Wednesday, May 23, 2007

United as one?

Seventh Week of Easter
Wednesday, 5-23-2007
Mass Readings:
Acts 20:28-38
John 17:11b-19

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one".

Division. Infighting. Character assassination. These are typical practices today and in many cases they are celebrated. Few seem to give a rip about healing the rifts that cause so much pain. Unfortunately, this is true in the diverse Christian traditions.

I grew up in a very fundamentalist tradition. Needless to say that there were a number of folks I grew up with who were convinced I was doomed and going to hell when I became a Catholic. Then I dropped the bomb that I was going to study for the priesthood. For a few of my old colleagues, I had joined ranks with Lucifer himself! How sad.

We see daily how Christians war against each other. If you don't adhere to this group or that group then you are doomed. What gives? Sadly enough, we have the same thing happening in house here in the Catholic Church. We have so many groups who scream that They are the "true" Catholics. Web pages can be viral in nature and some Catholics use the world wide web to savage anyone and everything he/she does not agree with. What gives? When did it become okay to actively pursue division?

Jesus calls us today to work together. He didn't say that we would always agree with one another and sing Kumbaya. Jesus calls us to be one as he is one with the Father. Let's face it. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are as One as possible. Jesus wants us to be that close to one another. So why do we relish in creating division? Are we so self centered that we have to turn to attacking one another? We need to stop pointing fingers at Protestants being divided and clean up our own house.

It is natural for us to disagree with one another. It is natural to get angry with one another. However, it is sin to openly seek division. We cannot be united if we turn to the world wide web, television and print media to launch attacks against those we do not agree with. That is not what Jesus would do. If we are serious about being a Christian then each of us will strive to be in the same room together and work together. That doesn't mean we will always live in harmony. I am not a Pollyanna. I do not believe that we will always hold hands and be at peace. Human nature will always leave the door open for division. However, it is sin to openly seek to separate our self from one another or to disparage one another. Division is not what Jesus calls us to in today's Gospel.

We may never live in perfect harmony and unity. As long as two people have two different ideas there will be a natural tension. If we deliberately seek to create division, then we deny who and whose we are. Faith in Jesus demands that we seek reconciliation and not division.

Frozen in time.

Ascension of the Lord
Sunday, 5-20-2007
Mass Readings:
Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Luke 24:46-53

Yes I know, Ascension was traditionally celebrated this past Thursday. We are one of the many dioceses that has moved Ascension to Sunday. This way we get you when we know you are more likely to come to Church!

In our reading from The Acts of the Apostles, we have the disciples standing around with their eyes focused on the sky. Granted, they have just witnessed their Lord and Savior ascending back to the Father. I think we would all be taking a prolonged gander! Then, two angels appear and give them a bit of a smack. My sense of humor has me hearing the angels kind of hitting them in the shoulder and saying: 'Oi! What are you doing standing around like a lump? Don't you get it? Jesus is going to come back but right now you have to get busy. There is a lot that needs to be done so stop gazing at the sky and get at it!' That's what I hear when I read this passage of Scripture.

The scene describes us to the letter I believe. The disciples are wounded by their past and are so desperate for the future that they forget the here and now. We can become so paralyzed by the past that we look to some "magical" future yet to be seen and we forget to live NOW! We can obsess over the past and pine for a "perfect" future and in the process, forget to live.

The Ascension tells us many things. First, this is not the end! Jesus will return, descending from Heaven to claim his faithful followers. Second, we can't just sit around and wait for Jesus to return and get lazy. Third, we are called to do God's work in the world NOW! Not tomorrow or next year but today. The past cannot be changed and we cannot pine away for the future. What we have is today. The very moment we live in right now is all that we know. So what are we doing with today?

Many in the early months after Jesus' Ascension were convinced that there was no future because Jesus was coming back the day after tomorrow. They clambered to the hills and mountains and waited. What they learned in the past was not important. They longed for Jesus' return and they sacrificed the present in the process. Many of those folks died on the mountain-top.

Being a Christian doesn't entail sitting around obsessing over the past and being lazy just biding our time until the Second Coming! Being a Christian means that we go forward working for the conversion of the world right now! The Ascension is a call to get to work. We don't know if Jesus will return tomorrow or a 1000 years from now. What we do know is that we are called, today. There is much to be done, today. We can't change the past and we can't force the future to bend to our will. However, we can transform our self, our world, TODAY!

So the angels call to us today: 'Oi! What are you doing standing around like a lump? Don't you get it? Jesus is going to come back but right now you have to get busy. There is a lot that needs to be done so stop gazing at the sky and get at it!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Do we expect Jesus to check our schedule?

Sixth Week of Easter
Mass Readings:
Acts 18:1-8
John 16:16-20

A little while. Three simple but controversial words. Jesus uses these words and the disciples go into confusion mode. It wouldn't be just the disciples. Many in the early Church were so convinced that Jesus' return was imminent that they went out to the mountains and waited for Jesus to come and deliver them. They died on the mountain top. Apparently Jesus didn't check with their schedule.

I grew up in a rather fundamentalist Protestant tradition. I remember coming to church and finding a huge poster on one side of the church building that had the "End Times" on an easy to read grid. Did Jesus check with the pastor's schedule and confirm his arrival? That church is now closed.

We humans tend to want Jesus to do things according to our schedule. We are a very impatient lot. We can grow very disenchanted with waiting. The early Church experienced that. A little while was thought to mean right now. Sort of like a child that you tell to wait a little while to go to the store. Thirty seconds later that child cannot understand why it hasn't happened yet! We tend to be that way when we wait for Jesus. St. Paul would address the problem of why Jesus was "delayed". The Second Coming didn't happen the way the early Church expected. So why do we today expect to have the "time line" figured out? We can be bombarded by televangelists who declare that Jesus is coming now! A little while for them seems to mean right now.

The problem is that we cannot place restrictions on God Time or Kairos Time. We have no idea of how long a little while is for God. How long it is before Jesus returns is known to the Father alone. We cannot quantify Kairos Time. We are to live as if our souls were to be claimed today yet not obsess or worry over the schedule for the Second Coming. When it is time, it is time.

A part of one of the Eucharistic prayers asks God to help keep us aware to the signs of the times. What does that mean? We can interpret it numerous ways but I believe it is a call for us to be always aware of God's presence. It calls us to be vigilant about the opportunities given to us to proclaim the Good News! We cannot abandon our call as disciples. Everyday should be a day to proclaim Salvation. Everyday should be a cherished moment to draw closer to the Lord. Jesus will return in a little while so let us not view Jesus' "delay" as an excuse to give up discipleship and go wait for Jesus. Jesus could come today or a 100 years from now and we must use every opportunity to be Christ to the world.

Am I an Athenian?

Sixth Week of Easter
Mass Readings:
Acts 17:15, 22—18:1
John 16:12-15

St. Paul goes to Athens and is hit with a pretty amazing sight. The Athenians were such a religious lot that they wanted to make sure they didn't miss an opportunity, or really tick off a god. So they made a shrine to the "unknown god". Just in case they missed something! Don't want to get on the bad side of a god they missed.

Okay. I shouldn't make fun of the religion of people who have been dead for almost two thousand years. That is bad of me. The scene is almost comical and we can shake our heads and talk about how we think the Athenians got it wrong. Problem is that in many ways, we can be just like the Athenians.

Over the course of my priesthood so far I have met folk who are so petrified of getting God angry that they practice any and every devotion they can find. These folk are so afraid of doing something wrong that they live in constant fear of God. That isn't faith. Now don't get me wrong. I have daily devotions that I practice and they enrich my daily life. The problem is that if we are not careful, we can develop a faith complex. This faith complex drives us to try and hit every spiritual base known and unknown in an attempt to keep God happy. If we fear we have missed something then add another prayer or make up a new ritual for we think that surely will make God happy. Then, we become like the Athenians.

Devotions are good. Praying for the intercession of the saints is good. However, we must first heed Jesus' command to be faithful. Jesus does not want us to live in fear of committing an unknown sin so bad that God chucks out the window! A life of faithfulness is one that relies upon the mercy granted by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Trying to get in every possible devotion we can and making some up just in case we miss something is not the life we are called to. We ar called to serve and not shut ourselves off in fear fo doing soemthing wrong.

Our life of faith must be founded upon Jesus' call to discipleship and faithfulness. Our prayer, our devotions should spring from our desire to serve Jesus and not out of a fear that Jesus will strike us down. That is no way to live and it is in no way what Jesus calls us to.

We can learn a great deal from the Athenians of 2000 years ago. St. Paul gives us an example of what toxic faith can do to us. It can cause us to rely upon doing instead of being, following ritual at the expense of faithfulness. We must always remember who and whose we. We are God's children, the faithful disciples of Jesus the Savior and vessels of the Holy Spirit! How blessed we are! Let's not burden ourselves with the fear of missing something that will send us to hell. If we live like that then we will miss the freedom of salvation. Let us be faithful Christians who pray our of gratitude and not out of fear.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Unnecessary burdens.

Fifth Week of Easter 2007
Mass Readings:
Acts 15:22-31
John 15:12-17

In the Book of Acts we have the scene where the Apostles have been receiving disturbing reports. Folks have been going out and preaching some fringe things. These "missionaries" have been imposing their idea of what it takes to be saved and the hoops they believe people must jump through in order to be in God's love. On the surface that doesn't seem too bad. However, the problem is that these people have been distorting Jesus' commands. These folks have been making people adhere to their individual preference of what they believe constitutes true religion. The Apostles aren't having any of that! The Apostles seek to clear things up ASAP. The Apostles set out to do a refresher on the basics.

We have all experienced someone's ideas proclaimed to us as gospel truth. There are individuals in all traditions who declare him/herself as the bearer of truth. To disagree with these people results in him/her declaring that one isn't saved unless you do what he/she tells you to do. It doesn't necessarily mean these people mean any harm. But it does mean that they have stepped away from the basics and want to make the Church in his/her image.

When you stop and think about it, we face the same issues today that the Apostles faced in the first century. Someone was out there telling folks to do it 'my way or your lost'! Lovely. Nothing like a self proclaimed prophet running amok! Individuals, groups and even parishes can be torn apart when they buy into a self proclaimed prophet. As soon as we start veering from the core of our faith we are doomed to follow any passing teaching that will dissolve before we know it. That isn't to say that there aren't some really good unofficial teachings out there. On the contrary. There are many sound and edifying devotionals and practices of faith that are great. Yet it does become a problem when an individual is followed over the long standing teachings of our faith.

It doesn't matter if you call yourself a liberal or a conservative. Following the teachings of self ordained prophets before the revelation of God is always a dangerous path. To try and make the Church in our individual image is always a recipe for disaster. I often here many folk complain about how the Church use to be this or that and they lament any changes that come along. Point is the Church changes and grows as we come to understand more and more about God. The Church was different in the 1st century than it was in the 7th century, than it was in the 14th century, than it is in the 21st century. The true test is that the Church is based on Jesus' commands. The practice may be different from one generation to the next but it remains founded on the basics. Expression may change but the foundation is permanent. It is when we start trying to alter the foundation that we begin to crumble.

There are folk who want to try and create his/her own image of what church should be. That cannot be done. Well it can be but then it isn't The Church. Jesus gives us the core in today's Gospel. We cannot pick and choose what we want to follow in Jesus' words. When we do that, then we stray from the basics and we try to make the Church in our own image. Folks on all sides do it and it tears us apart just like the communities crying out in our reading from the Book of Acts.

If we follow what Jesus commands us to do then we find that we are united. If we do what Jesus commands us to do then we grow in faith. When we demand that things must be done our way, we turn our back on the basics of our faith. We must love God, love neighbor, and go forth and preach and teach God's salvation. Nothing less.