings: Cycle A
Ez 37:12-14
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead is a miracle that stands alone in it's immensity. Our English cannot truly convey what is happening as Jesus goes to the tomb of his beloved friend.

In this event we are given an insight into God's utter horror and offense at what sin has brought to His beautiful creation. Death is the horrible reality of sin. Jesus the Son of God is offended and angry over it. English translates that Jesus was "perturbed" and "deeply troubled". However, Jesus' reaction is far deeper than that. Jesus/God the Son is shaken by our sinfulness to the point that the Spirit convulses and rolls and is sickened by the consequences of sin. In response, Jesus will suspend the laws of nature and restore the flesh of Lazarus that is now infected by corruption and decay. This miracle is beyond Jesus' turning water into wine or curing the sick. Jesus will actually reverse death and reanimate dead, decayed flesh into new matter and reunite soul with body. This is too much to fully wrap our head around. Jesus resurrects Lazarus' mind, body, and spirit!

This isn't like watching a movie where the dead are brought back to life through a medical marvel. This is beyond restarting someones heart with a defibrillator. Jesus cannot stand to look upon what sin has done to God's perfect creation. As a result, Jesus gives us a foretaste of God's plan to resurrect all who confess Jesus as Lord. What Jesus does for Lazarus he will do for us on the Last Day.

God cannot bear our succumbing to sin. God is utterly offended by what we have brought upon ourselves. Instead of leaving us to sin and death, Jesus transforms us through his sacrifice upon the cross. Through Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, we are restored to perfection. I mean perfection by the salvation of our soul and the promise of bodily resurrection and restoration. We will be restored to the beauty and perfection that we were given when God breathed life into us.

Yes our temporal body will still suffer corruption. Even Jesus experienced the frailty of the human body. However, our soul is freed and restored by our faith in Jesus. Our soul is kept and held by God the Father. But the salvation of our soul is but one part of God's gift. Our body is just as precious to God and God has promised that we will be made whole in the resurrection of the Last Day. Hallelujah!

Jesus, angered by sin and death, cries out to Lazarus and commands that he be resurrected. Jesus yells in the face of sin and death and conquers it. Lazarus becomes the proof that God is in control. And Jesus will go even further. Jesus will suffer and die on the cross and be buried. Jesus will take upon himself our sin and death. Jesus will free us from our sin and give us eternal life. In an inconceivable act, Jesus will be resurrected. God will raise God's self from the dead! This is the ultimate sign that God is life!

Today we are Lazarus. We gather today with our soul restored to perfection because of Jesus' sacrifice. We are Lazarus today in the fact that not only will our soul be welcomed into Paradise but our soul will be reunited with our body and we will spend eternity as God's perfect creation.

Let us live as a people of The Resurrection. Let us respect life as truly the gift God intended it to be. We are reborn in Christ and we will be resurrected on the Last Day because Jesus is Lord!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Jesus loves us! In spite of our resistance to believe.

Friday Fourth Week of Lent 2007
Mass Readings
Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22
John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

We are all familiar with Jesus getting fed up with the business folk selling things in the Temple. Jesus became so frustrated and offended that he physically drove them out. Jesus was not afraid to show his emotions. Today our Gospel text shows Jesus reaching the limit with the folks listening to him during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Jesus has been with the people day in and out. Jesus has raised the dead to life. Jesus has made the lame walk. Jesus has made the blind see and the deaf hear. Jesus has fed thousands with just table scraps. Jesus has cast out demons with simply a whisper. But it still isn't enough to convince most people. Jesus had the faithfulness of the women who ministered to him and the ones he healed, but most people still didn't see. Even Jesus' disciples were still not sure. I cannot imagine the level of disappointment and frustration Jesus must have been feeling when the folks listening to him decided that he wasn't "all that" merely because they knew where Jesus had lived growing up. Of all reasons! Truly the Messiah couldn't come from Nazareth! You can almost feel Jesus' disappointment.

Jesus cries out in the midst of the people. This isn't merely a scolding the people are about to receive but rather Jesus' plea for them to let go of their obsession with physical geography and to surrender to God's spiritual geography. Jesus wants the people to see that this isn't about him growing up in Nazareth but being sent from God's Kingdom to enter the world so that we can know God's salvation. Jesus is tired and frustrated by their lack of belief in spite of all he has done in God's name. Raising the dead to life isn't even enough! You can almost hear the people saying, "Nope. Sorry. You are from Nazareth so you just get points for the miracles but we can't believe you are from God let alone The Christ".

But instead of giving up on us hardhearted and dimwitted lot, Jesus loves us regardless. Our resistance to fully opening our hearts and accepting His love would not make a difference in His love for us. Thank God!

Jesus' love is open to all of us. We stumble, we make mistakes, and at times we can be resistant to fully accepting God's Law of Love. Yet we are always welcome In God's house. We are not discarded by Jesus. We are never shut out of Jesus' love for us. However, we can miss out on Jesus' unlimited love by our own stubbornness.

Jesus cries out today and asks us to believe and accept Him. We may be reluctant at times but Jesus still loves us and this I know is true.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Uh, maybe we shouldn't bury the Saints?

Fourth Week of Lent 2007
March 19, 2007
The Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mass Readings
2 Samuel 7:4-5a,12-14a,16
Romans 4:13,16-18,22
Mt 1:16,18-21,24a

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is one of my favorite feast days. St. Joseph is a most overlooked hero of our faith. St. Joseph took on the responsibility of raising God's son as his own.

We see in our Gospel text today that Joseph was a good and faithful man. When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, well, he didn't exactly react with anger and malice. Joseph had every right to react with outrage. Instead he chose to protect Mary by not going public with her pregnancy and instead he was going to divorce her in secret so as not to bring any shame or danger to her. If Joseph would have gone public, Mary would have been an outcast. Instead Joseph reacted with the desire to protect and conceal Mary and in essence, hide her away so that she would be safe.

God was definitely at work with the Holy Family! God chose a woman of great faith, devotion, and immense love to give birth to our Salvation. God also chose a good, gentle, and holy man to be the adopted father of Jesus. What a great example of faith! Not only was Joseph faced with the reality that his wife was pregnant but soon God would speak to Joseph and explain it all. So picture it. Mary has been reeling from accepting her vocation as the Mother of our Lord, and now Joseph has to accept Mary's God given vocation and take on one himself. Joseph decides to accept God's call and raise Jesus as his very own. Joseph's display of faith in God and in his wife is monumental. An ordinary carpenter and husband who is faithful to God becomes the one who will guide and teach Jesus as he moves through childhood into adulthood. What an amazing responsibility!

So why then, do we take the adopted father of Jesus and bury a statue of him upside down in the backyard in order to sell a house? This truly baffles me.

Not long ago I was in a church supply store and came across the "St. Joseph Home Selling Kit". But it wasn't just any old kit, it was the deluxe model! Wow. Printed on the exterior of the package it said that if you are having trouble selling your house, buy this statue, get it blessed and then bury it upside down in your backyard and bingo! your house will sell. And it isn't just Catholics doing this. The market for these kits can be found in realtor's offices as well as Protestant bookstores and the World Wide Web. Nice. We take an image of the man who accepted God's call to raise His Son and we turn him into a "magical" trinket? Something is wrong here. St. Joseph is an icon of faith not magic.

By my comments you can tell what I think about this practice. I do not say these things in order to offend. I say these things in order to draw us out of superstition into a deeper understanding of St. Joseph. What a blessing to see how St. Joseph was willing to adopt Jesus as his very own and raise him and love him. We should be celebrating the great example of family and parenthood that St. Joseph lived.

I firmly believe that the Saints hear our prayers and intercede for us. I have complete faith in the intercessions of the Saints. What I do not believe is that we have to pay $5.95 for a plastic statue and carry out a real estate hoopdy-doo in order for our prayers to be heard.

St. Joseph is a model for us to imitate. St. Joseph was willing to answer God's call and live a life of devotion and to nurture God's Son. St. Joseph received God's Son as his own and prepared the way for Jesus to bring us all salvation. What a fantastic example of faith! What an amazing example of family devotion!

Let us strive to follow St. Joseph's example of faith. Let us ask for St. Joseph to aid us in being faithful disciples. Let us pray for St. Joseph to intercede on our behalf. But please, let's not bury him in the back yard.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Redemption, Reconciliation, Restoration

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2007
Mass Readings
Jos 5:9a, 10-12
2 Cor 5:17-21
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Well here he goes again! Jesus has the audacity to sit and eat with "those people"! How dare Jesus place himself at table with people who, you know, SIN. The Pharisees and the scribes are in a tizzy over this. Surely if Jesus was sent by God, he would only want to talk to them since they were so holy and most importantly of all, worthy of God's love. One can almost imagine Jesus letting out a soft sigh as the Pharisees and scribes get all self righteous.

Jesus in turn gives them a parable and it is one we are all very familiar with. The Prodigal Son has been immortalized not only in Scripture but also paintings, music, and sculpture. We may immediately turn our thoughts to images of the young son's father holding him and weeping from joy at his son's return. But what about the elder son? We will get to him in a moment.

Being a disciple of Jesus means that we have encountered Jesus' three R's; redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. All of us have been in the place of the younger son. All of us have at one time or another turned our back on God and have been unfaithful, we've sinned. Eventually we come to our senses and we turn back to God and we experience God's redemption. Nothing we do can earn redemption. It is given freely, fully, and with overflowing love. God races to embrace us!

We experience reconciliation with God and one another. Our relationship with God is broken by our sin. Turning back to God, asking for forgiveness repairs that relationship. But our sin effects our relationships with one another, the Body of Christ. God's forgiveness repairs that relationship as well. We are united as Jesus' body on earth. We are all brothers and sisters no matter what we may want to think.

Restoration. When we turn away from God we walk away from our share in God's joy. We become poor and destitute in spirit and our soul starves. God embraces us, forgives our sins and we are retsored to the dignity of God's children.

Now the elder son. We sometimes fill the role of the elder son. How dare "those people" be given the same share as us! We begin to feel superior in our faith, self righteous, and we think that we deserve more than someone who has lived a life of riot only to turn to God and be embraced, forgiven, and given an equal share of God's riches. To fall into this trap is to forfeit the joy of the blessing of being rich in our communion with God and one another. Self righteousness weakens our relationship with God and one another. Self righteousness isolates us, weakens us, and worst of all, disappoints God.

Too often, we become so filled with self that we lose sight of God's desire for us to live for Him and proclaim his salvation to everyone. When self righteousness fills our hearts we forget that we too have been the disobedient child, the one who rejected God's love and squandered God's heavenly gifts. How can we reject someone who is just like we are? We have all fallen short of God's glory but all of us are worthy of God's love. That's why God loves us! God loves us because He made us worthy of His love by giving us the breath of life! Let us embrace that fact. Let us embrace God and our neighbor. To love God is to love neighbor and to love our neighbor is to love God.

Let us accept God's invitation to redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. When we do that, we can all sit at God's table and join together to feast and live! May God soften our hearts to see the glory of God in all His children.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I love you God! But not, you know, "Those People".

Third Week of Lent:Friday (16/3/2007)
Mass Readings
Hosea 14:2-10
Mark 12:28-34

Jesus is being put to the test. The scribe is hoping to catch Jesus blaspheming since along with the Pharisees, they want to have Jesus arrested. If Jesus answered with anything but Love God with all your being they would get him. So Jesus answers correctly but he doesn't stop there. Jesus proclaims that the second greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor and you can't love God if you don't love your neighbor. Now the test is put to the scribe. Will he agree? If he doesn't then he shows himself to be less than faithful to the Ten Commandments.

The message Jesus gives us is that Loving God and neighbor cannot be separated. We cannot practice one while rejecting the other. The depth of our love for God will be reflected in how deeply we love our neighbor and how deeply we love our neighbor will be reflected in how deeply we love God. Sounds great until we have to love, you know, "Those People"! Now we are the ones put to the test.

Everyday we are bombarded with propaganda that tells us that we are supposed to despise this group or that group. Bigotry, classism, sexism, and character assassination are actually glorified in some groups of people! Now that is a complete refusal to follow God's Law of Love. It becomes easy to make a list of people we despise and then start the process of rationalizing our deliberate violation of loving neighbor as we love God. Rationalizing sin sometimes seems like an honored practice! It is very sad. Some people actually recruit people to hate other people. How sad that some people deliberately separate themselves from God to the point that they hate other people and want others to do the same. People who practice hatred of their neighbor are in desperate need of our prayers. We cannot in turn despise those who hate. If we do, then we become just like them and we separate ourselves from God's love.

No one is unlovable in God's eyes. No one is an outcast in God's eyes. No one is beyond redemption in God's eyes. God never abandons us or gives up on us. So why do we label other people and treat them as unworthy and abandon God's command to love each other? Are we trying to chase away our own feelings of unworthiness by treating others unworthily? When we give into feeling superior, we are breaking the very Commandment that Jesus tells us is second only to loving God. Kind of important to not do that.

Let us always remember that God is love and we are to mirror that. Whenever we treat someone as less than a child of God, we are mistreating God. There is no "Those People" but only Us, the Children of God.

Thank you God for loving us. May we prove ourselves grateful by loving our neighbor as much as you love us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I love the Law! Well, as long as it doesn't apply to me...

Third Week of Lent 2007: Wednesday (14-2-2007)
Mass Readings
Daniel 4:1,5-9
Matthew 5:17-19

God gave the Ten Commandments to us all! These Commandments are God's Law and it is a law of love. The Ten Commandments are not a list of harsh rules and regulations. When you look at them, you see a way of living that is about being in communion with God and one another, of respect for God and one another. The most important aspect, love for God and for one another. The Ten Commandments are about being faithful. No one is perfect but we must strive to be faithful.

How can something so easy be so hard? Well, we humans are vulnerable and prone to giving in to temptation. If we weren't vulnerable to sin, Jesus would not have sacrificed his life for us. So, sin is a reality and we must rely upon God for mercy and forgiveness. This means we can't pick and choose what Commandments we want to follow and which ones we want to toss out. Jesus states in our Gospel today that he is the fulfillment of the law and that the law is still in place. The Ten Commandments are just as important to God today as they were when God gave them to Moses. The problem is that we tend to not take the Ten Commandments seriously. When we do that, sin is right around the corner.

Nothing has been removed from the Ten Commandments. We have not been exempted from any of them. It is curious that we tend to ignore our own sin while preaching to others that they have broken a Commandment and have sinned. We deflect attention from our own sin by placing a spotlight on the sin of someone else. There are ten sins that we can commit but we can find find a thousand ways to commit each one. I know that I am guilty. I have sinned and I am dependant on God's forgiveness. We have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory.

One of my personal commandments is "Thou shalt not talk about politics in the pulpit". I am breaking my own commandment by bringing this up so I ask for your forgiveness. I read a newspaper column this morning that is troubling me. The writer implied that ignoring the blatant violations of the Ten Commandments by the politicians who benefit us and blindly supporting them is a sign of "political maturity". What? Is this the way we Christians have come to view the Ten Commandments? Did I read it wrong? Nope, I didn't. I believe that this column is a prime example of how we ignore the teachings of God that are unimportant to us yet lambast others for doing the same thing. So, according to this writer, in order to gain power we are to ignore blatant violations of the Ten Commandments?? NO! We all sin. That is just reality. We can be forgiven and praise be to God for that! I found this column very sad and disappointing.

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we are to work as hard as we can to honor God's Ten Commandments. What would Jesus do? He would be faithful. What are we to do? We are to be faithful. The Ten Commandments are the guide that leads us to a strong relationship with God and one another. The Ten Commandments are to be written upon our hearts. The spirit of the law must fill us. We can argue all we want about posting the Ten Commandments in buildings or other properties but if we do not live the Ten Commandments then it is just useless chatter. If we do not embody the law, our actions are merely self seeking. I do not believe there is any "maturity" political or otherwise associated with being willing to ignore the Commandments we don't want to practice.

The Ten Commandments apply to all of us. To live God's Law is to be free. To love God's Law is to love life.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Heal me Lord! But please, do it my way...

Third Week of Lent 2007:Monday
Mass Readings
2 Kings 5:1-15
Luke 4:24-30

Naaman was a powerful man and was the commander of the Aramean Army. He was so respected that even the King of Aram favored him. This favor would naturally have brought great social status and wealth to Naaman's house, yet there was a problem. Naaman, who had everything a man could want, had a dreaded and fatal disease. Naaman was a leper.

Leprosy is a slow and painfully destructive disease and was fatal until recent history. Naaman was surely aware of the fact that he was going to die and that death would be painful. The man that had the power to conquer whole countries was powerless in the presence of leprosy. However, Naaman had people faithful to him especially his wife's servant. It is this humble servant who informs her mistress of the power of Elisha the Prophet. There is hope after all and Naaman prepares to seek out Elisha and ask for God to heal him. Sounds great except for one thing, Naaman wants God to heal him on his terms. Now there is a problem.

Did Elisha ask Naaman to do something horrible? No. All Elisha asked of this mighty and powerful man was that he wash himself in the Jordan. Problem is that Naaman felt too superior to insult himself by getting in the muddy waters of the Jordan. Surely a pristine pond in his homeland would suffice. Well, Naaman's plan did not fit into God's plan. Naaman's pride and his sense of entitlement almost cost him his miracle.

We can read this text from 2 kings and view Naaman as less than smart for almost turning his back on God's miracle. But aren't we like Naaman at times? As a society we have more luxuries than we can even count. We are accustomed to things being easy and the thought of sacrifice or of humbling ourselves can be most disagreeable. We can take on an attitude of; "here's want I want God and I know the best way for you to give it to me". A bit arrogant of us.

God gives us so much everyday. We have so many blessings that we lose sight of what it means to be blessed by God. If we are not careful, our vanity and sense of entitlement can result in the glorious and the miraculous becoming just another commodity we want and that we can demand of God the what, when, why, how and where of a miracle. I know I am guilty of doing that. I know that there are times when I am ungrateful and I want God to do things the way I want it to be done. I am ashamed of those times. Asking for a miracle and then dictating how I want God to deliver it is an act of selfishness and is a show of ungratefulness.

Receiving a miracle requires us to be open to God's will and not our own. As much as we humans like to dictate terms, God's love is not something to be manipulated and turned to our self-will. To receive God's miracles is to be willing to give up our pre-conceived ideas and selfish desires and be open to taking a challenge from God. God may ask us to step outside of our "comfort zone" and we must be open to that. We may be asked to accept something that our own desires tell us to reject. If we do reject God's call, we stand to lose something miraculous. God may present us with a "muddy Jordan" and God may ask us to plunge into it! Can we set aside our pride, arrogance, selfishness and stubbornness long enough to see the glories offered?

Heal me Lord! And please help me to accept it your way.

Bigotry has no place in God's Kingdom.

Third Sunday of Lent:2007
First Scrutiny/Cycle A readings
Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42

The Samaritan woman at the well is a Gospel story that we easily recognize. The word Samaritan also conjures memories of the Good Samaritan. But who were these people and why did Jesus use them as examples?

The Jewish and Samaritan relationship is ancient. I know that I am over simplifying by saying that the Samaritans were distant relatives of the Jews so please forgive me. I recommend the article on Samaritans found in The Anchor Bible Dictionary. The Samaritans were viewed as a "mixed race" and were looked down upon. They were outcasts for their race and their worship. To many people in the first century, a Samaritan could not be of any worth. As outcasts it could be said they were viewed as little more than a stray that is a nuisance.

For Jesus to raise a Samaritan above the level of a fellow Jew was insulting to say the least. But here we have Jesus doing something scandalous! Not only is Jesus talking to an outcast, but this outcast is a woman! Now to us this may seem like a trivial if not irrelevant fact. However, Jesus was making an earth shaking statement. Jesus makes several things clear by sitting and talking with the Samaritan woman Jesus declares that no one is an outcast to God! No one is beyond God's love! No one is beyond redemption!

The disciples were shocked when they returned. How could Jesus talk to an outcast, a person viewed no better than a stray? And then, how could Jesus, a male Jew, talk to a woman? Jesus' actions placed the disciple's bigotry in the spotlight. The treatment of the Samaritans was second only to the treatment of women! This Samaritan woman stood little chance in first century Israel, but Jesus changes all that, at least spiritually. Jesus used the opportunity to show that God does not place divisive markers on people. God does not judge us by race, color, gender, and we can go down the list. In place of the Samaritan woman we could write down the names of groups who are ridiculed, despised, and treated as "non-humans" today. We seem to be a people who always looks for someone to demonize and despise. Why?

We are human and we fail. No matter how we are raised, we seem to naturally seek some form of division between one another. That is part of being sinners. No matter how close we become to God, we still face the natural temptations that parade in front of us. Tearing down another person is almost a sport nowadays. Everything from "reality T.V." to so called "talking heads" on T.V.,we seem to bathe in everything from petty name calling down to the malevolent art of character assassination. Why do we enjoy watching someone else be treated as an outcast or undeserving of life? Why is it so much fun to publicly despise and mistreat another person? The answer to that is the sin of pride. Pride can lead us to destroy another person in order to build up self.

It seems like we crave someone to be our enemy so that we can justify abandoning Jesus' call for us to follow his law of love. I know that I am guilty at times of not practicing what I preach. I hate that. I hate it when I fail. However, I am not an outcast to God. I am not beyond God's love. I am not beyond redemption. THANK GOD! I am incapable of saving myself and I am wholly dependant on God's mercy. We all are. Not a single one of us is beyond God's love! Not a single one of us is beyond redemption! Not a single one of us is an outcast in God's sight! THANK GOD!

No matter how important we may think we are. No matter how powerful we may be. No matter how wealthy we become, we are all dependant upon God's love. To give up God's love in favor of worldly things is a great act of violence against the soul. It is sad, but sometimes we do that. To mistreat another person is to do great violence against God himself. Every time we practice bigotry and seek self gratification at the expense of others, we commit great violence against God. To do unto the least is to do unto the Creator.

Let us put ourselves in the place of the Samaritan woman. We need to sit in Jesus' presence and let ourselves receive his love. When we do that, we are able to look at our sisters and brothers and see the very face of God. It becomes hard to treat someone badly when we see God in that person. May we all seek to see the preciousness of God in one another because bigotry has no place in God's Kingdom.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Who needs God when you have power!?

Second Week of Lent 2007: Thursday
Mass Readings
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Luke 16:19-31

I must admit to being troubled by today's readings. I am convicted by the words we read today. How often do I depend upon self and material things and forget all about God? Probably more often than I care to admit. Our readings today are a call to step outside of self and reflect on just how much faith we wrongly place in earthly things instead of God.

King Solomon's empire was glorious beyond belief. His kingdom is the stuff of legend. Solomon was wise and faithful to God and his kingdom grew. Yet at the height of his wealth and power, Solomon gave into the delusion that he was self sufficient and that all he needed was right at his fingertips. Slowly, his kingdom began to crumble and it began in his very own house. The "god of self" destroyed him.

Humanity has accomplished amazing things. Especially here in the U.S., we have enough money and power to make Solomon blush! We can do so much with just the simple flip of a switch or the writing of a check. We have become very, very dependent on self. Yet these "blessings" have required a price. I believe that we have become very obsessed with self and have in many ways forgotten about God. However, this is true of all of humanity. Today we humans can write a check or flip a switch and make problems disappear. Who needs God when you have all of that? That is the type of thinking that gets us in a lot of trouble.

Trouble. Amazing how when we make a mess out of things and our power and money have failed us, THEN we turn to God! God is often the hope of last resort. When all else fails, ask God. After we have created a mess, ask God to bail us out. I know I am guilty of doing this. Every time I think I am in control, I am given a wake up call when I mess something up. Sure enough, I turn to God and ask him to bail me out. Why didn't I just turn it over to God in the first place? Well, I'm human and I mess up. We all do. Fortunately God is forgiving and loves us beyond comprehension.

Jeremiah's proclamation and Jesus' parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, call us to give up the delusion of self sufficiency. I was pondering the fact that we inscribe "In God We Trust" on money. A bold statement of faith is placed on a piece of paper or a piece of metal! I think that is very revealing of our belief that we humans can solve all problems. We place a statement of faith on an inanimate object. Curious. In God We Trust should be written on our hearts! Then we are to publicly profess and live our faith! We are called to seek the things of God's Kingdom and not merely the things of earth. Only the gifts of God are eternal. Power, authority, money, etc., are merely passing things. We must first seek God's Kingdom and place our trust in God. Otherwise, we can gain the whole world yet lose our very soul.

Let us pause and ask God to remove the selfish thought that we don't need him. Let us remember that we are created in God's own image and that we are given a share of the Heavenly Kingdom which is forever unlike the kingdom of earth. Let us ask God to help us to let go of "stuff" so that we can be free to receive the eternal gifts God freely offers. We don't have to wait until we are at the bottom to call upon God. May we all place our trust in God first.

God help us that we don't gain all the things of earth and lose our very soul. Please God, help us to see.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Enough about you. How about me?

Second Week of Lent 2007: Wednesday
Mass Readings
Jeremiah 18:18-20
Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem and he is preparing his disciples for his imminent torture and crucifixion. Jesus is undoubtedly tormented and frightened. We don't often think about Jesus' emotions since that requires us to pay close attention to his humanity. We often have images of the stoic Jesus who is seemingly unmoved unless of course we want to think of Jesus expressing love. But what about fear? Jesus is facing what he knows will be unrelenting horror so naturally he would have to be frightened and stressed beyond imagination. Yet in the midst of this, he ministers to his disciples and wants to prepare them for the worst. He thinks of the disciples before himself.

Jesus instructs the disciples of what is to come. Jesus lays out for them the torture he is to face. What are the disciples thinking? What are the disciples feeling? Well, for two of them, its "Enough about you. How about me"? Jesus has opened up and shared the facts of his impending death for a third time but for James and John, the sons of Zeb'edee, its time to talk about their promotion! With friends like this, well, you know the saying. But James and John think they have an ace up their sleeve, their mom. Send mom to do the asking and surely Jesus can't say no! I can't help but hear this scene in my head; "OK Jesus, really sorry for the pain you are going to go through and, well, we appreciate you saving us. Since were talking, would you give my kids a promotion? I know you have a lot on your mind but could you do me this favor"?

The hurt Jesus must have felt is unimaginable. Instead of reacting harshly, Jesus uses the moment to teach a very important lesson. Jesus proposes a new way of living to the disciples. To be his disciples, they must first seek the good of others before their own advancement. To drink from the chalice is to be willing to live for the good of others and not merely the advancement of self. You can almost imagine James and John and especially their mom feeling a bit deflated to say the least.

Being a disciple of Jesus is not about power, money, or prestige. To be a disciple is to seek the emptying of self so that we can be filled with Jesus' word and love. We in turn reach out to others so that they may grow closer to Jesus. To be a disciple is to seek the way of humility, patience, understanding, and most importantly, love. To profess that we are Christians means that we are to draw focus away from us and direct it to Jesus. Nothing is more important than Jesus.

Unfortunately, self gets in the way more often than not. I know it happens to me and I get wrapped up in what I want and I what I think needs to be done and I forget what Jesus wants me to do. It happens to us all. The good news is that we can always change that. When we recognize that self advancement is becoming more important than the advancement of God's Kingdom, we can pause and ask for help to decrease so that Jesus may increase. We Christians are not to crave power and wealth so that we can lord it over others. The pursuit of earthly pleasure is not the primary reason why we were created. We were created so that God could love us and we in turn love God and one another. Our existence is about relationship. To live is to be in communion with God and one another.

Perhaps during this Lenten season we can try to practice a new way and say; Enough about me. How about you"?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Why do we try to freeze a moment in time?

Second Sunday of Lent 2007
Mass Readings
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

Jesus is preparing for the terrifying sacrifice he is to make in order for us to be saved. He is seeking strength from the Father and he withdraws to the mountain to pray. Jesus needs support and he takes three of his disciples with him to be companions. Jesus places himself in the Father's presence and the disciples, well, they decide to take a nap.

Jesus is alone. Jesus is again facing the reality of the torture that he is to endure. Then a miraculous gift is given by the Father. Moses and Elijah are sent to minister to Jesus. Moses, The Law, and Elijah, The Prophets, come to Jesus' aid to support him and encourage him. Meanwhile, the disciples are napping. Eventually they wake up and you can almost picture them tripping and climbing over each other trying to get to Jesus! A miracle is happening right before their eyes and they recognize Moses and Elijah! They want to be a part of it too! As Moses and Elijah return to the Father, Peter, as usual, speaks first. Lord! This is amazing! Let me and the other two build a place for each of you to live here on the mountain! You can all stay here forever and we can worship you! Peter wants to freeze this moment in time. Peter wants to keep the "mountaintop experience" alive, the spiritual high.

Some are gifted by God during life to have a monumental spiritual experience. For some, the "booming voice" or the apparition happens and they are transformed. These individuals then go forth and proclaim the good news of Salvation. People take notice of them. However, given the fact that hundreds upon hundreds of millions of Christians have come and gone and we have in comparison a very small number of Saints, odds are most of us will not have an experience that shakes the world. Most of us will live in the ordinariness of life. That can be frightening to a people that is taught that the miraculous is the supreme sign of having a strong faith. Perhaps we need to rethink things.

I heard the story of a young man a while back who went to his priest and described how he had travelled the globe and prayed at numerous sights where our Blessed Mother has appeared. His passport must have been heavily marked. He had prayed at some of our faith's most holy places, yet he was sad. He had not heard a voice from Heaven, the Blessed Mother had not appeared to him and given him a mission. He was doubting his faith because he had not had a "mountaintop experience". The ordinariness of his daily life was unbearable for him. In his quest for the public miracle, he had missed the glories of the everyday miracles that happen all around him. He wanted to find his "miracle" and freeze that moment so he could bask in it forever.

We can expend great amounts of time and energy and even money trying to find our "mountaintop experience" yet find ourselves more empty than when we started. We can strive to hear a booming voice from Heaven yet miss the quiet, still voice of God that speaks to us continually. We can seek to freeze a moment in time, a "spiritual high" and miss the joy and happiness that God gives freely and continually. If God is going to speak with a booming voice from the clouds, He will do it. If our Blessed Mother is going to appear to someone, she will. We cannot force a spiritual experience. We experience God by being willing, open, honest, and faithful.

Let us not get lost in trying to freeze a moment in time so as to forget to live. God is with us, around us, and in us each and every moment. We can experience God in the ordinary, the every day, and be happy! It is being able to experience God in the ordinary that we discover that we have been on top of the mountain all along.

Friday, March 2, 2007

We cannot ignore the spirit as we follow the letter.

First Week of Lent 2007: Friday
Mass Readings
Ezekiel 18:21-28
Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus gives us a wake-up call in our text today!

The letter of the law is actually an easy thing to obey. The letter is an external expression and is easily seen. Thou shall not kill, is a no brainer. I would imagine the disciples heard Jesus' words and were shaking their heads in agreement. Then, as usual, Jesus kicks it to another level. Jesus leads the disciples to the spirit of the law, the Ten Commandments. Right. We understand that we cannot kill. However, the commandment goes further than killing physically. We can kill without ever laying a finger on another person. Our attitudes and feelings, our words can be devastating on their own when allowed to run riot.

Jesus leads the disciples to see that harboring anger and grudges, to insult and malign someone makes us just as liable. To deliberately insult another person is to place ourselves at God's judgement. The spirit of "Thou shall not kill" is about our entire attitude about another person. We cannot love someone and then turn around and gossip about him or her and emotionally and spiritually "stab em in the back". We cannot claim to love yet practice character assassination. Compliments and insults cannot coexist. Love and hate cannot occupy the same heart at the same time.

Each time we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we profess that we truly believe. That is powerful. We are to become that which we have received, the Body of Christ. We are called to practice both the letter and the spirit. Our grudges and anger must be set at Jesus' feet as we ask for forgiveness. When we do that, we are free to live in communion with each other in love and respect. We cannot receive Christ's Body while holding anger and grudges. Well, we sometimes do, but that anger and those grudges block us from being open to conversion of spirit and mind.

Each and every one of us are created with the Breath of God and we are the embodiment of our Creator's love. When we look at one another we must strive to see the very face of Jesus. When we are able to realize that, then we can truly love and respect one another. The Ten Commandments are crucial to our faith. We must go deeper than the letter of the law and embrace the spirit of the law as well.

When I am having one of those days and I let myself be filled with anger and resentment, I try to remember a quote by St. Ephraem the Syrian; "It is blasphemy if you pray before God while you are full of anger". I am humbled every time I think of that quote. During Lent, I think it would help to add this quote to daily prayer. May it be a reminder to ask Jesus to help us let go of the anger, resentment, gossip, and character assassination the world loves to glorify. Let us embody the the spirit as we practice the letter.

May we all live today in Jesus' peace.