Friday, November 1, 2013

Where is the fire?

The ancients saw fire as one of the 4 basic elements of the created order.  Fire is transformative, purgative, and alters whatever it touches. It is fearsome; it destroys one order in favor of a new.  We use this basic element to describe more than physical fire.  We use it to talk about zeal and passion.  We tell fans of a team to 'fire up'.  When we speak about burning with something, we mean that we have something that so consumes us as to change everything about us and want to spread that to others.  Without fire there can be no heat nor light.  Without it, their is only anonymity, bitter cold, and death. Anything devoid of a fire from within  will simply peter out to death.

The world understands this concept.  It stokes fires to rage for its own concepts.  Sports teams, political parties, Hollywood, the music industry, social causes, and such all know the absolute necessity for stoking these flames.  The see the value of rallying their fans and supporters with a zeal, passion, and willingness to do anything to show their connection to the cause.  They will come up with slogans to rally around, concepts to defend, and worlds to conquer.  In the hands of good, this can be a wonderful thing.  In the hands of evil, it is horrific.  There is a tell tale sign between the two, regardless of the cause,  one seeks to lift up all humanity, the other seeks only the lifting up of a select group and the destruction of other groups.  All avenues of human reality can be commandeered or even hijacked to this end: religion, governance, sports, and industry.

Jesus says in Luke 12:49, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!"  Not exactly fuzzy surfer dude Jesus there! There was a transformation to take place.  A transformation that as Simeon said to Mary about Jesus as an infant, "Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sign that will be opposed." (Luke 2:34)  A fire would break out that would change the course of world events, that would purify anyone brave enough to enter such a furnace.  Not all will be.  In the passage from Luke 12, He refers to how it will set family against each other.  The world was to be transformed, and how earnestly he wanted to do it.  That zeal and passion for us, the beneficiary of his actions, could not be diminished by the Cross.  His fire for us and the will of the Father, removed any trace of real fear and discouragement.  Even the moment at Gethsemane was dismissed instantaneously.  After the death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3) and transformed the prayerful yet timid apostles into firebrands who would set out from the safety of the Upper Room across the world; braving pain, death, and persecution with a fire to transform the world for Christ.

In every day and age men and women have shared in that same zeal: the adventure and pressing demand of making known the Gospel in a very alive and transformative means.  Whether it was Jesuits who braved into the new world into hostile environments, or Archbishop Sheen braving the new medium known as TV, or the countless Catholic media companies and social media mediums in our day, there are many who bravely go out into the world and make known the message of Christ.  The fire is there...but it needs to burn more intensely.

In the book of Revelations, when the One Seated on the Throne (Christ) speaks words to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor, some are of comfort , some are of mild correction, and some are of utter disappointment.  Two churches where the fire is going out are referred to as 'dead' (Sardis) and so bland as to be vomited from one's mouth (Laodicea).  In both instances, they are to rekindle that fire.  In both cases we get the impression of self-satisfied churches assured of their own salvation that the fire to spread the word falls apart.  The Christian faith must have that fire.

So how are we?  Am I as a person on fire with the faith?  Do I have a passion to spread the Good News, to show mercy and compassion?  Do I speak of my faith? Or am I timid?  Do I allow myself to be silenced?  Silence is the deadliest of all things when it comes to faith.  I am not talking about the silence we need to put ourselves in a place for prayer.  I am talking about the silence when we hear the faith misrepresented, lied about, distorted, or dismissed.  Our silence becomes fertilizer for those who would attack the truth.  Our silence and inaction replaces the blood with formaldehyde.  Our silence tries to extinguish the fire that Christ came to set ablaze.

Fire, though, is not a merely a matter of words nor something to use by force.  We don't do conversion at the tip of a sword.  Our actions bearing true love and concern for God and for our brothers and sisters speak far more powerfully and eloquently than the most exquisite of words. That is not to say the exquisite words are unneeded, only that the fire within cannot remain only words. There MUST be a passion!  There must be a burning desire born of our own experience of the Living God that we lovingly want others to experience such joy and fulfillment!  

We do not belong to a safe faith.  We do not belong to a genteel country club where members get special privileges. Our faith is a fire--a transforming fire-- meant to change and purify to the better whatever it touches.  Passion cannot be faked.  Passion doesn't come instantaneously either.  Make a promise...pray for a passion..a burning zeal...a zeal that will not be silenced.  Express it not in the condemnation of others and their activities, but is modeling the reality of the transformative power of the fire that is Christ!  Pray for it!  Long for it!  Heaven is not a residence for the lukewarm and  the dead; it is where the fire of faith, hope, and love burn with the intensity of a thousand white hot suns.  That fire is not something we merely wait till later to get, it has to be now, because where there is no fire, there is no transformation, where there is no transformation, faith goes into atrophy and dies. Spend the time with the faith and learning the faith with the same fervor that a baseball fan follows the playoffs, hungry for every detail and desperately wanting to win.  Surely if we can spend such time and effort (and even resources) for something as eternally inconsequential as a sport, can we not spend at least the same time for that which is eternally consequential?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Want to Make God laugh.....

Fr Joe Corel is the Vocational Director of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

      Last Sunday, as I was listening to Fr Joe Corel’s homily, I was reminded of an old saying, “You want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  I look at that and both smile and wince.  It leads to a conversation I have had many times over while doing vocation work for this diocese.  God, the Creator of all things and all people,  has a plan for that creation.  That plan isn’t for things to simply run their natural course and fade into nothingness.  It isn’t for billions of souls to careen off one another in the pursuit of billions of different dreams that have little to no connection to each other.  God’s plan is for the eternal union of His creation.  To that goal each of us has a part to play.  Humanity was not created for condemnation (see Matthew 25:34).  This is not say some will not suffer condemnation (see Matthew 25:41).  God deposits in us abilities and gifts, desires and deep wants.  He deposits them and then asks us to use them in such a way as to build up rather than to tear down (see Matthew 25: 14-30); He holds us accountable for what we chose to do with our gifts and abilities and where we allowed our desires and deep wants to take us.  It makes a great difference what we do.
    In his homily, Fr. Corel, talked about these things in reference to vocations.  He readily points out that these are placed in us with a specific purpose in mind.  They are also given with specific instructions.  Who we are and what we have is to be used in order to unify by love, nurture by service, and enlighten through faith.  It is a struggle, though.  We live in a world that tells us to utilize what we have and who are to the best advantage for ourselves.  We are told to follow our passions, something that until the present age has been seen has the least noble of all motivations.  Careers and educations are built around the jockeying for the best for oneself.  We are told that if we follow our passions, we will find joy.  However, mountains of empirical data would point to the opposite.
    In a recent poll done by Forbes magazine, careers/occupations were ranked by the amount of satisfaction one had with the career.  Clergy were ranked as the most satisfied.  The tag line for the information caught my eye, “The least worldly are the happiest.”  I thought, “Hmmm, Isn’t that what Jesus said all along in the Gospels?”  As I looked at the others (Firefighters, special ed teachers, for example) it was a list of occupations that all require high service and usually get lower pay.  It was rather counter-intuitive to what society tells us.  This poll has been played out time and again.  It is our human nature: happiness and joy are not found in self-centeredness, but in service.  So why do we resist when the empirical data proves what Jesus said all along?
    In a word: trust.  To leave oneself open to God’s will requires trust.  Whether that will be towards marriage, professed religious life, priesthood, or remaining single, one must trust that God wants what is good for them and will give them the joy they so desire.  To trust means that we surrender control.  It means that we surrender our plans (as noble as they may be) and ask God what is His plan and what role do we play.  There are several common objections.  Let’s honestly deal with them.
    The first is “I don’t want to.”  Plain, simple, and up front lack of desire.  You will notice that when God calls, 99% of the time he doesn’t ask…he tells.  See Genesis 12: 1-3, Exodus 3:10, Jeremiah 1:4-5,  I Samuel 16:12, Ezekiel 2: 1-6, Jonah 1:1-2, Matthew 4:18-22, 9:9, Mark 1:16-22, 2:13-14, Luke 1:31-33, 5:1-11,27, John 1:35-39, Acts 9:5-6.  There is no ‘if you want to’ caveat attached.  In fact, God doesn’t seemed troubled in the least with upsetting any plans they had for themselves.  He had a plan for the salvation of all creation and that plan was more important to the whole than any singular plans they had for themselves.  Could each of them have said no?  Of Course.  We hear of Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, Jeremiah, Jonah, the Apostles, the Blessed Mother, and Paul because they ended up either immediately or after a bit of rebellion saying yes.  There is no such great record of those who ran and said no, but we know they did because of the evil humanity had fallen into.  “I don’t want to” is not the answer of a loving son, but the answer of a rebel.  God leaves us it up to us to choose.  One answer carries his blessing, the other turns away from those blessings.  We should never confuse free will with the right to rebel.  Those that rebel against God cannot expect to share His blessings.  The use of free will bears its consequences.
    So is God going to curse me for not following His will?  To answer this, I turn to Numbers 13:1- 14:25.  God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to a land ’flowing with milk and honey’ that was to be theirs.  God delivers them, provides for them, and now they are at the precipice of entering the Promised Land.  They send men to look at the land before hand.  They come back with tales that it is what God promised, but that there were also fortified cities and giants that dwelt there.  The people became scared and refused to trust God’s love and would not enter.  That was their choice.  God’s response was that they would  suffer the consequences of their choice.  They were banished from the Promised Land and left to wander in the wasteland of the desert for 40 years.  It was not what God wanted for them; it is what they chose in rejecting Him. 
    We do get to use our free will.  Free will, though has consequences.  God lets us follow those choices, but does not bless that which leads us away from His will.  Some will say that God is making their lives miserable if they don’t do what He wants.  How fair is that?  The misery doesn’t come from God taking it out on them, it comes from the isolation they have chosen.  It is unnecessary.   The joylessness and restlessness are a byproduct of disobedience.  There are so many wandering through deserts of their own creation; restless souls probing for meaning divorced from God’s will.  The bigger question is, “Why put yourself through that, when following God’s will brings such joy?”  Why go through all the drama, all the grief, and all the isolation?  What is gained through rebellion? 
    Our God is not a god who accepts excuses.  He doesn’t accept that one is too young (ask Samuel, David, and Jeremiah), too sinful (ask Peter and Paul), or just doesn’t want to (ask Jonah).  He knows who we are, after all, he made us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows what we can be like without the fear, isolation, anger, and excuses.  He knows what we can be through His grace.  Perhaps, then, we would do better to trust even when it looks like we will have face fears, stand tall, and sacrifice our own plans for that which is so much greater.  God doesn’t care whether someone wants to follow His will.  He calls.  Our response matters.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Catholic and Proud of it

There are two types of pride.  One is a deadly sin in which a person thinks so highly of oneself so as to distort truth and leave open the possibility of grave sin.  Of course, as followers of Christ, such pride would be not merely unbecoming, but outright dangerous to us.  The other pride is a willingness to acknowledge the truth and the good of who we are and what we represent.  We are Catholics, Roman Catholics (also known as Latin Rite Catholics), directly connected to the very foundations of the Church set up by Christ in His selection of the Apostles, given birth at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit, and sustained throughout two millenia by the grace of that same Holy Spirit and through the ongoing gift of self that is Christ’s grace, especially through the sacraments.
    From its very inception, the Church has been, as Pope Francis put it, ’a field hospital’ , a respite for sinners.  We have never been a museum of the sinless and ‘living- still-among-us’ saints.  We have been and continue to be a beckoning light to our fellow sinners who so desperately need the light of Christ in their own lives.  We have been blessed over the ages by a ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses’: men and women who gave selflessly of themselves in the name of Jesus so as to preach and teach the message of Christ and to actively engage in the addressing of the needs of the human condition.  We belong to the single largest giver of aid and charity in the world.  From this great cloud of witnesses came institutions so very common to us now: college and universities, hospitals, and the advancement of the sciences.  Catholic institutions continue to be at the very forefront and vanguard of aid and assistance to the poor and needy.  We were before our time in the education of the poor, women, and our schools were desegregated long before the public schools in this country were. 
    To be sure, the Church in her 2000 year existence has not been without her troubles and scandals. Ambition and intrigue are not foreign nor have ever been foreign to her day to day life.  We have had true scoundrels in our midst.  As the Church is populated by human beings, both in her clergy and laity, all of the faults, failings, and foibles will continue to ensure that the message of conversion and repentance never go unneeded.  Yet, for all of our failings, the Church still thrives; more a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our Triune God than to any merely human efforts.  The gentle hand of God guides us along, sometimes despite ourselves.
    We belong to a faith not given to following the latest trend or whims of society.  She has been around for millenia; she has seen these trends flow in and out with the regularity of the tide.  She doesn’t attach herself to such whims and stays steady even when that steadiness is challenged or even reviled from within or outside of the Church.  We might tweak how we do things, but we do not change why we do things.  Christ built His Church on rock, not on sand.  Even if we are the last one standing in defense, we do not cave in to ’modern’ trends.  We look beyond the present moment, casting our lot to eternity itself.  We are undeterred by the slings, arrows, and persecutions that every age of Christians has suffered.  Truth is truth.  We are its stewards.  Her teachings are steeped in many years of thought, prayer, reflection, and practice.  We readily apply age old principles to new challenges and problems.  It is not our nature to flee or surrender.
    Knowing all this is important, because we are the next line of both offense and defense.  We are the caretakers of this message and the latest round of witnesses.  We have the task of challenging, being challenged, and inviting all into a relationship with Christ and His people.  This is not an easy task.  In fact, this task can be overwhelming to the unprepared.  It is hard to witness that which we do not know.  The most dangerous type of Catholic is the one who lacks knowledge of their faith.  There cannot be action without knowledge.  The Catholic life has a very specific look and flavor; a life marked by an adherence to humility (truth), mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and charity.  It is not a passive identity, but an active identity.  It is not a spectator sport!  It is a life in which engagement is everything!
    When we have a proper pride in who we are (better yet, in who Christ is), it shows in every aspect of our lives.  The Gospel becomes something we long to savor, not an impediment to our time and pocketbook.  It becomes the prism by which every priority is set and every attitude established.  It becomes that which tempers evil and seeks longingly for the good.  It sees service as desirable, not as a burden.  It helps us to own our Catholic heritage.  It helps us to realize that faith must be pursued with a great gusto, born of a realization that it is one of the few things we take with us after our deaths. 
    This requires two things: first a knowledge of not merely what we believe but why we believe it.  Our faith is so much more than a collection of facts, theories, and other intellectually based items for us to mentally store like multiplication tables.  Faith spurs us to act out of that knowledge with great joy.  Time must be spent in study and prayer.  It is why we offer two adult education programs in this parish.  It is why we spend the monies, time, and energy we do on the education of our youth.  It has never been our intent to send soldiers onto the field of battle unarmed or without an awareness how to use their armaments.  It is why we have a parish library.  It is why we keep attempting to have a youth program.  It is to expand the possibilities of what can be done that we have the new building.  As I tell our students, I cannot make anyone learn anything.  I simply lack the power to do such things.  I can throw out seed, so to speak.  But each one of us has to want to know, want to believe, and want to be the witnesses and servants Christ asks us to be.  We stand accountable before Him.  No one presently in this parish will be able to say there were no opportunities or materials.  Thus the second thing needed is an openness to engage others with the gifts of knowledge and wisdom afforded us.
    There is so very much work that needs to be done.  Many hands might light work.  As I said in a previous homily, this parish does not merely exist to give one a convenient time and place to go to Mass.  This parish, as are all parishes and Catholic institutions, exists to continue the mission of Jesus Christ in the proclamation of the Good News.  We receive grace through the sacraments specifically to give us the strength to engage.   No member of the parish can say that they do not have a role to play in this mission: if you are baptized, you somehow share in this mission!  We must be a place that provides welcome and rest for the weary and the seeking…all of them!  How will you engage in this mission?  How will you be made ready to use the appropriate tools?  In this parish, there are no shortage of options, I have personally seen to that.  There is work to do; those in need of what Christ offers await.  It is time for all of us to suit up for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Death By a Thousand Cuts: Bleeding Syria

The images are heart-breaking and deeply disturbing.  They are also seemingly coming at us in steady supply.  Since the civil war within Syria erupted in March 2011, estimates place the death toll at over 100,00 and rising.  Over 2 million have been driven from their homes.  The litany of horrific atrocities committed by all sides in this conflict read like a slasher movie plot.  The dead are not just combatants, but innocent men, women, and children purposely butchered in many almost psychotically induced ways.  Christianity is being eradicated and strongly persecuted as it is in Egypt and Iraq.  Alawite and Kurd minorities are also suffering greatly.  There are no good guys in  this struggle, just a variety of different murderers.  There is no real end in sight.  One wonders what will be left when the smoke does start to clear.

What to do?  This seems to be the big question nowadays.  Our government and other other world governments are debating this after chemical weapons were used.  It was called crossing a red line.  It was barbaric that such weapons were used, to be sure.  How, though, are those 1400 or so deaths any more outrageous and barbaric than the 100,000 who were shot, beheaded, blown up , beaten and tortured, or any of the other hosts of ways the people of Syria have been butchered?  How will adding to the bloodshed by adding our weapons to the mix either through giving them one side ( a side aligned with those behind the 9/11 attacks) or by cutting out the middle man and just launching them ourselves help at all?  Has not the last 12 years of war in the Middle east assured us that violence begets violence?  Is there any sane indication that our bombing Syria will stem the crimson tide of blood already washing over Syria?  Will our involvement cause one side to cease and desist?  Will it not, perhaps, be like lacing a stick of dynamite and spilling this civil war beyond the borders of Syria?  There has got to be a better way.  We need to search for it and search quickly.  We have tried battles, war, military action, sanctions, and endless negotiations.  We have exhausted every human form of solution only to watch this endless cycle of violence continue.

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to fast and pray this Saturday with the intent of peace in Syria.  Seems simplistic doesn't it?  Not at all!  Prayer and fasting are a way of admitting our own helplessness in this matter and seeking divine answers.  After the Transfiguration account in the Gospel of Mark (9:14-29), as Jesus, Peter, James, and John are coming down from the mountain they encounter the other apostles struggling with a possessed boy who is possessed by a very violent spirit.  They are unable to exorcise the demon.  After Jesus does so, he tells them that some demons (and hence demonic activity..and what is happening in Syria is nothing short of demonic) can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.  In short we are called to face great evil with great love.  Taking the time out to be conscious enough to disrupt our eating cycles through fasting and allowing those hunger pangs and disruptions to remind us to pray and lead us to pray are acts of selfless love.  We move beyond ourselves for the sake of others.  Such prayer can have a profound affect on the the person and grant grace to clarify the right path or options.  I can assure you that the people in Syria, especially our Christian brothers and sisters need this more than more weapons and bombs!  It will definitely help to achieve more than yet more killing and maiming will ever do.

As Catholics, we are supposed to stand for that which is of peace and love.  We cannot engage in the vicious cycle of revenge.  Not in international relations.  Not is our own personal relations.  Not in Syria.  Not in our homes.  A day of prayer and fasting goes in the right direction.  Actively helping those who have been driven from their lands and homes is a step in the right direction.  Encouraging our leaders to refrain from adding yet more violence to the mix is a step in the right direction. I cannot encourage you enough to heed our Pope's call to fast and pray.  For those who are brother and sister Christian, prayer and fasting is appropriate as well.  For those who are of other faiths or no faith at all: I believe we can all agree that the current state of affairs must cease and that violence as an answer will not help this situation in the slightest.  At some point, the good have no put their foot down and say "no more".   

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Other Unnecessary Yoke: Revenge

If you have not caught on yet, I really love Zion National Park.  A lot.  It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life.  It is an appropriately named park.  ‘Zion’ is from the Hebrew the name of a mount on which Jerusalem was built.  It was a sanctuary in that it was highly and easily defendable.  With its towering walls, the city of Jerusalem which was set on Mount Zion was practically unbeatable.  In both the Old and New Testament, Mount Zion became an image of God’s Kingdom and its protection.  The nations of the world were to steam towards it. At the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelations, the new Jerusalem appears as the fulfillment of heaven.  Entrance to the city is offered but never guaranteed.  In fact, Jesus tells us to enter through the narrow gate.  Why? Because only the unyoked could pass through the narrow gate.  Last post, I wrote about how the yoke of self-centeredness prohibits us from entering heaven.  There is another yoke, born from self-centeredness that is even more deadly.  This yoke is the grudges and lack of forgiveness we carry about needlessly.

This yoke is properly called, I would suppose, the yoke of wrath.  Wrath is anger that seeks revenge.  Anger of itself is merely an emotion that alerts us that we have been hurt.  At that moment we have one of two options.  We can either dismiss the anger through forgiveness or we can allow the anger to fester into a yoke that will crush us.  That yoke then leads us to bitterness, vengeance, and further away from God.  In Dante’s poem, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, the wrathful occupy the 5th  circle of Hell, wallowing in a swamp where the angry forever are at war with one another and those who hold grudges or repressed anger drown for eternity in the venom of their own anger. Does not sound pleasant.  Nonetheless, this effectively happens when we do engage in wrath and why it becomes an iron yoke which keeps us from entering the narrow gate.

    In my continued reading of Fr Larry Richards’ book, “Surrender: The Life Changing Power of Doing God’s Will”, he talks about how the hurt and anger we carry hurts us and everyone else around us.  Mostly it hurts the individual insistent on carrying it.  The only way to relieve ourselves is to forgive.  It is the only way to throw this particularly cruel yoke from our backs.  In fact, when we act on the anger, passively or actively, we only press down harder on our own yoke.  Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.  It has an eternal consequence.  A consequence we actually pray for every time we pray the Our Father.

    Every time we pray the Our Father, we are either making a profession of faith or are actively condemning ourselves.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Read that line over and over again.  Spend some time praying about it!  Either this line will awash over us with great consolation or it will terrify us to our core!  That line becomes a standard.  Why would God set such a standard?  Doesn’t He understand the great harm and hurt others have done and even continue to do to us?!   What about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?

    In Matthew 5: 38-42, Jesus addresses this. “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  But I say to you…turn the other cheek.”  Why?  First, He knows His Father is not primarily about the revenge business.  Jesus’ presence among us itself speaks to this.  Were the Father interested in revenge against those who try to hurt Him through rebellion (sin), there would be no Jesus.  There would be nothing but divine wrath constantly tormenting us.  There would be no hope.  The Father sends the Son specifically because He is NOT interested in revenge; one who loves is not one who is enslaved by the hurts inflicted by others!  Love naturally leads to mercy.  One who is without mercy or is quick to judge is one in whom love has not fully found a home.  If God is not interested in revenge then neither can we be.

    The second reason is that God wants us to be joyful.  There can be no lasting joy where there is anger and a desire for revenge.  Jesus wants to remove such awful weights from our shoulders and enable to free us to walk uprightly and in true freedom and joy.  We benefit from our own exercise of mercy!  We know from physiology that anger has drastic negative affects on the individual: ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a whole host of physical and psychological disorders which diminish the quality of our lives.  Why would any sane person want to carry around such things?!   Mercy to the benefit of all!  A loving God wants us free from such constraints, such burdensome yokes!  There is no sane reason to keep this yoke.

    It comes down to our own oftentimes heroic decision: to no longer hold against others the damage and harm they have done.  Humility makes us realize it is not a standard we want other to hold to us and certainly not a standard we want God to hold with us.  There is no necessity to carry the yoke nor drink the poison.  None at all!  Step into the sanctuary of Zion and allow God’s mercy to wash upon you and free you.  Let go of the weight and burden of grudges and anger!  God wants better for you.  He will not pry the yoke from you.  He will, however, lift it off your shoulders should you allow Him to.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unnecessary Yoke


In Matthew 11:28-30, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “Come to me , all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me , for I am gentle and humble of heart.  Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”  A yoke, for those who do not know, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is a ‘wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (oxen for example)are joined at the head or the neck for working together or an arched device formerly  laid on the neck of a defeated person.  It was a sign of servitude or slavery.  A person yoked, unlike an animal, was enslaved and defeated.  This passage come at the end of chapter 11 in which Jesus both chastised those who fail to put faith in Him and to thank His Father for those who do.  There are two yokes: one the people are currently wearing and one that he wishes to give us that alleviates the burden presented by the first yoke.

    So what are the yokes?  For the last month, I have been reading Fr Larry Richard’s book, “Surrender, the Life-Changing Power of Doing God’s Will.”  For the last several weeks I have also been studying humility.  In all this, it occurred to me in a much deeper way than before that the two yokes are self-centeredness and love.  Two yokes diametrically opposed to one another.  I would imagine that if one becomes accustomed to a weight, even a crushing weight, one adapts.  The yoke of this world, self-centeredness, is indeed a crushing weight.  It is a yoke that no Christian is called nor created to carry, it is an unnecessary yoke.

    It is easy to imagine that it suffices to claim the name of Christian to so many even though they still posses this yoke of iron.  This yoke tells us that happiness and peace come from self-satisfaction.  It is the primary message of this world and of our society.  It is highly destructive and wholly enslaving.  It is a perpetual drug that tells us if we just keep taking more hits that eventually we will find happiness in a lasting fashion.  But it never really works, does it?  One of the greater epiphanies I ever had happened to me when I was 24.  I realized that no amount of money would ever be enough.  I realized that no promotion or power would ever be enough.  I realized that no amount of worldly good, toys, and pleasure would ever be enough.  I realized I was living a life of perpetual want with no way to win.  It is the inevitable conclusion when we focus on the self, it leads to a profound emptiness that no worldly thing can fulfill.
    The yoke of Jesus removes the blinders from our eyes and gives us true clarity of vision.  Because it is bound in truth, it is easier and satisfying.  Selfless love is its own reward.  Love gives us the joy and contentment our hearts so desire.  It gives us peace in this life (despite the storms that rage around us) and becomes a  wellspring of God’s grace to eternal life.  In Matthew 6: 19- 20, Jesus reminds us to not accrue treasure for ourselves that by their nature can and will be destroyed, but to accrue treasure in heaven that can never be taken away nor wither away.  This yoke, because it is the yoke Christ Himself carries, is mostly carried by Him.

    I am finding, in my own life, that the more I allow the yoke of Christ to be the only yoke, the happier I am.  It comes down to a choice.  Which yoke?  The yoke that oppresses me and leads me to fields that will never satisfy?  Or the yoke carried by Christ that leads to the fulfillment of all our deepest and worthiest hopes and desires.  Christ does not make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  Our choice determines our destiny in this life and the life to come.  I would imagine there are so many who do feel weary and tired.  I would imagine that we want to be free of worry and a slavish devotion to desires that will always remained unfulfilled.  Selfless love, in the person of Christ, is the way that breaks those fetters.

This concept is not foreign to the people of Jesus’ time.  Like the people of today, they wanted the basics, they wanted freedom from the Roman Empire, they wanted life as good as it gets.  Even among those who were satiated in the world’s goods, even these could not find rest for their souls.  They chased after anyone who said they could provide a better life.  When Jesus comes, he also says he can lead them to a better way, a better life.  But not in the way they were looking for.  They were looking for a physical satiation.  Anyone who does so is locked in self-involvement.  Self-involvement is the yoke of a defeated person; a yoke that can only crush under the weight of its undoable expectations.  What Jesus came to do was remove that yoke and give us a much lighter constraint to our actions.  His yoke was the yoke to selflessly love as God selflessly loves.  He came to utterly change the focus of each person. 

  The yoke of this world, because it is bound in selfish desire, can only lead to sin.  The yoke of this world leads the person to act as if all in this world is for their disposal.  Other persons becomes means to an end to self-gratification.  It leads to various addictions because the high afforded always goes away and needs to be re-engaged with. The yoke of this world keeps us in constant worry, seeking to hoard as much as we can for ourselves, while others suffer.  This yoke is necessary for all of the seven deadly sins. The yoke of the world can so blind us that we become like the rich man of  Luke 16: 19-31, who is so self-absorbed that he fails to even notice (let alone help) Lazarus, the beggar who laid at his door.  It causes to withhold our time, energy, and resources from God in fear that we won’t have enough.  It fills us so much that we can do all this and still demand that God give us more and become indignant and doubtful of God when more is not given.

It might sound like a weird thing to call selfless love a yoke.  Yokes do provide the person driving the team a way of maintaining direction.  The one who selflessly loves has to continually lay their own self-interest aside.  As was pointed out in the homily last week,  the humble person (without humility we cannot selflessly love) is set free from worry about oneself as is able to completely give themselves as a gift to others and to God.  It was also pointed out that without this love and humility we could never be exalted by God to the Kingdom of Heaven.  As God gives us the grace to love, to be humble, and to be freed from the shackles of selfishness, He rightly expects that we will utilize this grace and take His own yoke, that is, His own love, and make it our way of life.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Humility: The essential virtue that opens all possibility

A few weeks back I was in Zion National Park.  One morning my friend and I decided to hike a trail called "Angel's Landing".  It rises almost 1500 ft above the canyon floor below.  It was an ambitious hike, especially for one with 2 bad knees, a bad left ankle, and...well let's just face who is carrying the equivalent of a 7th grader, weight-wise, everywhere he goes.  Going up was interesting.  More often than not I sounded like Darth Vader having an asthma attack in an echo chamber.  But after saying to myself both internally and out loud that I would not be conquered, I forged on with my friend.
  After a myriad of switchbacks and a walk through a canyon that bred a false sense of security, we came to an even more daunting set of switchbacks that led to what is called Scout Lookout.  Scout Lookout sits at roughly 1250 ft above the canyon floor.  When I looked at the trail that led to Angel's Landing, I knew I was in over my head.  The last part was cut into rock, with all the people scattered on it looked more like a busy anthill than trail, and required what is called scrambling (more an exercise of climbing than walking). I knew in all honesty, that even though I had been able to make it so far, that given my weight, my bad joints, and a slight fear of heights, that it would not be wise to go any farther.  I knew, however, were I to lose the weight, finally do something about my knees, and get in better shape, that this hike could be a possibility.  It wasn't now.  I had to be honest about that even though it did embarrass me to admit it.  Had I tried, others might well have had the unenviable task of hauling me back down and I am sure would have possibly traumatized some.  I do not tell this tale to cast myself in a downward light.  It is the truth.  The truth, at the end of the day, is what is important and worthy of being acted upon.  One cannot see the truth until one engages in humility.

In preparing for the homily this weekend, a homily focusing on Luke 14: 1, 7-14, an instruction from Christ on humility, I came upon on article by Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio.  In it I found some very profound understandings of just what humility is.  I was caught with the line, "Humility does not mean looking down on oneself or thinking ill of oneself.  It really means not thinking of oneself very much at all."  Humility opens oneself to truth.  Where there is truth, one will also find God, the author of all truth.  St. John the Apostle reminds us time and again that the very nature of God is love; the complete self emptying of oneself for the good of the other.  Humility opens us to love because it opens us to properly respond to love God has already shown for us.

Humility naturally, beautifully, and powerfully leads us to move beyond ourselves and our own concerns.  It frees us from the preoccupation with self that shackles us with the chains of worrying about how we are perceived, the necessity to manipulate how we are thought of, the necessity to flaunt our wealth, power, or status, and all else that keep us from experiencing the true freedom of being those made in the image and likeness of God.  Dr. D'Ambrosio puts it so much better than I can:
The humble are free to forget themselves because they are secure.  They accept the fact that, as creatures, they are small, vulnerable, and not ultimately in control.  But they know there is a Creator who is great, omnipotent, and totally in control.  And they know that they’ve been made in the image and likeness of that Creator.  That makes gives them a dignity that they don’t have to earn and can never be taken away.  Though they’ve tarnished the divine likeness through sin, they know that the Creator came down from the heights of heaven to become human and fix what they couldn’t fix.
So when they mess up, the humble don’t have to cover up.  They just say “please forgive me,” give thanks for God’s mercy, and move on.  And when their creaturely limitations cause them to fail, they are not surprised.  They realize that they are not God.

All this is simply a way of saying that the humble are in touch with reality.  If the definition of insanity is being out of touch with reality, then our proud world with its “nice guys finish last” illusion is clearly insane.

Since the humble are secure, they are strong.  And since they have nothing to prove, they don’t have to flaunt their strength or use it to dominate others.  Humility leads to meekness.  And meekness is not weakness.  Rather, it is strength under control, power used to build up rather than tear down.
The humble are not threatened either by God’s greatness or the reflection of that greatness in the talents of others.  In fact, this is what naturally catches their eye and absorbs their attention – the goodness of God, wherever it may be found.

The form of prayer that extols God’s goodness is called praise.  The activity that honors God’s goodness in other people is called affirmation.  The humble take delight in praising God and affirming people.

The reason the humble take the last place of honor at the table is not because they think ill of themselves, but because they are preoccupied with honoring others.  And the reason people ask them to move higher is because they know this admirable attitude is rare.  In fact it is actually divine.  It is exactly the way the three Divine Persons relate to each other.  The Father glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father, and the Spirit is so preoccupied with glorifying the Father and the Son that most of us feel we really don’t know much about Him.

Life is infinitely more freeing when the preoccupation with oneself and it heavy yoke are lifted from our shoulders.  Humility frees us to love and to serve.  It frees us from earthly constraints and frees us from the deceit and machinations of the devil.  It is Satan that continually tempts us towards endless self-involvement. So self deceived is he that he spreads the deception that happiness can only be found through self gratification and being served.  This is what he himself believes.  It is an empty and pain filled spiral in that deception never brings about connection with reality.  It is only distorts and frustrates.  One cannot find joy, contentment, nor peace in self-indulgence; any joy garnered is temporary at best and below expectation usually.  It is one of the main reasons we live in such a bitterly divided and angry society.  Because God wants better for us, we should as well.  The first step to experiencing the freeing love and joy we are called to and created for, first comes through humility.

Let us pray for and strive for that humility.  Let us move beyond ourselves and seek the truth.  Let us in truth know who we are, who God is, and who we are before God.  It is humility that we are given the strength to forge ahead unencumbered by the chains of self-preoccupation. It is in humility that we no longer need the accumulation of wealth, power, pleasure and honor to define us or satiate us.  It is in humility that we are no longer shackled by the fear of other people's perceptions of us. It tells us where God's action is already present and where it needs to be deepened.  The person who is humble is the person without fear and who possesses great strength and uses said strength to build up others...and takes great joy in doing so.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

To Love and be Loved

The strongest human desire is that of being loved.  It is in the deep recesses of the human heart a burning desire to be loved, to know that someone else treasures, needs, and wants our very existence.  It might well be the impetus that drives us to do the vast majority of what we do.  While in the desert southwest, I noticed a massive concentration of the new age movement.  While talking to a friend about the experience it occurred to me that people are driven to such things because they want to feel love.  They want to feel affirmation in a world that can be very cold and callous.  They want to be told they are good people and all the struggles they go through count for something.  I believe that many who come to Church look for the same thing.  We want to feel loved.  We want to feel as if someone notices and appreciates the struggles we deal with and gives some credence to who we are.  Many leave because they don't feel that.  Many rarely practice the faith because they don't feel that.  I posit it is because we need to tweak our approach a bit.

In the Scriptures, when it comes to love there is a correct order, an order that God Himself models.  The relationship between God and ourselves never begins with "You love me" but with "I love you".  When God establishes a relationship with Israel, it is not because they first approached Him in love, but that he loved them.  Wednesday of last week was the Feast of St. Augustine.  In his memoirs, known as the Confessions of St. Augustine, he acknowledges how God loved him far before Augustine loved God.  He acknowledges how his own heart was restless seeking to be loved until he turn to love God.  It was only after Augustine sought to love rather than to be loved, that the door of God's grace was able to flow in abundance upon him.Augustine came to understand and preach that in order to feel that base desire of being loved, we first had to love.

St. John Chrysostom reminds us that love is primarily an open gift of oneself for the good of another.  Love, by its nature, is outward bound.  It flows from the self as pure gift.  Without the outward flow, the inward flow becomes blocked.  God's love is there long before our response, but our understanding and cognition of it is stymied until we allow ourselves to selflessly love.  This is why love is properly a virtue and not an emotion.  Virtues always seek the good of another, emotions always seek the good of oneself.  If we are to ever properly feel the love of God in its fullness, then we must love God first.

This greatly impacts the practice of faith.  No longer do I come to the Church primarily to receive but to give. I don't come to get something out of it as I come to Church to primarily come to give God my love, adoration, and thanksgiving.  Ironically, it is in giving that thanksgiving offering to God that I receive the fullness of His love, most clearly and powerfully shown through the Eucharist.  That love provokes us not just for an hour on the weekend, but throughout our lives and powerfully get gently transforms us.  It becomes the fulfillment of our desire to be loved.  It continually build upon itself, drawing us closer and closer into a satisfying relationship with God and consequently with His people.

All of this hinges, though, on our own personal decision of focus: Is my life about the search to love or be loved?  One side produces little fruit and the other produces abundant fruit.  One leaves us on a continual search never finding what we are looking for; the other leads us to fulfillment.  If we are to be loved, we must first love.  In love, we open ourselves to God and His will to totally love us.  Sacred Scripture reminds us to be still and know that God is God.  That stillness will never come, as I can attest to, with a preoccupation with self; it only comes with a willingness to love both God and our neighbor.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Musings from the Desert: What occupies my mind while on vacation

This week, I am on vacation out west.  I am currently in Zion National Park.  It is beyond beautiful.  I have been doing a fair bit of hiking, which leaves me the mental room to think and pray about things.  All the rush rush rush of parish life is put into suspended animation for me (not for my poor secretary who I am sure is ripping her hair right about now), so my mind starts to fill with ponderables. Since I still carry my disdain for TV with me, I read when relaxing.   In order to start preparing for the summer camps of 2014 (yes, those themes for the camp take months of prep work) and I know we are focusing on the theological virtue of hope, I downloaded Spe Salvi (Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical on hope) and Fr Larry Richards' new book "Surrender: The Life Changing Power of Doing God's Will.  It was a fortuitous download.  It has got me thinking about what it is we hope for.

I would assume most people who say they believe in God would say they want to go to heaven.  Two questions come to mind: 1) Why? and 2) Do they appreciate what it takes to get there.  Given that my pretty little noggin is not pre-occupied with new buildings, budgets, classes, vocation work, pastoral ministry and such at this moment in time, I have let this swirl around in my bonnet for awhile. So here we go:

Why do we want to go to heaven?  I am sure it beats the alternative.  But why do we want to go?  I guess what we picture heaven as being comes into play.  I like hiking.  I have done quite a bit of it this week.  Maybe heaven is full of incredible hiking trails with awesome vistas..I could have  all eternity to hike unencumbered by other concerns.  Maybe it is full of fishing, knitting, or whatever my favorite activity is.  Maybe it will be being surrounded by my loved ones.  Notice a trend?  It is all about me.  What I like.  What I want.  Entrance into such a realm is dependent upon whatever  terms I set.  If it is nothing more than being a 'good' person by whatever standard I set and truth be told, usually it is a low standard for myself and high standard for others.  You'll notice that I have not once brought up God.  God, in this definition of heaven is nothing more than a co-tenant of heaven...the guy in the penthouse you never see except in the elevator.  He is nothing more than someone else that happens to be there as opposed to the King of Heaven and the Lord Creator of all things visible and invisible. Here is where the party ends.

Heaven isn't a reward for not being a total tool of a human being where I get to further indulge whatever earthly desires I have.  It is what is was created to be...a place of complete union with God...a place where the relationship we wanted with God, a relationship set on His terms, comes to its ultimate existence. We become totally united with Him who created us for the specific purpose of such eternal union.  Our time here is an answer to God:  Do I wish that eternal union and am I willing to show that through my own actions, words. priorities, attitudes, and foci?  The hinge lies in our ability to respond through grace to the call to love God and love one another.  The only true response to God's love is God's utter selflessness by which we serve, we surrender, we place others first in all things.  We can either choose such love and become saints in heaven or reject such love for selfish desire and choose hell.  As Fr. Richards says in his aforementioned book ever so bluntly, "We have one of two choices: we can become saints or go to hell."  Heaven is not a virtual playground for self-indulgence.  It is not a realm where I get to dictate whatever I want and call it heaven.  What it is is so far beyond our comprehension, that our paltry flights of fancy and whimsical longings cannot come close to what it is.  But one must love God and neighbor, as the Scriptures so often remind us is we can even think that heaven be a possibility. 

So, do we appreciate what it takes to get there?  Christ tells us that the path to heaven is a winding narrow path.  It is not easy.  To use an analogy: Today I hiked a trail that rose 1250 feet in altitude from the trailhead over the course of 2 and half miles.  I am seriously overweight and have two not so good knees and a bad left ankle.  It was quite the endeavor to make it to the top.  Over and over again I said to myself (and sometimes out loud) that I will not be conquered.  I would not let the weight of years of poor decisions about my health keep me from making it to the top.  But to get there I had to use a body that I did not provide for myself.  I had to walk a path I had not created.  I didn't get to determine the steepness, widths, cutbacks, and altitude of the trail.  I had to walk the one that laid before me.  Fortunately I had a friend with me and a 2 liter water bladder and liter camelbak to give me the hydration I needed to stay on the trail. Now, the vista was worth every bit of the struggle. 

By the same token, I must follow the path to heaven as the path has been laid out.  Every step requires a death to self and an embracing of love.  I cannot let the weight of sin so weigh me down as to prevent forward motion. As I walk the path, I have to trust that the builder of that path knew what He was doing when the path was created.  He provides nourishment for me to keep making those steps through His grace and especially the grace given through the Sacraments. Why a 'good' Catholic can think for a second that heaven is within reach when they can't be bothered with the sacramental life of the Church makes about as much sense as me hiking the Angels' Landing Trail 
(yes, that was really the name of the trail) without hydration.  We have the Communion of the Saints and the Grace of God to accompany us on this journey.  We must act and believe that we will not be conquered by sin and by selfish desire.  It is not an easy journey, but again what lays at the top is so far beyond out wildest dreams. 

Heaven is not a place of perpetual self-indulgence...that would be hell...being stuck for eternity with that which even in this own life could only momentarily satisfy at the cost of being eternally separated from that which can eternally satisfy.  To have that, and hence heaven, means taking the narrow difficult path and living a resounding yes to God's love by showing that love ourselves.  That will reflect in how we treat others.That will show itself in the time and energy we give to God.  I have often said that I find it odd that those who say they want an eternity with God in heaven cannot be bothered to spend a hour with Him of Sunday (usually with some lame excuse how they don't need Church to have God...usually a divine candy machine who dutifully dumps out goodies in response to whatever requests I have) or a half hour a day doing something to use His grace to build up the relationship we are called to have with Him.  God is not a happenstance co-tenant of heaven; he won't just happen to be there to indulge your passions:  heaven is result of a relationship desired with Him.  Too often we agree with Billy Joel's loathsome lyric "I would much rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun." It is all about me having fun...not having fun and being other centered is hellish and fun and self-indulgence are heaven.  Sorry, Mr Joel, like so many in this world it is time to drop the mirror, there, Narcissus, and get over yourself.  Heaven is where there is eternal joy and hell eternal regret.  Take the narrow winding path.  It will be worth it.

And that is the kind of stuff that I think about and pray about whilst on vacation. :)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why We Need Miracles

Last Sunday, a horrible accident happened on Missouri Route 19, near Center Mo.  It is a stretch of road I have traveled many times.  A young lady was trapped in her car and there was great difficulty in extracting her.  She had been hit by a man who chose, allegedly, to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.  As she laid pinned to her steering wheel, she asked those trying to rescue her to pray aloud with her.  I would bet this is not something they hear often.  From nowhere a priest shows up, anoints the young lady with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, assures everyone to be calm and then seemingly disappears in to the ether.  No one knows who he is.  He does not match the description of any nearby priests, all of whom would have been at Mass in their respective parishes that morning.  Was he a priest on vacation?  Was he an order priest on his way to a parish?  Who knows?  Was he an angel, as some speculate?  Who knows?  What matters is that God heard the young lady's prayers and intervened.

In reading the comments sections of the various postings of this story, there were many who wanted to rally around this as a miracle.  There were also those who scoffed at such a notion.  The anti-Catholic haters made their appearance as did the militant atheists. The objection I saw over and over again is why did this accident even take place?  If God loved this young lady so much why did he allow her to get in an accident?  The whole thing was just dumb luck in their eyes.  For many more, it is a moment of grace.  We need those.

We need them because the world is unfair and capricious.  The reason the young lady was in the accident was because a young man thought it fine to get behind the wheel of a car intoxicated.  Because of his poor use of free will, other people ended up paying a dire price.  This is nothing new.  This doesn't make this young man a special kind of evil. It just points out how the stupidity of our own actions bear directly on others.  No choice happens in a vacuum.  It is why Catholics are called to be in battle with sin; it hurts others as well as ourselves.  The victims of these events are often collateral damage of human selfishness.  This young lady also made a choice.  She chose to turn to God in her distress and ask those helping her to do so as well.  He answered.

The odds of a priest being on that road on Sunday morning are overwhelmingly small.  Yet he is there.  Most priests do keep their oils in their cars for just such an emergency.  It would not be irregular for a priest to do what this priest did.  It is part of our call.  I have had to do this myself.  It is also part of our calling to bring calm in the Lord; to settle down moments of panic.  It is refreshing to see a positive story about a priest doing what we do everyday in some form or another.  Even if it were an angelic intervention, how interesting is it that it comes in the form of a priest offering the Anointing of the Sick?  This would be something for anti-Catholic Christians to ponder.

The Christian faithful needs these miracles and moments of grace.  The world is growing more and more isolating and violent everyday.  Our news is an endless repetition of savagery, inhumanity, callousness, and greed.  Bloodshed and violence are heaped onto our plates everyday.  Fear of our government and economy grow as we watch our freedoms and resources ebb away little by little.  It instills a sense of helplessness and ultimately doubt in God's care for us.  Moments such as this event have a way of reminding us that God does care, does intervene, and does reach out to those who trust in Him.  He carries us in our troubles, agonies, and problems that are a part of this life.

The non-believer, however, has no choice but to scoff, mock, and dismiss.  As their only hope is in this world  and the short lifetime we are given here, the sense of hopelessness only sets in deeper as they see the same things we do.  They either ignore it through total self-consumption or rage against religion because it doesn't protect them from the free choice of others nor does it give them all they want, in the quantity they want, and it isolates them from any divine compassion.  They need there to be no miracles and no divine power.  If such things do exists, they know that all of their reality is built on sand and that they are blowing the one chance they  have at happiness.  This is why so many are so angry.  Life with no God is an angry and desolate place; an exercise in futility that no amount of money, power, honor, or pleasure can satiate.  It is something I want no part of. Furthermore, it is not reality.

Over the course of the priesthood I have been called to, I have seen so many things that can only be qualified as miracles, as moments of grace by which God makes know his care for me and for those around me.  They remind me not only of His goodness, but the goodness I am called to live in conjunction with others.  It is the regulator when I am ready to do something knowingly sinful, knowing that others will be hurt by my exercise of free will.  Miracles are necessary to remind us that God is watching and He does respond.  They remind us to stay on course and not let the evil we see so regularly bog us down into depression, doubt, and hopelessness. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Attitude towards Evil

    In last weekend’s homily I talked about the row happening in the Texas State House as pro-abortion and pro-life groups clash over the proposed sweeping legislation  that would outlaw all abortion after 20 weeks in Texas and that abortion clinics be held to the same standards that all other medical facilities are held to in Texas.  This would close all but 5 abortion clinics in Texas as the majority, though they claim to be about women’s health, do not bother to raise themselves to standard health practices that all other medical facilities must carry.  This is telling, but I digress.  In the midst of the protest from the pro-abortion side, very ugly and evil things have been said.  From praising Satan to saying awful things about he Church to thuggish outbursts of wrath, the other side is not exactly doing themselves any favors in the PR department.  But the images of the anger, the audio of the chants being said, and the rabid ’abortion on demand and without apology’ attitude are off-putting because they are deeply disturbing and thoroughly evil.   This is about the wanting to slaughter infants in the womb; they mask their intent by wrapping it up in the euphemism ‘pro-choice’, but the choice in question is abortion.

    Abortion is evil.  There is no way around this.  It is perpetrated by groups who prey on scared women who under ordinary circumstances would not make such decisions.  It requires a dehumanization of the child in the womb.  This is very dangerous territory.  The dehumanization of a group is first and foremost necessary in the extinction of that group.  Slave owners had to dehumanize the black man and woman so as to justify their owning them as if they were livestock; to justify their buying and selling of human beings. Nazi Germany had to justify their mass slaughter of Jews, handicapped, homosexuals, mentally challenged, and such by dehumanizing these groups.  It is unsettling to admit, from a purely non-emotional viewpoint, it is what has been done with the pre-born in this country and around the world.  Its wanton use is an extension of the eugenics beliefs that were the foundation of Nazi Germany and of Planned Parenthood foundress Margaret Sanger.  Anyone who has read her writings knows that she was a eugenicist and  wished the extermination of ‘human weeds’ through birth control and sterilization.  This is just a matter of historical fact.
    I will wager that most who are pro-choice do not understand this.  I like to believe in the basic fairness and goodness of people and count that when the veil has been drawn that is hiding evil for what it is, they will recoil in horror and switch sides.  I do believe the more we recognize the humanity of the child in the womb and see that life as a precious gift, the better off we will be as a person and as a society. I believe this about those who have had a abortion as well.  Abortion is psychologically a trauma inducing event.  There are wonderful programs like “Rachel’s Vineyard’ that are specifically designed to help those who have suffered an abortion to receive the help necessary to properly grieve and heal.  It is highly unwise and against our faith to condemn those who have had an abortion without reaching out to help and heal.  As Catholics, our first option is always mercy and compassion.  It is not condemnation and shunning!  Why?  Because were God interested in condemnation and shunning, He would never have sent His Son.  He does, however, and that needs to sink into our hearts, minds, and souls.
    The bigger question is what do we do with the rabid evil doer.  What we do with the hate filled and unrepentant?  Certainly this circus in Austin, Texas has shown us the wrathful face of such people.  I have had suggested to me that Scripture tells us to write them off and shake the dust from our feet in witness against them.   Those who reject Christ do so at their own peril.  Those who reject God’s love choose a path of eternal desolation, isolation, and sadness that will eternally inflict them with the same agony of fire.  When I see the faces of those screaming obscenities, praising darkness and evil, encouraging selfishness and narcissism, it does not enrage me to seek and rejoice in their condemnation; it leads me to mourn what they are doing to themselves, mourn for the path they are choosing, and pray for their conversion.  It leads me to extend the same attitude that Christ first showed me in my own sinfulness and selfishness.  In all humility, my mortal sins accomplish the same end as those whom I am seeing in Texas State House.  Mortal sin is mortal sin.  If I wish God to have mercy on me, then, as Scripture repeatedly reminds us, my attitude towards others MUST be one of mercy as well.   The Gospel never tells us to gloat over the downfall of those who oppose Christ.  Each person who chooses that downfall of their own free will was not created for that downfall. 

    Our attitude is to be of mercy to all.  Sometimes we can act as if condemnation of peoples somehow will make things better.  It doesn’t.  Do we condemn actions?  Absolutely!  Do we condemn people?  Absolutely not!  That belongs to God alone. For our part, we are to pray for and extend mercy towards those who are filled with hate towards us.  It is the only way the Gospel has been spread.  St. Paul went into hostile territory many times over.  St. Peter did as well.  So did St. Patrick…and St Boniface…and SS. Cyril and Methodius…and St Isaac Jocques…St Thomas More…St Francis Xavier…and this list could go on and on.  Mercy and evangelization are not a one and done kind of thing!  As long as others are drawing breath, the possibility for embracing Christ is possible.  We cannot sit idly by or even self-righteously by and take comfort in another’s condemnation.

    It goes to a primary disposition of how we view others.  All are sinners in God’s eyes, St. Paul reminds us, but He still loves each and every one if us nonetheless.  While He will allow to abide by our decisions for or against Him, He will always call us back as long as we live and breathe.  If this is His attitude to those who would call themselves His enemies, can our attitude be any less?  No Catholic should rejoice in or even need people in hell!  There will be and that is so very sad.  We do not get to set the guest list for hell.  We must always give witness to and example  of the Gospel.  We must never write anyone off as beyond redemption or salvation…ever! For as long as they are here, the opportunity exist.  Thus we have a duty to reach out.  When a person is drowning, we do what we can to reach out to save them; we don’t take glee in their mistake, we don’t sit in condemnation, we don’t ignore them.  When I see the faces of those deformed by their own hate and selfishness, I do not see something to ignore or despise…quite the opposite!  I see someone to pray for and extend a loving mercy to- not in some smarmy self-righteous condescending way, but as one who actively wants their good…even if they don’t currently want it for themselves.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Contra Contraception

this is taken from my weekly pastor's pen in my parish bulletin

            Over the years I have written many columns.  Some have been easy, most have been difficult.  One, though, I have absolutely dreaded writing and have often prayed for both the courage to write it and the wisdom to write it well. So, here we go….

            If I were to tell you that dying your hair pea green and painting your face blue was the norm, you would hopefully think I had gone mad.  But if I persisted and got others to join me and dye their hair green and such it would start to be seen first as abnormal.  If I successfully enlisted the entertainment complex to back me up, got scientists to concoct scientific proofs at the advantage of such behavior and got more and more people to do it till most people did it, what was at one time the abnormal becomes the norm, and those who opposed it would be seen at the abnormal. This might be seen as silly, but it has in fact happened.

            Back in the early part of the 20th century a woman named Margaret Sanger started saying things that were initially seen as the ravings of a lunatic mind.  She saw motherhood as lessening a woman’s dignity and potential.  She saw large families as destructive to society.  She found certain types of people as the kind that should not have children at all.  She favored the use of contraception and sterilization as something that should be the norm.  She had particular contempt for Slavs, blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Catholics.  They were human weeds.  She did not support abortion, but she did support infanticide, saying that the most humane thing parents of large families could do was to kill their infants.  She hated religion.  Within a few decades her initially abnormal way of thinking became the norm.  Today motherhood is looked down upon.  Large families are seen as wasteful and selfish.  Today the contraceptive and attendant abortion industries have become very lucrative and profitable. Today, the organization Margret Sanger founded is respected in the highest corridors of power; an organization she founded to carry out her mission of weeding out the undesirables: Planned Parenthood. Our youth have been taught for decades that this mentality is good and anyone who opposes it is outside the norm.  It has been so much jammed down our collective throats that we cringe when this behavior is challenged and get caught up in personal attacks and dire arguments.  What was at one time considered the abnormal is today the norm.

            I try to presume on the best of intent of all of parishioners.  That said, the abnormal attitude about life has become the norm.  I am not looking to condemn, but to give pause for thought.  The contraceptive attitude has laid waste to the church in the 1st world.  It is one of the lead reasons that the church in France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, England, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere is in a demographic freefall.  The contraceptive attitude has led many to leave the Church and has left most others having children at a rate of 1.9 children per family when 2.1 children is what in necessary to replace the status quo.  With the contraceptive attitude came the dissolution of marriage as the norm.  Fewer couples are getting married.  Fewer are having children.  Those who do get married are getting married later in life.  This last point is an observation, not a condemnation.  In the years since Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, over 50 million children who were conceived where put to death in the womb.  All of these things have consequences.  Parishes and dioceses are not exempt from such consequences.

            I have heard parishioners talk about how when they were kids there were 200 kids in our school.  It was not because we had five times the households there are now, but that large families were the norm.  As large families became less and less the norm, school populations shrunk because the pool of school age children shrunk.  For example, if we were to have every school age child in our school we would still come nowhere near the number of children we had at one time on our school.   I do not believe for a moment that this was the desire of families over the decades, but it is what has happened.  For the most part this behavior went unchallenged or was done so heavily handed so that all people were left with was a stinging condemnation.  There is another way.  It is forcing us to re-evaluate the norm and call for the abnormal that it is.  It represents a wild change of thought. We have got to once again look to the Author of Life for the norm.

            The Church has taught for all her history that being a mother or father is a vastly noble calling flowing from the even nobler calling of marriage.  Children are not an impediment to fulfillment and happiness, but a cause for it.  Human life is not a disease to be treated, and the contraceptive mentality does treat pregnancy as if it were a disease, but sees new human life as a precious gift from the Creator.  No one is saying that all Catholic families need have 10 kids, but there is a happy medium between 10 kids and the contraceptive mentality.  I think this is where we begin. I believe we need to recapture the beauty and blessing that is family life.  I believe that we need to support and uphold the nobility of motherhood and fatherhood as greatly positive callings.  I believe we need to fully recognize the blessing that children are and move away from referring to children in terms of cost and financial liability.  I believe that if we recapture what was once the norm, it will positively influence the Church and society as a whole.

            This calls for a rejection of the abnormal.  It is hard because society openly mocks such thinking.  As people of faith, though, we are called to a higher standard where selflessness, love, and a profound respect for life are the norm.  Our attitudes about life must reflect the attitudes about the dignity of human life seen in the Scriptures.  God, the creator of all life, saw even the fallen version of human life as something so lovable and worthy as to send His Son to redeem it.  Life is good.  Every human person is worthy of love and dignity because of its author.  Margret Sanger was wrong.  She was dead wrong.  No person is a human weed because of their race, creed, economic class, or other factors.  No human person is a weed.  Motherhood and fatherhood are not impediments to happiness; they are great sources of joy.  Children aren’t blockages to fulfillment but the ultimate expression of fulfillment.  Let us pray for a new spring to break through where life is welcomed, honored, and afforded the full dignity and integrity afforded it by the Author of all life, human and divine.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reflections on Pentecost

Dedicated to the Class of 2013
The Parishioners of Sacred Heart, Rich Fountain, MO
The Parishioners of St. Clement, Bowling Green MO

This weekend,  St. Clement School and Bowling Green High School have their graduations.  This weekend, the parishioners of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Rich Fountain, Mo. celebrate their 175th anniversary of the foundation of the parish. I love the fact that these happen this year on the Feast of Pentecost.

The Feast of  Pentecost is among my favorites.  It is considered the birth of the Church.  It happens as the apostles, the Blessed Mother, and the disciples are waiting in prayer for the promise Jesus made of an advocate who would be sent to continue the mission that Christ had started and entrusted to those gathered in the Upper Room and to those who would come to believe as a result of their witness.  The previous couple months must have been rather trying for them.  They had triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem to shouts of Hosannas!  At last, their belief that Jesus the Messiah was now going to establish the earthly kingdom they had so longed for looked like it would happen.  Within a week, those hopes would be completely shattered as one of their own would betray Jesus to the religious authorities who in turn would hand him over to the cruelty of Roman justice.  Their king would be put on a show trial, scourged within an inch of his life, brutally put to death by crucifixion, all while they ran and hid.  As fear enclosed them, within a few days, they hear stories of an empty tomb, and see the resurrected Christ.  One can only imagine what they felt, but one could assume that they were astounded, hopeful, perhaps a bit confused.  For 40 days Jesus is with them, then without much warning they watch him ascend.  Now they wait.  What would happen?  On Pentecost, they find out in such a powerful way.  Once the Spirit comes they become aware of what lays next.  Fear is replaced with courage.  Confusion is replaced with wisdom. From there, they begin the proclamation of Christ; not allowing anything to get in the way.  Pentecost assured them that their best days lay ahead of them.  They were to take what they had learned in the school taught by Jesus and now apply it powerfully to the ends of the earth.  There was no looking back...only ahead with what they had learned.

To those who graduate from their schools; be it from 8th grade, high school, college, or graduate school: You are at a juncture.  You leave behind that which is known for that which is not.  It is easy, I suppose, to think your  best days are now done. Nonsense!!  Your futures have yet to be written.  How it unfolds is more your decision that anyone else.  You have a choice to take the best of what you have learned, the best of your talents, and the best of your gifts and apply them to the next level.  No more that Jesus expected the apostles and disciples to move to the next level without any help, so He gives you that same gift of the Spirit to help you transform to something truly great.  It does not mean you will not have difficulties and will..I promise you will.  The early Church had to do its job in the face of internal dissension and external persecution.  She still does.  However, she still carries on powerfully because she is given the  gifts of the Holy Spirit.  For most of you, those gifts were deposited within at Baptism and Confirmation.  It is up to you to use them.  Use them and no adversity will hold you down.  Use them to write the next chapter of your life!  William Shakespeare called the future the 'undiscovered country'.  Use your gifts and God's gifts to explore that new land and see how it allows the next chapter to unfold.

To my former parishioners at Sacred Heart: you celebrate 175 years as a parish.  As I often reminded you when I was pastor, you are the current caretakers of a great legacy started by Fr Helias and your ancestors who settled the area.  You stand on the shoulders of giants.  Consequently, you are the giants on whose shoulders others will stand.  I would imagine there will be much looking behind and celebrating of what once was.  While that is nice, so much of the story of Sacred Heart parish is yet to be written.  The Holy Spirit is given to you as well to continue the work of Christ to the peoples of the Rich Fountain area.  I cannot emphasize enough the task at hand, especially in the formation of the next generations of parishioners.  Use well those talents, charisms, and graces in their formation!  Into their hands will be given the stylus which will write the next chapters.  May their great grandchildren be able to look back as the celebrate future milestones in the parish at the giants who cooperated with God is continuing the mission of Christ at Sacred Heart.

Finally, to my own parishioners of St Clement.  What holds true for Sacred Heart, holds true for us as well.  Whether it be the great advances we have made with youth, with getting the new building going, with the new areas we have expanded into; all of it is forging with God's grace into the 'undiscovered country' that is our future as a parish.  In 8 years we will be celebrating 150 years as a parish.  What we look like in such a short time from now is dependent on the choices we make now.  This parish has so much more to be written...this Pentecost, let us God for the grace we will need to forge ahead.  Let us ask God for the same courage and wisdom that drove the apostles and disciples from the Upper Room and onto the streets to live lives that proclaim Jesus.  Our undiscovered country awaits and God will give every grace necessary to rise to the coming horizon of hope, faith, charity, and courage!

A Blessed Pentecost to All!!