Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A tragic love story.

March 20, 2008
Holy Thursday
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

I am a man of many flaws and faults. One of those faults has become painfully clear to me because of our Gospel text tonight. I am terribly cynical and I mask that cynicism with an unhealthy dose of sarcasm from time to time. I do not like this aspect of myself. My cynicism causes me a great deal of problems. One of them is a tendency to give up on people who have let me down. I am also aware of how my cynicism can cause me to not take chances because I fear being disappointed.

So here we are at the Mass of the Lord's Supper where we celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist and Jesus' great example of service. This is a Gospel text that I am very familiar with. I pretty much now John's account by heart. So last night I was just perusing it again and I had an experience that shook me to my core. I have spent so much time viewing Judas as the "Benedict Arnold" of the scene that I have completely missed the tragic love story that is so transparent.

Jesus is painfully aware of Judas' imminent betrayal and all of the horror that will come to pass. I can imagine that most of us would have called Judas on the carpet and revealed him for the traitor he is. That, however, is not what Jesus does. Jesus does not give up on Judas even though he knows what is in Judas' heart. Jesus lovingly washes Judas' feet and shows him that he is loved. That image has produced more than a few tears from me over the past 24 hours. I never saw it before. John's account is brand new to me tonight.

It is a tale of a tragic love but also a glorious and victorious love! At the Last Supper, Jesus declares in word and deed that he never gives up on us. Jesus gives us his body and blood as salvation for the world, a life of hope and joy! Jesus' washing of Judas' feet is the assurance that he never gives up on us! We may choose to walk away from Jesus but he continues to follow along side of us. We may ignore him but he pays close attention to us regardless. We may pretend that we do not know him but he will never deny us. This to me is the message of the Last Supper.

We live in fearful times and it is easy to surrender to cynicism and anger. It is easy to give up on people and institutions and especially the Church. All of us are imperfect and flawed but also gloriously made in the image of God. We are God's children and he sent his only begotten son so that we may know what it truly means to live.

Because we are God's children, we are connected by a bond that cannot be broken. We are one people. I believe that Jesus' washing of Judas' feet is a call to each of us not to give up. To not give up on God and not to give up on one another. As we approach the altar tonight, we stand in the presence of Jesus. As we receive his body and blood we are transformed into his likeness. As we leave this church filled with God's Holy Spirit, we are called to be God's love and unfailing devotion to one another. I firmly believe that in these fearful times, it is our love for one another that will be our life boat. I believe that if we do not give up on one another, we will stand strong and have no need to be afraid. If we truly live as God's children, if we truly live as Jesus' disciples and if we truly live as a people sustained by the Holy Spirit, then we will not be afraid. I also believe that if we live as a people redeemed by the unfailing love of Jesus, then we will never feel alone because we will not abandon one another just as Jesus never abandons us.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The walking dead.

March 9, 2008
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Mass Readings:
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Rom 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are the times I spent with my cousin Brian. At least once a month we would have a sleep over. I always looked forward to these because it meant I got to stay up way too late, eat too much junk food, and best of all, watch TV as much as I wanted! Brilliant.

Every Friday and Saturday night, two TV stations always showed those great, cheesy horror movies from the 50's and early 60's. It was perfect! We would watch them and then the next night after we were home in our own beds, the nightmares hit much to my mom's displeasure. My favorite genre was the zombie movies and the cheesier the better. Although it wasn't a zombie, I was fascinated by Frankenstein. I remember pulling the covers over my head while watching that chilling version from the 1930's.
Here were movies where these "people" were completely devoid of everything that made them alive but they kept on going. They had no love, joy, or hope.

Today's readings brought those movies to mind. I found myself wondering how in many ways I am times a member of the "walking dead".

What I want us to look at is how do we as Christians live like Christians. To be a disciple of Jesus is to possess the joy of salvation. To be redeemed is to be one who lives a life of love, joy, hope and peace. To quote a famous comedian, "Only Christians with enough money to make Solomon blush can sing an Alleluia and make it sound like a funeral dirge"! Do we live lives that show the joy of being saved? Or do we walk around like one who is dead inside and cannot express the joy that comes from knowing the Lord? I find myself asking this question today of how do I express a life that is filled with the Lord's love and life?

The story of Lazarus always fascinated me as a kid. The idea of Jesus bringing him back to life was just the seed my fertile 10 year old imagination needed to spur a hundred questions for my Sunday School teachers. I am sure they were glad to see me eventually go to the junior high group. It has been in the past few years that I have begun to see that the miracle wasn't limited to Lazarus. The other side of this miracle is what Jesus does for the people who had come to grieve with Mary and Martha. John says that they came to believe in Jesus as Lord! I think I tend to get so caught up in the dead Lazarus being brought back physically to life that I miss the fact that Jesus brought to life the spirit of those who had gathered. Two very different resurrections in this Gospel text. One miracle brings both body and spirit to life.

The spiritual resurrection is where I want to focus today. Paul says in Romans;
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Our spirit is what Jesus reaches out to revive today. To know Jesus is to have life. To know Jesus is to have joy, hope and peace. To know Jesus is to not fear the death of the body because we know that Jesus will resurrect us and bring us to eternal life. To know Jesus is to be free of the bondage of self and live in a way that shows that we are truly alive because of Easter! Jesus' work on the cross is what truly gives us life! We do not have to be afraid in this world. We have the Lord who intervenes for us with the Father and sends the Spirit to console and give us courage and peace.

So why do so many of us walk around like we are dead inside? I believe that Paul is correct. We are susceptible to the burdens of the world and when we give into them, we lose the joy and life that God so desperately wants us to cherish.

Ezekiel addressed a people who had lost all hope and were desperate for life. I find his words to be powerful and life changing.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.

Ezekiel isn't talking about the body but rather the spirit. I fear that so much of the time, many focus on life after death and miss the fact that God wants us to live now too! The Lord is opening the graves of our heart and spirit so that we can live and know joy, hope and peace NOW! The Lord wants us to be happy and alive today!

A dual resurrection of spirit and body is what Jesus offers to us today. We don't have to live a life of fear and sadness. We are the body of Christ and are one in spirit. Jesus gives us life and calls us to be his hands and feet and to be life to one another. God's goodness is so great that it can never be extinguished. God's love is never ending. There is so much to be happy about!

Life on earth is too short and precious to be lost to hopelessness or fear. Jesus gives us life and gives it abundantly. To walk around dead inside is a terrible thing when Jesus is calling to us to live. This Easter let us sing an Alleluia the way it was meant to be sung with life and joy!

My goal for today? To not be mistaken for a "spiritual zombie". I want to reflect the love of Jesus and help others to know the joy of life!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can't see the forest for the trees.

March 2, 2008
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Mass Readings:
1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

I remember being told by a teacher once that I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I was trying to figure a math problem and I was failing miserably. My teacher was trying to tell me that I was making it too hard. I was so caught up in trying to force the equation to do what I wanted it to do that I wasn't letting the equation do its job. I wasn't letting the equation show me what it needed for me to do. That has stuck with me. The answer was staring me right in the face but I was working so hard at trying to see it that I missed it completely. There stood the forest but I missed it because I was staring at a clump of trees!

I find the phrase my teacher gave me in today's readings. Samuel is sent by God to find the future king of Israel. King Saul was a pretty vicious man and God was going to raise up a new king. So Samuel follows God's direction and goes to select God's anointed one. However, Samuel is letting his eyes be the deciding factor. In many ways we are like Samuel in that we think that if it looks good it must be so. God corrects Samuel with these words:

But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”

Samuel went out looking for a forest but couldn't get past all of the trees. God needed Samuel to be open to His Spirit and set aside his personal agenda and likes and dislikes. Samuel couldn't let his eyes make the decision. Just because Samuel thought one of Jesse's sons looked the part didn't mean he was the right man for the job. Samuel had to follow his heart as it was influenced by God. Samuel had to open his ears to hear God's voice. In other words, Samuel had to let God be in control. Samuel had to let God reveal to him what it was that God could see. What Samuel got was what he least expected. Samuel was presented with what we might call "the runt of the litter". David was a kid and not as impressive looking as his brothers. Samuel would have looked right past him if it weren't for his being open to see what God can see.

Our gospel text has Jesus doing what he always did, healing some poor person and then being railed at by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus heals a man who has been blind from birth. It is a very intimate scene with Jesus actually using his spit to make clay to rub on the man's eyes. It is an earthy and raw scene. Today we cringe at the unsanitary nature of the healing but Jesus actually gave of himself to heal this man.

The man is healed and of course it ticks off the religious leaders! Go figure. A blind person receives sight and all they can do is gripe and complain! On top of that they try to negate this miracle by declaring Jesus is a sinner. Talk about the pot calling the kettle. The pharisees are all in a tizzy because Jesus did all of this on the Sabbath. Jesus performed "work" and this was of course forbidden on the Sabbath. Amazing how they couldn't see the good because they were so caught up in legalism. There's that whole forest for the trees business again.

What I love is the former blind man's response to the Pharisees:

“This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything.”
They answered and said to him,
“You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out.

This guy had guts! He stands up the Pharisees and actually gives them the crowbar they needed to pry open their eyes! The problem? They chose to remain blind. The Pharisees chose to miss the forest for the trees.

I think Paul sums everything up nicely in our reading from Ephesians:

"Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth."

To know Jesus is to live. Once the light has been turned on we can see what God wants us to see. To switch off the light and wander aimlessly in the dark is a horrible loss. Once we have been given sight, it is sad to chose to be blind. Now is the time for us to open our eyes, leave the dark behind us and see all the goodness of God!

A tree is beautiful and a forest even more so. Lets try to see it all.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A personal note...


I have received a few questions ever since I first started this blog and I want to try and answer a few of them. Louisville is being pounded by a winter storm so I figured, coffee in hand, no where to go, answer a few questions.

I am currently serving in two parishes that are part of a larger five parish merger. Lots of work to be done to say the least. Like most parts of the country, demographics are constantly in a state of flux. People move about frequently and so the make-up of parishes are always shifting. Here in the Archdiocese of Louisville we have areas where we can't build parishes big enough to handle the growth and areas where we have parishes almost sitting on top of each other yet the Catholic population has moved out to other parts of the city and as a result a number of parishes are struggling. As a result, mergers are happening more frequently than in the past. A common answer I give when people ask me why there are mergers is that parishes need three things to keep going:

1) Every parish needs to raise up vocations to the priesthood in their parish! And I don't mean one vocation to the priesthood every fifty to sixty years! It needs to be more like every six to ten years. No longer do we have the luxury of thinking "someone else's son" will go into the priesthood. 2) Every member who is able needs to be active in his or her parish. The old days of 10% of the people doing 90% of the work is at an end. Lets face it, many, many parishioners are just flat tired from volunteering themselves half to death. 3) Tithing is crucial. The days of expecting "someone else" to foot the bill is over.

Priests and their parishioners need to work together on raising up vocations. There is more than enough work to be done and we must work together. Every priest along with his parishioners has to have a vision for their parish. Communities don't just happen. It takes work.

Without these three things, there is no other option but to have mergers.

The question that I fear? How old am I! Alas, I am 40 years old. And, I haven't posted a picture because I don't want to scare anyone away. I think I am kidding.

Why are my posts so late at times or non existent? I get so busy that I get behind and end up either posting late or not at all. A goal for 2008 is to really get serious with this site and use it as a tool to help with the parish merger I am a part of.

Thanks for taking the time to write in. I really appreciate your interest and I hope that my homily posts are helpful in some small way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hope is a necessity.

February 24, 2008
Third Sunday of Lent
Mass Readings:
Exodus 17:3-7
Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

"And hope does not disappoint..."

A while back I had lunch with a former colleague from my days when I worked as a hospice chaplain. Jim is a Baptist minister and I think one of the most spiritual people I know. Jim possesses both a great brain and huge heart and is one person who can put me at peace as soon as he opens his mouth. I miss working with him. Anyhow, Jim and I were talking about our daily lives and we were, of course, talking about the challenges and frustrations we each face regularly.

As we continued to talk, we began discussing how many people who call themselves Christian seem to be the angriest and most judgmental people around. We especially talked about some of the preachers who make their way to TV and radio. So many sermons are aimed at demoralizing and shaming people. Jim looked at me and asked a question that still haunts me; "Have you seen anything lately that would make someone want to become a Christian?" Jim always has a way of asking a question that makes you stop and think about your relationship with God. I am very grateful that he asked that question.

What do we as Christians say and do everyday that will inspire and give hope to Christians and non-Christians alike? Do we say and do things that would make non-Christians want to know more about Jesus?

In Paul's letter to the Romans, he shows that to be a Christian is to be filled with hope. To know the Lord is to be filled with the hope that flows from the Holy Spirit. We are connected to the Father through the salvation given to us through Jesus and we in turn are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the messengers of God's love and peace. So why are so many Christians just down right mean and nasty to other people who, like them, are God's children? Where is the peace, joy, hope, and love that comes from being saved?

Today's reading from John's Gospel is powerful. Jesus is tired and thirsty from traveling and he sits at the well. A Samaritan woman comes to the well. Now the Samaritans were outcasts and the victims of extreme prejudice and bigotry. Being female and a Samaritan would have meant for her being not only persecuted for being a Samaritan but also the burden of chauvinism that was extreme in the 1st Century. What Jesus does is earth shaking.

The Samaritan woman was probably afraid to approach Jesus but she does so anyway. Jesus strikes up a conversation with her. Now that may not seem like a big deal but it was revolutionary! Jesus treats this woman who has been treated as an outcast and an inferior as an equal! Jesus uses this opportunity to show the disciples that the old way of thinking and behaving is over! Thank God!

The interesting thing is that the disciples ignored what Jesus was doing. Why? Were they offended by what Jesus was doing? Did they just not want to have anything to do with what Jesus was doing? Or, did the disciples just not care about this woman? No matter what the reason, they missed a great opportunity. As the text continues, we see that Jesus seems to be doing all of the work. The disciples seem to only be interested in getting Jesus to eat instead of learning from Jesus' example. I wonder why.

I believe the point today is that when we become a disciple of the Lord we are obligated to set aside our own prejudices, dislikes, personal agendas, and most of all, stop trying to force others to conform to our image of what we think they should be and let them conform to what God wants them to be. Our responsibility is to proclaim the Good News, to live lives that are formed by God and not our own agendas, and to be a beacon of hope for all we meet. If we are so full of anger, prejudice, judgment, and cynicism then how can we expect anyone to want to become a Christian? Or for that matter remain a Christian!

Today's readings call us to embrace the joy, peace, hope, and love of Jesus! It is available to everyone and all we have to do is ask and receive! All Jesus wants to do is make us one with Him and journey with us as we go forth and share His good news. If we ask, we can receive. Receiving requires us to let go of all the things that get in the way of our relationship with God and one another. We cannot know the joy and hope that comes from salvation if we hold on to the burdens of negativity, cynicism, judgmentalism, etc. All those things do is weigh us down and make us miserable.

Lent is a season that calls us to let go of those terrible burdens. Today we have the opportunity to accept Jesus' invitation to be filled with joy and hope and be His disciples! A great gift indeed! Let us embrace Jesus' call to happiness so that we never have to ask the question again of whether or not we have seen or heard anything that would make us want to or remain a Christian. Instead, let our answer be a resounding YES! Let our lives be a shining example of why it is GOOD to be a disciple of the Lord so that others may know the peace, love, joy and hope that we have been so grateful to receive.