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!
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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.
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‘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.
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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.
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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.