Thursday, October 23, 2008

How 'bout a bit of anxiety?

October 19, 2008
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Isaiah 45:1,4-6
I Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Matthew 22:15-21

To say that society is anxious right now would be a gross understatement. The economy, politics, division amongst Christians, you can fill in the blank. I find that so many Christians are entirely too wrapped up in the world. Well, I can only speak for myself and I have come to see that I am too invested in the processes of the world and I am filled with anxiety. I hate it when I do that!

I noticed the other day that every time a political ad or a news report on the economy comes on that I have a tightness in my chest and I get unsettled, greatly unsettled. As I was sitting in my quarters and watching the news I began to realize that I am so overly invested in the world that I have become more concerned with what goes on in the world and less concerned with the "spirit of the world." As a priest, I should be more involved with proclaiming the Good News than worrying about this or that politician or whether my 401K is tanking.

Now don't hear me wrong. The economy and politics are important. The truth is that God is more important than anything! Jesus in our gospel text this morning is faced with a test. The Pharisees and the Scribes were afraid of Jesus. Afraid not because they believed he was the Son of God but that he was a rebel who would bring the wrath of the Roman Empire down on their heads. They lived in fear and anxiety of the world.

So in their attempt to get Jesus arrested, they concocted a trap. They believed that Jesus would take the bait and say something against the Roman government and be arrested and removed from their midst. So, give Jesus a coin and get him to say that paying tax to Caesar was wrong and let the Romans take care of this trouble maker. Well, Jesus did what he always did and turned the trap back on the accusers. Given a coin, Jesus declares that since Caesar's image was on the coin, give it back to him. You can almost imagine the blank stares on the faces of his accusers. Money doesn't come from God so don't try and use money against God. I see this as Jesus' way of saying that we should not be so concerned with the world that we start confusing the actions of governments or systems with God. Stop trying to use the world as a means of justifying or denying what people of faith should do.

That may sound a bit convoluted so let me explain. Recently I sat with a Palestinian pastor in Israel who said something that still lingers with me. He said: "If you put your trust in the state, you will always be disappointed." We have become so dependent on governments that we now expect politicians to do God's work for us! Huh!? This pastor was working for peace and justice and had given up on politicians and was doing what Jesus calls us to do which is to get busy, do the Father's will and proclaim the Good News of salvation through Jesus! The systems of the world will not do the work because that isn't the way it is suppose to work. Now I am not saying that politics and other worldly responsibilities are not important because they most certainly are. What I am trying to say is that we are the Body of Christ. We are the one's who are to be busy about our Heavenly Father's work and not look to some elected official to do it for us. We as believers of the Risen Lord are to practice what we preach and be the agents of change in the world. To put our trust in people or systems in which God is not the sole focus is wrong. Washington D.C. and Wall Street are not the god we are called to worship.

As we become so focused on the world we are battered by fear and anxiety because we have placed our trust in that which is temporary and will always fail or disappoint. Only God is eternal and only God can give life and certainty. That doesn't mean we are not to be concerned with the world. We are to be involved but not dependant on the world. Our dependence is upon God' love and mercy.

If we want a world that is in the image of the Risen Lord then we are to be the agents of change. Legislation will not bring about God's Kingdom on earth. It is only through the faithfulness of the Body of Christ, working and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ without ceasing and with compassion, civility and courage that we will see the change this broken and anxious world needs.

The Roman Empire would not last forever. No government or country is eternal. Only the Kingdom of God is eternal and only God can give life and hope. Only through our obedience to Christ and living a life that is authentic and faithful to the Good News will we see true change. The state will not bring that change. The Good News cannot be legislated. No politician or investment bank can bring security of spirit. Only faithfulness and authentic living in the name of Jesus will bring what we need.

Now, all that said, we should not be isolated from the world. We, as the Body of Christ must be willing to proclaim the Lord with compassion, civility and courage. We are to protest when needed, get involved with just legislation and proclaim a culture of life and love in Christ. We Catholic Christians are called to be a faithful witness to God's goodness and be the very image of Christ to the world. It is our responsibility to build a world founded on God's love and justice. It is our faith that propels us to work in the name of the Good News and be authentic and strive to do the Lord's will and not our own. The problem comes when we forget the Lord and start seeing politics or investments as the way to fulfillment. If we do that, then we are sentenced to a life of anxiety and violence, division and failure.

I may still be anxious and worried at times but I cannot lose sight of why I exist in the first place. All of us are created in God's image. Every single person on this planet is a child of God. Yes, even those we call our enemies. God is the only source of life. All people should hear the Good News and be given the chance to share in the abundant life of Christ and this will not be done through politics or money. It will only be realized when we take our baptismal call seriously and get busy and do the work of Christ wholly and solely in His holy and sacred name. Then, and only then, will healing, glorious, trans formative change come to be.

We will be anxious, we will be afraid but the Lord promises that if we are faithful to him, then and only then will we never be disappointed.

God bless you and keep you. May you always find peace, hope and above all fullness of life that comes only from knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Check this out.

For all who are interested in the current dialogue on Scripture, check out the web site for the 2008 Synod of Bishops.

There are a great number of resources available.

Fr. Jeff

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hope is what we need.

Three posts in one day!? I am home working at my desk in the rectory due to having messed my back up. As a result I am getting a lot of catch-up work done. I am also using the chance to get back to blogging.

I marvel at Rocco Palmo over at Whispers in the Loggia. If you haven't yet, do yourself a great favor and read his blog at: His blog is the first thing I check when I fire up the iMac each morning. He put a post up today and set a quote from Blessed John XXIII. I was intrigued given that I had posted an earlier bit from our late Holy Father today. Blessed John XXIII is one of my heroes. The quote Rocco posted comes from Bl John XXIII's opening address of the Second Vatican Council. His words from October 11, 1962 are words I believe we all need to hear every day. I know I do! It is easy to succumb to the voices of gloom and doom if we lose our perspective. Holy Mother Church is alive and well because she rests in the arms of our Lord!

"...greatly to our sorrow we sometimes have to listen to those who, although consumed with zeal, do not have very much judgment or balance. To them the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruination. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages and they go on as though they had learned nothing from history -- and yet history is the great teacher of life.

"They behave as though the first five centuries saw a complete vindication of the Christian idea and the Christian cause, and as though religious liberty was never put in jeopardy in the past. We feel bound to disagree with these prophets of misfortune who are forever forecasting calamity -- as though the end of the world is imminent. Our task is not merely to hoard this precious treasure of doctrine, as though obsessed with the past, but to give ourselves eagerly and without fear to the task that this present age demands of us -- and in doing so we will be faithful to what the Church has done in the past 20 centuries."
Blessed John XXIII

We can never give up hope! As Pope Benedict XVI's second encyclical declares, we are saved in hope. Jesus Christ is our hope and promise! It is through our relationship with Jesus that all is well even when the world is in turmoil. This is not the worst the world has ever been and this is not the worst era the Church has ever experienced. I would dare say that the Christians who got fed to the lions at Rome would say we have it pretty good in comparison. We cannot let ourselves wallow. We are God's children! What could be greater than that!? Our goal is to be faithful to Jesus' Good News and be agents of peace and charity in the world.

Let us never give up hope and let us strive to always be faithful disciples.

P.S. Thanks Rocco.

the tumble continues...

I'm sitting at my desk and I have a browser window tuned to Wall Street. After my heart skipped a few beats I was reminded of a brief writing that always brings me joy and peace. I take this selection from a book I use a great deal; Bread of Life: Prayers for Eucharistic Adoration.

Blessed Pope John XXIII

Every believer must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying leaven amidst his or her fellow human beings; and every believer will be this all the more perfectly the more closely he or she lives in communion with God.

Pray without ceasing my friends. Pray for a solid faith and a strong spirit. And always pray that we stay faithful to the Lord's call to discipleship.

Angels divided.

October 10, 2008
Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Mass Readings:
Galatians 3:7-14
Luke 11:15-26(27-28)

As a kid I was always a bit terrified of passages where Jesus would talk about demons. The thought of such things scurrying about the place was very unsettling. Today's Gospel text was one of those texts that troubled me. My childhood understanding saw dark ominous beings but today I view this text in a much more encouraging way.
We can read this text as one where Jesus is merely giving a lesson on demonology or we can see how we might just fit the place of those in the crowd who condemned Jesus' actions. How is it we might do that today?

Jesus responds to someone referring to him as an agent of Beelzebul, a Philistine god whose name later became used for Lucifer, aka. Satan. They weren't real sure that they could trust Jesus so they labeled him a demonic force. Jesus' response is brilliant. He launches into the deep discourse on how a house divided cannot stand. For a house divided, engaged in internal warfare can only meet with destruction. So
how could a demon be fighting against a demon? It just couldn't be because it would be assured destruction.

Jesus then uses a phrase that traces back to the Book of Exodus. The "finger of God" refers to Pharaohs magicians recognizing that God's true power was at work in Moses. Jesus is explaining that his actions are from his Father and that there is no division. All that Jesus does is in God's name and is the true expression of God's power and love at work.

I was reflecting on this passage in light of an event I witnessed a couple of weeks ago. Tempers are rising with the economic meltdown and upcoming elections. People are becoming further divided and mean. I was in a store recently where an individual began yelling at another shopper who had a button that was for the candidate she did not like. Apparently this person felt it was his right to verbally harass the other shopper. Many of us were stunned at the venom that came out. After things settled down and we had all checked out, I noticed this individual and the car he was driving. Right on the bumper was a "WWJD" bumper sticker. I was rooted to the spot. I asked myself, what would Jesus do? The answer I received back was that Jesus does anything but what we do. We know what Jesus would do but we seem unwilling at times to do it.

A house divided? If the Church is divided then it will not stand! How can a self professing Christian spew words of hatred and violence and then claim to be a messenger of God's love and peace? I then reflected on my own actions and began to ponder how I can at times be divided. If I let venom and anger seep into me and I express that then I become a member of a divided spiritual household. If we as Christians proclaim God's love in one breath and then turn and breathe words of hatred, violence and sin then we have already divided, separated ourselves from God's Kingdom and our house, our Church will not stand.

Jesus' words in today's Gospel have been lingering with me for the past couple of days. As things become more tense in our world, country, neighborhoods and houses we run the risk of becoming a source of division when what is needed is Jesus' message of love, peace and salvation to be proclaimed with joy. There is enough hatred in this world to destroy it many times over. As the Body of Christ we have the responsibility and privilege to be a source of unity. We have the honor to create peace instead of war. We have the joy of reaching out to those we may not agree with and be the voice of Jesus to them. We are the Body of Christ. Anything we do that promotes despair, anger, violence or hatred is a sign that we have separated ourselves from Jesus and we have divided our house, the Church.

When we have successfully divided God's House of Prayer, we allow the infestation to begin. We create demons out of self. I'm not talking about the type of demons we see on TV shows or in movies. I am talking about turning our lives into something that is displeasing to Jesus and assures that God will seek out someone else to share in His ministry. When that happens all we have left is our own desire and self seeking egos and we have then fully stripped Jesus out of our lives. Jesus weeps.

I have included the final verses of 27 and 28. Why? Well Jesus ends this scene with a very powerful word. Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" What good news! It is so simple but we insist on making it hard. If we profess to be a disciple then we better be one. If we have received God's great gift of salvation, then we better live as one who is saved. If we profess that God is love, then we better be loving. You get the picture.

God is love. God is our Lord. God sent his only Son so that we may live. God has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us. So many gifts! We have the best possible life in Jesus Christ so why do we seek out the darkness instead of the light? Life is far too short to waste it with fighting and division. What a waste to be given the fullness of life only to seek the despair of division which leads to spiritual death. Politics and the economy are not our god. Our honor is to worship the True God and transform the world by being faithful to His Law of Love.

God bless you all and be careful out there. Always remember that Jesus loves you and wants us to live as God's blessed children.