Thursday, December 31, 2015

Families are Amazing Things

Holy Family - Yr C 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Families are quite amazing, messy, cracked and broken things. They are always...every single one of them...far from perfect.  Families are affected by things like unexpected teen pregnancy, poverty and homelessness; by family trees that don’t quite line up – foster and step and adoptive parents.  Families are sometimes on the run from the law; they sometimes hide out in strange places hoping they won’t be recognized.  Moms and dads sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the children leading to a lack of adult supervision that these days can result in the involvement of Child Protective Services, if not charges of child neglect and endangerment.
Families struggle with misunderstanding and miscommunication as they navigate the challenges of the growing-up years.  They experience challenges when it’s time for the young ones to leave the nest and begin their own lives.  There is the pain and drama of plans seemingly gone awry...  There is laughter and tears...joy and sorrow...heartwarming moments and heart breaking moments... amazing stories that have to be re-told and difficult memories that can barely be endured...  And that's just the story of the Holy Family! 
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the model we are to imitate!  God gave us the Holy family as a 'shining example' the opening collect said; our path to eternal reward lies in imitating them. 
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But just imagine if the Holy Family lived in our neighborhood!  What looks they would get when they walked down the street!!  We’d know their story by heart as often as it had been whispered to us behind their backs. 'He's not the real dad...  She had him when she was just a baby herself...  Did you hear about the time they left him alone in the city...couldn't find him for days!!'
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One thing is for certain...the Holy Family was far from perfect...at least according to the standards we usually use to gauge family perfection.  If there's one thing we can learn right off the bat from the Holy Family it is this:  when it comes to families, holy does not mean perfect
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A Holy Family is not a perfect family, especially when we consider the kinds of unholy things we sometimes do to one another as we chase the false idol of family perfection.  Think of the lies we tell trying to paint the picture of family perfection.  Think of the time we spend chasing the finances required to live the perfect family lifestyle, and all the holy things that go undone because our time and effort are caught up in that pursuit.  Think of all the fights and arguments, the unnecessary discipline meted out, the lost time and energy spent chasing family perfection.  (As I think about it – I’ve been talking about the basic family unit – but all of these things could be said of the ways we live together as a parish family sometimes, too...)
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What does it mean to be a holy family – at home and in our parish?  If we’re willing to let go of perfection, what would it mean for us to strive for holiness?  Our opening collect reminded us to imitate the Holy Family in their practice of the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.  That is the first thing we must do – in our homes and in our parishclaim and hold on to at all costs the bond of charity, the bond of love – a bond that should be unbreakable.  No member of the family should ever wonder if they are loved.  Behaviors and boundaries and decisions sometimes result in some members of the family being distant for a while – but even that must be lived out, by all involved, in love.  The first thing we must do in our homes and in our parish is to make the family bond of charity as real and unbreakable as Christ’s love for each one of us.
And what are the virtues of family life mentioned in that first prayer?  I can think of no better list than what we heard in our second reading today.  Take a moment, and consider your family – and our parish family.  Let’s grade ourselves according to this standard:  A holy family is certainly not perfect, but the holy family lives and breathes with heartfelt compassion for one another, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  A holy family is far from perfect, but the holy family bears with one another and forgives one another because the holy family never forgets that Jesus forgives each one of us.  The holy family is thankful – thankful for what it does have more than lamenting what it doesn’t have.  The holy family is controlled by the peace of Christ; even when the ridiculousness and brokenness and messy-ness of real life come crashing in, it is the peace of Christ that takes hold and navigates the holy family through the storm.  Above all – the holy family’s and the holy parish’s life is governed by the bond of charity – the bond of love – living in unity through the ups and the downs. 
Finally, brothers and sisters, our prayer today reminds us that the key to being a holy family is not in trying to achieve perfection in the moment, but rather to set our eyes on the real goal of heaven.  Every family – every home and every parish – is holy when it sets its eyes on the goal that is far beyond this life; families are holy when they claim, loud and proud, that this life is a journey, a pilgrimage, a means to an end... Families are holy when the passing world is just that – passing...when the world and its allures and opportunities are not avoided, but neither have they become the primary focus of living – rather, families are holy when all the members of the family make use of the things of this world for one purpose alone – as a way to reach our heavenly home
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I think families are amazing things.  God the Father thought so, too – the plan to redeem us was to send us the Savior whom we celebrate this Christmas season.  He didn’t appear on the side of a mountain.  He could have – but He didn’t.  He was sent to a family to show us that family is an amazing thing; to teach us that the basic unit of life and living – the family – need never be perfect, but it must always strive to be holy. 
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Families are quite amazing, messy, cracked and broken things. They are always...every single one of them...far from perfect.  But each and every family can be holy.  In our homes – and, brothers & sisters, here in our family of faith – can we let Jesus, Mary, and Joseph teach us how to be a Holy Family?

That Moment Is...

Christmas Day Yr C 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          On December 26th 1957 a usually fun-loving and joy-filled man woke up in a foul mood.  As he stood there brushing his teeth and staring at himself in the mirror his own reflection seemed monstrous.  Sure, it was his face, his eyes, his nose, his mouth and eyebrows.  It was indeed his own teeth that he was brushing – there was no doubt about that.  But there was a strange, gloomy, joyless countenance that he saw staring back at him.  He could almost see the gloom that had settled over him floating around his reflection.  And he began to think – there had been no real joy that year during the holidays at all. 
He was befuddled – and a slight bit angry at first.  He thought to himself, ‘Something must have gone wrong with Christmas!’  And then he felt a bit betrayed – after all, if Christmas couldn’t give him some joy and life, what could?  What good was Christmas anyway if it couldn’t bust him out of his funk… Something must have gone wrong with Christmas…so much for Christmas.  All he saw in the mirror that morning after Christmas in 1957 was (in his own words) a “nasty anti-Christmas monster that was really [himself].”
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Then something clicked …telling the story later, he says he realized that Christmas wasn’t to blame; it was more likely that something had gone wrong with him.  “I wrote the story about my sour friend the Grinch to see if I could discover something about Christmas I had obviously lost,” Dr. Seuss said.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas tells us the story of finding the light and love of Christmas when we’ve lost it.
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I think we all have Grinch-like tendencies from time to time.  Think about it – isn’t there a moment every year when you realize you’ve not quite got into the season yet?  We might not be roaming around sneaking into the houses of our neighbors stealing their Christmas toys and decorations.  But nearly every year there is that moment when I looked around and see all the Christmas preparations taking place around me and began to wonder why it all seems to be happening out there and nothing seems to be going on inside
I’m not talking about what we know in our heads about Christmas – we’ve got that pretty much down.  Knowing wasn’t the Grinch’s problem, was it?  ‘Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot – but the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville DID NOT!  Now please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason… I think the most likely reason of all – may have been that his heart was two sizes two small!’  You see – all the ideas and truths about Christmas can be firmly planted in our heads – but the struggle to get into the Christmas spirit is that we can’t do it with our heads – we have to do it with our HEARTS.  Until our hearts experience the joy and truth of what we’re celebrating, we’ll be Grinchy – if not on the outside, then certainly on the inside.
Remember what happened to the Grinch that changed everything?  It wasn’t a change in ideas or reasoning – he tried to think things through – in fact, he ‘puzzled three hours until his puzzler was sore!’  That didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for us.  Do you remember what made the difference?  ‘What happened then?  Well…down in Whoville they say, that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
The secret of Christmas – the secret to being transformed by the joy and beauty and miracle of Christmas is to let the small baby in the manger into our hearts.  And then – in those moments of pure joy – to realize that we didn’t do that to ourselves…but that it was really Jesus – really the One born that first Christmas – really the One John tells us has been here all along – that it was really Jesus who has come and transformed our hearts.
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Every year when I notice that the world around me seems to be getting ready for Christmas ‘out there’ I find myself missing what I know should be happening ‘in here’…and I get…well, I get Grinchy.  But then something happens.  I find a gift to share with someone I love.  Or I hear a Christmas song on the radio…I bake some cookies or make a Christmas cake.  And then it happens…without even noticing it’s happening I discover that my heart has swollen ‘three times its size’ – and I’m singing along with the songs or whistling a Christmas tune; I have a little more giddy-up in my step…and all of a sudden what’s been happening ‘out there’ has made a home ‘in here’ …and I discover, I’ve been made ready for Christmas.  And just in time, too.
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Whatever has brought us here this morning – Grinchy or as happy and filled with joy as little Cindy Lou Who – whatever has brought us here this morning…Jesus is doing everything He can to break into our hearts.  He was in the beginning…but that wasn’t enough.  And so He came in the flesh…he came as a baby…he broke into the darkness of our shrunken hearts in His miraculous birth in Bethlehem that first Christmas.  And every year at Christmas – He bursts in again…
It’s that moment when Christmas finally comes to you – that moment when you feel the joy of Christmas through the eyes of a child.  It’s that moment when Christmas starts to feel like it’s happening ‘in here’ not just ‘out there’.  It’s that moment of happiness and peace, that moment of relief and nostalgia and fullness – fullness that wells up into a fountain that love starts to pour out in laughter and stories (and yes, sometimes even in tears) – that moment when Christmas is different somehow than any other day of the year…that moment when even the most calloused and hardened parts of your heart swell into joy…
…you know the moment I’m talking about…
…you’ve felt it……you might be feeling it now…
...don’t fool yourself – that moment is real…that moment is Sacred…

That moment …that moment is Jesus.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Where Are You Headed to Get Ready for Christmas?

Advent 4th Sunday - Year C - 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          Christmas is coming!  For weeks now we’ve been preparing the way of the Lord.  For some of us, there is still lots to do.  Trips to the mall, presents to wrap, decorations to put up, house cleaning and straightening to welcome family & friends for the holiday.  Prayers to pray, confessions to make, relationships to heal, habits to be broken, and room made in our hearts for Jesus. 
          How did Mary get ready for that first Christmas?  It’s a bit odd really.  She “travelled to the hill country with haste."  Where are we headed to get ready for Christmas?
          ///
          Go visit a coffee shop and you’ll see.  People coming and going all over the place.  Some dead tired - just coming or just going to work.  Some full of energy and excitement - just beginning or just finishing their Christmas shopping.  Some dressed festively, some dressed plainly.  All of them people on the go.  Their conversations sound something like this:  'After this I'm heading over here to do that, and then I'm heading there to do this one last thing...'
          Mary knew Christmas was coming - she had it on great authority.  Think of all the things she needed to do to prepare.  But where was Mary heading to get ready for Christmas?  "Mary set out and travelled to the hill country with haste...where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth."  She WHAT?  She went WHERE?  Christmas was coming, and there were a million things to do to get ready, and Mary just takes off to visit family - with no apparent invitation, leaving all of her Christmas preparations on a ‘things to do’ list sitting on the kitchen table.  WHY would she do such a thing?  What was she thinking?
          ///
          Well, we don't really know, do we?  We know that the angel had told her of something amazing going on in the life of her kinswoman.  We can imagine that there was some small voice in her heart telling her she should go see what that was all about.  That voice was probably competing with many other loud voices in her mind rattling off other more obvious, more pressing things she needed to do to get ready for that first Christmas.  But somehow, the blessed Mother was able to tune in to that small voice; she was able to hear and follow that quiet invitation to leave the seemingly pressing things alone long enough to go find out what God was doing in Elizabeth's life. 
          ///
          I think all of us have that still, small, quiet voice speaking to us amidst the noise of our Christmas preparations.  All too often, we stifle that voice; we don't heed it.  And where we're heading as we prepare for Christmas is governed exclusively by our own sense of what we must do.  I wonder what miracles we're leaving un-experienced in our own life because of it.  I wonder how unprepared for Christmas finishing our Christmas preparations is leaving us...  I wonder if all that focus and attention on our Christmas preparations is leaving us unprepared for Christmas.
          ///
          In these last few days before Christmas, what is that quiet voice in your heart prompting you to do that’s going undone in the hustle and bustle of your holiday preparation?  Maybe there’s someone we haven't spent any time with because it seems we’re just too busy getting ready for Christmas.  Is God asking you to set off with haste to visit with them, setting aside your all important Christmas list to encounter the work of God in their life?  If you make time to do that, I'll bet you leave that encounter with some new knowledge or appreciation of what God is doing in YOUR life, just like Mary did.
          Maybe there is a relationship that is faltering; or perhaps there's a relationship that need mending somehow.  At this busy time of the year, we might not think we can gather the spiritual or emotional energy to do our part of the mending.  But if that voice in your heart is whispering a name to you right now - the name of someone you know you need to reconcile with - then why not take what might seem like a detour in your Christmas preparations to make things right?  Maybe that someone is God…and you know you need to meet Him in the Confessional before Christmas comes to set your relationship with Him aright.  As we get ready for Christmas, can't we head with haste toward reconciliation with one another and with God?  We'll be surprised to leave those encounters knowing in a deeper way how God is working a Christmas miracle in our life just like Mary did.
          Maybe your heart is whispering to you about someone in need - maybe your Christmas preparations could get around to sending Christmas cards to men or women in our local jails or prisons; or maybe you could take the time to donate that coat you don't wear anymore to the homeless shelter.  Who is that small voice inviting you to serve as preparation for Christmas?
          ///

          Take just a moment to listen - in the silence we share right now - what hidden detour is the Spirit prompting you to take to get ready for Christmas?  That same Spirit that prompted Mary to visit Elizabeth is speaking to you today, right this moment ... what are you hearing?  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Oh...Right...Pray...

Advent 3rd Sunday - Year C - 2105
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Two weeks down – twelve days to go; Christmas is just around the corner…are you ready?  I confessed last week that I hadn’t bought the first present or sent the first card; that there wasn’t a single twinkling light shining in the rectory.  I haven’t made any progress at all.  I don’t feel any more ready for Christmas than I did in July.  There’s a light at the end of the tunnel…but it feels like a freight train headed straight for me; I’m just not ready…but still, Christmas is coming!
Forget the cards and the presents and the lights – what about the spiritual preparations?  Prepare the way of the Lord – lower the mountainous obstacles of sin and vice and selfishness and self-centeredness that obstruct our relationship with Him, fill in the chasms of indifference and busy-ness and poor priorities that seem to keep us from being ready – straighten out the twists and turns that are knotting up our relationships with one another – prepare the way of the Lord!  For two weeks now that voice has haunted us like Marley’s ghost…and sometimes it seems like we haven’t made any progress at all.  Will the coming of Christ catch us like a trap as Jesus warned us it might?
Last week the voice reminded us that we don’t have to do this work alone; God Himself has commanded the mountains to lower themselves and the valleys to fill themselves in.  Whatever obstacle we’re trying to remove or shortcoming we’re trying to improve, Jesus is right there with us working away.  Last week we found hope because we don’t have to make these preparations alone…but if you’re like me…there still seems so much to do, and so little time left to do it in.  Presents to be bought.  Decorations to hang.  Apologies to offer and accept.  Sins to confess and penance to make.  Attitudes to be changed.  Room made in our hearts for the baby in the manger.
And just when we seem to be getting to the end of our ropes, right when we’re about to panic…right when we’re spiritually out of breath and just one more “Prepare the way of the Lord” away from a full blow panic attack…the Church stops for a moment and tells us to…pray…
//
Uh… what?  You gotta’ be kidding me, right?  Aren’t you listening at all?  Who’s got time to pray?  Cards and presents and apologies and charity and mountains and valleys and confessions and sins and virtues and twinkling lights and what in the world is this Advent Angel thing the parish staff is doing (I still can’t figure it out) and paths to straighten and claymation to watch and cookies and candy to make and parish volunteer activities to sign up for and Sister’s petitions to sign and announcements at the end of Mass – so many announcements – and did I mention the cards and presents and twinkling lights and prepare the way of the lord and make straight his paths and what was it that you just said?
//
Pray.  Pray?  Oh…right…pray.  How did I forget that?
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All too often when things get frantic, and there is so much to do – when our field of vision fills up with our things to do list, our preparations, even our spiritual preparations; all too often we get ‘in the zone’ and are so focused on ‘getting it all done’ that we forget the only hope for getting any of it done well is to pray. 
We count the days left until Christmas, and our head starts spinning like a top:  Oh no – I’m not ready!  What will I do?  I know – I just won’t sleep!  I’ll study all night and write that paper first thing in the morning; I’ll work those extra hours to have enough money for those gifts, and I’ll wrap them as soon as the kids go to sleep.  WalMart is open 24 hours, I can get my shopping done at 3am. 
We hear St. Paul tell us the Lord is near, and we’re off to the races:  Oh goodness no – I’m not ready?  There’s so much to do…how will I ever get it done?  He’s near?  He’s coming – but I’m not ready…there’s not enough time…what shall I do? 
We forget sometimes that what we most need to prepare for Christmas always starts with prayer:  “The Lord is near!  So – have no anxiety at all!  But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving – make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Pray – and rejoice. 
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I don’t know quite how it works, friends – but it does.  I don’t know what mountains need to be lowered – what valleys need to be filled – in your life to prepare for Christmas.  I don’t know what relationships need to be mended, or cares or concerns are weighing heavily on your heart that need to be tended to before Light comes into the world in twelve days.  But I do know this – if you pray, if you tell God your burdens and then rejoice…then…well, then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…and Christmas will find you watching and waiting…ready for the coming of the Lord.  And you’ll be blessed.

Gaudete Sunday is our rest stop on the long trip to Christmas – we take stock of where we are, we’re reminded who we’re preparing to meet, and we are refreshed by the sacraments.  And today we’re reminded that while this season – this hectic, busy, too-full season – we’re reminded that while this season is about preparation, it is ultimately about peace and joy.  And peace and joy come from sharing all the burden and heartache and challenge – all of it, no matter how shallow or how small – peace and joy come from sharing everything with God in prayer.  

Can We Get a Little Help Over Here?

Advent 2nd Sunday - Year C - 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

All this talk of getting reading is wearing me out – and we’re just eight days in.  Everywhere we’ve turned so far in Advent, there’s a voice shouting at us – getting right up in our face, right up in our grill – that voice telling us we have to get ready.  Last week that ‘voice’ was Jesus Himself telling us if we don’t get ready – if we’re not vigilant, standing up straight with our eyes on the horizon – Jesus got right up in our face and told us that if we’re not ready, His coming will catch us like a trap!
Everywhere we’ve turned so far this Advent – the Scripture readings, the prayers of the Mass, the Divine Office – everywhere we’ve turned we’ve heard this voice “crying out” – right in our face – telling us to get ready, and I’m already worn out.  I mean – doesn’t the Church know how busy this time of year is?  I haven’t bought the first Christmas present yet, sent the first card, and I don’t even have a clue what this Advent Angel thing is that the parish staff is doing.  There isn’t a single twinkling light at the rectory yet, not a stocking in sight, and the animals of the manger scene aren’t even unpacked to start gathering around the empty manger. 
You know what I’m talking about.  Our calendars are even more full right now than the rest of the year, and we thought that wasn’t possible.  Parties, gatherings, family coming in or family to go visit.  Work deadlines to meet those end of the year revenue and productivity goals.  Finals, presentations, term papers, research papers, projects, all-nighters, and coffee, lots of coffee.  And what in the world is our Elf on the Shelf going to be up to tomorrow morning?  And in the middle of all that, at the end of Mass today we’re going to ask you to add to the list, because we can’t do Christmas as a parish without your help.
So you can stop telling us already that Christmas is coming and we’ve got to get ready…we know that…and if you knew all the things we had to get done between now and then, maybe you’d back off a bit from talking about ‘lowering the mountains’ of obstacles to real relationship with God in our lives, like finally overcoming that habit or vice.  If you knew how stressed we were about taking care of everything you’d hush all that talk of raising the valleys in our life over which we can’t leap to get closer to God, like carving out some time each day for prayer or trusting God more fully with our lives and our vocations and our future and the futures of those we love most.  Not a single one of us feels like we have any room left in our world right now for straightening out the relationships and situations in our lives that are the winding paths that voice keeps talking about making our journeys to God so long and hard and difficult…
*sigh*
Everywhere we turn that voice is right there – telling us we have to get ready… and we’ve been working so hard all along and it doesn’t seem to be working!  The sins and hurts and resentments we’ve been trying to let go of keep haunting us, and our bad habits and disordered priorities and appetites chase us around like our shadows…and sometimes all this ‘getting ready’ talk just seems pointless because when we’ve tried – when we try – nothing much seems to happen sometimes.
And still – everywhere we turn there’s that voice – that dang voice – right up in our face…prepare the way of the Lord.  Can we get a little help over here? 
//
Today the voice answers back…you don’t have to do this alone!  Yes, we have to get ready – we have to prepare the way of the Lord or His coming will catch us like a trap, that’s true.  But we don’t have to do it alone.  Did you hear that today?  That same voice adds something new today:  God has commanded the mountains to lower themselves!  God has commanded the valleys to fill themselves and the twists and turns to straighten themselves out “so that we may advance secure in the glory of God,” so that we “may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”, so that we may “see the salvation of God.”
//
This time of year is busy and full to brimming and sometimes running over to overwhelming, and sometimes we just want to give up.  And right when we cry right back, “We could use a little help over here!” the voice answers back – lovingly, compassionately, tenderly even:  OK.  Help is on the way.
Yes – friends – we do have to prepare the way of the Lord or His coming will catch us like a trap…but we’re not working alone.  Whatever mountain obstacle we’re lowering one teaspoon at a time God has commanded it to be lowered and He’s right there with us digging away.  Whatever valley of indifference or courage or growth we’re trying fill in a drop at a time, Jesus is right there with a fire hose of grace.  Whatever relationships or situations or shame or guilt we’re trying to untangle one strand at a time, He’s with us with the nimble hands of a surgeon freeing us.  He is faithful…He is coming…yes, we have to get ready… but not alone

And so…instead of giving in to being overwhelmed or giving up because of our lack of progress, we pray ever more confidently:  Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus.  And I believe, like Saint Paul I truly believe, that the One who has started this good work in us will bring it to completion.  Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Saddle Up Your Horses

Advent 1st Sunday - Yr C - 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

“Started out this mornin’ in the usual way – chasin’ thoughts inside my head of all I had to do today.  Another time around the circle – try to make it better than the last.  I opened up the Bible and I read about me: Said I’d been a prisoner, and God’s grace had set me free.  And somewhere between the pages it hit me like a lightin’ bolt!  I saw a big frontier in front of me, and I heard somebody say, ‘Let’s go!!’”
Steven Curtis Chapman released this song, The Great Adventure, when I was a sophomore in college.  Little did I know when I first heard it how powerful it would become in my life.  Every major decision I’ve made has been powered by its wisdom: “Saddle up your horses, we’ve got a trail to blaze, through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace!  We’ll follow our Leader into the glorious unknown – this is a life like no other!  This is the Great Adventure!
//
But life doesn’t always feel like a great adventure, does it?  Sometimes it feels like everything is crashing down on our heads, and we begin to wonder if Chicken Little didn’t have it right after all.  Financial hardship, career uncertainty, relationship problems in our marriages and our families, grief and loss, instability in the world, the threat of terrorism and religious extremism overseas and at home.  Sometimes it’s the unknown that is oppressive:  a looming medical diagnosis, a potentially life-changing decision that needs to be made, graduation looming just around the corner…
No – life doesn’t always feel like a great adventure – sometimes life doesn’t quite feel like anything at all.  We can get so caught up in all the things that we have to do, life so fades into pattern of ‘doing-it-over-and-over-again’ that we’re not really present to any of it.  Sometimes (whether we know it or not) we drown it all out; sometimes we use drugs or alcohol or sex, sometimes we use work or TV or even Church to numb ourselves to all that reality happening around us and go through our days and weeks and months and years mindlessly riding the carousel round and round without noticing any of it. 
The problem is…if life doesn’t feel like an adventure – if it feels like the sky is falling – or if it doesn’t feel like much of anything at all because we’ve numbed ourselves so perfectly to it – we’ll miss it – and we’ll miss Him.
//
‘There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars…and nations will be perplexed and in dismay.  People will die of fright and be overwhelmed in anticipation of what is to come.’  It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it – just like Jesus said in today’s Gospel.  And the anxieties of daily life and whatever form of drunkenness or carousing we use to lull ourselves into a stupor can leave our hearts drowsy – so drowsy perhaps that if we’re not careful we’ll miss it all and the coming of Jesus will catch us by surprise, like a trap!  …  … 
A trap?!?!?  Really?  A trap? Yes!  A trap! Because, you see, if we’re not ready – if we’re not prepared – if we’re not waiting for the coming of the Lord we’ll miss Him, just as sure as most of the world missed His coming that first Christmas – just as sure as most of the world missed Him during his earthly ministry.  And if we miss His coming, we can’t respond to His invitation, we can’t receive His healing, we can’t be caught up with Him in glory to spend eternity in the salvation He comes at Christmas to draw us into.
//
Every year we start again right here – Advent – literally, the coming – a time to make sure we’re making our hearts and our heads and our lives ready for the coming of the Lord!  And every year the plea is the same:  Pay attention or you’ll miss the boat!  That’s where living life as the Great Adventure comes in. 
Setting out on an adventure is different that living life as a mundane repetition of the same-old-stuff crushing us under anxiety or drowsing us into spiritual unconsciousness.  Setting out on an adventure requires us to stand up straight, square our shoulders, set our sights on where we’re heading, and step courageously into the future behind the One who has come to lead us there.  Setting out on an adventure requires us to sharpen our senses rather than letting them become dulled or drowning them into numbness.  Setting out on an adventure requires us to be vigilant – to have our eyes and our hearts open and looking for all the ways and places that Jesus is about to come to us…including right here on this altar today.
//
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness – from drink or work or even church-work or Netflix or money or in filling our various appetites – or even getting lost in the mundane patterns of life and love and family – or even from the anxieties of every day life.  Instead, stand up and raise your head and be vigilant!  Jesus is coming!!!  Christians can’t live life as something to be endured as painlessly as possible – we’ll miss Jesus every step of the way if we do that.  No, Christians have to see in every twist and turn a big frontier in front of us listening for the One who comes to say, “Let’s go!”

Saddle up your horses, we’ve got a trail to blaze – through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace.  We’ll follow our Leader into the glorious unknown.  This is a life like no other – this is the Great Adventure!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Standing in the Doorway

Solemnity of Christ the King, Yr B (2015)
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

You and I walk through doorways all the time.  We walked through no less than three to get here tonight.  Think about a typical day in your life…how many times do you pass through a doorway?  Ten?  Twenty?  More?  We walk through doorways all the time – but we almost never stop to notice – we hardly ever stop to consider the particular kind of space in which we find ourselves in the doorway.  He we are – present tense.  We’re not quite where we were – past tense.  And we’re not yet quite where we’re going – future tense.  We think we’re so focused on the here and now that we don’t have time for such trivialities as considering what its like to be in the doorway…but actually, quite the opposite is true.  In reality, the truth is we’re usually leaning so quickly into the future or holding so tightly to the past that we never take the time to pay attention to the doorway. 
Which is really quite sad, when you think about it.  Because – the real moments in life – the stuff of life – where we love and live and learn – everything that is real in life is sandwiched in between what has been and what will be – right in the doorway of the present moment.  And we so often miss it.
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That’s why I love to Solemnity of Christ the King which we celebrate today.  Here we are – in the doorway moment of the Christian life.  Christ the King is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time – it signals the end of everything that is ordinary about time.  But not in the sense of terminating or concluding.  Rather, in the sense of culmination, realization; the fruition of time itself, when all of creation recognizes that toward which it has been growing and tending since the first verse of Genesis.  When Jesus Christ Himself will be known by all as the One through whom life becomes eternally filled with love and communion with God and one another.  We can see – with the eyes of faith, we can see on the feast of Christ the King that great vision of Daniel, we can see that day when the Son of Man will come as if on a cloud, receiving dominion and glory and kingship over all people and nations and languages.  While at the same time, acknowledging that we are not there yet…in the doorway…
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We are not there yet, but standing in the doorway of today (and tomorrow, and the next day) we are called to live the coming reality in this moment.  We give Christ ultimate kingship over our lives.  We work hard to transform the world around us into the coming reality of that kingdom; pointing – always pointing, with our words and more importantly with our actions and our lives; always pointing to Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, so that others might come to know Him as we do.
And we do all of this because of who He revealed himself to be two thousand years ago – back then – behind us in the doorway, but still connected with us somehow – through the sacraments, and grace, and our felt experience of His incarnation which has carried us to this moment.  We rely on who Jesus revealed Himself to be in the past to sustain us as we head toward the fullness of His kingdom in the life to come – as we come here today to encounter Him in this moment – this doorway between back then and soon to be – to encounter Him around this altar – to encounter Him, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end of all that is, has been, or will be – to encounter the only One who, in every moment is, and was, and is to come.
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And it is this moment – this kind of moment – this doorway moment – in which we live our whole lives!  Not rushing into the future glory so as to leave this moment behind – that would miss the work we have to do today, carrying the Gospel message, binding up the wounded, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and allowing the Lord Jesus to tend to our wounds as well at the altar and in the confessional – no, we don’t rush into the future glory in such a way that we miss this moment…we relish this moment, and let the coming of Christ, the King of the Universe, change how we live this moment so that this moment becomes a reflection of what is to come…
And it is this moment – this kind of moment – this doorway moment – in which we carry with us the great reality that we will again begin to celebrate next week, the Advent – the coming – of Jesus to shatter all that holds us back from that future by living His power and majesty and kingship in service and sacrifice.  We gather around this altar in this moment at this celebration of the Eucharist to receive the gift He gave us back then that carries us through the doorway into the kingdom of salvation that is to come.
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You and I walk through doorways all the time – every moment of our lives is a doorway.  What if we lived each of them powered by the Eucharist given to us two thousand years ago, making present the coming kingdom of God in our midst for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in this world – what if we lived every moment of our lives as if Our Lord, Jesus Christ, truly were King of the Universe…because He is…

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christian Prepping and the Apocalypse

33rd Week OT/YrB/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Doomsday Preppers.  Apocalypse Preppers.  The Urban Survivalist.  “Buy your all-in-one 10 year survival kit here.”  TV shows, documentaries, blogs & websites – even advertisements: the world is preparing for the worst.  Everywhere we turn.  Working in the computer technology field at the time, I remember the ridiculous amount of work we went through to be prepared for the worst when the whole world fell apart at midnight on Y2K.  Every six or eight months there’s a new prediction telling us the world is going to end on such and such a day and at such and such a time… And isn’t there a part in all of us that keeps our eyes open just a little bit wider on those days…just in case?

Do you remember the moment the second plane hit the World Trade Center?  The moment we knew it wasn’t a horrible accident…the moment we felt under attack and wondered whether or not it would get worse… Where were you on Friday night when you learned that Paris was under siege?  Isn’t there some part of you that wonders, ‘Is this it? Look out – here it comes!’

There’s something in our nature that makes us wonder about the end of things…  It goes back to the time of Jesus, whose closest friends had a sense that the Lord was a part of it all, because they’d come to believe He was God’s Messiah, the Anointed One – the Christ, who would usher in the last chapter.  It goes back even farther than that, to ancient Israel and the great prophecies of Daniel.  There’s something in our human nature that makes us wonder about the end of things; more often than not that wonder is more like worry.  

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Somewhere along the way, we began to get nervous, the end of things became something we prepare for in fear, something we need to be protected from…  Think about it.  In our common understanding, the word apocalypse has come to mean catastrophe – a catastrophe on a scale so grand that we may never recover from it.  When in reality, the word itself means to unveil, to reveal, to show the truth, to get the rest of the story.  That’s what’s being revealed in the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of John that unveils the mystery about the end of things, the purpose of things, the resolution of things.  We tend to fear the description of how far off course life will veer just before God – in His love – sets things aright.  But the purpose of revealing these things isn’t so that we fear the worst, but so that we’ll maintain our hope and strength and joy in God who will bring us safely through to the glory that is to come!  

Think about it – in our first reading from Daniel, most of us got so stuck on the coming “time [that will be] unsurpassed in distress” that we missed the promise that God’s “people shall escape.”  We get so nervous about Jesus’ warning that “the sun will be darkened… and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” that we missed His promise to “gather the elect from the four winds.”  We completely missed the line from the Psalm in today’s lectionary that reminds us to let our hearts be glad and our souls rejoice in the approaching revealing of all things because God “will not abandon my soul to the netherworld” – and we totally missed the power of Christ’s love to make “perfect forever those who are being consecrated” from St. Paul.

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The Gospel acclamation prescribed for this Sunday in the lectionary reminds us to “be vigilant at all times” – to be ready, to be prepared.  But that’s not a warning to prepare for the end of time in fear.  The Enemy fears the end of time; and he does everything he can to wreck our relationship with God so that we need to fear it, too.  Or, even better, the Enemy tries to get us so distracted with life and love and study and money and career and family and worldly happiness that is rooted in pleasure and comfort that we don’t ever even think about the last things.  But the apocalypse – the revealing – the ushering in of the end of things is something to be celebrated and embraced, like the buds on the fig tree that signal the fruitfulness for which it was originally planted.

When we are in communion with God, when we are embraced within His Church and doing our best to live His teaching without rationalization to fit them into our comfort zones or preferences, when we are meeting His grace in the Confessional and worthily receiving Him into ourselves from this altar, when we are truly friends of Jesus Christ and living our lives with and for Him, we have nothing to fear and everything to hope for in the end of time.  Because, if we are God’s friends, if we do as He commands and celebrate his mercy and love as He invites us to, at the end of it all it has been revealed that we will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory to save us and bring us to Himself, then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.  Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices at the hopeful coming of these things – and I hope yours does too!  Even my body abides in confidence of Christ’s love, because He will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, no will He allow those of us who are faithful to undergo corruption.

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Both fear and apathy of the apocylapse come from the Enemy – what lie of his can you let go of right now so that you can eagerly await to coming of the King?  Time is short – this is the last week of time in any ordinary sense of the word.  Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Game Changer When It Comes to Sin...

32 Sun OT Yr B/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          “But now once and for all He has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice…”  St. Paul says something game-changing in today’s reading from Hebrews:  Jesus takes away sin itself by his sacrifice!
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          We know that Jesus forgives our sinS.  Ask any child preparing for first communion and they’ll tell you.  ‘Jesus loves me, he forgives my sins.’  We believe it, too – or at least I think we do.  Otherwise we’re just faking it when the priest says, ‘May the Lord have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life,’ at every Mass, and we all say, ‘Amen.’
          This weekend I’ve been away leading a confirmation retreat for 75 young people.  It was the same as the 40 or so other times I’ve led this retreat.  The young people see Confession on the schedule and ask, ‘Do we have to go to confession?’’  I invite them to have a conversation about that – and it always becomes clear they know Jesus forgives their sins.  That’s not the problem. 
What we discover is that they’ve often forgotten how to go to confession: they haven’t been since first communion and don’t want to look stupid in front of the priest.  They’re sometimes embarrassed by how long it’s been and are afraid the priest will chastise them.  The brave ones admit there are things they’re ashamed to confess and that’s what’s holding them back.  Like us, these young people always have their reasons for not wanting to go to confession, but they always know beyond any doubt that Jesus forgives our sins.
We know that Jesus forgives our sins …
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          ...but we don’t seem to realize He takes away sin itself.  I think this is the fundamental reason our confessionals are empty.  We believe Jesus forgives our sins, but somewhere along the way we’ve thrown up our hands. ‘What is the use of going to confession, when I’ll just find myself there again confessing the same sins.’  So we just don’t go.  We give up.  We see no point in confession. 
That leads to some faulty thinking.  For example, ‘Since this thing the Church calls a sin keeps popping up in my life, it must not really be a sin, or at least its clear Confession is no help in dealing with it, so why go?’  Or, ‘I’m not guilty of any really serious sins, so I don’t have to go to confession.’  Here’s the kicker, ‘Since its Jesus who forgives my sins, I don’t really have to confess in the presence of the priest.’ 
It seems like whenever we talk about why we don’t routinely receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it becomes a conversation about sins; plural –individual offenses or imperfections.  But Confession is not only about sins – it is also about sin itself.  We don’t just go to confession to receive forgiveness for our sins – that is important, and it happens, but it’s not the only thing that happens – it’s not the most important thing that happens.  When we go to Confession, we express our faith that Jesus takes away sin itself – that He can heal what’s wounded in us that leads to sin.  That’s the point St. Paul is trying to get across today – and that is what so many of us are missing out on when week after week we miss the opportunity to encounter the Mercy of Christ in the Confessional.
Before the cross, the only remedy was to ask God for the forgiveness of sins – there was no hope, no possibility that mankind’s sinful nature would ever be overcome.  But Jesus changed all of that.  Through his sacrifice, we have not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the hope of grace which bit by bit can heal the wound in us that leads us to sin.  But if we avoid the Confessional, we miss out on that great hope!
We know Jesus forgives our sins, but we don’t seem to accept that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation He heals what causes us to sin.
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          I’ve got a simple question today:  What have you got to lose? 
Maybe you really aren’t guilty of any mortal sin – sin that we’re required to confess before receiving Holy Communion.  Let’s be honest – that’s doubtful.  But maybe you’re the exception.  OK.  So maybe you don’t have to go to confession this week or this month.  But even if that’s so, why wouldn’t you take even the small ways you’ve missed the mark in the Christian life to Confession to receive back an abundance of grace which is truly medicine that heals whatever is wounded in us?
Maybe you follow the teaching of the Church to the letter, and you go to Confession at least once a year whether you need to or not.  (We do remember, don’t we, that to receive Holy Communion at any given time we have to have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once in the past 365 days, right?)  So – maybe you’re doing the bare minimum.  OK.
At Thanksgiving, I could eat a single slice of cold turkey, drink a glass of water, and be done.  That’s really all I have to eat to keep living.  Nothing says I have to enjoy the mashed potatoes, dressing, macaroni and cheese casserole, or the cranberry sauce.  I for sure don’t have to even take a look at momma’s pumpkin pie.  But – tell me – how in the world does the bare minimum make sense when there is such a cornucopia of goodness spread before us?
          You’re the only one who knows whether or not you are guilty of serious sins that need to be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But you see, what I’m trying to say today is: that’s not the only question that is worth asking.  I’m saying why wouldn’t you – why don’t we – enter the confessional on a regular basis to pour Jesus’ healing balm on our sinful nature itself?  You want to know one of the reasons that Pope Francis radiates the Joy of the Gospel with his every breath?  He goes to Confession weekly – that’s why.  Just like Pope Benedict and Pope Saint John Paul II before him.  Why not follow their example and give Jesus the humility of confessing even our small sins in order to receive the overwhelming gift of His grace that can take away sin itself.  What have you got to lose?
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Ten minutes once a month.  If you had a terminal illness and the absolute certain cure could be yours by visiting the doctor ten minutes once a month, wouldn’t you do it?  We do, all, have a terminal illness.  “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God…” 

Am I preaching hell fire and damnation?  No.  I’m preaching an invitation.  I’m inviting you to meet Jesus in the confessional whether you have to or not.  There’s not a single person in this room tonight (including the preacher) who doesn’t have something they could confess.  Why not give it a shot?  You’ll find something powerful there:  Jesus is there.  The Jesus who forgives sins and who takes away sinfulness.  ‘Lord – I am not worthy to receive you – but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.’

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's Game Day in the Christian Life...And Our Fans are the Real Deal

Solemnity of All Saints/Yr B/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          Game day in the Bluegrass is something special.  In the fall at the Stadium; in the winter at the Coliseum or the Arena – wherever and whenever, Kentucky fans in their blue and white are the real deal.  Before I learned my ABC’s I learned that I was a Wildcat – that we bleed blue in our family.  I could sing the UK Fight Song before I could say the Pledge of Allegiance.  Think about it – we camp out in tents for a week straight to get tickets just to meet the players!  When our wildcat men and women take the field or the court, the bands play, the crowds roar, the announcers rev it up, and a rumble swells from somewhere down deep that you start to feel in your feet and quickly radiates through every fiber of your being. 
          We’re one of the team – all of us – all pulling together for every score – some of us in uniform and in the game – some of us in the stands – but all of us working together, striving together, all of us on the team!  I’ve often wondered what it must feel like to be there on the field or the court, heart and mind focused on the win – knowing that all those folks in the stands are pulling with you, cheering for you, striving with you somehow, hoping for you…I wonder what that’s like…
          …and then I remember that’s why we celebrate All Saints Day; to remind us that we do know exactly what that’s like if we just look around with the eyes of faith.  Go ahead – look – remember those readings and LOOK!

Over there - there she is – St. Therese the Little Flower – radiant with love, cheering for us – each and every one of us – pulling for us in every battle we’re fighting and celebrating every small victory.  And over there – look – there’s St. Francis, wrapped in his gentle humility, praying for us perhaps a little harder now that one of his sons has become our bishop.  Can you see them?  

All the Saints – the ones whose names we know and the ones whose names we’ve never known – gathered around us right now like a packed house on game day in the Bluegrass – cheering us on, praying for us, struggling with us and for us – urging us on, supporting us, drawing us – all the way to our heavenly homeland.
The marvelous truth of All Saint’s Day is so profound we sometimes choose to overlook it:  All of the saints who have gone before us – all of them whose names we know and whose lives we celebrate and imitate, and the vast multitude of silent witnesses who have never been named or honored by the Church – we honor all of them today and celebrate their victorious arrival at their heavenly reward.  But we do all of that precisely because we know that they’re there – that they’re here – cheering for us with every bit as much intensity as the throngs of Wildcat fans on game day in the Bluegrass.  We celebrate all the Saints today because they are partners with us, cheering us on to our heavenly homeland.
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          Which of us are called to sainthood with them?  Who among us is destined to be a Saint?  ALL OF US!!  Each and every one of us is called to be a saint!  All Saints Day reminds us that all the Saints we know – and the ones who have never been known – have reached the goal that we were all created to attain.  They prove to us that making it to our heavenly homeland is possible because they’ve made it – and they lived lives just like you and I live in bodies just like you and I have; they received grace from the same Sacraments available to us, and they made use of that grace just like you and I are trying to do.  They remind us that we are called to follow in their footsteps, and they pray for us and help us along the way.
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          Imagine what it must feel like to be a Wildcat player on game day in the Bluegrass, feeling the encouragement and goodwill of so many gathered together to urge you on, to cheer you on to victory.  Just imagine it… now look around you and see with the eyes of faith all the saints gathered here to cheer us on right now; see the enormous cloud of witnesses, larger than we could ever count – see them and hear their prayer and encouragement.  Can you feel the roar of their encouragement cheering us on in the depths of your soul?  Can you see it with the eyes of faith?
“I …had a vision of a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.  They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice: Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb.”  They’re crying out for us – they’re praying for us!  And one day – through their prayers, and ultimately through the blood of the lamb, brothers and sisters – one day, Lord willing, we will join them – for in God’s mercy we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Here we are – its game day in the Christian journey.  And they’re here with us, cheering us on, praying for us – together with us, all a part of the same team – praying for us! 

            St. Agnes & St. Lucy - pray for us!
St. Augustine, St Francis & St. Dominic – pray for us!
St. Benedict, St. Scholastica & St. Meinrad – pray for us!
St. Thomas Aquinas & St. Therese of Lisieux – pray for us!
Blessed Mother & St. Joseph – pray for us!

Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What I Remember...Is His Smile...

Feast of Pope St. John Paul II/Oct. 22, 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center/Student Mass

He lost every member of his family – every member of his family – before he was as old as most of you in this room.  At an age when most of us are focused on passing exams and making sure there’s enough beer in the fridge (don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about), he was bobbing and weaving through the streets in the middle of the night trying his best not to get arrested for doing such a horrible thing as studying to become a Catholic priest.  When the whole society around him bitterly opposed absolutely everything that the Catholic faith stood for, he resisted.  They threatened to exile him from society, and he resisted.  
They threatened to throw him in jail, and he preached.  He preached love and mercy, he preached freedom and laughter and living the abundant life.  He preached the Truth – without shame, without watering it down, and without letting it sour him.  He preached Truth, they harassed him, and he preached all the more clearly.  As bishop, and then later as Pope, the world fought valiantly to transform life into something that was only valuable when it could produce, and reduce truth to what is comfortable, what is easy, what satisfies our appetite and preference, and still he soldiered on. 
As a young man, he loved hiking, fishing, skiing, canoeing, and camping - he loved poetry, symphony,  theater, philosophy and literature – but he loved them because they put him in contact with God, with God’s love – with God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing – with God’s wisdom;  he loved doing those things because through them he could invite others to encounter Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – and the heart of God from whom they flow.  

As an old man, his body withered away,
debilitated, feeble and physically frail.  His posture bent, his skin wrinkled, his mouth slackened.  And he taught us absolutely as much about how to die as he’d taught us how to live.

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But you know what I remember most about Pope Saint John Paul the Great?  His smile.  His smile!  It was broad, and easy.  It came naturally – even when the muscles of his face tried to forget how to do it – he smiled.  There are pictures of him on the mountainside, smiling.  There are pictures of him facing down communist dictators, smiling.  There are pictures of him reprimanding bishops and priests for dangerous, heretical thoughts – just before turning to them in love and compassion – with a father’s smile.  And in March of 2005, just three days before he died, they wheeled him to the window so he could bless the people; and though he was unable to speak because the Parkinson’s disease was so far advanced, as he offered his priestly blessing – yes…he smiled.

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John Paul II’s smile is forever etched in the recesses of my mind, I think, because he was a kind man.  Deep down inside, kindness – genuine kindness – was a foundation upon which everything else he was had been built.  Pope Saint John Paul the Great was kind – but he never let that become distorted into giving up on everything and giving in to everything in order to be niceLike Jesus – John Paul II came to set the world on fire.

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“I have come to set the world on fire – and how I wish it were already blazing!!! – Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!!”  This seems so strikingly out of character for the Jesus that we try to shove into the nice, neat little box that goes along to get along, that seeks to make everyone comfortable by being friendly and nothing else – this seems so contrary to the Jesus we sometimes want to make into our nice little buddy who follows us around, helping us stay out of trouble, and most of all doesn’t make waves.  The Jesus who is so nice and agreeable that He’s really a God made in our own image rather than the other way around. 
But, friends – that Jesus is a figment of our imagination. 
Yes, Jesus came to call sinners and heal their wounds and give them the grace to grow in virtue.  But that doesn’t include letting us define what is true based on what makes us feel good or keeps us on friendly terms with the world around us.  Yes, Jesus came to restore relationship with the marginalized, serve the poor and down trodden, and give them a place at the table – yes, Jesus came to befriend the sinner – but not by letting them pretend that “if it feels good do it” makes any sense.  
Jesus came to set the world on fire – the burning, purifying fire that calls us out of our sinfulness and into sanctity that isn’t based on defining ourselves, our morality, our ideas of success, or our paths in life on the enemy’s lies: “Eat whatever fruit you want – taste it…go ahead…surely you won’t die – God’s law is just a guideline to be interpreted to suit what you think would be nice.”  No – He came to set the world on fire with the Truth from God, the Truth which is God – the Truth which has fallen out of fashion in our world, in our country, in our town, and – yes – on our campus.
The Lord Jesus is the Prince of Peace – but not a peace that is based on hiding or softening the Truth so that we can get along without making anyone uncomfortable or upset.  That’s not peace – that’s pretend!  Standing up for the truth – struggling to live the truth in our own lives in a world that is trying to tell us that the only standard for what is true is what we decide to make it – standing up for the Truth in this world sometimes sets father against son, mother against daughter – some of you are living that reality even now in your lives.  John Paul lived it too…but take courage…take courage…because, what I remember most about him is his smile.  You can find that smile, too.
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“To believe in Jesus is to accept what he says, even when it runs contrary to what others are saying.  It means rejecting the lure of sin, however attractive it may be, in order to set out on the difficult path of the Gospel virtues.”  (WYD 2002 welcoming address.)
“The future is in your hearts and your hands.  God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in building up the civilization of love.”  (WYD 2002, Downsview Address)
“To believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as Peter, Thomas, and the first apostles and witnesses did, demands of us, just as it did in the past, that we take a stand for him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who, today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order to follow the Divine Master, to follow the lamb wherever He goes.”  (WYD 2000, Rome)
These are the words of someone who set the world on fire!!!  You want to be a part of that?  Listen to the words of John Paul the Great – be formed by his example – be inspired by his life!  Give up trying to be nice – challenge the world around you – stand for Christ – stand for truth – stand for what is right.  Let yourself catch fire!!!!
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I came here tonight to set you on fire – and how I wish you were already blazing!!!  Join me – join John Paul – join Christ – set this campus on fire!!!

Pope Saint John Paul II – pray for us!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

It's All About...All of Us!

29th Sun OT Yr B/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

          It’s all about first place:  political campaigns, football games, academics.  Finish first, finish best, do better than all the rest, right?  Earn the A, get the promotion, make the higher salary; be chosen and honored above others.  How much of our lives, in one way or another, is a race for first place?  Own the best house, drive the nicest car, wear the best fashion, look the sharpest.  Study harder, get that one spot left in the grad school program, be the first to publish or discover.  We cheer one another on in these quests; we sacrifice time, talent, and treasure in pursuit of being the best. 
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          Don’t get me wrong.  Striving for perfection, improvement, and success isn’t bad in and of itself.  Scientific advances that have helped us understand the breadth and depth of creation’s wonder would never have unfolded for us without the innate desire to strive for what’s best.  Medical advances that allow us to enjoy longer, healthier life than ever before would have never been available to us without the God given tendency to strive toward excellence. 
          Striving isn’t bad.  That’s why I think that James and John get a bad wrap.  We’ve become accustomed to thinking they were simply greedy for glory, prestige and power in heaven.  We completely understand the other ten apostles in their response.  ‘Hey – wait a minute!  Who do they think they are?  We want to be first!  Move over Zebedee boys, we want our piece, too.’  But I wonder…I wonder if all twelve of them got it wrong.  I mean – if the other ten really understood what Jesus was about, they wouldn’t have been indignant would they?  They wouldn’t have felt cheated, or threatened by the Zebedee boys’ request – they would have felt compassion for their misunderstanding…
Yes – James and John were the only ones to explicitly ask for places of honor in the kingdom of heaven – but the response of their comrades seems to suggest they were as confused as the Zebedee brothers.  Notice – Jesus admonishes all of them – he corrects all of them – he instructs all of them.  They all seem to have been missing something…
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I think the key to Jesus correcting the apostles – what they all seem to have failed to understand – was that in their desire to be the best, they’d forgotten everyone else.  This is what Jesus seems to correct:  if you want to be the best, the greatest, you must always consider everyone else.  In fact, if you want to win – if you want top prize – you have to make it your job to pay direct attention to everyone else; make sure everyone else is also succeeding.  The only winning there is in the Christian life is when we all win – when we all succeed – when we work together toward the goal of perfection.
Here’s the proof, I think, to what Jesus is saying.  How would the story have been different if what the rest of the apostles overheard was James and John asking something a little more like:  ‘Lord – how can we – all of us – win seats on your right and left hand in heaven’?  What can we do to make sure that all 12 of us are seated in places of honor in heaven?’  Or, better yet, ‘Lord, tell us how we can assure that everyone who follows you will win the ultimate crown of honor in heaven.’ 
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All too often, we’re making this same mistake as the apostles, aren’t we?  I don’t think we’re always driven by pure and simple greed – I don’t think we’re usually trying to climb up by stepping on others – I don’t believe that our basic motivation to get ahead is simply so we can place others behind or below us.  Most of the time I think we simply forget that we can never truly get ahead individually without working to bring others along with us.  We strive at work to provide for our families and secure a life as free from uncertainty as possible – that’s not greed.  We work hard to perform well in our classes to be good stewards of our educational opportunities and invest in our future, whatever God is calling us to be and however He is calling us to serve others.  That’s not a bad thing.
But, if we’re not thinking about those around us, we can look just like James and John, trying to climb the ladder by stepping on the heads of everyone else.  And all that does is awaken the same kind of competition in everyone around us.  Before we know it, life has devolved into a rat race, an ‘every man and woman for themselves’ free-for-all that leaves us all big, empty losers.
The same thing is true in our lives as Christians.  It doesn’t matter how hard you are striving to live the Christian life, how lofty and pious your goals, how sacred and holy your purpose.  When you’re so focused on your own growth in virtue and holiness that you forget about helping everyone around you, you lose – and they lose – and the life of love that holds the only true path to the honor and glory of heaven is lost to us all.
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Each week we come together – all of us together – to meet the Lord in Holy Communion together.  We share together – at the same time – in the same place – the one Body and Blood of Christ.  When we do this, we practice in an important way the lesson of today’s Gospel:  whoever wishes to be greatest among us must concern themselves with all among us; whoever wishes to be great among us must strive to serve all among us.