Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We don't know what power is.

November 25, 2007
The Solemnity of Christ the King
Mass Readings:
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

I remember watching a show on TV about the history of state dinners. Those are the fancy dinners at the White House. The show chronicled the state dinner from the earliest days of the country up until the present day. What I learned is that a state dinner will cost hundreds of thousands of tax dollars so that a group of people can dress in multi thousand dollar outfits and congratulate each other on how powerful they are. Yes I am being cynical.

So here we have a group of people who think that they are powerful. They have the finest clothes and the choicest foods and they drive around in elite limousines. In fact I once had someone say to me that having a limousine is a sign of being rich and powerful. I've been in a lot of limousines but they were always because someone had died and we were in the funeral procession. So much for rich and powerful! Yet that example leads me to think this, how can someone feel that he or she is powerful when all the power in the world won't stop a massive heart attack or stroke that kills? All of these people who relish their power can find that it is all gone in an instant if his or her heart decides to stop working. All the earthly power possible cannot stop the body from shutting down.

That show caused me to start thinking about how we view power. My observations have led me to believe that many people in our world view power as either the ability to destroy or to buy. I fear that many folk view power as the possession of guns and bombs or purchasing and selling power. This is fleeting and hollow power. It is power that seeks self gratification and is not true power.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. This celebration is the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is Power. Jesus Christ is the source of life, of all creation. Yet how is that power displayed? Jesus' power is made manifest in his broken and bloodied body on the cross. To most people this would not be a sign of power. We want our power to be glossy and fancy and in many cases, destructive. Yet today we look to the source of life hanging upon a cross.

I remember hearing a parable that went like this. A European city was being destroyed by a marauding force in the 13th century. There was a monastery in the town and the monks, all but one, had been slaughtered. As the commander of the army rode into the monastery on his horse, the one surviving monk stood and faced him. The commander asked the monk a question: "Do you not fear me? I have the power to take or spare your life." The monk replied: "Do you not fear me? I have the power to give you my life." There it is. There is power! How can that be?

Jesus' power is not in the destruction or purchase of life but in his ability to give life. Jesus' life was not taken from him but rather Jesus gave it freely. Jesus Christ, King and Lord of Creation freely offered himself up so that we might live. Jesus' power is in life not death or the pursuit of riches. Power is what gives life. Destruction and riches are merely hollow pursuits and have no power.

There is not a bomb that can blast a hole into Heaven. There is no limousine that will slide us into Heaven. There isn't enough money that will grease the palm of St. Peter so that we can sneak into Heaven. All the things we humans may deem as power have no influence on God. In fact, we will all face Christ the King on the same footing. We will all give account of what we did with the life that Jesus gave to us in his death, burial and resurrection. None of the things we hold as power on earth will make a bit of difference when we face the True Power, Christ the King.

At Calvary Jesus proclaims the truth of power. Power is from God and God alone. All of our earthly powers will mean nothing when we stand face to face with Christ the King. Our guns and bombs, our money and possessions will be gone and rotted and we will stand there powerless in the face of Power.

All of our "false gods of power" will fail us. We can worship at the feet of the latest celebrity idol or long to have favor from a politician but all we succeed in doing is selling our own soul for brief earthly power. The favor we should strive for is that of Christ the King. From Christ the King we receive life and power. The power we receive is to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of Life that was born on the cross as Jesus shed his blood for us. Power is when we seek to do all things in the image of Jesus. To humble yourself before Christ the King is the first sign of being powerful. Not powerful in the eyes of the world, but powerful as a disciple of the Lord. The power we receive from Christ is the power to proclaim the life giving message proclaimed by Christ.

Let us seek the power of life that comes from Christ the King, the power to be his faithful disciples.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Those with sight are often blind.

November 19, 2007
Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
1 Maccabees 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63
Luke 18:35-43

This text from Luke is a familiar one. I have heard many sermons on how the Lord heals and gives us what we need. But this Gospel text has more going on than meets the eye. Pardon the pun.

Jesus is traveling to Jericho and as usual, his entourage is in force. As they are traveling, a blind beggar begins to call out to Jesus. Here is a man who has never witnessed one of Jesus' miracles but that doesn't matter. The blind beggar has heard the stories and he is now desperate to have Jesus' attention. That in and of itself is not what I believe the focus is. Rather, it is the response from Jesus' entourage. Here is a group of people, including the 12 Disciples, who should know better than to try and silence a poor, blind beggar. Don't you think they would have wanted this man to experience the power of Jesus? One would think. But that is not the case here. Jesus' followers are blind to this man's needs.

I can't help but think that we are in many ways like Jesus' entourage who wanted to keep this needy man away from Jesus. More often than not, it is the blessed who want to horde their blessings instead of sharing. Why is it that those with the most are often the most selfish? God's blessings are not a commodity that is to be squirreled away for a rainy day. The reality is that the gifts of the Spirit are to be freely given and then, and only then do they grow. God's blessings are not something we can put in a bank to draw interest. God's gifts of the Spirit must be used, given away in order for them to grow and return.

The folks who were traveling with Jesus should have known better and we may read this text and shake our heads. The problem with shaking our heads is that we might be too busy feeling superior and completely miss our own deficiencies. In what ways do we stand in the way of others being able to experience God's love? In what ways do we set up obstacles and place burdens on others who are seeking an encounter with the Lord? I am not saying we do it deliberately. I am just wondering how we often times get so entrenched with what we believe God should do that we forget that God is going to do what God wants and we have no say. God's love is for everyone and we cannot dictate to whom that Love will be given. I think the folk following Jesus to Jericho thought they were the "bouncers" who could determine who got to enter the party or not. Jesus showed them quickly that they had absolutely no power over who God shows love to.

In that respect I think it was the members of the entourage who were the blind ones. It was the one who was blind who could see God's love was present and begged to receive. Out of his neediness the blind beggar could see that God was present. The entourage gathered around Jesus were blinded by their sense of importance and almost missed a chance to see God's love in action. Worse, these folk could have deprived another of God's children from being healed. That is a frightening thought.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How we treat death reflects on how we treat life.

November 11, 2007
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

Our readings this morning are more than a bit tough. We have our reading from the book of Second Maccabees and Maccabees only comes around once every three years on Sunday and it is a doozy! We have a very gruesome reading and this portion of Scripture has been cut down. The full text is very graphic. So why is it in our Sunday lectionary? I believe this is an important piece of Scripture because it gives us an example of how we treat death and for that matter life.

We have these sons along with their mother and they are being subjected to religious violence. The Greeks were forcing the Jews to practice the Greek religion and to defile their faith in the one true God. Many Jews would not stand for that and they would eventually lead a revolt that would topple the Greeks. So we have this group of Jews being threatened with death while they are being tortured and it is all because they will not turn their backs on God. These individuals believe that their lives are less important if they deny God in order to live.

This causes me to ponder how we view death. Life is a rather cheap thing for many. All we have to do is take a look at how we so casually view death. We seem to be more calloused by the day when it comes to the horrors we human beings can inflict upon one another. Even comedians have noted how we humans seem to not really even budge emotionally when it comes to death unless it is an event that is extremely gruesome. Most times we will just click past the latest news of horror without even skipping a beat. Why?

I notice that I am receiving more and more frantic phone calls from people who have a loved one who is five minutes away from death and they expect me to be there even though I may be at least 30 minutes away. More frequently, the person in question has been very ill for a very long time yet haven't been to church in ages and have never called to see a priest except right at the very end. I am not passing judgment. I am merely presenting fact. Why do we seem to think that we can put things off until our death-bed and THEN we want to get right with God? Wouldn't we be valuing our life more if we took stock now instead of waiting until we are in a panic because we put things off and now we are terrified of death? If death is unimportant until we are at death's door then won't we treat life with as much disrespect?

Our Gospel reading has the Saducees being rather flippant about death. The Saducees were a group who didn't believe in life-after-death. These folk believed that what you got in this life was as good as it gets. Although they weren't so crass as many of us today, we might translate this into an "eat, drink, and be merry" attitude where we try to get as much out of life and give little to no thought about God's Kingdom.

The Saducees that come to Jesus toss out a rather goofy question and they know it is goofy because they are making fun of Jesus. They give Jesus the scenario of Moses' direction of how a woman who loses her husband and is childless is to be treated. Moses had the brothers of the deceased marry the widow. Not good for her! Anyone who says the Bible should be taken 100% literally needs to start queuing up to marry their brother's widow! Okay, that was snarky of me. Sorry.

So the Saducess want Jesus to give an equally ridiculous answer to their ridiculous question. These Saducees see death as trivial and so they ask a trivial question. But Jesus gives a very serious answer. Jesus reminds them that the very man they quote about the marriage deal is also the man who talked about life after death. Jesus reminds them they can't have it both ways.

How we live is a sure sign of how we view death. If we live a life in opposition to the Gospel then we must be saying that life after death isn't a concern. Well, that works until we face death and then we go into panic mode and we scramble to get our life straight with God. That is a shame really. We can have so much in this life if we follow the Gospel. I am not talking material things or power. I mean a life of spiritual blessings and peace. Imagine living a life that is modeled on Jesus instead of the latest celebrity. Imagine living a life of compassion, mercy, charity and grace. Imagine what we can experience with the Lord if we just open ourselves to his glory! If we do that, then we don't have to go into panic mode when our number is called and we are facing death. We can enter death with peace and comfort knowing that Jesus is waiting to welcome us home.

Monday, November 5, 2007

So we think we are powerful?

November 4, 2007
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Wisdom 11:22-12:2
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

Power. Countless numbers of people want it, countless numbers of people will do whatever it takes to get it and countless numbers of people will misuse it. Power is the subject of entertainment and is the source of a great number of crimes. We human beings think we are so powerful. Yet what do we lift up as power? Money, land, bombs, guns, politics, etc. We think these things are powerful and we don't stop to think that all these things can be taken away in an instant.

Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom shows us what true power is and it isn't with us but God. We read in Wisdom: "Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth." That's power! To God, the universe is no more than a grain of sand or a drop of dew. Yet we humans like to think that because we can push a button and all manner of things happen, good and bad, that we are powerful. A bit arrogant on our part to say the least.

Not long ago I was saying Mass at a parish out of town and afterwards I was approached by someone who was furious over something that had happened recently. A former parishioner who hadn't darkened the doors in decades had died and was buried from the parish. This man had been, to put it kindly, a bad seed. He was rather notorious in that area. Apparently, on his death bed, he took stock of his life and realized his sinfulness and called for the priest and made his confession and made peace with God. The person who was angry and venting to me, was furious over the fact that God forgave this man and the priest had enabled this sinner to be saved! Wow! Mad at God because God showed mercy! That experience has been bouncing around in my head especially with today's readings. God is power. God is the source of all that is good in the world. If the universe is but a grain of sand to God, then where do we get off thinking that we are the powerful ones?

Our Gospel text today is another example of God's great power. Jesus is walking through Jericho and he comes across Zacchaeus. Now Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Roman Empire. This meant he was a licensed extortionist and he was free to charge what he wanted as long as the Empire got what it required. Zacchaeus was a hated man and was a sinner in the eyes of the religious folk. I would dare say the religious folk were salivating at the thought of Jesus condemning Zacchaeus and making a public display of him. So. What does Jesus do? He forgives him and then goes to stay with him at his house. How dare he! What's up with this? How can Jesus be so forgiving? Does Jesus not care about sin? Does Jesus condone what Zacchaeus has been doing? Of course not! To think otherwise is silly at best. Jesus forgives because he is doing the will of the Father and that will is that all people be saved.

God's power is in his mercy and not condemnation. God's power is his willingness to save rather than destroy. It doesn't take much power to destroy. It takes power to forgive, console, reconcile, and give life. God's great gift of forgiveness and life is not a sign that he is weak and condones sin but rather it is the sign of his absolute power and love! God's love is power!

So what happens after Jesus forgives Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus gives half of his wealth to care for the poor and then goes even further. Zacchaeus goes forth and restores to those he has wronged not just the amount he stole from them but repays four times over! Zacchaeus' experience of God's great power brings life not only to him but brings comfort and support to countless numbers of people. What would have happened if Jesus would have followed the will of the religious folk and condemned instead of granting forgiveness? There would have been more misery and theft and Zacchaeus would have been lost. God's great power of mercy transformed the lives of countless numbers of people that day. Now that's power!

So back to that man who was buried from the parish I was visiting. God exercised his power and the man was forgiven. God's power rescued this man and redeemed him, reconciled him and restored him. The person who was furious over this, I believe, was rejecting God's power and as a result was missing out on a miracle. The one who was angry was in a place where God's great gifts of joy could not be received due to the harboring of resentment, selfishness, and a refusal to acknowledge that God is power and not us humans. We are the creation not the Creator.

If we refuse to accept God's power, if we think that God should do our will, then we are the ones who are showing our absolute weakness. We are invited to share in God's power of life. What a shame if we miss out on God's power of life all because we can't let go of our own selfish and wrong ideas about power.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Happy Dia de los Muertos, y'all!

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
(All Souls)
November 2, 2007
Mass Readings:
Wisdom 3:1-9
Romans 6:3-9
John 6:37-40

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints and now we celebrate All Souls. I love these two days. I always take time on these days to reflect on the fact that death is not the end and to remember and celebrate the lives of my family and friends who have already died in the peace of Christ. I miss them no matter how long it has been since they died but I also celebrate that they are alive and well in God's Kingdom!

I have been fascinated for years with the Mexican celebration known as Dia de los Muertos. The first time I became aware of this celebration I was a bit confused by the garish costumes, skulls made out of sugar, and eating meals in the cemeteries where loved ones are buried, etc. Then it hit me, why be afraid of the dead? Why shouldn't I go to the cemetery and reflect and remember my family and friends who have died? It is now something I look forward to every year.

This morning's Mass is in memory of all our faithful departed. We call to mind all of those who have died in the peace of Christ and are now rejoicing in the Lord's presence! How beautiful is that! We have every reason to dress brightly and laugh and celebrate, to feast and rejoice! Death is not the end but the beginning! it is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to prepare a place for us in his Father's Kingdom! For those who believe, life does not end but merely changes.

We grieve and mourn the loss of our family and friends. Every year I find myself sad when I think about how I cannot call-up my friend Liz or listen to one of my grandfather's stories. I miss all of my family and friends who have died. Yet at the same time I am happy for them because they have received the perfection of love in God's great gift of salvation! We are baptized into Jesus' death and also his resurrection! We die physically but live eternally in spirit in God's presence. Amen!

This morning I prayed the Office for the Dead and reflected on how blessed I am because of all the people who have touched my life. Those who have died have left their mark upon me and they continue to do so because I know that they are still with me in spirit and are praying for me in Heaven. I am sad and happy today at the same time.

Let us all take time today to remember and mourn, give thanks and celebrate all of our faithful departed. Let us acknowledge our grief but take time to give thanks and be happy for our memories and for the future when we will all be reunited. Tonight I will be going to a celebration of Dia de los Muertos and I am going to eat a few of those sugar skulls and maybe even join in a dance or two. I want to remember with joy the times I had with my family and friends before they died. I want to give air and light to my grief so that I don't ever lose hope. I want to look forward with longing to the time when I will be reunited with all those who have gone before me.

I wish to you all a very life giving All Souls Day. Let us remember and honor, grieve and rejoice, cry and laugh as we honor all of our beloved dead.

Thanks Liz!

Solemnity of All Saints
School Mass at St. Andrew Academy
November 1, 2007
Mass Readings:
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

What did we celebrate last night? Halloween! I sat on my front stoop and gave out candy to a lot of ghouls and goblins and a few zombies to boot! Last night we had fun with the ghoulish, ghastly and ghostly. It was all just for fun and especially chocolate! I over estimated and now I have a lot of candy bars left over. Or did I do that on purpose?

Today we celebrate a very important day in the Church. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We celebrate the reality that those who die in God's grace are received into his Heavenly Kingdom to live forever and worship God. We celebrate the fact that for us to die does not mean the end. It means that we live forever in God's presence in Heaven. It also means that we join what the Apostle Paul called the "Great Cloud of Witnesses" in Heaven. When we die, we meet up again with all our family and friends who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and we get to be together again. However, this time we get to be together in eternal life and be perfectly happy!

The vestments I am wearing this morning were made for my very first Mass after I was ordained seven years ago. This stole and chasuble were made by my best friend Liz. Liz died a few years ago and every time I wear this, I am reminded of how much she loves me and how much I love her. I don't say that in the past tense because Liz and I are still connected. This is what we celebrate today, that even though we may die physically, we do not die spiritually. When we we get to Heaven, we aren't cut off from one another. Those who go before us into Heaven become a source of strength for us and our loved ones pray for us continually and we continue to pray for them.

We often times think that when someone dies that we are finished with knowing them. That's not true. When we believe in Jesus and we die, we go to Heaven where we become a member of the "Great Cloud of Witnesses" who intercede on the behalf of those who are still alive on earth. When we go to Heaven, we have work to do. We celebrate in God's presence and we worship God in perfect praise and we also intercede for those who are still alive. I know for a fact that my friend Liz is praying for me! Liz is also probably shaking her head and laughing when I do something really silly. It makes me feel good and safe to know that she is on my side and praying for me to God. I need all the help I can get.

Today we celebrate the glory of God's gift of salvation and the share in God's Kingdom that each of us receive. There is nothing ghoulish or ghastly about All Saints Day. Today we celebrate all that is beautiful and holy, eternal and perfect. For those who believe in Jesus, life does not end, it changes when we die but it doesn't end.

Let us give thanks to God this morning as we celebrate with all the Saints in Heaven. They are a part of us and we are a part of them and death does not change that. Thank God and Amen!