Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

The world-famous high wire walker stood on the banks of Niagara Falls. A steel cable was strung from one side to the other and a huge crowd had gathered. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today I am going to walk this thin cable across these mighty falls. But, in order for me to do it, I must know that you believe I can. Do you believe??”

 

The crowd yelled out, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

So he jumped up on the cable and began to walk. Slowly he proceeded to the other side and when he reached the other side, the crowd went wild. Then he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, now I’m going to perform an even greater feat. I’m going to cross the falls on this thin cable blind-folded. The crowd gasped and he said again, “In order to accomplish this amazing feat, I need to know that you believe I can do it. I draw my strength from your belief in me.” Again the crowd went wild. “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!” they yelled, even louder than before.

 

With that, the daredevil put on his blind-fold and proceeded to cross the falls again and again the crowd went wild!

 

Then he said, for my third and final act today, I’m going to cross these mighty falls on this thin cable, blind-folded and pushing this wheelbarrow with someone sitting in it. Once again, I must ask, do you believe I can do it?” Again the crowd yelled, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

Then the daredevil said, “I need a volunteer from the crowd to sit in the wheelbarrow.” And they all started walking away. The only sound was the roar of the falls.

 

See, there’s a big difference between saying you believe and actually believing. Saint John tells us in today’s Gospel, possibly one of the most famous of all the scriptural passages, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” You might say to me, “Deacon, I believe in Jesus so I’m going to go to heaven when I die.” But hold on. Do you believe like the crowd at Niagra Falls? Do you believe as long as there’s no personal risk? Or are you willing to risk your earthly life to gain eternal life?

 

This is where a lot of us get it wrong. We say, “of course I believe. I go to mass every weekend.” That’s all well and good, but what else do we do? We may never be called on to actually risk martyrdom, but how do we act when someone challenges us? Do we risk embarrassment by defending the Church? Are we willing to do something as simple as making the sign of the cross and saying grace in a restaurant with our friends? Are we willing to call out a friend or family member when we see that they’re doing something sinful? Will we even do something as simple as inviting a friend or family member to come to mass with us?

 

You tell me you believe. PROVE IT! Get in the wheelbarrow. Turn your life over to Jesus, not just for one hour out of 168 each week, but every minute of every day!

 

A lot of us who wear this Roman collar are even more guilty of this phony belief stuff than any of you are. We’ve been called to preach the Gospel but when push comes to shove, we’re afraid to get in your face and ask the hard questions because we don’t want to make you mad. We want everybody to like us. We don’t want to hurt your feelings. And, God forbid, you should stop giving money because of something we said. So, we don’t challenge you. We don’t stand up here and point out your sins or warn you of what might happen. We’re happy with the status quo.

 

But, where would we be if Jesus had been happy with the status quo? If He avoided hurting people’s feelings? I think you know where we’d be. Jesus let Himself be hung on the cross that we exult today, to save us from our sins; to save us from ourselves. But we have to do our part.
I started my sales career selling life insurance more than 40 years ago. Believe me, that’s a tough sell. For one thing, nobody wants to think about their own death. And they definitely aren’t inclined to give up money today for something that’s going to come in the future, especially when they don’t know when that future date is. No young father wants to think that he’s not going to be around to see his kids grow up. He thinks he’ll always be here to provide for his family. It’s just human nature. But the fact is, we’re all going to die sometime. And we have to prepare for that day.

 

Here it is, 2014, and I’m still trying to convince you to prepare for that day that will come. I’m selling eternal life insurance.

 

Here’s the thing. When you and I stand before Jesus for that final judgment, He’s not going to ask us how many friends we had. He’s not going to ask us how much money we made. He’s not even going to ask us how many times we went to mass. He’s going to ask us how many people we helped get into heaven.

 

He’s not going to care how many years we were an altar server, or how many years we sang in the choir. He’s not going to ask me if the people I served liked me or not. All He’s going to look at is how we served Him. Whatever He asks us, He already knows the answer.

 

In the first reading today, the people complained against God and against Moses. He had brought them out of captivity. He had saved them from slavery. What were they saying. They didn’t like the “wretched” food. And the Lord punished them by sending snakes. Then they changed their tune. “Wait a minute, Moses. We’ve sinned by complaining. Take away the snakes and we’ll be good.”

 

Does that sound familiar? How often have we been ungrateful to God? Some of you, not many, but a few, sound just like those Israelites. You know who you are. Things may not always go the way we want them to go. Sometimes we have to look at the big picture. Maybe the food isn’t great, but it’s better than what Pharaoh gave us in Egypt and we’re free! Maybe Saint John’s isn’t a parish anymore, maybe we don’t have a resident priest, maybe you don’t like me, but we’re still open!

 

If we’re going to stay open, maybe we have to do some things differently. Take a look around at all the empty seats. Obviously what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. But it’s also inevitable. Like any organism, if we don’t grow we die. In 1896 this church, which the people had built with their own hands just 26 years ago was destroyed by a tornado. I’m sure there were people who were angry. I’m sure there were some who cursed God for their misfortune. Some of them probably even blamed the pastor. But the majority of them rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt this church, bigger and better than it was before. Those were the people who got into the wheelbarrow.

 

Today, we’re faced with an even bigger challenge. It’s hard work, but rebuilding a physical church is not nearly as hard as rebuilding a church community. That’s what you and I are called to do. Like the daredevil at the Falls, I’m asking you, “do you believe?” Are you willing to trust God to do what’s best for all of us and to sacrifice your own ego to gain eternal life?

 

Jesus died on the cross but He also asked us to take up OUR crosses and follow Him. Are we willing to get into the wheelbarrow? It’s a question we all have to answer.

 

 

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

Well, the readings today are quite a handful, aren’t they? First we have poor Jeremiah, the prophet. He’s ticked off. He’s miffed. He’s mad at the Lord. Or, maybe he’s mad at himself. He says, “you duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”

Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn because he’s been proclaiming the Lord’s message. But he can’t stop. He can’t help himself. He says “it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in.”

 

Next comes Paul, writing to the Romans. He tells them to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. “Wait! What? What kind of religion IS this? I thought we sacrificed lambs, and goats, and doves and stuff. You want me to offer my own body!? What’s up with that?”

 

He also tells them, AND US, not to conform to this age, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” The Romans were pagans. They were used to gods who gave them stuff. Now this Jew is telling them something totally different. It couldn’t have been easy being Paul. Like Jeremiah, he suffered his share of scorn and ridicule and time in prison.

 

Finally, we have the words of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about what was going to happen to Him. But Peter rebukes Him! Imagine that. You have to admire Peter for having the intestinal fortitude to rebuke Jesus. But he pays the price. “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

 

With Peter suitably put in his place, Jesus turns back to the disciples. By the way, exactly what IS a disciple? The dictionary says it’s “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” In this context, the disciples were obviously the people who followed Christ. And by follow, I mean they physically followed Him around. But they also hung on every word He said and did their best to follow His teachings.

 

Matthew ends his Gospel with these words of Jesus, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 

But back to today’s Gospel. He tells His disciples, his followers, his students, that they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. He tells them that if they lose their lives for His sake they will save their lives. He promises them, and us, that he will repay all of us according to our conduct.

 

Three readings. Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn for delivering the Lord’s message. Paul tells the Romans that they must sacrifice themselves. Jesus tells His disciples that they must take up their crosses and follow Him, losing their lives to save them.

 

These are very Catholic messages. I say that because a lot of churches have become very popular preaching what is sometimes called “the prosperity Gospel”. If you follow Jesus, everything will be great! God will give you anything you want if you just ask Him. If He doesn’t answer your prayers it’s because you’re not holy enough. It sounds good and attracts a lot of people, especially poor people. Often these “prosperity preachers” make the poor even poorer by asking them to “give ‘til it hurts” knowing that God will provide. Unfortunately, the only one who seems to proper from the “prosperity gospel” are the “prosperity preachers.”

 

Our Gospel message isn’t that you’re going to prosper in this world, but that what God has prepared for us in the next world is so far beyond the riches of this world that we can’t even comprehend it.

 

So, how do we get to the next world? How do we get one of those many places that the Father has prepared for us? There’s a good answer in our missalettes, in the little italicized section at the beginning of today’s readings. You may not normally read it, but today it’s especially good.

 

“No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus! Jesus “began to show his disciples” [there’s that word again] what faithful discipleship demands: denying self, losing self, letting self die. Jesus teaches his disciples to let go of self so that a new self can be given. What we relinquish is ourselves as we are now; what we are given is a new self, born from identifying completely with Jesus. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to embrace Jesus’ way of living. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to let Jesus transform our life into His life.”

 

The writer uses the word “disciple” or “discipleship” five times in that short passage. It must be important. In fact, it’s more than important, it’s critical to our eternal life. The big question for all of us is “Am I a disciple?” Do I identify completely with Jesus. Have I let go of my self? Have I denied my self? Have I let my self die? If not, why not?

 

Is Jesus part of my everyday life, or is the sum total of my so-called discipleship coming to mass once a week? We all know people who call themselves Catholics who can’t even manage to do that! Today’s readings are a real challenge for all of us. It’s right there in black and white. If we’re serious about our eternal souls, and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be, then we have to be true disciples; not occasional disciples, not once a week disciples, but 100% disciples, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

 

We’re not called to do the least we can, we’re called to do ALL that we can. We’re called to let go of our selves. We’re called to deny our selves. We’re called to let our selves die. If we insist on holding on to our old selves then maybe we should rethink our priorities. It’s like they say on the airliners, we have to put on our oxygen masks first, then help others with theirs. We can’t make disciples if we aren’t disciples ourselves.

 

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The prophet Isiah lived in the 8th Century B. C., or about 800 years before Christ. Nearly 3,000 years ago he’s writing about racism. He writes that “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” will be brought to the holy mountain. He says, speaking for the Lord, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

 

Remember, the Jewish people didn’t play well with others. Foreigners were the enemy. But here’s Isiah telling the Jewish people that foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will enter the heavenly kingdom. This was pretty radical stuff and you can bet that a lot of people didn’t like it.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel, where a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to have pity on her and to heal her daughter. Jesus ignored her. Again, the Jews and the Gentiles hated each other. Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Send this foreigner away. She’s bothering us.”

 

What Jesus does next is surprising. He tells the woman that He’s been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Do you think maybe He’s trying to teach the disciples a lesson? Maybe He wants them to see for themselves how wrong they are. He even calls the woman a “dog”. But this woman is no dummy. She says that even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.

Finally, Jesus praises the woman for her faith and heals her daughter.

 

Then we have our second reading where Saint Paul is writing to the Romans who are gentiles. Keep in mind that on most Sundays, our readings aren’t in chronological order. The first reading is usually from the Old Testament. The second reading is taken from the New Testament, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then we have the Gospel which usually falls between the other two readings in time.

 

Because the Gospel is Jesus’ words, it deserves the place of prominence as the last of the three readings. It’s like when you go to a concert, the headline act comes on last. The opening acts get the audience ready for what’s to come. It’s not a great analogy, but I hope you get the idea.

 

Anyway, Paul’s job is to convert them to the gentile Romans to the new Christian faith. He tells them, “I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them…..For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Like Isaiah, Paul is making a pretty radical statement. Again, the Jews and the gentiles hated each other. But here’s this new religion claiming that they’re all equal in God’s eyes.

 

See, racism isn’t new. Over the centuries, Jews have hated gentiles, then Muslims. There’s centuries-old animosity between the English and the Irish. And of course, today there’s the issue of black and white Americans.

 

The people who started this church were the victims of discrimination. When they came up the Mississippi River they weren’t allowed to settle in Saint Louis. Like the other immigrants, they were forced to locate outside the city limits. When word got out that the Bohemians were going to build this beautiful church, there were a lot of people who thought they couldn’t do it. Face it, a lot of people hoped they would fail. Who did these Bohunks think they were, anyway?

 

When my Irish ancestors arrived in America they were faced with help wanted signs that said, “No Irishmen need apply.” Newspaper editorial cartoons depicting Irish as monkeys were common. There’s even a term for anti-Irish, Hibernophobia. Here in Saint Louis, in 1854, the year our church was founded, there were anti-Irish riots.

 

You may not be aware of it, but there are people who hate us because we’re Catholic. Because Saint Louis is a fairly Catholic town, after all it was named after a Catholic saint, we don’t see as much of it as you might in other places, but believe me it’s there. I was shocked by some of the literature that was handed out here during Pope John Paul’s visit. It was pretty bad. Even our local media have an anti-Catholic bias that’s hard to overlook. You may not realize it, but every one of us has suffered some form of discrimination because of our faith.

 

We all have prejudices, some of us more than others, but we all have them. It’s only human nature for us to want to be around people like ourselves. But, that’s no excuse for hating someone just because they look different than we do, because they worship differently than we do, or because they have different political opinions than we do. There’s just too much hate in the world.

 

Muslims and Jews hate each other. Blacks and whites hate each other. Democrats hate Republicans and vice versa, so much so that nothing ever gets done.

 

You’ve probably figured out by now that what I’m leading up to is the situation in Ferguson. I have no idea what happened in the confrontation between Michael Brown and the police officer who shot him. Nobody knows except the people actually involved. We have to trust the investigators who are trying to figure it all out.

 

What we do know is that there’s a tremendous amount of racial tension in Saint Louis and all over America. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse. The thing is, the government isn’t going to solve the problem. Maybe it can’t be solved considering that Isaiah wrote about it 3,000 years ago. But God calls us to love one another. That doesn’t mean that we have to hang out with people who make us uncomfortable, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be so antagonistic to each other.

 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of the people who’ve been trying to diffuse the situation in North County are ministers; black ministers, white ministers, Catholics and protestants, including our own Archbishop Carlson. With the exception of a few misguided souls who think that they’re above the law and entitled to just take the things that they want, nobody wants to see people get hurt. Nobody wants to see violence in the streets. People in North County, and all over the country for that matter, just want to live their lives in peace.

 

Jesus used the Canaananite woman to show the disciples how wrong they were to dismiss her just because she was different from them. Isiah said that the kingdom of heaven was for all. Saint Paul risked his life to take the new faith to the gentiles, even though he was Jewish himself. God is love. He doesn’t want to see His creation destroy itself with hate.

 

So, what can we do? The biggest thing we can do is to pray. We should pray for those who are victims of discrimination, whether it’s racial, religious, or philosophical. Churches all over the area have been holding special prayer services during the last few days. And, guess what? It’s working. Things are calming down. The violence has subsided. But until every one of us, black, white, or whatever, starts looking at others as God’s creatures, there will always be an undercurrent of hate and distrust.

 

We should also pray that God opens our own hearts to those who are different from us. Of course we have to use common sense and be vigilant for our own safety, but we have to accept the fact that just because someone looks different from us, it doesn’t mean they’re a danger. We all want the same things; peace, safety, a loving family, food on the table and a roof over our heads. We all want to live in a world where violence is a thing of the past. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. But I can sure pray for it and work for it. So can you.

PRAY FOR PEACE! 

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Loaves and Fish and Faith-Inspired Generosity

When I looked at the readings for this week my first thought was, “Oh, no. Not the loaves and fishes again.” It seems like this story comes up about once a month. Not really, but we’ve heard the story so many times, what can I say about it that you haven’t heard before?

 

Actually, this is Jesus’ only miracle, other than the Resurrection, that appears in all four Gospels. That’s why we hear it so often. But if you look at all four versions, each one is slightly different. In Luke and John’s telling of the story, there are FIVE loaves. Mark and Matthew say there were SEVEN.

 

In John’s Gospel there is a boy who has five loaves in two fish. In the other three versions, including Matthew’s, which we read today, the disciples come up with the food themselves. But the differences aren’t that important. It was a miracle, whether Jesus started with five loaves or seven and no matter where the bread and fish came from.

 

But there is a small difference in Matthew’s telling of the story which makes it unique. It’s only one sentence. But it is significant. When Jesus asks them for something to feed the people, the disciples say, “FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH ARE ALL WE HAVE.”

 

Think about that! Jesus isn’t asking them for SOME food, He’s asking them for ALL THAT THEY HAVE. They must have been thinking, “But, what will WE eat tomorrow?” Of course, we know the answer. After the multitude is fed, there are twelve wicker baskets of food left over. One for each of them! Clearly, there’s a message here for us. Mark, Luke, and John focus on the miracle itself. Matthew offers us a lesson on selfless giving.

 

You and I are always asked to give. Give to the Church. Give to the poor. Give to the hungry. Give to this special collection and that special collection. Give to the ACA. And, on and on and on. But how much are we supposed to give? Shouldn’t we take care of our own needs first?

 

The Old Testament tells us we should tithe. That’s ten percent. Or to put it another way, God has given us everything we have. As a kind and benevolent Father, He says we get to keep NINETY PERCENT. When you think about it, that’s pretty generous. So, why doesn’t He just give us ninety percent and keep the other ten for himself? Good question.

 

God wants to see how much we really love Him. By giving us all that we have and then letting us decide how much to give back, He puts the decision squarely on you and me. Do we return part of our time, talent, and treasure to Him, or would we rather keep all of it for ourselves?

 

A side note here: The Catholic Church teaches that our tithing includes all giving. If we give five percent to other good causes, then we’re only expected to give five percent to the Church. The TOTAL of our giving should be at least ten percent.

 

Some churches teach that the ten percent tithe applies only to them. Anything else you contribute is over and above. If you want to give money to secular charities, that’s great! But that comes out of YOUR ninety percent, not their ten. Some go so far as to demand that members turn in a copy of their W-2 forms so they can make sure you’re doing your part. The Catholic Church would never go to such extremes. What you give is between you and God.

 

The disciples in our Gospel gave Jesus all that they had. But at the end of the day, they got much more back. They had faith in Jesus and their faith was rewarded. My experience has always been that that’s the way things work out. My former pastor used to say, “God can never be outdone in generosity.” How true that is.

 

But, the disciples didn’t give all their food hoping to get something back. Thinking as human beings, they had no clue how Jesus was going to feed so many people with so little food. They didn’t know what Jesus was going to do. But their faith made them give.

 

Does your faith cause you to give?

 

I’m constantly getting things in the mail offering to increase what YOU give. “Do this and your collections will go up by 10%” “Buy this program and people will be breaking down your door to give you money.” I say, “NONSENSE”. I don’t think Jesus wants us to trick you into giving more to the Church. I believe that He wants us to teach you, by word and example, why you should be generous to our God.

 

In the first reading, Isaiah tells the people, “All you who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost.” In other words, if you have no money, God will provide. That’s the flip side of giving. If you’re broke, if you’re out of work, if you’re hungry, God will provide. Of course, what that really means is that you and I will provide on God’s behalf. This month, we’re collecting school supplies for kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them.

 

With four grown kids, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on school supplies. Shouldn’t my crayon buying days be over? Well, no, they’re not. I know what it’s like to have to choose between buying something I want and buying spiral notebooks. Most of us do. But we sacrifice for our kids and now that most of our kids are grown, it’s our turn to help others. Besides, it’s kind of fun to see all the new things that they have for back-to-school. Even though I basically hated school, it was always exciting to start back with a brand new box of 64 Crayolas, all with sharp points. A small blessing, but still a blessing. And, I didn’t even go to CATHOLIC school.

 

Who knows? The kid who gets the supplies that I contribute may grow up and find the cure for cancer. That may sound farfetched, but is it more outrageous than Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes? Not really.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to guilt anybody into buying a backpack and a box of pencils. It’s not about guilt and it’s not about pencils. It’s about loving God and giving back what’s rightfully His to begin with. There’s an old saying, “God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s true. Like the story of the widow who gives her last penny, God will bless those of us who give when it’s sacrificial.

 

Isn’t it hypocritical for us to get down on our knees and thank God for all that He’s given us, then to ask Him for more, then to throw five bucks in the collection basket when we know we could do more?

 

Our minds aren’t even capable of understanding all that God has done for us. We have roofs over our heads and food on the table. But that’s small change. You and I live in the greatest country on earth, even though we do have our problems. The big news right now is how thousands of people are trying to come to America. Very few Americans are trying to get out. That’s a gift from God. Our very lives are a gift. No matter how smart or how talented we think we are, none of that is a result of anything we did. God gives us everything and He asks for very little in return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus, the prophets, and all the writers of the Scriptures spoke to the people in language they could understand.  Today’s Old Testament reading and Gospel are perfect examples.  They both speak in terms that an agricultural society could relate to.  Both talk about seeds and what it takes to either make them grow, or not grow.

 

Of course, we understand the symbolism today, but we may not be quite as concerned, or as educated in the process of turning seed into a useful crop.  We know that seeds need water and fertile soil to grow, but we don’t live with those things on a daily basis.  We understand that there are farmers somewhere who grow our food supply, but a drought in Kansas is much more of a concern to those farmers than it is to us, at least day to day.

 

For example, our neighbors to the north, particularly Iowa, have been experiencing terrible floods.  We see the images on the nightly news.  We may even be thinking that eventually all that water will have to make it’s way to Saint Louis.  But we may not think about the farmers whose crops, and therefore, their livelihoods, are being threatened.

 

In Biblical times seed was expensive.  And the soil wasn’t the best.  A failed crop meant possible starvation.  Turning seed into food was a life and death proposition.  It was serious stuff.  For you and me, a failed “crop” may mean that our lawn isn’t as green as our neighbor’s.  When Isaiah speaks about rain making the earth fertile and fruitful, the people understood exactly what he was talking about.  Speaking for God he says, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

 

In His famous parable of the sewer and the seed, Jesus is using this same analogy of seeds to represent His Word.  Unlike a lot of His parables, He gives us the advantage with this one of explaining what He means.  When the disciples ask Him why He speaks in parables He tells them that knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom has been granted to them, but not to everyone.  “They look but do not see and hear but do not listen but do not understand.”

 

“The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it and the evil one comes and steals away what was sewn in his heart.”  If you’ve ever tried to grow grass, you know that sometimes some of the seed will fall on the sidewalk or the driveway.  You plant seed, fertilize it, and water it.  Then you wait for it to grow.  Meanwhile the seed that lodges in the cracks of the sidewalk, without the benefit of fertilizer or water seems to sprout up overnight.  It’s frustrating, but you also know that the grass that’s growing in the wrong place won’t last.  It dies very quickly.

 

The same is true of the word of God.  You may hear the word.  It may hit you at just the right time in your life.  You’re excited.  “Yes, I see now.  God is speaking to ME.”  But if you don’t really understand it, if you don’t have the spiritual capacity to use what you’ve heard, your enthusiasm wanes and by Monday you may have forgotten all about it.

 

“The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hearts the word and receives it at once with joy.  But he has no root and lasts only for a time.  When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.”

 

I heard a statistic recently that’s really scary.  Of the people who go through the RCIA program and receive the sacraments on Holy Saturday, just 35% of them are back at mass the weekend after Easter.  Think about that!  We’re not a church where you can just walk in off the street and be baptized.  We make you jump through hoops.  You have to go through a formation program that takes months to complete.  But in spite of all that, in spite of the studying and praying that it takes to prepare for baptism and confirmation, one out of three of those people don’t stick with it.  Talk about rocky soil!

 

“The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.”  I think that describes most of at least some of the time.  There are so many distractions in the world that it’s easy to forget about God in our daily lives.  We can blame television, the internet, or just the pressures of modern society for distracting us.  But remember that Jesus was speaking in the first century.  Even without all our modern distractions, the people of His time fell into the same trap.

 

Here’s a question for you: How often do you think about the Word of God?  All day every day?  Or just for an hour on the weekend?  By the time next weekend rolls around will you even remember what today’s readings were?  Will you have looked up next weekend’s readings to better prepare yourself for coming to mass?  If you want God’s word to fall on fertile soil, you have to do the fertilizing.

 

Finally, He says, “But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold.”   That’s the goal.  We want to be that rich soil.  Not only do we want to prepare ourselves to receive His Word, we also have to be prepared to share it.  We need to read the Scriptures, we need to pray on them, and we need to reinforce their teaching by sharing it with others.  Academics will tell you that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  We’re called to be disciples.

 

In this chapel we’re surrounded by statues of the saints.  These holy men and women are here to motivate us and to remind us what’ needed to become saints ourselves.  They all have one thing in common.  None of them kept their faith to themselves.  Some were teachers, some were preachers, some did wonderful things for the poor.  But they all put their faith on display for others to see.  They made it their life’s work to spread the Good News, either by their words or by their actions.

 

Notice that in the Gospel Jesus makes no judgment on what’s the best way to sow the seed.  In fact, if we only sow seed on fertile ground, aren’t we preaching to the choir?  It’s easy to preach to a community of believers.  It’s getting something to grow on rocky soil that takes a lot of work.  But it can be done.  Church history is full of examples of hard-hearted people who were converted by hearing the Gospel.  Even some of our most revered saints were serious sinners before they ran into a disciple who was willing to make the effort to turn them around.

 

Saint Monica prayed for years that her son would return to the faith.  When he did come back, Saint Augustine did ok.  Quite an example that even rocky soil can produce a good crop.

 

As we leave here today, let’s all make an effort to spend more time in prayer and spiritual reading.  Let’s provide the best soil for the Word to grow.  Let’s all be faithful disciples, not just one-hour-a-week Christians.

Vigil of Pentecost

Today is the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season.  Tomorrow the Holy Spirit will descend on the Apostles.  Without the Spirit, the Apostles would have just been twelve guys who might not have had the courage to carry out God’s plan.  Believe me, standing up in front of people, preaching the good news of the Gospel isn’t an easy task, especially in the first century, when there was a very real threat of death for preaching this radical new faith.

 

Today is also the day when Archbishop Carlson ordained twenty men to be permanent deacons.  One of several questions he asked the prospective deacons was, “Are you resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ?”  The key words here are “humility” and “serve”.  These words remind the deacon, just as tomorrow’s celebration reminds all of us that we must be humble, and that we must serve one another.

 

As followers of Christ it’s easy to fall into the trap of pride.  After all, we’re all chosen people.  We must be pretty special.  But none of us is more special than anyone else.  The only thing that makes any of us different from anyone else is our particular talents, and those talents are given to us by God.  If we ever forget that, then we fall into the sin of pride.

 

Part of my calling is to preach.  Most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  But my call doesn’t make me special.  It just means that God has put me in a position to expand on the day’s readings.  Trust me, that’s all the Holy Spirit.  I’m just His spokesman, repeating what He wants you to hear.  I’m not afraid to speak because the Spirit is with me.

 

Here’s what the Archbishop said today in his prayer of consecration over the new deacons, “Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.  Deacons have an office, just as priests, religious men and women, and all of you have an office.

 

“Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace, to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.”  Before I was ordained, I did some public speaking.  I guess I was ok at it. I got paid for it.  But I wasn’t inspired.  I guess I had some talent, but I didn’t have the gift of the Spirit.

 

The Archbishop uses the words “unassuming authority” and “May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and one day reign with Him in heaven.”  All of us, deacons, priests, and lay people, are called to serve, just like Jesus came to serve.

 

We all received the Holy Spirit when we were confirmed.  For most of us that happened a long time ago.  We may not remember what was said.  The bishop’s prayer for us was very similar to the prayer of Ordination, “My dear friends, in baptism God our Father gave the new birth of eternal life to his chosen sons and daughters.”  There’s that word, chosen.

 

Let us pray to our Father that He will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ, the Son of God.”

 

“Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.  Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.  Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”

 

Judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe.  These are the gifts we receive; the same gifts the Apostles received on that Pentecost so many years ago.  Today we acknowledge those gifts and pray that we never lose them.  Jesus promised that he would never leave us alone; that the Spirit would be with us as our advocate.

 

After mass tomorrow, we’ll take down the Easter decorations.  We’ll put away the white vestments and return to wearing the green of ordinary time.  With a few exceptions we’ll wear the green until November 30, when we’ll put on the purple of Advent.  But in the modern use of the word, there’s no such thing as an ordinary Sunday.  Every Sunday is extraordinary because we have the Eucharist.  It’s another gift that Jesus left us.  With the gifts of the spirit, judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe, we’re called to share our faith.  We’re called to be disciples, and to make disciples.  We’re called to do it with humility, remembering that all we have and all we are are gifts from God.

 

The fact that sometimes we don’t have a priest to celebrate with us is another sign of God’s will for all of us.  Only the priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but we’re all empowered to share it with one another, even when a priest isn’t present.  We can still approach the altar with wonder and awe, knowing that we all have a part in Jesus’ ministry, and that we’re in His Presence.  Any of us can assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  Any of us can take Communion to the sick.  Any of us can share God’s Good News.  Any of us can be the disciples we’re called to be.

 

Before the Apostles received the Spirit on Pentecost, they were scared; scared to death.  But the Spirit gave them the courage to do what needed to be done.  On this vigil of the Pentecost, our prayer is that the same Spirit will empower all of us to share the Good News of the Gospel.

 

Please stand and renew your baptismal promises.

 

Phil stands his ground

Last night Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.  You may recall that Phil got in hot water last January for comments he made in an interview with GQ Magazine.  I’m still trying to figure out how a guy who dresses in camouflage and has a waist-length beard got into GQ, but I digress.  (See Why Phil Robertson is the Most Dangerous Man in America.)

It’s no surprise that Phil hasn’t changed his views, especially after winning his war with A & E Network and Cracker Barrel.   It’s great to see a TV star stand on his Christian values and not be intimidated by big money.

Here’s an excerpt  of his Hannity appearance.

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