0DD9F548-C49A-4CF6-AE34-1251A55BE3A6In February of 1999, Monster.com ran a famous ad in that year’s Superbowl. Perhaps you remember it. It was a bunch of kids answering the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers were a bit telling… “When I grow up, I want to…” “File papers all day…” “Have a brown nose…” “Claw my way up to middle management…” “Be a yes man…” “Be a yes woman…” “Be underappreciated…” “Be forced into early retirement…” And then the tag line, written across the screen, reading: “What do you want to be?” – with the Monsters.com logo displayed. Unspoken was the assumption that, “with us, you don’t have to settle…”

What made the commercial so striking is what it tapped into in our human psyche. We don’t like being unimportant or unnoticed.

Neither did the disciples. And they got caught, right in the act of pretending to be somebody. An argument, a discussion – “who has done the most for Jesus – who’s given up the most, sacrificed the most, laid the most on the line for Jesus”? And therefore, who is going to get the biggest reward, the biggest prize at the end of it all?

Jesus, who was always so alert to what was going on around him, asks, once home: “What are you talking about?” I suspect he was hoping they would ‘man up’ and admit it. But like kids with hands caught in the cookie jar who knew they had no defense, they were silent.

“SIGH!” And so what does Jesus, the teacher do? He gives them his version of the monster.com commercial. “If anyone wants to climb the corporate ladder of the kingdom…” then be ready to do the filing, or the laundry, or the middle management, or taking out the trash, or cutting the lawn, or… That is what it means to be important in the kingdom of heaven.

And then, to make sure they “GOT IT” – Jesus places in their midst a living example of the unimportance they are to strive for. A child. And it is not because the child is a child and kind of cute and adorable, as in the commercial, but because the kid is a NOBODY, a NOTHING. No rights, status, rank, privilege, anything. Though that is a foreign concept to us, even as late as the middle ages Thomas Aquinas instructed people in the Summa Theologica that the order of ‘rescuing people from a burning building was: Father, Mother, Wife and THEN children. They were on the lowest rung. So Jesus says in effect – you must be willing to serve those who are the last and least. That must have given his disciples pause.

It is so difficult to learn that, to trust that, to embrace that way of thinking. If you have watched any of the republican presidential debates, you realize how counter cultural a message it STILL is here in the United States and in most of our world’s history.

I sometimes wonder if we could have some kind of ritual within the Catholic church that would remind us of that. Sort of like the holy water reminds us of our baptism, this ritual, whatever it would look like, would put Jesus’ invitation before us as clearly as that child Jesus put in front of the disciples in his day.

To that end, I do know that in Vienna in Austria there is a church in which the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, are buried. When royal funerals used to arrive, the mourners knocked at the door of the church to be allowed in. A priest inside would ask “Who is it that desires admission here?” A guard would call out, “His apostolic majesty, the emperor.” The priest would answer, “I don’t know him.” They would knock a second time, and again the priest would ask who was there. The funeral guard outside would announce, “The highest emperor.” A second time the priest would say, “I don’t know him.” A third time they would knock on the door and the priest would ask “Who is it?” The third time, the answer would return: “A poor sinner, your brother” and the priest would let them in.

When all is said and done, God will not ask how important we were, how many companies we led, or even if we ‘clawed our way up to middle management, or lived with a brown nose.” Rather, he will ask simply: “Did you serve every last, least and lost one of my brothers and sisters with all you had and all hoped to be…”

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Source: Press Photo

Press Photo

It is a heartbreaking image, one that you can’t ‘unsee’ once you have seen it. It is a small boy, face down on the edge of the surf, arm tucked neatly at his side, tennis shoes limp on the sand behind him — lifeless on the beach. Now we know his name and what happened to his family. The 3-year-old found dead Wednesday along the shores of a Turkish resort town was named Aylan Kurdi. His family was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos when their boat capsized. His brother and mother also died. Only the boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.

His family are Kurdish Syrians from Kobani, a town near the Turkish border fought over by the Islamic State and Kurdish forces. They were desperately trying to emigrate to Canada. They decided not to give up after their attempts were unsuccessful. Like so many people fleeing conflict and economic destitution for the relative safety of Europe this year, it cost them their lives. In a report published Thursday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council estimated over 2,000 Syrians have drowned since 2011 trying to reach Europe. And though those other 2,000 will be nameless for most of us, Aylan Kurdi has put a face upon this humanitarian crisis. What will we do about this massive wave of immigration that threatens to inundate much of Europe?

I would like to hope that this image will turn some kind of tide. That, somehow, seeing this human tragedy – written so absolutely small in that limp body of a three year old child – will galvanize our hearts to say: “No more. Never again.” That it will move our hearts to say with Isaiah to every other immigrant on the shores of Turkey – “Be Strong, Fear Not. Here is your God, who comes with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you.”

How hard it is to say that, much less HOPE that in our days. And this image (show pic) is not the only ‘tough image out there. There are images from the latest of the Planned Parenthood Videos showing the callous treatment of aborted children’s remains – speaking of them as ‘commodities to be bought and sold and traded.” We read about an 11 year old boy shooting to death a 16 year intruder with his parents’ gun. When hear the relentless chants of “Black lives Matter” followed by “Police lives matter” or “Gay lives matter” or “Fill in the blank lives matter”, when the truth is that “ALL lives matter”! It is easy to get fatigued. It is easy to say: Where do I start?

Maybe we start with one simple image. Aylan Kurdi. And we print it and put it on our bathroom mirror, so that everytime we shave and wash and brush our teeth, we let it connect us to that desire for justice that God has implanted so deeply within us, that it comes out sometimes as outrage, and anger and sorrow/heartbreak.

And, if we are courageous enough, we can let this image train our hearts to learn that every bit of suffering in our world has a human face and a human story. When we know that, not just in our heads, but, as this picture evokes within us, in our hearts – then we must cry out for the oppressed, weep for the loss of innocent life and act to create a world of justice. But here is the kicker.

We must never forget to pray in hope.

God has not forgotten and God will not forget. Our hope for justice is an inkling of God’s will, “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” as we heard in the responsorial psalm.

When we let God’s will and desire for us take root, then like the apostle James, we begin by not making distinctions among the poor and the rich at church, treating the “poor person in shabby clothes” with disdain and “the one wearing the fine clothes” with honor. Like Jesus, we know that sometimes, all we can do is to tenderly take ONE suffering person aside and touch their ears and heart that they might know God’s healing love through us.

I made some copies of this picture (yet because it is disturbing, I understand that perhaps some of you with small children might not want to take one home). Take it home and put it where you will see it. And each time, remember Aylan Kurdi and his family in your prayers. And let that image – as tragic and sad and hard to look at as it might be – move all of us to be God’s vindication and justice in our world.

Print copy of Aylan Kurdi’s picture (pdf)

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fridge2Our housekeeper is very good at keeping the rectory clean. But she also knows not to touch the food and leftovers that I have in the refrigerator. So, as I was putting away some food yesterday afternoon, I noticed some of ‘my’items in one of the crispers that had been there “longer than they should.” My question was: “Can you grow penicillin on kale?” I didn’t think so either. More disappointing was finding the leftover pizza that I thought would be great for a lunch, but when I opened the box, I was not sure if the grey looking stuff was a thin veneer of cheese over the sausage or part of something else… And, did you know that when you leave a lime in the back corner of the ice box for a couple of months (I’m not sure just HOW old it was) it become pretty much like a corkball – small, rock solid, and able to bend steel knives <<snap>> just like that. How can stuff that is so good get so bad so quickly? (Or maybe not so quickly, as the case is. This undoubtedly says more about how often I clean out my stuff in the fridge.) But it still turns my stomach when good food goes bad.

How does something so good, turn into something so bad is also the question with which today’s scriptures grapple. How can religion, which is such a good thing, faith, which is responsible for so much human flourishing, that helps so many people hope and hang on, go so bad? How does the practice of faith that has served and helped the poor and needy so well, – how does it sometimes become so toxic? And yet, we’ve all seen it. We’ve all seen it when the good of religion and faith and church, somehow turns bad inside and what comes out in anything but holy. We certainly get that in the extremes of religious practice – the genocide between rival “Christian” tribes in Africa, the beheadings of Isis and the destroying of historical and cultural landmarks of our days. Yet, in the normal practicing of faith, how do you tell when, like food left in the ‘fridge too long, your practice of the faith is spoiled? Today’s Scriptures give us at least three guiding criteria:

The first insight comes from James’ letter. He says clearly, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. Religion that is pure … care(s) for orphans and widows.” How can we know if our practice of our faith is healthy and good and nourishing? James says that it leads us to compassionate action – to actually DO SOMETHING for the people of this world – especially those on the margins of society. James goes so far as to say that if my faith isn’t leading me to more compassionate, concrete actions, then it’s time to clean out the fridge.

Secondly, in addition to being “doer’s of the word,” Jesus says that healthy religion also has to focus on what happens in our hearts, on our interiority. He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And it is “from within people, from their hearts” that come evil thoughts and sin.” Faith must make our hearts bigger. Unhealthy practice of our faith focuses too much on the exterior, on how I look to others. That begets the envy, arrogance and folly –that whole list of attitudes Jesus confronts. When I find myself asking: “Am I doing this the “right” way? – AND then judging those who are obviously doing it “the wrong way”; when I ask: Where is my reward for having sacrificed for God?” I know my heart is not where it should be. I suspect that it’s time to clean out the fridge.

Finally, Jesus again focuses us on one of the values deepest to his own heart: that healthy religious practice is inclusive. Those practices of the law which began is such a positive way: “What nation has laws like we have” that allow us to follow the path to God so completely – began to become an end, and not the means to the end of loving God and neighbor. His great critique of the religious practice of his day were these “human traditions” the Pharisees clung to. Following them all too often put them as the insiders – the saved, the elite – and others as unwelcome. It was too easy to create “a spiritual country club of the elite” instead of people of the gospel. When I find myself keeping people out of my sphere of love and influence, excluding them from my life and service, then it’s time to clean out the fridge.

The practice of faith, like the food in the back of my refrigerator, can go bad. Or it can be one of the most transforming things of all.

This week, look at the way that you practice the faith with that gospel question to guide you – does my love of God spill over to help those on the margins, does it expand my heart, and does it become more and more welcoming of all I meet. Or, is it time to clean out the fridge?

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catholicI have a confession to make. I am a recovering “Shopping Cart Catholic.” You know how it goes. You walk down the first aisle of Catholicism – “I’ll take a can of ‘Holy Days of Obligation”, no problem. “The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the other sacraments” – better stock up on those. And there, on the top shelf, “the preferential option for the poor” – I love that stuff! It is easy to put those into my ‘cart’ – to live as a Catholic Christian with those teachings. Because they make sense of my world, because they fit my understanding of how Jesus visions the way we should be and could be – all the things in aisle one of Christianity.

But, when you turn down aisle two and three, it has not always been that easy. What about the church’s teaching on sexuality, whether that is in the orientation question, pre-marital sex or the birth control side? And then there’s that women ordination question. Better to not even touch that one. Next, is that whole aisle of ethical teachings – from capital punishment to human cloning to abortion to dignity of life and euthanasia issues. Do I have a sense of what the church is teaching there? Better leave it on the shelf! “Shopping Cart Christianity” – following Jesus down the convenience aisles of life – without ever dealing with the more difficult issues. I admit – I am a recovering shopping cart Catholic. Just like the folks in the time of Jesus.

After this long bread of life discourse – you finally hear the reaction of the people of Jesus’ time. Murmuring. Doubting. A hardening of the heart – ‘who can accept it?’ And then the conclusion: “As a result of this, many disciples returned to their former way of life.” Shopping cart disciples. People who were in it for the bread or for the healings or for the fame of being around him or for anything but the Spirit and life Jesus promised. But once it became clear what Jesus was about and what it might cost them, it was so hard for them to continue. It was so hard for them to trust. Because eventually that is what it is all about – trusting in Jesus as being the Spirit and life, of having the words of everlasting life. …What do you do when you are faced with the hard choice of following Jesus?

In many ways, the shopping cart stage of life is an apt description of the experience of college as well. It is a time for the trying out of so many different and new things. Let’s put a box of living on my own in the cart. Ahh, sweet freedom! And how about a nice bottle of “Party Hearty!” for Friday nights. “Awesome!” Hey, check this out <<reach for imaginary item>> – One “skip every morning class” card. That rocks! But, then you turn down aisle two, and you see items like
“4 hrs of STUDY a night’.
‘Keeping up with the parents and family while away from home’. ‘Smart choices around alcohol consumption!’
How do you find your way through? Will you go through life, only sampling the convenience items at the checkout lane – usually junk food/items which have little permanent value? Of all the choices before you, how will you choose that which will help you be your truest and best self? Today’s gospel invites you to try what I call the Simon Peter test.

When Jesus turns to the twelve and asks them what they will do in the face of his difficult teaching, it is Simon who gives us the answer. And at first breath, it is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Jesus. “To whom shall we go?” It’s kind of like saying to your spouse on your 25th anniversary – “I’ll stay with you ‘cause I couldn’t find anyone else who would put up with me…” But, to his credit, Peter doesn’t stay in that kind of ‘path of least resistance following of his Lord.’ In his next statement, he hits it out of the park. “You have the words of eternal life.” AHH! There is an experience of life, of love, of an expanding ability to be in and of the world when I am true to who you are and what you teach me about life. This following of you, step by step, brings me to a place of holiness and self giving that I might never have known any other way. That’s the Simon Peter test about the difficult teachings of Jesus and the church. Does being faithful to this teaching bring me closer to Jesus and does it awaken in me an experience of eternal life?

And here is the other truth I know. Unlike some things in college where you can sort of know what to expect without much effort, to integrate the things of God and the truths of the Spirit in your life, you have to ‘put it in your cart’ first. You have to live and walk the teaching from the inside so you can test it. You can’t learn by reading the label and leaving it on the shelf. You have to live the teaching/truth/value – which is a work of humility and hope and trust. The challenge is to live the teaching until you come to know the deepest truth about it…

This evening, the same Jesus who asked the Twelve disciples – “Will you also leave?” asks us the same question. Will you be a shopping cart Catholic? Or will you take the Simon Peter test? In all the choices you make and the decisions you choose, will you live them asking that simple question:– Does choosing this lead me to life and life to the full? Does it allow me to say, with Simon Peter: “Lord, You have the words of everlasting life?”

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one wayThe fastest growing religious group in the United States is “Ex-Catholics”. Folks who were in the fold for many years, but now, have found a reason not to stay. For many, the sex abuse scandal was the last straw. I see it in my work with college students – the current generation of students come from parents who left the church because of how the church dealt with the abuse – so they know little of the faith and the heritage that is ours. For others, it was that radical Pope N, (fill in the blank) – Benedict or John Paul or Francis – something about what they presented about the faith was shocking or scandalous or just a bridge to far. For others, it was the teaching against gay marriage. Or the teaching about the evil of abortion and the rights of the unborn.

For the followers of Jesus, it was his teaching on the Eucharist: “This kind of talk is hard to endure!” And they would no longer walk in his company. Those must have been hard words for John the evangelist to write. I suspect he could close his eyes and name about 20 good men who left, 20 women who no longer followed, 35 kids who tugged at mom and dad’s side as they walked with the master – now just gone. I can close my eyes and do the same. My oldest brother. Two of my favorite Newman center alumnae. Three parishioners here at St. Ann. All part of the fasting growing religion in the U.S.

Fr. Barry Moriarity, the dean of formation at the seminary, once said this: “If you want to leave the seminary, you will find a reason to do so. It might be the ‘no facial hair part of the dress code’ or the celibacy demanded of priests; it might be the more difficult teachings of the church, or your own grappling with the leadership role the church is asking of you. But if you want to leave, you’ll find a reason to do so. The challenge is to be in touch with the reasons why you stay! The challenge is to be in touch with the reasons why you stay!

In wonderful ways, Simon Peter’s response to Jesus when asked if he, too, would leave, gives us both ends of the spectrum of why we might stay, doesn’t he? “Lord, to whom shall we go?” As if to say: “I got nothing else. No imagination, no energy, nor passion – so let me just float along, because it is the path of least resistance. I know this, so I will just stay here. And though that may keep you coming to church for a while, what I know about that choice is this. 1) You will be a nominal Catholic at best. 2) Like the seminary, if that is the only reason why you stay a committed Catholic, then you, too, eventually, will find a reason to leave. (I delayed ordination to the priesthood precisely for that reason – I could have been ordained with my classmates – but it would have been the easy decision – the safe choice. It is what I knew, what I trained and studied for. But that was not enough to keep me in line for ordination. I needed something more than the path of least resistance.)

The second pole of Simon Peter’s profession is where he hits one out of the park. You have the words of everlasting life! AHHH, now we’re talking. There is an experience of life, a fullness, a gift that wells up within you. I am never so challenged, yet so alive as when I find myself a part of this body of Christ we call the Roman Catholic Church. I can be outraged, and angered and saddened and frustrated – but all of those things are because I have found something that is ‘the stuff of eternal life’ here. There are things worth the disagreements and disappointments and struggles that come with being a follower of Jesus in the Catholic Church.

I keep coming back to Jesus because in his words – however perplexing – I’ve heard something that rings true. And I experience in my attempts to follow the gospel a life that wells up in me beyond my own small world. And I stay because there is a presence here at this altar that I find NO WHERE else on this planet. THIS experience of communion, this experience of life, gathered around a table, NOT JUST AS INDIVIDUALS, but TOGETHER – I find nowhere else. Here, I feel more alive than I do anywhere else in my world. HERE, around this altar, gathered with you in prayer, I know the presence of the One who has life for me, for US, as we walk the road together. Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God…

So, do you want to become a member of the fastest growing religion in the U.S.? You’ll find a reason. If you want to stay, you’ll need to be in touch with that experience of everlasting life, of everlasting love that wells up within you. Let that question of Jesus – Will you also leave? – and the response of Peter – “You have the words of everlasting life” – be the source of your prayer and reflection this week.

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imageThe USDA lists 6 food groupings – six categories that are helpful in thinking about a healthcy diet, and into which most foods fall. • FruitsVegetablesGrainsProteinsDairyOils If you add JUNK food, there are 7. However, I think they missed a significant category. Today, I would like to talk about one particular kind of food: dangerous food.

I call this food ‘dangerous’ because this food <<hold up bread and wine >> when we bless it at Mass is a person. And this person asks of us a response. The meal we share so many weekends together: This is dangerous food

When Jesus said today, “I am the bread of life … whoever eats this bread will live forever… he was talking about HIS WAY OF LIFE! Eating the bread that is his body, drinking the cup that is his blood means a commitment that we will take on HIS world-view, HIS commitment to love. It is the choice to go forth from here and let this make a difference in how we live. Today. This is dangerous food indeed.

I wonder, if at times, it is too easy for us to treat the Eucharist as if this is merely some kind of a ‘comfort food’ so, to speak. I made the sacrifice to be here, and now I get this thing which is good for me, and kind of makes me feel good about myself. It gives me strength in the struggles and battles; and sees me through the rough patches. And that is all well and good.

But this Eucharist we receive is SO MUCH MORE than that. This food asks of us a commitment to a way of life. That we would let ourselves be transformed by him. This is food for the most important journey ever: the DIFFICULT journey of love.

Please allow me one story that has always haunted me a bit …

Some years ago, a newspaper photographer was sent to Ecuador to cover a devastating earthquake. In the midst of catastrophic suffering – he saw a simple scene of compassion that moved him deeply.
He said the line for people receiving food was long and at the very end, stood a young girl about 12 years of age. As she was slowly getting closer to the front, her attention seemed always to focus on three figures under the trees across the street. At long last she stepped forward to get her food. The workers were almost ashamed to tell her that all that was left was one banana. Quietly she took the precious gift and ran across the street where three small children waited.

He watched what happened and said, “She peeled the banana and then very carefully divided it into three equal parts. She placed the precious food into the eager hands of those three younger ones, then sat down herself, and …. licked the inside of the banana peel. The photographer said: “In that moment, I swear I saw God!”

Yes, he did see the face of God. For that is indeed the kind of God we have. Jesus “gave it all away”, even life itself that we could live. How right, then, that we would gather for Eucharist, to give thanks for such amazing, self-emptying love.

But we are more than spectators here. We too are called to enter into this dying, being willing to allow our bodies to be broken for love, our blood poured out for others. When Jesus asked the sons of Zebadee: “Can you drink of the cup of which I am to drink?” he was not asking if they had sufficient motor skills to get the cup to their lips. He was asking, “are you willing to do the dying that love will ask of you today?” And here is the other truth about that. Each time I come to this altar, I know that question is being asked of me. I never know exactly what that will look like, but I know it will be asked of me this day, in ways little, or big. When I drink of the cup, I am saying that I am willing to do the dying love will ask of me this day. This is dangerous food, indeed.

FruitsVegetablesGrainsProteinsDairyOils. The USDA would have us think about the food with take in with this framework in mind. Here, at this altar, we are called to remember that there is another food group: dangerous foods. Food that demands of us each day to do the dying that love asks. Will you drink the cup? Will you take the bread? The choice is yours…

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sandalsWe have all heard the scenario – you wake up to discover your house in on fire. Everyone is safe, and now you only have time to bring ONE thing with you. What do you bring? It is an exercise in priorities – what really matters of all the items you have and possess. And it is revealing in terms of your attachments. If you have trouble deciding on one item, then perhaps there are too many things in your world…

With that as a backdrop, I confess, in all my years of hearing this gospel, like that burning house scenario – I always understood Jesus asking: “What do you really, really need to take on the journey?” Because Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms: “Bring no food, no suitcase, no money in your belt” – everything that most of us would pack first if we were going on a long journey. His invitation then, was to live so completely trusting in God, that you were attached to nothing. You were to live so that nothing possessed you other than the Kingdom of God. So I found it interesting that in Mark’s version of the sending of the disciples, they are commanded to leave pretty much everything behind EXCEPT for two things:

Did you catch them? Take nothing with you on the journey, except for SANDALS and a WALKING STAFF. I don’t want to read into this more than is there – but those two items are kind of telling, aren’t they. In sending his disciples out with these two ‘permitted items, he tells them – be prepared for a journey. Be prepared to walk a long way – longer than you’d be able to do in bare feet. Bring a staff to help you overcome the obstacles on the way, because there will be some. Be prepared to go to places you never dreamed you’d go on your own…

…Students from the UMSL Newman Center left this morning for a service trip to Nicaragua. I can tell you that they took more than sandals and a walking staff. 😉 But what I challenged them to take as they went was what Jesus invited them to know – the ability to actually walk into other peoples’ lives, to enter another’s world, to sojourn to the sacred ground of those they serve, not as saviors and heroes, but as servants and disciples. To walk, sandals and staff in hand, to be the love of God to those they meet, and to receive the love of God in those they contact. It will be interesting to hear how well they did that.

Secondly, as Jesus sends out his disciples, he knows that there are some roads they/we will walk on that they/we would not necessarily choose. Which is why, even before Jesus sets the limits of what to bring, he tells them HOW to go. In pairs. Two by Two. As a mini-“community of faith” so they can support and encourage and challenge one another.

…I will celebrate a home mass for my friends Dave and Ann tonight. As I think about their lives, and how that diagnosis of ALS has affected them, I realize that they have spent quite a bit of time with their walking staff and sandals on. They have gone to Jeff City, and to Washington DC – to advocate for others suffering with Lou Gerhig’s disease and the care they need with this disease that strikes faster and harder than insurance programs are authorized to keep up with. They have journeyed to ice bucket challenges and ALS walks and 5-K runs. And, through it all, they have surrounded themselves with a wonderful group of fellow pilgrims, who have helped with Dave’s care and therapy. They ‘get it’ – partly from necessity, and mostly due to faith – that Jesus intends for them to travel, not as an isolated couple, but to let others in to care for and nurture them. And they continue to make the longest walk of all – to trust that somehow God is found in the welcome and love and hospitality of their friends and families who are walking with them on the journey..

So, where is Jesus inviting you to don your walking stick and sandals? What long or short or in-between journey are you being called to be a part of?
• Papal encyclical Laudate Si – walk the journey of recycling, of minimal use of water, or reducing your carbon footprint.)
• We are just under a month away from the 1st Anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting – and though the confederate flag is down in some states, the experience of racism continues. How will you travel in that world.
• WHO is God invited you to journey with – as he sends us out minimally two by two? Who is on your heart to pray for?

Take nothing for the journey EXCEPT your walking stick and sandals – not because the house is burning down and there is only time for one item– but because it is how we best travel as disciples – trusting the Lord and living in community. And have no doubt about it – the same Jesus who sent his disciples on the road, calls us also to go and bring the good news to every place where we will walk…

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Is grace enough?

Published on 05. Jul, 2015 by in Sunday Homilies


amazing_graceThough I was not in the country when it happened, I was informed that our commander in chief sang a verse of that quintessential hymn shared across so many religions at the funeral of those who were so tragically killed as they worshiped that Sunday morning in their church – Amazing Grace… Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me… We have all sung it. We have all tried to let those words be the truth about who we are. Yet, how often, after singing that, do I revert back to living my walk of faith as if it all depended upon me? As if it is all about how good I am and how faithful I am, and in a way that says that grace has very little to do with how I live. Is grace really enough? Do I truly let it be really enough for me?

I was able to visit Dave and Ann Larson Friday night. So if there is good news to report about his ALS, is that he now has a piece of equipment that allows him to type and then ‘speak’ with his eyes. The computer tracks his eye movements as he looks at a screen, and then when his eyes stop on a letter, it ‘chooses’ that letter. Once done “typing” he looks at another icon that tells the computer to ‘speak out loud’ what he has typed with his eyes. It is amazing technology, and has re-opened channels of communication without someone having to hold a card with an alphabet on it and go line by line, letter by letter. That is the good news.

For everything else now, he is completely dependent on those around him. Talk about a “thorn in the flesh.” And yet, there is no ‘pity me’ in his eyes – just that same gentle humor and great courage that has been his response to the disease since day one. He has learned, and continues to learn, in ways that most of us hope we never have to, that God’s grace, mediated through family and friends and now even through technology – is still enough for him…

Is grace enough? Paul, that great spokesman for God, bold missionary to the gentiles, the mind and personality that would write over half of the New Testament, struggled with grace being enough. By his own admission, he wrestled with that “thorn in the flesh” – that temptation to do everything on his own without having to rely upon God. He was smart enough and gifted enough to pull it off. Except, fortunately for him and for us, in that one area. We don’t know WHAT that ‘thorn’ was, only that it was an area in his life where, no matter how smart or holy or prayerful or skilled, he could not get through this on his own.

But here is what we do know. After trying again and again to do just that – to get by on his own strength and merits – to not have to rely upon anyone but himself, Paul prays himself to a different place. It is a place where only Jesus matters – a place where only GRACE matters, where he is able to completely surrender all of his life and his struggles into the hands of God. In that moment, grace becomes enough. It becomes enough to allow him to meet every insult, every hardship, every persecution and every calamity. “Grace is indeed enough!” St. Paul shouts to us in that second reading.

Do we trust that? Deep down in your bones, are you and I able to sing full throatedly and full heartedly that song that President Obama led at that funeral service? Can you sing that refrain with your lives when, like my friend Dave, you are dependent upon everyone one else for everything?

This week – do a ‘President Obama’ and sing, if you can, (read if you must) those words about the Amazing Grace that surrounds us all, and let that grace become the source of your life and love and ministry. Then, like St. Paul, like my friend Dave, like so many throughout the ages of the church, may YOU discover that grace is indeed, always enough!

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sacrificial loveSometimes, I wonder if familiarity does indeed breed contempt, even in things that are amazingly holy. “Ah, another mass. Isn’t this nice. [look around] Sure glad the A/C works. [Look at ceiling] Wish they’d get around to repairing those stains in the ceiling. The new class of servers are cute, but they are a bit fidgety. Hmm! That couple that usually sits in front of me wasn’t there today. I hope they are okay… I’m glad it was not Fr. Ron today… he might ask me questions, and I never know the answers. Why did they pick that song at communion?” And so it goes. It is easy to take mass for granted because of our familiarity with it.

I wonder if the antidote on this Corpus Christi Sunday to that is to re-emphasis the mass at SACRIFICE. Since Vatican II, I think we have a good understanding of the Mass as meal, as food, as sustenance for the journey. And because we get that, it’s okay if we sometimes kind of cruise through mass like a meal at a fast food restaurant. But, when I think about Mass as sacrifice, as the laying down of one’s life – that is harder to ignore, especially when I see sacrifice in action.

So, where have you known sacrificial love these days? Let me share two quick stories. I had a free evening last Friday, so I went to Dave and Ann Larson’s house. Dave’s ALS has progressed, and that evening, he was confined to his bedroom/bed. He is now surrounded by more machines. Ann was explaining the technology, especially now that they use oxygen to assist him. There is that finger clip that monitors the blood oxygen level. That number, which shows up on the bipap machine needs to be somewhere between 96-98%. But there is another number equally important that also shows up. That is the CO2 level, and apparently, one of the dangers of using oxygen with a bipap machine is the inadvertent trapping of the harmful carbon dioxide inside the body.

So Ann now spends her nights in the chair by his bedside, checking every time she wakes up (about every half hour or so, all through the night.) to make sure that number is not too high or too low… She also helps to clean his mouth of the mucus that builds up, and keeps the mask clean. And helps to adjust him on the bed, and move the pillows and position the mask. And about 50 things that she just does *snap* as the disease is more and more invasive, and the care is more and more demanding. As I was driving away, the simple line from every mass we are blessed to partake in came rushing into my head. This is my body, given for you. Indeed, for Ann, that is exactly what she offers to Dave in her love.

Yesterday evening (Friday), I came back from late communion calls to see the side lot full of cars and people moving about. So I drove around the corner, and there were about 8 scouts milling about, with the trailer loaded, and ready to rumble. They were heading out for the weekend, an overnight camping trip. I asked who was going along, and I was told: There are 2 moms, one dad and Mike Hubbard going with them. Mike, apparently, is a category all his own…;-) And Mark Haley was driving the trailer with their gear down, and then returning on Sunday to pick it back up. Was it world shattering stuff going on in that parking lot? No. It was ‘just’ an “Ordinary” sacrifice – of people laying down their lives so that the next generation of children on this planet might know a mentoring kind of love. And again, I heard the echo from the Mass: “This is my blood, poured out for you and for the many…”

And so it goes. In ways that are heroic and mundane and every degree in between, you and I are surrounded by people who are living sacrificial lives. And in doing so, they are mirroring Christ to the world. And I like to believe that they bring all those choices and sacrifices and join them to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Altar. When I am mindful of that, no mass ever seems ‘ordinary’.

So, this Corpus Christi Sunday, I invite you to think about the Mass and sacrifices being offered on this altar with one little change of perspective. See the words of institution, not from your eyes, but from mine. Put yourself where I stand as you hear those words. You see, every time I hold up the bread and say “this is my body”, I also see past the Body of Christ in my hands to the parents who are raising their special need child. And the woman with cancer who is more concerned about her son than her own dying. And the single mom shepherding 4 active kids at mass – all who are the living Body of Christ. Each time I hold that cup: “poured out for you and for many…” I see the face of the man who cuts the elderly neighbor’s lawn and shovels the snow for him. I see the nurse who goes above and beyond the call of duty in caring for her patients. I see the family that meets to ask how much to set aside to help the Vincent De Paul society this month…

And then, as my eyes go back and forth between Body and Blood of Christ in my hands, and the Body of Christ in the pews, I see my Eucharistic Lord. And that is why I kneel after those words – because BOTH you and the Body and Blood are so Holy, and so amazingly beautiful. When you see the sacrifice – of our Lord and of each other – then it never seems like ‘just another mass…’

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trinityI was introduced, to a concept about the trinity that I had never heard before. (maybe I ducked during that class, I don’t know.) A man can be “Father, Brother, and Son” – all at once. A woman can be “Mother, Daughter, Sister”. One can be “Nephew, Uncle, Cousin;” or “Niece, Aunt, Friend.” These are kinds of words which describe how we are connected to one another, how we relate to each other and what the bonds are that exist between us. None of them exhaust the mystery of who we are. None of them completely capture the complexity of whose we are. And if that is true of us as human beings, isn’t it also true of our experience of the Triune God. Different names, different descriptors, different ways of trying to understand this mystery we call the Trinity, yet, it is the same God we experience. Some call God – Father, Son and Spirit; others relate as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier; still others as Source, Mediator and Summit. We can use all kinds of words to try and frame our experience of that mystery. Yet, when all is done, our words can only help to peel back the mystery in a small way…

But, isn’t it also true that beyond the words, we all have our experiences of God? There are events in our daily lives that pull back the veil just a bit and help us understand the nature of God. And though we each may have our favorite images and icons that help us grasp the mystery, let me suggest three from the common experience of a wedding, that may unpack something of who we know as God. Let me use the most recent wedding of some kids I have known from CFC to unpack the mystery.

1) There is that long walk down the aisle for the Father (and sometimes Mother) of the bride with their daughter. And then that all so brief moment, when daddy’s little girl is no longer his little girl to care for. I always watch that moment – this time there were a few words to Dan, the groom, a kiss on the forehead and a gentle giving of his daughters hand into this ‘stranger’s arms’ in hope and fear and surrender. A little tear there. And I image God the father’s love for us when he allowed his son to be born of the virgin. Like every father of the bride, His Heart was full of hopes and dreams and fears and courage as He gave away His treasure into OUR hands. He gave away His treasure so that WE might know life. That is what we know in every wedding and every moment of our days – A God who loves us that way. And whether you call that experience – Father, or Creator or Maker or whatever other adjective works for you – we know one part of the truth of God for us.

The second two moments were nearly instantaneous.

Dan and Tracy had now made those few small steps from where Dad has handed her off, and are now before me, and the altar. There were a few moments while the music was still playing. So I invited them to do what I had given them as a penance when they each went to confession the night before –to just breathe. Just arrive HERE, NOW – to let the music wash over them, and to be present to this grace and this hour and this opportunity of response, of saying a yes to whatever God has in store for them both. And they both did – a visible relaxation. A visible surrender to what the moment would hold for them and the promise they would make. A nod of their heads in assent. And in that moment, I knew a son’s love, who, in his moments of centering in the garden, only knew how to say ‘yes’ in response to the love that had called him to life. Son, Redeemer, Obedient one; Savior – regardless of the words, we know what it means for us to say that same yes, because we were redeemed by His yes.

Finally, still there in front of the altar, we let the music, fit for an ordination, just surround us in this lovely, 4 part harmony, for all of mass, but particularly, at that moment. And this refrain kept repeating. The Lord is my light…The lord is my light. Filling us with grace and blessing. Allowing the empty places and the fearful places, and all that was unredeemed, and all that was not yet “yes’ to God be ‘spirited’ away. And that was all you heard in the entire church – no coughing or baby’s cry or shuffling – just this music that surrounded and sustained and sanctified and recreated us – the promised gift of the Spirit of God – so present, so real. And I knew in that moment the Spirit’s power – ready to renew the face of the earth in each of us.

Father, Son and Spirit. Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Source, Mediator, Summit. It matters less the words we choose, but more, our decision to let that experience of God wash over us – shaping us and molding us into that love of God for all the world to experience…

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