Sunday, January 29, 2017

Strongest in Our Broken Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is Our Ordinary Extraordinary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saddle up your horses…this is the Great Adventure!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Leaving Christmas by "Another Way"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

What Are We Keeping, Pondering in Our Hearts?

Christmas - Mary Mother of God - Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

“She kept all these things…reflecting on them in her heart.”

So many things.  The surprise message of the Angel – Mary, did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? And when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the hand of God?  She knew – but she didn’t go around bragging about it – and, apparently, she didn’t worry about it, though at the beginning she was troubled by it a bit.  What did she do with what she knew?  She kept it – pondered on it – reflected on it in her heart.  

So many things she kept and pondered… The visit of the angel.  The visit of the shepherds.  Strange kings coming from a faraway land.  Giving birth in the cold.  Plans that didn’t work out the way she’d envisioned.  So many things…

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I wonder – what are we pondering on this feast day of the Mother of God.  Our plans for celebrating the New Year?  Our resolutions – how many times we’re going to make it to the gym – what new habits we’re planning to form or old habits we’re hoping to set aside.  Are we consumed with worry over things that aren’t turning out the way we’d planned or hoped?  Consumed with decisions that need to be made – or decisions we feel like we have to make whether we really do or not?  Are we wrapped up in trying to figure out what will make us happy – or obsessing over how to grasp at the things we think will make us happy even when we sometimes realize that they really only satisfy our appetites and quickly leave us feeling desperate, alone, empty, and anything but truly happy…

Are we focused on the right things?  Are we stuck in our heads – like the Grinch we talked about a week ago on Christmas – and unable to get to our hearts where God lives and works and moves and calls us to Himself and the only true and lasting happiness and joy we can find in this world.

Our heads can’t do the heavy lifting for us…the miracles of life happen in our hearts…Where are our heads as we begin this New Year – and even more importantly, where are our hearts?

Mary kept all these things…reflecting on them in her heart…

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Today we celebrate the feast of Mary, Mother of God.  We honor the Blessed Mother as the perfect example of what a life lived full of grace looks like – we acknowledge her as an example, a model and a mentor – and we remember that she is Our Mother every bit as much as she was the Mother of the Savior, because Jesus gave us to her and gave her to us.  And so, while we look to her for examples of living, we beg her also to pray for and with us, knowing that with a Mother’s love she keeps us, too, in her heart.  

But this feast is as much about Jesus as it is about the Blessed Mother.  Because we don’t celebrate Mary, the Mother of Jesus – we celebrate Mary, the Mother of God.  A God who loves us enough to come to us in the flesh, to break into our worlds in a way we can see, and hear, and touch, and experience.  And not just that first Christmas…but every day…  And that’s what we, like Mary, should be noticing with our heads and pondering with our hearts.  The invitation here is clear – to adjust our focus away from what we want from the world around us, and move our hearts from worry and fear to pondering what God has done and is doing.

The invitation this New Year – the call to conversion – it is clear.  But there’s more than that.  There’s also good news.  Not merely something to add to our things to do list – more than just another way that we need to grow and stretch to become a better disciple.  And the good news is this – the call to conversion, to move our focus and change our attention, and transform worry and fear into pondering and reflecting – the good news is this invitation points us toward a good and loving God, because the God who has done and is doing whatever it is He’s doing in our lives is a God whose work is always a work of love – a work for our good, for our freedom, for our joy, peace and happiness.

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So many things – so many things that can capture our attention and press our hearts to obsession and fear and worry.  So many things that seem too big or too scary to try to contemplate or ponder.  So many things – too – that are different, brighter, bolder – so many things that God is doing in and around our lives to break into our hearts, set us free, and bring us hope and happiness…

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us – pray that we may point our minds toward Your Son and all the things He is saying and doing in our lives…and like you, to keep all these things, pondering them in our hearts.  Mary – Mother of God – pray for us…