Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Don't fling yourself in to the pigsty!

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Genesis 13:2, 5-18
Matthew 7:6, 12-14

One of the most surprising things for me about Jesus is his great sense of humor. Every time I see a movie about Jesus, he is portrayed as some solemn, moping, humorless guy who is always stern. Well, that and he is usually blond haired and blue eyed. Last time I checked, Jesus wasn't from Switzerland.

Anyhow, we find in the Gospels that Jesus has a great grasp of the absurd. Jesus uses phrases that make us sit up and listen because they seem, well, absurd. Take today's Gospel for instance. How many of us throw holy things to dogs? How many of us take a handful of pearls and throw them into a pigsty? So yeah, Jesus gets our attention by making us scratch our heads.

I think Jesus gives us some beautiful spiritual direction today. I believe that in Jesus' absurd phrases he tells us several things. First, don't throw your life away. I find in his talk of throwing holiness to dogs and pearls in to pigsties is a warning to not throw our lives away. We tend to seek the softer easier way in all things and we can end up selling our soul. We are "fearfully and wonderfully" made in God's image. So why do we seek out all manner of ways to degrade our selves? We can so readily throw what is holy and priceless, our soul, away for a little bit of pleasure and ease. Jesus calls us to live a different way.

Second, seek to do what is right. Do unto others as we would want them to do to us. Jesus is telling us to "be nice". A very simple command yet we find a thousand ways to defy it. The more venom we spew, the more venom we receive in turn. Everything gets worse and then we wonder why the world is "going to hell in a hand basket"! Nothing gets better if we don't try to make things better. Kindness, mercy, forgiveness is what Jesus calls us to practice.

Third, quit trying to find the back door in to Heaven. Jesus instructs us to be focused on God. the way to life is not about doing whatever we want. The "narrow gate" is easy to see if we quit trying to find a way over the fence. We can be so obsessed with wanting to make God do and see things "my way" that we completely miss the right way standing in front of us.

Prayer. Respect. Faithfulness. Jesus calls us to surrender our self to his love, his way of life. If we live what we claim to believe, then we will stay out of the spiritual pigsty, treat one another as children of the Living God, and focus on the path that leads to God.

Settling in...

Well I am partially moved in to my new assignment and should be back to regular posts soon. I am serving two parishes on the South-West side of Louisville that is part of a larger five parish merger. Please pray for the people and myself as we look to the future.


Monday, June 18, 2007

The inefficiency of love.

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
June 15, 2007
Mass Readings:
Ezra 34:11-16
Romans 5:5b-11
Luke 15:3-7

In our Gospel we have a very familiar text. The image of Jesus carrying a lost sheep on his shoulders is on everything from cards to coffee mugs. It is an image of Jesus that makes us feel happy and safe. Unfortunately, we mostly miss the absurdity of what Jesus says. Go off and leave 99 sheep unprotected in order to go save one? Efficiency would demand that one should protect the 99 that are still safe, leave the lost one and cut your losses. Can you imagine taking financial advice that asks us to take our money out of 99 strong investments in order that we dump that money into one that is going down the drain? We would laugh at such advice. Yet that is what Jesus is saying in today's Gospel.

The people hearing Jesus would have been puzzled at what he said. They maybe laughed at this absurd image Jesus presents. The shepherds in the crowd were probably laughing at Jesus and scratching their heads. Risk 99 good sheep for one that got lost? Sorry, not good business advice. Jesus uses the absurd to show us just how much God loves us.

Lets face it, love is not efficient. Love isn't something we put on a spreadsheet and plot the greatest return for the dollar. The greeting card and florist industries would close over night if love were about efficiency. Love causes us to act out of immense generosity. We don't mind being lavish when we show how much we love one another. We do things to make the other happy and not just for return on the dollar.

This is the image of The Father's love that Jesus portrays. God's love is so immense that one lost person means everything to him. God doesn't just cut the loss and move on. Just the opposite happens. God's love is so great that he sends Jesus to redeem us all. Of course it wasn't the most efficient method. Jesus' crucifixion was a high price to pay. That is the depths of God's love for us. No price it too high in order to redeem us. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit giving everything so that we may live.

God's love for us knows no bounds. God lavishes love upon us. God gives us love that inebriates our soul. God isn't worried about efficiency. Love is freely given and all God asks in return is that we follow him. God gave all for us. Giving up everything for love would seem inefficient and we would shake our heads at someone who does such a thing. Fortunately for us, God isn't worried about the most bang for the buck and he gives everything freely so that we might live. Jesus' Sacred Heart has no limit to love and we are the beneficiary of such a great gift. Thanks be to God!

The power of thought and words.

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
June 14, 2007
Mass Readings:
2 Corinthians 3:15—4:1, 3-6
Matthew 5:20-26

We have all done it. There we are in our car and we get angry at other drivers and lo and behold, venom that would make our mothers scream comes flying out of our mouths. We rant, we rage and we use words that we would not use in a crowd. Yet we find our cars to be a safe place for unreasonable anger.

Our Gospel text today is a familiar one. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that unbridled anger and how we mistreat one another is wrong. Now I am not saying that we are not supposed to get angry. Anger is a normal emotion and really shouldn't be repressed since that causes bad things too. The problem is when we become angry and start treating others as persona non grata. Our anger, if not monitored, can become a terrible weapon. Unfortunately, we all fall victim to rage.

Jesus states clearly in the Gospels that he came not to abolish the law but to complete it. The law? The Ten Commandments. Here Jesus pulls out a biggie. Most people will nod their heads in agreement with "Thou shall not kill". It makes sense. Killing is sin and God wants us to respect all life. Then Jesus takes it a step further. It isn't merely about not killing the body, but also about not killing the spirit of a person. We are more than a body. We are spirit, the very breath of God. How we treat one another is a sure sign of what state our relationship with God is in. It is impossible to declare our love for God while systematically living a life of hatred for one another. What dwells in our heart is just as real as what we do with our hands. The two cannot be divorced.

One of the things that always shocks me is how some folk can come to mass, receive the Body and Blood of Christ and then immediately afterwards come to me and begin ranting and railing against someone who they are angry with or in fact rant and rail against me. (That's what my office is for and I always encourage folk to come and vent there away from the holy place of church.) How can one receive the body and blood of Christ while also plotting out what harsh words or actions they want to use as soon as mass is over? Jesus addresses that in our reading today as well. Jesus wants us to first work on our resentments and anger before we receive him in the Eucharist. Now that doesn't mean that we can keep our heart and mind free from everything while we are at church. We aren't robots who can just switch off everything bad. We come to the Eucharist as wounded people and the Eucharist is the life and peace that heals us. However, that doesn't mean we can just sit and fume through mass, receive the Body and Blood of Christ and then go on the attack of another child of God. No, we must honor the spirit just as we honor the body. Violence against either one is a violation of "Thou shall not kill".

We are called to become that which we have received. The Eucharist is to empower us to go and do and say good things in His name. We cannot love and hate at the same time. We cannot be a disciple of Jesus while at the same time seeking to lash out at and denigrate another of God's children. The two cannot co-exist. "Thou shall not kill" applies to both body and spirit. What we do in our heart will be expressed through our actions and words.

So what do we do? We all get angry and there is no way to abolish anger. We will always experience anger but the crux is what we do with that anger. Do I chose to step back, reflect and give myself time to calm down and react appropriately? Or do I react off the cuff and lash out with venom and foulness? That is a choice we face whenever we get angry.

We can follow the letter of the law while at the same time destroying the spirit of the law, the Ten Commandments. Jesus wants us to follow both letter and spirit. Just because we may not kill the body doesn't mean we don't try hard at killing spirit. Both are precious to God and we must respect the spirit as well as the body.

I am going to try and listen to my own words here. The next time I start to react out of anger, I must try to step back, reflect and allow myself to respond with compassion instead of anger. What a world it would be if we responded with compassion instead of anger.

A bit behind

I'm running behind on posts so they may be out of sync for a bit. I start a new assignment this week. Peace!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sticks and stones...

Wednesday: Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Tobit 3:1-11a, 16-17a
Mark 12:18-27

As a kid I remember using the phrase, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me. What a load of stuff that was! Bruises and cuts heal a lot quicker than the emotional, psychological wounds we get from hateful people. I think the phrase should go, sticks and stones may break my bones but words can crush the spirit.

I remember getting into tussles when I was in school like a lot of school boys. It always seemed that I went home with a black eye and then had to explain to my parents why. That was painful! Facing mom after getting into trouble was never fun. And now as I am turning 40 I find that I don't remember the pain of a black eye but I can remember the pain caused by cruel words. The human tongue can be a vicious weapon.

Daily I will speak with people who are trying to move past very cruel and damaging words. The spiritual and psychological cuts that cruel words inflict are hard sometimes to recover from.

Our reading from Tobit today is a scene of two people who are suffering from being outcasts. Tobit and Sarah have been enduring relentless verbal attacks. These attacks have crushed their spirit and has led them to despair. They feel alone, unloved, depressed and hopeless. Their despair leads them to pray for death. I think many of us today can relate with, at some point, feeling so alone and unloved that not being becomes a consideration. That's scary. Too many people feel that way today.

As Christians, we are called to be messengers of God's love. Unfortunately, we don't do enough of proclaiming and practicing God's love. Everyday we see and hear verbal abuse in so many forms. Everything from outrageous road rage, yelling at one another over parking spaces, rudeness at the checkout lines, people taking private arguments out into the public arena, etc. We are bombarded by these verbal grenades. No wonder so many people are depressed and feel hopeless.

I think a good place to start is at the beginning. God is love. We are God's children. We are to mirror God's love. We are to express God's love to one another. A common penance I give at confession is for the individual to think of one person they have been uncharitable towards and pray for God to bless that person. It is hard to be angry with someone when one is praying for that person.

Yes we all get angry. Yes we all say things we shouldn't. Yes we all hurt other people's feelings. However, we have the obligation of making amends and living as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the chance to make things better by keeping our tongues under control. When we don't, we need to realize and accept that our hateful words can crush another person's spirit. We don't need sticks or stones in order to hurt one another since our tongues do a pretty good job. Let us strive to seek reconciliation so that no one needs to feel like Tobit or Sarah.

Sticks and stones may break our bones. But words? They can crush the spirit. Today, may we strive to keep our tongues under control so that God can speak a message of love through us all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A gracious giver should receive with as much grace.

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr
Mass Readings:
Tobit 2:9-14
Mark 12:13-17

Upfront let me say that the Book of Tobit is my all time favorite! Well, along with the Gospels. Tobit is for the most part overlooked. That is unfortunate. Tobit is a book that speaks to us about suffering, restoration and family. I believe that Tobit is easier to relate to than Job.

The Book of Job is beautifully written but I admit that I don't connect with Job. Job is a very wealthy, pious man who loses everything and is faced with questions of good vs. evil. Tobit is a poor, pious man who goes blind and faces the challenges of physical illness. I find that Tobit is more like people I meet everyday.

Tobit is a very holy man. Tobit is not only committed to his faith but to his people. However, Tobit is guided by charity and not merely letter of the law. Tobit is seen as an outsider. Tobit is willing to touch the dead and bury them. Instead of following complicated laws in order to remain "pure", he goes out, sees a need and does what is needed. He pays a price for his dedication and charity. Tobit is marked for execution by the king because he shows such respect to his people. King Sennacherib wanted the people he slew to merely be left to rot. Tobit could not stand for this. Tobit's love and respect for his fellows led him to lose his property and almost his life.

Yet Tobit must endure another hardship. His eyes become infected and he loses his sight. Tobit becomes despondent which is understandable. His wife, Anna, is the money maker for the family now and Tobit is feeling isolated. Anna's employer shows kindness and gives her a goat so that her family may have meat to eat. Tobit is incensed by this and believes that surely, out of their poverty, Anna stole it. Tobit is hard to convince. Perhaps his pride is in the way?

Anna finally has had enough and yells back. Tobit, for all of his generosity, is unable to receive an act of charity. Anna calls Tobit to account for all of his charity and why he cannot receive something good. Perhaps Tobit's charity was just to make himself feel better? Maybe his true character was that he had become dependant upon the feeling he got from being charitable and burying his kinfolk. He did wonderful things but were they for the right reason?

I believe that the scene from Tobit we just read is a call to us all. We are all connected as the Body of Christ and that means we help each other. For many, giving charity is okay but their mood changes if they are on the receiving end. It is hard to accept help when our pride gets in the way. Pride can cause us to miss out on some glorious moments of God's grace. As we give, we are to receive. A selfless giver will receive because others will recognize the charity of the other. Now that doesn't mean we look for anything in return for our acts of charity! Giving only out of the expectation of receiving is just as damaging as pride standing in the way of receiving.

I believe the core message in today's reading from Tobit is that we are called to care for one another. We take care of one another. We give and receive out of wanting to be the bearer of God's love. That means no agendas. When we can give and receive out of the desire to further God's will then we truly are blessed. Giving and receiving graciously and selflessly, I believe, opens our hearts to that grace so freely given by God in Jesus the Lord. Jesus gave with no expectation of return. Jesus received the goodness of others in thanksgiving. No agendas, just being in communion with one another. I think that is what Heaven will be like, giving and receiving the joys of God's love as we celebrate together the goodness of God.

Monday, June 4, 2007

No one is an island.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Mass Readings:
Proverbs 8:22-31
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

I remember a class in seminary that was hard, and that is an understatement. It was a follow up to a Christology class and it was on The Trinity. I think the true final exam was to see if any of us would break down during the exam and cry! It was tough. So, after a very trying semester, the prof looks at us and tells us that no matter what we wrote and no matter what we preach, The Trinity is a mystery. However, if we had written that as our exam answer we would have failed!

We cannot fully wrap our head around The Trinity. Our language is very limited and let's face it, God has not sat any of us down and explained all the mysteries of our faith. So how do we describe The Trinity? How do we express God as Three, Three is One? All the Greek, Latin and metaphysical inquiry of the ages cannot fully express the glory and mystery of The Trinity. However, there are many things we can understand that apply to our daily life.

In The Trinity we see that God is a God of relationship. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were, are and will be in relationship. God, the uncaused first cause, is relationship. The Trinity has always and will forever be in relationship. God so powerful that He is expressed as three in one, one in three. We use the word Persons and we capitalize person yet that is still not clear. God is not a human being. God the Son walked the earth in human and divine form and God the Holy Spirit is the very breath of God giving us life. Is that clear? Hmmm. Language just cannot grasp the mystery. And thank God it can't! It is the mystery that keeps us seeking to grow in understanding of God.

We see in The Trinity that God is relationship. We were not created because God had to create us. We were created to be in relationship with God and in turn with one another. We humans like to brag about our independence. We like to think that we are an island, so individual that we are alone. Please, we can't even turn on a light without being in community. It takes thousands of people to keep the electricity flowing and we become part of that community every time we hit the switch. Even alone in our houses we are not alone. We are always connected to one another in some way.

The Trinity is God expressed as community. Three in One, One in Three through eternity moving and flowing through creation. As a result, we are called to be in relationship with God and one another. Jesus even prays in the Gospels that we be one as Jesus is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That is a pretty big prayer. Jesus desires that we be as united with one another as The Trinity is united. That's big stuff!

We can leave Mass today assured of one thing that is clear. God is a God of relationship. We are God's children and so we are in relationship with God. We are the disciples of Christ and we are in relationship with the Lord. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and we are in relationship with the Holy Spirit. We are the Body of Christ and so we are in relationship with The Trinity, God as Three, Three in One is our God. Being in relationship with the Creator means that we are in relationship with one another. We cannot neglect that reality. We are to look to the prayer of Jesus that we be one as The Trinity is One. That means we have a lot of unification to get to work on.

No one is an island so let us live as one people.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Missing the forest for the tree.

Memorial of St. Justin, martyr
June 1, 2007
Mass Readings:
Sirach 44:1, 9-13
Mark 11:11-26

Today's Gospel text is amazing and beautifully complex. It takes place in several scenes.

Jesus goes to the temple and takes a look around. It's late and things are closing up so there isn't much to do. Jesus is probably frustrated. We seem to always think of Jesus as just walking along not a care in the world and calm and at peace, no matter what. Jesus went to the temple for a reason and he is greeted with the late hour of the day. He has a schedule and it is off kilter. Sounds a bit like us. We don't like it when we run out of time and I would dare say Jesus didn't like it either.

They leave and Jesus is tired an hungry. He goes to pick a fig and finds none. He is frustrated, hungry and tired. He lets go of some stress and curses the fig tree. Sounds very human when you stop and think about it. Recall how many times we take our frustration out on one another. Sounds like a much better idea to yell at a tree instead of a person.

The next day. Jesus and the disciples return to the temple. What Jesus sees is more than he can accept. His Father's house has been turned into a market place, just another business. This sacred place has been corrupted and Jesus has had enough! His nerves at the edge and he "cleans house"! Jesus tosses the money changers out and not metaphorically but physically! You can almost hear the Twelve gasping and getting out of the way. What has happened to their leader? What is he getting so upset about? Jesus goes a step further and he blocks people from bringing their purchases in with them! Can you imagine doing that today?!

Jesus is crying out against the corruption freely accepted and reducing his Father's house to nothing more than a shopping mall. God's house is a place of prayer not commerce. Jesus even teaches clearly that it is a place of prayer. Jesus is very clear about why he did what he did.

So they leave. As they walk along the Twelve see that the lowly fig tree is dead. They are amazed and Peter speaks first. The curious thing is that the Twelve get excited over the fig tree but we don't have any record of them sharing Jesus' outrage over the corruption seen at the temple. They seem to miss the forest for the tree. What Jesus said about holiness and prayer isn't nearly as exciting as a dead fig tree. Hmmm. How human. For the Twelve, striking down a tree with a word is more interesting than being taught about holiness.

Do we do that today? Are we so busy seeking something exciting that we forget to just be in God's presence? Do we want a parish that is entertaining instead of prayerful? Do we want a parish that is flashy rather than striving to be holy? Are we focused on tasks rather than formation? I am talking about seeking to grow in faith rather than just doing a list of things. Do we demand to be served instead of being servants? We must first grow in faith and holiness before our actions will bear fruit.

If we aren't careful we can slip into the trap of looking for things rather than looking for spirit, action before faith. We must first listen to Jesus before we can be fruitful disciples. We must strive for the "whole package" and not just bits. If we seek to listen and follow, we will be able to see the whole forest instead of just a dead tree.