Sunday, February 12, 2017

It All Seems So Simple, Doesn't It?

6 Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville


It all seems so simple, doesn’t it?  What’s the big deal, right?  Choose and trust. If you choose to keep the commandments, they will save you.  Simple.  If you trust in God, you too shall live.  No big deal…

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Except – well, except apparently it is a big deal.  Because from our first parents thousands of years ago until now, who among us has been able to just choose to keep the commandments?  You can eat any fruit you want – except this one – this one tree over here, leave it alone.  If you eat this fruit you will surely die.  Simple.  Don’t lie, cheat, or steal.  Don’t murder – the unborn or the elderly or even the criminal.  Don’t take their life – and don’t be angry either.  Simple.  Don’t use the gift of your sexuality however feels good – it’s powerful and meant for a purpose; use it only in a forever union of man and woman.  Physically and mentally, preserve this gift of sexuality for what is true marriage.  Simple.

If you choose to keep the commandments, they will save you.  Simple, right?  Wrong.  This fruit looks good to eat, surely it won’t kill me.  This pregnancy is inconvenient to me, surely it’s my body so it’s my choice.  He killed her so surely we should kill him.  It seems like marriage should be between whoever wants to be married for as long – and only as long – as they want to be.  Who is God to tell me what I can do with my anger, my sexuality, my love?  

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Is it a choice problem, or a trust problem?

For as long as there have been people, we’ve had difficulty choosing to follow God’s commandments.  And I think that’s because we have a trust problem.  We don’t trust God to know whether a fruit is good for us or not.  Surely the one who eats know better than the one who plants the fruit what is good for the belly.  Who is God to tell me what to do with my body and mind – they’re mine aren’t they?  I’ll love who I love however I want to love – because I know better than anyone else what’s good for me.  Trust God?  Sure – when He tells me what I want to hear.  But trust that He knows better than me?  Nah – I’ll pass…

//

If we believed about God what we say week after week we believe about Him, we’d solve both our trust problem and our choice problem.  “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth…”  

Wait…what?  Creator.  Creator?  

Hmmmm….

Maybe – just maybe all those “commands” are something other than arbitrary boundaries imposed on us to make us live lives a certain way.  “You can eat any fruit you like but this one.”  Was that a command designed to keep us from some pleasure that would make us very happy?  Was God trying to save the best fruit for Himself, and keep it from us?  Was it just a trick question – a test for His amusement?  When He said if we ate the fruit of that tree we’d surely die, was it a cruel punishment that He was going to exact on us for having the audacity to displease Him? “Do as I say or I’ll have your hide?”  Or is it possible that, being the Creator, God knew us and knew the garden so well that His command was a protection spoken out of love?

Don’t touch the stove when it’s hot; don’t run down the stairs.  Are the burnt fingers and bruises punishment?  Don’t eat the fruit; don’t kill; don’t commit adultery; don’t lie.

//

It all seems so simple, doesn’t it? If you choose to keep the commandments, they will save you.  If you trust in God, you too shall live.  Simple, right?  Well – it would be, if we trusted God at His word… But we have difficulty with that.  It is simple – but far from easy.

That’s why Jesus came friends – that’s why He comes here again today on this altar.  God created us to be with Him forever – He created us to be like Him – but the difference in our vantage point seemed too difficult for us to overcome.  Created so much like the Creator Himself, from the very beginning we struggle to remember that we are creature, not creator.  And we attempt to substitute our wisdom for His; we mistake the love expressed in His commands for artificial boundaries; we misunderstand freedom to be an absence of any boundary instead of the authentic freedom which listens to the voice of God and hears the caution of a loving parent:  don’t touch that, it’ll burn…

What we understand instinctively about parenting children we reject in our relationship with God…because we forget that He always has been and will be our Father; we struggle with the idea of forever being His children…

We struggle to hear care and concern in His commands, we’re unable to see God’s love written in our very existence…so Jesus came to show us once and for all the depth and breadth of His love.  I will die for you to make up for all you’ve misunderstood and ignored, if you’ll just believe that I’ve done it.  I’ll hang on this cross for you, and hide in the bread and wine forever for you, if you’ll just see my love in the completeness of my gift for you. 

If you choose to keep the commandments, they will save you.  It’s simple really, I love you.  If you trust in God, you too shall live.  It’s simple, really – I died for you…why would I lie to you?  


“Before you are life and death, good and evil; whichever you choose I’ll give to you.” 

Because I love you…  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Make Me a Crisis Person...

5 Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

“Father, make me a crisis man.  Bring those I contact to decision. Make me a fork in the road, that men must turn one way or another in facing Christ in me.”

In 1952 a man in his early twenties arrived in Ecuador with a heart to be a missionary of the Gospel.  He felt called to witness to a tribe of warrior peoples who had never heard the Gospel, and began to fly a small aircraft near their village to communicate with them.  After a couple of months, he and some friends made camp just a short distance from their village.

On January 5, 1956, after finally making some face to face contact, the missionaries sat down to prepare a small lunch.  As they prepared their meal, ten of the warriors ambushed them and speared them to death – a difficult, painful, violent death.  Death for the sake of the Gospel…

Jim Elliot was his name – just days before his death he wrote those words in his journal.  He and his friends understood that the life of a Christian is lived most especially for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in the world.  In season, and out of season, our job as Christians is to be salt and light in the world.  Jim Elliot and his friends lived their lives doing that; they literally gave their lives to be salt and light in the world.

What would it be like to live life the way Jim and his friends did?  Whether we venture into the untouched jungles of the world, or into the jungles of our schools and workplaces, the jungles of our neighborhoods or the jungles of the political and social debates of our times – what would it be like to live life trying to be salt and light for a dark and bland world?  I’ll tell you what it would be like – it would be like living life as a Great Adventure – exactly what it is meant to be!

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That’s what Jesus did – isn’t it?  Jesus was a crisis man; He brought those He encountered to a moment of decision – He was a fork in the road to all He met.  The woman caught in adultery.  The rich young ruler.  The woman at the well.  Saint Peter and Saint Paul.  Mary Magdalene.  Pilot and Herod.  Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes and the Sanhedrin.  Tax collectors. Zacchaeus. Jesus was a crisis man – He brought those He came in contact with to a point of decision.  “Do you have faith?  Will you repent and believe in the Good News of this Gospel, that God loves you – that you are made for more than this?  Will you follow me.  Go and do likewise.  Come and see.”

//

An encounter with Jesus was – and is – a turning point. Jesus was a crisis man; He brought those He encountered to a moment of decision.  But it is also important to notice how He did that.  The moment of crisis He created – the moment of decision – always left open the possibility of relationship and conversion.  He didn’t call the rich young ruler an idiot.  He didn’t demonize anyone around Him except for the demons, whether they agreed with Him or not.  Some He called a brood of vipers; but then He invited them to conversion.  He always left open the possibility of relationship, dialogue, and conversion.  And He spoke with love – even in His anger, He spoke with love.

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We’ve forgotten how to be women and men of crisis – at least the way Jesus was.  Friends – we’re called to be salt and light in the world.  But we’ll never accomplish that if our real goal is to be right, instead of witnessing to the truth in a way that actually invites a new way of seeing things.  No – we can’t lose our flavor. But – we must do this together as a community of faith, embracing one another across our disagreements, guided by Truth that isn’t a rational construct, but rather a person – Love Himself.

//

I have a confession.  I’ve never shared this from the ambo before.  I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.  Are you ready?  Here goes:  I love mashed potatoes.  LOVE THEM!  But I can’t stand them without some salt.  No salt – yuck.  Too much salt, though – too much salt poured on without any regard for how much is needed at the moment – that can just ruin some good mashed potatoes.  And too much light shone directly in the eyes at midnight will blind rather than illumine.  

We’ve been entrusted with the task of being salt and light in the world – it is worth giving our lives to that Great Adventure.  But we have to let Love Himself guide how much and when, or we’ll spoil it all – for ourselves and those we’re called to play a part in saving.

Our calling is not an easy one – but God is faithful to His promise.  If we share our bread with the hungry, if we shelter the oppressed and homeless, if we clothe the naked, if we refuse to turn our backs on our own – no matter who they voted for – then our light will break forth like the dawn, and the darkness of the world will be overcome.  If we remove oppression, false accusation and malicious speech from our efforts to be salt and light in this world, the gloom of this world will give way to the bright light of Truth and Love as radiant as the noonday sun.  I’m willing to bet there isn’t a single one of us here today who doesn’t need to adjust their approach based on this.


Be salt and light – be crisis women and men – do it like Jesus did – and start with the plank in your own eye…and see, just see, where Jesus takes us.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Strongest in Our Broken Places

4 Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Have you ever noticed how Jesus turns everything completely upside down?  When was the last time you felt “blessed” when you were drowning in sorrow and grief at mourning the loss of a family member or friend?  If you’ve ever felt persecuted because of your faith – being ridiculed because friends or loved ones don’t understand what it means to revere the Blessed Mother or accept the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist – or if you’ve been belittled because our Catholic faith demands we conform to a moral code that is stricter than the world around us and based on truth rather than “what feels good” – if you’ve ever felt persecuted because of your faith, I’m betting you didn’t really feel blessed in that moment.  Do you feel blessed when you’re being insulted?  

Have you ever noticed how Jesus turns everything completely upside down?  Because in today’s Gospel, that’s exactly what He seems to do.  Blessed are they who mourn – blessed are they who are persecuted – blessed are you when they insult you.  Blessed?  Really?  Really?

//

And what about St. Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth?  God seems to have bad taste.  He chooses the weak, the peasants, those who aren’t very wise.  What does He want to do with the proud and the strong?  You’d think they’d be His first-round draft picks.  But no – God wants to shame them. He chooses the foolish of the world to shame the wise, He chooses the weak to shame the strong.  He chooses the lowly, the despised, those who count for nothing to “reduce to nothing those who are something.”  

Good thing we don’t have try-outs for the Christian life like we have try-outs for the soccer or football or basketball – the way we have auditions for theater or band or orchestra.  In the eyes of the world, it is the best, the strongest, the most capable and successful who are most highly prized.  But in God’s eyes, it is the weak, the foolish, the broken, the lowly and overlooked – in God’s eyes it is those who count for nothing that are most prized.  And in our own lives even – it is our own weaknesses, brokenness, our places of failure and fault where God comes to us, calls us, uses us, works His miracles in us.  It is in our weaknesses that we are made strong.  And why?  Because in our strengths we have no need of God – in our accomplishments and achievements and self-sufficiencies we rely only on our own abilities.

There is little room for God in our own strength; in our own strength we can never be made supernaturally strong.  But in our weaknesses, God’s power turns everything upside down and we accomplish with Him the unimaginable!

St. Therese of Liseiux, in her physical frailty and youthful simplicity became supernaturally strong in wisdom and was named a doctor of the Church.  St. Thomas the Apostle became a testimony to the strength of faith in the brokenness of his doubt.  St. Peter’s overeager initiative.  St. Paul’s zealous persecution of the Church.  Timothy’s youth.  Time and time again, it is in our weakness that God shows His power and transforms the world in which we live starting right inside us – right inside our hearts.  The healthy have no need of a physician and the righteous have no need of a savior.

Have you ever noticed how Jesus turns everything completely upside down?  Praise God!  Jesus turns everything completely upside down!  Our excuses become our reasons.  Our wounds become our healings.  Our faults and failures become our virtues and our triumphs.  Through Christ we become strongest in our broken places!

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Friends, where are you weak – and how does that appear to be holding you back in living this Great Adventure of Christian discipleship?  Can you let it go today – instead of hiding it, being embarrassed about it, letting it keep you from stepping forward in faith and allowing it to discourage you – instead of letting your weaknesses hold you back can you come to Jesus here and give Him your weaknesses – present it to Him as a most precious gift – and watch Him transform it into your greatest source of strength because the strength and healing and power will come from Him and not from you?

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Have you ever noticed how Jesus turns everything completely upside down?  Praise God!  Jesus turns everything completely upside down! In Christ we are strongest in our broken places!


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is Our Ordinary Extraordinary?

2 Sun OT Yr A/2017
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Do we recognize Jesus when he appears?  And what do we say when we notice Him?

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The trees are down – the crèche is packed away. Joy to the World is once again lost in our hymnals.  Ordinary time has returned.  Hopefully we’ve paid attention to the Wise Men and departed from Christmas by another way – changed, transformed, somehow new and different this year by having truly encountered God Made Flesh at Christmas.  Things are back to ‘normal.’

We’re back to ordinary time – the place where we spend most of our time – where our habits and attitudes and discipleship are formed and lived out.  Ordinary time where we become the Christians we will become…what kind of Christian are we becoming?  

Have we become Christians who are paying attention so we don’t miss the boat?  Have we become Christians who are always getting ready for Jesus to appear on the scene because we know He’s coming?  Have we become Christians who don’t fear because we know Jesus is already here with us – here among us – here in this tabernacle and on this altar, here in one another and the Word of God when we’re gathered together and when we’re sent to make the world a new creation along with Him?  Have we become Christians who are living life – every moment of life – like a Great Adventure?

Or have we settled back into being Christians who come to Church on Sunday and CCD on Wednesday – without any other real lasting impact or change on our lives?  Do we belong to a social and service club called the Catholic Church – or are we Christians on a pilgrimage through this life looking for Jesus to show Himself and ready to respond to Him when He appears?

What is “ordinary” about this time for you?  What is “ordinary” about this time for the Saints Peter & Paul parish family?  Is our “ordinary time” something extraordinary because we are a people of faith following the Good Shepherd into a life like no other lived on a mission to be changed in every aspect of our lives on every level, throwing caution to the wind and moving through our nights and days “all in” to change the world around us?  Or is “ordinary time” for us something that makes us look and live like women and men who have never met Jesus Christ.  Is this “ordinary time” for us because there’s nothing that makes us different from the rest of the world?  Or is this time ordinary because our life – every day, every week, every season – is lived so extraordinarily in light of the Gospel that our radical Christianity today looks and feels exactly like the radical Christianity lived by the apostles?

Is our ‘ordinary’ extraordinary enough to merit the name Christian?

//

It’s simple to discover, really.  Are you moving through your nights and days looking for Jesus like John the Baptist?  We’ll never notice Jesus moving in and through our lives unless we’re looking for Him; our ordinary will never be extraordinary unless we live life looking for Jesus.  

Do we know Jesus well enough to recognize Him when He appears?  If we’re not spending time in God’s word, if we’re not praying throughout our days, if Jesus Christ isn’t a person we’re coming to know like we come to know anyone else important in our lives, by giving Him our time and attention… If we’re not getting to know Jesus we’ll never recognize Him when He shows up in our lives; our ordinary will never be extraordinary unless we live life getting to know Jesus well enough that we’ll recognize Him when He appears.

And what do we say when we notice Him?  Are we living a radical enough Christianity that we stop what we’re doing and marvel, like John the Baptist did, when Jesus shows up on the scene?  Behold!  Look!  Right there – LOOK!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!  Do we explain His presence away so it doesn’t demand a response?  ‘Oh – it was just a dove – nothing special here.  Move along.  Keep things ordinary.  Nothing to see here…’  Or do we recognize God’s hand at work in the fabric of our lives and call it out?  Behold the Lamb of God!!  

And if we recognize Him and point Him out to others…what do we do when He calls us to serve Him?  The Lord said to me: You are my servant!  What do you do when Jesus asks you to serve Him?  When He gently knocks at your heart inviting you to the seminary and His holy priesthood?  When he sets your heart afire with the notion of giving your life to him as a religious sister or brother?  What do you do when Jesus asks you to pick up the phone to call someone you haven’t seen at Church for a while, or to get involved in the apostolic work of our parish?  

When you recognize the Lamb of God and hear Him call you farther into this Great Adventure than you’ve ever been before, do you stand up and shout Here am I, Lord – I come to do your will!  - or do you fade into the ordinary life of ordinary people who move through their days and nights without anything at all to set them apart from all the rest?  Is your ordinary extraordinary at all?

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It’s ordinary time again, friends.  The question is, how extraordinary is your ordinary?  Jesus wants your ordinary life to be something extraordinary.  Do it – risk it – try it!  I know you want to!  


Saddle up your horses…this is the Great Adventure!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Leaving Christmas by "Another Way"

Christmas - Epiphany - Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

"...they departed...by another way."

In most all the world, Christmas has come and gone.  In the stores, Christmas has been boxed up for days - not a tree, or a light, or a ribbon to be found.  I'm betting cupid is already all over the place, shooting red arrows of love that can be bought with dollar bills.  In most all the world, Christmas came and went without any lasting impact.  Yes, we took vacation time, and celebrated with our families.  Yes, we feasted on ham and turkey and pie.  We exchanged gifts and had a great time.  But other than wearing our new watch, or playing our new video games, for most of the world Christmas has come and gone - just a blip on the calendar; gone as quickly as the decorations disappeared from the stores.  Just another day.  Just another week.  Just another year...

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But Christmas is so much more!  Brothers and sisters, if we are to live lives enflamed by the Gospel - if we are to live lives of true disciples who are falling more deeply in love with the Jesus Christ – then Christmas cannot get packed up in boxes.  Our hearts cannot remain the same, we cannot be unchanged.  Epiphany reminds us that we have to be changed, transformed by Christmas.  Not just this week - but every day for the rest of our lives. 

That must happen to us before we pack away the lights and trees; we must move on from Christmas by ANOTHER WAY...  The wise men are our example. Christmas will change us…if we encounter Jesus the way they did.

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First, let's look at how they were seeking.  Wandering around the days of our lives, going to work and school and sports practice day in and day out without purpose won't bring us to the feet of Christ in a way that can change us.  But we can do what they did.  They were journeying, they were on pilgrimage; they had a destination, a goal, a reason.  They didn't just wake up and get dressed because the sun had come up - when they rose, they set out, they departed with a purpose in mind.  They were seeking a king to give order and reason to their lives, a king who could make all that they knew in their heads become something real in their hearts.  They were seeking someone who could make their seeking make sense.

When you left to come to Church today, were you on a journey toward something?  Or did you just get dressed and drive to Church because it was time to come to Church?  Does our path through the weekend lead to the altar because 'that's just what we do' - or are you seeking an encounter with Jesus Christ?  Did you wander here out of habit or obligation...or does your SEARCH - your JOURNEY – the purpose of your life lead you here?

The first thing we must do is to live our lives seeking Jesus.  Are we looking for Jesus in our ups and downs, in our mountaintops and our valleys?  Are we seeking the Son of God in our relationships, our heartbreaks, and in the circumstances of our lives?  

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The wise men teach us to live life looking for Jesus, and they also teach us to be overjoyed when we see the signs of His presence"They were overjoyed at seeing the star..."  But how many times do you and I encounter the divine and write it off as a coincidence?  How often do we have an authentic spiritual experience, something that our head can't explain and our hearts knows is real - but we write it off, or get too afraid to let it change our lives.

Not the wise men - when they saw the sign of God Himself living and moving and acting in the world they were overjoyed.  Do you let yourself become overjoyed when Jesus touches you?  We must - you and I must let ourselves be moved in lasting and real ways.  When God calls us to priesthood or religious life, we must have the courage to let ourselves be changed.  When God stirs our hearts to heal and strengthen our marriage, we must let ourselves be moved! When the needs of our brothers and sisters for food and shelter knocks on the doors of our hearts, we must follow the example of the wise men and let our hearts be overjoyed that the King of Creation, has deigned to focus His loving gaze and attention on us and call us closer to Himself.

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Our lives must be lived seeking Jesus Christ, we must let ourselves be overjoyed when we encounter Him, and then we must fall on our FACES before His Divine Majesty"They prostrated themselves and did him homage."  When He comes to be with us on this altar at the hands of His unworthy priest, we must all fall on our FACES and pay Him homage - when He appears in the recesses of our hearts, we must stop what we're doing and recognize that the King of Glory is in our presence - when He works in the twists and turns of our lives we must honor Him by saying 'not my will, Lord, but Yours' – and we must mean it.  And then, like them, we must give Him the best gifts we have. 

Living our lives seeking Jesus and rejoicing when we encounter Him, we pay Him homage by giving Him our gifts.  Gifts that acknowledge His Kingship - not gold, but gifts like giving Him control of our finances, our careers, our families and our futures.  We don't have frankincense, but we pay Him homage by giving gifts that recognize He is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God - gifts like worship at this altar and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  We have no myrrh, but we pay Him homage by giving Him our own humanity, willingly carrying our crosses for Him because He carried His cross for us.  

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Brothers and sisters, out there Christmas is over.  Out there, our lives and our routines are returning to normal.  And out there, Christmas is a memory packed away in a box until next year.  But in here, in these sacred walls, and in our hearts, something different must happen.  If we're willing to follow the wise men, Christmas will change us.  If we'll follow the wise men, the same Jesus born to us on Christmas will change us the way He changed them. If we’ll let the Wise Men teach us how to keep living the Great Adventure...

...if we're willing, then Christmas will do for us what it did for them.  If we follow the Wise Men, we'll depart by another way, a better way.  And we'll be changed.