Archive for August, 2016

God You Are the Source 8-28-2016

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

I think Jesus was a first class people watcher. One day he was invited to be a guest in the home of a Pharisee. When it came time for dinner, he began watching closely the other guests’ behavior. He watched all the jockeying for position to be number 1. When all were seated, Jesus gave them a piece of his mind. What he had to say was much more than a lesson about table manners. In essence Jesus said, “It’s a foolish thing to waste your time and energy trying to look important.”
In thinking about this statement, I believe there are a couple of important considerations to keep in mind:
A. Jesus never discouraged the desire for greatness . . . He encouraged it. It was never human littleness that Jesus stressed, but human grandeur. “You are the light of the world; you are the salt of the earth.”
B. His philosophy was: try hard to achieve. Do something significant with your gifts; be the best person that you can possibly become.
Where then do we get out of focus in this area? Let me suggest this:
1. Most of us don’t make a big fuss about the seating arrangements at banquets, but we are still masters in the gentle art of self promotion. We have these neat tricks that we use to elbow our way up to the head table of life.
(a.) One of them is criticism of others; fault finding in others is almost always an attempt to cover up some weaknesses in ourselves. If we can’t climb to the top, we can accomplish something of the same result by pulling others down. We need to remember that we can never promote ourselves by putting down other people. Invariably the opposite happens. Life just moves us down to a lower seat and we gain the reputation of a small minded, critical, jealous person.
2. Another common means of self-promotion is boastfulness. What a waste of time. No person is as boring and unconvincing as the one who continually talks about his or her achievements. There is something about arrogance that just doesn’t make sense, and we all know it. Whatever we are and whatever we’ve accomplished, it has required the love and help of God and a lot of people. Our best posture should be gratitude. (Sports personality, thank you God)
Let me close with this statement: If you really want to be important, stop worrying about where you are seated at the Banquet of Life and just get up and start waiting on tables. God, you are the source of all we have . . . thank you!
Now, that’s where true humility starts!

The Narrow Door 8-21-2016

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

A young man wrote a letter to a priest. He told the priest he could use the letter any way he wished. Except for a few minor changes, here’s what the young man wrote: “I was one of the top swimmers in my category in Canada. Then one day I let my friends talk me into experimenting with drugs. I got hooked, and soon my mental, physical, and spiritual health deteriorated badly…I knew I was all screwed up. I became lonely and terribly frightened. There was no one I could talk to. To make matters worse, I was in debt to drug dealers for over $3,000. I figured my only way out was suicide, so I went home and wrote this note: ‘Dear Mom and Dad, I am sorry to cause you this pain…please don’t grieve too much. If I had stayed alive, I would have caused you a lot more grief than by what I just did…I love you and the whole family. (signed) Christopher”
“I began to drink to overcome fear as I prepared to take my life. Then at the last minute something made me stop; I grabbed the phone and called a crisis center. I didn’t know it then, but my mother was praying like mad for me. A few days later I entered a drug rehabilitation program. Soon I regained my physical and psychological health. It was then that I started reading the Bible. The more I read it, the more peace and joy I felt. This led me to put all my trust in God.”
“Meanwhile, there developed in me this growing desire to learn more about Jesus and to get to know him better. It’s kind of funny. I must have prayed on my knees at least ten times – asking Jesus to come into my life – before I realized that he was already in my life…”
“All this happened about five years ago. Since then, God has blessed me greatly. I teach in a Catholic high school and I’m active in my parish community…I’m also still trying to learn how to open myself more and more to the love and mercy of God. Sincerely your, Chris”
That letter illustrates one of the points in today’s gospel: The door to God’s kingdom is, indeed, narrow. But that didn’t stop Chris from trying to enter. He struggled and struggled until he did. I wonder how many people (like you & me), would have had the courage to struggle as Christopher did.
Someone said there are three kinds of Christians: Tug-boat Christians, sail-boat Christians, and raft Christians. Tug-boat Christians are people who follow Jesus not only in sunny weather but also in stormy weather. They are people who follow Jesus not only when the wind and the tide serve them but also when the wind and the tide oppose them. They are people who go to Mass not because they have to but because Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19) They are people who help other people not because they feel like it but because Jesus said, “Love one another as I love you.” (John 15:12)
Sail-boat Christians, on the other hand, are people who follow Jesus when the wind and the tide serve them. But when the wind and the tide oppose them, they tend to go in the direction they are blown. They are people who go to Mass when family and friends go. But left to themselves, they often miss. They are the people who ask, “How far can I go before I sin?” Rather than, “How much more can I do because I love?” They are people who tend to follow the crowd more then they follow the Gospel.
Finally, there are the raft Christians. They are Christians in name only. They don’t really follow Jesus, even when the wind and the tide serve them. If they do go in his direction, it’s only because someone pulls or pushes them. They are people who do Christian things not because they want to but because they have to. In short, they are Christians in name but not in deed.
The question set before us is this: Are we a tug-boat Christian, a sail-boat Christian, or a raft Christian? Are we tug-boat Christians? Do we follow Jesus in good times and in bad? Do we go with him not only through the wide door but also through the narrow door? Or are we sail-boat Christians? Do we follow Jesus only in good times? Or are we raft Christians? Are we Christians in name only?
These are some of the growth questions today’s readings set before us. No one can answer them for us. We must do that ourselves.

Division 8-14-2016

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

My initial response to today’s Gospel reading is to resist it. I find it very difficult to think of Jesus as a divisive person. It is much easier for me to regard him as a healer of human relationships. I have seen too many fragmented families and felt their pain. When fathers and sons cannot even be civil to one another, it is very sad. And when mothers and daughters stop speaking to each other, it is heartbreaking. How can we believe that Jesus is the source of such division?
In most cases, it is clear that he is not. Something else is ripping the family apart. My sense is that, if given the chance, Jesus would heal the alienation in such a home. And I am sure that he is not pleased with the division of the people involved. A little three-year-old girl, who could not yet pronounce her “r” sounds, said to a friend, “My mommy and daddy ah sepawated.” Do you think our Lord caused that? Do you think he is pleased with that? Not a chance in the world. I have no doubt that he weeps with that child.
Still the words of today’s Reading cannot be denied. Jesus clearly said: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? I assure you the contrary is true. I have come for division.”
What then, is the meaning of these strange words about division?
It is obvious that Jesus did not get along with everybody. He did not walk around with a smile plastered on his face, spreading the good will everywhere. Otherwise, how did he manage to get himself crucified? Why did he tell his disciples that the world would hate them, just as it had hated him?
He was often in conflict. And almost always, the dividing line was the sacredness of human person. The people of his own home town wanted to kill him. What was the source of that conflict? It was his insistence that God cared for Gentiles just as he did for Jews. He often clashed with the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath. The issue that drove them apart was his conviction that helping people was more important than keeping the law. He came to the rescue of a woman who had been caught in adultery. The guardians of public morality were ready to stone her to death. Again, the issue was keeping the law or helping people. And he always came down on the side of helping people.
Jesus resisted abuse of others with all the intensity of his soul. He even died for it. Robert Louis Stevenson put it like this: “It is our cheek that we are to turn. But when another’s face is struck, perhaps a bit of the lion would become us best.”
You and I have no right to stand by and watch the strong trample on the weak. We are to take a stand, even if the abuser is a member of our own family. People have done that. And it has driven a wedge between them and the ones they love. A young man was making a determined effort to live out his Christian faith. His father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The son confronted him and said: “What you are doing is wrong. And I must resist it.” His father ordered him out of the house and never spoke to him again.
Something like that is what Jesus had in mind, when he said, “I have come for division.” The sacredness of the human person is the only issue I can conceive of where it is wrong to compromise.
In closing, it is easy to talk of “Jesus meek and mild,” and to portray the infant in the crib as lovable, and the Crucified One as forgiving. It is easy to criticize and oppose evildoers on the other side of the world, people like Hitler and Saddam Hussein. It is by no means so easy to take a stand on moral issues right at home which divide our society. But we cannot avoid the cutting edge of the gospel or the commitment that goes along with our baptism. We cannot accept, nor should we live by, a cushioned Christianity, a velvet cross, a vertical expression of faith concerned only with “God and myself.” Nor can we exclude those neighbors we don’t like. Christian life and witness is difficult. In fact, it would be impossible without the example of Jesus, and the grace of God.
Lord, give us the courage to follow you – even though it causes us to struggle – even though it causes us to be persecuted – even though, sometimes, it sets us in opposition to our families & friends & society – let us never forget that there is actually one thing worse than evil itself, and that is indifference to evil. Amen.