Sunday, May 13, 2018

Don't Just Stand There...

Easter Ascension Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

So…the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven…but they went forth and preached everywhere.  They went forth and preached everywhere.  Can that be said of us?  A hundred years from now when someone is writing the Acts of the Disciples of Ss. Peter & Paul Church what will they say? 

They’ll say we depart – because that happens.  Without fail.  Each week we are sent – just like Jesus sent the apostles when He ascended into heaven.  We use almost the same words.  Jesus said, “Go and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  We say, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  So maybe the Acts of the Disciples of Ss. Peter & Paul Church will start with something like this:  The disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ gathered together in Danville and Boyle County since 1798 – and each time they gathered to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass, they were sent just as the Lord Jesus had sent his disciples.  With great joy, they stood and sung songs and departed.  And…  And…what comes next?  When they tell our story what will they say?

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I love how Sacred Scripture captures our human nature that hasn’t changed much in the last 2,000 years.  There they were, all gathered there – like we’re gathered here.  In the last several weeks they’d been shaken to the core.  Every one of them had in one way or another given themselves completely to the Lord Jesus – coming to believe that He was, indeed, the Messiah of God, the Christ – the Anointed One – the one who came into the world to redeem us, to restore us to relationship with God.  And then they’d watched as that all seemed to be torn down and taken away on the Cross.  Still reeling from having their faith shaken, Jesus shows up again.  The tomb is empty!  Jesus is risen!  Over the next weeks they come to believe an even more important truth: by dying Jesus destroyed our death, by rising again, He restored us to eternal life.  Step by step Jesus leads them to greater faith and then brings them to the final step that makes faith real and whole and complete: the mission!

We’ve traveled with them through it all: through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.  We’ve encountered the Risen Lord inviting us to deeper faith, a faith that reveals we’re aimed for something more than this life – that we’re destined to be saints, each and every one of us, destined for eternity with Christ in the joy and peace of heaven.  And here we stand with the apostles at the Ascension…maybe we find ourselves feeling like they felt…maybe we find ourselves doing what they did.  Standing there…wondering what to do next…

As they were looking on, He was lifted up and taken from their sight…While they were looking intently at the sky, two men dressed in white suddenly appeared and said, “Uh – excuse me…why are you standing there looking up at the sky?!?! Didn’t you hear what He just said…why are you standing around looking up at the sky? He’s coming back – don’t you worry about that.  He’ll be back…but until then, there’s work to do.  Why are you standing here looking up at the sky?  Jesus said, ‘Go and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.’  So…uh…don’t just stand here…GO!  GO!  Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!

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Life can leave us standing around with our hands in our pockets staring up at the sky sometimes.  Sometimes out of shock or wonder – sometimes because we literally don’t know what to do next.  If we’re not careful, sometimes we just go back to normal.  We wander out of Church, grab some lunch, catch the game, head to the park or cut the grass.  We finish our college enrollment papers and study for that last final or get ready for work on Monday.  Those aren’t bad things.  But…what about our commission from Jesus? 

Vatican II reminded us whose job it is to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  We like Vatican II – we talk about it all the time.  But we can’t pick and choose what makes us comfortable or helps us win an agrument.  We’ve got to embrace it all.  “Since they have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, [laypersons] are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to witness to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.”  (Gaudium et Spes, par. 43)  In other words…Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  “All the laity…have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater spread of the divine plan of salvation to all [peoples]…all over the earth.”  (Lumen Gentium, par. 33)  In other words…Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  Every single one of us in this Church today share in equal measure the command and commission of Christ.

The question is - what are we doing with that commission?  Today, as we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, those two witnesses call to us, too.  Tugging on our sleeves as we stare up at the sky.  “People of Ss. Peter & Paul…why are you sitting there looking at the sky?  Why are you departing from here wandering through life on autopilot?  This Jesus who comes to you in the Eucharist…this same Jesus will return in His resurrected body to this Earth.  Before He ascended, He bid you GO – Go into all the world preaching the Gospel. Don’t just sit there – don’t just wander back to life as usual after Mass – GO! Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

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A hundred years from now when someone is writing the Acts of the Disciples of Ss. Peter & Paul Church what will they say?  If we are to live lives worthy of being called Christian, let us live like those who first celebrated the Ascension.  Let them say of us…they went forth and preached Jesus Christ everywhere.

Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Every Good Gift...

6 Sun Easter Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville


Every good gift received from God is an invitation to use it for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  That’s the lesson Jesus taught us on Holy Thursday when he washed His disciples’ feet: ‘What I have done for you, you should also do.’  The “mandatum” – it is called, the Christian mandate.  That’s the lesson we’ll encounter at Pentecost and in our upcoming celebration of Confirmation – the Holy Spirit comes upon us, but not only for our own good.  All the gifts of the Spirit come with the mandate to use them in love and service to one another, to play our part in spreading the Good News of Jesus to the world around us.  That’s why we ask those preparing for Confirmation to participate in service: to remember that the gifts God gives us come with the invitation – the mandate – to use them in Christian service and ministry. 

How often after the Resurrection does Jesus say, in one way or another, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” just like we say at the end of every Mass?  I have told you this – I’ve given you this gift – so that your joy may be complete – remain in my love – love one another – it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you – and having chosen you, having given you the gifts of life and joy and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – having chosen you and gifted you – I now appoint you to go and bear fruit.’  What is the last thing Jesus says before Ascending into heaven?  “Go and spread the Good News – go and share your gifts – there’s work left to be done, and I need you to do it!”

Every good gift received from God is an invitation to use it for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  I love that part of Eucharistic Prayer IV that says it so clearly and beautifully: “And that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.”  You see friends – Jesus loves us – and saves us.  He gifts us with many good talents – Jesus has given us each our own ways of serving others.  And He asks us to use those gifts to play our part in the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. 

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Here at Ss. Peter & Paul, it’s the time of year where we’re wrapping up many of our successful efforts that began this past fall, and we’re turning our eyes toward what God is placing ahead of us…toward what’s next.  During the month of June we will select new key collaborators to share the responsibility of discerning where and how God is calling us forward, and sharing the effort of moving in that direction.  Who we have been as a parish family in this place for over a hundred years is amazing – and who God is calling us to be in our time is even more amazing.  But we need your help.  And you have the gifts – you’ve been given the gifts to share in the ministry and mission of our parish.  But will you share them – will you invest in the mission and ministry of our parish? 

If you would, look toward the end of your pews and pass along the sheets you see there.  Raise your hands if you don’t have enough and I’ll ask our ushers to help get you one.  Take a few moments to look over the specific needs we have in our parish family right now.  In particular, we’re in need of folks just like you to step forward and share in guiding our parish in the coming year.  There are pens at the ends of the pews as well if you need them.  Take a few moments now to consider the gifts you’ve been given and these real concrete needs in our parish family.  How is God inviting you to step forward and share your time and talent?  We’re going to take a few moments for you to fill out these forms and place them in the collection basket today.

Every gift, every talent, every ability God has given us comes with an invitation – a mandate – to use them for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  We need your gifts, your vision, your voice – we need you!  Won’t you be a part of discovering where God is leading us and how He hopes to get us there?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

We Can't Do It Alone

Easter 5 Sun Yr B (2018)
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville

‘So…this guy is walking along the sidewalk, and he falls down into a hole.  He sees other people passing by up above, but he doesn’t bother them.  He’s smart enough – he can figure it out.  Several hours pass by…and he’s still stuck right where he was.  Finally, he realizes he can’t get out alone.  Right about then, he sees another one of his friends up on the sidewalk.  He starts waving his hands.  “Hey – help a brother out!! Get some rope and toss it over the edge so you can pull me out!!”

His friend smiles and says – “Hang on a minute!” and then he disappears.  Just a few seconds later, he comes soaring over the edge of the hole, jumping down to the bottom.  The man gets angry and looks at his friend.  “What in the world are you doing?  I asked for help – I told you to go get a rope and toss it down here, so you could pull me out.  Now look what you’ve done!  Now we’re both in trouble.  Some help you are!”

His friend looks back and says, ‘Calm down!  I know what I’m doing.  The edge of the sidewalk would eat up the rope and you’d fall down again.  Don’t worry – I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’

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We’re all like that guy who fell down the hole sometimes.  Trying to do it all alone.  We’ve got it all figured out – we don’t need anyone’s help.  Or, once we realize we really do need some help, we just need everyone around us to do what we want them to do, how and when we want them to do it.  Including God.  We pretend we’re asking for help, but what we’re really doing is expecting others to become an extension of our own power and will.  Instead of just saying, “Can you help me?” we give precise instructions because we don’t really need or want help, we just want someone to follow our directions.  That’s not asking for help – that’s just asking others to play our game for us in our way, based on our own experience, on our timetable.  In our prayer we try to make God into a big blue Genie who might as well just go around singing, You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me.

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Sometimes we’re just as guilty of not offering to help as we are of not asking for help.  What isn’t being done in our neighborhood or our city, in our family or even in our parish becomes a judgment or criticism, rather than an opportunity to get involved and offer to help.  Something needs to be done about the drug problem in our community.  There should be more opportunities for adult faith formation and catechesis.  Our homebound and sick aren’t getting the care they need.  We’re losing our young people after they’re confirmed – somebody needs to do something about that!  A full 1/3 of the conversations I have on a weekly basis are like that: “Father, somebody should do something about this.  Father, something needs to be done about that.”

How many of us here today have heard or said things like that?  There’s nothing at all wrong with those observations.  Almost all of them are true!  And sometimes – sometimes we get it right.  The Stephen Ministry program you’ll be hearing more about is a great example of it.  Parishioners observed that we need to have a greater outreach to those facing crisis or challenge of one sort or another.  We investigated options, identified a good solution, recruited a leadership team to get things rolling, and even the generosity of some parishioners has helped make the training to get started possible.  Our elevator is in operation because we identified a need, set about working together to pool our resources, and now for generations to come more of our parishioners have access to our primary fellowship space in the Undercroft. 

Sometimes we get it right – we offer to help and we ask for help – and when we do that well…we succeed.  But sometimes…sometimes asking for help is really just code for telling someone else what they need to do for us and how they need to do it – that’s not asking for help.  Not with other people, and certainly not with God. 

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Jesus teaches an important lesson in the Gospel today.  “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bare much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  That’s another way of saying, ‘You can’t do anything without my help.’  When Jesus reminds us that a branch cannot bare fruit apart from the vine, He’s reminding us that we need the grace and wisdom of God to bear fruit – to climb out of the holes we’ve fallen into, to grow spiritually as individuals and as a parish.  And Jesus is reminding us that we need one another – Christianity isn’t something we can do alone.  We can only thrive when we are connected to the Body of Christ – the Church – the parish; we can only do this thing called “being a Christian” together.  We need Jesus, and we need one another.  We need help – and we need to help.  Whatever it is, we can do it – but we can’t do it alone.

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There’s a beautiful part of the Mass that many folks never hear; it happens while the bread and wine are being prepared at the altar.  The priest or deacon mixes some water with the wine just before it is offered to God the Father, and they pray: ‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share our humanity.’  That small action honors an central truth of our faith:  Jesus jumped down into the hole with us.  ‘Don’t worry,’ Jesus says, ‘I’ve been down here before…I know the way out.’

We’re celebrating First Communion this weekend.  If there is one lesson – one idea – one concrete notion I hope these young disciples have learned, it’s that Jesus loves us so much, He comes down here where we are – He comes right here in a special way every time we’re at Mass – He comes to us hiding in what looks like bread and wine – He loves us so much that He comes right to where we are to help us live life, avoid sin, experience joy, and love others.  In Holy Communion He comes to help us in the most special way possible.

Coming to communion, if we do it right…coming to communion is both asking Jesus for help, and receiving His help in the most special way possible.  Jesus comes to us right where we are…He’s been here before…He knows the way home. 

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What’s going well in your life?  In the life of your family?  What’s going well in the life of our parish?  We’re going to find that whatever is going well, we’re asking for and making good use of the help of God and others – whatever is going well in our life and our parish, we’re doing a good job of remaining connected to the vine by offering our help to others as well.  And the reverse is just as true – whatever isn’t going so well in our lives or the life of our family or our parish, we’re not asking for help, or there aren’t enough of us willing to help out.  What help do you need?  What help does our parish need from you? 

Whatever it is, we can do it – but we can’t do it alone.

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