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new beginningAs mom celebrated 90 years of life in January, it was time for the Kempf family to be grateful. It is a great milestone to have achieved. However, all her kids notice that some things in mom’s life are not like they used to be. She is slower in walking, yet still gets around, using one of those ‘walkers on wheels’. Her knees hurt. She doesn’t eat as much. But, perhaps most frustrating for her AND for us, is the loss of memory. The long term structures are still there –she recognizes her own kids and can tell stories from ‘back in the day.’ That is the good news. The not so good news is that her short term memory is declining. She’ll often stop, mid sentence and ask: “Now what was I going to say?” I usually reply: “I can’t help you with that one mom.” More recently, I tell her: “You were about to tell me that you were bequeathing me a million dollars.” Or “That I was always your favorite son.” Which usually makes her laugh, and we move on.

It is, for her and for us, her children, the worst part of aging.

In some ways, we take for granted the gift of memory. But here is why Alzheimer’s is such a scary disease. It robs you of your memory, and in so doing, robs you of the coherent story line of your life. When you can’t remember “who” you are and “whose” you are, the family you belong to, the people who have befriended you, those who have walked with you on the journey of life, it can be incredibly difficult. Without connection to the past, we literally have to ‘reconstruct ourselves anew EACH day and each moment. Who am I? What do I believe in? What do I value? Without memory, it is hard to know…

So isn’t it fascinating how God uses that most difficult part of the aging process as a way to covenant himself to us ever more. “For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more…” I will remember their sins no more. Do you hear the opportunity in that? God, again and again, offers us the chance to “reconstruct ourselves anew.” By not remembering, by not HOLDING us accountable, by not pinning us down to a moment of failure or even a lifetime of failure, God sets up the situation whereby we might recreate ourselves anew EACH AND EVERY DAY. When I don’t have to relate to God as ‘the kid who had anger issues’ or the ‘one who was addicted to pornography’ or the ‘one who was unfaithful to their spouse – when GOD chooses not to remember me that way, then I can create myself anew each moment. And if God chooses to “Remember our sins no more” –than why do we spend so much time attached to them ourselves? God is not served by our holding ourselves bound when he has forgiven us. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself,” he promises. And since he already has been lifted up, then why do we not let ourselves be drawn to his love.

I had a brief conversation with someone at fish fry. Trying to encourage them to return to the practice of the faith. Resistant. Wondered if they are one of those folks who are holding themselves bound by something in the past, because it is ‘easier’ to hang on to the attachment to sin than it is to recreate themselves anew in God’s love?

What a freedom that affords me with others as well. If they don’t have to grovel for forgiveness, if thy no longer have to try to eke out a pardon from our cold, cold hearts, then isn’t there the possibility of something amazing to emerge? Think of the freedom that we can give them. I do not hold you bound. I, like God, remember your sins no more.

So, the challenge is simple for us this week. What if we truly forgot one of these sins by which we hold others bound. What if God was inviting us to do what he did in that wonderful last line from Jeremiah – to remember the other’s sins no more. (And to remember our own sins no more as well – to not let our failures hold us bound.) To let those event and wound and hurts be like the grain of wheat that must fall to the ground and die – so that there can be an explosion of love and life and forgiveness in our world. What a gift that would be.

“For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”

Though it might be the hardest part of the aging process, I proclaim to you that it is the greatest attribute of God – his choice to forget our sins. For it means that we truly have the OPPORTUNITY to create ourselves anew each day…

This season, this day, seize that chance!

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verdictWhen we think of the word verdict, I suspect most of us jump to the famous cases:
• Not guilty of attempting to assassinate President Reagan by reason of insanity.
• If the glove does not fit, you must acquit in the OJ Simpson trial.
• We find there is no probable cause to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown.

We know those famous cases (or have read about them) that set the landscape for people’s experience of the judicial system. Most of us have opinions about how ‘good’ or how ‘bad’ a particular verdict was. But, for most of us, it is tempting to think of verdicts as things that happen ‘over there’, to that crowd, whoever and however you view that crowd. Jesus would have us paint that word with a broader brush.

Instead of limiting ‘verdict’ to “the formal finding of fact made by a jury on matters or questions submitted to the jury by a judge” Jesus expands that understanding. “This is the verdict: The light came into the world, but people preferred the darkness to the light, because their works were evil.” The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness.

We know that truth in so many arena’s, don’t we?
• there is the darkness that accepts abortion and now euthanasia as permissible choices
• there is the darkness that portrays pornography, prostitution and every ‘shade’ of sexual activity merely as forms of recreation.
• there is the darkness that sees men, women and children as chattel or pagan infidels, to be burned alive or beheaded as collateral damage in an unsanctioned war of terror.
• there is the darkness of the shooting of two police officers at the end of a night of protests against structures of injustice.

This is the verdict, folks – we have, as individuals, as members of our communities and our nation – chosen the darkness over the light. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that truth. Jesus was certainly confronted by people’s preference for darkness. Into that ‘verdict’ – that understanding of human nature – comes this appeal from Jesus: “Come to this light and live.” Come to the brightness and find that which brings meaning and love. Come and know a redeeming love that will set you free to walk in the daylight, even when it is dark around you. Come:
• know the light that discloses the value of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.
• know the light that reveals that sexuality is meant to communicate love, commitment, warmth, tenderness and care for another person.
• know the light that discloses all people as God’s children whose hearts ache, whose eyes cry, and whose hands caress their loved ones.
• know the light that shows that those truly worth imitating are those who work non-violently to ease the suffering of the outcast, the poor, and the marginalized.

“This is THE verdict: The light came into the world, but people preferred the darkness to the light, because their works were evil.” Will you prefer the light or the darkness?

Here is the interesting twist to Jesus’ ‘verdict’. There is no jury involved. There is no solemn proclamation by the chief juror. Rather, the actions themselves contain the verdict. They either are bringing, however imperfectly, the world of the kingdom into this world, or they are not. The deeds that I do, the things that I choose, either help make this a world of light and goodness or they foster the darkness that we seem to have such a proclivity for.

For in the end, God SO loved the world that he gave us his only Son so we might know and live in the light. And the choices we make and the deeds we do – create within us the ‘verdict’. Our loving God, both now and at the end of our days, simply honors the choices we make.

So, what is your verdict looking like these days?

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angry JesusAfter the sudden death of my cousin Pat Boul, I have been thinking about the Boul side of the family. In particular, I have been thinking about my uncle Wally. Fr. Wally Boul was the founding pastor of St. William’s church near the airport. And as nice a man he was to me and my brothers and sister, as compassionate as he could be with his parishioners in his latter years, there was this unyielding side to him that would come out every so often. He’d set his jaw in a certain way, and you knew that if you were opposing him at that moment you were in for a fight. Yet, as I reflect on my memory of him, the only time that I consistently saw that side of him was in two situations. 1) When someone was messing with the poor. At his first assignment, he caught someone stealing from the poor box. Wally chased him down the street, tackled, and had him pinned to the ground as he awaited someone getting the cop on the beat. By the time the police got there, his temper had spilled over. “Officer, would you look the other way.” WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! “You don’t steal from the poor, ever. Do you get that?” It is said that the thief was grateful to be handed over to the police. 2) When he was dealing with people who were in denial about their alcoholism.

You see, Uncle Wally was a recovering alcoholic. Because he knew the disease from the inside out, he was stern when he confronted people about their drinking. He would warn them, finger wagging and eyes ablaze – “this will destroy you if you don’t surrender to God in this. If you don’t get help – this will ruin your life and your marriage and your children.” And then he’d tell them: “I’ll go through the hell you’ll have to go through with you, but I can’t do it for you…” Because he knew the suffering involved, because he knew the effects on his own spiritual life, because he knew what it did to people and families, Wally Boul was zealous about people needing to be in recovery. You didn’t mess with Uncle Wally about alcoholism. It was a non-negotiable.

You didn’t mess with Jesus about his Father and the temple, either. When Jesus arrived in the temple that day, something flared up within him that was raw and primeval. “Don’t you be messing with my temple! Don’t you be messing with people’s experience of God!” Though the temple trade was ‘necessary’ for the average pilgrim (you didn’t want to have to worry about feeding your sacrificial animal and keeping him watered during the long walks to Jerusalem for the sacrifice, nor would you have to worry about being able to have the proper Jewish coins for the offerings – you could get all that stuff right outside the temple.) by the time that Jesus appeared on the scene, it had somehow gotten out of control. The court of the gentiles – where ANYONE could worship, and not just the Jewish people – had been completely taken over by the this legitimate temple trade, so much so, that anyone wishing to pray or connect in that outer temple, would have found it all but impossible. Because of the ‘rules’ that said you could only use Jewish coins, because of the ‘rules’ about sacrificing ritually pure animals – people were being shut out from approaching God. People were being kept away from the intent of the temple. “My house shall be a house of PRAYER for all peoples.” A place where people can connect to God, without interference, without meddling, without intermediaries. It was a non-negotiable for Jesus. People need to come to the Father. They need to have a relationship that is real and deep and nurtured by private and public prayer. You don’t get in the way of that process. Ever.

And it got me to thinking. If Jesus came to me, and took a deep, long look into my life and what I am doing, the choices I am making, the values that I have bought into, would I be the recipient of his anger? Would he discover within me, that which would block me from his father? Would he find that which would keep me from where I need to be? And if he came to the United States, and looked at our values as a country, as a nation, as a community, would he have some difficult things to say to us? About our commitment to life in all its forms? About the materialism that can so clutter our lives and our homes, while so many people continue to starve to death in Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa. About the racial bias that gets codified into our municipalities’ civil court system?

Though it is not an easy prayer meditation, I invite you to image Jesus crashing into your world this week, like he came into the temple, like my uncle would come to a person in denial about the effects of their drinking. And let the zeal for his house that consumed him, let the passion that breathed in my uncle’s love for people to be free of what controls them, be the zeal in your heart to let go of whatever keeps you from God. Amen. Amen.

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peekabooYou can be 90 years old, but as soon as you see a tiny infant or very young child, conditioning takes over, doesn’t it. And we begin the familiar game of peek-a-boo. As adults, we play it because it works – we see a smile on the face of that little child. And we do. Somehow, peek-a-boo works as a pretty effective strategy for engendering a smile. But why does hiding than suddenly appearing WORK for a little kid? What is it about that appearing/hiding/appearing/hiding that engenders a smile?
An early theory of why babies enjoy peek-a-boo is that they are truly surprised when things come back after being out of sight. It is that shock of recognition that makes the kids smile. The Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget called this principle ‘object permanence’ and suggested that babies spent the first two years of their lives working it out. And of course those two years are prime peekaboo time. Looked at this way, the game helps babies test and re-test a fundamental principle of existence: that things stick around even when you can’t see them.

Though it might be a bit ludicrous to compare the transfiguration to the game of peek-a-boo, I wonder if taking into account both elements of the theory of why it works might open up for us something of the mystery of today’s gospel story.

1) It is the shock of recognition that makes the baby smile… We know that part of the experience foremost in airports and on vacations and while traveling outside of our normal routines. We stumble across someone we would not expect to see in that place. And in that moment of recognition – “Oh, it’s you!” – we come to a kind of surprising joy and sense of connection. “Oh – you belong in my world. You are a part of my story! You are a part of the journey I am on.”

For the disciples, this mystical experience had to be akin to that shock of recognition of something they had hoped for, but had not yet really seen in Jesus. They had seen the miracles and the healings. They had heard the teachings. But in this shocked moment of recognition, suddenly they KNOW not just the humanity of Jesus, but the truth of his claim of divinity. “Oh, it IS YOU.” And in the voice which bids them to listen to HIM, they recognize the truth of what their eyes tell them – that Jesus is that savior they had hoped for; – the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And they know that their journey is linked to his. Though they don’t understand “what to rise from the dead meant’, they know they will follow Jesus come what may.

Aren’t there similar ‘transfigurations’ in our lives? Moments when the meaning of who we are and what we are called to be about become clear. In a diagnosis of a disease, in the sudden dawning of a love that fills our hearts, in the chaos of the protests in Ferguson, in the vigil for another inmate on death row, in the reporting of another slaughter by ISIS, – there is this shock of recognition – of knowing the divine presence right there in our midst. And in that same moment, we realize that there is a journey for us to make. Oh – it is you Lord. Oh, we have to walk together to create a world of justice. This week – expect a moment of transfiguration, a moment of shocked recognition

Secondly, like the truth of ‘object permanence’, this experience on the mountain was meant to strengthen the disciples’ faith that things stick around even when you can’t see them. Just as it takes a baby the first two years of their life to figure out the truth that things stay around even when you can’t see it, so too, for the disciples and for us, sometimes it takes a while for us to TRUST that God does not abandon us in the tough times. His presence, in the sacrifice of His son Jesus on the cross remains.

But here is the slight kicker. God no longer plays peek-a-boo with us to let us know his love for us. Rather, he empowers US to play it with one another. It is for us to finish the work he set in motion in the sacrifice of his Son. It is for us to make sure that this ‘object permanence’ –the reality of his love remains. And if you don’t experience a shock when that truth sets in, then maybe you need to play the game again.

Peek-a-boo!

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demonsAs soon as you heard the question, you knew the answer. No, God does not really care if we give up chocolate for Lent. The devil might, but for a different reason. His reason is so that this SMALL matter becomes the distraction that keeps you from the GREAT work of Lent. So, what is THE work of Lent? Let me tell you a story…

Once upon a time, a long time ago, and very far from here, a great Tibetan poet named Milarepa studied and meditated for decades. He traveled the countryside, teaching the practice of compassion and mercy to the villagers he met. He faced many hardships, difficulties and sorrows, and transformed them into the path of his awakening.Finally, it was time to return to the small hut he called home. He had carried its memory in his heart through all the years of his journey. Much to his surprise, upon entering, he found it filled with enemies of every kind. Terrifying, horrifying, monstrous demons that would make most people run. But Milarepa was not most people.
Inhaling and exhaling slowly three times, he turned toward the demons, fully present and aware. He looked deeply into the eyes of each, bowing in respect and said: “You are here in my home now. I honor you, and open myself to what you have to teach me.”
As soon as he uttered these words, all of the enemies save five disappeared. The ones that remained were grisly, raw, huge monsters. Milarepa bowed once more and began to sing a song to them, a sweet melody resonant with caring for the ways these beasts had suffered, and curiosity about what they needed and how he could help them. As the last notes left his lips, four the demons disappeared into thin air.
Now only one nasty creature was left, fangs dripping evil, nostrils flaming, opened jaws revealing a dark foul black throat. Milarepa stepped closer to this huge demon, breathed deeply into his own belly, and said with quiet compassion: “I must understand your pain and what it is you need in order to be healed.” Then he put his head in the mouth of his enemy.
In that instant, the demon disappeared, and Milarepa was home at last.

In so many ways, that story echoes the story of Jesus we hear each first Sunday of Lent. It’s the story of Jesus being LED by the Spirit into the desert – where there were no distractions – just the raw, naked elements and the silence. In that deserted place, Jesus meets HIS demons head on. What he learned there is the enemy he HAD to face there in that desolation was none other than the enemy within. The enemy was not outside of him, but rather, within. And He learned that the only way out was in. THAT is the GREAT WORK OF LENT. Not giving up chocolate. Not fasting between meals. Not even praying more or sacrificing more. Nope. The great work of Lent is to face the demons within!

The demons are all that is wrong with us that we continue to run from—that we refuse to attend to and refuse to treat with compassion in ourselves. They will surface again and again until we face them. For whatever we bury, we bury alive. They take on a life of their own. Robert Bly wrote: “Every part of our personality that we do not love will become hostile to us.” Those parts of us become that demon we fear—they become the enemy! But once we face them, we can be transformed by them. Once Jesus learned THAT, he came to know that if there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm.

And what is the face of this inner enemy, those demons who would not go away? As Matthew and Luke were later to describe it – somewhere inside Jesus, he wanted to be powerful, he wanted to be noticed, he wanted to be celebrated and acclaimed. He was tempted to turn his considerable charisma and talent to his own ends. The temptation was to let it be about him. He had to wrestle with that in him. This was a frightening foe; the enemy within him would not go away. It would haunt him throughout his ministry. And it was that desire that he had to face down if he was ever to be free to love and to serve. Only by taking it on, only by facing it, only by putting his head in its mouth, could he have ever gotten free.

And so it is for us. This is where it all begins – what Lent is really about. Unless we start here we will not be able to love. And if we cannot love we do not live! Unless we face those “enemies of love” that are real and live in us, as surely as they lived in Jesus, we will not be able to know true love, healthy connection, a love that lasts – that for which we most hunger and thirst. Facing those “enemies”, we will begin to see that our enemy is actually our ally in disguise.

Once we dare face the ENEMIES that live in us—welcome them, bow to them; once we dare put our heads into their very mouths, then they can disappear. Oh they will hang around to come and tempt us again. But next time we will not be so afraid. And we will be that much less afraid of other people hurting us, or those demons having power over us.

The heroes and leaders of our times will be those women and men who have the courage to plunge into the darkness at the bottom of their personal lives and face the enemy within. Please God, give us the courage NOW, this Lent, to do just that!

And if we do so, then perhaps what we will learn is the most profound thing of all: That what was wrong with us, when faced and loved and understood, is exactly what is right with us.

Milarepa was a great sage who met his enemies with an enlightened mind and an open heart. “In that instant, the demon disappeared and Milarepa was home at last.” So will you be, home at last! Home, in your own home!

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ashesDoes anyone here have a Fitbit? If you don’t know what they are, they look like a watch, sync to your computer, and are meant to be your companion on a journey to live a fit and healthy lifestyle. Among the metrics they record:
• The number of steps taken each day, floors climbed, active minutes working out, and calories burned per day. (and per hour if you want…)
• It will tell you what time of day you were most active THAT DAY, and track when you did NOTHING for your fitness goal.
• It will track your weight, BMI, lean mass and body fat percentages and automatically syncs it all to your computer
• Paired with your phone, it will track the distance you have run and even the record the path you took while running through various neighborhoods or terrains.
• It will record your Workouts in seconds or minutes and post those times instantly on a monthly exercise calendar.
• The more advanced ones can use your phone to take a picture of the food you are about to eat and it will tell you the approximate number of calories you are about to eat.
And then, it will take all of that data, and give you a score for how well you exercised and kept to your fitness regimen, even sending you encouraging emails to keep you motivated. It will tell you if you are over or under your daily goal. From the company’s website: Fitbit tracks every part of your day—including activity, exercise, food, weight and sleep—to help you find your fit, stay motivated, and see how small steps make a big impact. It is a pretty amazing piece of equipment.

Now, what kind of person buys a Fitbit? Obviously, only someone who is SERIOUS about their health and fitness. Someone who really wants to lose those extra pounds and get themselves into a way of living that is healthy in mind and body. What kind of person wears a Fitbit or its equivalent? Someone who is ready to do the work of fitness!

Which made me wonder if they have invented a SPIRITUAL FITBIT yet? And if they have, what would IT measure and what kind of person would wear that?

In some ways, we know already what the three big areas it would measure don’t we? Fasting. Prayer. Almsgiving. Those three practices that today’s gospel invites us to look into – they are the hallmarks of a spiritually healthy person. Fasting, not so we can say what good “do bees” we are, but fasting so that we train our desires to long only for the things of God. Prayer, not so others will see the halo around our heads (like the thinner waste line after fit bit) but that we might learn to hear the voice of God inviting us to wholeness. Almsgiving, not that others will notice how generous we are, but that other simply will have what they need to live.

Like the regular Fitbit, our spiritual Fitbit can keep track of our best times to pray, and how far we have journeyed to help those in need and how often we sacrificed our own desires to desire the things of God. And those are all good things. But like the other Fitbit, the first goal of the Spiritual Fitbit is to help us ask the question: What is missing from my life? What do I need to receive from this lent so as to become the saint God invites me to be. If we don’t answer that primary question first, then we’ve kind of missed the point.

And finally, what kind of person wears a Spiritual Fitbit? The same kind who chooses to wear ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance. So this lent, I will give you permission perhaps for the only time in my priesthood to take a Selfie. Let it be of your ashes. And then post them on your Facebook wall, or computer background. Put it on your bathroom mirror. Or on top of your daily planner. Let it be the reminder of the Spiritual Fitbit journey you have decided to hold yourself accountable for this season. And may it inspire you, DAILY, to keep making those small steps to the greater holiness God invites each of us to know.

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reach out“He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” Those final words in our passage from Leviticus today might be the saddest words recorded in the Old Testament. Can you imagine what that would be like, especially in the Bedouin-like existence of the Jewish people during their sojourn in the desert?
• Practically, it is a nuisance. You are farthest away from the source of water. And you’ll go through ½ of the camp, ringing a bell and saying: “Unclean, Unclean.”
• You’d hear the sounds of laughter, the late night murmur of conversations, the playing of children – but you would not be able to take part in them.
• Your family would struggle as well – and though the skin conditions that would be declared unclean were not the debilitating symptoms of what WE know as Hansen’s disease, (climate is too dry for what we know a leprosy (rather it is what we would know as eczema, psoriasis, severe acne) yet, you would STILL not be able to help your family with anything – even though physically, you are ‘fine’ and mostly able bodied.
• And in the absence of the creams and lotions and over the counter medicines that we are accustomed to, you could be forced to dwell apart for a long, long time – angry, frustrated and isolated, because of something that you had little or no control over.

The biblical prohibitions against leprosy were designed to protect the community (similar to the involuntary quarantines of health workers returning from ebola infected patients, or un-immunized kids exposed to the measles)– but did so at the expense of the individual. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp. For the good of the group, the individual was isolated from everyone.

I suspect that Jesus ‘knew’ how difficult it was to dwell apart, to be an outsider, wanting to be in. Because He does not flinch, does he, when the leper approaches. For to touch the leper risked the same fate as the leper – to be on the outside, looking in, should you contract any of those skin diseases.

And you sort of ‘hear’ that in the conversation: The leper says: “If you wish, you can make me clean. You can restore me to family, to friends, to the life that I was so vibrantly a part of and want to be a part of again.” Jesus’ response is just as immediate: “I do wish it. Be made clean.” And then, because it is not enough for someone to be cured to be allowed to be returned to family, he commands the man to show himself to the priests – the final steps in his restoration to the community.

So we see in this story, not just the physical healing of the man, but his restoration to the life of the community, his inclusion back into the family that nourished him. In fact, he is so thrilled to be back, that can’t stop telling people about his good fortune. He disobeys Jesus’ command – to not tell anyone – because in the joy of restoration, of no longer having to dwell apart, outside the camp he cannot keep silent. The good news is just too good not to be shared.

There are, I think, two concrete consequences, to ‘easy ways’ for us to be a part of that same healing that is recounted in the gospel today.

The first is easy. Contact someone who has been ‘dwelling apart, outside the camp’ as it were, for whatever reason. Perhaps they lost a spouse, a son, a daughter recently, and it is just so dang hard to come back to this church, because the last time there were here was at the funeral and it is still feels too sad, ‘too much’ just yet. Offer to sit with them, and tell them ‘you’ll bring the Kleenex’. Or call the neighbor who can’t see so well to drive at night – an offer to pick them up. I know a gentleman at Normandy Nursing home who would love to come to mass here, but has no transportation – so, though I bring him communion, it is not quite the same. Who haven’t you seen in the pews around you these days? Give them a call and check in on them. It will mean the world to them.

Secondly, like the man who was healed who couldn’t shut up about the good news he knew in Jesus – pick ONE blessing to share this week – with your spouse, your kids, your parents, your neighbor – about how good God has been to you. It does not need to be earth shattering. But it does need to be shared.

You see, here at this altar, we bring all that keeps us dwelling apart, with our abode outside the camp to the one who says to us, as he said to the one in the gospel – “I do wish you to be whole, to be connected, to be made clean. Come to the table of life!”

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restThere are at least two pieces of technology that can grade the quality of your sleep. A fit bit. (I don’t have one, but I know it can be programmed to give you feedback on your sleep.) And the 3rd(?) generation of c-pap machines. About an hour after waking up, mine sends daily reports to an internet site which then assigns me a sleep score. The score is a composite of Usage Hours, Mask Seal, Events/hour (when I stop breathing) and the number of times when the mask is on or off. (aka – how interrupted my sleep is) So I am ‘graded’ each night on the quality of my sleep. I got an 88 last night. I have seen quite a bit of progress since when I first started on the new machine. I am doing better on the quality of my sleep. But here is the rub, I now know that there is a huge difference between sleep and rest.

I suspect you all know this at some level or the other. You can be bone tired, bone weary, and crash into bed after the long day, and wake up 8 hours later and still feel that same bone wearying tiredness. You slept, but you did not rest. Likewise, you can be that same kind of tired, fall to sleep and wake only a few hours later – but you are rested, energized, and ready for a new day. What is the difference?

Though not an expert as to the science behind the ‘why’ some sleep more restful than others (beyond knowing it has to do at least a bit with REM level sleep and delta waves in the brain) my spiritual awareness tells me this. When I am ‘on mission’ – doing that which is at the center of who I am and what matters, then I REST well, even if my sleep is not so great. When I am scattered, fighting someone else’s battles, waging someone else’s wars, not doing that which is at the center of my calling – even though I might sleep well, I am not rested. I become like Job in the first reading – my days are a drudgery…

Jesus knew this pretty early on in Mark’s gospel. We hear today the second last story of Chapter ONE – sometimes called “a few days in the life of Jesus.” They are busy ones. Once he hears of John’s arrest, Jesus begins his preaching. He calls his first disciples; makes his way to Capernaum. On the Sabbath, he cures a man with an unclean spirit. Then he cures Simon Peter’s mother in law. And the whole town after the end of the Sabbath (when it was evening – the Sabbath would be over and they can now “carry people” to Jesus without violating the law’s prohibition to do work.) Finally, bone weary and exhausted, he crashes into bed for some sleep. But it is not restful sleep, is it?

“Rising early the next morning” we are told, Jesus seeks the place, not of sleep but of rest. Of abiding. Of connection. Because, in the temptation of instant success and having whole towns and villages at his door, he knows what dangerous ground he could quickly be on. “Successful but not faithful” would be how I would name this temptation. Humanly having it all together, but in terms of what mattered to God, he could fly so quickly off-center.

In that quiet place, Jesus is re-connects to his mission. “To the other towns I MUST go – This is my purpose.” Only his resting in God’s love allows that kind of freedom, that ability to turn his back on success beyond his wildest dreams, to pursue rather his Father’s will.

So what did Jesus do to transform sleep intervals into rest intervals? Two things, it appears.

First, Jesus finds a place he could be alone and keep his own counsel. Jesus seeks out a place free of noise, people, expectations, demands, and things. Mark describes it as “a deserted place”. The word translated “deserted” is the noun for “desert” or “wilderness”. There are few desolate places on planet earth quite like the desert places in the Middle East. In those places, there is no water, no vegetation, little life – only solitude. Unplugged from the bustle of his new found fame and popularity, Jesus is able to rest in the presence of his God.

We will never find a cure for our exhausted lives until we find our own desert place. It may be a room in your home. It could be a city park or a quiet corner of a coffee house. It could be your car, as you stop a block away from home and turn off the ignition, radio and any other source of noise. It must be a place where no iPad, no iPhone, no laptop, no friends dropping by, no Day-Timer open, and no life-noise (music, words, traffic if possible) can enter. Find that place that works for you in the concrete reality of your life.

And then, in that quiet place, release your cares to God. Let him know of your day and your life and your struggles and successes. And in that prayer, LISTEN. Listen as God reminds you who you are and who God is. Prayer creates a space where we can let go of all that wearies us and allows us to take hold of the only One who can sustain us.

John XXIII, on the evening that he announced the convening of Vatican II, could not sleep. Finally, chiding and challenging himself, he asked: “Angelo, why aren’t you sleeping? Who’s running the church, you or the Holy Spirit? So sleep.” And therein is the cure for our exhausted, depleted, tired lives. When we hear the voice of God in our rest, we can be effective ministers of his grace and love.

What is the quality of your rest? Like Jesus, might we spend time listening to the voice of God sustaining, so we may respond to the voice of God calling us to our mission to transform our world…

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set me freeUnlike John’s gospel, where the first miracle Jesus performs is the changing of water into wine, and in Matthew where he cures a leper, Mark’s account of the first miracle worked by Jesus is the freeing of a man from possession by an unclean spirit. How quaint. Unclean spirits! By-products of an age that did not understand human psychology very well, nor the chemical interactions in the brain which are causative of much which a former age would have labeled demonic. It is tempting, isn’t it, to dismiss such miracles as appropriate for a less sophisticated age. Yet… Yet, it doesn’t take much perception, nor effort to realize there are still unclean spirits roaming our world. Unclean spirits that lessen human dignity and degrade the goodness of people created in the image and likeness of God.

• There is the unclean spirit of violence that surfaces in the guise of entertainment in the media and in video games and that desensitizes us to torture, pain, abuse, and killing.

• There is the unclean spirit of pornography that appears on our computers, smart phones and other digital devices. An unclean spirit that distorts our understanding of human sexuality and reduces human beings, particularly women and children, to objects of pleasure to be used, exploited, bought, and sold.

• There is the unclean spirit of greed and materialism that drives us to acquire more and more even at the cost of human relationships, family life, the ecosystem of our planet and our spiritual well-being.

• There is the unclean spirit of alcohol consumption on college campuses, which often leads to a host of poor choices, victims and victimizers.

• There is the unclean spirit of meaninglessness and hopelessness for many. In a world, so fraught with so much senseless violence, so much injustice and racial inequality, what is the point – of trying? – of sacrificing? – of working to make a difference? I am just ONE person – what I do will not/does not matter. Let me just enjoy my small pleasures of family and friends and my mostly peaceful world.

• There is the unclean spirit of cynicism and contempt that mocks religion, morality, and traditional values and replaces them with nothing that gives life direction, meaning and purpose. Everything good and true and beautiful becomes a joke that leaves only emptiness when the laughter stops.

Sadly, it did not take long for me to come up with that list. I suspect you can add to my list without much effort as well.

So here are two truths that I know about these “unclean spirits:”

1) They need to be named in our lives, honestly and truthfully for what they are – human distortions of the plan of God for our good and our salvation. In the gospel, the unclean spirits recognize in Jesus their ‘potential downfall” – “What have you to do with us – have you come to destroy us?” “As a matter of fact – I have”, is Jesus’ response. He directly faces the one possessed. And he engages the un-cleanliness head on. Because as often as we dismiss our unclean spirits as “harmless video games”; as “artful images of sexy women”; as “deserved acquisitions from hard labor” – we give power to these unclean spirits to remain. And we will never be rid of them, both as individuals and as a community. As often as you want to ‘let yourself off the hook’ – beware the distortion and the power of the unclean spirit to remain…

2) They need to be confronted with the power and authority of Jesus Christ. Notice the first word he uses to drive them out: “Quiet!” As if to say: “I am done listening to you. Your voice carries no power any more. So just be silent, for I will not listen to you any longer.” When we deny those sirens of un-cleanliness a voice, they fade and flee from the voice that we do listen to – that of our Lord.

SO, this week – shine a little light into the darker places of your world and heart. Name what is ‘less than God’ in your choices and behaviors and patterns – all that is ‘unclean’ in your life. And then, invite the Lord to speak to you the words he spoke in that first miracle recorded by Mark: “Be silent. Come out of you.” Let him indeed set YOU free…

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Do you like to fish?

Published on 25. Jan, 2015 by in Sunday Homilies

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wormI have never enjoyed fishing. Never liked touching worms, much less putting them on a hook. The fish were slimy and would ‘fin’ you if you were not careful when you had caught them. And it seemed unfair – that you would catch them with their hunger – they did not stand much a chance once you had them snagged. (Plus all I knew was catch and release, so it did not make much sense to do all that work for nothing.) So, aside from the cute verbal turn of the phrase, fishermen to fishers of men, that image of being fishers of men never did much for me. Yet, it is precisely that call that Jesus uses to catch his first disciples. So, there must be something there for us non-fishing-loving-people. What is at the heart of that image – fishers of men? Certainly it is not the image of dragging things against their will from the sea to the shore. (use finger as a ‘hook’ in my mouth to drag me sideways) That does not do much for me.

Here is where some information from the cultural world of Jesus supplies some needed information. For the Jewish people, the sea, even as it was a source of their livelihood and food, was primarily a place of chaos, filled with monsters and demons. We hear the images in the Psalms: ‘Leviathan’, the ‘monsters of the deep’, the ‘torrents overwhelming us’. The greatest punishment they could imagine was to be cast into the sea with a millstone around their neck. The sea was a dangerous place to venture, fraught with peril. Thus, when Jesus walks on the water, he ‘tames the forces of evil and chaos; he shows his mastery over those demons and forces. So, when he invites his apostles to be fishers of men – he invites them to be the ones who pull people from a place of danger, to rescue them from places of chaos; to bring them to a shore of safety.

That way of looking at being “fishers of men” has captured my prayer this week – to be a person who saves people from the chaos of life, to rescue folks, to bring them to a place where they might come to know safety, to help them escape the nets of a sometimes crazy world, – and ultimately to meet the same Jesus that I have met – Ahh! that kind of fishing I can get hooked on. (pun intended)

So, I have looked for opportunities this week to make that happen. Though none of the moments would make it to the front page of the news, there are those moments when you are able to invite people to come and stand on safer ground.
• While at dinner with a friend, they voiced concern about a destructive relationship one of their friends was involved in. So we spent some time brainstorming about how to voice those concerns in a loving but challenging way.
• At Dave and Ann’s house, who continues his battle with ALS last Sunday night, it is obvious that the disease is winning. Though we all continue to pray for a miracle which has yet to be granted, what I could affirm was the wonderful group of friends they have who gather each Sunday night to pray the rosary with them. Their faithful witness is a wonderful way that they know God is still with them in the battle.
• Though they have postponed the planned execution of a death row inmate slated for this Wed., Missouri put 10 people to death last year. And is probably on that same pace for this year. It is a flawed system of justice. So I spent time this week writing my governor and elected officials inviting them to stop the practice.
• I had a two minute conversation with a student who now has to change majors – not because I could change the outcome at the University level, but because they needed to know they were still loved and worthwhile, no matter where their education brought them to…

Fishing for people: finding a way to rescue people from the dangers – great and small – that their lives are in, and gently call them to life. It is what Jesus invited his disciples to do. It is what he invites us to do.

Whether you like fishing or not, I believe we all know people who are in peril on the seas of their lives. How is God inviting you to be a fisher of His people this week?

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