Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Living Church Together (...in One Place...)

One of our ongoing formation programs in seminary was called ‘Together in One Place’ – its ‘logo’ was a beautifully crafted icon of Pentecost, with the followers of Christ gathered as the Holy Spirit came down upon them all.  We poked fun at the program’s name – 150 guys ‘locked up’ in the seminary – of course we were ‘together in one place’…we didn't have any choice!

As I've reflected on the scripture that inspired the program, I realize that physically gathering in one location is only one part of being ‘together in one place’.  We never really began to get anything out of that program until we truly ‘got on board’ with one heart and one mind with its goals, and ‘opened ourselves’ to what God wanted to do in our lives through it.  It seems, too, that the Holy Spirit poured Himself out in the early Church at Pentecost only as they, too, worked to become one in heart and mind and open themselves to God’s plan for them.

We come together in the same location each week for Mass…but I wonder how well we do at truly being together in one place?  In our parishes, are we living and moving and thinking together about our mission and ministry, or are we struggling with competing views of who we are and how we’ll live ‘Church’ together?  Have we opened ourselves to who the Spirit is calling us to be today or are we hanging on to who we have been in the past?  Like the early Church, the Spirit will pour Himself out on us as we let our weekly gatherings truly bring us 'together in one place’.

Pentecost marks my 2nd Anniversary of ordination to the priesthood – I give thanks to God for His call and placing me in your lives in one way or another.  My ordination prayer card quoted 1 Corinthians:  "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  This Pentecost, I ask the Holy Spirit to ever more earnestly kindle in my heart the fire that would let my ministry as a priest remain focused always on nothing more than Jesus Christ.  

I make the same request to you today that I made of those who shared in the mystery and grace of my ordination two years ago:  In your kindness, please pray that I might serve God's holy people worthily and well all the days of my life.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Together in One Place

Easter/Pentecost - Year B - 2015

'I wish our parish were on fire with the Holy Spirit the way the early Church was after that first Pentecost.’  Have you ever caught yourself thinking that?  What would happen if I ever caught fire with the Holy Spirit?  What would that be like?  What would my faith be like?  What would my family be like?  What would our parish be like?’ 

Think about it…  Even if you've never thought about it before…think about it now.  If we want to experience the fire and power of the Holy Spirit the way the early church first experienced it, we have to go about doing what they were doing – and Acts tells us they were expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit

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Are we doing that…?  In our prayer, in the way we prioritize our lives, in the way we share life with our families and work in this world, are we expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit? 

If we want to experience the fire and power of the Holy Spirit, we have to expect the coming of the Spirit.  That means finding a way to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives – and not just where we feel safe enough to invite Him – but to invite Him into wherever and whatever He pleases.  What if we started our days by praying a simple prayer:  Come Holy Spirit – come into my life wherever and however you will – set me on fire!  What if we prayed that with our family?  What if we prayed that before every Mass we attend?  Come Holy Spirit…

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And then – what if we actually began to look for the coming of the Spirit.  You know – tornado season is coming to Kentucky.  So when we go outside and see a dark cloud, automatically – without thinking really – we begin to look for severe storms so we won’t be left unprepared or unprotected.  What if we began to look for the Holy Spirit that way?  What if we listen to the announcements or read church bulletin looking for the Holy Spirit’s coming – what if we began to sit up straight and listen to the readings and the homily…looking for the Holy Spirit – expecting the Spirit to show up, and speak, and set us on fire.  What if we walked around our homes looking for the Holy Spirit?

Brothers and sisters – if we want to experience the Holy Spirit in fire and power, we need to begin to do what the apostles were doing that first Pentecost; they were expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit and looking for His arrival.  We can do it too!

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There’s one other thing that is worth noticing.  The second chapter of Acts begins this way:  ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.’  Together in one place  The apostles had been expecting the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were looking for His arrival, and they gathered themselves together in one place. 

On one hand, it’s easy to say ‘Well, Father, we've got that one down.  See?  Here we are – we’re all here, together in one place.’  Except for the fact that we can’t seem to get on the same page about some things, can we?  We argue about liturgy.  We might make it together on Sunday morning, but as a community we’re not all doing our part to get involved in the mission and ministry our parish, are we?  Leaving that for someone else to do.  What’s together about that?

Together in one place is not merely a spatial quality.  Here’s what I mean: imagine the most dysfunctional family you can.  Now imagine Thanksgiving Dinner at that house.  Uncle Bob is mad at everyone, Aunt Ruby is focused on making sure the fruit salad is good while Cousin Ned can’t believe he’s the only republican in the group.  The wealthy branch of the family tree has shown up in their finest dress, while the rest of us have come in shorts and T-Shirts.  Sure – they’re physically located in the same space, but wouldn't it be a stretch to say that they were truly together in one place?

Being together in one place means working hard to be of similar heart and mind.  Together in one place means that we have similar objectives, similar priorities, and similar ideas about how were moving forward together into the future.  Together in one place isn't a kind of boring uniformity where there is no room for discussion, difference, or variety, but it does mean that our hearts and minds are moving in the same direction, for much the same reasons, and along very similar paths.  Together in one place means we’re all – each of us – doing our part, sharing part of the load.  Think about how diverse the backgrounds of the apostles, how different their skills and talents – but then also think about what bound them together – what guided them and helped them to be one body of Christ with many members. 

That first Pentecost, the apostles were so together in one place that even when they went out to all the corners of the world, they somehow remained together in one place.  Just imagine what might happen in the life of our parish if our physical gatherings began to be mirrored by a more spiritual reality of truly being together in one place  Can you begin to pray and dream about how to make that happen?

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Brothers and sisters – I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the life of faith into something that is alive, all-consuming, more rewarding than we can imagine, and fruitful beyond our wildest dreams.  I believe the Holy Spirit is capable of consuming whatever lingers in us that holds us back and give us the spark of divine energy that will transform this thing we call ‘living the Christian life’ into something that changes the world.  And I believe you and I can catch that spark – I believe we can be set on fire with the Holy Spirit just like the apostles that first Pentecost.  I believe if we do what they did, we’ll find those tongues of fire dancing in our spirits and experience of this life like never before. 

If we do what they did, we’ll get what they got.  So let’s begin to expect the coming of the Holy Spirit, let’s look for the Holy Spirit wherever we go, and let’s work to be – heart and mind, truly – together in one place. 

Come Holy Spirit!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Are You Standing There...?

Easter Ascension - Year B - 2015

I've had moments like that, haven’t you?  When you just kind of find yourself standing there, with your hands in your pockets, staring off into space, trying to process what has just happened and not quite sure what to do or where to go next, even if the answer is blatantly obvious to everyone else?  When I walked out of the hospital room seconds after my grandmother died.  When I loaded the last box into the car after packing up to leave the seminary where I’d prayed and studied for six years – or, for that matter, when I finally unloaded many of those same boxes into the rectory on Horton Street in Grayson almost a year ago.

Sometimes these moments come at major milestones in our lives – graduations, moving from one place or moving to another, the last day at a job we've loved and worked at for many years.  Sometimes these are moments of great joy and celebration – like the moment of great spiritual consolation and peace I felt when I came back over here to lock up the Church after our amazing 50th Anniversary celebration last October.  Staring at your precious new baby asleep for the first time in her crib at home.  Those first few quiet moments in the car as two new spouses drive away from the reception.  Sometimes these very unsettling moments leading into the great unknown – like those first few minutes after learning your job has been eliminated, or right after hearing of the untimely or accidental death of a friend.  

We've all had moments like that, haven’t we?  When we find ourselves sort of standing there, with our hands in our pockets, staring off into space, trying to process what has just happened and not quite sure what to do or where to go next.  That’s where we find the Apostles today as we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven.  Staring intently at the sky, trying to figure out what in the world had just happened, and what in the world they were supposed to do next.  When along comes these two men dressed in white garments – possibly angels – who ask the pertinent question:  ‘Why are you standing here staring up at the sky?’  The implication is clear:  OK friends – don’t just stand here with your hands in your pockets staring off into space – He’s left you work to do, and He’s going to be coming back – so its time to go get busy.  Matthew and Mark make this moment even clearer in their Gospels, recording the specific instruction Jesus leaves to them:  Go into all the world, spread the Good News, baptize and bring into the community of faith all those who will hear and receive the salvation Jesus has won for us.  

Don’t just stand there – go – get busy – there’s work to be done.  As we draw to a close our weeks of celebration of the joy and new life of Easter, lest we find ourselves wondering where we should go and what we should do next, the Church reminds us today that the completion of Easter – the fulfillment of Easter – is a command to Go.

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You know – we end every Mass that way too.  In fact, the whole Mass can be thought of as a Sending.  In somewhere around 60 minutes on Sundays, we follow the major movements of the Christian story that lead us to right where we are today at the Ascension.  We are gathered together as a people of God in the Introductory Rites.  We hear the message of God’s eternal love for humanity even through our mistakes in the Liturgy of the Word that leads to the full manifestation of God’s revelation in the person of Jesus Christ.  In response to God having made a way for us to return to relationship with Him, we worship Him in the only acceptable way at the altar in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, offering Him the only thing we have worthy of His love – Jesus Christ Himself, broken for our sake – the same way that Jesus offered Himself up to the Father on our behalf in His own passion and death.  And when all that’s said and done, we are sent to share it all with the whole world – Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord – Go, Glorifying the Lord by your Life.  Just like when it was all said and done, and Jesus had accomplished what He’d set out to do out of love for the Father and for us, He sent His apostles saying, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.’

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I guess the question today is this – when this Mass is over today – what are you doing…where are you going?  Are we standing around with our hands in our pockets wondering where to go or what to do next?  Are we just fading back into what we think of as our ‘real’ lives – making money, pursuing our careers, chasing our dreams, living our life the way we want to live it now that our Sunday obligation is over?  Or are we going?  Going with purpose – living our lives as a fulfillment of the command left by the One who lived His life to save us from ourselves and love us for all eternity?  We know what the apostles did.  They went forth and preached everywhere.  

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Christians – why are you standing there looking at the sky?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going up into heaven.  So while there is still time, we must do as He asked and go – go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.  

Go…

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Beloved...Let Us Love One Another

6th Sunday of Easter - Year B - 2015

When we think of love today, most people think of this warm and fuzzy feeling that leaves us head over heals – we talk of being knocked off our feet.  Love in the movies is accompanied by cheesy music and passionate kisses that make the ladies kick up their heels.  Love in the fairy tales is something that makes everyone live happily ever after.  Love in our culture is a feeling, an emotion, that comes and goes as quickly as the wind – when its good its good but when its gone its gone.  People talk as much about falling out of love these days as they talk about falling in love.  It seems to be a falling – something that happens to them.

But love – real love – authentic love – is something completely different.  Love isn't primarily an emotion – it is, rather, primarily a decision:  Beloved – let us love one another.  The ones we like and get along with, and the ones we don’t like so much or get along with at all.  John didn't say let us love those who make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside – nor did he say – see who you find yourself loving and keep loving them.  John said let us love one another.  Look to your left, look to your right, look across the room – and love those people, all of those people, whether you like them or not – love them anyway.  “This I command you: love one another.”

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So love – real love – is a decision…but what kind of decision?  Today’s readings point out that love is first of all a steadfast, unchanging, faithful decision to remain in relationship no matter what.  Remain in my love. We love when we are all in, all the time, forever and ever amen.  When the going gets tough, the tough might get going – but in love, when the going gets tough, those who love one another stay right where they are.  Remain in my love.  When illness weakens the body and requires more help, and the nerves grow raw, and the energy tank reads ‘empty’, love means staying and weathering the storm.  When financial troubles hit, or relationship difficulties make it easier to leave rather than face the uncomfortable situation, love stays.  Remain in my love.

Love is a steadfast decision to remain and to lay it all down for the good of the beloved.  ‘In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His Son into the world so that we might have life through Him.’ Sometimes love means letting go of those things we hold most dear.  ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’  And if love means laying down our lives, then mustn't it also mean to lay down our preferences, our likes and dislikes, our preconceived notions when doing so is for the good of the other?  In our culture folks seem to be saying over and over again, ‘I’ll love you if…’  I’ll love you if you change to fit my mold, if you’ll do this or stop doing that; I’ll love you if you become who and how I want you to be.  But that’s not love – true love, authentic love, says ‘I’ll love you even…’  I’ll love you even when you aren't loving me, I’ll love you even when you anger, or frustrate, or disappoint me.

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Love is a steadfast decision to remain and to lay it all down for the good of the beloved.  We sometimes confuse love with affection or preference; and that’s partly because our language isn't precise about the difference.  We say we love ice cream and pizza and puppies, using the same word to express how God loves us and how we must love one another.  But that misleads us into thinking that love comes and goes, and is based on what we like.  In the Greek of the New Testament, the word we translate into love from today’s readings has a very clear definition:  desiring, choosing, and bringing about what is best for the other person.  That’s the way Christ loves us – not an emotion, but an act of the will, a steadfast decision to lay it all down for the good of the beloved.

And as Christians, following Christ could not be any clearer – our need to grow and practice and develop into people who love according to the model of Christ could not be more explicit.  Beloved, let us love one another…As the Father loves me, so I love you…Remain in my love…This I command you, love one another.’

So how are we doing at being a people of love?  In our families and our relationships with one another in this parish?  Beloved, let us love one another – brothers and sisters, let us be steady and constant in being a part of this community of faith, consistently desiring, choosing, and bringing about what is best for the other person in all things.

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Jesus, of course, is the only perfect example of authentic love lived out in life and death.  But isn't it beautiful that we meditate on authentic love today as we celebrate Mother’s Day together.  We honor Mary’s authentic love – her love for God, for Christ, and for us – in the way she lived her yes every day of her life.  In fact, it is impossible to ever become a mother without a woman doing her best for about nine months to choose every moment of every day to bring about what is best for the child she carried within her.  And that sets up a lifetime of love that motherhood is all about.

For most of us, if we ever need an up close and personal example of what it means to live a life of love, we need not look any farther than our mothers.  And I can think of no better way to honor our Moms today than to strive to live each moment of our lives loving one another, just as Christ loved us.

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Beloved…let us love one another.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

We Can Do It...But We Can't Do It Alone

5th Sunday Easter - Year B - 2015

‘So…this guy is walking along the sidewalk, and he falls down into a hole.  He spends several hours trying to get out but he can’t – the walls are just too steep.  All of a sudden, the man sees one of his friends coming toward him who jumps down into the hole.  The man looks disbelievingly at his friend and says, ‘What in the world are you doing?  Now we’re both stuck down here!’  His friend looks back and says, ‘Don’t worry – I've been down in this hole before and I know the way out.’

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We’re all like that at some time or another.  Trying to do it all alone.  We've got it all figured out – we don’t need anyone’s help.  At most, we just need everyone around us to do what we want them to do, including God.  We pretend we’re asking for help, but what we’re really doing is expecting others to become extensions of our own power and will.  We don’t really want help – we just want them to play our game for us in our way, based on our own experience, on our timetable.  In our prayer we make God into a supernatural Santa Claus, putting Him on our payroll – not really seeking His help at all.

When things seem to get ‘stuck’ we wonder why it’s not working.  Why things aren't progressing.  Why nothing is growing or improving.  We either fail to ask for help, pretending we can do it all on our own; or we reject the help that’s offered because it doesn't fit our view of what we want or need – oblivious to the reality that the experience and wisdom of others is often the greatest help we need.

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Jesus teaches us an important lesson in the Gospel today.  “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bare much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  That’s another way of saying, ‘You can’t accomplish anything without my help.’  When Jesus reminds us that a branch cannot bare fruit apart from the vine, He’s reminding us that we need the grace, hope, joy, and wisdom of God in order to bare fruit – in order to climb out of the holes we've fallen into, in order to grow spiritually as individuals and as a parish.  We need Him, and we need one another.  Since God Himself is a community of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He made us in His own image to need help to survive and thrive.  We need help – and we need to help; we need help from God, and from one another.

Whatever it is, we can do it – but we can’t do it alone.
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There’s a beautiful part of the prayers of the Mass that many folks never hear; it is part of what some call the priest’s ‘private prayers’ that takes place while the bread and wine are being prepared.  You’ve probably noticed the priest mix a small bit of water with the wine just before He offers it in Thanksgiving to the Father. There is a prayer that’s said while he mixes the two:  ‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share our humanity.’  That small action in our liturgy honors a profound tenet of our faith:  Jesus jumped down into the hole with us.  ‘Don’t worry,’ Jesus says, ‘I've been down here before…I know the way out.  Looks like you need a little help.’

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

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

What’s going well in your life?  In the life of your family?  What’s going well in the life of our parish?  We’re going to find that whatever is going well in this life, we’re asking for and making good use of the help of God and others in that undertaking – and (as a way of remaining a part of the whole vine, we’re offering help back to others or our parish as well).  And the reverse is just as true – whatever isn’t going so well in our lives or the life of our family or our parish, we’re not asking for or making good use of help, or there aren't enough of us willing to help out.

What help do you need?  What help do others need from you?

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