Monday, December 8, 2014

To Catholic Parents

I have a deep respect for those who have taken on the role of parent, of being a mother or father.  Even in the best of circumstances it is not easy.  I am well aware of the daily pressures that go with the calling and the incredible amount of strain put on your schedules.  I know the demands put on your time, energy, and resources.  I know that things don't always go right and that you are well aware that you are not the only entity vying for your children's affection and obedience.  I know that there is great joy in seeing them succeed and rise to new challenges.  I know there are moments: birth, first step, first word, first day of school, graduations, and such which sit forever etched in your minds and hearts. I know some have had the unimaginable trauma of losing a child.  I know some hearts ache as their children go down paths that lead to very dark places.  I know that your job is at times thankless.  I know that if you are doing it right, being  a parent means giving of yourself and pushing yourself selflessly for the good of your children.  I also know that when you see your child verge off onto a harmful path, you bravely and lovingly know you have to have a heart to heart talk.

 I know this, because, first I listen to you...I actually hear what you say; secondly, let's just say that being called 'father' isn't just a job title, but a constant reminder of what my task to serve is about.  My calling to this parish is what your calling is to your family.  The same selfless love, the same desire for the good of those placed in your care, the same rejoicing in the good, and the same agonizing over wayward steps are a part of my everyday life.  As a good parent , I desperately not only want to see each of my parishioners succeed in life, but I deeply desire to share eternal life with them in heaven.

I wish to share with a moment with you my paternal joys and worries. I would imagine my vantage point is much the same as any parent: some of my children are doing well, some are not, some have wandered off altogether.  Anyone who knows me knows that this pains me.  It is why we have started a concerted effort at engaging in the new evangelization. Our Lord refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd...this does mean He a good shepherd (as in good person...although He is), but the Greek word used means 'good at'  shepherding.  He makes clear that being good at shepherding means reaching out for those who have left the safety of the flock to navigate a world full of wolves.  These are those of my parish family that worry me the most.

To begin with, for those of my parents who are trying to raise their children in the ways of the faith.  Kudos!  You are doing the job you said you would do at your child's baptism.  I realize it is difficult and  a constant swerving path of juggling commitments and establishing priorities that one can hope to pleasingly present to God.  I know it isn't always appreciated by your children and you have to endure the 'it's too churchy' nonsense.  You are what keeps us running.  I know sometimes your children rebel anyway, especially when they leave your home.  I know the heart ache it causes.  I know you persevere.  Thank you.  You did this with minimal help, unfortunately, from those who were supposed to spiritually guide you within the Church.

That is a point that needs to be expanded upon.  I cannot condemn parents who fall below this measure because for 5 decades we have not done well in either teaching the faith or evangelizing through our parishes.  It wasn't for lack of dedicated volunteers.  It wasn't for lack of dedicated teachers.  The materials we gave them to do their job were substandard, watered down, and sometimes just outright wrong.  Many of those who should have known better did not reverse this trend.  Too many hid behind not wanting to offend and simply did nothing but complain about the eventual outcome.  Too many spiritual 'fathers' forgot a lesson that any good parent knows: the calling of being a parent is not to be your child's buddy (they have those elsewhere), but to be their parent...even when doing so angers.  Any parent who failed at that job knows that when they finally do start being the parent...well, there is going to be a lot of blow back.  The Church in this country is awakening to the fact that we have failed the flock (which means we failed Christ Himself) and that if we are going to do our calling, we need to act as parents who love their children.

This said, I now address my parents who struggle with raising their children in the fullness of the Catholic life.  What I write is not going to be easy to read, but believe me, it is said our of desperate longing and love for you...I want to see you home.  Every Mass I don't see you or your family has the same bitter sting as a parent looking at an empty chair where their child should be at the dinner table.  Knowing that the relationship isn't what it should be has the same heart break as a parent estranged from a child.  The parish is meant to a family of faith that is connected with our extended family through the world and in heaven.  I know we have failed to drive home this point, but being a Catholic is first and foremost about relationship: relationship with God and with His family.

We have many children who show up either steadily or periodically to our parish education programs.  We have trying hard to upgrade them and teach better what we believe.  However, all we can do is supplemental to what is being done at home.  If we teach them the Eucharist is important, that keeping holy the Sabbath is an actual commandment, that we must be reconciled when the division of sin has entered the picture, that the relationship with God and His people is a primary relationship...but this is not modeled by their parents, the lessons are lost and even negated.  If we can disregard these things, then what of  faith do we actually need to follow?  Does being honest, kind, respectful, and such also become optional? Does even believing in God become optional? For a child's mind it does. Left unchallenged, that disbelief becomes set.  A mixed message is being sent and the answer isn't to just simply abandon the faith altogether.  It leads to a disbelief which has been come to one compromise at a time.  I am not saying you are a bad person if this is your that you can be better and that we want to help you. Why? Because I am not going to be a different kind of parent that what I am asking you to be.

As some of you know, I am what is called a revert. That means that at one time in my life I left the Catholic faith.  I was a practical agnostic.  I know the difficulty of coming home.  I was that prodigal son who wandered from the safety of the home.  I know the challenge of changing set ways.  I know the fear of what were people going to think. I know the fear of wondering what if I couldn't follow through.  I know the frustration of false starts and failing.  All I can tell you is that it is worth it.  I can promise that if you are willing to dig deeper, we are willing to give support and help you be the kind of parent that God calls you to be.  We are engaging in the new evangelization specifically because I want all of my spiritual children home...all of them.  Those of you reading this who have been engaged, you will be needed as help and support.  I cannot do this alone.  God gives us all the grace to be the parents we promised we would be...let us give ourselves to that grace and even if we have not been that parent, let's start anew.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Little Religious Fervor...Okay, Actually a Lot of Religious Fervor.

All this week, I have been reflecting on the Gospel for this weekend on the Parable of the Talents. I started to form a homily on the conventional themes of using the gifts and abilities God has given us to help build up the Kingdom.  Safe.  I am sure it would have been a decent homily.  However, prayer is taking me somewhere different.  Let's see where this goes, shall we?

I want to start off with one bold proclamation: WE ARE THE ONES WITH THE 5 TALENTS!!!!! This is so true on so many levels.  We, as Catholics, have been given a deep richness of God's grace especially in the Sacraments.  We are given the possibility of an extraordinarily intimate relationship with God, seen most concretely through the Eucharist.  We are given the ongoing gift of the forgiveness of sins. We have a God who desperately loves us and wants to have us with Him for all eternity.  We have the fellowship of believers stretching throughout time and space, all fellow pilgrims meant to help each other to that Kingdom.  We have a massive body of teaching and instructions to help us discern what loving God and loving our neighbor looks like.  We have a Gospel which urges us on to excellence and victory!  We lack no access to a bountiful spiritual treasure trove.

Furthermore, to my American readers, we enjoy a wealth and freedom in this country that so very many in this world would desperately want to have.  No one who goes to worship in this country need worry about arrest or death.  Even our poor live better than so very many in this world.  We have an embarrassment of riches.  We have access to food, clean water, medical care, housing, and work that many in this world do not have. We live in a society that does give us the ability to better ourselves should we decide to do the hand work necessary to that end.  The social safety nets we have in place are extensive.

So why is their such discontent in our society?  Why are we losing our youth and young adults in such alarming numbers?  Why are our worship services so often paeans to mediocrity and banal worship?  Why do people get 'nothing out of' our Eucharistic celebrations, as is so often commented?  Some will say it is because of entitlement (everything must please me), some will say it is because we do not appreciate or even acknowledge what we have, some will say it is because we have grown more inward as individuals.  Some would say it is just a case of we have grown into spoiled rotten adolescents.  Maybe it is a mix of all these things.  What I believe though is that we have lost our fire and fervor.

Let me explain:  Every Mass should be a resounding celebration of "I LOVE YOU GOD!!!"  Voices resounding like peals of thunder should be facilitating this.  However for this to happen we need to be living lives that scream "I LOVE YOU JESUS!!!", that act as a powerful witness.  This cannot be synthesized nor faked.  We can have all of the lively sounding music or solemn music we want.  We can have all the happy clappy or all the silence we want.  Mediocrity of faith will lead to mediocrity in worship.  Do we really get what we have?!    Do we?  I can assure if we did, we would be those voices raised like the peals of thunder in praise of our God!  EVERY MASS should be a loud and bold proclamation that we have the 5 talents!

But what do we experience?  Mystery?  Beauty?  Wonder? Awe? Simply overwhelmed  at whose presence we are coming into?  If we understood even a minimal level that is what we should feel, perhaps we would be connecting with what is happening.  But what do we experience?  Banality, the commonplace, mediocrity, tepidness...nothing...a void?  In the Book of Revelations, Jesus says to the Church of Laodicea through St. John, "How I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I vomit you from my mouth!"  Our celebration of the Eucharist is not to be an exercise in mediocrity!  As I said before though, our worship will be a reflection of our spiritual lives. It is not about what we get out of Mass, it is about what we give!

I am not saying that we couldn't do better in Mass.  I do tire of singing about ourselves in a Christianized narcissistic way.  I deeply desire music directed primarily to the praise and worship of our God.  I don't want to hear the same stuff I hear outside of Mass...I want to know right away that what we are here to do is radically different.  I want mystery and awe! I want to hear from the music, the readings, and the homily a resounding 'I LOVE YOU LORD!'.  I want worship to represent the acknowledgement that we indeed  possess the richness of God's grace.  Why?  Because Mass is supposed to fire us up to engage in the mission of Jesus invest the 5 talents in such a way so as to draw others to Christ Himself.  No fervor in Church will translate into no engagement.  This doesn't mean the blare of percussion instruments as much as it means the roar of thunder of our voices in praise of God.  That roar is as powerful through chant as it is through more modern styles.  It should not be an either/or wargame that so many parishes devolve into (like that isn't immediately perceptible).  We have been around for the better part of two millenia...we should quit trying to act as if we either came into existence or ceased to exist 50 years ago!

Mass is the tip of the iceberg.  Our lives as Catholics need to scream "I Love you Lord!"...not 'bah, sure, I think I like you, if you actually exist and all.' Pope Francis referred to pagan Catholics a few days ago.  That's harsh but pretty accurate.  Catholicism isn't a fraternal order to belong to...we aren't the Kiwanas with a lot of statuary.  We are the caretakers of a radical faith meant to transform the world!  We look at so many of the problems we face as a church.  We want to blame the teachings.  I say it is the timidity and lukewarmness!  I say it is the ago old desire to have a god who doesn't challenge...a doddering doofus who will just rubber stamp our least efforts with heaven.  Wake up people!!  If in the parable the king grows infuriated with the one who hid his single talent...what will be the response to those who buried the 5?!  We need to understand in the most powerful possible way: we worship a God who expects us to use wisely what He has given...not a god who desires nor rewards mediocrity and lukewarmness.  There needs to be a restoration of that understanding...and that restoration will breath new life into our parishes, our families, and our world!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Is Pope Francis a Communist?

In the past few weeks I have seen many people opining on the political leanings of Pope Francis.  Many on both the right and left have come to the conclusion that he is indeed a communist and either rejoice or denounce said stand.  He is aware of this and said a few days ago that it seems when he speaks of the poor and how wealth is distributed that he is called a communist!  He would say he isn't.  The extremes would say he is. He says he is following the Gospel and is its witness.  Let us look, then, at how the Scriptures themselves speak of these things.

It is worth noting that our Christian faith is founded by a man who possessed nothing.  Jesus embraced radical poverty.  He, being the Son of God, could have been born into great power and wealth.  When He comes into the world, it is the Father's will that Jesus be born into the lower classes.  He died owning no earthy possessions other than the clothing he wore, which was gambled for as he was being executed on the cross.  Even his tomb belonged to another.  Why?  Why does the Son of God come this way?  What is the larger point?  His life points to the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  He comes to establish it.  In John 18:36, when in front of Pilate, he declares His Kingdom is not of this world.  He is not attached to the things of this world.  he encourages His disciples and apostles to do the same (Matthew 5:3, 6:19-21, 6:24, 28-32, 10:9-10 for examples).  Is he saying wealth is inherently evil? No.  He is saying that we should concern ourselves with higher goals. In Timothy 6:10 reminds us that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  We look at these passages and see that the consumption and ownership of worldly goods can not become an ends in themselves.  For the powerful, regardless of their political bent, this preoccupation with worldly wealth and power can become all consuming.  History shows that this wreaks havoc on humanity.

Unrestrained capitalists can have very thin skins. The envious, a driving force in both unrestrained capitalism and communism, also are thin skinned.  Unrestrained capitalists like to hide behind the tiresome words 'whatever the market will bear.'  This is to act as if the market were its own philosophy of morality.  Let's be honest, though, the market will bear slave labor, child labor, low wages, outrageous compensation packages for elites while laying off employees, bonuses for work that should have the person fired, and cronyism.  This same list is alive and well among socialists and communists as well.  This is problematic and sinful.  When we love things and use people, we wander from from our human dignity and abandon any pretense of a relationship with God. When the pope points this out, and he does frequently, this does not make him a communist, it makes a follower of Christ.  That pointing out these aspects of the Gospel makes people uncomfortable is more a reflection on them than him.

We, as followers of Christ are not engage in the class warfare that is at the heart of either extreme of the spectrum.  For most of you reading this, even if in American society you may not be among the wealthy. but odds are you are part of the upper 1% of wealth in this world. Luke 12:28 reminds is to whom much is given, much is expected.  The accrual of wealth for its own sake is problematic and even condemned in Scriptures.  In Luke 20:28 ff the rich man is condemned for using his excess wealth to enrich himself instead of helping those in need,a violation of Deuteronomy 24:19.   Inasmuch as we do not engage in class warfare neither do we hoard.  Of this the Church has been clear for her entire history (not always lived up to, but certainly never taught to hoard) and has placed an onus on those of means to look after the needs of the poor.  That Pope Francis says any of this is neither novel nor revolutionary.  It certainly does not make him a communist!  If anything, it makes the life of detachment from wealth that he has chosen throughout his life a living witness to the life of Christ Himself.  Is this way every single person should do it?  No.  Nor is the pope saying it should be.  As the successor to the Chair of Peter, he is saying nothing more that what the Church has taught for 2000 years.

So why all the hubbub? Politics.  We live in a society polarized on a plethora of  levels.  The atmosphere is toxic.  Witness the unrelenting amounts of speculation and outright nonsense surrounding the synod. There is no topic anymore that does not rally people around a cause to which they will destroy others who disagree with them. Anyone with a sense of history and a modicum of faith knew the synod would not change one iota of Church teachings; because we might want to be more gentle, kinder, or loving does not necessitate a caving in on moral issues.  What bigger prize than the leader of the largest institution on earth?!  The pope is on my side!!! No, he isn't and nor should he be!  He is the spiritual leaders of 1.1 billion people of every possible bent and description.   It is isn't his job to favor one over the other.  I look at the predecessors he had...they didn't either  (as much as some want to say Pope Benedict all of his writings sometime).   The pope is not the grand prize in the battles of ideologies.

Many call him communist because he questions the practice of some forms of capitalism.  Any form or any socioeconomic theory is not without its abuses and malformations. If being unrelenting in my capitalism means I hoard for myself and take a Darwinistic approach to others, I cannot be authentic about being a Christian!  Doubt that?  I would invite the reader to go to Matthew 25:31-46 and take a good long look at how we will be judged.  Perhaps the pope saying what he does about wealth distribution and economies has absolutely nothing to do with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and lot more to do with the King of Glory.  Because I might belong to a certain economic theory means neither treating that theory as gospel nor of being unwilling to admit its flaws.  To point out said flaws does not make one a enemy as much as it does a purveyor of truth.   

Friday, October 24, 2014

Playing With Fire: Catholics and the Occult

Just out in time for Halloween is a movie called 'Ouiji' after the infamous 'parlor game'.  Without giving too much away (and there is usually very little to give away in these tedious thrillers) the gist seems to be that playing with ouiji can bring bad things.  So, AMC theaters are giving ouiji boards to the first 'lucky' 100 customers.  I understand they might give out chain saws after the next installment of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I wonder if these lucky customers know what a contagion they are bringing into their homes.

Many lump ouiji boards with other things that labeled as harmless fun.  You know, a little scary fun that no one believes is real.  Tarot cards, palm readers, mediums, astrology (not to be confused with astronomy..the study of space), and such are seen as diversions.  The Scriptures forbid them.  I know, I know...the killjoy Bible bans it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church also condemns this in paragraph 2117:  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others—even if this were for the sake of restoring their health—are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.  The occult seeks to harness spiritual powers in order to manipulate them to an end for the individual.  Sometimes that end is seen as noble, such as talking with a departed loved one.  Sometimes it is for purposes of taking revenge and so on.  Either way it is playing with fire in which the handler gets burned.

Evil is real. We see that day in and day out in our news.  Spiritual entities are real.  Both good and bad.  Both angels and demons.  They are real.  That which is evil is not simply going to present itself as such.  Want to contact Aunt Matilda who died years ago to see how she's doing?  Maybe mom or dad, a child, grandparents is the desire to be contacted.  We do it more often than not because we miss them and our hearts ache that absence.Maybe our problem is we are confused about our futures and want to see what is ahead.  The problem is that when we use such means as the occult to do this, we invite things into our lives that we might not have otherwise let in.  The demonic is always looking for a welcome entrance.  If it has to fool us into believing we are with a dearly be it.  It is not as if deceit isn't part of their game.

Now, some might be thinking this all a bit of hyperbole.  It is just a little harmless fun.  Isn't that how all addiction in our lives begins?  A little harmless fun. In study and study and story after story of documented exorcisms, so many began with a 'little harmless fun' that quickly spun out of control.  Inviting these things into your home is dangerous.  There is no such thing as a christian medium...that is like saying there is such a thing as a christian professional liar, christian ax murderer, or a christian thief...each are engaged in a behavior expressly forbidden by God.  God doesn't do this because He has anything against fun, but because like a loving parent, He wants us to stay away from that which means us harm.  To engage in such things as listed above is to push away the hands of God and invite in true evil.  To engage in the occult is forbidden because it is a breaking of the 1st Commandment.  We are to turn to God with our concerns, our aches, and our loneliness.  Why?  Because He means what is good for us.

I do not watch horror films and such because I make a point to rejoice in truth and beauty.  As followers of Christ our time is better spent rejoicing in beauty and truth  as opposed to entertaining ourselves with ugliness and deceit.  As one who has seen the aftermath of what happens when evil is invited into a life, it is with no shortness of urgency, I plead with you if you should have engaged in these things, please seek confession, remove the items from your house, destroy them, and never replace them again.  They will oppress you.  You were not created to be oppressed by evil, but to walk freely as a child of God.  Ouiji boards and such are not parlor games, they are contagions which will bring things in that you would never actually want.  Do not allow sorrow your sorrow or angst lead you to allow in charlatans and the demonic.  Turn rather to God to fill those empty parts and you'll have nothing to fear. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting to Know Jesus: God's Plan is for all Matthew 2: 1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his starat its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him,  “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

We hear now of the birth of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ). The first to hear of this great news in the Gospel of Matthew are those who shouldn't: the magi.  The Magi are pagans.  They are astrologers.  They are part of a group condemned in the Old Testament as those engaged in the occult.  Yet these are the first to find out.  God reaches out them where they are and gives them the opportunity of being transformed by the greatness of His love.  God beckons and they come.  Truth is revealed to them and they respond.  From the first moments of the birth of the Messiah we are told that this saving message is meant for all humanity.  This message was a message of hope bound in the love of a God that so desperately wants a relationship with us that He will send His Son among us to restore that relationship.He reaches out to these Magi, not by warnings of condemnation, but in the bearing of the Good News.  Through their gifts they show that what has been revealed to them is a bit of who Jesus is to be:  A priest (frankincense), a prophet (myrrh), and a king (gold).  For Jesus to be able to do that for which He was sent, it is necessary He be all three:  A king who guides us with the tenderness of the Good Shepherd, a prophet who announces the Gospel, and a priest who will offer Himself to restore a broken relationship between God and man.

Also in this story is a disturbing plot twist:  those who should have been thrilled with the news of the birth of the Messiah are not.  We hear all Jerusalem is troubled.  We see Herod concerned.  The chief priests and scribes say where it is to happen but we are given no record of their going.  We know Herod will try to have the audacity to kill the Messiah.   Their self interest prevent their knowing or believing.  Those who should have believed didn't and those who shouldn't have did.  Yet the message is made known to both and will continue to be so.

What do we take from this?  The whole of our faith is built upon a longed for relationship.  That relationship will call us to change, a change that may well not be welcome.  We cannot allow the chance that we may be rejected in proclaiming God's desire for a relationship to deter us from that proclamation.  We cannot allow the fear of necessary change for the better deter us from heeding the call to relationship.  Finally, in making this proclamation ( a prophetic proclamation we are called to make by virtue that we share in the 3 fold ministry of Christ by virtue of our Baptism) we must meet people where they are at...not wait for them to get their acts together (whatever that means!) before it is 'safe' to proclaim.  There are no groups we can write off or persecute.  There is no person to whom the message of Christ can be kept from.  We must approach with compassion, not judgment, not merely calling for conversion, but showing where God has already reached out to them.

Will all accept?  No.  We will never know who will ot will not accept if we treat our Church as a country club looking for the right members and who doesn't want the wrong ones.  This Gospel passage reminds us that in God's eyes their are no membership requirements save one:  a willingness to develop into the relationship He calls us into and allow that relationship to transform us into what is better.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Scandal of Giving Scandal

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come"  Matthew 18: 6-7 

On two occasions, I like every other priest, placed my folded hands in the hands of my bishop, who asked if I promised respect and obedience to him and his successors.  Both times I said , "I do".  No where was that respect and obedience conditional.  To be honest, it is a struggle as I try to navigate ministry day in and day out.  It would be easier to be disrespectful in some times, especially when playing to the crowds.  It is easy to try to pass the buck to cover my own incompetence and push blame away from myself.  It is a constant temptation to play the hero for a person who is confused by or in rebellion towards the Church.  It is easy to dispense with teachings when I might gain some personal attention or approval.  It is easy to nuance, explain away, or deceive myself into conditional obedience and respect.  However, as one given care of a flock that is not mine, it is not without good reason that I obey those in authority over me.  I cannot ask for that which I am unwilling to give.

Why say this?  I have seen much written by clerics of the Church on the Synod on the Family.  They seem to be rallying a side or playing to a loyal crowd...all in the name of defending Holy Mother Church.  Some have found it within themselves to chastise the synod which has yet to put out one document.  Polarizing clans fight over perceptions that the Synod Fathers want to be too this or too that.  Scapegoats are being lined up for future use...pinatas being readied lest an outcome not favorable should appear.  Defenders of orthodoxy versus defenders of compassion (as if the two were opposites).  Social media and the blogosphere only add to the venues to which raging opinion can be bloviated.  Eating this up is a wide eyed audience expecting the spectacle of it all.   To what end?!

To what end indeed!  Control!  A Church that does what I want it to do!  A Church that teaches what I want to believe!   I can in my heart of hearts believe that what I want is what Christ wants.  Should I be so bold!  Yet in sowing the seeds of disrespect to this prelate, that bishop, that cardinal, and so forth...I must ask, "How are my actions and words in union with the four marks of the Church which we profess as a matter of faith whenever we pray the Creed?"  Do my words and actions support or rend asunder the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" to which I have been ordained as a member of her clergy?  If they do not, how can I have the audacity to demand unquestioning respect and obedience from my flock or partisans?  In breeding discontent and conditional obedience, will I not be slain with the same sword?  It is scandalous that a cleric of the Church should engage in the petty war of words so common in our political sphere!
So what of the synod?  I sit back and wait.  I try to understand.  I don't jump to conclusions one way or the other.  I know the basis of this synod is the same as all things with the teachings of the Church: understanding that there is right and wrong, but that mercy needs to be applied to heal those who are engaging in detrimental behaviors and sins.  That mercy may well be pushed aside, but it is what we do.  It is not mercy to condone behavior that might well jeopardize eternal life.  It is not mercy to tell others to get their act together then come in.  It is no secret that the topics of marriage, sexuality, and family life have become a societal war zone.  It is not secret that we as a Church have demonstrably failed in preaching and teaching the depth and beauty of our beliefs.  These teachings can neither be ignored nor used as weapons to beat sinners. I suspect that this is what the synod fathers are struggling with.  I doubt my snapping at their heels or openly vilifying will offer any good.  I do know that should I engage in that, I am openly welcoming those placed in my care to give the same disrespect. 

To those engage in such behavior, I plead, stop it!  You are giving scandal..even if what you are doing is well meaning.  To those rallying around such talking clerical heads...perhaps prayer and mortifications for the Holy Spirit's guidance over these proceedings might be a better use of time.  Our enemies laugh as we become a circular firing squad.  They rejoice in our division.  I know that Jesus gave Peter and His successors the keys to the Kingdom, not because of their worthiness, but because they are called to be the chief shepherd of the flock after Christ Himself.  We tread into very dangerous waters when we entertain disrespect...for it is a sword that will fall on our head eventually.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25 The Birth of Jesus

"Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear  a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”  which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus."  Matthew 1:18-25

After telling us that salvation history has played out despite man's efforts or his fighting against such efforts, we see that a loving God will not be deterred in saving His wayward children.  How He does it is spectacular: a wonderful thing we call the Incarnation!  The second person of the Trinity purposely becomes a human being as well.  He is born of young woman betrothed to a man whom God has chosen to give the duty of protector and provider to this new born Son.  The son in question does not belong to Joseph.  This son is not of mere human stock.  He can't be.  This Son bridges a gap that is necessitated to be bridged because of man's rebellion.  Man turned his back on God by choosing to be his own god.  Man, being immortal, broke faith with that which is eternal.  Whatever bridges this man made gap must be able to represent both parties: he must be human for it was humanity that had created the rift; he had to divine as only that which is divine can bridge a rift with the eternal.  What love God must have in surrendering His Son to a sinful people!  He knows this Son will suffer at their hands, but will willingly give Himself for their sake; His act of love will re-establish the relationship with God and rebuild the bridge to eternal life.

Joseph, we are told, is a just man.  He loves Mary.  We might well imagine the betrayal he feels when he finds his bride pregnant and knows it cannot be his.  Instead of acting in fury and indignation and exposing her to the law and its death penalty for adultery, he decides to divorce her quietly.  He could seek revenge, but he does not.  God chose well, did he not?  But God is not going to leave Joseph in the dark.  After Mary of course, he is the first to find out about who this child is.  Two names are mentioned:  Emmanuel (God is with us) and Jesus (God saved).  These tell us what God's plan is.  He so desires a relationship with us that if saving us through the gift of His Son is necessary, then so be it.  Any doubts Joseph have evaporate and he does as instructed.  Joseph is willing to risk whatever plans he had laid out for his life with Mary and surrenders them to a plan he knows will be greater.  As the story unfolds, we will Joseph have to give up more, but what happens is far greater than he could ever imagine.

If we were to truly understand God's love for us and how His plans might just so much greater for us and those around us, we might mimic the trust of St. Joseph and lay our lives, our futures, and our paths into His hands.  Do we do this?  Do we teach our children to do this? No vocation can be found without such an open disposition.  Pray, St Joseph, that the followers of your adopted Son might find the trust you did,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1:1-17

"1a The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.*
2b Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.c 3Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.d Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4e Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5f Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, 6g Jesse the father of David the king.

There are many people who are into genealogy. I am not one of them.  I know my grandparents and some of my great grandparents, I know something of the various nations and tribes from which they came.  As far as seeing if I am the long lost relative of ...I don't know...Brosleus III of Lesser Angltopia doesn't interest me. Maybe it should.  Where we come from speaks to our family history and its struggles and triumphs.  St. Matthew's Gospel begins with a genealogy.  Remember, we are not talking about a mere biography, but a proclamation of Good News.  Why begin here? 

The answer is the concept of something we call salvation history.  Salvation history is the story of God's interaction with humanity from its very beginnings.  Salvation history tells a story of a God who simply refused to write off a creation that turned on Him.  He time and again makes covenants with that fallen humanity.  The covenants center on a mutual relationship: "I will be your God, you will be my people."  His people did not always prove themselves responsible partners in this relationship.  Nonetheless, he keeps calling them back.

Jesus is called the "Son of David, the son of Abraham".  This is telling.  As son of David, the great King, he is a fulfillment of a promise that one of his heirs would rule the house of Israel forever.  As son of Abraham, he is the fulfillment of the promise of how a great nation would spring forth from him.  Right off the bat, in Matthew, we are told that this Jesus is the fulfillment of a promise made by a loving God.  He keeps His promise not because of Israel's faithful cooperation or because of their power, but because He loves them, regardless of how far they wander.  Keep in mind that this lineage from Abraham has been enslaved in Egypt ( God saves them), conquered the Promised Land, then was constantly plagued by troublesome neighbors during the time of the Judges, given a brief high time under the rule of Saul, David, and Solomon, descended into division, was conquered by empires time and again, and was again a conquered people under the Romans of Jesus' time. There are names of just men and horrific sinners and apostates in this list of names.  Through all the highs and lows, times of faithfulness and far greater times of infidelity, God refuses to write these people off.  He simply loves humans too much to destroy them.

Jesus comes as a promise to be fulfilled by a loving Father.  Even as he chastises bad behavior, it is always with an eye towards their redemption.  The Gospel story cannot be understood outside of understanding that God's primary disposition to us is love.

So what?  Well, God reveals Himself to us not merely to show us who He is, not merely to invite us into relationship, but to show us something of what we who enter into relationship are called to be.  As God is, we are called to be.  This means that if God's basic disposition to us is that of love and seeking our good, then if we be sons and daughters of such a God, we too must have that same disposition towards ourselves and those around us.  It is all too often that we write people off as beneath us, not worth our time, effort, and resources, and as being beyond our willingness to show compassion and mercy.  Too much time is spent in finding ways to justify neglect, revenge, and division.  One moment spent in such endeavors is far too much time.  If we are to expect to understand who Jesus is and the relationship He calls us to, we must start from the vantage point of desiring mercy and compassion and desiring to extend mercy and compassion to others.  The whole of who Jesus is becomes clear from these  seemingly innocuous verses of a genealogy.  To enter into a relationship with this Jesus necessitates us to start from here as well.


Getting to Know Jesus: Introduction

Last spring I started reading Sherry Weddell's book, "Forming Intentional Disciples".  I had seen it repeatedly quoted in Scott Hahn's new book on evangeliztion.  It was also recommended to me by my spiritual director.  For the better part of a two decades as a priest, I have tried to figure out how to most effective in not just preaching and teaching the Gospel, the entirety of the Scriptures, and Church teaching, but also wanting to create those who embraced the continual conversion these writings call for us to engage with in ourselves.  I tried various things.  Some worked and some didn't. In fact, some spectacularly bombed.  It hit me that I was going about this wrong.  I was teaching about something and not introducing them to a relationship.  There is a big difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone.  Knowing about someone might lead to a relationship; knowing them will make that much more likely.

Why relationship?  Why is knowing about not enough?  God doesn't use the terminology of the classroom predominantly. He predominantly uses relationship terms, specifically familial ones.  This relationship has a look based on how God has revealed Himself.  We call this divine revelation.  God reveals Himself as our limited brains can understand that which is not limited to time and space.  He does this because He wants us to share in His life.  He leaves a record of that divine revelation in the Scriptures.  The height of that revelation comes through Jesus Christ. We have four Gospels that want to tell us who Jesus is.  They are not designed to be a biography or be a historical record as we would see in history books.  The Gospels are much more interested in telling who Jesus is so that we might know Him.

I decided to take a suggestion from Forming Intentional Disciples and focus on a Gospel, going verse by verse, with these questions dominating the class:  Who is Jesus?  What motivates Him?  What type of person is He?  This isn't a psychological study.  I believe if we understand who calls us into a relationship, we might be more understanding and trustful.  My goal isn't for people to just get to know Jesus, but to fall in love with Him and to realize that he loves us.  We have been going through the Gospel of Matthew after our weekend Masses (can you believe about 1/4 of the parish stays!?).  I also teach 7th/8th grade religion and we begin each class with going verse by verse of the Gospel of Matthew.

I am not a biblical scholar.  While I use the scholarly works available to me in disseminating the Gospel, I use much more prayer in preparation.  What I aim to do over the next several months is to go through that same Gospel on this blog...verse by verse, chapter by chapter.  I hope it might help especially those who doubt God or have a loose relationship at best with God and His people.  I believe that once we get to understand Jesus, we will fall in love with Him and allow Him to transform our life.  I wish to take the reader on the same journey we are going through in the parish and school.

Be aware, though, that getting to know Jesus will be unsettling at times.  It might make us question our own motivations and make us challenge behavior.  Let's be honest, though, does not any good relationship transform us (sometimes begrudgingly) for the better?  I sincerely pray that whoever reads this will come to faith, belief, and enter into the relationship for which we are eternally created.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Isaiah 5:20

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."  Isaiah 5:20

 We live in interesting times.  Of course, that is a Chinese curse.  We live in a time of dysfunction, confusion, anger, greed, and terror unlike the world has ever seen.  Each age had its plagues, wars, and divisions, but never before have we had it in such bulk and with such an overabundance of images and words.  Deep in the collective human soul there is a trouble and an accompanying fury.  Objective truth has been cast aside for the tyranny of personal opinion.  People troll for their perceived enemies to write or say anything for which they stand in accusation.  A great darkness has enveloped society.  Our institutions groan and heave under the weight of their own malice and injustice.  Morality has collapsed under the strain of relativism.  What was right is now wrong in the  society in which we live...good has become evil.  Any divergent opinions are met with the tenacity of a rabid wolverine.  Discussion and debate have grown into a cacophony of divergent opinions and bitter monologues screaming over top each other to win the day.  Darkness encroaches.

Sounds grim, no?  Why bother then?  Why not just do a AC/DC singalong humming Highway to Hell?  Why not?  We shouldn't just yet pack up for the zombie apocalypse just yet.  In fact, now is far from the time for fear and doubt.  We have been here before.  We know the crash comes.  All empires collapse.  All persecutors fall to the dustbin of history.  There is nothing we are experiencing that has not happened before.  It is time to turn the ship into the wave.  We who believe know who wins the war even when the battles seemingly turn ugly.  How then do we turn the ship into the wave?

1. Faith first!  In Matthew 7:24-27, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners that there choice to listen to Him or not is akin to building your home on rock or sand.  When disaster strikes, the house built on rock endures while the house built on sand fails.  What is the center of our life?  Money?  Career? Pleasure?  Honor? Power?  All of this can and will be taken from each of us as life progresses.  What happens if the economy collapses?  What then of money and career?  What if the government collapses? What if we descend into another war?   What if we were to fall into a debilitating disease? What if an accident were to happen?  The person who faith first puts its practice first.  That means more than attending a church service.  It means being a person who just, merciful, kind, peaceful, content with what they have, compassionate, and other centered.  Faith is the one thing we possess that cannot be taken from us, it must be surrendered.  A person of faith responds differently than one who doesn't.  Saying I am a person of faith is useless if one's disposition and choices do not back that up.

2. Embrace simplicity.  Dave Ramsey likes to say that we have a habit of spending money we don't have on things we don't need to impress people we don't like.  Too often we find status and reputation in belongings.  So many are in over their heads in debt.  We store stuff in storage spaces because we do not have enough space in our homes..stuff we will probably not use again.  We waste immense amounts of items and food.  We consume far too much.  We see over consumption as a status enhancer.  Faith, though, tells us to live simply and within our means.  Simple doesn't mean living in squalor.  It means that possession of items and the ability to make the money necessary to accrue them cannot come at the cost of primary duties to family and God.  We must stop connecting happiness to possessions.  We must know the difference between luxury and necessity.

3. Love people, not things.  We need to be looking out for each others good.  We need to be searching out the unfulfilled needs of others; be it friendship, food, clothing, knowledge, compassion...these should concern us more than material goods of worldly status.  For we who call ourselves Christians (and what a shame when we don't actually live like Christians), the teachings of Christ demand as much.

4. Seek to heal wounds, not create new ones.  We cannot forge ahead united if we keep attacking each other or keep picking at the scabs of old wounds.  It saddens me every time I see some 'Catholic" ideologue attack his or her fellow Catholics in the public forum acting as if they were the true arbiter of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, or justice sent to save the day.  Do you know what happens when an army attacks itself?  It loses!  It weakens itself to where it is ineffective.  Do you know what happens when an enemy sees the opposing army attacking itself?!  It emboldens them to attack with greater fervor!  While we are slicing and dicing each other on church building styles, music, and such...the enemy strikes harder at picking off the morally weaker.  This goes for our personal life as well! To what positive end do we carry our grudges?  To what positive end do we anxiously await the word or phrase that will offend me and give just cause to attack?  To what positive and Godly end is our aligning to ideological sides?  The enemy gather his forces as we squabble and squander our energy fighting with each other.  A house divided will fall.  that is true for our marriages, our families, our parishes, and our society.  Notice how those in power keep digging at division with the determination of a gold miner!  We can't give into this.  I would suggest limiting our time to the media that keeps stoking these fires for the sake of ratings.

5. Remember the only commandment that Christ gave us: Love one another!  He didn't say love another only if a person agrees with you 100%.  He didn't say love another person only if they are your ideological consort.  In fact he tells us to love all...even our enemies.  Nothing so disarms violence like compassion.  Nothing so changes hearts as being shown love when it is undeserved.  This is not pie in the sky hopeless is the command of Christ.

If we hope to weather the encroaching storm, it will be binding as one with our God and with one another.  We are not necessarily on any highway to hell...but how we respond to this world will tell us if we be on said highway or on that narrow path to heaven.  We cannot call good evil...we cannot justify sin.  Those who do will perish.  None of us should wish that fate on anyone.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Finding Triumph...the right way!

There is something within the human person that wants to succeed.  Most everyone wants things better and hates feeling helpless to change the trajectory of their life.  In fact, when we feel that helplessness, oftentimes depression, envy, and wrath follow.  The human spirit, by its nature, wants to triumph.  We want to win.  We want to have the wherewithal to rise to the best life has to offer.  This is not a bad thing.  I believe that God places these desires in us to help to strive to be all that He has created us to be.

    Many times, though, we judge success in merely humanistic terms: financial wealth, good heath, the esteem of our peers, and a world without limitations.  As Americans, we have a deep seated belief that should we apply ourselves as hard as possible, that success should be guaranteed.  Nowadays, many believe that success and triumph should be guaranteed with little to no effort…that success and triumphed are owed to us.  There are large segments of society that believe success and all that goes with it are entitlements of which they are cheated should they not get it.  When success and triumph are measured in such humanistic terms, they are bound to failure.  Yet we are geared toward success…so what gives?!

    More often than not, health, wealth, esteem, and such are byproducts of living a good life…not that which causes a good life.  I will go one step more:  should happiness in our lives be even dependant upon such things?  The Scriptures would say not.  By worldly standards, Jesus is an utter failure: he dies a violent death on trumped up charges, he dies dirt poor, what few people he had following him betray him, deny him, or simply run away, what little he does have (the clothes on his back) are also taken from him as he is exposed naked and bleeding to death as sport for his enemies to gloat upon.  Jesus is not exactly fodder for the cover of Forbes magazine.  Yet, He changed the world and changed the course of our eternal life!  We know that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday.  We know that Easter Sunday comes as well! 
    This weekend we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross.  In the time of Jesus, this would have been considered utter madness!  The cross would have been considered a cause of great shame and agony…a place of defeat.  Christ, though, wins His eternal battle on a cross…a battle over Satan, sin, and ultimately death.  No amount of taunting, torment, or shame can rob Jesus of this!  Triumph comes not from a  conquering for one’s own gain; it comes from conquering for the sake of others.  There is no true triumph were there is no death to self.  Remember, Jesus repeatedly says that those unwilling to take up there cross cannot follow Him!  Unless we move away from a selfish ’me first’ mentality, we will never understand what true triumph is nor know the peace of mind that comes with it.  Perhaps that is why no accumulation of worldly goods, pleasure, power, or honor ever seem to be enough.  We seek triumph where it is not to be found.  That which drives us to triumph will never be sated by that which can never sate it.

    How then do we know if we are seeking triumph where it not going to ever be found?  The clearest place to see this is our attitude.  Am I unhappy, fearful, resentful, or envious?  Those are solid signs that something is wrong and needs to desperately change.  Many times we wait for outside sources to change, hinging our actions on theirs.  This is a copout!  Bad things happen to the good and the bad just as good things do.  Both the good and bad have to deal with sickness, death, disappointments, betrayals, and suffering.  These will happen.  God desires to be with us in all of this, both the good and bad.  He wants us to triumph.  However, no triumph can be had until I am willing let go of those feelings of anger, envy, bitterness, and such.  These things obscure my ability to see the good and right path; they rob me of joy and peace in the midst of the greatest struggles.  I think so many times when we cry out to God in distress, He might well respond with “Well, quit hitting yourself with a sledge hammer!”  Christ already hammered those sins to the Cross…how about letting them die there?!  There is no need to carry this iron laden baggage.  Christ, however, will take from us what we are unwilling to hand over.  This baggage prevents our triumph.

    How, then, do we change this?  How do I get rid of the bitterness, anger, envy, and resentment?  The first step is the hardest: getting the focus of my life off of the person I see in the mirror.  All of these things need a sense of self-centeredness to thrive.  If I dwell on I am put out, cheated, maligned, hated, and such, it becomes sure recipe for perpetual bitterness and resentment.  Let us look to Christ on the Cross.  Because He was pouring Himself out for the good of others, He endures with patience and grace everything thrown at Him.  Did He deserve the scorn, hate, and mocking He got?  No.  Did He deserve the pain, torture, and sadism He received? No.  Remember, He is the Son of God as well as human being…at a thought, He could have wiped out all his enemies and exacted revenge on His persecutors.  Rather he prays for them as He says, “Father, forgive them, they know what they do.”  Even though those around Him count themselves as His enemies, He doesn’t see them as such.  Nor does He treat them as such.  Imagine, if you will, what freedom would come from taking such an attitude! 

    Second, we must get away from the idea that anyone owes me anything.  St Paul reminds us in Romans to owe no one anything other than to love them.  It will be very hard for me to get worked up about being cheated if I am not engaging is such behavior. Furthermore, we have to acknowledge that as we are owed nothing, that we must use wisdom and prudence in how we negotiate life.  How many of the pickles we find ourselves in are monsters of our own creation?  How much of our problems are more because of our own poor choices and their consequences?  It is not other peoples’ faults if the consequences of my choices come home to roost!  It is not God’s fault!  It is mine.  Consequently I can reap the consequences of good choices (you know, cooperating with God’s will?) like chastity, honesty, diligence, humility, simplicity, and selflessness.  Good choices, though, do require some embrace of the Cross by which we die to self.  Thankfully, God gives us the grace to endure these little deaths if we should so choose to do it.

    Third, we must take these sins to confession and allow the healing grace of God to bind these wounds and heal them.  We cannot expect to be made whole if we are unwilling to that which is necessary to make it so.  It doesn’t matter how the wounds got there.  It doesn’t matter whose fault is that I became bitter and resentful…it must be dealt with or it will eventually lead to our death by a spiritual septic shock.   

    Our triumph as people of faith came from the loving willingness of the Son of God to leave the safety of heaven, become one of us, and offer that life on a Cross for our good and eternal happiness.  Christ triumphs.  Can we imagine that somehow we can find victory and triumph in any other way?  I would imagine so many are weary of the bitterness and anger.  They tire of living with resentment.  We know that these things prevent us from success and stymie triumph.  Should we actually want triumph we need to make better choices, use the wisdom and grace God gives us to make the hard decisions that will help us find peace in the storms of life.  None of this can happen as long as we resent, are envious, bitter, and angry.  God is all too willing to unshackle us from these chains (His Son even died on the Cross so they could come undone).  It might take a strength we think we don’t think we have and unlearning destructive patterns of behavior and replacing them with life giving patterns.  Triumph is never easy.  Never.  God is willing to give all we need to achieve that victory…but we must choose to do so.

Do Catholics Need a Personal Relationship with God?

Yes.  In a word, yes.  Okay, that was short.  Many Catholics, however, would sternly debate such a notion.  Many would say that this is a protestant idea.  Not so.  I will explain.
    Over the years of study and spiritual reading I have done, the call for a personal relationship is spoken of in very powerful language in the Scriptures, the writings of Church Fathers and Doctors such as St. Augustine, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (to name a few), through Church documents including the Councils of Trent and Vatican II, to the modern day writings of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  “Personal relationship” is probably too ambiguous a term though.  People hear this and think that it means we have God as a buddy or pal; that it is a relationship of equals.  Many bristle at this and so they should.  Many try to have this kind of a relationship with God and find it wanting.  To be clear, when the Church and the Scriptures speak of a personal relationship, this is not what they are talking about.
    So what is meant?  Perhaps a better term would be that we are called to have a familial relationship with Jesus and with the Trinity.  I hope we would agree that the relationships in our lives that are the most personal are those we have with family.  The New Testament shows us time and again this.  Jesus is revealed as the Son.  He reveals the 1st Person of the Trinity as ’Father’ and “Abba”.  Jesus likens the relationship we are called to have with the Father as that of a trusting child to a loving father.  How much more personal can you get?  He calls all who do His will His “mother, brothers and sisters.”  In this same spirit, St. Paul and the other writers of the Epistles predominantly use the term ’brothers and sisters’ to explain our interrelationship and St. Paul refers to us as the adopted sons and daughters of God; a spirit of adoption given through THE Son, Jesus Christ.  It does not get any more personal than this.
    So why do a majority of Church-going Catholics not believe that one must have a personal relationship with God in order to be a good Catholic?  I would guess for numerous reasons.  First, it is not talked about very much overtly.  The language used in Mass can be commonplace enough as to be unnoticed, homilies usually do not use such language for fear of sounding too this or that, and other factors of the same sort.  Second, the language was adopted by Protestantism and many Catholics think it is therefore a Protestant teaching.  It is not.  The writings of the saints through the ages and the very Scriptures themselves would attest to this.  Third, it is a product of a society that grows more and more divided and isolated.  Fourth, it is human nature.  Human nature has a tendency to judge the worth of anything by what it can do for me with the least amount of effort.  This isn’t because we are lazy, but because we are so over taxed with our time, energy, and resources.  Anything that might call for us to change behavior is seen as just a greater imposition of our dwindling time and energy.  It is why people are slow to, if not rebellious against,  the need to alter eating and exercise habits, even when their health is dwindling.  Human beings can be creatures of habits even when those habits are harming them.
    Allow me then to make a case for why investing ourselves in a relationship with God and His people is to our betterment.  Jesus Himself told us, “Come to me ALL you are burdened and I will give you rest.”  Nurturing a relationship with God and His people reminds us that we are not meant to go it alone.  Ideally, we are to find comfort in this relationship and allow God to help us bear the weight of our lives.  We are also to find in our fellow Christians companions who through mutual love and respect find a band of brothers and sisters who are there for each other in times good and bad.  In an isolated society where it is easy to hide behind the relative anonymity of a tweet, Facebook post, text, and such…knowing that not only are we not alone, but that others want to be with us is greatly comforting.  I know it is my own feeling ( a feeling I know is shared by many others) that I tire of the divisions that seem to thrive in this society and are looking for any outlet through which to explode.  What happened in Ferguson is a good example.  What is happening in the Middle East is also a good example.  Like many, I do not feel the necessity to walk this life alone.  That is good thing considering the teachings and offer of Christ.
    The catch is that like all good relationship, it will require change.  That is hard.  It is hard to change patterns of behaviors, even if we recognize that these patterns are toxic in our lives.  It is easy to allow these to spiral out of control.  The devil will always be there to tell us that either we cannot or do not need to break free from these behaviors. Being listless and helpless are bad places to be.  These behaviors are not things we have to turn around before entering into a relationship with God and His people; to turn these behaviors around will require that relationship with God and the support of our brothers and sisters!  God will give us the grace to do these things should we decide to do so.  We should be supporting one another in progressing in good. 
    To support one another, of course, means we have to talk to one another and help without waiting to be asked.  Catholics and small parishes can very cliquish.  The parish in Corinth was.  That cliquishness required St Paul to write two letters to them to remind them of just how inappropriate that was as followers of Christ.  Pope St. Clement had to write them as well.  St. James had to write another community because of their cliquishness. So any cliquishness that we feel in this parish is nothing new, it has been with us since the beginning of the Church.  However, just as St. Paul, St. James, and St Clement wanted such things out of the Body of Christ, so must we.  Cliquishness is inherently sinful…cliques divide what Christ came to unite!  Cliques obscure, if not entirely block, many from seeking a relationship with God because the human face present in the parish doesn’t point to such a relationship.  I just want to be clear that cliquishness is by no means exclusive to either any single parish or the Catholic Church (quite the opposite is true), but that the cliquishness harms us and drives people away.  We cannot hold on to cliques and seek a deep relationship with God at the same time.
    This is one of the things I would really like for us to work on with the grace of God this year.  Parishes become the face of the relationship we are suppose to have with God.  It is why God kept calling for the People of Israel to be His people who would be a light to the nations.  It is why Jesus reminds us that we as His followers are to a light, salt, a city set on a hill, and his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  It is why the Eucharist is at the very center of who we are! I know people in this parish who feel isolated, they tell me.  It is easy to say that if only they more outgoing that they would find warmth, but it is not Christlike to wait for someone to come to us.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus kept meeting people where they were at so as to lift them up. Hence, let us pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be the kind of parish that Christ Himself wants…a parish that will give witness to the life altering relationship that Christ comes to give us.  We are called to be a family, not a clique.  Let us cooperate with God’s grace to this end!