Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What the World Needs Now Is...

How will we ever survive the attacks on the family that society seems to be handing out everywhere we turn?  How will my family make it through this (financial or relational or medical) crisis?  How will our parish ever become a place where we love and serve one another and the community around us – without fail – every day of the week?

I often begin my week pondering what questions are weighing on the hearts of those God has called me to serve.  I add to that the burdens of my own heart: my concerns as a disciple and my concerns as a shepherd of souls.  By the time I give myself some space to embrace all of that, I often feel weak, sometimes afraid, tired, or overwhelmed.  And from that place, I reach out in prayer to God who is always faithful, and I try to spend the rest of my week listening and looking for God.

This week, one thought, one scripture, one word keeps returning to my mind – God speaking into my worry and concern for our parishes, for each of you and your families – God speaking to me in my own faith journey.  God speaking to the Church in this country and in the world...

Love.  Love is the answer.  What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  Love is what we need in our parishes – love is what we need in our families and in our world.  Sometimes I’m concerned that we have forgotten what love truly is.  Love is not an emotion that makes us feel affection – that is something that can ‘come and go’.  Rather, love is a choice, an act of the will, a commitment to will and act for the good of the other from now on.

Friends – what we need now more than ever is love.  Authentic love.  Can we stop being so distracted by our worries and hurts and concerns that we return to love?  Can we respond to our fears or our frustrations with love?  

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth.  Love bares all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” (1 Cor 13: 4-8) 

How will you love your parish this week?  How will you love your family and co-workers this week?  How will you love yourself this week?  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sent People

15th Sun OT - Yr B - 2015

Have you ever wondered why what we do around this altar is called ‘the Mass’?  The answer to that question was a game-changer for me.  I won’t bore you with all the grammatical details but it comes down to this:  the word for our celebrations around this altar – our Mass – in its most fundamental meaning is Sending.  That’s right – each time we gather at Church to celebrate the Mass we’re really coming together for ‘The Sending’ – that’s why at the end of the Mass we’re told one way or another to ‘go forth’.  We’ve come for ‘The Sending’, and once the sending is accomplished, it only makes sense that we are told to go.  Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, glorifying the Lord by your life, because The Sending has been accomplished.
I’ve been thinking about that this week, because our Gospel reading today reminds us of that early ‘sending’ – Jesus sent the twelve apostles into the world to preach repentance – inviting folks to change their ways, to come back to God with all their hearts, and get a taste of this new and different kind of freedom that life in Christ offers.  But we know, of course, that – just as He sent them – He has sent us.  It was the last thing He said to us before He ascended, in fact.  ‘Go into all the world…baptize them, teach them…’  It was the last thing Jesus said to His followers, and it’s the last thing said to us in every Mass we attend. 
But I wonder…do we leave here as a people who have been sent?  Are we living our lives as ‘sent people’ – people sent on a mission to change the world?  As we think about how we spend our time day to day – as we think about the conversations we have, and how we spend our money, and all of it – when we depart from ‘The Sending’ each week – do we live as a people sent on a mission?  If we pay attention to how Jesus first sent those apostles in today’s reading, maybe we’ll find something that can help us live as a sent people ourselves.
First – he sent them just as they were, with nothing more than what they already hadJesus sent his apostles with nothing but the clothes on their backs - literally.  'Don't go home, don't pack extras just in case, and don’t use the need to stockpile supplies or get better prepared as an excuse to delay your departure.  Instead, take stock of what you have right now - notice that what you already have is more than enough - and trust that I will provide whatever else you're going to need.' 
Becoming willing to ‘go forth’ on a mission for Christ with only what we already have makes getting started as easy as taking the first step.  You don’t need any additional preparation or planning, so there’s no reason to delay.
How many times have you felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in your heart to step out in faith and witness to the Gospel, but said to yourself, ‘I will do that one day…once I’ve had a chance to learn more about my faith.’ How often have we said, ‘I really want to get involved in this or that ministry of the Church, and I will…once I have more time, or money, or confidence, or…’ - well… you can fill in the blank. 
If we pay careful attention to Gospel, we see that Jesus sent them with what they already had right there with them.  He told them they didn’t need anything else – they didn’t need any more knowledge or courage or time.  They didn’t need to overcome their deficiencies or become better disciples.  All they needed to do was be ready to go.  And the same is true for us.  We’re ready as soon as we trust that we’re already ready!
Second – Jesus sends us as part of a community.  The only thing Jesus did insist that the apostles take with them was one another.  Two by two he sent them out.  The introverts, who might have preferred to go alone, were sent together with another.  The conservative or zealot among them sent out right along with the liberal or more easy-going.  (That’s right - He sent them together; they had to find a way to work and live and pray and minister together.  That’s a homily all on its own, isn’t it?)  You see, those preferences and perspectives: none of it mattered - Jesus sent them out together.  
When we accept today that the Lord is sending you and I out from this place on a mission, we have to re-orient our minds a bit.  We don’t need a second pair of shoes, or money, or more training, or better preparation - but we do need one another. 
What a lesson that is for us!  We sometimes seem to forget that we are called to a life of discipleship and mission as part of a community of faith.  Alone, it is all to easy to make the ministry and mission about ourselves, or our own particular way of thinking.  Alone, it is all too easy to become discouraged and give up.  Alone we are weak, and vulnerable to attack by the enemy.  Alone, we can delay; alone we can find excuses as to why I can’t step forward to play a part in that ministry.  But together…together we are strong; together we are well defended against our own pride, against defeat or discouragement.  Together we help one another focus on the Lord instead of ourselves.  And together, we can shed our excuses and get involved in the ministry of the Church and in living a life of faith everywhere we go.
Together we can live as a sent people whose lives are ordered and prioritized by the mission of love and service and evangelization we are all sent on at the end of every Mass.
“Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  After we offer God the Father the one true sacrifice of His Son at this altar in a few minutes – after we receive Jesus Christ Himself in Holy Communion and recognize that He is all we ever need to live life on a mission – after we recognize the family of faith we are with one another as we gather together at this Sending – after all these things, we are ready.  We have everything we need and are ready to be sent to be living witnesses to life in Christ in the world around us. 
May the Holy Spirit inspire us today to go forth from this place, as a sent people – living our lives on a mission for Christ.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Holy, Mature Commitment

Last week I asked the question, ‘How rooted is your faith?’  This quote in a book on authentic discipleship had caught my attention:

“Serious faith is rooted faith, rooted in principles and beliefs that are bigger than the believer and expressed in healthy, mature commitment.”

I found myself asking how rooted our faith was, because there are times when I get concerned about our commitment to parish life.  I’m not thinking about any parish in particular, but about Catholics throughout the United States.  All too often, our response to a challenge or difficulty in parish life is to disengage, either by leaving, or by ‘staying in our pew’ and letting a handful of others take on the effort that needs to be invested in order for a parish to thrive and be a source of hope in our community – the effort it takes for us to truly be (on Sunday, and every other day of the week) a parish that draws people in to encounter the love, mercy, grace, and fullness of life to be found in a living encounter with Jesus Christ.

There are 3 characteristics to holy, mature commitment:

1 – It is about more than Mass on Sunday.  It is a commitment to be an active part of the community of faith, giving generously of our time and talent to support the ministries, efforts and initiatives of our parish.  When ‘being a member of this parish’ is limited to Sunday Mass, our commitment is lacking.

2 – It’s about more than what we like or don’t like.  A mature commitment accepts our preferences for what they are, but does not let them decide whether we’re in or not – discipleship is an ‘all in’ enterprise. 

3 – Healthy commitment is able to take risks…because the community we’re committed to gives us the stability to risk the awkward conversation needed to grow past conflict or the humility needed to consider our own need for conversion.

Are you living a holy, mature commitment to practicing the faith in your parish?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Faith To Receive Jesus' Mighty Deeds

14th Sun OT - Yr B - 2015

          The Gospel readings these last two Sundays have given us a chance to consider the role that faith plays in our lives.  Two weeks ago, we saw that a lack of faith can leave us terrified when the storms of life swirl around us.  Whether the Lord calms the storms or chooses instead to calm us – He tends to remind us of His presence when we reach out to Him, and that’s a real boost to our faith.  Last week we encountered an unnamed hero in the woman whose faith saved her.  She believed what she heard about Jesus, took concrete action based on that belief, and fell down before Jesus and told Him the whole story when He turned to her.  If we follow her example, we have every reason to hope to hear Jesus say to us what He said to her:  ‘My child, your faith has saved you – go in peace and be cured.’
          Last week we encountered the power of an authentic faith – this week we encounter the obstacle that a lack of faith can become.  Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith, and was not able to perform any mighty deed among them.  It appears, considering these three weeks’ worth of Gospel readings, that while an authentic faith that leads to action and authenticity can save us, a lack of faith can leave us terrified and without the mighty deeds that Jesus wants to work in our lives.
          I don’t know about you, but I want those mighty deeds to be worked in my life – in the life of our parish – I want those mighty deeds in our families.  So maybe we should think a little more carefully about how the hometown crowd exhibited a lack of faith so that we don’t fall into the same trap and prevent Jesus from working those mighty deeds in our life.
          Did they reject Him outright?  I mean – did they see Jesus coming toward them and send Him immediately packing?  It doesn’t seem so.  He showed up for Church, and began to teach them – and from all appearances they accepted Him as a teacher among them.  Not only did they stick around to hear what He had to say, it seems they were even a bit impressed by it.  ‘Where did He get all this?  What’s this wisdom that’s been given Him?’  Those seem like positive reviews to me.  We say those things about preachers and teachers we think have something legitimate to say, don’t we?  I’ve heard people say that about Fr. Robert Barron, for example.  I’ve heard some of you say that about Pope Francis.  It seems like they were perfectly happy to receive Him as a teacher – a profound teacher – a good teacher – a wise teacher, even.  That wasn’t their problem – and that’s not our problem either, is it?  We embrace the teaching of Jesus – at least for the most part.  We struggle sometimes with the clarity of His teaching about marriage and divorce; we sometimes seem to be ignoring the ‘keys of the kingdom’ entrusted to the apostles for the forgiveness of sins by ignoring the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But overall we tend to embrace what Jesus taught.  That wasn’t what prevented Him from working mighty deeds among them, and it’s not our struggle either.
          I thought perhaps it was just that they didn’t believe Jesus could work mighty deeds – surely that kind of lacking faith would keep Jesus from doing amazing things among them.  But that didn’t seem to be the problem either, did it?  They seemed to accept – and even marvel at – the mighty things they’d seen Him do or heard of Him doing.  They said so!  ‘What mighty deeds are wrought by His hands!’ they exclaimed.  So it wasn’t a lack of belief that He could do amazing things – and that’s not really our challenge either, is it?  We believe that too on one level or another, don’t we?  We’ve known Jesus to do amazing things in our lives and in the lives of others.  We can remember amazing things that have happened that can’t be explained in any other way but to recognize that it was Jesus doing something amazing in our lives or the lives of others.
          It wasn’t that they didn’t welcome Jesus among them.  It wasn’t that they didn’t believe He could do amazing things.  So…what was it that left Jesus amazed at their lack of faith and prevented from working mighty deeds among them?
          The clue comes from their first statements of disbelief.  It seems like what they had known of Jesus somehow kept them from encountering who Jesus was presenting Himself to be on that day.  ‘’Wait a minute…wait a minute…isn’t this that little carpenter boy?  Mary’s little boy?  We remember Him…’  And all of a sudden what they had previously known about Jesus seems to get in the way.
          I wonder if it’s like that for us sometimes.
          You know – as we grow and change – as our faith journeys continue through this life – Jesus reveals more and more of Himself to us; our understanding of Him needs to grow right along with us.  It’s not that Jesus changes – He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But we have to grow and change and develop past our own comfort zones in how we encounter Him, in what we know about Him, and in how we let Him into our lives.  We have to let Him challenge us, convert us, change us – or He might be prevented from working the mighty deeds in our lives He wishes to work, just like He was prevented from working any might deed among them.

          Friends – how is your experience of the Lord Jesus growing and changing – how has your encounter with Jesus become more mature?  How are you letting your relationship with Jesus grow you?  How are we letting Him become even more truly Himself to us than He has been before?  This we must do – lest He be prevented from working the mighty deeds He hopes to work for us that we so desperately need.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rooted Faith

I’ve been reading a lot about ‘authentic discipleship’ over the last couple of years, because our Church in the United States seems to be experiencing a ‘crisis in discipleship’.  This past week one sentence in particular seemed to speak to our life together as families of faith our parishes:

“Serious faith is rooted faith, rooted in principles and beliefs that are bigger than the believer and expressed in healthy, mature commitment.”  (From 'Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples')

I wonder how well we are doing at living this kind of ‘rooted’ faith?

Faith ‘rooted in principles and beliefs bigger than the believer…’  That’s something that’s core to our lives as Catholic Christians.  To be Catholic is to accept that each person is not their own measure of right and wrong:  from our moral choices to the ways we practice the faith and worship the Lord, to be Catholic is to accept that our personal practice of the faith is to be informed and bounded and guided by the Tradition of the Church and the teaching of the Magisterium (our bishops, Councils, and the Holy Father).  But – do we live that in practice?  Our participation in the Creed at each Mass is a perfect example:  the Creed is ‘given’ to us by the Church as a former of our faith.  But, when we choose to change the words of the Creed to fit our own personal understandings or perspectives, in essence we set ourselves ‘above’ and ‘beyond’ the wisdom of the Church.  That’s not a faith ‘rooted in principles that are bigger than myself’ – that’s putting myself as the ultimate judge of faith.

Brothers and sisters, it is a pretty short distance to travel logically from ‘I don’t think those are the right words, so I’ll say different ones’ to ‘I don’t think the Church’s teaching about marriage, priesthood, or the Sacraments is quite right’ and that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from ‘this parish isn’t meeting my needs anymore so I’m going to go find another one.’  None of that is a rooted faith – that way of thinking isn’t committed to anything other than my own, personal viewpoint on the world.  And that kind of subjectivism is eventually deadly to faith.

Friends – how rooted is your faith, and what is it rooted in?