Reflections from Fr. Brian
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 8, 2017 – If we haven’t been to Florence, Italy, to see the real thing, we have all, at least, seen pictures or replicas of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. It is a masterpiece in marble. It stands nine cubits high, alert with all the wonderful expressiveness of artistic genius. There’s quite a story behind the statue. You notice right off in looking at it, that the young man David is slightly bent over as if in the act of hurling the fatal stone. The reason is that Michelangelo carved the figure out of a block of marble ruined by another sculptor, over a century before.
The first artist bungled his creation when he cut too large a slice out of the side. One hundred years later, the trained eye of Michelangelo saw the stone and caught the possibility that lay in it. The sliced-out area of the marble block became the curve in the body of David which gives the appearance of his throwing the stone at Goliath. The same block of marble –ruined by one man, redeemed by another.
Two small town philosophers were sitting on a bench in the town square engaged in a discussion on growth. The question they posed was: Does one grow from the head down or from the feet up? One homespun philosopher said, “From the feet up, of course.” He said that he had given his grandson a new suit for his eighth-grade graduation last year and the trousers were just the right length. Now, a year later, the pants just reached his ankles. That proved that people grow from the feet up.
“Ridiculous!” snapped the other bench warmer. “It’s obvious that people grow from the head down. Just look at a platoon of soldiers marching down the road; all their feet are on the same level, but if you look at their heads you will see that they are at different heights. The proves that people grow from the head down.”
Wrong on both counts! We grow neither from the bottom up nor from the top down. We grow from within. Daily, having given us the opportunities to grow in love of God and neighbor. Practice makes perfect.
October 1, 2017 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – One of the most magical and wonderful stories ever written is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the tale of a little girl who fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a marvelous land of adventure.
Carroll wrote another story, less known, but also fascinating in its teaching and entertaining values. He told about a padlock. It was just an ordinary padlock, except it was alive. It had long, thin arms and legs and was always very nervous, running here and there. One day, another character in the story stopped the twisting, turning, wiggling padlock and asked, “What is the matter with you? Why are you so excited and unhappy?’ Waving his thin arms wildly in the air, the padlock exclaimed, “I
am seeking the key to unlock myself!”
The Christian gospel says there is a key that will help a person come to grips with herself or himself. Peter presented it in his sermon: it is Jesus. To make a profession places one under something.
Medicine places a doctor under the Hippocratic Oath. The law places the lawyer and judge under the laws of the land. The politician is under the constitution. The child of God is under God. Lincoln gave us the immortal phrase: “This nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom.” Years ago, Congress legislated the phrase “under God” into our Pledge of Allegiance.
This is the proper alignment for person and country and the one stated in both the Old Testament and New Testament texts for today. Keeping God before us or – as some put it — above us. Famed musician Pablo Casals was visited one day by a man who was astonished to see the veteran cellist playing scales over and over. He expressed surprise that one so skilled, experienced and gifted should engage at such a dull routine of practicing.
Said the master: “My good man, in playing the cello the problem is to get from one note to the next. This is why I practice scales every day.” A wise word. Makes sense to me.
September 24, 2017 – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A couple of years ago a college newspaper offered a prize for the best definition of life. Here are a few entries that won honorable mention: “Life is a joke which isn’t funny.” “Life is a jail sentence which we get for the crime of being born.” “Life is a disease for which the only cure is death.” Such bumper sticker type one-liners are attempts at wit but are basically cynical and unsatisfying.
Ted turner, of cable news fame, had his definition, offered on a “Larry King Live” TV
talk show: “Life is a B-grade movie. You don’t want to leave in the middle of it, but you don’t want to see it again,” he said.
From the notable minds of the past, we get these allusions to life, as listed in Bartlett’s
Familiar Quotations, revised edition: “Life is a blunder.” “Life is a candle,” “Life is a bubble,” “Life is a dance,” “Life is a cheat,” “Life is a dream,” “Life is sweet,” “Life is bitter,” “Life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” Again, mostly cynical and negative.
The Holy Scriptures give us something more hopeful and uplifting about life. Life has
meaning because it is connected to God. Life is renewable and filled with hope. Life is stronger than death.
In Margery Williams’ classic children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit, two toys are talking: “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always
truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time.
That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter… once you are Real.”
Change the word Real slightly to Whole and it fits, as well. Being real is being whole. And it comes about over a lifetime of anointings. Christianity is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 17, 2017 – Franz Joseph Haydn was without peer as a musical composer of his era. Born in Austria in 1732, Haydn was a devout Roman Catholic who began every day on his knees. Each time Haydn was asked where he got his musical inspiration, he always responded that it came from God. When the music did not come, Haydn said, he knew that something was blocking the divine flow. “Then I prayed once more for grace,” he humbly confessed.
When “The Creation”, perhaps Haydn’s greatest work, premiered in Vienna, he went to the presentation although he was sick and advanced in years. After the performance, the distinguished audience stood and gave Haydn a thunderous ovation. Finally, Haydn feebly arose to acknowledge the gratitude of his admirers. When quietness settled over the large auditorium, Haydn humbly responded: “It all came from above.” While on a tour of California’s giant sequoias, the guide pointed out that the sequoia tree has roots just barely below the surface. I exclaimed, “That’s impossible! I’m a country boy, and I know that if the roots don’t grow deep into the earth, strong winds will blow the trees over.”
The guide replied, “Not sequoia trees. They grow only in groves and their roots intertwine under the surface of the earth. So, when the strong winds come, they hold each other up.” There’s a lesson here. In a sense, people are like the giant sequoias.
Family, friends, neighbors, the church body and other groups should be havens so that when the strong winds of life blow, these people can serve as reinforcement and can strive together to hold each other up. During World War II, a young bride followed her husband to an army camp in the California desert. It wasn’t long before she regretted her move. The heat and dust were terrible, and her busy husband could spend little time with her. Before long she grew bored and lonely, for their only neighbors were Indians who spoke little English.
When the newlywed could stand it no longer, she wrote her mother that she was coming home. Her mother wrote back these words: Two men looked out from prison bars; One saw mud, the other saw stars.
The young woman knew what her mother meant. And right then she determined to look for ways she could turn her negative situation into a positive one. She learned the Indian language and made friends with her neighbors. She studied desert plants until she became such an authority that she wrote a book to teach others about them. The young woman’s effort to see stars made living in the lonely desert a joy.
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 10 – The following letter was found in a baking powder can, wired to the handle of an old pump, a pump that offered the only hope of drinking water on a long, seldom – used trail across the Amargosa Desert. “This pump is all right as of June, 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it, and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out, and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun, and cord end up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one-fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest and pump like crazy. You’ll get water. The well has never run dry.
Have faith. When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller. Signed, Desert Pete. P.S. Don’t go drinking up the water first. Prime the pump with it and you’ll get all you can hold.” Desert Pete’s note is right on target when it comes to relating faith to everyday life. What a person would do, coming along that trail, half dead from lack of water, and with an empty can teen, would reveal much about his faith. Faith is not so much an academic subject for discussion or a theological term from the Bible, as it is something on which our very life depends.
There was a young man who approached a hermit with this request: “Show me how I can find God.” “How great is this desire of yours?” asked the saintly man. “More than anything in the world,” came the reply. The hermit took the young man to the shore of a lake and they waded into the water until it was up to their necks. Then the holy man put his hand on the other’s head and pushed him under water.
The young man struggled desperately, but the hermit did not release him until he was about to drown. When they returned to the shore, the saint asked, “Son, when you were under water, what did you desire more than anything in the word?” “Air,” he replied without hesitation. “Well, then, when you desire to find God as much as you just then wanted air, your eyes will be opened to the wonder of God.”
You’ve probably seen cartoons by Dan Reynolds in Reader’s Digest and on greeting cards. He has one in which St. Peter is locked outside the Pearly Gates — using a fishing rod to try and snag his big key ring through the bars. If you’ve ever locked yourself out of the house you can relate. No one wants to be locked out. Jesus urges us to enter the kingdom through the “narrow gate.” If the key to heaven is love, then we must keep that key close to our hearts. Humility also helps. Those who exalt themselves will never be able to squeeze through the humble door that leads to life.
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – September, 3, 2017 – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian dissident who is renowned for his writing about human freedom, tells about a simple reminder by a fellow prisoner that once gave him reason to go on living. Solzhenitsyn was working 12 hours a day at hard labor. He had lost his family and had been told by his doctors in the Gulag that he had terminal cancer. One day, he thought, there is no use going on. I’m soon going to die anyway. Ignoring the guards, he dropped his shovel and sat down and rested his head in his hands.
He felt a presence next to him and looked up and saw an old man he had never seen before, and would never see again. The man took a stick and drew a cross in the sand in front of Solzhenitsyn. It reminded him that there is a Power in the world that is greater than any empire or government, a Power that could bring new life to his situation. He picked up his shovel and went back to work. A year later Solzhenitsyn was miraculously released from prison and now lives in the United States. There is an old legend about Aaron, a fisherman, who lived on the banks of a river.
Walking home with his eyes half closed one evening after a hard day’s work he was dreaming of what he could do if he were rich. Suddenly his foot struck against a leather pouch filled with what seemed to him to be small stones. Absentmindedly he picked up the pouch and began throwing the pebbles into the water. “When I’m a rich man,” he said to himself. “I’ll have a large house.”
And he threw a stone into the river. He threw another stone, and thought, “My wife and I will have servants, and rich food, and many fine things.” And this went on until just one stone was left. As Aaron held it in his hand, a ray of light caught it and made it sparkle. He then realized that this was a valuable gem. He had been throwing away the real riches in his hand, while he dreamed idly of unreal riches in the future.
Isn’t that the way many toss off the invitation to the Heavenly Banquet? We ignore or decline God’s invitation. We see little value in the gem of grace. Only when it is too late do we see the folly of our throwing away the opportunity to enter into peace and the true values of life.
There is a curious fish from Central America called Quatro-ojos, meaning “four eyes.” This fish doesn’t really have four eyes, but its eyeballs do contain two lenses each. This allows the fish to see both above and below the water as it swims along the surface. The upper lenses search for food while the lower lenses look for enemies below the surface.
The Quatro-ojos is able to see into two worlds: one below and one above its horizon. This is the type of visions God seems to want of His children. We must live in this world and be aware of the needs of others around us. We also have a spiritual vision to see what God would have us do to meet those needs.
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 27, 2017 – Last week we referred to the Italian children’s classic, Pinocchio, the story of the wooden puppet who could walk without strings but was naughty almost from the time he took his first step. Let us make a little digression about the author, Carlos Collodi, who based the story on his own life experience. Collodi’s nephew and biographer, Paolo Lorenzini, wrote that Collodi was a very naughty boy in grammar school in Florence.
His pranks were mostly harmless, except that he almost drowned in a river because of imprudence. When he was 18, his father died, and he assumed financial responsibility for his mother. He worked as a drama critic for Florence’s newspapers, which required working at night and frequenting the city’s cafes after the shows, Collodi took to drinking and developed a mild case of alcoholism. He got in with a crowd his mother didn’t approve of, but with her affection for her son he gradually abandoned that crowd and overcame his bad habits, drinking included, and started to live a better life — even to the point of entering a seminary to study for the priesthood.
Collodi based his famous Pinocchio on his experiences of wrong associations, prior to being converted and changing his behavior. According to the tale, Pinocchio fumbled his way into trouble three times, and each time because he chose to walk carelessly with the wrong peers. The first trouble was when Pinocchio went to see a puppet show, and was a member of the audience. The puppets performing on the stage recognized him as a brother puppet while he was sitting among people of flesh and blood. They stopped working and disrupted the show.
The puppeteer was very angry at Pinocchio for causing the fracas and threatened to use the puppet as wood for his fireplace. The second trouble occurred when Pinocchio met two unpleasant characters, the cat and the fox, and instead of listening to the talking cricket (the representative of his conscience) he immediately made them his friends.
They made him believe that he would find a way to become rich without working, so they could cheat him. The third trouble occurred when, instead of trying to become a real boy as the Fairy with the Blue Hair had admonished him to do, Pinocchio joined his friend Lucignolo in a trip to the country of toys. In that country children were not required to go to school; life consisted of one amusement after another; no duties, but only games and play. Unfortunately, children in that country were being transformed into donkeys.
The story, like an ancient myth, repeats the theme of how easy it is to be persuaded by contemporaries, schoolmates, peers of any kind, to succumb to immediate pleasure and to avoid commitment and to walk the broad way that leads to destruction, rather than walking the narrow way Jesus advocated, which leads to life eternal. A word to the wise is sufficient.
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 20, 2017 – Among the works of Italian literature competing with such classics as Dante, Bocaccio, and Machiavelli is the immensely popular little book for children, Pinocchio, by an otherwise obscure author named Collodi. It is a classic story of willful behavior. Like all puppets Pinocchio was made of wood, but unlike the others did not need a puppeteer to move his strings. He was capable of motions on his own, of willed acts.
What was the result? From the very first moment that his father, carpenter Geppetto, finishes making him, he gets into trouble. As soon as Geppetto gives the last touch to Pinocchio’s hands, those hands grab Geppetto’s wig and don’t want to let it go. As soon as Geppetto makes the legs, the legs start to move and kick Geppetto. And from that time on, it is one naughty deed after another. Pinocchio goes through the stages of being a disobedient child, a juvenile delinquent, and real psychopath.
Pinocchio needs to have his selfish will subordinated to the wiser will of his creator father, Geppetto. How was this accomplished? Influenced by the Biblical book Jonah, the author has Pinocchio turning up alive in the big belly of a whale. It is there that Pinocchio repents, finds again his father Geppetto, and there redemption occurs. Just as Jonah had his selfish will subordinated to the will of God, where he repented and went to Nineveh as God had directed, so Pinocchio underwent the eternal truth of this taming necessity.
A great example of a dedicated life is seen as follows….
A missionary friend in India recently had the privilege of spending a weekend retreat with Mother Teresa in Bangalore. He looks upon her as a “living saint, a small woman, very humble, her face lined with age and wrinkles, but she sure carries a large portion of God’s love and concern for others around with her wherever she goes.”
He was impressed with the thoroughness of the care she and her sisters provide. She can’t be satisfied until the total care of a person is provided for. She told him, by way of example, of a man in Calcutta they found, dying in a street gutter. They helped as best they could on the street, and then picked him up and transported him to their hospital where he was bathed and put into a clean bed.
Mother Teresa knew they were too late, that the man wouldn’t live, but her reward was not only in doing what she and others did for him in his last hours, but also in one of the last statements he made. He said, “I’ve lived in the streets of Calcutta like an animal,” but then looking at his fresh, clean surroundings said, “but I’m going to die here like an angel.”
Mother Teresa then quoted the words she lives by, the words of another Teresa, St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good things, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 13, 2017 – A group studying the origin of life, so a make-believe story goes, exhaustively researched the question “How did life begin?” They compiled much data covering many areas of investigation and fed it all into a mammoth computer.
Having put everything they could find on the origin of life into the giant machine, they pushed the answer button and eagerly awaited the response to one life’s primary questions – where did life begin? Lights flashed, bells rang, buzzers sounded and finally the printed message came out. It read, “See Genesis 2:7 – and (God) breathed into his (man’s) nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.”
Jean Benny, daughter of the late comedian Jack Benny, had to be persuaded to write about her life with the famous celebrity. After all, she said, we had a happy home life and I didn’t have any juicy tidbits of scandal and abuse that some children of celebrities had and were eager to tell all about it. Joan Benny remembers Sunday mornings as being her “special time” with her father. “Daddy would wake me up for breakfast about 7:30.
Then we’d head outside to go for a drive somewhere. Daddy would get into the car and turn the ignition key. Inevitably, nothing would happen. He would push and pull every button on the dashboard, twist all the knobs, and pump the accelerator, but the motor still wouldn’t start. At length, he would say to me, “Honey, the car just won’t start until you give me a kiss.” So I did, and it did — and off we went.
For a long time, I believed there was some kind of scientific connection between kissing and car starting. Joan Benny tells in writing of her life that her father had a wonderful sense of being fully alive and it was infectious to those around him.
Saint Augustine once wrote: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance to seek him the greatest adventure to find him, the greatest human achievement.” Jesus tells his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire.” God’s love encompasses those who seek divine friendship.
This is the most important relationship we will ever know it changes everything and makes us a new creation. And the greatest of all the virtues is love. God is love and one who abided in love, abides in God and God in them.
Transfigure of the Lord – August 6, 2017 – A major university experienced an amazing turnaround in its football program a few years ago. The next spring, at the opening of spring training, the coach gathered his players together for a team meeting. As the players found their seats, the coach announced he was going to hand out awards that many of the players had earned in the fall. As the coach called players forward and handed them their awards, they were cheered on by their teammates.
Then one of the assistant coaches gave the head coach a placard representing the national coach-of-the year award he had won for the team’s play. He accepted it proudly. Then, as he applause subsided, the coach walked to a trash can which was marked with the year of their outstanding season, took an admiring glance at his placard, then dumped it into the trash can. In the silence that followed, one by one, the team’s stars dumped their wards on top of the coach’s.
The message was clear: “What you did last year was terrific. But look at the calendar: It’s not last year anymore.” Good advice. The team had experienced a great year, but they needed to put behind them and focus on the year ahead. At a large University graduation exercise, the University President rose to address the graduates and confer the degrees. He began by explaining the meaning of the traditional Latin phrases used…. If a student graduates “Cum Laude,” it means “With Honors.” If a student graduates “Magna Cum Laude,” it means “With High Honors.” If a student graduates “Summa Cum Laude,” it means “With Supreme Honors.”
Then he said, “There’s a new honor I plan to use in the future to be called “Magna Cum Pellidentium.” It means, “By the skin of your teeth.” Author J. Allan Petersen tells about a flight he once took on a 747 out of Brazil. He was awakened from sleep by a voice announcing, “We have a very serious emergency.” Three engines had quit because of fuel contamination and the fourth was expected to go at any second. The plane began to drop and turn in the night, preparing for an emergency landing.
At first the situation seemed unreal to Petersen, but when the steward barked, “Prepare for impact,” he found himself – and everyone around him – praying. As he buried his head in his lap and pulled up his knees, he said, “Oh, God, thank You.
Thank you for the incredible privilege of knowing You. Life has been wonderful.” As the plane approached the ground, his last cry was, “Oh, God, my wife! My children!” Petersen survived. As he wandered about the airport afterward in a daze, aching all over, he found he couldn’t speak, but his mind was racing, What were my last words?
What was the bottom-line? As he remembered, he had his answer: relationship. Reunited with his wife and sons, he found that all he could say to them over and over was, “I appreciate you, I appreciate you!” He discovered – as sooner or later we all discover – the bottom line of life is love. Love is what life is all about.
God created this world so that He would have persons He could love. Jesus gave us a new commandment of love. Please God, on judgement day, You and I will graduate even though it might be “By the skin of your teeth” “Magna Cum Pellidentium.”
16th Sunday In Ordinary Time — July 23, 2017 — It’s one of those stories you see circulating on the Internet. The author is unknown, but the sentiments are universal. It’s titled The City of Regret. “I had not really planned to take a trip this year, yet I found myself packing anyway. And off I went., dreading it. I was on another guilt trip. I booked my reservation on “Wish I Had” airlines.
I didn’t check my bags—everyone carries their baggage on this airline. I had to drag [my bags] for what seemed like miles in the Regret City airport. And I could see that people from all over the world were there with me, limping along under the weight of bags they had packed themselves. I caught a cab to Last Resort Hotel, the driver taking the whole trip backward, looking over his shoulder. And there I found the ballroom where my event would be held: The Annual Pity Party. As I checked in, I saw that all my old colleagues were on the guest list:
The Done family—Woulda, Coulda, and Shoulda;Both of the members of the Opportunity family were there—Missed and Lost. All the Yesterdays were there, too—there were too many to count, but all would have sad stories to share; Shattered Dreams and Broken Promises would be there, too, along with their friends Don’t Blame Me and Couldn’t Help It.
And of course, hours and hours of entertainment would be provided by that renowned storyteller, It’s Their Fault.As I prepared to settle in for a really long night, I realized that one person had the power to send all those people home and break up the party—me. All I had to do was return to the present and welcome the new day!
The City of Regret. Have you ever been there? Chuck Swindoll has a humorous story in his book, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, that illustrates this. A missionary was sitting at her second-story window when she was handed a letter from home. As she opened the letter, a crisp, new, ten-dollar bill fell out.
She was pleasantly surprised, but as she read the letter her eyes were distracted by the movement of a shabbily dressed stranger down below, leaning against a post in front of the building. She couldn’t get him off her mind. Thinking that he might be in greater financial distress than she, she slipped the bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned the words, “Don’t despair.”
She threw it out the window. The stranger below picked it up, read it, looked up, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went away.
The next day she was about to leave the house when a knock came at the door. She found the same shabbily dressed man smiling as he handed her a roll of bills. When she asked what they were for, he replied: “That’s the sixty bucks you won, lady. Don’t Despair paid five to one.” I like that. Now obviously acts of love, service, and commitment don’t always have a five-to-one payoff. Sometimes it is much, much more. God is never outdone in generosity. You and I will be awarded according to how we treat one another.
15th Sunday In Ordinary Time — John R. Aurelio in his book Colors! tells about a boy who came upon a hermit’s cabin hidden in the woods. The hermit was famous for doing good deeds for others. The hermit fed the boy and told him stories of the great saints and martyrs of the faith.
One day the hermit told the boy that he was going on a trip. Before he left, he wanted
to give the boy something special. It was a knife. The hermit said to the boy, “One day this may open heaven’s gate for you.” Then the hermit left, and the boy never saw him again.
The boy began whittling with his new knife, and he found it to be an extraordinary knife for carving. The boy decided that he would be a wood carver, and that he would carve statues of all the heroes in the hermit’s stories. The boy soon grew into a man who devoted his life to carving religious statues. His statues were vibrant and life-like. He spent his life honoring God with his work as a woodcarver.
One day, after finishing his most beautiful work, an elaborate altar, the woodcarver
died. When he reached the gates of Heaven, he found them locked. He tried to pick the lock with his extraordinary knife, but it didn’t work. He was confused. The hermit had said that his knife would open Heaven’s door! The wood carver didn’t understand.
Since he couldn’t get into Heaven, the woodcarver went back to earth. It was winter
where he lived, a stormy and difficult winter. The people of the woodcarver’s town had used up all their firewood in heating their homes, and now they were only days away from freezing to death. They couldn’t cut down any trees, because only the king’s woodsmen were allowed to own axes.
But the woodcarver knew immediately what to do. Using his special knife, he cut the arm of one of his beautiful creations and offered it to the people as firewood. The people were shocked that he would destroy one of his statues, and it broke the woodcarver’s heart to do it. But then he knew how much the people needed wood. Throughout the winter, the woodcarver cut up more and more of his statues to give away as firewood.
Each time it broke his heart anew. By the end of the winter, his life’s work was gone. Then, the broken-hearted woodcarver found himself in front of heaven’s gate. This time the door opened easily. There was the hermit with all the saints whose statues the woodcarver had created. The dazzled woodcarver didn’t understand. The hermit explained, “Heaven’s gate is opened only through suffering.”
Heaven’s gate was opened for us by Christ’s suffering on the cross. Heaven’s gate will only be opened for the world by the willingness of Christ’s followers to live lives of self-giving love. Everyday experiences are times of discovering the power of that love. A perfect world is coming. We are the ones who are charged with preparations. We do that by living the Kingdom life now and by discovering the power of self-giving love.
The power of His Love is entrusted to you and me. Use it well.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Storyteller Bill Harley tells a simple story about a children’s T-ball game he witnessed a few years ago. On one of the T-ball teams was a young girl named Tracy. Tracy ran with a limp. She couldn’t hit the ball to save her life. But everyone cheered for her anyway. Finally, in her team’s last game, Tracy did the unthinkable. She hit the ball. Tracy’s coach began hollering for her to run the bases. She landed on first base, only to be told to keep on running. She rounded second base, and the fans stood to their feet and cheered.
With one voice, they were all urging Tracy to head home. But as she neared third base, Tracy noticed an old dog that had loped onto the field. It was sitting near the baseline between third plate and home. Moments away from her first home run, Tracy made a momentous decision. She knelt in the dirt and hugged the dog. Tracy never made it to home plate. But the fans cheered for her anyway. She had made her priorities clear. Love was more important than winning.
Love is more important than winning. Love is more important than keeping all the
rules. In I Corinthians 13, St. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,
but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift or prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Do you get the point?
Love is everything.
Author Patsy Clairmont tells of the time her husband surprised her with two lovely
apricot-colored rosebuds. Over the next few days, one of the rosebuds opened up and began to bloom. It was beautiful. The other rosebud stayed tightly closed. By the end of the week, the first rose opened into a full, gorgeous flower, while the second rose remained a small bud.
By the second week, both roses began to wilt and shed their petals. As Patsy contemplated her flowers, she felt sad that one rose had never opened up. It had never revealed its greatest beauty. It had died in the same form it had lived: closed. How similar to those roses are we humans? How many of us never grow to our full potential? How many of us never display the full glory of God? How many of us stay tightly closed against the world all our lives, and die never knowing what we could have achieved?
So it is with those who never open their lives to the Spirit of the living God. Instead of
beginning a relationship with God, they take unacceptable risks. Without even being
aware of it, they live in rebellion against all that God has for them. And thus, they never fulfill their full God-given potential. Isn’t it time you take off the old patch of sin and put on the new patch of the Spirit of God?
13th Sunday In Ordinary Time — Jim Burns in his book Radically Committed tells about an incident a few years ago when police in New York City were called to a building where a woman was threatening suicide. She was standing on top of a fifty-four-story building ready to jump to her death.
The police suicide squad was taking the woman extremely seriously. She didn’t look the type, in her expensive dress and distinguished appearance. But every attempt to convince her to get down from the ledge ended in failure. One of the police officers called his pastor to pray. His pastor said he would come right over and see if he could help.
When this wise old minister surveyed the situation, he asked the captain if he might
try and get close enough to talk with the woman. The captain shrugged and said, “What do we have to lose!” But as the pastor started walking toward the woman she screamed as before, “Don’t come any closer I’ll jump!”
The minister took a step backward and called out to her, “I’m sorry you believe no
one loves you!” This got her attention, and also the attention of the suicide squad because it was such an unorthodox style. The pastor went on to say, “Your grandchildren must never have given you any attention.”
At this statement, the woman took a step toward the pastor and emphatically replied,
“My family loves me and my grandchildren are wonderful. I have eight grandchildren.” The pastor took a step toward her and said. “But then you must be very poor to be so desperate as to jump.”
She looked at her plump body and very nice dress and said, “Do I look like I’m in
need of a meal? We live near Central Park in a beautiful apartment.” The pastor took another step. He was now within three feet of her. He asked, “Then why do you want to jump and kill yourself?” Her surprising reply was, “I don’t remember.”
The pastor had helped the woman turn her focus off her problems and on to reasons
to be thankful. They continued to talk, and she even showed him pictures of her grandchildren, with lengthy descriptions of each family member. A year later she was a volunteer on a suicide prevention hotline helping other people to choose a thankful life. This woman needed to focus on the things in her life that really mattered and then her blessings were obvious.
Only one thing really matters in life, relationships – relationships with other people
and with God. People who feel loved can be happy in any environment. People who focus on anything else are guaranteed to experience tremendous heartache someday, for everything else is temporary.
12th Sunday In Ordinary Time — That great philosopher, Charlie Brown, of the “Peanuts” cartoon, once made a profound observation that touches on the way we feel about this thing we call “Salvation” ….
Charlie is leaning against a tree talking to Lucy. She asks, “What do you think security is, Charlie Brown?”
Charlie Brown answers, “Security is sleeping in the back seat of a car when you are a little kid and you’ve been somewhere with your Mom and Dad and it’s night. You don’t have to worry about anything. Your Mom and Dad are in the front seat and they’re doing all the worrying. They take care of everything.” Lucy smiles and says “That’s real neat!”
Charlie Brown, who never seems to know when to stop, gets a serious look on his face and says, “But it doesn’t last. Suddenly, you’re grown up and it can never be that way again. Suddenly, it’s all over, and you’ll never get to sleep in the back seat again. “Never!”
Lucy gets a frightened look on her face and asks, “Never?” and Charlie Brown replies,
As they stand there, sensing the terrible loneliness that goes with being an adult, Lucy reaches over and says, “Hold my hand, Charlie Brown!”
Perhaps the creator of the “Peanuts” cartoons had heard the ancient legend about a man who became lost in his travels and was trapped in a bed of quicksand….
Along came a renowned philosopher. He saw the man’s predicament and said, “It is evident that man should stay out of places such as this.”
Then a well-known theologian came by and said, “That man’s obvious disregard for his own well-being should serve as example to the rest of the world.”
Then a pious old monk came by, saw the sinking man and said, “Alas, it is the Will of God.”
Bravo! Jesus is the answer – the Real Answer to life.
Sacred Heart — Some of you will remember a man who once had an enormous impact on American television audiences. His name was Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Sheen was known for his preaching and especially his work on television and radio. At one time his nationally televised show drew s many as 30 million viewers, making it one of the most popular programs on television. How did Sheen get to where he did?
The turning point in Fulton J. Sheen’s life happened when he finished college. A national examination was given to college students. The prize was a three-year university scholarship. Sheen took the examination and won one of the scholarships. He was informed of this sometime during the summer and immediately went to St. Viator’s College to see Father William J. Bergan, a very good friend.
Father Bergan was on the tennis court when he arrived. With great glee and delight Sheen announced: “Father Bergan, I won the scholarship!”
Father Bergan turned from his tennis playing, put his hands on Sheen’s shoulder, and looked him straight in the eye. Father Bergan asked: “Fulton, do you believe in God?” Young Sheen replied: “You know that I do.”
Father Bergan said: “I mean practically, not from theoretical point of view.” This time Sheen was not so sure. He said: “Well, I hope I do.” “Then tear up the scholarship,” Father Bergan declared.
“Father Bergan,” Sheen protested, “This scholarship entitles me to three years of university training with all expenses paid. It is worth about nine or ten thousand dollars.” [This, obviously was many years ago.]
Bergan retorted: “You know you have a vocation, you should be going to the seminary.” Sheen countered: “I can go to the seminary after I get my Ph. D., because there will be little chance of getting a Ph.D. after I am ordained, and I would like very much to have a good education.”
Bergan repeated: “Tear up the scholarship; go to the seminary. That is what the Lord wants you to do. And if you do it, thrusting in Him, you will receive a far better university education after you are ordained than before.”
Listen to how Fulton Sheen describes that turning point in his life, “I tore up the scholarship and went to the seminary. I have never regretted that visit and that decision.”
What I am saying to you is this. When you follow God’s leadership, you not only play a part in God’s great plan for creation, but you find the most fulfilling life for yourself as well. You may remember the time-honored story of the woman who was working in her front yard when moving van pulled up next door. Her new neighbors drove up behind the moving van. While the movers were unloading the van, the new neighbors walked over and greeted the woman. She was a bit self-conscious because she had dirt on her hands and face and was wearing dirty, old clothes.
A few days later the new neighbors invited the woman and her husband to an open house. This was the woman’s opportunity to make a better impression. She colored her hair, put on a girdle, glossed her lips, applied eye shadow and false eyelashes, polished her fingernails, and popped in her colored contact lenses. She stepped to the mirror and admiringly told her husband, “Now the new neighbors will get to see the real me.”
Ask yourself – What does it take for me to be real?
The Most Holy Trinity — The distinguished British intellectual Malcom Muggeridge put it like this: “I may,” he once said, “I suppose… pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets— that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue—that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions—that’s pleasure.
It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time—that’s fulfillment. Yet, I say to you – and I beg you to believe me – multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing—less than nothing, a positive impediment measured against one drink of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.” That’s authority.
Jesus was a wonderful teacher, but no mere teacher has the authority to raise the dead. Jesus was a leader, a prophet, a moral visionary – but none of these explain his impact on civilization. As some unknown writer expressed it a generation ago:
“Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40 and Jesus for only 3 ½ years. Yet the influence of Christ’s ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined years of teaching from these greatest of philosophers.
“Jesus painted no pictures, yet some of the finest artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him.”
“Jesus wrote no poetry, but Dante, Milton and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by Him.”
“Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Back and Mendelsohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the music they composed in His praise.”
“Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble Carpenter of Nazareth.”
It took a Roman centurion, stationed at the foot of the cross who watched him die, to sum it all up, “Surely this man,” the centurion testified, “was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27-54) No one else who has ever lived spoke with the authority with which Christ spoke. He was unique. There has never been another like him.
Are you a faithful follower of Christ? Here’s a little quiz, composed by a Mr. Paul K. Hasson, to see if you apply the same standards of “faithfulness” to your church activities that you do in other areas of life.
If your car starts one out of three times, do you consider it “faithful”?
If your paper carrier skips the Monday and Thursday editions, would they be “missed”?
If you fail to come to work two or three days a month, would your boss call you “faithful”?
If your refrigerator quits for a day now and then, do you excuse it and say, “Oh, well, it works most of the time”?
If your water heater greets you with cold water one or two mornings a week, would it be “faithful”? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage holder say, “Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn’t bad”?
If you miss worship once or twice a month, are you faithful?
And if you miss the opportunities to love as Jesus directed us — are you and I faithful? Think about it.
Pentecost Sunday — Mark Albion, in his book Making a Life, Making a Living tells a fascinating story about a practice on the South Pacific island of Pentecost that is very similar to our sport of bungee jumping – except with religious significance. On this island men practice land diving, an ancient ritual designed to please the gods and ensure a good yam harvest.
Each man builds his own diving platform. The diver chooses the site carefully. He and he alone is responsible for the construction. The diver also selects his own diving vines. He looks for exactly the right length to brake his headfirst plunge just as his hair brushes the ground. Too long a vine can mean a fatal crash landing; too short a vine and the gods will not be happy with his dive.
On the appointed day, the diver climbs the tower, which may be anywhere from sixty -five to eighty-five feet high, ties on the vine he has chosen, steps onto his platform and leaps. That is, unless he has second thoughts or gets cold feet. No shame is attached to a diver who changes his mind at the last moment, for whatever reason. Other divers will take his place to ensure the year’s harvest. The reluctant diver can try again next year; his tower will still be there.
I see that as a metaphor of life. You and I are engaged in the business of living. We are responsible for building a platform for our lives. No one else is responsible for our lives – though many contribute a bit here and there. Still, it is ultimately up to us to construct a platform for our lives that will ensure a constructive and fulfilling life.
To realize the value of “one month,” ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of “one week,” ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of “one hour,” ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of “one minute,” ask the person who missed the train.
To realize the value of “one second,” ask the person who just avoided an accident. To realize the value of “one millisecond,” ask the person who won a silver medal in Olympics. Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with. Remember that time waits for no one. Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.
God has indeed given us a present. It is the present moment. Use it wisely.
Seventh Sunday of Easter — Writer Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz tells about a trip she took with her family one Summer. They loaded up their van and headed north to visit friends and relatives. On the way home they stopped in Boone, North Carolina, and spent a few days sightseeing.
Gwendolyn says she will never forget the afternoon they spent at Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were told that if they dared cross a long suspension bridge called Mile High Swinging Bridge, they could stand on a rocky ledge that offered a tremendous view of the valley thousands of feet below.
The wind was beginning to gust significantly. Gwendolyn took one look down the eighty-foot-deep ravine spanned by the bridge, clutched her baby Jonathan, and refused to set foot on it. Her older sons Zach and Matt took off running onto the bridge.
They were about halfway across the swaying boards when the wind became so strong it made them stagger. But they loved the challenge and the thrill and fought their way to the other side. Three-year-old Ben had started running after them. However, he stopped suddenly and clung to the nearest post. He wasn’t so sure he wanted to continue the dangerous trek.
Dad, seeing what fun Zach and Matt were having as they fought against the wind,
reached for Ben’s hand and said, “Let’s go. I’ll take care of you.”
as he stood glued to the post contemplating Dad’s offer” says Gwendolyn. “But suddenly he reached up, grabbed Dad’s big hand, and started skipping across the bridge into the gusting wind. Ben had obviously transferred all of his whatifs to Dad and decided to let [Dad] worry about them. The swaying bridge, the extreme height, the blustery wind, the impending storm—these weren’t his problems anymore. Whether or not he could handle the situation did not matter. It was completely Dad’s responsibility.<>
little child you shall never enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3). To have that kind of trust, to turn it all over to Daddy, Abba—if we could live like that, most of the things that keep us awake at night would simply disappear. Fear is the biggest problem in our lives. The best way to conquer fear is with faith.<>
Pilate who had washed his hands of it all might have asked: “What is final?” And then said, “Yes, that’s my final answer, though I wash my hands of the consequences of the answer.” Herod, angry because Jesus wouldn’t perform any miracles for him might have said, “Yes, and good riddance, he wasn’t much of an entertainer.”
Caiaphas and Annas would have looked at each other with self-satisfied smirks on their faces and said, “Messiah, my foot. Yes, there’s no room for blasphemy in our faith. Yes, that’s our final answer.”<>
If you had polled the worldwide studio audiences that weekend, ninety-nine percent probably would have answered, “Yes, that’s our final answer.”
If Regis were running this show, he would have noted that all the life-lines were gone. The fifty/fifty had been used up by Peter, when he denied knowing Jesus. Peter had a fifty/fifty of getting it right, but just like Jesus predicted, Peter got it wrong.<>
The phone-a-friend didn’t pan out at all, either. Judas was absolutely no help. As a matter of fact, he was one of the reasons the contestant was in this predicament. Instead of helping out, he’d sold out. Judas had sold out to one of the other game shows, Greed.
And we know what the studio audience said. They voted, and ninety-nine-point nine percent said, “Yes, Death was the final answer.”
But the contestant just smiled. God smiled and early on Sunday morning just about the time that the women in the group were headed toward the sealed tomb of Jesus, God said,
“Let me think about this a little bit. All my lifelines are gone. I know the studio audience has voted and ninety-nine-point nine percent of them said death is the final answer. But you know, I think they are wrong.
Despite all the plotting, despite all the evidence, I think they’re wrong. And I’ve got a surprise for everybody. My final answer is Resurrection.”And just at that moment, the stone was rolled away from the tomb. Because Resurrection is God’s final answer. Amen…
His Word is the final answer.
guy and saying to himself: If I don’t block that man, Paul is going to get his legs broken. I have to do my job well in order that he can do his. The difference between mediocrity and greatness,” Lombardi said, “is the feeling these guys have for each other.”
Fourth Sunday of Easter — Lee Iacocca, the former head of Chrysler Corporation asks in a recent book why the SUV has been such a success. What is the purpose? Very few people go off road, so it’s not because they need a rugged all terrain vehicle. The SUV doesn’t have the passenger or storage capacity of a minivan, or the good ride and handling of a car. So, what is the motivation for buying an SUV?
Why are people lugging around all that extra weight? Bigger engines (usually V8s) are not known for fuel economy and low emissions. Iacocca attributes it to fear. He writes, “I think the SUV feeds a strong desire for security and control on the road. In this day and age, people want to put as much steel and iron around them as they can. They equate weight with safety.
It’s a factor, but in no way compares to solid structural design and the use of multiple air bags… With thousands of other SUVs speeding past them, not to mention eighteen wheelers and cement mixers, drivers just feel more secure. It’s a perception and Detroit promoted it.
One SUV brand advertised itself with the headline, “Look upon it as a 4,000 pound security blanket…” Iacocca adds, “If you want guaranteed safety on the road, why not drive a tank!”
The Sunday supplement magazine, USA Weekend, ran a cover story sometime back titled “Fear: What Americans Are Afraid of Today.” In a scientific poll, the magazine uncovered the things Americans fear most:
54% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of being in a car crash.
53% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of having cancer.
50% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of inadequate Social Security.
49% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of not having enough money for retirement.
35% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of getting Alzheimer’s.
33% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of being a victim of individual violence.
32% are “afraid” or “very afraid” of being unable to pay current debts.
The late Charles Schulz, creator of The Peanuts Comic strip, presents Lucy in a tender
moment with Charlie Brown. Lucy is plucking the petals of a daisy saying, as she glances affectionately at Charlie Brown, who is seated comfortable under the shade of a tree,
“He loves me, he loves me not;
“He loves me, he loves me not:
“He loves me, he loves me not;
“He loves me!!! Charlie Brown, you love me!”
Charlie Brown responds, “Gosh Lucy, I could have told you that!”
Remorsefully, Lucy replies, “Well, why didn’t you Charlie Brown? Why didn’t you?”
Christ has told us that throughout the Gospels, you and I need to remember that especially when the going gets tough and we have to love as we are loved.
Third Sunday of Easter — Those of you who are rock music fans know the story of Selena, the 23-year-old Grammy award-winning singer who is idolized by the Hispanic community. Jennifer Lopez played Selena in a movie of her life not too long back. Selena was slain by a woman who was a former president of her fan club. At the time she managed one of the singer’s boutiques.
According to one report the woman had authority to write checks from Selena’s business checking accounts, and Selena had become suspicious about what was to some of the money. The woman lured Selena to the parking lot of a motel, supposedly to hand over some bank statements and papers, and then she shot her.
It happens. Not often, thank God, but it happens. Friends betray friends. Family members betray one another. Even members of the body of Christ have been known to betray other members. Just as Judas betrayed Jesus.
What in the world happened to Judas? Christians have been asking that question for two thousands years. Was it the 30 pieces of silver? Perhaps. Money certainly has a way of corrupting some people.
Several years ago, James Patterson and Peter Kim published the results of a national survey on morals which they called The Day America Told the Truth. They shared some of the things people said they would do for money. Here are some of the things they said Americans would be willing to do for $10 million (along with the percentage of people who would do it.)
Twenty-five percent would abandon their entire family; twenty-three percent, 1 out of 4, would become prostitutes for a week or more. Sixteen percent would give up their American citizenship; sixteen percent would leave their spouse.
Ten percent would withhold testimony, letting a murderer go free. Seven percent would kill a stranger. Three percent would put their children up for adoption. All for 10 million dollars. What would you do for 10 million dollars?
Like Selena’s murderer, Judas handled the money for Jesus’ ministry. Maybe money was an important motivator in Judas’ life. Some years ago, Mother Teresa was being introduced to speak at a prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C. The person who introduced her said, “I now have the pleasure and privilege of introducing the greatest woman in the world, Mother Teresa.” There was a round of applause as people stood to their feet.
As the 4’ 11” woman stepped to the podium, she was so short that she had to stand on a box so that she would be seen. As the people continued to applaud she lifted her frail arms and said, “Please, please be seated.”
After everyone was seated and it was quiet, she said, “I believe that if I was indeed the greatest woman in the world, God would have made me somewhat taller than I am. No, I am not the greatest woman in the world. I am but a pencil in the hands of a writing God who writes love letters to the world through people like me and people like you.” And the writing goes on through you and me.
Easter Sunday — For inspiration on this Easter day, let us turn to the award-winning and gifted writer Walter Wangerin, Jr. and his story titled “The Ragman.”
Early one Friday morning, even, before dawn, I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking through the alleys of our city. As he walked, he pulled a cart filled with bright new clothes; in a clear tenor voice, he called out, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old. I’ll take your tired rags.”
Now, this is certainly a wonder I thought to myself for the man stood 6 feet 4 inches, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Surely, he could have found a better job than being a ragman in the inner city. I followed him, driven by curiosity and I was not disappointed.
Soon the Ragman came upon a woman sitting on her back porch sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing and shedding a thousand tears. Her shoulders shook; her heart was breaking.” Give me your rag,” said the Ragman with a gentle voice, “and I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes and laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shone. She blinked a silent thanks, and, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing. He put her stained handkerchief to his own face and began to weep and sob as grievously as the woman had done. Yet she was left without a tear.
Drawn like a child who cannot turn away from mystery, I continued to follow the sobbing Ragman. “Rags, rags, new rags for old.” Soon he came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bloody bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek. With gentle compassion, the Ragman offered the girl a beautiful yellow hat from his cart. “Give me your rags”, he said. “and I will give you mine.” The child was still while the Ragman loosened her bandage and tied it around his own head. When he put the hat on hers, I gasped aloud at what I saw, for with the bandage went the wound and on his forehead a line of blood began to form—it was his own!
“Rags! Rags! I take old rags” cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman as he picked up his pace.
“Are you going to work?” He asked a man leaning against at telephone pole. The man shook his head; the Ragman pressed him, “Do you have a job?”
“Are you crazy?” sneered the man, and with that he opened his jacket to reveal that he had no arm. “So,” said the Ragman, “give me your jacket and I’ll give you mine.” The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman, and I trembled at what I saw, for the Ragman’s arm stayed in the sleeve and when the other put it on, he had two good arms, but the Ragman only one. “Go to work,” he said, with quiet authority in his voice.
After that, the Ragman found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket; he was old, wizened and sick. The Ragman took the blanket and wrapped it around himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
At this point, I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though weeping uncontrollably and bleeding, pulling his cart with one arm and stumbling from drunkenness, he went on with terrible speed. It pained me to see the change in this man, yet I kept following. Finally, he came to a landfill. He climbed up a hill of garbage and with tormented labor, he cleared a little space. Then he sighed and lay down. He pillowed his head on the jacket and the handkerchief. He covered his bones with the army blanket… and then, he died. How I cried to witness that death. I slumped in a junked car and wailed as one who has no hope because I had come to love the Ragman. I wore myself out with sadness and fell asleep. I slept through Friday night and Saturday, too. But then, on Sunday, I was jolted awake by a violent light.
Light—pure, hard, demanding light slammed against my sleeping face and I blinked and looked and then I saw him. There was the Ragman folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead but alive! And besides that he glowed with health and wholeness. There was no sign of sorrow or of age and all the rags he had gathered shined with cleanliness.
Well, I lowered my head, and trembled for all I had seen. I got myself out of the junk car and walked to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I stripped myself of everything and said to him with yearning in my tone, “Clothe me. Make me new again!” He dressed me, my Lord. He put new rags on me and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman! The Ragman! The Christ!
Wangerin’s story tells well the meaning of the mystery that we enter into anew today. The Christ, the Ragman, has indeed given us new rags for old. He has taken upon himself the filthy rags of our weaknesses, failing and sinfulness and in his dying and rising, he has clothed us with the new clothes of our salvation, i.e., with grace, holiness, justice, peace, light and life. In these clothes, in these gifts, is the cause of our joy and the reason for our being. We are, each of us, a wonder beside him. The Ragman! The Savior! The Christ!
An Easter, filled with Blessings for you and your loved ones.
Third Sunday of Lent — About thirty years ago there was a wonderful book which was later turned into a powerful motion picture titled Schindler’s List. You may be interested in how that book was first published. A shopkeeper named Leopold Page was a survivor of the Holocaust. He survived through the efforts of one man, Oskar Schindler, a Roman Catholic, who saved not only his life but the lives of 900 of his fellow Jews. Page was determined to find a writer who would be interested in telling the story of Oskar Schindler.
Second Sunday of Lent — Some years back an anonymous dialogue circulated on the Internet. It was aimed at parents. It went like this: Whenever your children are out of control, you can take comfort from the thought that even “God” omnipotence did not extend to His own children. After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve.
First Sunday of Lent — Perhaps you’ve heard the story that’s going around about a ship that was wrecked at sea. Only two men survived. They swam to a small, desert – like island. And they decided to pray. Being of a competitive nature they wanted to know whose prayer was more powerful. So they divided the island and stayed on opposite sides.
The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit bearing a tree on his side of the island, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren. After a week, the first man was lonely and prayed for a wife. The next day, another shipwrecked, and the only survivor was a woman. She swam to his side of the island. On the other side of the island, there was nothing.
Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing. Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man behind. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God’s blessings, since none of his prayers
had been answered.
As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, “Why are you leaving your companion on the island?” “My blessings are mine alone,” the first man said, “since I was the one who prayed for them. His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything.” “You are mistaken!” the voice answered. “He had only one prayer, which I answered, If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.”
“Tell me,” the first man asked the voice, “What did he pray for that I should owe him anything?” The voice replied, “He prayed that all your prayers be answered.”
That little story reminds us that the greatest need some of us have is to get outside of ourselves and to focus on the needs of others. In one of the Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is positioned behind her now famous “Psychiatric Help, Five Cents” stand. Charlie Brown arrives for some advice. Charlie says, “My trouble is I never know If I’m doing the right thing. I need to have someone around who can tell me when I’m doing the right thing.”
Lucy says, “Okay Charlie Brown. You are doing the right thing! That’ll be five cents, please!” Charlie walks away with a self-satisfied look on his face only to reappear in the next frame. “Back already?” Lucy asks. “What happened? Charlie replies, “I was wrong. It didn’t help. You need more in life than just having someone around to tell you when you’re doing the right thing.” With her hand out, Lucy replies, “Now you’ve really learned something! That’ll be another five cents, please!”
In our present-day society, we really need Jesus in our lives to tell us when we are doing the right thing. And His service is a Grace to us—no charge— all He does is motivated by Love.
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time — Four days after Christmas in 1170, Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in the cathedral there while engaged in his evening prayers. His slayers were soldiers of King Henry II. They first demanded that Becket obey certain demands of the king, but when Becket refused, the knights hacked Becket to death with their swords, right on the steps of the altar.
The murder was the culmination of a long-running disagreement between Becket and King Henry. Though they were once friends, Becket refused to be a yes man for the wishes of the king. From his position in the church, Becket resisted the king’s efforts to collect taxes from landowners and on church lands, and to try church officials in courts of the crown.
Almost immediately Becket’s tomb became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful. And four years later, King Henry himself came and did penance there, to pacify both his conscience and his people. Because of Becket’s faithfulness to God in the face of opposing claims from the throne, the church later declared Becket a saint.
In the 20th century, the playwright T.S. Eliot dramatized Becket’s story in a 1935 play called Murder in the Cathedral. In the play, as probably in real life, Becket realizes that his opposition to the king will probably lead to his death. As a result, Thomas experiences four temptations, which in the drama are portrayed as actual characters, called “tempters.”
He is able to see through the temptations of the first three, which are all forms of appeasing the king, but the fourth tempter’s lure is more subtle. He advises Becket to do what Becket already knows he must do: continue his resistance to the king regardless of the cost. This last tempter, however, adds an element: Since resisting the king will likely result in his death anyway, Becket should embrace that idea and welcome martyrdom.
Just think of the great glory that will come to your name after you die this way, says the tempter to Becket. You will be exalted as the great martyr of the church. The king will eventually be replaced and Henry will be forgotten. But you — you will live on in the church’s roll call to heroes. Pilgrims from far and wide will pray to you. Enemies will shake at your memory. And, of course, you will have a special place in heaven itself.
Becket thinks all this over. Do the right thing, this tempter has said. That sounds so reasonable, but eventually Becket sees the trap in the tempter’s words. Becket then speaks the most memorable lines in the play:
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
He then realizes that this tempter’s name is Pride. Pride is the spoiler of good deeds. When we do the right thing — say, helping someone in need — why do we do it? Because we care about the person being helped or because we like the praise we receive for the good thing we’ve done? Or maybe some of each?
Who among us can escape that matter of mixed motives?
Whatever other motives may be behind our good works, the mainspring of them will be to do the will of God. So we should keep our eyes on pleasing God and following Jesus. And insofar as we do, we will be moving in the right direction, regardless of what other motives are in the mix. Lent is a reminder that our life is a following of Jesus. May we pray each day for the grace of faithfulness to that calling.
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time — An unknown writer quoted on the Internet tells of visiting a fast – growing church in Minnesota to learn from their staff. It was a privilege, he reports, to witness their passion for doing high quality ministry in Jesus’ name. He left with some new insights and a renewed passion for the Gospel.
One of the phrases that he heard while he was there at the fast-growing church was, “We want our members to wear aprons, not bibs.” That’s an interesting phrase- “aprons, not bibs.” Here’s what they meant: Bibs are for people who only want to be fed. Bibs are for those who are not yet ready or willing to feed themselves.
babes in the faith, those who haven’t caught God’s vision for the church, or those who are not yet of the faith.
On the other hand, aprons are for those who have a heart to serve others in Jesus’ name. Aprons are for those who know that they are the church. Aprons are for those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Aprons are for those who take the time daily to feed their spiritual hunger. Aprons are for those who are growing in faith, and hunger to help others grow.
Church growth consultant, Win Arn, interviewed thousands of Christians in America several years ago and asked them what they thought the church existed for. Eighty-eight percent said, “The church exists to serve my needs and the needs of my family.” In other words, 88% of Christians in America are still wearing bibs. They believe that the church exists to serve them … not so they can serve the world.
Jesus calls us to wear aprons, not bibs. The people came to Jesus to be fed, but when he challenged them to feed others, they weren’t interested. It hurt Jesus to see many who had been with him for much of his ministry turn their back on him. He turned to the twelve who were left and said rather sadly, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
And, of course, it was Simon Peter who answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” And that is why we linger here too. That is why so many of you have exchanged your bib for an apron; why you have decided that a casual involvement in the life of the church is not enough.
You are part of that inner circle who has come to believe and to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. There is no way to be casual about such knowledge. If Jesus is the Savior of the world, how can we possibly give him anything but our best? If he is the Son of God, how can we not give him our all?
Some of you may know the story behind the Christ of the Andes. In 1899 the people of Argentina and Chile were poised for war. Then an Argentine bishop appealed for peace between the two countries. A Chilean bishop took up his cause, and the dispute was submitted to King Edward VII, whose decision settled the quarrel.
The unused guns from both countries were then melted down to be used in a colossal statue of Christ, erected on a mountain range between the two countries. That is our legacy as Christ’s followers. May we be representatives of peace with all people. Don’t forget to wear your apron of service everyday of your life.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time — Mark Roberts in his book, Dare to Be True, tells about a friend years ago who decided she wanted to run a marathon. Even though Nancy had been a faithful jogger for many years, she had never tackled a full marathon. Someone suggested she join a track club, where focused training and regular encouragement would help her fulfill her dream. Nancy joined a club near
where she worked, and when she returned from her first workout, Mark asked her how it went.
“Awful,” was her immediate response. “Terrible. I think I’m the worst runner in the world. The other people in the club run three times faster than I do. They run; I just waddle. Maybe I should quit the club.” “It can’t be that bad,” Mark said, trying to be reassuring. “Give it another try. I’m sure it will be better.” So Nancy went back, but she returned just as discouraged as before. Still trying to be positive, Mark told Nancy he’d go with her the next time to see what was wrong.
When they arrived at the college where Nancy’s club trained, he understood why Nancy felt so out of place. She had joined the famed Santa Monica Track Club. She was working out with the best runners in the world—literally. Members of the club included Carl Lewis and Evelyn Ashford, both of whom won Olympic gold medals in 1984. As mark watched Nancy run around the track at a respectable pace, the others were indeed going three times faster than she was. No wonder she was feeling a bit outclassed!
Mark waved Nancy over to the side of the track and explained: “They do run a lot faster than you do, Nancy, because they’re the fastest runners in the world! Next to them, we’d all look pretty pathetic. So don’t compare yourself to them. Just keep on going and you’ll be fine.” Feeling relieved, Nancy kept training. The coach and other members welcomed and encouraged her.
Being part of the club helped. Her track mates became her role models. Nancy never won a gold medal in the Olympics, but she did complete her first marathon in an impressive time. In one of the Chapels in London’s Westminster Cathedral, there is a beautiful mosaic depicting the miracle at Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine….
In the mosaic, a man is pouring water from one jug into another. The water pouring out of the first jug is a radiant ocean-blue. But as it nears the mouth of the second jug, it becomes a deep shade of purple. As you look at the mosaic, you get the feeling that water is turning into wine right before your very eyes.
Author Jim Forest has written that until he had seen the mosaic, it had never occurred to him that “this first miraculous sign of Jesus – A Miracle of Transformation – is a key to understanding everything in the Gospel. Jesus is constantly involved in transformation: water into wine; blind eyes to seeing eyes; withered limbs to working limbs; guilt into forgiveness; sorrow into joy; Crucifixion into Resurrection; death into life.”
The Lord doesn’t direct us to be the best but to do our best with the gifts he has entrusted to us. He will not ask anything more than that.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time — The philosopher Plato once wrote, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark: the real tragedy of life is when [adults] are afraid of the light.” Herod was afraid of the light. And so he sought to slaughter the one about whom John would say, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:2-4). A student, asked to summarize all the gospel in a few words, responded like this: “In the Bible, it gets dark, then it gets very, very dark, then Jesus shows up.” That says it all.
The world was in darkness, deep darkness, but Jesus showed up. In this book The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn tells a story about how, as a political prisoner in a labor camp in the USSR, he was forced to live in a cell without any lights, and with windows that were painted so he couldn’t see outside. But one day a little fleck of paint fell off the window, and in the darkness Aleksandr saw a tiny ray of sunlight shine its beam of hope into his dark cell.
This light is what gave him strength to continue on, the light to know that he was still alive and a part of the created order. It was enough for him to know that the world was still progressing. More than two thousand years ago a tiny babe was born in Bethlehem of Judea. It may have seemed that it, too, was a tiny ray of light in a dark world, but that tiny ray of light was exactly what the world needed.
And even today that light is still lighting people’s lives, helping them to move out of the darkness. Christ is the light of the world, but we who are followers of Christ are called to reflect in our lives that we have been in his presence. We do that by continuing to shine the light of his love into our dark world. Henry Van Dyke wrote one of the most famous fictional accounts of the coming of the magi to Bethlehem which he called The Story of the Other Wise Man. In this story Van Dyke speaks of a fourth wise man who searched for years for the Christ child, but was never able to catch up with the others.
This wise man had three jewels, a gift of great wealth which he intended to give to the newborn king. But in his journey to find the newborn king he came across people who had great needs. He could not pass them by without trying to help. He ended up using the three jewels he had intended to offer the Christ child to care for the needs of these persons he found in want.
This fourth magi searched for Jesus for the rest of his life, only to realize at the end of his life that he had found him and worshiped him each time he gave himself and his gift to one who was in need. Through his compassion this fourth wise man pushed back some of the world’s darkness.
And that is our task as well. We are to live in the presence of Christ so that with time we will be able to reflect his light through the service we give to others. Opportunities come to each of us daily to make a difference in people’s lives. Let us pray for the great grace of perseverance. God bless you.
Solemnity of Mary — On New Year’s Day in 1930, King George of England broadcast a message to the people of his dominion which was heard around the world. He opened his message with a quotation that profoundly affected his listeners — a quotation few had ever heard before and everyone wondered where he got it. The great men of the realm and the best quotation-spotters, even George Bernard Shaw, were baffled. Here is the quotation:
“I said to a man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
“So I went forth, and finding the hand of God trod gladly into the night. And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of the day in the lone East. So heart be still; God knows; His will is best. The stretch of years which winds ahead, so dim to our imperfect vision is clear to God. Our fears are premature; in Him all time hath full provision.”
Where did King George find those thoughtful words which fit so well on any New Year’s Day? The London Times finally traced the author, an obscure little Christian woman named Minnie Haskins. Twenty-five years earlier, she had privately published a book of verses called The Desert. The proceeds of the book were used for charity in India. In the prose introduction were found these now-famous words of hers.
Let us ponder them again as we enter the New Year, that they may be an inspiration for us to advance and grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man.
Maurice Maeterlinck tells of an interesting experience he had once. While walking through the country one day, he stopped to admire a beautiful garden surrounded by a white fence. As he stood there, a little old lady, gnarled with age, stopped by his side.
After he greeted her, she came closer and asked whether he was admiring the flowers. When he said that he was, she launched upon a detailed description of the harmony of the colors and shapes of each and every type of flower in the garden. When she concluded her vivid description almost to the minutest detail, she looked up at him, and noticed that she was blind.
He asked how she was able to describe the colors to such perfection when she was unable to see. She answered that it was from memory — from the time in life when she could see and took the time to look at the beauties of nature as if she would never see them again.
Fourth Sunday of Advent — An artist once painted a picture of a solitary man, rowing his small boat across a stormy lake. It was night, and the churning waves beat against the tiny craft, determined to destroy it. But in his scene of what looked like a midnight tragedy, the artist painted a lone star shining in the blackness. The oarsman had his eye upon the star as he labored against the angry waves.
Beneath the picture, the artist inscribed the words: “If I lose sight of that, I am lost.” The Star of Bethlehem is the world’s guiding light, as it was to the Magi who were guided by it to the Christ Child. One man who kept his eyes on Christ and lived a life of dedicated faith was Thomas More.
Thomas More was an incredibly gifted Catholic layman. More was a brilliant lawyer, a scholar who especially encouraged the education of women, and a writer whose ironic Utopia tells what the best society should be like. He was also a statesman who became chancellor of England. Yet the most remarkable thing about Thomas More is not his gifts, but what he gave up. More was someone with everything. Yet he kept his center.
He was willing to give up that “everything” for Christ. He was beheaded by Henry VIII. More had refused to reject the authority of his core of beliefs in the church and he therefore gave his life for what he believed.
“The world around us is so familiar that we just don’t experience it anymore” — so said a guest on an NBC television talk show. He went on to suggest the world has to be revealed all over again in the shock of its first surprise; perhaps the way you experience it first as a child.
That’s one purpose of Advent — a season of preparation to awaken us once again to the surprise of Christmas. Keep your focus on Jesus; deepen your faith in Him; He will never disappoint you. He is true to His Word.
Third Sunday of Advent/Our Lady of Guadalupe — Years ago in the Peanuts cartoon strip, artist Charles Schulz gave Charlie Brown a baby sister. Charlie became genuinely concerned about the condition of the world his sister was entering and expressed those concerns to his friend, Linus. But Linus interrupted Charlie’s litany of the evil in the world by contradicting him. “I think,” said Linus, “that the world today is better than it was six years ago.”
Charlie protested: “Don’t you read the papers, don’t you watch television? How can you say the world is better today than six years ago?” And Linus answered simply, “I’m in it now.” Now, in the mouths of some of us, that statement would sound arrogant. But it should be a truth that we all could utter one day. We certainly think the world is less evil because Jesus came into it; so too, as followers of Him, our being in the world can do its little bit to counter the world’s evil.
“You’re my best friend.” The words are ordinary enough. However, when they are spoken by one who is perceived as master to another who has taken the role of servant, the words are no longer ordinary, but extraordinary. Those four simple words were spoken by Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) to her chauffeur Hoke (Morgan Freeman), bringing a powerful and emotional close to the movie Driving
Miss Daisy is an aging aristocrat who, as the movie begins, is becoming significant road hazard due to her deteriorating driving skills. Her well-meaning son (Dan Akroyd) hires Hoke as her driver, and demands that she stay out from behind the wheel herself. Miss Daisy is not about to take this step, which she perceives as a move toward old-age incompetence. First she defiantly begins to walk places while Hoke drives alongside in the car. But his persistence prevails, and soon she is in the back seat being chauffeur-driven.
The duo maintains the pretense of servant/master relationship for the sake of those around them, but after years of life together they have become deeply devoted friends. It is an extraordinary thing, this promotion from servanthood to friendship — even revolutionary. In it we discover the grace and friendship of God, together with a new freedom in our relationships with others. It is an idea, however, which clearly goes “against the grain” of our culture — even as Miss Daisy and Hoke discovered in their relationship.
During Advent, we remember it was God who first reached out to us in friendship through Jesus, His Son who said, “I no longer treat you as servants but friends.”
Second Sunday of Advent — In a “Peanuts” comic-strip, Lucy speaks to her brother Linus who listens with thumb in mouth and security blanket tucked against his ear. She says: “I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before… Do you see that hill over there? Someday I’m going over that hill and find the answer to my dreams … someday I’m going over that hill and find happiness and fulfillment. I think, for me, all the answers to life lie beyond those clouds and over the grassy slopes of that hill.”
Linus removes his thumb from his mouth, points toward the hill and responds, “Perhaps there’s another little kid on the other side of that hill who is looking this way and thinks that all the answers to life lie on this side of the hill.” Lucy looks at Linus for a bit, then turns toward the hill and shouts, “FORGET IT, KID!”
Each Advent season we stand facing that hill and Isaiah paints a beautiful word picture of what it’s like on the other side. “There shall come forth…” Isaiah foretells, “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord… The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them… They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:2, 6, 9).
“Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find rest in you,” said Augustine. The good news of Advent is that in our restlessness and need and waiting we do not have to despair. In Jesus Christ, God has come to us. Now, we no longer wait; we watch for the ways he continually comes to us. Stay alert. Keep Watch! He comes to us through everyone we meet along our life’s journey.
First Sunday of Advent — We all know the characters in Charles Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts”: Lucy, Linus, Charlie Brown and Schroeder. One day Lucy asked Linus, “What’s the purpose of Life?” Linus looks at her for a moment and says nothing. She asks again. She asks again, a little more emphatically this time.
“What’s the purpose of life?” Then without a word, Linus holds out his blanket to her, as if to say, “The purpose of life is security.” Lucy isn’t satisfied, and turns to a second source — Charlie Brown. “Charlie Brown, what is the purpose of life?” Charlie Brown immediately begins to answer her question with two balloons full of moralism: “Be kind, don’t smoke. Always be prompt. Smile a lot. Eat sensibly. Avoid cavities.
Avoid too much sun. Send overseas packages early. Love all creatures, above and below. Insure all belongings, and try to keep the ball low.” With that, Lucy retorts, “Hold still, for I am about to hit you a very sharp blow on the nose!” Lucy now turns to Schroeder, who is playing on the little piano.
“What’s the purpose of life? What’s it all about?” asks Lucy. Schroeder stops playing the little piano, throws up his arms and exclaims, “Beethoven! Beethoven is it, clear and simple.” Lucy replies, “Good grief!” Finally, in desperation, Lucy turns her back on other things and faces a black sky spangled with millions of tiny lights and asks the stars, “What is the purpose of live?”
She listens for a time — but there is only silence, no word from the stars. She looks up with fists clenched and shouts, “Dumb stars!” We know Lucy’s frustration, don’t we? And how many have given up the search, abandoned any thought to life’s purpose beyond an eat-drink-andbe-merry compromise? Advent is a time when the search can be resumed, and the manger in Bethlehem may be the cradle that holds a new birth of purpose. May the Holy Spirit guide you and me in our journey through Advent and grant us a deeper relationship with Jesus, our Saviour.
Christ the King and Thanksgiving — When Queen Victoria of England pinned one of England’s highest awards on Helen Keller, she asked Miss Keller, “How do you account for your remarkable accomplishments in life? How do you explain the fact that even the though you were blind, deaf, and mute, you were able to accomplish so much?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Helen Keller said, “If it had not been for Anne Sullivan, the name of Helen Keller would have remained unknown.”
While we know Helen Keller’s story, most of us do not know who saw the potential in Anne Sullivan. As a young girl, Anne Sullivan was known as “Little Annie.” She was diagnosed as being hopelessly insane and was locked in the basement of a mental institution outside Boston. Little Annie would on occasion violently attack anyone who came near her. At other times she would completely ignore them.
An elderly nurse believed there was hope for the child and felt she could communicate love and hope to her. The nurse daily visited Little Annie, but for a long time Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought cookies and left them in her room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change.
After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally the day came when this seemingly “hopeless case” was released. Filled with compassion for others because of her institution experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others.
Because Anne Sullivan’s life had been miraculously opened, she was able to open the life of Helen Keller, as Jesus opened the life of the deaf mute.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let us pray that we are open to acknowledge God as the giver of all our gifts — both materially and spiritually. He has opened our eyes and ears to see and hear the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. By helping ourselves to become more like Jesus as Anne Sullivan was to Helen Keller, not a bad way to live our ministry in faith.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time — The television program “Candid Camera,” produced by Allen Funt, was popular because it put people in common situations, then changed one element to make the experience uncommon. It was a form of psychological comedy. It showed human nature: people sometimes acting foolishly, then laughing at themselves.
For instance, the episode of a car coasting into a service station. The woman driving the car asked the attendant to check the oil and went inside the station, when he raised the hood, he was surprised to find that the car had no engine. The woman returned and asked if she needed oil.
The attendant tried to explain that there was no motor in the car, but the woman, who was in on the joke, of course, said she was going to use the telephone and that by the time she returned the engine had better be back in her car. The funny part was the expression on the face of the man working at the service station. And that was always the high point of any stunt, the reaction.
Funt said his favorite episode, and the one they got the most mail response on, was the corner mailbox that talked – or seemed to. A microphone and a speaker were placed inside a mailbox in New York City. When a person dropped in a letter to be mailed, the mailbox said “Thank you.”
The funniest part of this episode came when an older man said he was going to call a police officer. Instead, he stopped another man on the street and told him about the special mailbox. The other person walked over to the box, but it didn’t say a word. The ten seconds of silence that followed and the expressions on the faces of the men got the most laughter of any program “Candid Camera” ever did.The reaction … the response … the expression of surprise or whatever, that is what is wanted and appreciated. That’s why we tell jokes, we like the response a punchline elicits. Can God be any different in wanting response, some expression of reaction, some whoopingly loud praise and gratitude? We think not, Jesus thought not. What do you think? Does God have sense of humor? How often have you and I said, “He must have” — And you know, we’re right. He sure does!
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time — Once upon a time, many animals lived together on a farm. They belonged to a chief. Also living in the barn were some rats that had lived there for many rat generations. Some of the animals did not want the rats to live in the barn, but the rats had nowhere else to go. The chief who owned these animals had a son who enjoyed setting traps to catch rats.
One day the chief’s son placed several traps at strategic points of the rats’ movement. This endangered the lives of the rats. The head of the rat family approached the other animals for assistance in removing the rat traps. The cows argued that it was not their fault that traps were set, while the goats felt they were not rats and therefore, did not go around traps.
For their part, the pigs made it clear that in order to avoid the traps, the rats should move out of the barn, and even though they (the rats) had nowhere to go, it was none of their (the pigs’) concern. The chicken explained that the traps were called “rat traps” not “chicken traps”; therefore, they wanted nothing to do with the problem. The rat family was disappointed and became very discouraged.
One day one of the traps snapped on a snake that had entered the barn, but the snake did not die right away. When the chief’s son came to check on his traps, he was bitten by the snake. Eventually, the boy died. Since the boy’s father was a chief, word spread fast and sympathizers came from far and near. The chief decided to have the traditional feast. First he killed ten chickens. Quickly, the animals in the barn became afraid. Then the chief killed two cows. Panic ran throughout the barn.
The rats came out to find out what happened. When the goats explained the prevailing situation to the head of the rat family, the rat smiled and said, “You see, if you had helped us remove the traps, one trap would not have caught the snake. The snake would not have bitten the boy. The boy would not have died and you would all live.”
A word to the wise is sufficient. “As long as you do it to the least of my brethren, you’re doing it to me.” By helping those less fortunate than ourselves, we are ultimately helping ourselves when we report for our final reckoning with our Heavenly Father.
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time — The most famous of all Charlie Brown comic strips is the annual one creator Charles Schulz runs (with variations) around the start of the fall of football season. You know the one where Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick. We all know what will happen but we wonder what fresh closing line Schulz will come up with each year. This last one was a gem and ties with our theme of holding and trusting.
Lucy invites Charlie to kick the ball while she holds it for him. He says to her: “You must think I’m crazy. You say you’ll hold the ball, but you won’t. You’ll pull it away and I’ll break my neck.” With a most angelic look, Lucy responds: “Why, Charlie Brown, how you talk.
I wouldn’t think of such a thing. I’m a changed person. Look, isn’t this a face you can trust?” Since Charlie Brown is Charlie Brown, he accepts Lucy at her word. “All right, you hold the ball and I’ll come running up and kick it.”
Sure enough, the expected happens, she jerks the ball away at the last second, and, as he flies through the air to smash to the ground, he can only shout: “She did it again.” In the last scene, a properly penitent Lucy leans over Charlie to say: “I admire you, Charlie Brown. You have such faith in human nature.” Our lack of trust in human relations may be laid to the lack of trust in God. Maybe what’s inscribed on our coins,
“In God We Trust,” has lost as much over the past years as has the currency value itself. “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.” That’s something to hold on to. A beautiful example of trust is seen in this experience: In the Louvre there is a life-sized statue of a Greek athlete called “The Gladiator.”
Admiring it one day, a group of shabbily-dressed French boys, accompanied by their teacher, obviously on an educational tour. They were all blind. Whenever they stood before some art treasure the teacher took each lad, guided his fingers over it, and carefully described its appearance. There was one small fellow whom he lifted up to “The Gladiator.”
He was a thin, spindly-legged little child reaching out to embrace this likeness in marble of perfect physical manhood. I have often thought of that as a parable. We all must choose some “Gladiator,” the measure not only of physical manhood but also full-orbed personality at its highest and best. For the Christian it is Christ. We look at him and learn what it means to be human, mature, full-grown, and perfect.
In Him we can place our unconditional trust.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time — The 18th century playwright, Goethold Lessing, who wrote Nathan the Wise, said: “If an angel were to appear to me and in one hand he would hold The Truth and in the other hand The Pursuit of Truth, and if he offered me a choice, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to choose The Pursuit of Truth. Know-it-alls learn nothing more. Pursuers of Truth have most of the fun in life.” It is self-evident that Truth is an on-going, unfolding revelation. We are, as the saying goes, “running after truth.”
It marches on. To think Truth is static and can be captured is to suffer Truth decay. Pursuing and living the truth is illustrated in the following concerning an Olympic runner and St. Francis of Assisi. Perhaps it was the film’s soundtrack which contributed so mightily to its popularity, but Chariots of Fire, which won Best Picture of the Year in the Academy Awards years ago, had a much deeper appeal than its music. Its appeal was concentrated largely in the character development of the protagonist. Eric Liddell, an enormously naturally gifted sprinter and a devout Christian, was a competitor in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Liddell went to the Games as a favorite to win a medal in his event. He almost did not get a chance to compete, however.
As the Olympics got under way, Liddell announced that he would not compete in his event because it would be held on a Sunday. He refused to compete on Sunday because it was a day reserved for the Lord. Liddell’s announcement startled the English Olympic Committee which, in turn, scrambled to persuade Liddell to violate his own personal credo regarding Sunday competition. Liddell was steadfast and resolute. He refused to capitulate and remained committed to his word.
Saint Francis of Assisi, perhaps more than any other mystic of the Middle Ages, inspired those observers of his life to comment: “That’s the Spirit.” The Spirit of God flowed through him and his many loving deeds. Chesterton, the British essayist and philosopher, with his usual happy way of flashing out an unforgettable phrase, says that “Francis ran away to God, as other boys run away to sea.”
And that discovery of God’s spirit as love is what made Saint Francis such a center of spiritual energy in the thirteenth century. The book The Little Flower tells how he got out of bed one night and “with exceeding great fervor” said: “My God, my God and naught beside!” until morning, feeling himself drawn into a living communion with the Spirit of God. The secret of his soul-force was a union of spirits—his with God’s as a child with the Father. Both were not afraid to live what they believed for they followed Jesus who identified himself as The Way, The Truth and The Life.
26th-Sunday in Ordinary Time — Mother Teresa owned a Lincoln Continental one — for about five minutes back in 1964. A gift of Pope Paul VI, who rode in it during his visit to India, it never had the honor of carrying its new owner, who raffled it off and made $98,000.00 — many times the worth of the car — for her ministry. Mother Teresa is nothing if not practical.
Perhaps no renowned figure shows no partiality, ministering to people on the basis of need, not an outward standards of worth, and secondly, her strong faith is balanced by her works of charity.
Mother Teresa started her work with five rupees in her pocket, about 55 cents. She shunted organized money appeals, “I do not agree with the big way of doing things,” she says in Boniface Hanley’s Ten Christians. “to us what matters is an individual. If we wait till we get a big operation, then we will be lost in the numbers.”
The film Mother Teresa shows her looking over a house being prepared for the nuns in San Francisco. A priest narrates, “I was gently informed that the springs could go, the mattresses could go, the carpeting…” A workman explains the workings of the building’s hot water heater, and a nun lightly tells him, “I do not think we will be needing it. For us to be able to understand the poor, we must know what poverty is.”
Mother Teresa’s response to suggestions that finance must be considered might be seen by some as infuriatingly impractical. “Money — I don’t think about it. It always comes. The Lord sends it. We do God’s work. He provides the means. If he does not give us the means that shows he does not want the work, so why worry? God can be counted on one way or the other.”
What a faith — filled way of living. May Saint Teresa make our way of living our own as well.
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time — “Tell me the weight of a snowflake, “a sparrow asked a wild dove. “Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer. “In that case I must I must tell you a marvelous story,” the sparrow said. “I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow, not heavily, not in a raging blizzard, no, just like in a dream, without any violence.
Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch — nothing more than nothing, as you say — the branch broke off.” Having said that, the sparrow flew away.
Jesus labored three years in poverty, with twelve of the world’s “nobodies” without an army or monetary backing or political clout. A few snowflakes fell but most melted on impact, so at the end he was left with eleven of the original twelve and a few women followers — nothing next to nothing.
>But … at Pentecost the snowflakes began to fall in number: 3,000 on that day alone and thereafter “the Lord added to their number day by day” (Acts 2:47b).
The scenario throughout scripture is the same. One snowflake at a time, slowly, steadily, the weight of nothing, until — finally — the result comes. This is the stratagem Paul passes on to Timothy: “continue … preach … be urgent … convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience … always be steady, endure … do the work … fulfill your ministry” (2Tim. 3:14 4:2, 5).
Jesus emphasizes the same steady persistence with a parable in Luke 18, commending a woman’s relentless pleading before a judge until she obtains what she is after. No big-budget campaigns are called for; no mass appeals; no super organizational efforts. Just the one-by-one, consistent “weight of nothing” until the branch breaks.
When Mother Teresa accepted the Nobel Peace prize she spoke these words: “All the works of love are the works of peace … We do not need bombs and guns; we need love and compassion … We who have been gathered here must know that peace is learned so as to give it to others.
Let us learn that unless we are full of God, we cannot give that love, we cannot give that peace, to others … I thank God for this great gift (the Nobel Peace Prize and its accompanying cash), and for making the world acknowledge works of love to be works of peace.”
Saint (Mother) Teresa like Saint Padre Pio was just a little snowflake in love with God. Countless other snowflakes following her and his example make a difference in the lives of many.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time — A fascinating British journalist with the fu nny name of Malcolm Muggeridge was converted to the Christian faith late in his career and life and – before he died, he brought a fresh perspective to our faith.
He was attracted to what he called “the sheer absurdity” of Christianity. “I love all those crazy sayings in the New Testament,” Muggeridge said, “which, incidentally, turn out to be true — about how fools and illiterates and children understand what Jesus was talking about better than the wise, the learned and the venerable; about how the poor, not the rich, are blessed; the meek, not the arrogant, inherit the earth; and the pure in heart, not the strong in mind, see God.”
Malcolm Muggeridge was attracted to the people who practiced this faith, such as Mother Teresa in India, and he traveled to meet her. He wrote about it in his book Christ and the Media: “Most of what Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity do is, in worldly terms, patently absurd.
For instance, salvaging derelicts from the streets, just for them to have the comfort of seeing even for a few hours or minutes, a loving face, and receiving loving care, rather than closing their eyes on a world implacably hostile, or at best indifferent, is clearly ridiculous— so much effort put out for so small a purpose.
When the needs of the living are so great, surely it might be thought, the best thing to do for the dying is just to let them die with perhaps a hypodermic jab to induce forgetfulness and put them to sleep.
Mother Teresa sees it differently, When I asked her once what was the difference,” Muggerridge goes on, “the difference in her eyes, between the welfare services and what her Missionaries of Charity do, she said that welfare workers do for an idea, a social purpose, what she and her sisters do for a Person.
“What we will do for a person is quite different from what we will do as a duty to the society we live in, or in fulfillment of a social idea or ideal. Mothers have starved for their children, wives have trudged for miles and faced appalling dangers when their husbands are in concentration camps to take them food parcel, clean clothes.
There is no limit to what love will do, to the point of laying down a life for someone else. Mother Teresa insists that in every single suffering human being she sees the suffering of Christ — just as that same Christ looked out over the people of Jerusalem and wept for them.
“So a grizzled head, a stricken face laid low in the gutter, is He to whom all care and all love are due. This is more in the nature of a passion that an enlightened purpose. It cannot be taught, but only caught, like a virus, picked up where the saints cherish the poor. Mother Teresa is a notable carrier of infection.”
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time — A missionary friend in India had the privilege of spending a weekend retreat with Mother Teresa in Bangalore. He looks upon her as a “living saint, a small woman, very humble, her face lined with age and wrinkles, but she sure carries a large portion of God’s love and concern for others around with her wherever she goes.”
He was impressed with the thoroughness of the care she and her sisters provide. She can’t be satisfied until the total care of a person is provided for. She told him, by way of example, of a man in Calcutta they found, dying in a street gutter.
They helped as best they could on the street, and then picked him up and transported him to their hospital where he was bathed and put into a clean bed. Mother Teresa knew they were too late, that the man wouldn’t live, but her reward was not only in doing what she and others did for him in his last hours, but also in one of the last statements he made.
He said, “I’ve lived in the streets of Calcutta like an animal,” but then looking at his fresh, clean surroundings said, “but I’m going to die here like an angel.”
Mother Teresa then quoted the words she lives by, the words of another Teresa, St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
On this September 4, 2016, Blessed Mother Teresa is canonized a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church by Our Holy Father Pope Francis. Dwight Eisenhower said: “Greatness in life consists not so much in doing so-called great things, but in doing small things greatly.”
You could say it is Mother Teresa’s motto, she says it so often — even in receiving the Nobel Peace prize: “I am nothing.” But look at how much that “nothing” has added up to in the world. Saint (Mother) Teresa, pray for us now and at the hour of our death… Amen.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time — The Broadway musical Les Miserables is based on a classical novel of the same title written by Victor Hugo. The hero of the story is Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for 18 years because he stole bread to feed his sister’s hungry child. Upon being released from prison, Valjean gets in to trouble with the lawA kind Bishop takes in the fugitive Jean Valjean, providing him with food, shelter, and friendship, only to have the fugitive run off one night with the valuable church altar ware. The Bishop wasn’t surprised or dismayed.
He merely observed that the man was desperately in need of God’s grace, as we all are, and left the matter in God’s hands. His attitude was that if we serve under the illusion that our work is to be directed towards “good” people, we shall be left with nothing to do for anyone.<p/div> To delimit human beings with good, nice, bad, or nasty is to cut them off from the clean facts of their humanity which is more complex than simple labeling can ever capture. This “thingification” of people is what opens the trapdoor for otherwise well intentioned religious people to end up with selective service – selecting to serve only the appreciative.
It’s great to serve the grateful, their smiles and thankful eyes warm our hearts. But God calls us to serve ingrates, as well – drunks who eat their dinners out of dumpsters, the steel bins at the rear of super-markets, and whose eyes are so glazed, that they long ago lost any ability to express thanks.
They give little if anything to those who try to minister to them, but that doesn’t mean they should be excluded. To do so is to look for avenues of service through stained-glass eyes. That kind bishop intervenes to give him another chance to redeem himself, and this time Valjean succeeds.
He vows to spend the rest of his life helping others, and so he does. Near the end of the musical, just before hedies, Valjean sings some of the most memorable and moving lines of the whole play: “Take my hand and lead me to salvation.
Take my love for love is everlasting. And remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God.” That’s the message we hear from Valjean in Les Miserable: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
How true that is… how very true.
August 22, 2016 – The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
John R. Westerhoff tells a story about the three little pigs. Years had passed since the crisis with the wolf (remember the story?) The family of the three little pigs had settled down comfortably in their brick house in the suburbs.
Gradually boredom set in. Something was missing in their lives. The three little pigs decided that what they were missing had to do with love. They were determined to go out and seek love’s meaning.
The first little pig went to the university and read all she could on the subject of love.
When she had finished she had learned a great deal about love, but her life was still empty. The second little pig read in the newspaper that a famous pig was coming to town to deliver a series of sermons on the subject of love.
The second little pig attended all the sermons and was filled with enthusiasm and emotions. His emotional high lasted four days, and then his life became pretty much as empty as it had been before.
The third little pig invited two other pig families over to their house one evening and all the little pigs began to share their life stories, continuing until late in the night. They found this so interesting that they decided to meet together regularly to share experiences and life together. In time they came to care about each other very deeply. One evening, after the other families had left, the third little pig said to her siblings, “Now I know what love is, for I have experienced it.”
That’s the kind of love that happened in the NT church. That is the kind of love the apostle Paul desires for each person to experience. When we are experiencing that kind of love in our lives, despair cannot get the best of us, sin cannot scar our lives, and dissension cannot tear us apart and get us down.
A young boy and an old man were seated together on a dock fishing. They were talking about many things: why the sunset is sometimes red; why the rain falls; why some creatures live in water and others require air. As the old man was baiting the boy’s hook, the youngster looked up at him and asked, “Does anyone ever see God?”
The old man reflected a moment as he looked out across the sylvan lake and the lush foliage surrounding it and answered: “Son, we can’t see God, but we can see where He’s been.
Jesus said, “You will know my disciples by the way they love one another.” Does your
love and mine for God show in our actions?
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time — One of the classic stories of modern times is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old man and the Sea. Hemingway rewrote it 46 times before it was published. It is a masterpiece and said to be Hemingway’s best. It is the story of an old fisherman who for 84 days has not caught a single fish. The odds are against him of even making a living anymore at his age. But every morning he goes out, and every evening he returns with nothing to show for his efforts.
On the 85th day, he rows out as usual. About noon, a giant fish takes his line and begins to pull the old man and his boat farther out to sea. The odds of his landing the fish are slim, let alone his ever getting back to safety if he doesn’t cut the line. But he holds on even as the line cuts into his old, gnarled hands. He knows that he will not be able to take the big fish until it tires. All night the fish pulls the boat as the old man holds onto the line.
Early the next morning, the fish jumps out of the water, and the old man knows he has hooked the biggest fish he ever seen. By the morning of the third day, the fish is getting tired, so the old man begins to pull in the line. Finally, he has it alongside the boat. Since the fish is two feet longer than the boat, the old man ties it on the side and puts up his patched sails.
No fish so big has ever been caught. He will have plenty of money after he sells it, and also the admiration of other fishermen. But the odds are still against him. As he sails toward home, sharks begin to attack the big fish. The old man strikes at them with his oars and his knife, but he cannot drive them away.
By the time he reaches the harbor, he has nothing left but the skeleton of his great fish. He is worn out from the three days and nights at sea, so when he gets home, he falls into bed. The next day when he goes down to his boat, he finds other fishermen looking at the skeleton. Though he has lost his big fish, he has regained his confidence. He thinks of himself as a strong old man, for the fish and the sea —and the odds — have not conquered him.
Japanese gardeners developed the technique of producing beautiful, decorative dwarf trees, or bonsai, by deliberately stunting their growth. The roots are cut off, the branches and limbs cut back, and the trees are starved for soil, denied water, and given only minimal sunlight.
The art is to keep a spark of life in the tree, but just barely. Such a tree may live for hundred years in a teacup. While such a dwarf tree is a work of art, perhaps the greater work is that mysterious quality known as life can be sustained in the tree, despite all the destruction and devastation worked upon it through excessive pruning and the denial of adequate soil, water and sunlight. How like the human soul, which, likewise, survives through many adverse conditions it is put through.
The great grace you and I are to pray for us is the grace of fidelity and final perseverance. That grace nurtured by our faith will keep us faithful till Sister Death calls us home to ABBA.
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time — That great philosopher of the comic strips, Charlie Brown, thought he knew his way through life. Lucy says to him, “Life is a mystery, Charlie Brown. Do you know the answer? Charlie Brown answers, “Be kind. Don’t smoke. Be prompt. Smile a lot. Eat sensibly. Avoid cavities, and mark your ballot carefully. Avoid too much sun …”
Some people travel through life on such a moral, common sense vehicle. But that “bus” won’t get one to the destination of the Kingdom of God. “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees,” Jesus warned, you won’t make it to the kingdom. That’s food for thought, but in another comic strip, Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “I have examined my life and found it to be without a flaw.
Therefore, I’m going to hold a ceremony and present myself with a medal. I will then give a moving acceptance speech. After that, I’ll greet myself in the receiving line.” Then she concludes, somewhat sadly, “When you’re a saint, you have to do everything yourself.”
These bits of humor carry the same misconception about saints — they both equate saintliness with perfection, and this is not the original biblical thought. The Christian saints are not perfect; they may be far from it, but they are pointed in the right direction. Saints are those who have found the right road, and with God’s help through Christ are seeking to pursue the higher path. Therefore we have Linus and Lucy walking along, in the cartoon strip, Peanuts. Linus says, “Charlie Brown says that brothers and sisters can learn to get along.”
In the next frame, he continues, “He says they can get along the same way mature adults get along.” “The third frame has, “And he says that adults can get along the same way that nations get along.” In the last frame, Linus concludes, “At this point, the analogy breaks down.”
But it doesn’t break down when you try to live by the Gospel. The bliss of the family spreads out in concentric circles from the home to the community and the nation at large. Your ministry and mine is to practice the Good News.
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Christianity’s goal, which is wholeness, is based on honesty and openness. The Jewish Day of Atonement is based also on frank disclosure of sin and wrong-doing. Religion’s tools have been discovered by secular groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and other therapeutic communities for drug addicts. In the final analysis, alcoholism and drug addiction are not about alcohol or other drugs, they come down to dishonesty, self-centeredness, irresponsibility.
But Menninger reserved his harshest rebuke for the liberal religious establishment who, for the past few decades, has been telling people, in effect, there is no such thing as sin. For some time now, many people have gotten the impression that “sin” is an unduly judgmental term which has no place within an “I’m OK, you’re OK” progressive world view.
What was once called “sin” is now dismissed as “alternate lifestyle,” “social maladjustment,” “failure to live up to one’s full human potential,” or behavior which is “the result of inadequate education.” That ultimate authority by which all human behavior was once judged (God) has been reduced, in the minds of many, to a kindly, all-affirming, all-accepting indulgent therapist who blesses everything and damns nothing.
“Hogwash,” said Menninger, in effect. There are, in our world, infidelity, cruelty, racism, stealing, prejudice, lying, idolatry, and a host of other human behavior which can only be called sin. It’s time we admitted it. A word to the wise is sufficient. Hopefully, you and I have listened carefully to the wisdom of the Doctor sharing his experience.
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time — It’s probably Norman Rockwell’s most famous picture — that one of a café — sort of a quick – lunch sort of a place with no tablecloths on the tables, just the ketchup and mustard jars on the bare wood. It seems to be raining outside. An elderly man turns to look as he is about to leave the place. Another man glances up as he sits there chewing a cigar, reading the paper.
Two teenagers sit at a table, one of them with a cigarette in his mouth. They are all looking at the same thing, which is an old woman and a small boy, their heads bowed, saying grace. The onlookers are dazed with fascination. The small boy’s ears stick out like the handles on a jug. The woman’s hair sticks out in strings from under a hat that has seen better days. The on-lookers are looking at they know not what but vaguely remember.
The old woman and the boy are there saying grace over a meager meal, while the rain is falling outside. You wouldn’t think they had sense enough to come in out of the rain, such obviously poor and simple folks. For a moment the silence in the place is fathomless. The watchers are arrested by something basic to life — something that resonates in themselves and about us all. Simple faith, basic gratitude, bedrock belief.
Pablo Casals, the noted Spanish musician, esteemed each day of his 93 – year life by creating his own version of holy observances: “Each day I am reborn. Each day I must begin again. For the past 80 years I have started each day in the same manner … I go to the piano and I play two preludes of Bach… it is a benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with the wonder of eternity, with the incredible miracle of God. The music is never the same for me. Each day it is something new, fantastic, unbelievable!”
I think it was the great pianist Rubenstein who said, “If I don’t practice for one day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my family knows it. If I don’t practice for three days my public knows it.” If we fail to attend to God in prayers, then we do not know how to listen when we turn to God. We have to do our daily finger exercises.
Daily we have been entrusted by God with a great gift called – human life. Each day then should be filled with gratitude for that gift and the opportunities He gives us to show our love.
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time — In Morris West’s novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman, there is a great scene where the Pope goes through the poorer section of Rome incognito. As he is walking along, a door of an apartment house opens, and a man rushes out, runs into the Pope, and almost knocks him down. The man mutters an apology, and, then, as he catches sight of the cassock, says curtly: “There’s a man dying up there. Maybe you can do more for him than I can.”
“Who are you?” asks the Pope. “A doctor,” the man replies. “They never call us until it’s too late.” The Pope goes into the house and finds a man obviously near death. He is alone except for a young woman nurse attending him. The Pope tries to talk to him, but is unable to get any response at all. The girl says: “It’s no use, Father. He’s too far gone to hear you.” The Pope pronounces the absolution and kneels to pray. Soon the man is dead. The woman says: “We should go, Father. Neither of us will be welcome now.”
“I would like to help the family,” says the Pontiff. “We should go,” the woman says again. Then she adds, in what is one of the most poignant lines of the book: “They can cope with death. It’s only living that defeats them.”
It may be a new emphasis that the Resurrection comes to us with a very frightening idea. We can adjust ourselves to dying; however, what if we do not die, but live? The victory of the gospel is nowhere more apparent that in its ability to help us confront God’s gift of life and accept it.
That giant of the pulpit, Harry Emerson Fosdick, once wrote: “We ask the leaf, ‘Are you complete in yourself?’ And the leaf answers, ‘No, my life is in the branches.’ We ask the branch, and the branch answers, ‘No, my life is in the root.’ We ask the root, and the root answers, ‘No, my life is in the trunk and the branches and the leaves. Keep the branches stripped of leaves, and I shall die.’ So it is with the great tree of being. Nothing is completely and merely individual.”
An unusual woman was being interviewed by a reporter. Although a widow for years, she had reared six children of her own and twelve adopted children. In spite of her busy and useful life, she was noted for her poise and charm. The reporter asked how she managed.
“You see, I’m in a partnership.”
“One day a long time ago I said, ‘Lord, I’ll do the work, and you do the worrying.’ And I haven’t had a worry since.”
As we prepare to celebrate our Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, let us deepen our trust in Her Loving care and remember “Faith does for living what sunshine does for stained-glass windows.” Happy Feast Day.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Independence Day Weekend) — Back in 1924, when radio was in its heyday, a young girl who planned to be a nurse, entered one of those amateur talent shows on radio in Washington, D.C. She sang “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” and won. She was presented with a five dollar gold piece. A result of winning that night was an opportunity to perform in a theater for a week. During that week, her new career was born.
In 1926, just two years later, she had a show on Broadway: by the 1930’s she was making $3,000.00 a week (and this was during the Depression). Ten years later, she was being paid almost $13,000.00 for one radio program a week.
Her name was Kate Smith, and for a generation, no entertainer was more popular. Although she never had a voice lesson, and never learned to read music, she wanted to sing and to share her voice with others. S he came from a very religious family, and she accepted her voice as a gift of God. Kate never lost the simplicity and humility that mark true greatness. Her first words to the audience as her program came on were, “Hello, everybody,” and her sign-off line was, “Thanks for listening.”
But the thing Kate Smith is more remembered for was her singing of “God Bless America.” She made it almost a second national anthem, and records of her singing it sold millions of copies. The words were those of Irving Berlin, but Kate Smith sang them as her own:
Land that I love;
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam;
God bless America, my home sweet home.
He says: “What if my whole life had been wrong?” It occurs to him that the whole arrangement of his life, of his family, and all his social and official interests may have been false. He tries to defend all these things to himself and suddenly finds that there is nothing to defend, and he came to a bitter end.
It’s sad but often true for many in this life. On the other hand, Lloyd Douglas, the author of The Robe, once told a story about a violin teacher who lived down the street from Douglas.
One morning when Douglas went to the studio, he asked his old friend, “And what’s the good news for today?” Holding up a tuning fork, the teacher struck the fork with a padded mallet and exclaimed, “The good news today is: that is A. The soprano down the hall misses her high notes, and the piano across the hall is off-key,” the teacher replied.
“But that, my friend is A. It was A yesterday; it is A today; and it will be A tomorrow. The good news for today is: that is A, and it won’t change.”
There is One who stabilizes life in an unstable era. He is sure, unchanging, and dependable in an unsure, changing, and undependable world. The last book of the Bible begins with that assurance: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.”
Hence, a positive philosophy of life was practiced by this wise woman: A venerated piano teacher, who had taught many students successfully over the years, invariably, when she prepared her pupils for recitals, would have them practice the conclusions over and over again.
When the students would grumble because of the constant repetition of the last few measures of music, the teacher would say: “You can make a mistake in the beginning or you can make a mistake in the middle.
The people will forget it if you make the ending glorious.” Sounds great to me. Hope you think so, too.
12th-Sunday in Ordinary Time – John the Baptist – A poor man, down and out, went to his local minister and said, “Is there anyway I can earn some money?”
The minister replied, “Well, I could have you paint a wall, God knows some of those walls need painting, but I really don’t have much money I can give you, but I’ll tell you what —- I’ve heard that the big church, the First Methodist, needs a custodian. I’ll write a note recommending you.
Take it to the senior minister there and maybe he’ll hire you.”Well, the man took the note, got all cleaned up, went to the big church, found his way to the senior minister’s office, entered the office and sat down. They began talking. “Yes, I can polish your floors, I can make them sparkle. I can clean your windows, I can vacuum all your carpets.”
“That’s wonderful, “ said the minister. “Why don’t you take this sheet and read it through: if it sounds right I want you to sign it and go to work.” The poor man said, “I’m sorry but I can’t read or write.”
“If you can’t read or write there’s no way you can work here. You see we put out computerized printouts every week that tell how we want every room set up. Lots of times I would write you notes to tell you how I want things to be. I’m sorry, but if you can’t read or write there’s no way there’s a job available.”
So the poor man went outside and sat on the curb. He had brought a couple of apples with him to eat for lunch that day. All of a sudden, a car screeched to a stop in front of him. A man put down the window and called, “Hey, Buddy, are you selling apples?”
“No,” came the answer. “Well, I’m in a hurry, would you sell me that apple? I want a bite of lunch but I don’t have time to stop for it.” The man with the apple said, “I’ll sell it for a quarter.” “You got it — how about the other one? How much for it?” The poor man said, “a quarter also.” So he sold the two apples and now had fifty cents in his pocket.
He hurried home and went out to his big apple tree in the backyard. He wrapped his arms around the tree and shook it until the apples fell down. He grabbed a bunch and went back to that curb and sold every apple he had that day. It didn’t end there, he sold more apples and other fruit and vegetables. As he made money he brought it home and put it in old coffee cans.
They began to file up in the kitchen until one day his wife, becoming a little nervous, said “I think you’d better take all this money to the bank.” So he carted all the coffee cans to the bank and set them before the teller. “How much do you have here?” the teller asked. “I don’t know,” he said. The teller started counting.
Before long the Vice President of the bank came out and said, “Sir, I’d like you to step into my office.” He asked the man, “Sir, do you know how much money you brought in?” “No, I don’t.” “It’s over a million dollars,” said the banker — “you are a millionaire! Do you want to open an account?” “Yes, sir, I do.” “Well, that’s wonderful.
Please read through this document and sign it.” “I don’t know how to read or write, sir.” “You don’t know how to read or write! Imagine what you might have been able to do had you been able to read and write!”
“I know, Mr. Banker, I could have been the janitor of the First Methodist Church!” My Dad often said to me “Wonders never cease – do they son?” For the poor man, he found his wonder by coincidence. He never thought an apple tree would provide his security. What are the wonders in your life or mine? Think about them and be thankful.
11th-Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 12) – In his autobiography, Report to Greco, Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: “I have always been bewildered by three of God’s creatures: the worm that becomes a butterfly, the flying fish that leaps out of the water in an effort to transcend its nature, and the silkworm that turns its entrails into silk—for I always imagined them the symbol symbolizing the root of my soul for me. The grub’s yearning to become a butterfly always stood as its and man’s most imperative, and at the same time, more legitimate duty.”
God takes us grubs and turns us into butterflies. Jesus called the grubbiest lot of his day, humble fishermen, and turned them into fishermen for God.
We don’t know why worms can become butterflies — that’s a miracle and mystery to us. We don’t know why, either, people of the meanest circumstances are able to become great, to become heroes and saints, like St. Peter, but it happens.
There seems to be a kind of partnership between God and humanity. God continually creates the possibilities for a new life and it’s up to us to respond, to make the choices and decisions to actualize the possibility for us.
Syndicated columnist “Dear Abby” had this short letter in her newspaper column:
“Dear Abby: I am 44 years old and I would like to meet a man my own age who has no bad habits.” And Abby replied: “So would I.” Perfect people don’t exist. The world is peopled by the Simon Peters. And God turns them into saints, in spite of their faults and imperfections.
Newspaper columnist Ann Landers printed this item, sent in by a reader who found it written in longhand in her grandmother’s Bible:
Life is a beauty … praise it. Life is a struggle … fight it. Life is a goal … achieve it. Life is a puzzle … solve it.” God is at work in your life and mine.
How open are we to God’s grace? That can only be answered by oneself. Let’s not be afraid of that question or the answer we’ll get.
10th-Sunday in Ordinary Time – On the first day Lord created cow. And Lord said, “You must go to the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support farmers. I will give you a life span of sixty years.”
Cow said, “That’s a kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. Let me have twenty years and I’ll give back the other forty.” And Lord agreed. On the second day Lord created dog. And to dog, Lord said, “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. I will give you a life span of twenty years.”
Dog said, “That’s too long to be barking. Give me ten years and I’ll give back the other ten. So Lord agreed (sigh). On the third day Lord created monkey. Lord said, “Entertain people, do monkey tricks, make them laugh. I’ll give you a twenty year life span.”
Monkey said, “How boring, monkey tricks for twenty years? I don’t think so. Dog gave you back ten, so that’s what I’ll do too, okay?” And Lord agreed again. On the fourth day Lord created man. Lord said, “Eat, sleep, play, enjoy. Do nothing, just enjoy, enjoy. I’ll give you twenty years.”
Man said, “What? Only twenty years? No way man. Tell you what, I’ll take my twenty, and the forty cow gave back, and the ten monkey gave back, and the ten dog gave back. That makes eighty, okay?”
“Okay,” said Lord. “You’ve got a deal.” So that is why for the first twenty years we eat, sleep, play, enjoy, and do nothing; for the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family; for the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain our grandchildren; and for the last ten years we sit in front of the house and bark at everybody.
Corpus Christi — One Sunday night, a newly-ordained priest received a last-minute assignment from his bishop to deliver the Sunday sermon at the bishop’s Cathedral Church. “But how can I do this?” he asked the bishop.
“I’ve never before preached to a large congregation such as yours, and I have nothing prepared!” to which the bishop replied, “Trust the Lord, young man. Just trust the Lord.” Later that night, the young preacher leafed through the bishop’s Bible, searching for inspiration…
He came upon some type-written sermon notes the bishop had tucked into the Bible. After reading them over, he liked them so much that he decided to take them to the pulpit the next morning. And, with the bishop’s notes before him, the young man very much pleased the congregation as he delivered a sermon packed with wisdom beyond his years.
Later, as the congregation filed out of the Cathedral, many stopped to congratulate him for his excellent preaching. Then the bishop himself came through the crowd. “Young man,” he said, “you preached the sermon I was going to deliver tonight.
Now what shall I do?” “Trust the Lord, bishop,” said the young man. “Just trust the Lord!” Speaking of trust— that’s exactly what the Lord has done when He instituted the Priesthood and then told us to eat “This is My Body” and drink “This is My Blood” in the Eucharist. He not only entrusts Himself to each of us but trusts us to become what we receive. May we live up to that trust and that ministry to be His Presence to others.
The Most Holy Trinity — The story is told of a woman who was trying desperately to find God. And the more she searched the more frustrated she became over her inability to experience His Presence. One night she had a dream in which she was standing before a thick plate – glass window. And the more she looked at that window the more it seemed that she could see God on the other side. Over-and-over again she hammered on the window trying to attract God’s attention, but without success.
Then in desperation, she began to call out to Him until she found herself shrieking at the top of her voice. Whereupon, a calm, quiet voice at her side said, “Why are you making so much noise? Why all the fuss? There is nothing between us.”
Jesus came to reveal to us the inner mystery of Our God, namely that within the One God, there are three Persons — Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. In doing so, He taught us to get to know the Father as ABBA – the Son as JESUS, our Brother and the Spirit as the personified love existing between the Father and the Son. Through Baptism we have been given divine nature to know the persons of the Trinity on their level. It’s up to you and me to capitalize on what we have been given. The secret of our ministry is seen on the following:
A young man, raised by a childless couple since he was seven-years-old, was leaving his adopted parents in order to take a job in a distant city. During the emotional “Good-byes,” he grabbed his parent’s hands and said, “How can I ever repay you two for what you have done for me.” To which the father replied, “Son, there is a saying: The love of parents goes to their children, but the love of the children goes to their children.”
As the son attempted to respond, the mother broke in and said: “Son, what your father means is that a parent’s love can be paid back only by passing it on.” That is our ministry to pass on love as we have received that love. Jesus said that’s the only way we will be recognized as His disciples. We show the love we’ve been given by the love we give away to others.
Pentecost — Hummingbirds are a fascinating species – so fragile, tiny and beautiful. There are actually 320 kinds of hummingbirds. The tiniest among them is the “Bee-Humming” bird. It is only 2 1/8 inches long and half of that is tail feathers and beak. It weighs only five grams – about the same weight of a few aspirins or vitamin pills. Yet that tiny creature can hover, fly up and down, sideways, and in and out with amazing grace and flexibility.
It flaps its wings ninety times a second. And that little bird somehow knows that when it begins to get cold, for its own well-being it is best for it to leave Northern Canada and migrate down through the United States and the Gulf of Mexico, all the way to the Panama Canal Zone. And it knows just when to turn around and fly back. Just an “Accident of nature?” You might as well believe that if a big library blew up and all of its books went skyward, they would come down in alphabetical order by title! Jesus points to the birds and says, “Look at God’s concerns for those tiny creatures – and learn from that! God cares! Even for the little hummingbirds! God cares for you!”
With the sending of The Holy Spirit upon the disciples, a new day had begun in the Church. Jesus told us the role of the Spirit would be to remind us of all He taught us and empowers us to love as He loves. What you and I need to do is listen as the Spirit inspires and motivates us.
In her book called “The Listeners,” Taylor Caldwell says, man does not need to go to the moon or other solar systems. He does not require bigger and better bombs and missiles. His basic needs are few, and it takes little to acquire them. In spite of advertisers, he can survive on a small amount of bread in the meanest shelter. But his real need, his most terrible need, is for someone to listen to him, as a human soul.
Yes, listening is a basic need of every person, yet more important is for you and I to listen to what the Spirit has to say to us. He nourishes our soul with spirit and life.
Mother’s Day — Max Lucado, in his book, Applause from Heaven, tells the story of the time when his 3-year-old daughter, Andrea, awoke him in the middle of the night. He says he tried to ignore her and go back to sleep but this wasn’t in her game plan. He opened one eye. Andrea was at the edge of his bed only a few inches from his face. “Daddy, I’m scared,” she said.
He opened the other eye and saw the clock, 1:00 in the morning. “What’s wrong, Andrea?” he asked. “I need a fwashwight in my woom,” she answered. “You need what?” he asked. “I need a fwashwight in my woom,” she replied. He was awake now, “Why do you need a fwash-uh, flashlight in your room? He asked. “Cause it’s dark,” she answered. Lucado told her the night light was on and the hall light was on. “But Daddy,” she objected, “what if I open my eyes and can’t see anything?”
He wondered what in the world she was talking about. Then his wife interrupted. She explained that there had been a power failure around midnight and Andrea must have awakened in the dark. No night light, no hall light. She had opened her eyes and had been unable to see anything. Just darkness. She had apparently stayed in her room, frightened, until the lights had come back on in order to make it to her Daddy. Lucado understood, and did what any good father would do. He picked Andrea up, got a flashlight out of the utility room, and carried her back to her bed while at the same time reassuring her that Mom and Dad would always be there for her. On this Mother’s Day- let me share what follows:
There is a story about two tribes in the Andes that were at war. One tribe lived in the low-lands and the other high in the mountains. The mountain people invaded the lowlanders one day, and as part of their plundering, they kidnapped a baby of one of the lowlander families and took the infant with them back up into the mountains. The lowlanders did not know how to climb the mountain.
They didn’t know any of the trails that the mountain people used, and they didn’t know where to find the mountain people or how to track them in the steep terrain. Even so, they sent out their best party of fighting men to climb the mountain and bring the baby home.
The men tried first one method of climbing and then another. They tried one trail and then another. After several days of effort, however, they had climbed only several hundred feet. Feeling hopeless and helpless, the lowlander men decided that the cause was lost, and they prepared to return to their village below.
As they were packing their gear for their descent, they saw the baby’s mother walking toward them. They realized that she was coming down the mountain that they hadn’t figured out how to climb. And then they saw that she had the baby strapped to her back. How could that be?
One man greeted her and said, “We couldn’t climb this mountain. How did you do this when we, the strongest and most able men in the village, couldn’t do it?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “It wasn’t your baby.” Every parent knows there is nothing they will not do for their child. Mothers are the prime agents in raising and teaching their children to live: God bless them and keep them in His Loving care.
Sixth Sunday of Easter & The Ascension of the Lord — The story is told, in parable form, of a man who felt that life had been unfair to him. And he was filled with great sadness…Then he learned of a great wizard, a wonder- worker called God. So he went before this God. “What is it you want of Me? “ God asked. “I have dreamed dreams and I have hoped hopes,” the man replied. “I have dreamed of a luxurious house for me to live in.
I have dreamed of a gourmet food to fill my every yearning. I have dreamed of fashionable clothing – fine, rich clothes, fit for a king.” To which God replied, “You have but to ask.” And God snapped His fingers and, in an instant, the man had the most luxurious house imaginable, and the most exquisite clothing imaginable, and the most delectable food imaginable. And he was content for a time, until he realized that someday he was going to die.
Again, with a heavy heart, the man went before God. “Why are you still sad?” God asked. “Because I must die,” the man answered. “I can cure that,” said God. “You can cure death?” said the man. “If so, then I really don’t care where I live or what I eat or what I wear. None of that matters if you can cure death!” With that, God snapped His fingers and, in an instant, in the twinkle of an infinite eye, there was JESUS!
And the man walked away from the luxury house and the gourmet foods and the exquisite clothes as if they were nothing. Cured of death, he walked away, his heart filled with joy – happier than he’d ever been in his entire life.
Only Jesus makes sense out of our puzzling life. He’s the key to every “What, Where, How and Why.” His Ascension into Paradise opens the gates for us. It’s up to you and me to do whatever is necessary to get there.
Fifth Sunday of Easter — Erik Erikson’s survey of the stages of human development is a useful framework on which to hang prayer. He says that there is a specific task for each stage of life. But we have to remember that no task is ever fully accomplished, that this incompletion follows us through life, bringing its weight to succeeding stages.
The first developmental stage happens in the first year of life, and its task is trust. This is when we learn (or not) to trust that someone will feed us, that we will wake up after sleep, that Dad will come home from work. This experience will help determine whether we experience life as good or threatening, whether we can trust other people, whether God is there even if we don’t feel it.
The second stage occurs during the first and third years, and the task is autonomy, in which we establish ourselves as unique individuals. We must balance our utter dependence on God with maintaining responsibility for our self. Without this autonomy, we would be slaves.
The next developmental stage happens between ages 3 and 5; its special task is initiative. We see how things work. We experiment, we become creative, we are active instead of reactive. How we negotiate this stage will later determine whether we are able to form new images of God and try different forms of prayer. It helps decide if our relationship with God is structured or spontaneous, personal or institutional.
The fourth developmental task of industry is assigned to ages 6 through 12. But our culture is so obsessed with this task that Erikson says many adults never move beyond it. We define ourselves by what we can do, what we produce. Although industry is a good value, its overemphasis is harmful to our prayer life. It makes us depend on techniques. Being industrious makes us think we are in control of prayer. We use prayer as a means toward many ends. We forget that prayer is not a job but a gift.
The fifth stage, during adolescence, calls for identity. This is the age of constant introspection, of trying to figure out who we are and whether that is good enough. We look for role models while at the same time rejecting advice, trying to be our own person. But if we become narcissistic, we forget about God.
Young adulthood brings the challenge of intimacy. Having gained some separateness, we now search for union. Love calls us to risk, to share, to feel deeply, to experience pain. In prayer, this can overflow into affective love for God, a sense of communion with divinity, of being embraced by God. Failing the task of intimacy can make prayer mechanical and impersonal.
Mid-life encourages a concern for the next generation. It gets us out of ourselves and into the larger world. It also invites us to larger concerns in prayer. Failure to negotiate the task of generativity could make us turn inward, away from others and from God.
The final stage of life brings the task of integrity. We pull all of our life experiences, successes, failures, dreams and despairs into one integrated person. The alternative is to fall apart.
Dear Lord: Help us to live our lives to the fullest, so that when we appear before You, we’ll hear “Well done faithful servant, you fulfilled your life, now enter into my everlasting joy.”
Fourth Sunday of Easter– Have you ever wondered why time seems to speed up as we age? Of course we all understand a second to be a constant and consistent one sixtieth of a minute. More precisely, a second is defined as 9,192,631,770 vibrations of the microwave radiation emitted by a caesium – 133 atom during a specified atomic rearrangement! But just ask any parent if their child perceives fifteen minutes in “time out,” the way they perceive the same fifteen minutes of “peace and quiet.” To a child it may seem like an eternity – to the parent, a blink of the eye.
Scientists explain that our experiences of time is permanently etched in our brains when we are young, and it is the distance between significant new experience that form this early benchmark for our internal time clocks. When we are young, life is full of new and interesting events – the first day of school, a birthday, Christmas, family vacations, losing a tooth are all potent experiences for the young, and the child experiences the passage of time within this context. Five days of Kindergarten, packed with new lessons and exploration marks a week; the days between fun filled to grandma’s house a month; birthday to birthday a very long year.
As we age, life offers us fewer events as richly experienced as those lived in of our early years. Instead of every day or every week, significant landmark experiences may occur only once a year, or less. In this context, the experience of time continues to accelerate throughout life. And as we age, we better understand the wisdom of our time intelligently, because as we age, we understand that we have so little of the precious commodity we call time.
Time is on loan to us — second by second. Use each second well. Someone has wondered what it would be like if God decided to install an answering machine… Imagine praying to Him, here and now, and getting this response: “Thank you for calling our Heavenly House. If you have a request, press one. For thanksgiving, press two. For complaints, press three.
For all other inquires, press four. What if we pressed one and we heard God give this familiar reply: “All of our angels are busy helping other worshipers right now. Your call is important to us, so don’t hang up. Your call will be answered in the “order received.” Or… “Our hours are from nine to five weekdays. Please call again during regular hours.”
We’re here to worship God who answers all our calls personally – day-and-night, including weekends. His line is never busy! He always makes time for us. How much time do you and I make for Him?
Third Sunday of Easter – In the late sixties, James Baldwin wrote a play about a hand-clapping, Gospel-singing storefront Church in Harlem. The play is called “The Amen Corner.” The Church’s minister is a woman with a large voice and a flowing robe. Everyone calls her “Sister Margaret.”
When she first takes over as the Church’s minister, Sister Margaret’s life hits some very rough spots. She tries her best to get the Message of the Risen Lord through to her congregation but she’s a failure at it; she just can’t find the right way to do it. Then her husband walks into Church and collapses, gravely ill. Her son walks out of the Church, telling his mother that he just can’t “feel the Spirit” anymore, now that she is the leader of the congregation.
And the rest of the congregation begins to come up with reasons for rejecting Sister Margaret. In the play’s final scene, Sister Margaret is faced with the reality that her life is spinning out of control. She is losing everything. Her husband is dying, Her son is gone. Her people have decided to ask her to leave. In the midst of all the chaos, she prays to her Lord and Master for guidance. And, suddenly, it all comes together for her, and she says to her sister:
“All these years I prayed as hard as I knowed how. I tried to put my treasure in heaven where couldn’t nothing get at it and take it away from me…I asked the Lord to hold my hand. I didn’t expect that none of this would ever arise to hurt me no more. And all these years it just been waiting for me, waiting for me to turn corner. And there it stand, my whole life, just like I hadn’t never gone nowhere. It’s an awful thing to think about, the way love never dies.”
Then it’s Sunday morning and Sister Margaret must now go into Church and face her people who are ready to tell her that they want her to leave. She steps into the pulpit and says: “I come up here to put you children on your knees! But it doesn’t work… and everybody knows it. Children, I’m just now finding out what it means to love the Lord. It ain’t all in the singing and the shouting. It ain’t all in the reading of the Bible. It ain’t even… it ain’t even in running all over everybody, trying to get to heaven. To love the Lord is to love all His Children – all of them! Everyone! And suffer with them and rejoice with them, and never count the cost!
Many years ago, a retired French diplomat decided that Christianity was no longer for him. He saw Church institutions as being in decline, he criticized the clergy for lack of zeal, he thought all Church-goers were hypocrites, he questioned Jesus’ teachings in the “Sermon on the Mount,” and so on. One day, he made his feelings known to his friend, Tallyrand, the famous French statesman. “What if I should decide to start a new religion?” he asked. “How would you suggest I begin?” To which Tallyrand replied, “I would recommend, my friend, that you get yourself nailed to a cross, and then die. But be sure to rise again on the third day!”
Jesus came among us to be “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” There is no doubting the reality of our Risen Christ. His Words have been verified by His Actions. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way that He is real and we can become His Presence only by saying, “Into your hands, I entrust my spirit.”
Second Sunday of Easter/Mercy Sunday – One of the nice things about reading children’s books is the discovery that animals can talk or trees can talk or even that teacups can talk. You never raise the question, “Why is this teacup talking?” You just allow yourself to get caught up in the fantasy and get carried along with it.
In one such story, a couple in Sussex, England are buying a new teacup. The wife says to her husband, “Look at this one. It is beautiful. I want to buy it.” And the teacup said, “Ah, but you know,
I wasn’t always beautiful.” Instead of being surprised at teacup talking, the couple simply asked the teacup what it meant.
The teacup said, “Originally, I was just a soggy, damp lump of clay. They put me on a wheel and they started turning that wheel until my head became dizzy. Then they started to poke and prod, and it hurt. I cried out, ‘Stop!’ but they said ‘Not yet.’ At long last they did stop the wheel and put me into a furnace. It became hotter and hotter until I thought I could no longer stand it, and I cried ‘Stop’ but they said ‘Not yet!’
Finally they took me out of the furnace and someone started to put paint on me and the fumes from the paint made me ill. It made my head swim and I cried out, ‘Stop!’ and they said, ‘Not yet.’ When at long last they had finished painting, they put me back in the furnace and it was hotter than before. And I cried ‘Stop!’ and they said, ‘Not yet.’ Finally, they took me out of the furnace, and after I had cooled down, they placed me on a tabletop in front of a mirror.
I remembered myself as a soggy, ugly, damp lump of clay. When I looked at my image in the mirror, I lost my breath and I said, in amazement, ‘I am beautiful!’ And then I knew that it was only the pain I went through that had made it possible for me to be beautiful.”
There is a sense in which we all begin as ugly lumps of clay, placed by God on the wheel we call “earth” in order that we might be fashioned into something beautiful. God pokes us: “Love one another as I have loved you.” He prods us: “If you have two coats give one to the man who has none.” Then He turns up the heat: “Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors.” Higher it goes: “Give to the man who begs from you… feed My lambs… feed My sheep.”
At long last, you can see, as though in a mirror, the face of the Lord Himself reflecting out of your own image. And there will no longer be any question of where they had put Him. He was on those ugly lumps of clay from which you and all your brothers and sisters were transformed and made beautiful.
You and I are the work of His Hands. Let us take advantage of every opportunity to become more like Him daily.
A Pastor tells of traveling to Moscow with a group of church leaders in April 1992 just as Cold War was ending. These Christian leaders were there to celebrate Russia’s first Easter after the fall of the Iron Curtain. A large banner proclaiming “Christ has risen” loomed over Red Square. The Pastor says he couldn’t help noticing that less than twenty-five yards away stood the tomb of Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Soviet Revolution. It struck him as ironic that the banner with “Christ has risen” on it overshadowed the tomb of the Communist leader who had once proclaimed that God was dead.
It also struck the Pastor that Lenin lay entombed in a granite and marble mausoleum, his body sealed in a glass sarcophagus while Christ’s tomb was empty. Surprise! Lenin is dead. Stalin is dead. Communism is dead. But Christ lives on!
Chuck Colson, in his book The Good Life, tells us of one man who believed strongly in Christ’s resurrection. His name was Edward Bennett Williams. Williams, now deceased, was one of the great lawyers and Washington power broker of our age, an extraordinarily gifted man, says Colson. “For one full generation, he was the man to go to if your life was on the line. His client list reads like a who’s who of American celebrities over a thirty-or forty-year period, starting with Joe McCarthy and Jimmy Hoffa, through Frank Sinatra, and a series of senators and high government officials.
“Although Williams was quiet about it,” says Colson, “he was a deeply religious man, a daily communicant in the Roman Catholic Church. He fought a long and valiant fight against cancer. As he struggled on his deathbed and as it became clear that he was losing the battle, his son showed him an article that named him one of the most powerful men in Washington.
The Washington Post, for whom Williams was counsel, wrote that he ‘waved the magazine away.’ He then said, ‘They don’t realize what power really is… I’m about to see true power. Fighting death is selfish. It’s time to let go and see what real power is.’ Williams died peacefully,” notes Colson, “as unshakable in his conviction about the resurrection as he had ever been in the cases he argued so brilliantly in court.”
A man named Robert E. Smith once told of hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by five hundred trained voices. The “Hallelujah Chorus,” of course, is the triumphant part of Messiah composed by George Frederic Handel after he was stricken with blindness in 1751. Handel claimed he had a vision and that this chorus is that vision set to music. Smith wrote that he could not for an instant doubt Handel’s claim, not after having his soul lifted into paradise by those 500 inspiring voices.
The “Hallelujah Chorus,” said Smith, is a magnificent expression of two thoughts: first that Christ reigns over all, and second that his reign is eternal. About the middle of the chorus the bass voices begin singing, “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” Then the tenor voices join, “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” Then the alto voices follow with, “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” Then, still higher, the soprano voices add, “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” Then the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano all unite, and in a burst of melody which seems to come from heaven itself they blend in the grandest of all refrains, “And he shall reign for ever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords! Hallelujah, hallelujah!”
To you and me as believers, the Resurrection of Jesus is no surprise. He predicted it and his word is truth. A Blessed Easter to you and yours.
PALM SUNDAY, HOLY THURSDAY, GOOD FRIDAY & HOLY SATURDAY – According to an ancient legend, a monk knelt alone in a bare cell, praying fervently. Suddenly the room filled with a bright glow. Lifting his eyes, the man saw a vision of Jesus walking through village streets and harvest fields, healing the lame and the blind, blessing children and preaching the word of God to those who pressed around him.
The monk felt overwhelmed with awe and gratitude. His joy was soon interrupted by a familiar sound. The chapel bell began calling for him to leave his cell and begin his daily work of feeding the poor, lame and blind who gathered outside the monastery gates. He wondered what to do. Had not Jesus come to grace his cold, narrow cell? Surely it was better to cling to this glorious sight as long as it beckoned before him. Yet he kept thinking of the needy waiting at the gates. Should he stay, or should he go?
Rising from his knees, he took one last, longing look at the blessed sight and hurried out to feed the poor. He worked quickly, placing loaves of bread in the trembling hands. He emptied basket after basket, engulfed by a sea of pleading faces. At last his work was over and he headed back to his chamber. Hurrying down the long hallway that led to his room, he threw open the door, and there stood the vision, just as before. He realized that Jesus had been waiting for him to return. Rapture filled his heart once more, and he fell to his knees in homage. As he bowed his head, the vision said: “If you had stayed, I would have fled.”
Jesus said, “I have come to do my Father’s will.” Palm Sunday marks His final journey on His return to the Father when we celebrate His entry into Jerusalem— Holy Thursday, His institution to the Priesthood and Eucharist and Friday— His death on the Cross and burial in the tomb. Throughout His ministry, Jesus had to obediently listen to the Father’s voice. Now listen carefully to this: In beautiful reflection on listening for the Voice of God, the author imagines a little dialogue taking place between himself and God. “I was regretting the past,” he said, “and fearing the future. Suddenly my Lord was speaking”
…. My Name is “I AM.”
When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard to hear My Voice. I am not there. My Name is not I “WAS.”
When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard to hear My Voice. I am not there. My Name is not I ‘WILL BE.”
When you live in this moment, it is not hard to hear My Voice, My Name is “I AM.”
Listen to the Lord Jesus as he speaks to you now: “As the Father has loved Me so I have loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love… This I command you, to love one another” (Jn. 15:9-10,17).
Fifth Sunday of Lent – In the city that was once Constantinople, a visitor to the Mosque of Saint Sophia stood quietly for a time, marveling at the breathtaking architecture. The mosque once was a Christian Church, but long since it had been converted into a Moslim place of worship.
All of the Christian symbols had been wiped out or covered over with Arabic lettering.As the visitor stood there, he looked up at the dome, and his heart almost stood still. He grabbed another traveler by the arm and said excitedly, “Look! Look! He’s coming back! Jesus is coming back!” He could see that the cover up paint was wearing thin—and the figure of Christ was beginning to show through again.
There may be times when your Faith seems to disappear under the busy, dizzy trappings of our modern world. There may be times when God’s promise “to be with you always” seems to be wearing thin. There may be times when your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is in hiding. In other words, there may be times when you feel that only a miracle can save you – and you cry for help.
“Come to Me,” Jesus implores us, “all you who labor and are over burdened, and I will give you rest… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jn. 11:28-29).
As we are nearing Holy Week we must ask ourselves: Can Christ be seen in our behavior toward one another? Do I sense the personal ministry entrusted by Christ to me to make a difference in my family, my work place, my relationships? He trust you and me with a sacred mission—to be His living presence in the he re and now. How are you and I doing?
Fourth Sunday of Lent – Back in the late sixties, during a scholarly discussion of the “God Is Dead” theology, the famous author psychologist, Dr. Erich Fromm, told his colleagues that instead of debating the question “Is God dead?”, they should be debating the question, “Is man dead?” The psychologist explained: Man has been transformed into a thing… a producer… a consumer… an idolater of other things…
He sits for hours in front of bad television programs without even knowing that he’s bored. He learns that millions of children around the world are literally starving to death without even relating
that reality to the teachings of religion.
He joins the rat race of commerce, where personal worth is measured in terms of market values, and he remains unaware of the anxiety he is enduring. All this represents death as Christians understand it. It is not true that physical death is the last enemy.
The last enemy to be conquered is hell – spiritual death. The name is not important; the essence of it is separation from God, whether on this side or the other side of physical death. Powerful words to create thoughts in your life and mine.
There is an ancient story of a sentry standing day after day at his post with no apparent reason for his being there. One day, a passerby asked him why he was standing in that particular place. “I don’t know,” the sentry replied, “I’m just following orders.”
The passerby went to the captain of the guard and asked him why the sentry was posted in that place. “I don’t know,” the captain replied, “we’re just following orders.” This prompted the captain of the guard to pose the question to higher authority.
“Why do we post a sentry at that particular spot?” he asked the king. But the king didn’t know. So he summoned his wise men and asked them the question. The answer came back that one hundred years before, Catherine the Great had planted a rosebush and had ordered a sentry placed there to protect it. The rosebush had been dead for eighty years, but the sentry still stood guard.
Perhaps many of us have been guarding thoughts, feelings and beliefs that have long since ceased to have any meaning for us. Perhaps many of us have been guarding the Cross of Christ in this way, as though we were “just following orders” but not knowing why. Perhaps many of us have been guarding a dead Jesus, in this sense.
“At-one-ment” with God made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross means that the Christ spirit is living in us now. In and through Christ, God has given us the means to move into an immediate experience of His Loving Presence. And as we experience God in this intimate union, our unique abilities, gifts, talents and insights are called forth and begin to flower.
The saying “Bloom where you are planted” means every opportunity is a chance to show God’s love to all we meet along life’s way.
Third Sunday of Lent – Think about the transforming power of love. There was a remarkable true story in the Los Angeles Times. It was about a young man in Japan who gave his life trying to save an older man who had been drinking and had fallen onto the tracks in a subway station. Here is the remarkable thing about this story. The drunken man was Japanese. The young man who gave his life trying to save him was Korean.
If you know anything about that part of the world, there is still enmity between Korea and Japan over atrocities committed in World Ward II by the Japanese. In fact, the heroic young Korean’s grandfather was a forced laborer, a slave, in one of Japan’s coal mines during World War II. The young Korean had come to Japan as a student with the stated purpose of improving relations between the two countries. He did not know he would die doing it. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the impact he would have on Japanese society by this one courageous act.
The attention of the entire Japanese nation was transfixed by his actions in that subway station. Most Japanese could not believe that a young Korean would selflessly give his life for one of their countrymen. Six years before, in the Kobe earthquake, many Japanese were inclined to help only those they knew. That’s the Japanese way. But this Korean showed them that it’s possible to love across lines of nationality.
A few days after this tragic incident a host of dignitaries including the Japanese Prime Minister lined up in Tokyo to pay their respects to the memory of this twenty-six-year-old student who gave his life trying to save a drunken man who had fallen.
Thank God there are people capable of that kind of selfless love. The newspaper story didn’t say whether this young Korean was a Christian. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were. South Korea is probably the one nation on earth where the Christian faith has had the most influence over the past century.
Even if he wasn’t a baptized believer, he was still a follower of Jesus. He gave his life as a sacrifice. That’s the Jesus way. I love something Calvin Miller once said, “Jesus didn’t leave the world a get-well card; he got sick with it. He didn’t exempt himself from the pain he would later have to heal.
There are people all over this world who have been touched by Jesus’ example. Some of them are young people. Some are older. Some of them are in lands far away. Some are right here in our own neighborhood. People caring for people.
Some are never in a situation where an act of heroism is called for. Some show their love in a simple hospital visit; others by working through community organizations to help the least and the lost. Let God keep the record books, He will reward us as we truly deserve. Trust Him to keep the books accurate.
Reflections from Fr. Brian
Second Sunday of Lent – All prayers are based in the goodness of God. We can pray “your kingdom come, your will be done” because we believe God’ s will is always for our best good. Notice how Jesus illustrates this truth later in this passage. He tells us about a father whose son asks for fish and an egg.
Will the father give him instead a stone, a serpent, or a scorpion? Of course not. Jesus begins with God because all prayer is based in the nature of God. He is Creator, Sustainer, and Father of all that is. And His nature is Love.We need to see that, if God’s will is done, we will receive everything we need.
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” said Jesus, “and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes we do not see that because we do not see life from God’s perspective. But God knows our needs and God will provide. A boy once said to God, “I’ve been thinking, and know what I want when I become a man.”
He proceeded to give God his list: to live in a big house with two Saint Bernards and a garden… to marry a blue – eyed, tall, beautiful woman … to have three sons – one a senator, one a scientist, and one a quarterback. He also wanted to be an advent urer who climbed tall mountains and drove a red Ferrari. As it turned out, the boy hurt his knee one day while playing football. He no longer could climb trees, much less mountains.
“I could have,” said God, “but I wanted to make you happy.” It is a wise person who realizes that the kindest thing God does for some of us is to not answer all of our prayers. When you pray, trust God. He knows your needs. Jesus begins with God. That is where we too must begin. God knows our needs. He is the source of our life.
He is our hope for a better life. He is the Lord of all creation. Only after Christ has focused our attention on God and His kingdom and His will does he turn to our needs.
“Cast your care upon the Lord and He will support you.” Trust in the Father’s care for us, must be our way of life.
First Sunday of Lent/Valentine’s Day – Here is a true story of real life forgiveness. Read it reflectively as you journey during Lent. Kim Phuc is best known as the girl in the famous photo of a Vietnam War napalm – bombing attach near Saigon. Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids the youngest victims of war in her own words…
On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw file everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.
I was 9 years old but still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me something to drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.
Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations. It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.
Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore. The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.
I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books and to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible. On Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive – the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.
If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
Only you and I can answer that question. On Valentine’s day, we are reminded of the greatest love – Jesus who gave you and me His life. That love is meant to transform us so we can be His love to one another. Fr. Brian
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time -Some of us are still inspired by the promise that the late actor Danny Thomas once made. It occurred during his early years in show business when he was suffering setback after setback. During one of his darkest moments,
he was cornered in Detroit by a man who handed him a pamphlet telling about Jude, patron saint of the hopeless.
“When St. Jude does you a favor,” Danny Thomas explained, “you’re supposed to tell people about it, spread his name, carry pamphlets,” Then he added, “I’m sure this is a legend, even fiction, but that’s how the tale goes.” The setbacks continued. Finally, Danny went to church to pray for direction. Should he try another profession?
Contrary to popular legend, he didn’t offer any deals to God. He merely prayed for the ability to take care of his family. But when success came, he felt a sense of obligation to give back for the good fortune he had received. And the result was St. Jude’s Medical Center for Children in Memphis, a center that has performed many miracles. Over many years Danny Thomas served not only as its founder, but also as its chief fund raiser, and number one flag waver. Today his daughter Marlo Thomas serves as the spokesperson for St. Jude’s, following in her father’s footsteps.
One of my favorite stories about the result of the covenant Danny Thomas made with the children of St. Jude’s concerns the year he was able to delete Christmas from St. Jude’s calendar. It seems that the St. Jude staff used to celebrate Christmas in December and also in July because many of the terminally ill youngsters couldn’t
survive until the traditional date. But the work of St. Jude’s resulted in adding months and then years to the children’s lives and the time came when they could delete Christmas in July. It was no longer needed.
The power of a promise. Some of you know about the power of a promise kept. You’ve seen it in the faithfulness of good friends. Some of you have experienced it in those dark hours when you most needed God’s power and you discovered God was there. God is a promise keeper.
God keeps His promises. And He doesn’t need a rainbow to remind Him of His promise: “I will never forget you nor forsake you. I am Abba, Daddy, and I love you more than any earthly parent ever could.” The rainbow maybe a reminder to God, but the cross is the reminder to us that God so loved the world that He gave His son for us. Let us pray for the grace of fidelity to our promises
I remember a nature show that was on television sometime back. It was about a mama black bear that had given birth to two cubs. One cub died right away. Three weeks later the mother died. The remaining cub was left to fend for itself.
An orphaned cub in that condition is like a walking buffet for predators. And of course the camera immediately showed a hungry-looking mountain lion.
One day the orphan cub encountered a giant male black bear. The little cub cowered at the older bear’s sheer mass. The larger bear peered around and seemed to realize that the mother bear wasn’t anywhere to be found. He gave the little cub a friendly nudge. The camera then showed the little bear happily trailing along after the larger one. The adoption papers were signed, sealed and registered at the county seat. The camera followed along as Papa bear proceeded to show the cub how to grub for insects and how to catch fish and how to scratch his back against a tree.
One day, the two bears became separated. The cub began to cry and looked frantically for his new father, but couldn’t find him anywhere. The cub approached a stream where he’d learned to fish and something caught his attention. He looked up to see a mountain lion ready to pounce. That same mountain lion had stalked the cub for the entire show. There was no way that mountain lion would’ve gone for that cub with Papa bear around, but now….
The camera zoomed in on the cub. He automatically mimicked the posture of his adopted father when threatened. He stood on his hind legs and bared his teeth. Then, in exactly the same way his new father would have done, this cub let loose a mighty growl that should have reverberated throughout the forest. But, only a tiny bear cub squeak came out.
Well, you knew what was coming. This is the end for the little bear cub. But then an amazing reversal takes place. The mountain lion suddenly lowered his head and ran off in the opposite direction.
The camera panned back to the proud little cub still standing on his hind legs. And then all the viewers saw what that little cub could not: a few yards behind him, at full, ferocious height, his sharp, white teeth bared in a snarl, stood Daddy bear. He may not have made a sound, but he was there.
Even thought the cub couldn’t see his father, his father stood guard, protecting him. The little cub had power available greater than anything he could produce on his own. His father was watching over him.
My Brothers and sisters, remember your Heavenly Father is watching over you. Regardless of what fear you are facing this day, the daily anxieties of aging, the loss of job or whatever it might be—turn it over to God. Let your prayer be, “Daddy, I’m afraid, but I know you are with me.”
Baptism opens us up to call God, Our Father just as Jesus taught us. He will not let us down. Thrust in Him to provide the grace we need to live our Faith in Jesus, His Son.
2nd Sunday of Advent – The insightful writer Isak Dinesen said, “God made the world round so that we would never be able to see too far down the road.” And that’s true. We can’t see down that road. That itself is the cause of anxiety for many of us. And Sadly there is something within us that causes us to look down that road with fear rather than with faith
One Pastor tells us an interesting fact about the wonderful motion picture, It’s a Wonderful Life. Have you watched that film yet this Christmas season? Most of you know the story. It is about a young man, George Bailey, who dreams of doing great things such as traveling and making his father proud. But noe of his dreams are realized. He ends up trapped in a small town with a two-bit savings and loan company, wondering whether his life is worth anything. Of course he discovers that his life is very valuable because of the impact he has had on others.
The Pastor says he saw an article that said this movie is now much more popular than it was when it first came out. In 1946 its box-office performance was a bit of a disappointment. The writer of the article suggested that one reason for its resurgence is that it resonates with so many disappointed baby boomers who feel, like George Bailey, that life did not turn out the way they planned. They want to know that they matter, that what they have done is worthwhile after all.
An amazing experience took place in a family setting:
Pastor David was once deep into preparation for a sermon. His little daughter came where he was working and asked, “Daddy, can we play?”
He answered, “I’m awfully sorry, sweetheart, but I’m right in the middle of preparing this sermon. In about an hour I can play.”
She said, “Okay, when you’re finished, Daddy, I am going to give you a great big hug.” He said, “Thank you very much.” She went to the door but then she did a U-turn and came back and gave him an enormous, bone breaking hug.
David said to her, “Darling, you said you were going to give me a hug after I finished.”
Her big eyes looked up and deep into his, and she answered, “Daddy, I just wanted you to know what you have to look forward to!”
Advent is a reminder of what we have to look forward to. “Be on guard!” says the Master. “Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
Advent never disappoints us when as believers, we know who came and who loves each and every one of us. We know what we have to look forward to—the embraceable love of God forever.