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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

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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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pooh2“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”

Those are wise words of wisdom from that anthropomorphic bear called Winnie the Pooh. Don’t those words summarize exactly what Jesus calls his disciples to? Jesus tells them/us. You will:
• drive out demons
• speak new languages
• pick up serpents
• not be harmed by poisons
• lay hands on the sick
• PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL to every creature in the whole world..
In other words – “It is time to put the big boots on…” I have led you every step of the way. Now I leave you so that you can go on that adventure called discipleship. So are there any other sayings of Winnie the Pooh that can teach us about the life of discipleship? Let me suggest three.

Lesson #1: “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” Jesus begins his instructions to the disciples in just that way: GO OUT TO ALL THE NATIONS… If there is a challenge that Jesus might level against us, here at St. Ann, it would be this. We are EXCEPTIONALLY good at caring for our own, helping folks in hard times, reaching out to those in need. But, we are not so good at inviting others to become Catholic. To walk with us the road of faith. In the past 5 years, we have invited exactly 2 adults to join our faith in Baptism. It is hard, I know. I face that temptation every time I head to the Newman Center and don’t make it over to campus. Sure, take care of the students who come to the center – and that is important. But what of those who never cross that great divide called Natural Bridge road? What of those who have never come to St. Ann church? We see them at Bermuda pool, at neighborhood gatherings, at Sprenke’s and fish fries and the like. Do we take the risk to invite them to join us in the practice of the faith? We still have some “Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” books. Take one and give it to a neighbor… it could be a great starting point.

Lesson #2: “I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh. “There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.” This is another way to say: practice kindness! We have enough knuckleheads, imbeciles, megalomaniacs, jerks and idiots. We have more than enough cruel people, heartless people, greedy people, careless people, thoughtless people, inconsiderate people, apathetic people. Our world needs more people of kindness. We need people who are willing to bring others tea and honey. Never overlook an opportunity to be kind.

Lesson #3: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Because you are a child of God, because you are part of the Body of Christ, because you are a member of the Church, the People of God, you have a dignity, you have a nobility, you have a power beyond your wildest imaginings. Mark’s gospel tells us: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” That Spirit has already been given to each of us in Confirmation. That power is ours to call upon, in both the profound and the simple moments. Most of the time it will look like the decision to:
• reverently mention the name of Jesus in my conversation?
• pray grace in a restaurant before I eat my burger and fries?
• makes the decision to attend the confirmation class instead of last minute practice for the city-county playoff?
Sometimes, it will look like posting on our facebook pages about the wrongness of the death penalty even if, like the Boston Marathon Bomber, the nation thinks it is justified. Other times it will be that choice to stop the gossip around the workplace lunch room. YOU are indeed braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

This feast of the Ascension reminds us that it is time to put on our Big Boots. And in the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, “I am pretty sure an Adventure is about to happen.”

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bestIt was a lovely wedding yesterday afternoon. The bride was radiant; the groom – tall and handsome. The music was outstanding. The families were welcoming and joyful. It was obvious that the couple put a TON of work into the liturgical celebration. And though it would be nearly a cop out to say that I saw love at its best in the bride and groom as they laid down their lives in the vows they spoke, (which I did), that was not that moment that stood out for me. Rather, just as the ceremony was beginning, the three brothers of the bride came forward and lit a small, rainbow colored candle. And it was all I could do to keep from losing it, because I knew the story of the candle. You see, the candle stood for the middle sister of the family, Caitlin, who died about 2 years ago after a short, sudden illness. It was one of those little touches – just a brief way to remember the daughter/sister/friend who was such a vibrant part of the family until her death. And whom they continue to make a part of each of their family celebrations. And I am not sure if it was the tenderness of the memory, or how reverently they did that simple act, but it was a profound moment of “love at its best.”

And then at the reception, I ran into a young alum from my days at Wash U – who had a stroke at the age of 31, and was doing his best to be present, but the loudness of the reception venue made it extremely difficult on John. And then, as conversation shift and flow, I turned and he was no longer there on my right. I figured that he had left. But on my way out, there was a little ‘glassed off area’, with a table and 4 chairs. There, his friends had herded John so that he could actually be able to participate in conversations and not be isolated because of the noise and his disability. It was a small gesture, but how profoundly touching – people leaving the ‘excitement of the dance floor and party atmosphere’ – so that he would be able to be a participant and not a spectator.

No one has great love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Driving home, I was reflecting on what a good day it was because I saw ‘love at its best’ twice in one evening. But God was not done. I came home to the very tail end of the funeral gathering for the grandmother of one of our pre-school families, downstairs in the parish center. There were two kids, 6 adults and the men’s club bartender still in the parish hall. And though the men’s club member had worked 10 hours at work that day, his back was killing him, and was ready to go home, there he was, still cleaning up, mopping up, making sure that the folks staying to the bitter end had everything that they needed. It was a thankless job, yet he kept pouring himself (and the drinks) out in service.

No one has great love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Love at its best – is seldom flashy or flamboyant. It is not pompous and self inflated. It is not rude or self seeking. Rather, it looks like a bartender going above the call of duty in serving a grieving family. It looks like 3 friends making sure that their disabled buddy was included in the evening’s conversations. It was a family that kept the memory of their daughter’s life an important part of their wedding celebrations. And, dare I say, it is a mother’s love as she kisses an ouch-y away on her young son’s knee; as she cooks yet another meal for the cafeteria family headed a hundred directions that evening; as she babysits for her daughter so she and her husband might enjoy a night together to strengthen the bonds of their marriage. It is the countless choices you and I have witnessed from our mothers to give of self for the good of others…

And it is a savior’s love as he lay down his life for us all upon the cross.

In every act of love, we hear an echo of THE act of love. Each time you and I make the choice to lay down our lives in love, no matter how small or how great the sacrifice, we have the privilege of making God real. There is no greater love than this. How blessed we are to make ‘love at its best’ a reality on behalf of God himself.

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spiritual health• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
• Cut back on your consumption of red meat.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Avoid stress.
• Get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
• Don’t smoke.
• Limit your consumption of alcoholic beverages.

When our personal physician gives us such advice we accept it and try to follow it. We trust that our doctor has our best interests in mind. We also accept his or her advice because we believe doctors know what they are talking about. They have gone to medical school, they have studied the human body, and they have experience in treating patients. They know what works.

However, when it comes to the spiritual side of life, many people are not so willing to listen to the advice they are given – even when that advice comes from Jesus Christ, the ultimate expert on spirituality. Who knows more about spirituality than Jesus Christ, the one who is the way, the truth and the life?

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us what we absolutely need to do if we wish to be spiritually healthy, if we wish to flourish as Christians. Jesus tells us that we need to be connected to him just as a branch needs to be connected to the vine in order to have life. And then he continues: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” If we think about the English word ‘abide’ – we get closer to the sense of the greek word “remain.” Abide in me – be present in love, be turned toward, resting in – that what Jesus wants from us. And to make it abundantly clear, Jesus uses that word “remain” eight times in this passage. Being connected with Jesus is critical.

But here is the other truth about this passage, that we sometime take for granted. We remain in Jesus when we are part of the Church, part of the living Body of Christ.
• It is in the Church that Jesus speaks to us as we hear the scriptures proclaimed and preached.
• It is in the Church that Jesus nourishes us through the sacraments, above all through the Eucharist in which he gives us a share in his very life and unites us with himself in one “holy communion.”
• It is in the Church that Jesus supports us through our fellow Christians who walk with us on our journey of life and who give us examples of holiness, sacrifice, generosity, and service.
• It is in the Church that Jesus also tests our faith as we deal not only with saints but also with sinners. We are imperfect people walking the pilgrim path home. But we do so together.

I hear college students often say: “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Jesus, the divine physician says: “Buzzzz! Wrong answer, thanks for playing.” We cannot be connected to Jesus without being part of the Christian community, without remaining part of the Body of Christ. That is the full import of this image that Jesus uses with us, his disciples. Remain in Jesus, remain in his church, remain with each other – all are needed to be connected to the vine of God’s love.

Practically speaking – look around during communion and pick 1 person whom you will pray for this week. Let that person remain with you in love. And then do some ‘abiding with Jesus in prayer – rosary, in front of the tabernacle, a walk – it matters not, only that we do so.

People who do not follow the advice of their doctor run the risk of injuring their health. Let us remember to follow the advice of our divine physician – Jesus – and remain in his presence.

(Finally, a word to our 1st communicants – How many of you like EVERY type of food put on your plate? Neither do I. However, what do our wise mom’s and dad’s usually tell us about those foods? “Eat it, it’s good for you!” What does Jesus tell us about the Eucharist – It is almost the same: “Eat it OFTEN– it is good for you.” That is what it means to REMAIN with him. Today, not only do we get to stay with Jesus, but, in this food of life, HE stays with us. On your first communion and your five hundredth, and beyond – He stays with US.

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listeningIn 2000, I broke my collar bone. That made typing a painful process. So I purchased what was then called voice recognition software that would translate my words into text. The technology was in the first stages of deployment, and much more cumbersome than we now experience. I had to teach the computer how to understand “my voice” by ‘reading’ 20 pages of pre-set up text to my computer. That reading helped to computer to recognize how “I” say the different words in our English vocabulary. And even then, it was far from perfect. But it got the idea across, and instead of having to painfully type all of my sermons, I could simply edit them – a shorter and less painful task. We take all that for granted now, as our smartphones do that *snap, just like that.

That process, though, has stayed with me. If it took the computer a while to ‘learn and recognize’ my voice, isn’t that true of others. With my college students, I have to learn again and again how to ‘recognize’ their voices. Not the physical side, but what is underneath. For some, the reading between the lines is an easy process, because they are so transparent. Others might only say ONE word about their emotional state, and if you miss the implications of that one word, then the conversation stays at that surface level, even though they really want to be led deeper. They want their truth to be pulled out of them.

You who have been married long know that, don’t you. You know how you can say and hear a whole conversation in just a tone of voice. (for better or for worse.) You know the other so well, that often, you can hear the truth they are struggling with long before it is in their consciousness.

So, too, in the realm of our relationship with God – which Jesus describes as a relationship between a shepherd and his sheep – we are called to a kind of ‘voice recognition’ of our savior. And like my college students, or folks who have been married for years – sometimes there are whole conversations that happen in single words. Or in this case, a single deed. The laying down of his life is for us the ultimate moment of voice recognition. A good shepherd lays down his life for us – that is how you know that Jesus is there for you. The recognition comes when we connect the DEED that Jesus did upon the cross – the laying down of his life – with his calling of us by name. When we realize we have a shepherd who laid down his life for us, then we can trust the motive, can’t we? Then we can recognize a love that calls us to life AND CALLS US TO THE SAME LOVE.

And why? Why does this shepherd lay down his life for us? Because he recognizes the connection between himself and the “sheep” he has come to save. Like those whole conversations that happen in an inflection of voice, Jesus knows us. “I know mine and mine know me.” And that knowing of us – is enough to connect us to him forever. He knows the pain, the struggle, the sacrifice – without a word being spoken. Because he sees a fellow human being, a member of his family, he knows that his Father’s heart would break if a single one of us would be lost.

That is the voice recognition that Jesus would have us know. That his desire for us is not to be lost, but to be given back to the Father. That is what his words say. And what his sacrifice on the cross does.

You and I are called to be shepherds after the heart of THE Shepherd. Perhaps people know our voices well enough to recognize in us the voice of the Good Shepherd acting through our lives and love. But the proof of the pudding is in the deeds. We can say a lot of ‘love words’. But do we do the “love deeds?” That, my friends, is the test of good shepherds…

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Where is your Emmaus?

Published on 19. Apr, 2015 by in Sunday Homilies

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EmmausBiblical archeologists have reasonable certainty about many of the scriptural sites described in the NT. They know where the synagogue was in Capernaum, because the ruins are still standing now. They are very sure about the site of the crucifixion and the tomb. They are reasonably sure about the general area of the mount of Beatitudes, but necessarily the exact site where Jesus spoke his sermon on the mount. We hear in the very beginning of today’s gospel the end of the story of the two disciples returning from Emmaus, having met Jesus along the road and recognizing him in the breaking of the bread. The trouble is, biblical archeologists have no idea where Emmaus was. Currently, there are 4 different places that stake the claim to be “the site” of Jesus appearing to the two disciples. (Part of the confusion is in the translation of the ‘distance’ from Jerusalem. Is it 161 or 60 ‘stadia’– which are 19 or 7 miles respectively). One site has support from St. Jerome from the mid 3rd century. Another boasts a crusader chapel from the 12 century. Still another has been venerated from the 16th century. And a recent archeological find might be the most likely of them all. But no one knows for sure.)

Here is what scholars can agree on. The two disciples headed to Emmaus were going there because they had given up. They were “getting out of Dodge” as our American Western expression says. Fearful that the fate of Jesus – put to death by the Roman authorities –would be their fate as well, they left. Roman justice could be swift and brutal. Leave now, before it gets worse. That is the obvious reason for the flight to Emmaus – the terrifying fear that they, too, would be killed. Emmaus is a ‘safe house’ – an anonymous place where they can hide from the crushing reality of their lost hope.

There are times when we escape to the ‘security’ of our own Emmaus because we feel threatened. A cancer diagnosis. Divorce papers. A house fire. The crushing end of a long term relationship. We stagger down a lonely road, afraid to look back, praying we can make it to that ‘safe place’ where a warm fire might soothe our troubled souls.

Other times we escape to Emmaus because nothing inside of us seems to make sense any more. The God who seemed so close and caring is now silent, or worse – seemingly angry or judgmental. Emmaus is the code word for security. For life like it used to be when everything made sense.

Finally, Emmaus stands for all the places where we are stuck in the past as surely as those two disciples were. When Jesus appears to them, they don’t recognize him. They don’t see the possibility of God doing something new in Jesus – precisely because they are looking at the past and not the present. “Don’t you know everything that happened in Jerusalem these days?” they ask the stranger. Because we certainly do – and that is all we know. We saw him dead. And it is too much for our hearts to bear. And we will be stuck in that past forever… “We had hoped” are words of dejection – of people who have given up on the future because they are stuck in that unfulfilled past.

Where is Emmaus? Emmaus is all the places we try to flee to, BECAUSE of a past we will not look at. Emmaus is the crippling fear that we let stifle our hope. It is the crushed and broken parts of our lives that feel unredeemed and unredeemable. Emmaus is every moment on the journey of life that seems Godforsaken, in the fullest sense of that word.

And in that, is our biggest hope. For if we are attentive enough, if we are willing to share our pain and struggle and doubt and fears with those whom we walk with along the way, then like those two disciples, WE will discover that Jesus has ALWAYS been walking with us. And all our roads to Emmaus become the roads that lead us home.

Where is Emmaus? In many ways, I am glad that scholars have not pinned it down to one particular place. I am glad, because it helps me to know that no matter what foolish road I walk down, what unwise decision I make, what past I feel stuck in – there is always GOD’s Emmaus – waiting to FIND ME – God’s love, waiting to restore ME to life… And the one who walked with this first two Easter travelers, is waiting for me to invite him to stay, waiting to feed me with broken bread and to love me with nail scarred hands.

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communityThere was a period of time at the Newman Center Sunday night mass when the students would gather around the altar for the Eucharistic prayer. We were small enough and the Daughters of Charity chapel was so big that we would kind of get dwarfed. And so I would invite the students to come up around the altar. And it was fine for about a year and a half. But a funny thing happened. Some new folks arrived in our community who felt uncomfortable with coming up around the altar. They were not vocal or militant about it, but no matter how I would ‘invite them’ to come forward, they would stay in their pews. And then we had an experience where the community was ‘not of one heart and mind’ – the pew kneelers vs. the altar standers. Here around the symbol of unity – we were so divided physically, if not emotionally and spiritually. So I decided that everyone would stay in their pews so there would be unity around the altar.

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Of course the early church was united in all things. Of course they freely gave of what they had for the good of each other. Of course there was no greed and selfishness. Yet, 2000 years later, I can’t even get 40 college students to agree on standing versus kneeling around the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. Community is such hard work. How do you balance the needs and sensibilities of the one against the needs of the many?

Lest you think the early church got it all right, read the next chapter of Acts – the continuing saga. They were not perfect. But, in the matter of Thomas, they indeed got it right.
Imagine what that week was like between the first and second appearances of Jesus. Did they chide him each day? Don’t you trust us? Did he grumble each morning – “I will never believe it until I see it?” We don’t know, as the scriptures are silent in this matter. BUT, what we do know is this: Thomas stayed CONNECTED to the community. Somehow, there was room there for his doubt, room there for his questionings. He did not need to leave the community. The believing disciples did not cast him out or marginalize him, or call him a ‘cafeteria apostle’ because of his struggle to believe. Rather, together they walked and prayed and reflected. Together they found a way to be of support and love to him.

Perhaps I am a little biased because of my work with college students, but here is a truth (with a small ‘t’) that I have learned in my time with them. What they most need is a place where their doubts and questions and struggles can be voiced, surfaced and honored. They need a community that can reverence their questions as much as we reverence the answers we want to share with them. Because Thomas did not leave, nor did the community kick him out, he was able to be present to experience the Lord revealing himself to him. And in that moment, he knew a mercy that restored him. That is always my hope for this parish and my Newman community – that we know that room for questions and struggles and doubt.

So, what does this have to do with us? 2 thoughts…

How are you doing with the Ferguson stuff? Perhaps like many people, you/I so want to be done with Ferguson. Why can’t we just get back to normal? Why don’t people just make some sensible choices about policing and rights and balancing safety and justice and move on. I suspect the doubting Thomases on both sides of the fence might find it hard to stay a part of the community dialogue these days. So when someone brings up: “What’s next?” – listen first. And second. And third. Hear the questions that are STILL surfacing. The ones that take a long time surfacing. And then pray for understanding.

Secondly, today is Divine Mercy Sunday – when Jesus’ first words to the Apostles offered them peace and not condemnation. How destructive that could have been if Jesus had played the ‘blame game’ or the ‘shame game’. Instead he builds a community around peace and reconciliation. And he states a truth. When you forgive people, they are set free. When you hold them bound, they are trapped. So, today, grant amnesty to a son or daughter for an offence. Make a phone call to the sibling who hasn’t spoken to you since ‘IT” happened. (whatever the “IT” was that drove a wedge between you.) Let mercy be the first choice in your dealings with everyone today.

Pew kneelers or altar standers? Doubting Thomas’s or believing apostles? Might we choose the path to be of one mind and heart…

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