…..Reflections from Fr. Andres
August 26, 2018 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The Gospel passage this Sunday, the final section on Jesus’ teaching on the bread of life, ends with a dramatic challenge to
make a choice. Indeed, all three readings speak about the necessity of making choices.
Our life progresses on a path where we have to make choices as we go. Some choices are critical to survival, and others not so serious. We choose to believe in persons, in institutions, in values and causes. All our real and good relationships, our good commitments arise out of such choices. This process of faith invariably involves a certain amount of risk.
Our faith too is a matter of choice. The problem is that because we have been brought up in a society that believes in freedom of choice, we tend to consider even what the
Church teaches in terms of choice. What the Church teaches about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not a matter of choice. It is a teaching to be accepted in faith.
Some Catholics would want to dilute the faith in such a way that they can accept it. Others would not want the Church to speak on certain moral issues, questions that require a
leap of faith to accept in freedom what the Church teaches.
In the first reading, the people challenge Joshua on questions of faith, and Joshua places a clear option before them. “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide
today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. After Joshua reminded the people of all that the Lord had done for them, the people said, “we also will serve the Lord”. In the second reading, Paul presents a more familiar form of choice making. He
speaks of the decision made by engaged couples preparing for marriage. They mustchoose one partner, and that choice is sealed at the marriage covenant in the Church.
Paul uses this image to describe the loving relationship between Christ and the Church, in order to underline the choice we make at Baptism to serve Christ. At the end of
a lengthy discourse on the bread of life, some followers of Jesus found the teaching difficult, and they no longer went with him. Jesus then turned to the Twelve and said, “Do you
also want to leave?” Obviously, Jesus loved them so much that he wanted to respect their freedom of choice. They in turn would respond in love and freedom through Peter.
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God”. We live in a world full of life
choices and a plurality of options. But when we come to matters of faith, God loves us so much that He wants us to choose in freedom to do His will. This is the message we can take from these Sunday’s readings
1- Like the Israelites, and the disciples of Jesus, you and I are faced with the same challenge of making vital decisionsin our faith commitments.
2- Like the disciples of Jesus, the options for us are narrowed down to either accepting his teaching in faith or going away;
3- This Sunday we are challenged to affirm with Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Similarly, we are challenged to profess our faith with Peter, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” May God bless us always. Amen.
August 19, 2018 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Jesus is the living bread that gives eternal life. The readings of this Sunday focus our attention on the Eucharist as “the bread of
life” in terms of wisdom. The Book of Proverbs foreshadows Jesus as the wisdom who prepares a banquet and invites guests to the feast. “Come, eat of my food, and drink of my wine I have mixed!” This is certainly a prelude to the high point from John’s discourse in chapter sixth on the bread of life. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus repeats his teaching of last Sunday: “I am the living bread that came from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
This was one of Jesus’ most difficult teaching. While Jesus was speaking on the level of spiritual realities, the crowds were still on the physical level, and could not get the point. That is why they complained and asked: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Was this wisdom or madness? Was it pure nonsense or truth? Our faith takes us to the spiritual level, leading us to realize that Jesus’ teaching is profound wisdom and the absolute truth. In the Gospel, Jesus uses several arguments to convince his audience: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The bread of life discourse has to be seen in the light of the resurrection.
Therefore, we find here the essential relationship between Eucharistic faith and resurrection faith. How clearer could Jesus be in his teaching? What Jesus says is “not” a figure of speech, but direct language of flesh and blood. The bread that He gives us is indeed his flesh. The blood that he gives us is indeed his blood. At the end of the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus shows us that we enter into communion
with him when we eat his flesh and drink his blood.
By eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood, we become totally identified with his very person, his vision of life, his values, and with his mission to build the Kingdom of God. Here again Jesus brings in the concept of the total identity with his self-sacrifice on the Cross, where he totally surrenders his flesh and blood to the Father. This is what Paul calls the foolishness of the Cross, but we
must let the wisdom of faith guide our hearts and minds this Sunday. Similarly, guided by the Spirit of wisdom, we are led to recognize the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and we express our thanksgiving for so great a gift. What more can we ask the Lord for such an intimate act of love for us?
So the message we take this Sunday is;
1) The readings invite us to let the wisdom of faith guide our hearts and minds, leading us to deepen our faith in the real and enduring presence of Jesus in the Eucharist;
2) We believe that by eating the flesh of Jesus and by drinking his blood, we become totally identified with and in communion with his very person, vision and mission; we become what weeat.
3) We believe that through this communion we share in the Trinitarian life of communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. May God bless us always. Amen.
May 20, 2018 – Pentecost Sunday
Jesus appears to his disciples and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The season of Easter concludes with today’s celebration, the feast of Pentecost. On Pentecost we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem; this event marks the beginning of the Church. The story of Pentecost is found in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading.
The account in today’s Gospel, John 20:19-23, also recounts how Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Yet the event in John’s Gospel takes place on Easter Sunday. There is no need to try to reconcile these two accounts. It is to we know that after his death, Jesus fulfilled his promise to send to his disciples a helper, an Advocate, who would enable them to be his witnesses throughout the world.
In the context of the feast of Pentecost, John 20:19-23 reminds us about the integral connection between the gifts of peace and forgiveness and the action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus greets his disciples with the gift of peace.
Jesus then commissions his disciples to continue the work that he has begun: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and sends them to continue his work of reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus’ act of breathing the Holy Spirit upon the apostles mirrors God’s act of breathing life into Adam. In fact, both the Greek and Hebrew words for “spirit” can also be translated as “breath.” This Gospel reminds us that the Church is called to be a reconciling presence in the world.
The reconciling presence of Christ is celebrated in the Church’s sacramental life. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are cleansed of sin and become a new creation in Christ. In the Sacrament of Penance, the Church celebrates the mercy of God through the forgiveness of sins. This reconciling presence is also to be a way of life for Christians. In situations of conflict, we are to be agents of peace and harmony among people.
May 13, 2018 — Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Jesus prays for his disciples.
Background on the Gospel Reading
On the seventh Sunday of Easter, we always read from the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel. This chapter of John’s Gospel comes at the conclusion of Jesus’ farewell discourse
delivered to the disciples at the Last Supper.
This entire chapter is a prayer by Jesus, commending himself to the Father and expressing his care and concern for his disciples. At the end of this prayer, Jesus and his disciples depart for the garden, and Jesus is arrested. Several important themes appear in this prayer. First, Jesus’ prayer reaffirms the complete union between himself and the Father.
Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has been presented as the one who preexisted with the Father and as the one sent by the Father to do his work on earth. In today’s reading, we hear Jesus include all his disciples in this union with the Father. We are reminded that Christ is the source of Christian unity.
Through Christ, we are united with one another and with God Our Father. In this prayer, Jesus describes part of his mission in the language of protection. He has protected those who were given to him by the Father. In this we hear echoes of the dualism that is reflected throughout John’s Gospel.
Beginning with the opening chapter, the Evangelist John has presented Jesus’ mission on earth in the context of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, represented by light and darkness. In Jesus’ presence, his disciples have been protected from Satan. Now that Jesus is returning to the Father, he prays that his disciples will continue to be protected from the evil one. We can’t help but note here the echoes of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples,
the Lord’s Prayer.
We also see in this chapter the distinction found in John’s Gospel between the world and the disciples. The disciples are in the world, but they do not belong to the world. Yet like Jesus, they are sent into the world for the world’s salvation. As Jesus’ teaching and ministry was a
source of consternation for some, Jesus knows that the world may not accept his disciples with open arms. Again, we hear echoes of John’s theme that salvation is worked out
through the cosmic battle between light and darkness.
The world, according to John, prefers the darkness. Yet the light will not be overcome by the darkness. Reading this prayer of Jesus during the Easter Season, through the lens of his Resurrection, we know that the light of Christ has overcome the darkness of sin and death in our world. In the opening line of this prayer, we hear Jesus pray that his disciples will be kept in the name that he was given
by God. We know that the salvation is given to us in the name of Jesus, and that his name— “God saves”—announces his mission on our behalf.
May 6, 2018 — Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Today’s Gospel follows immediately after the Gospel proclaimed last week, in which Jesus taught that he was the vine and that his disciples were the branches. In the example of the vine and the branches, we
learned that our union with Jesus will lead to fruitful service. Today’s reading extends this teaching to describe the kind of service that Christians are called upon to offer to others.
When John wrote this Gospel, his community was influenced by a set of religious beliefs called Gnosticism. It appears that one of John’s intentions was to distinguish Christian belief from the beliefs held by
the Gnostics. Evidence of this can be found in today’s Gospel. One of the tenets of Gnostic teaching was the importance of knowledge, orgnosis, as the determining aspect of faith.
We read today’s Gospel as a response to this teaching. In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus affirm that he is known by the Father and that his disciples will know the Father by knowing Jesus. In this passage, however, Jesus reminds his disciples that this knowledge is to be expressed in love. Those who know Jesus well—and Jesus says that his disciples do know him—will love one another. Knowledge leads to love, which leads to action. John reminds his community that Jesus taught that love is the sign of a truedisciple and, thus, a true Christian. Even more, a true disciple shows a particular kind of love, sacrificial love.
In the Greek, there are two words for love that are used in this passage. The first is agape. The second is philia. The first word is most often used to describe love for other persons and for God. It is understood as the highest and most perfect kind of love. The second word is used to describe the affection of friendship.
In this context, John appears to use these words as synonyms. The root of the Greek word for friend comes from this second term for love, philia. By using this word, Jesus transforms the terms of his relationship with his disciples and redefines for them their relationship with God. In the Hebrew Scriptures, faith in God made one a servant of God.
Here Jesus teaches that his relationship to his disciples is based on friendship, not servitude. Another aspect of Gnostic belief taught that a believer was an elect person, chosen and setapart from the world. John reminds his community that Jesus also taught that a disciple is one who had been chosen—one who had been chosen by Jesus. To be chosen by Jesus, however, is not to be set apart from the world. Instead, to be chosen by Jesus is to be sent to serve the world as he did. The disciples of Jesus were chosen and were sent into the world to bear fruit by serving others, by sacrificing for others, in love.
This reading, like last week’s, is part of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse. In the context of John’s Gospel, these words are spoken before Jesus’ Crucifixion.
We read his instruction to the disciples in light of his death and Resurrection. We know that Jesus himself gives us the greatest example of the kind of love and service that he teaches to his disciples. He has, in fact, laid down his life for his friends, for his disciples, and for us. Through his death and Resurrection, we have received the grace to love others as Jesus has commanded.
April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday/Resurrection of the Lord Reflection for Easter Sunday Resurrection of the Lord — 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.
March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion — The cross was a cruel, barbaric way to die. Michael Card, in his book A Violent Grace, describes it in gruesome detail how determined the Romans were in their desire to make an example of those who had offended the state.
First of all the condemned man was flogged. He could die from that alone. The flogging was brutal. The flesh would hang from the condemned man’s back. Flogging was followed by crucifixion. While the flesh was still raw, the condemned man was nailed to the wood.
“Some scholars think that Jesus may have been flogged twice,” says Michael Card. “The accounts of both Luke and John hint at it. Medical doctors who have studied the accounts of the crucifixion have concluded that severe multiple beatings would account for the fact that Jesus died after only six hours on the cross, while others were known to have hung on crosses for as long as nine days before dying from exhaustion and loss of blood.”
There was the flogging and then the nails driven into his feet and hands. It was a cruel, inhumane way to die. Even today many are offended by the cross. As one theologian has said, “Any church or any preachers who keeps preaching on the cross is not going to grow, because in our culture what we are interested in is success, not sacrifice.”
A number or years ago, a pastor in San Francisco stood up before his congregation and said, “The cross has been the symbol of sacrifice and the acceptance of pain and suffering, and we are tired of it. We are not going to be a part of this anymore.” He then walked over and tore down the cross from the church.
Churches are being built today with no cross in sight. The blood, broken body, the sacred sacrifice are offensive to modern sensibilities. And yet you and I still cling to this symbol of suffering and shame. That is why we are here for this Good Friday service. We believe the cross still has saving power.
Sen. John McCain discovered the power of this love as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Here is how he put it, “I was tied in torture ropes by my tormentors and left alone in an empty room to suffer through the night.
Later in the evening, a guard I had never spoken to entered the room and silently loosed the ropes to relieve my suffering. Just before morning, the same guard came back and re-tightened the ropes before his less humanitarian comrades returned. He never said a word to me. Some months later on Christmas morning, as I stood alone in the prison courtyard, the same guard walked up to me and stood next to me for a few moments.
Then with his sandal, the guard drew a cross in the dirt. We stood wordlessly there a minute or two, venerating the cross, until the guard rubbed it out and walked away.”
It was a small gesture, but McCain said it was the best Christmas present that he could have received in that prison camp.
There is something about the cross that speaks to us of God’s love. The challenge to each of us is to respond in faith to that love, to cast off the sin that so easily besets us, and to give our lives to him as he gave his life for us.
Enough said. Have a prayerful Holy Week.
March 18, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Lent — Some years ago, in a remote area of the Arizona Desert, there was a place of retreat called “Nada.” (Which means “nothing” in Spanish).
The founders of “Nada” told the retreatants that in order to benefit from their wilderness experience they needed to acknowledge their total dependence on God, that, apart from God, they are nothing. On one occasion, a group of college students reserved five hermitages at Nada for a month.
When the month was over, the five college students said that the first week of silence was a crisis week for them. Somehow they had been conditioned to believe that they couldn’t live without noise. The stereo had to be on every second. And then there was the television and the telephone ringing, and roaring car motors, and all the rest.
Those college students said that the first week of silence was like going “cold turkey” off some addiction. But all of them said that before the month was over, they were experiencing the healing and the life-enrichment that comes when, in the silence, you hear the voice of God speaking to your heart.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Be still and come out of the wilderness leaning on the Lord. In Death Valley, there is a place known as Dante’s View. From this location you can look down into the lowest spot in the United States, a depression in the earth two hundred feet below see level called Black Water.
But from Dante’s View you can also look up to the highest peak in the United States, Mt. Whitney, rising to a height of 14,500 feet. In one direction you move to the lowest spot in the United States, in the other, to the highest. From Dante’s View, only the traveler can decide which he or she will take.
BE STILL AND LISTEN TO THE WORD OF GOD!
Dearest Friends, Families and Parishioners of OLMC, On behalf of the Friars of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis, including myself, I wish to thank you for all the support that you have given to Fr. Brian during his first arrival here, as well as, his time of infirmity to death. Your support and generosity keeps us strong and focused on God and ministering to this faith believing community. Pace e Bene, Fr. Ed (Pastoral Associate)
Fr. Brian passed on 3/10/18
March 11, 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Lent — Not long ago, a company in California opened Tinseltown Studios, a theme park devoted to celebrities and the power of stardom. Tinseltown had an interesting twist: for a measly $45 entrance fee, the guests would get to feel what it’s like to be famous.
Park employees were paid to fawn over visitors, cheer for them, line up along the streets and gawk at them, pester them for autographs. Paparazzi lurked around every corner, snapping photos of the park visitors. Reporters rushed up and asked for interviews. Visitors’ images were digitally projected into their favorite movies, and Oscars were awarded for best performances, in short, they discovered in a superficial way what it meant to be a star!
It might be interesting to note that Tinseltown Studious closed down after a few months of operation. I’m surprised that it closed. I thought that today everyone wants to be a celebrity. Everyone, to paraphrase pop artist Andy Warhol, wants his or her fifteen minutes of fame. What the world needs, though, is not more celebrities. What the world needs are heroes.
George E. Knowles in his book “A World to Love” tells a dramatic story about an Italian fisherman named John Napolii. Napolii was returning with his catch of fish one foggy morning in 1955. He piloted his boat beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, into San Francisco harbor. What he saw next horrified him. There were people everywhere in the water.
A hospital ship, The Netherlands, had collided with an oil tanker. People were shouting, “Help me! Save me! I’m drowning!” John Napolii carefully guided his fishing vessel to a cluster of drowning men. Quickly he began to pull them aboard one by one. Soon the small fishing boat was overcrowded.
And John Napolii made one of the hardest decision of his life. He knew that the lives of those men were far more important than his small fortune of fish. Within minutes he dumped his entire cargo of 2,000 pound of fish, worth thousands of dollars, into the waters of San Francisco Bay and pulled more than 70 people aboard his boat.
As far as this Italian fisherman was concerned there was something more important than profits-and that was people. In my book, that makes John Napolii a hero.
Greater love than this is hard to find. NOT SO, if you and I take our faith seriously. Jesus taught us and showed us the way. He’s given us the truth and revealed to us the secret of real life.
March 4, 2018 – 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.
One day a novelist, Thomas Keneally, came into Page’s shop to buy a briefcase, and Page told him his story. Keneally was intrigued and agreed to commit Schindler’s story to print. What resulted as a moving story of a man who helped hundreds of Jews escape certain death at the hands of the Nazis.
The book was dedicated to Oskar Schindler and to Page’s “zeal and persistence” in getting Schindler’s story told. But that’s not the end of the story. Page, the zealous and persistent shopkeeper had some friends who had some friends…
and somehow he was able to get his book to the attention of a director named Steven Spielberg. You’ve probably heard that name before. Spielberg was fresh from making the blockbuster film, Jurassic Park. “Stop playing around with dinosaurs,” Page told Spielberg when they first met. “I promise you, you’ll get an Oscar for [telling] Oskar’s story.” And he did. Spielberg turned Schindlers’s List into a major motion picture.
The book and the movie, which won seven Oscars, including Best Picture—more than fulfilled Page’s lifelong dream. “I did not know how I would do this,” Page had said, “but I promised Oskar Schindler I would make him a household name.” And he did. Leopold “Paul” Page was number 173, by the way, on Oskar Schindler’s list. He was 173 of the 900 who were spared death at the hand of the Nazis thanks to Oskar. Leopold Page was a shopkeeper, not a writer.
But his commitment to his friend led him to connect with people who could bring his dream to reality. It’s important in life to have connections. If you don’t HAVE connections, then it’s important to MAKE connections. Don’t fight it. Make prudent use of this adage – it’s not what you know but who you know.
There is a “Peanuts” comic strip that sticks in my mind. Linus is meditating having just seen Lucy fall down and come up crying. He reflects: “For hundreds of years there have been sidewalks, for hundreds of years there have been little girls. The little girls are always falling on the sidewalks.
The sidewalks always win.” The gravity field always wins. We’re always “falling down.” But we’re always getting up, too. We rise as often as we fall. That is the strength of religious faith — that we can ascend, Love lifts us up.
It is the God who made Himself in Jesus, His Son that loves us and empowered us to love one another as He loves us. We see that love in Oskar Schindler’s list and in the strength of our religious faith.
February 25, 2018 – 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. And one of the first things God said was “DON’T!”
“Don’t what?” Adam replied.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” God said.
“Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit?
Hey Eve, we have forbidden fruit!” “No Way!” says Eve. “Yes way!” Adam replies.
“Do NOT eat the fruit!” says God.
“Why?” Adam and Eve ask in unison.
“Because I am your Father and I said so!”
God replies, wondering why He hadn’t stopped creation after making the elephants. A few minutes later, God saw His Children having an apple break!
“Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” God asked.
“Uh huh,” Adam replied.
“Then why did you?” said the Father. ‘The serpent made me do it,” said Eve
“She started it!” Adam said. “Did not!” “Did too!” “DID NOT!”
Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set, says this author, and it has never changed. Best-selling author, Harold Kushner, wrote in his book, “Who Needs God?”
Atlas was condemned to carry the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. That was as harsh a punishment as the ancient Greek mind could conjure up. “Today, it seems,” says Kushner, “we have volunteered to play the role of Atlas.
We have not offended God, we have dismissed him, told him we were grown up enough not to need his help any more, and offered to carry the weight of the world upon our shoulders. The question is, when it gets too heavy for us, when there are questions too hard for human knowledge to answer and problems that take more time to solve than any of us have, will we be too proud to admit that we have made a mistake in wanting to carry this world alone?”
Someone has noted that the word “worry” is used 13 times in Scripture. Compare that with “Trust” which is used 126 times, “faith” which is used 270 times, “believe” which is used 226 times and “love” which is used 551 times.
If you want to narrow it down even more, of the 13 times that worry is used, 11 times we are told not to worry and of the other two, one asks, “Why do you worry” and the other one says “Tomorrow will worry about itself”. Cast your case upon the Lord and He will support you. He is never outdone in generosity. Trust in Him.
February 18, 2018 — 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.
February 11, 2018 — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time —
Valentine was a priest near Rome during the rule of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius had begun persecuting and imprisoning Christians for not worshiping the Roman gods.
A few years before the onset of the persecution of Christians, war broke out in the Roman Empire and Claudius began calling for all the able–bodied men to go into battle. Many of the men were reluctant to leave their families or their sweethearts. To remove this reason, Emperor Claudius ordered that no marriages were to be celebrated and that all engagements were to be broken off immediately.
Valentine, in addition to helping other Christians escape persecution, is said to have begun secretly performing Christian marriages for young couples wishing to marry in spite of the Emperor’s ban. Valentine soon had a reputation throughout Rome as a friend of those in love.
In time, Claudius learned of Valentine’s activities and sent soldiers to arrest him. During the trial, Emperor Claudius failed in his attempts to get Valentine to renounce his faith and so imprisoned him.
Yet, even in prison, Valentine continued to minister to those with whom he had contact. He ministered to his guards, one of whom had adopted a blind girl many years earlier. He asked Valentine if his God could help his daughter. Valentine prayed for the girl and God healed her, restoring her sight.
Emperor Claudius was furious that Valentine was still performing God’s ministry while in prison and ordered that Valentine be beaten with clubs and beheaded. The order was executed on February 14, in the year 270 A.D. Valentine was made a saint by the Church because of his commitment to this faith even unto death. Because of his willingness to risk all to unite couples in marriage, he is known today as the Patron Saint of people who are in love.
Some of you will remember Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, who died in 2002. Dave’s congenial face became a familiar sight to millions of people through his company’s television commercials. Dave also appeared in training films for Wendy’s employees.
He was unique in his ability to identify with his employees. Dave Thomas was a remarkable success story. Adopted as a child, he never finished high school. In his book, Well Done: the Common Guy’s Guide to Everyday Success, Dave said he got his MBA long before his G.E.D. He says he has a photograph of himself in his MBA graduation outfit-a snazzy knee-length work apron.
He claims to be the only founder among America’s big companies whose picture in the corporate annual report shows him wielding a mop and a plastic bucket. That wasn’t a gag.
He calls it leading by example. At Wendy’s, he says, MBA doesn’t mean Master of Business Administration. It means Mop Bucket Attitude. It means a commitment to service. Dave Thomas taught all of his employees that service comes before success.
The Wendy’s owner could have learned that lesson, of course, from Jesus. But that was the legacy that Dave Thomas left the Wendy’s restaurant chain. That also is the legacy and the example Christ leaves to you and me, namely the love of neighbor verified our love for God.
February 4, 2018 – 5th 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.
January 28, 2018 – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Most of you are familiar with the name Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, a nineteenth century philosopher, theologian and poet, is known as the greatest Christian thinker of his generation. He believed that no person is truly alive who simply acts a spectator toward the ultimate issues of life. The only person who knows real existence is the person who, here and now, infinitely and forever, gives himself or herself to the call of Christ.
Kierkegaard’s philosophy is sometimes called Christian existentialism. It emphasizes immediate commitment. Ren Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” The Christian existentialist would say, “I choose, therefore I am.” Kierkegaard contented that there are only two kinds of people: the drivers and the drifters. He said that he felt compelled to run after every person in the street and ask him the question: Are you alert or inert? A master or a slave? A creator or a creature? A lifter or a leaner?
The essence of our humanity is in our choices, and the primary choice we confront is whether to make Jesus Lord of our life. When we do that, everything else falls into place. The French existentialist and atheist Jean-Paul Sartre took the exact opposite approach to life from Kierkegaard. He was of the opinion no such existed.
In his play “No Exit” he portrayed persons locked in a cage. They cannot escape their imprisonment, and they are in despair. But halfway through the play, the cage door swings open; still, those inside refuse to leave the cage. The opportunity to escape presents itself, but they do nothing about it. Why? Because they had given into hopelessness and despair.
Have you given into hopelessness and despair? I hope not. There is an open door. That door is Christ. He is the life, the truth and the way. Make that choice and all the other important choices in life will get much easier.
Psychologists John Grinder and Richard Bandler tell an interesting story about polar bears. It seems that years ago the Denver zoo went through a major renovation. They decided to build a large naturalistic environment to house a polar bear. Unfortunately, a polar bear arrived at the zoo before a naturalistic enclosure was ready for it.
That meant they had to put it in a cage until the new grand environment was ready. The cage that it was put in temporarily was just big enough that the polar bear could take three nice, swinging steps in one direction, whirl up and around and come down and take three steps in the other direction, back and forth, back and forth.
The polar bear spent many, many months in that cage with those bars that restricted its behavior in that way. Eventually a large, naturalistic environment into which they could release the polar bear was built around this cage, on-site. When it was finally completed, the bear was sedated and the cage was removed from around the bear.
You want to guess what happened when the polar bear woke up? The bear awoke, took three steps slowly in one direction before whirling around, and taking three steps in the other direction. Then again, back and forth, three steps at a time. The polar bear was no loner caged but it wasn’t free. Could that in any way describe your life?
It doesn’t have to be. You have been chosen to be a child of God. God has provided an open door by which you can escape your cage of hopelessness and despair. That door is Christ. Won’t you let him set you free today? A word to the wise is sufficient.
January 21, 2018 – 3rd 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 a ll 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 in to 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 need s 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
January 14, 2018 – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – There is always a letdown the week after Christmas. How could it be otherwise? Christmas demands so much of us. Now it’s back to the humdrum of ordinary living. Plus a few extra bills to pay and a few extra pounds to work off. Some unknown author spoke for many of us:
‘Twas the week after Christmas and all through the house
Nothing would fit me, not even a blouse.
The cookies I’d nibbled, the eggnog I’d taste
At the holiday parties had gone to my waist.
When I got on the scales there arose such a number!
When I walked to the store (less a walk than a lumber),
I’d remember the marvelous meals I’d prepared:
The gravies and sauces and beef nicely rared,
The bread and the cheese/ And the way I’d never said, “No, thank you, please.”
As I dressed myself in my husband’s old shirt
And prepared once again to do battle with dirt
I said to myself as only I can: “You can’t spend a winter disguised as a man!”
So away with the last of the sour cream dip,
Get rid of the fruit cake, every cracker and ‘chip.
Every last bit of food that I like must be vanished.
I won’t have a cookie—not even a lick.
I’ll only chew on a long celery stick.
I won’t have a hot biscuits or corn bread or pie.
I’ll munch on a carrot and quietly cry.
I’m hungry, I’m lonesome and life is a bore. But isn’t that what January is for?
Unable to giggle, no longer a riot. Happy New Year to all and to all good diet!
Some of us live very stressful lives and we can only take so much. It reminds me of one of the best of the old-time television comedy shows, “I Love Lucy” with Lucille Ball. Many of you will remember the most famous clip from that show, “Lucy and Ethel in the Candy Factory.” It was on YouTube for many years. I’m not sure it is still there — probably not, due to copyright laws.
In this amazing clip, as you will remember, Lucy and Ethel have gotten jobs in a candy factory. Their job is to take candy coming down a conveyor belt and wrap each peace as it comes by. It works out all right at first, but the candy starts coming faster and faster and Lucy and Ethel find it harder and harder to keep up.
They work as fast as they can, but the belt keeps getting faster and faster, and they get further and further behind. In desperation, Lucy begins stuffing candy in her mouth, in her pockets, and finally even in her blouse. But no matter how hard she and Ethel work, they still can’t keep up. The scene is hilarious… as long as it is happening to someone else. That’s the essence of comedy, isn’t it? It’s funny … as long as it is happening to someone else.
So have a Blessed New Year 2018 and remember always be prepared for the coming of Christ in one another. It’s our daily way of getting ready to become more like the Son who was sent to give us the love of ABBA.
January 7, 2018 – The Epiphany of the Lord – We celebrated the New Year last Monday and……
It’s said that in Rome, on New Year’s Eve, there is a tradition of literally throwing old things right out the window, to start the New Year free from the past. I guess the moral of that is, if you are fortunate enough to be in Rome, Italy some New Year’s Eve, you best keep an eye skyward. Somebody might be throwing out a heavy piece of furniture just as you are passing by. That’s their tradition.
A woman named Patricia Farris tells about being in Mexico one year with her husband on New Year’s Eve. They found themselves in the middle of something they didn’t understand at the time, but they discovered it’s similar to the tradition in Rome.
It was late in the evening, not yet midnight, and the central square was full of people, lights, music, kids, old people, families … Stands were set up and people were selling, in addition to all the usual souvenirs and food and so forth, an array of very inexpensive pottery, mostly simple clay plates.
What was interesting was that people were buying these simple clay plates and then standing back throwing them with full force against one wall of the great cathedral in the community square, smashing the plates into smithereens.
It was loud and raucous and exciting, according to Ms. Farris. Only later did she learn that this tradition grew out of a deep human need to throw out the old, to start the New Year free of old resentments, old fears, old prejudices, old sins. “Throw them out!” says Patricia Farris, “Let them smash against the strong fortress of faith and be done with it. God is ready to offer healing and new life.”
Welcome to worship on this first Sunday of a New Year. Maybe someone here has come to receive healing and new life. The theme for our service today is “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” You’ve heard that expression before. It is a positive expression about life and want to reinforce it today. Today really can be the first day in your life. You make that decision, what will it be?
Velma Seawell Daniels in her book Celebrate Joy! tells of interviewing a man who had made a trip to Alaska to visit some people who lived above the Arctic Circle. “Never ask an Eskimo how old he is,” the man said. “If you do, [the Eskimo] will say, ‘Don’t know and I don’t care.’ And,” the man added, “he doesn’t.”
He said an Eskimo told him that one time and he pressed the Eskimo a bit further. He asked him a second time how old he was, and the Eskimo said, “Almost, that’s all.
So, he asked, “Almost what?” And the Eskimo said, “Almost one day.” The man didn’t have a clue what the Eskimo meant by that until he talked to another man who
had lived in the Arctic Circle for about twenty years. “He was a newspaperman who had written a book about the Eskimos and their customs and beliefs.
He said the Eskimos believe that when they go to sleep at night they die, that they are literally dead to the world. Then when they wake up in the morning, they have been resurrected and are living a new life. Therefore, no Eskimo is more than one day old. So, that is what the Eskimo meant when he said he was ‘almost’ a day old. The day wasn’t over yet.” An interesting view of life – one day at a time.
Charlie Brown, created by Charles Schultz has been around a long time. His approach to life is reflected in “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown,” one of the “Peanuts” TV specials, Charlie Brown tells Lucy that next year he’s going to be a changed person. “Oh, be serious, Charlie Brown,” Lucy says.
Charlie protests, “No, I mean it. I’m going to be strong and firm.” “Forget it, Charlie Brown,” Lucy tells him. “You’ll always be wishy-washy.” Charlie muses, “Why can’t I change just a little bit? I’ve got it! I’ll be wishy one day, washy the next.”
Joke writer Ed McManus has words of comfort for Charlie and all of us making New Year’s resolution “Don’t worry about keeping them. You only have to deal with them until Lent… then you can give them up.” Sounds like he spies on us.
December 31, 2017 – Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph – Catholics in England during the period 1558 to 1829, were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law – private or public. It was a crime to be a Catholic.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written in England as one of the ‘catechism songs’ to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith during that period when to be caught with anything in ‘writing’ indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned, but could also get you hanged, drawn and quartered.
The song’s gifts are hidden meanings to the teachings of the faith. “True Love” mentioned refers to God. “Me” refers to every baptized person. The other symbols mean the following:
1. Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus Christ
2. Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3. French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity or the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Trinity
4. Calling Birds = The Four Gospels and/ or the Four Evangelists
5. Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament or The Catholic Church’s five obligatory sacraments: baptism, communion, confirmation, penance and last rites
6. Geese A-laying = The six days of creation
7. Swans A-swimming = The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8. Maids A-milking = The eight beatitudes or the eight times a year that Roman Catholics in those days were required to receive Holy Communion
9. Ladies Dancing = The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10. Lords A-leaping = The Ten Commandments
11. Pipers Piping = The eleven apostles, excluding Judas
12. Drummers Drumming = The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed
And did you know: The Candy Cane may seem like “just a Christmas candy,” but it is really a very symbolic stick of sugar!
The Candy Cane was first introduced in the late 1880’s by a candy-maker in Indiana. He wanted to make a candy that could be a witness during the holiday season. He began with a stick of pure white to show the virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus Christ. The hardness of the candy was to represent Jesus as the Solid Rock, the foundation of the church, and the firmness of the promises of God.
The white stripes on the Candy Cane represent the purity of Christ. The small red stripes symbolize the scourging of Jesus before he was hung on the cross. The large stripes show the blood that Jesus shed for each of us on the cross. The shape of the Candy Cane represents the shepherd’s staff because Jesus is the good shepherd.
If you flip the Candy Cane around, you notice the letter “J” which is the first letter of Jesus’ name. As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family today” – we know that’s the heart of Christ teaching “love one another as He loves us.” He invites us to join His Family so one Family can be His as well. We know this, and the ministry set for us by Him – is to make it all happen. With His love and the Spirit’s guidance – we can.
December 25, 2017 – Nativity of the Lord – At Christmastime, a schoolteacher in England supervised the construction of a manger scene in a corner of the classroom. It delighted her pupils to set up the model barn and cover the floor with real straw and then arrange the clay figures of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the Wise Men and the animals, all facing a little crib in which a tiny doll represented the Infant Jesus.
One lad simply could not tear himself away from it. He kept returning to it, and each time stood there completely engrossed and wearing a puzzled expression on his face. The teacher noticed him and asked, “Is anything bothering you? Do you have a question to ask? What would you like to know?” With his eyes still glued to the manger scene, the boy said slowly, “What I’d like to know is, where does God fit in?” A good question and a better one is – “does He fit in?” Listen to the following true story.
A couple from the United States spent some time serving as missionaries in one of the former Soviet republics. They were caring for children in an orphanage and, like anyone who has been involved in ministry with such kids, they were simply overwhelmed by the tragedy of so many children who’d been abandoned. On one occasion this missionary couple was teaching the children about Christmas.
They told them all about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, and about the baby Jesus. They told them all about God’s love for the world embodied in the birth of Jesus. And after teaching the children the Christmas story, this couple invited them to draw some pictures of the manger scene.
All the pictures were wonderful! But one in particular caught their attention. It was drawn by a little boy named Misha. And what made Misha’s drawing distinctive was that there was not one, but two babies lying in the manger.
“Misha, what a wonderful picture!” said the woman missionary. “but who is the other baby in the manger with the baby Jesus?” Misha looked up with a lovely expression on his face. “the other baby is Misha,” he smiled.
“Oh? How is it that you added yourself to the manger scene?” she asked. And this is what Misha said. “When I was drawing the picture of the baby Jesus, Jesus looked at me and said, ‘Misha, where is your family?’ I said to Jesus, “I have no family.”
Then Jesus said to me, “Misha, where is your home?’ And I said to Jesus, ‘I have no home.’ And then Jesus said to me, ‘Misha, you can come and be in my family and live in my home.”’ That little boy captured the secret of Christmas.
Jesus came to make us His Family members. We are to be at home with Him. There is a “Peanuts” comic strip in which little Lucy and Charlie Brown are contemplating the coming of Christmas.
Lucy opens her bible and begins to read…“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch their flock by night… and an angel of the Lord appeared to them. And they were filled with fear… And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.”
Then Lucy sighs a gentle sigh and says to Charlie Brown, “Like I’ve said before, that’s what Christmas is all about.” And Charlie Brown replies, “You’re right! So who needs Santa Claus” We all need Jesus! A Blessed Christmas to you and your family.
December 24, 2017 – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Robert A Schuller tells about a farmer in Washington who was especially proud of the apples he produced every year, and with good reason. His farm was at a high elevation, and the cold winds that came through there made his apples especially crisp and flavorful. Every year, after he harvested his crop, he would polish those apples until they virtually shone.
Then he would put them into beautiful packages to show them off. These weren’t your ordinary run-ofthe-mill apples but the kind that made beautiful gifts to send loved ones for Thanksgiving and Christmas. As word of his marvelous apples spread, it got to the point where he was inundated with orders even before he had harvested the fruit.
One year, just before harvest time, a severe hailstorm pummeled his property. When it was all over, there wasn’t a single apple without blemishes on its skin. There was nothing wrong with the apples. They just didn’t look as pretty as they usually did, and the farmer was afraid that the people who had ordered them might be disappointed and ask for their money back.
Then he had an idea. He took all of the apples with the little blemishes on the outside and wrapped every one of them the same way he did every year. He put them in the same kind of packages. Then he added a note. It read: “Notice these high-quality apples. This year represents the finest crop. You can see the blemishes caused by the hailstorm, which created the extreme cold giving the ultimate flavor and ultimate crispness to these apples.”
Well, not a single order was returned. In fact, just the opposite happened. The following year when his orders started coming in he had many requests from people who wanted to make sure they got the apples with the blemishes this year, too! That’s the way it works for people of faith. We don’t escape the blemishes. We wear them proudly, for we could not be who we are today without the growth that those blemishes brought with them.
Storms come, but if you are smart, you will prepare yourself for that time when life sends us the unexpected squall. Prepare yourself by building strong relationships. Prepare yourself by keeping yourself fit physically, mentally and spiritually. Decide to build your life on the rock of faith. ADVENT IS A TIME to get ready for whatever the Lord sends us to make our faith tried and true.
I remember reading about:
A TV news camera crew on assignment in Southern Florida filming the widespread destruction from Hurricane Andrew. In one scene, amid the devastation and debris, stood one house on its foundation. The owner was cleaning up the yard when a reporter approached him.
“Sir, why is your house the only one in the entire neighborhood that is standing?” asked the reporter. “How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the hurricane?” “I built this house myself,” the man replied. “I also built it according to the Florida state building code. When the code called for two-by-six roof trusses, I was told that a house built according to code could withstand a hurricane.
I did and it did. I suppose no one else around here followed the code.” That man was prepared. Our Blessed Mother gives you and I her guaranteed advice as we prepare for her Son’s Birth. “Do whatever He tells you.” Build according to her Code of Teaching and you’ll always remain secure and strong when the storms of life come your way.
December 17, 2017 – Third Sunday of Advent – Max Lucado tells a wonderful story about how Christians are often reluctant to go into the world to actually live out our faith. One day, the electricity went out at the Lucado house. Max went to the storage closet to get some candle s. He lit the candles and admired their lovely light.
But when he tried to take the candles out of the storage closet into the house, each one refused to go. The first candle wanted more time to prepare by reading books about how to be a be tter candle. The second candle was busy meditating on the importance of enlightenment . The third candle was trying to get its life together first. The fourth candle claimed that lighting the darkness wasn’t really her gift.
Since each of the candles refused to go out into the darkness where it was really needed, Max blew them all out. The old saying “You use it or you lose it” is so true with our faith. Jesus empowered us to make a difference. Here’s a striking example:
An Eye Witness Account from New York City, on a cold day in December: A little boy about 10 years old was standing before a shoe store on the roadway barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. A lady approached the boy and said, “My fellow, why are you looking so earnestly in that window?” “I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,” was the boy’s reply. The lady took him by the hand and went into the store an d asked the clerk to get a dozen pairs of socks for the boy.
She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the little fellow to the back part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with a towel. By this time the clerk had returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy’s feet, she purchased him a pair of shoes. She tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him.
She patted him on the head and said, “No doubt, my little fellow, you feel more comfortable now?” As she turned to go, the astonished lad caught her by the hand, looking up in her face, with tears in his eyes, answered the question with these words. “Are you God’s wife.”
Remember, Jesus said, “You will know my disciples by the way they love one another.” That unknown woman not only was a light to that little boy, she wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and be actively involved in loving as she should. How about you and I?
December 10, 2017 – Second Sunday of Advent – Dr. Ralph F. Wilson tells about the effort it took to straighten a highway in Southern California years ago, the old highway, US 99. This treacherous piece of highway used to wind, dip, and climb as it crossed the rugged Tehachapi Mountains. At one point the road rises to an elevation of more than 4,000 feet.
An old deacon told Wilson that when he was young it took him two full days to drive a large truck only 110 miles from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, CA. As the road climbed the steep mountains he would have to shift to low gear and crawl up the slope. When the road descended into deep canyons on the others side he would have to shift into low gear again and ride the brakes in order to keep the heavy truck from careening off the narrow road.
Fortunately, the government decided to do something about this dangerous piece of road. Between 1960 and 1972 highway US 99 was upgraded to Interstate highway I-5, one of the most impressive engineering projects in human history. Road cuts hundreds of feet deep were sliced through the mountains.
The rock and the dirt extracted from these slices were used to fill deep gorges and canyons. “Whenever I cross the [this stretch of] I-5,” Wilson continues, “I think of Isaiah’s words, of John’s mission of preparation, and God’s working in my life to make me a fit disciple of Jesus. God is seeking to prepare you and me. To cut through the mountains of our pride, to fill the valleys of our despair, to straighten our crooked moral rationalizations, and make us fit for the King himself to travel upon.”
This is why each year on the Second Sunday of Advent we revisit John the Baptist preaching and baptizing in the wilderness. The leveling of the land is a word picture helping us understand the way John’s ministry prepared for the ministry of Christ.
“And all people will see God’s salvation,” Luke says to us, quoting the words of Isaiah, This was the message of John, the voice in the desert – “salvation has come to all people.” How were the people to prepare themselves for the coming Christ according to John the Baptist? They were to repent of their sins. We read concerning John, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Repentance is a difficult word to tie to Christmas. After all, Christmas is a warm and fuzzy holy day. At Christmastime we think of God like a jolly old Santa Claus who forgives all and accepts all and would never hold us responsible for how we live our lives. The last thing we want to think about at Christmas is repentance.
Even if it weren’t Christmastime, it is hard to combine a vision of a prophet out in the wilderness dressed in animal skins, eating locusts and wild honey and calling people to repentance with a vision of our modern day society that doesn’t even acknowledge the concept of sin.
Yet, John the Baptist came to announce the coming of a king, a different kind of king. “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.”’
What a wondrous way to depict the preparation of the world for Christ – straightening the curves, filling in the valleys, cutting away the high mountains that the road might level and easy to travel upon. You and I have ears to listen to what John has to say to our hearts. “Prepare to meet Him. He is not far away.”
December 3, 2017 – The First Sunday of Advent – In one of his books, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tells the story of NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler, formerly with the New York Giants. At the beginning of his career, Jeff was a back-up quarterback. By the end of his seventh season, he had thrown less than two hundred passes, and none of them had any bearing on the outcome of a game.
Then Phil Simms, the starting quarterback of the Giants went down with an injury, and coach Bill Parcels looked to his back-up quarterback on the bench and said, “Okay, Jeff, it’s your turn.” Jeff Hostetler ran out onto the field and led his team to victory not only in that game but in the remaining games of the season including the Super Bowl.
However, as Zig Ziglar points out, there was more to the story than that. During those seven years Jeff was in waiting, he “threw thousands of passes through a swinging tire. He worked with his wide receivers and running backs in countless practice sessions, sharpening and honing his skills. He lifted tons of weights, did hundreds of
push-ups and sit-ups, jogged many, many miles, and did numerous wind sprints. He literally spent hundreds of hours poring over the playbook, studying not only his own offense and defense but the defenses of the opposing teams.”
When Coach Parcells turned to Jeff Hostetler and said, “Okay, Jeff, it’s your turn,” Jeff was ready. We are beginning that season of the year known in the church as Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time of getting ready. The Latin derivative of the word Advent means literally “to come.” During these weeks we focus our attention on the coming of Christ into our world. We consider the words of the prophets and their expectations for the coming Messiah. We live in a time when we are surrounded by signs. Signs are important. Imagine trying to navigate your way in an area unknown to you without signs or a GPS. Signs keep us aware of our surroundings; they help with directions; and they even help us to keep safe by offering warnings to us. To ignore signs is risky. It can sometimes be quite costly. So, has it ever been.
Go back with me to the year 1941. Two American soldiers observe something unusual on their radar. They report it to their supervisor, a rather young, inexperienced Lieutenant. It was a peaceful Sunday morning nobody else around and this young Lieutenant, thinking what they had seen on radar was planes on maneuvers from California said, “Don’t worry about it.” But they should have worried about it. What these two soldiers had seen were the first signs of 353 planes on their way to Pearl harbor. They reached there approximately two hours later on December 7th, 1941.
“Don’t worry about it!” said their superior officer. A very critical sign was missed. And a tragic, devastating air attack took place. Signs are important. Maybe we need a little head-knocking as we get closer to Christmas – all of us. We’re preparing our homes for Christmas, but not our hearts. We’re hanging up lights, but ignoring the darkness in our own lives – the darkness of strained relationships, the darkness of moral weakness, the darkness of anger, hopelessness and fear.
Many of you, I suspect, were at one-time fans of a heart-warming television show called Extreme Makeover:
Home Edition. Back in 2004, about this time of year, Time magazine carried the story of Alice Harris of south Central Los Angeles, who told how the good people of Extreme Makeover volunteered to demolish her house. It seems that the year before, a flood had left Alice and her family, who had no insurance, living in one bedroom.
Even worse, the flood had ruined a host of Christmas toys Harris, a community activist, had collected for poor kids. Harris said, “I figured no one was going to come to Watts and help us. No one had ever done that.” But Extreme Makeover: Home Edition did. Their staff shipped Harris and her family off for a week’s vacation
while hundred workers and neighbors tore her home down and built a new, bigger one.
They replaced the Christmas toys and other donated items and gave them to her flood-stricken and needy neighbors. They even threw in a basketball court for the neighborhood kids. What a wonderful Christmas Alice Harris and her family and neighbors had, thanks to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
John the Baptist wanted people to understand that the coming of the Messiah would mean the coming of Extreme Makeover: World Edition. And that day is still to come—a day when the poor will no longer be oppressed, a day when the hungry will be fed, a day when the world will no longer take up arms, a day when children will no longer live in fear. And you and I are called to participate in that makeover. Are you willing to do your part? Or are you satisfied to participate only in that part of Christmas that feeds our desire for parties and presents and pleasant thoughts and cares little about the plight of our neighbors and our world? If so, then the prophet says it is time to repent. The King is coming. Prepare, ye, the way of the Lord. Read the Signs of our times. They are important it’s up to you and me to respond to what we see and hear. How are you and I doing?
November 26, 2017 – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Fred Craddock tells about a family that was taking a lovely Sunday afternoon drive, when suddenly
the children began shouting, “Stop the car! There’s a kitten by the road!” The father kept on driving, but his children wouldn’t quiet down. He tried to reason with them.
The kitten was probably someone’s pet. It might have a disease. The family already had too many pets. It did no good. The children insisted that a loving father would stop that car for a stray cat. So finally, the father drove back to the spot and reached for the scraggly kitten. The ungrateful little beast scratched him! Fighting an instinct to strangle the kitten, the father packed it into the car and took it home.
Once at home, the children created a bed for the kitten out of their softest blankets. They fed the kitten droppers full of milk. They petted and fussed over the kitten. Soon, the kitten was purring and rubbing on family members, especially the father, as if he were its best friend. The father looked at the scars on his hand left by the frightened and ungrateful kitten.
Then he looked at the comfortable, well-fed kitten rubbing against his legs. Had he suddenly become more worthy of love? No. His intentions toward the cat had always been to do it good, not harm. Something had happened to the kitten that made it feel secure, loved, accepted. How often does God try to bless us? And how often do we respond by scratching God’s hand?
Today is the celebration of Christ the King. It’s ironic, don’t you think, that the Sunday before we begin our celebration of Advent, we are confronted in our lesson from the Gospel with a picture of Jesus dying on the cross. And yet the two are inseparable—Christmas and the cross. It is impossible to appreciate the events of Bethlehem except in the light of Golgotha. For the hand that reached down to bless our lives in the babe in the manger is indeed covered with scratches. God loves us.
That is where we must begin in understanding both the cross and the manger. God loves us. Dr. Gary Nicolosi compares God’s love to the 1993 hit film, In the Line of Fire. Clint Eastwood plays Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan. Horrigan had protected the life of the President for more than three decades, but he was haunted by the memory of what had happened thirty years before.
Horrigan was a young agent assigned to President Kennedy on that fateful November day in Dallas in 1963. When the assassin fired, Horrigan froze in shock. For thirty years afterward, he wrestled with the ultimate question for a Secret Service agent: Can I take a bullet for the President?
In the climax of the movie, Horrigan does what he had been unable to do earlier: he throws himself into the path of an assassin’s bullet to save the President. Secret Service agents are willing to do such a thing because they believe the president is so valuable to our country that he is worth dying for.
At Calvary the situation was reversed, says Dr. Nicolosi. The president of the Universe actually took a bullet for each of us. At the cross, we see how valuable we are to God.
God loves us. Every one of us. Young, old rich, poor, whatever color or family background. This means that God sees something in us worth saving. This gives us all something to think about and realize how precious you and I are to our God.
Thanksgiving Day – November 23 – Thanksgiving in the U.S. is usually traced to 1621 when a Pilgrim leader, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of feasting to commemorate the first harvest after a long year of suffering. What you
may not know is that, as the colonies grew more prosperous, the people forgot all about Thanksgiving and the meaning it held for their ancestors. For generations Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically, if at all, with no set date.
Then in 1822 Sarah Hales, a young widow from New Hampshire, decided to revive this important celebration. Sarah, a mother of five children and an editor of a women’s magazine, began a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents to get Thanksgiving officially recognized as a national holiday. Three Presidents turned her down. Her obsession became a reality,
however. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as the annual celebration of Thanksgiving.
It’s interesting that it should have been Lincoln that responded to Sarah’s request. His own life was at a very low ebb at the time. The country was literally falling apart and Lincoln’s political future looked bleak. “Many of the members of his own cabinet openly despised him, and joked about him in public. His wife had been investigated as a possible traitor – a process which Lincoln personally found to be bitterly wounding. In the face of such personal and national circumstances, Lincoln’s call for a
day of prayer would have made sense. But Thanksgiving? At a time like that? What must he have been thinking of?”
No wonder historians count Lincoln as one of our truly great presidents. Interestingly enough, Sarah Hale, the widow who championed the cause of Thanksgiving is not
remembered for that act. Rather she is much better known as the author of a little poem written in 1830 which begins like this: “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow…” Her name fades in history, but you and I know that.
Giving thanks reminds us how blessed we are. As some anonymous author has written:
If you woke up this morning and were able to hear the birds sing, use your vocal cords to utter human sounds, walk to the breakfast table on two good legs, and read the newspaper with two good eyes… you are more blessed than the millions of those who could not do these simple things.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of salvation… you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death… you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.
If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you are richer than 75% of this world.
If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish some place… you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.
If you are over thirty and either of your parents is still alive you are very rare. Over a billion people are orphans by then.
If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful… you are blessed because majority can, but most do not.
Giving thanks reminds us how blessed we are. This is not to say that you and I do not have problems. We do, but for most of us, our blessings far outweigh our burdens. Let us not be the one who cried because he had no shoes until he met another who had no feet. Count your Blessings and always remember the One who gave us everything in the first place— Our Heavenly Father. HAPPY THANKSGIVING.
November 12, 2017 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy Graduate, was a jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.
One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another
table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” “How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb. “ I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did.”
“If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.” Plumb couldn’t sleep that
night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he might have
looked like in a Navy uniform: A white hat, a bib in the back, and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said good morning, how are you or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”
Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in
the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.
Now, Plumb asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?”
Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory – he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.
Sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important.
We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something
wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something
nice for no reason. As you go through this week, this month, this year…. recognize people who packs your parachute.
A word to the wise should be sufficient. Hopefully it is for you and me. It’s so easy
to take life for granted. Many live with an entitlement mentality. You and I know we
have been gifted with all we need. Let’s not forget Him or others He sends to provide
November 5, 2017 – 31st-Sunday in Ordinary Time – A parishioner shared the following poem by an unknown author with me and I’d like also to share it with you:
Heaven’s grocery store
I was walking down life’s highway a long time ago one day I saw a sign that read heaven’s grocery store, as I got a little closer, the door came open wide
and when I came to myself, i was standing inside. I saw a host of angels, they were standing everywhere.
One handed me a basket and said, “my child, shop with care.”
Everything a christian needed was in that grocery store,
and all you couldn’t carry, you’d come back the next day for.
First, I got some patience, love was in the same row.
Further down was understanding, you need that everywhere you go.
I got a box or two of wisdom, a bag or two of faith
I just couldn’t miss the holy ghost for he was all over the place.
I stopped to get some strength and courage to help me run this race.
By then my basket was getting full, but I remembered I needed some grace.
I didn’t forget salvation, for salvation, that was free,
so, I tried to get enough of that, to save both you and me.
Then I started up to the counter to pay my grocery bill,
for I thought I had everything to do my master’s will.
As I went up the aisle, i saw prayer
and I just had to put that in.
For i knew when i stepped outside,
I would run right into sin.
Peace and joy were plentiful, they were on the last shelf.
Songs and praises were hanging near, so i just helped myself.
And then I said to the angel, “now, how much do i owe?”
He just smiled and said, “just take them everywhere you go,”
again, I smiled at him and said, “how much do I really owe?”
He smiled again and said, “my child, Jesus paid your bill a long time ago!
We have all been given so many Life’s Blessings that we can shop “until we drop” and still we won’t be able to count them all. God is never outdone in generosity. Now take on the day—you and I have been well prepared. Blessings.
October 29, 2017 – 30th-Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Bible and religious history is replete with faith journeys: Abraham started out from Ur of Chaldees to a land he would never know. He is the prototype of the sojourner of faith. Moses walked through the wilderness to a land promised but never seen, and the bible does not judge Moses a failure because he didn’t arrive. He is honored because he understood the journey.
Saint Augustine moved restlessly from agnosticism to faith. Dante described his whole life as a pilgrimage – first with Virgil as his guide (Virgil, the symbol of reason), then with Beatrice, the symbol of faith and trust. Faith comes in the traveling. Those lepers who came to Jesus and asked him to heal them, remember how it was done? Jesus told them to “Go show yourself to the priest.” And “when they were on their way, they were healed.”
One of the oldest football rivalries in the United States is between Notre Dame and the University of Southern California. Back in the early years of that rivalry, when Knute Rockne was football coach at the University of Notre Dame, he knew USC had a better team that year. So, he employed a little constructive paranoia.
This was before the rule that only a certain number of players could be in uniform, so Rockne got every brawny guy at Notre Dame and suited them up. He had about a hundred men and most of them couldn’t even play football. On the day of the game, the southern California team ran out onto the field; then out of the other dressing room came an army of giants, all in Notre Dame uniforms, or uniforms close to the Notre Dame colors. They just kept coming and coming.
The USC players panicked. Their coach saw their reaction, called them aside, and said, “I don’t care how many Rockne’s got in uniform, he can only put eleven men on the field at one time.” But the damage had been done. Notre Dame won the game. The Southern Cal was not defeated by those hundred men in uniform. They were defeated by their own fear.
On a baseball telecast recently, the sportscaster commented on one of the players who was in the middle of a batting slump. The sportscaster offered his opinion on the batman’s problem – that he wasn’t following through on his swing. The batter was swinging at the ball but when he missed it he subconsciously let up, rather than allowing the bat to fly around his shoulders in its customary arc. Golfers can have the same problem. A drive will slice to the right or hook to the left because the golfer isn’t following through.
The proper technique, golf instructors say, is not to aim at the ball but to aim through the ball, to a spot three or four inches beyond the ball. That way the swing will continue on in what is called a proper follow-through. That’s also true with the teaching of our faith. In baseball, golf, or compassionate ministry, it is called follow-through. Our faith and the practice of our faith will crowd out all fear.
October 22, 2017 – 29th-Sunday in Ordinary Time – Years ago, Karl Menninger’s bestseller was titled and asked the question, Whatever Became of Sin? He chided those therapists and social scientists who sought to rationalize away all aberrant human behavior as the result of unfavorable social conditions. 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 this 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, allaccepting 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 behaviors, which can only be called sin. It’s time we admitted it.
A hiker in Switzerland paused at a sheep camp for a drink of water and some conversation with the shepherd. Near the shepherd, the hiker noticed a sheep, lying on a pile of straw, obviously hurt and in pain. The shepherd told him the sheep had a broken leg. “How did it happen?” the hiker inquired. “I broke it,” the shepherd replied. Seeing a puzzled look cross the face of the hiker, the shepherd went on to explain.
“Of all the sheep in my flock, this one was the most wayward, often wandering to the edge of the cliffs. Not only was it disobedient itself, but it was leading others astray. I had had previous experience with sheep of this nature, so I broke its leg. The first day I went to it with food it tried to bite me, so I left it alone for a couple of days, then went back to it.
Now it not only takes the food I bring it, but also licks my hand and shows affection. When this sheep is well, as it soon will be, it will be the model sheep of the flock, quickest to hear my voice and closes in following me. It will be an example and a guide, leading the others —– all because of the bond that has been established between us. Sometimes you and I only learn the hard way.
October 15, 2017 – 28th-Sunday in Ordinary Time – A young woman walking in the woods came upon an emperor moth beating its wings and struggling wildly to force its passage through the narrow neck of its cocoon. The girl took a sharp stick and split the cocoon, and the moth came out at once. But its glorious coloring never developed and the soaring wings never expanded. The moth crept aimlessly about for a while, then died.
The furious struggle with the cocoon was nature’s way of developing the beautiful wings and sending the vital fluids pulsing through the frame until every particle was bright with the distinctive hues and shades. Without the struggle, the moth could not live.
Because breathing is usually silent and air is invisible it is often taken for granted and sometimes unappreciated. There is a corollary in the story of “The Belly and the Members” in Aesop’s Fable. “The Members of the Body once rebelled against the Belly, who, they said, led an idle, lazy life at their expense. The Hands declared that they would not again lift a crust even to keep him from starving, the Mouth that it would not take in a bit more food, the Legs that they would carry him about no longer, and so on with the others.
The Belly quietly allowed them to follow their own courses, well knowing that they would all soon come to their senses, as indeed they did, when, for want of blood and nourishment supplied from the stomach, they found themselves fast becoming mere skin and bone.” So, too, the quality of our breathing effects the quality of our lives.
Health, moods, energy, creativity – all depend on the oxygen supply provided by our breathing. And, so, too, our spiritual lives – also dependent upon the Holy Spirit – the breath of God supplying the invisible oxygen necessary for spiritual health, moods, energy, and creativity. Enough said. Thank God for the gift of life.
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.”
July 30, 2017 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – On May 12, 1993 two slivers of an olive tree, said to have come from the cross on which Jesus was crucified, were sold for more than $18,000 in an auction in Paris. The bidding started at $1,858 and was completed ninety seconds later. A woman in the front row offered $18,587.
Accompanying the two slivers of wood were two certificates from the Vatican that apparently authenticated the wood back in 1855. That sum of money pales in terms of what the cross cost Christ. “… the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…”
Chuck Colson once visited Humaita Prison, in Sao Jose dos Campos in Brazil. Humaita was formerly a government prison. It is now operated by Prison Fellowship Brazil as an alternative prison, without armed guards or high-tech security. Instead, it is run on the Christian principles of love of God and respect for men.
Humaita has only two full-time staff. The rest of the work is done by the 730 inmates
serving time for everything from murder to robbery and drug-related crimes. When Colson visited this prison, he found the inmates smiling – particularly the murderer
who held the keys to the gates, who let him in. Wherever he walked, Colson saw men
at peace. He saw people working industriously. The walls were decorated with motivational sayings and Scripture.
Humaita has an astonishing record. Its recidivism rate is 4 percent, compared to 75 percent in the rest of Brazil. How is that possible? Colson saw the answer when his inmate-guide escorted him to the notorious cell once used for solitary punishment. The guide explained that now it houses only one inmate. As they reached the end of the long concrete corridor and he put the key into the lock, the inmate paused and asked, “Are you sure you want to go in?”
“Of course,” Colson replied impatiently. “I’ve been in isolation cells all over the
world.” Slowly his inmate – guide swung open the massive door, and Colson saw the prisoner in that cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved – Jesus, hanging on the cross. “He’s doing time for the rest of us,” the guide said softly. One picture tells us a thousand words.
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.”
Finally, along came Jesus. “Take my Hand brother,” He said, “And I will Save you.”
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.
Think of that. Each man builds his own platform and chooses his own vine. He alone is responsible for his own life or death.
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.<>
Sixth Sunday of Easter — If this had been a round of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” you could have heard Regis ask each of the players: “Is that your final answer?”
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.”<>
The scribes, Pharisees, the Sadducees would have broken their uneasy alliance formed to get rid of Jesus and looking at each other with untrusting eyes would have simply said, “Yes, that’s our final answer.” Except for a few like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who refused to answer. The Roman soldiers and guards would have said, “Absolutely, we saw him die. 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.
Fifth Sunday of Easter — Pastor Dan Mangler tells an old fable from Holland about three tulip bulbs. These bulbs were name NO, MAYBE, and YES. Someone had placed them in the bottom of a tin to save them until planting time. One day they were discussing their future as tulip bulbs. NO said, “As far as I am concerned, this is it. We have come as far as we are going to come as bulbs. That’s all right. I’m content. I don’t need anything else.”
MAYBE said, “Well, maybe there is something more. Perhaps if we try real hard good things will happen to us.” And MAYBE tried hard to be all that he could be, but little changed and soon he gave up in frustration.
YES, on the other hand said, “I believe there is something more, but I don’t believe that it is up to us. I have heard that there is One who can help us be more than we are if we simply trust him.”
One day a hand reached down into the tin to select bulbs for planting. NO and MAYBE shrank their back but YES gladly gave himself into the hand of the gardener. He could scarcely believe what was happening when he was buried underneath a mount of dirt. But when the springtime came YES burst forth in radiant color. He was now a beautiful flower.
In my mind, that little fable deals with both dimensions of our faith. When we surrender our lives to the Master Gardener or, using the language of St. Paul, when we die to the world and are made alive to the Spirit, our lives become a beautiful flower in this world. On the other hand, even when this life is over and our bodies join the dust of the earth, we shall be even more beautiful than before. “To live is Christ; and to die is gain.”
If you were to sum up your life in a six or eight-word memoir, how would it read?
One writer suggests that our memoirs would be quite different from St. Paul’s. “To live is to be entertained, to die is to miss all the fun.”
“To live is all of the things I want, to die is to lose it all.”
“To live is to be in the best of health, to die is to lose my life, what now.”
It is a sobering thought. It sort of sums up what we said earlier. Without Christ, why brother? Could we sum up our lives in the way St. Paul summed up his? “To live is Christ; and to die is gain.”
Business legend Lee Iacocca once asked legendary football coach Vince Lombardi what it took to make a winning football team. Here is how Lombardi answered, “There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of discipline but still don’t win the game. Then you come to the third ingredient: If you’re going to play together as a team, you’ve got to care for one another,” said Lombardi.
“You’ve got to love each other. Each player has to be thinking about the next
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.”
Wise words indeed, You and I need to make that wisdom our way of life.
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.
One day a novelist, Thomas Keneally, came into Page’s shop to buy a briefcase, and Page told him his story. Keneally was intrigued and agreed to commit Schindler’s story to print. What resulted as a moving story of a man who helped hundreds of Jews escape certain death at the hands of the Nazis. The book was dedicated to Oskar Schindler and to Page’s “zeal and persistence” in getting Schindler’s story told.
But that’s not the end of the story. Page, the zealous and persistent shopkeeper had some friends who had some friends… and somehow he was able to get his book to the attention of a director named Steven Spielberg. You’ve probably heard that name before. Spielberg was fresh from making the blockbuster film, Jurassic Park.
“Stop playing around with dinosaurs,” Page told Spielberg when they first met. “I promise you, you’ll get an Oscar for [telling] Oskar’s story.” And he did. Spielberg turned Schindlers’s List into a major motion picture. The book and the movie, which won seven Oscars, including Best Picture—more than fulfilled Page’s lifelong dream. “I did not know how I would do this,” Page had said, “but I promised Oskar Schindler I would make him a household name.” And he did. Leopold “Paul” Page was number 173, by the way, on Oskar Schindler’s list. He was 173 of the 900 who were spared death at the hand of the Nazis thanks to Oskar.
Leopold Page was a shopkeeper, not a writer. But his commitment to his friend led him to connect with people who could bring his dream to reality. It’s important in life to have connections. If you don’t HAVE connections, then it’s important to MAKE connections. Don’t fight it. Make prudent use of this adage – it’s not what you know but who you know.
There is a “Peanuts” comic strip that sticks in my mind. Linus is meditating having just seen Lucy fall down and come up crying. He reflects: “For hundreds of years there have been sidewalks, for hundreds of years there have been little girls. The little girls are always falling on the sidewalks. The sidewalks always win.” The gravity field always wins.
We’re always “falling down.” But we’re always getting up, too. We rise as often as we fall. That is the strength of religious faith — that we can ascend, Love lifts us up.
It is the God who made Himself in Jesus, His Son that loves us and empowered us to love one another as He loves us. We see that love in Oskar Schindler’s list and in the strength of our religious faith.
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.
And one of the first things God said was “DON’T!”
“Don’t what?” Adam replied.
“Don’t eat the forbidden fruit,” God said.
“Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Hey Eve, we have forbidden fruit!”
“No Way!” says Eve.
“Yes way!” Adam replies.
“Do NOT eat the fruit!” says God. “Why?” Adam and Eve ask in unison.
“Because I am your Father and I said so!” God replies, wondering why He hadn’t stopped creation after making the elephants.
A few minutes later, God saw His Children having an apple break! “Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” God asked.
“Uh huh,” Adam replied.
“Then why did you?” said the Father. ‘The serpent made me do it,” said Eve
“She started it!” Adam said.
“Did too!” “DID NOT!”
Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus the pattern was set, says this author, and it has never changed.
Best-selling author, Harold Kushner, wrote in his book, “Who Needs God?” Atlas was condemned to carry the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. That was as harsh a punishment as the ancient Greek mind could conjure up. “Today, it seems,” says Kushner, “we have volunteered to play the role of Atlas. We have not offended God, we have dismissed him, told him we were grown up enough not to need his help any more, and offered to carry the weight of the world upon our shoulders. The question is, when it gets too heavy for us, when there are questions too hard for human knowledge to answer and problems that take more time to solve than any of us have, will we be too proud to admit that we have made a mistake in wanting to carry this world alone?”
Someone has noted that the word “worry” is used 13 times in Scripture. Compare that with “Trust” which is used 126 times, “faith” which is used 270 times, “believe” which is used 226 times and “love” which is used 551 times. If you want to narrow it down even more, of the 13 times that worry is used, 11 times we are told not to worry and of the other two, one asks, “Why do you worry” and the other one says “Tomorrow will worry about itself”.
Cast your case upon the Lord and He will support you. He is never outdone in generosity. Trust in Him.
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.
Bibs are for those who are more interested in being served than in serving. Bibs are for those who insist that the church exists for them and their needs. Bibs are for
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.
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time — There is always a letdown the week after Christmas. How could it be otherwise? Christmas demands so much of us. Now it’s back to the humdrum of ordinary living. Plus a few extra bills to pay and a few extra pounds to work off. Some unknown author spoke for many of us:
‘Twas the week after Christmas and all through the house
Nothing would fit me, not even a blouse.
The cookies I’d nibbled, the eggnog I’d taste
At the holiday parties had gone to my waist.
When I got on the scale there arose such a number!
When I walked to the store (less a walk than a lumber),
I’d remember the marvelous meals I’d prepared:
The gravies and sauces and beef nicely rared,
The bread and the cheese/ And the way I’d never said, “No, thank you, please.”
As I dressed myself in my husband’s old shirt
And prepared once again to do battle with dirt
I said to myself as only I can: “You can’t spend a winter disguised as a man!”
So away with the last of the sour cream dip,
Get rid of the fruit cake, every cracker and ‘chip.
Every last bit of food that I like must be vanished.
I won’t have a cookie—not even a lick.
I’ll only chew on a long celery stick.
I won’t have a hot biscuit or corn bread or pie.
I’ll munch on a carrot and quietly cry.
I’m hungry, I’m lonesome and life is a bore. But isn’t that what January is for? Unable to giggle, no longer a riot.
Happy New Year to all and to all good diet!
Some of us live very stressful lives and we can only take so much. It reminds me of one of the best of the old-time television comedy shows, “I Love Lucy” with Lucille Ball. Many of you will remember the most famous clip from that show, “Lucy and Ethel in the Candy Factory.” It was on YouTube for many years. I’m not sure it is still there — probably not, due to copyright laws.
In this amazing clip, as you will remember, Lucy and Ethel have gotten jobs in a candy factory.
Their job is to take candy coming down a conveyor belt and wrap each peace as it comes by. It works out all right at first, but the candy starts coming faster and faster and Lucy and Ethel find it harder and harder to keep up.
They work as fast as they can, but the belt keeps getting faster and faster, and they get further and further behind. In desperation, Lucy begins stuffing candy in her mouth, in her pockets, and finally even in her blouse. But no matter how hard she and Ethel work, they still can’t keep up. The scene is hilarious… as long as it is happening to someone else. That’s the essence of comedy, isn’t it? It’s funny … as long as it is happening to someone else.
So have a Blessed New Year 2017 and remember always be prepared for the coming of Christ in one another. It’s our daily way of getting ready to become more like the Son who was sent to give us the love of ABBA.
Epiphany — An ancient Greek fable tells about a group of people who lived for generations in the darkness of underground caves. This lifestyle was a result of intolerable living conditions on the surface. But there was always a longing within these people for light.
Sitting around the fires in their underground homes listening to their elders, the children could only imagine what it would be like to live in the light. Then stories began to be told about someone who would come and lead these subterranean dwellers to the surface where light existed. And so the people dreamed of a journey to “the surface.”
Then it happened. A young man began to inspire hope in people’s hearts about life in the light. He said that if people followed him, they would find a way to the surface and to the light. As the good news spread, so also hope spread and expectation was at an all time high. And they came. The young man announced that people should follow him to the surface. The journey was long, but finally the first few subterranean dwellers emerged into the light of day! And more followed.
However, something unexpected happened. These people who had lived so long in darkness didn’t like the light! It was too bright. It hurt their eyes. They complained that it was better in the shadows of the subterranean caves. They wanted to go back. They demanded to go back! And so was the light rejected!
It is significant that the celebration of the Epiphany comes at the darkest time of the year. The days are short, the nights long. There are people who are profoundly depressed by the lack of light. This is also the season for a sort of after-Christmas-let-down. Preparing for Christmas was a chore, but the time after Christmas is for many people a season of deep melancholy.
Epiphany is the celebration of the coming of the magi to Bethlehem where they knelt before the Christ child and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
These men followed a star to find the Messiah. They found the child with his mother, and opened up their gifts and worshiped him. In a dark and desperate world, they had seen a star.
You and I are called to live our lives witnessing to Jesus, the true light of our world. May we never fail to live our faith in Jesus.
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.
This year is past; we will never see it again. Will we remember the flowers and All the People who enriched our life along the way? A Blessed 2017 to you and your loved ones.
Christmas — A student wrote a Christmas story called Christmas Solitaire. It’s very short; here it is in its entirety:
“Deborah Forster sat alone in her apartment on 64th Street. Her apartment building was in the old section of town, and in desperate need of repair from years of neglect. She sat motionless, gazing at her Christmas tree, or what was supposed to be her tree. She had found the tree two years ago in an alley behind some boxes. The tree was an old artificial tree, faded and broken in many places. The ornaments consisted of a few strands of tinsel, a string of colored light and a little plastic angel.
Deborah got up and made herself a cup of tea and sat down to a game of solitaire. Solitaire was her hobby; she would play for hours, sometimes forgetting to eat. The cards were bent at the corners and faded from many years of use.
After a couple of hours playing, she stretched, yawned and took another look at her tree. She studied it closely. ‘Funny,’ she thought as she keened her eyes on the angel. It seemed to be smiling at her. The way the light reflected off it made it glow. Almost filled the room with human warmth. The angel’s arms were stretched out as if it wanted to hug Deborah.
She sat back down and listened to the outside noises. She heard faint footsteps, gradually getting louder. Then she heard Christmas carols being sung. She saw a handful of change on the table and thought about giving it to the kids. She got up to get the change and stopped herself, thinking ‘If I don’t make any noise they’ll go away…’ She never finished the thought— a loud crash echoed, the angel had fallen off the tree and was shattered. The angle’s look was different — she was frowning now. End of the story.”
Each of us is called to look at the stories of our lives. Are we playing Christmas solitaire, withholding ourselves from the outstretched arms of the Christ who would gather us to himself? Charlie Brown has a big message to give us this Christmas.
In the “Peanuts” comic strip, one of the little girls was saying that Christmas is a time for kindness and good will; a time when we accept one another, welcoming others into our homes and into our lives. Charlie Brown responds by saying, “Why just at Christmas? Why can’t we be kind and accepting and hospitable all through the year?” She looks at Charlie Brown and says, “What are you, some kind of religious fanatic?”
Well, that old religious fanatic, the apostle Paul, was of the same mind as Charlie Brown — he saw Christian acceptance as a year – round, everyday quality which is an outgrowth of faith in the Christ who freely welcomes and accepts others all the time. To the Roman Christians Paul writes: “Welcome one another …as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.
May the Good Lord bless each of us with the courage to reach out to one another and make Christmas a year round experience.
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.”
She is a role model for each of us. Like Saint Francis who received the Stigmata in his body because He emulated Jesus in word and action, St. Teresa is a positive sign of living the gospel.
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.
A few years ago, Karl Menninger’s bestseller was titled and asked the question, Whatever Became of Sin? He chided those therapists and social scientists who sought to rationalize away all aberrant human behavior as the result of unfavorable social conditions.
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.”
“What kind of 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:
God bless America,
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.
As we celebrate our nation’s independence, let us pray that God bless America and keep us true to the values that have made our country the land of the free and the home of the brave.
God’s blessing is a gift, a favor granted as a positive sanction to one who follows God’s commandments, keeps the covenant, and lives humbly and meekly as a child of God. Daily in our lives, may we verify our fidelity to the gifts God has entrusted to us.
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – (June 29) – In his book, The Life and Death of Ivan Illych, Leo Tolstoy describes the anguish of a man who discovers on his deathbed that he has wasted his life. Ivan Illych has always done the right thing — he took the right job, married the right woman, had the requisite number of children. But he has lived without passion, without conviction, without love. Dying, he realizes that he has never known real happiness. He has been so busy doing what was expected of him, that he never did the things that he truly wanted.
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:
“What is life? Life is a challenge … meet it. Life is a gift… accept it. Life is an adventure … dare it. Life is a sorrow … overcome it. Life is a tragedy … face it. Life is a duty … perform it. Life is a game … play it. Life is a mystery … unfold it. Life is a song … sing it. Life is an opportunity … take it. Life is a promise … fulfill it.
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.
Life has now been explained. Now that you understand why you are the way you are, go on and take on the day.
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.
Easter Sunday – Easter is such an extraordinary day. No wonder people gather in such numbers all over the world to celebrate the event of the resurrection. Jesus Christ who was dead is alive!
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