Something’s Gotta Give

Beauty Beyond Bones is a blog written by a young woman named Caralyn who is recovering from anorexia.  Her posts are always inspirational and uplifting, especially if someone you love is a victim of this terrible disease.  Her most recent post is called Something’s Gotta Give and I encourage you to read it right now.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time paraphrasing what she said because I couldn’t possibly say it better than she did.  Just read it and I know you’ll be as impressed with her work as I am.

Also be aware that Caralyn has a Youtube channel with videos that are also worth your time.  Let’s support this courageous young lady who loves God and doesn’t care who knows it.

(Besides, she follows DeaconCast, so she’s obviously highly intelligent.)  You can also follow her on all the various social media.  There are links on her blog.

5th Sunday of Easter–Mothers’ Day

My intention today was to talk about the first reading and I’ll get to it in a minute. But today’s Gospel is so rich that I had to dive into it a little bit first. This is part of what you might call Jesus’ farewell address. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on what we now call Holy Thursday. The discourse actually takes up several chapters of John’s Gospel. Today’s reading is just about half of Chapter 14.

 

He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” This could easily be part of our daily prayers. If we have faith in Jesus, how can our hearts be troubled? We know He’s there for us no matter what. What could possibly trouble us? But we’re human. We worry. As we read on in the New Testament we see that the very people Jesus is speaking to here were often troubled.

 

This Gospel is often part of the funeral liturgy because it’s when Jesus promises to go ahead of us and prepare a place for us. Then He makes an outrageous claim. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” This kind of talk is what got Him crucified! He’s saying that He and God are one and the same, blasphemy if it isn’t true.

 

Remember, this is new! It’s unprecedented! He’s saying that He is God. You and I know it to be true, but for the handful of people who heard Him say it, and really didn’t understand it, it must have been quite a shock. It’s going to be a while before they GET it. Remember Thomas? He doesn’t believe it and he’s one of Jesus’ closest friends.

 

But here’s the real kicker, after He claims that He is God, He tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and do greater ones than these.” Wait! What? Jesus has healed the sick, given sight to the blind, turned water into wine, walked on water, and even raised Lazurus from the dead. Now He says they (and we) will do even greater things? That’s hard to believe.

 

But it’s true. Jesus never traveled very far. The biggest crowd He ever spoke to were the 5,000 on the mountain. Look at our technology today. Look at men like Bishop Robert Barron and Cardinal Dolan. They’ve been heard and seen by millions. When Pope Francis speaks, his words are heard around the world. A crippled nun in Alabama started a world-wide media network. Even a humble deacon can post something on the Internet that’s seen by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

 

You and I may not be able to raise the dead, but we can carry Jesus’ message to many, many people. Remember that there are billions of Christians in the world today, but it all started with that small group of people in that upper room.

 

I said I was going to talk about the first reading today. It’s from the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it tells us about the first deacons. The Apostles were running ragged trying to do everything themselves. Even with the Holy Spirit there just weren’t enough hours in the day. In particular, the Greek Christians were complaining. They thought the Jewish Apostles weren’t paying enough attention to the Greek widows.

 

So, they called everyone together and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. You go find seven wise, reputable men who are filled with the spirit. We’ll anoint them and have them feed the poor widows, and maybe do some other stuff.” And that’s what they did.

 

They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch to be the first deacons. Notice that they were all Greek. It’s not a coincidence that Stephen, the guy they chose first, was also the first martyr of the new Church. They told us when we were in formation that Stephen was doing fine until he started to talk. Then they stoned him to death. So, we’d better be careful. Fifteen years later, I understand what they were talking about.

 

Today deacons do things that the Apostles never dreamed of like running churches, ministering to prisoners and hospital patients and travelers at the airport. There’s even one of us in Saint Louis who has a truck stop ministry. There is much work to be done in God’s kingdom on earth and many different callings, not just clerical, but lay as well.

 

And, finally, one of the greatest callings of all is the one we celebrate this weekend. The following quote is from Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty who died in 1975:

“The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral——a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.

 

“The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God’s Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.”

 

“What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

3rd Sunday of Easter

Today (tomorrow) is already the third Sunday of Easter and today we read the famous story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We’ve heard this story many times and we may think we know it, but there are some things in the story that you may not have noticed.

 

First is, apparently no one knows where Emmaus is. Luke tells us that it’s seven miles from Jerusalem but that’s all we know about it. Don’t try to find it on Google Maps because it’s not there. There is an Emmaus in Pennsylvania, near Allentown, but that’s hardly within walking distance of Jerusalem.

 

What we do know is that throughout the New Testament, everything points toward Jerusalem. But here we have two disciples walking the other way. We might say the wrong way. But as they’re walking along Jesus comes and walks with them. Luke says this is “that very day; the first day of the week.” In other words, it’s Easter Sunday. They’ve seen the Crucifiction. They’ve also heard from the women that Jesus has risen from the dead. But evidently they don’t believe it. It’s like “move along. There’s nothing to see here.” So they’re headed to Emmaus. Jesus calls them “fools”. “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets said.”

 

So, why don’t they recognize Him? That’s easy. They’re headed the wrong way, both physically and spiritually. When the three of them got to Emmaus the two urged Jesus to stay and eat with them. As they tell us later, their hearts were burning within them while He spoke to them on the say and opened the Scriptures to them.

 

Still, it wasn’t until He broke the bread and gave it to them that their eyes were opened and the realized who He was. Then He vanished from their sight. As the last sentence says, “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

 

This is a fairly long Gospel. The disciples knew the facts. They explained what had just happened in Jerusalem in great detail. But they didn’t “get it”. They didn’t understand what really happened. They called Jesus a “prophet”. “We were hoping that he would be the one who would redeem Israel.” But they didn’t stick around to see what happened. Instead of looking for Jesus, Jesus had to come looking for them.

 

 

This is a story about the mass. The mass has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word which is where we are now, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where we’ll be in just a few minutes and where we’ll all experience Jesus’ real presence. I could stand up here and talk all day and I might be able to make some things a little clearer. Maybe not. But the Eucharist brings it all home.

 

When Father turns that bread and wine sitting on the table in the center aisle into the Body and Blood of Christ, that’s when He enters into you. That’s when you, like the two disciples, will have your eyes opened. But you have to participate. You have to want it to happen. To put it bluntly, if you shuffle up here and Father or I say “the Body of Christ” and you mumble “amen” (or say nothing) and shove the consecrated host into your mouth and shuffle back to your seat, looking at your watch to see when this ordeal is going to be over, guess what? Your eyes won’t be opened. Nothing will happen to you. You might as well just stay in your seat. You have to do your part. You have to have the right attitude.

 

 

Father will have performed a miracle! He will have turned ordinary bread and wine, not even very good bread and wine, into the Body and Blood of Christ. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. And it happens here and in Catholic churches all over the world every single day!

 

The disciples at Emmaus were so excited that they “set out at once and returned to Jerusalem” to tell the others. They had just walked seven miles and now they were going back, at night when it wasn’t all that safe to travel. They were on fire with Jesus’ words and His Presence, the two parts of the mass. When was the last time you were that excited about coming to mass?

 

If it’s been a while, maybe we should all spend some time thinking and praying about what’s happening here and the two travelers’ reaction. Will we walk out of here today knowing we’ve seen Jesus or will we just feel like we’ve fulfilled an obligation? It’s up to us.

 

 

Lent—How Did You Do?

We’re just about to the end of Lent.  (It ends tomorrow evening).  So how did you do?  Have you successfully given up something for the entire 40 days?  Have you done something extra every day?  Or are you a fallible human being?

Personally, I’ve been more successful in the “giving up” than in the “doing extra”.  The things I decided to give up for Lent are mostly still gone.  But I’ve fallen short, sometimes very short in the things I thought I would be able to add.  This blog is a perfect example.  My plan was to post something each day.  I started pretty well, but as you can see, my last post was March 24.  EPIC LENT FAIL!  Not only was it an epic fail, it was a very public fail.

Other things, like my plan to focus more on my prayer life, may be failures, but at least no one knows but me (and God).

The 12 Step programs have a slogan, “progress, not perfection”.  Isn’t that what being a Catholic is all about.  We may strive for perfection, but we know that progress is the most we can hope for.  The writer Matthew Kelly prays that God will make him the best version of himself.  It’s a great prayer.  If we ask God to make us better, He will.  If we ask Him to make us perfect, we’re going to be disappointed.

Thomas Merton wrote “I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you.” (Thoughts in Solitude).  Progress, not perfection.

I don’t think we can rate ourselves when it comes to Lent.  We’re all humans.  All God wants from us is our best.  Our best isn’t the same as someone else’s best.  If we’ve done all we can then He can’t ask for anything more.  If you’re a better version of yourself than you were on Ash Wednesday, you’ve had a successful Lent.

I hope you’ve had a great Lent and that you’ll have a great Easter.

 

From today’s Gospel:

“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”

That seems to be pretty clear.  The greatest commandment is to love God and the second-greatest is to love your neighbor.  So, why do we have such a hard time with this?  I wish I had a really great answer.  But people way smarter than I am have been trying to answer this question for centuries.

Clearly Jesus made an impression when He gave this answer to the scribe.  The passage ends:

And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

For once He was able to shut down His critics.  As we know they will be back, but on this day Jesus had the last word.

The Feast of Saint Joseph

In my mostly Irish/American world, the feast of Saint Joseph has a tendency to get short shrift.  After all, we’ve just celebrated the feast of the patron saint of the Emerald Isle with all the associated parties and parades and corned beef and cabbage, so a feast day with little pomp and circumstance, even if it is for the man who raised Jesus, can seem a little bland.  Back in my younger days I might have even still been hung over on this particular feast day and not in the mood for additional celebration.

But, let’s face it, if not for Saint Joseph and his very critical place in salvation history there might not have been a Saint Patrick or a Holy Roman Catholic Church.  Much is made, and deservedly so, of Mary’s “yes” to the angel.  But if the Old Testament prophesy was to be fulfilled, Jesus earthly father had to be from the House of David.  And that meant Joseph.

It was very hard for Mary to take the word of the angel seriously.  “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?”  But what about the story that Joseph had to accept?  Seriously, guys, would you be so willing to buy what Mary and the angel were selling if you were in Joseph’s place?  Don’t be so sure.

 

So today, on this 20th of March, the first day of Spring, let us give Joseph all the honor and glory he deserves.  He’s a role model for fathers everywhere.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Third Sunday of Lent

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about Matthew Kelly’s book,  Resisting Happiness.  If you haven’t read it the title seems a little ridiculous. Who would resist happiness?

 

The answer is that we all do, maybe not consciously, but it’s in our human nature to resist real, true happiness and most of us do it all the time. True happiness, the kind Kelly writes about, is found with God. It’s what we’re all after. But how many times have we put off reading the Bible to watch a ball game? How many times have we skipped mass because we have “something better” to do? How many small things that we could do to help others are pushed aside in favor of something that may seem important but doesn’t lead to real happiness.

 

Two weeks ago Jan and I were in Huntsville, AL. We went to mass at Saint Mary Church of the Visitation. It’s a pretty little church and like Saint John’s it’s on the edge of downtown so it draws a fairly diverse congregation. Ironically, the pastor is Father William Kelly. Since Matthew Kelly is Australian and Father Kelly is definitely American, I don’t think they’re related.

 

But Father Kelly is an excellent preacher and I have been known to borrow something from him from time to time.

 

Two weeks ago the theme of his homily was “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” This is very much in line with Resisting Happiness. I felt like God was speaking to me and I had to share the message with you. Then I looked at today’s first reading.

 

Moses was leading his people out of Egypt and all they did was complain. They thought he was taking them into the desert to die. He was leading them to the Promised Land and they just wanted to whine. Look at the third strophe of today’s Responsorial Psalm, God says, “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me.” Meribah and Massah are the scene of the first reading.

 

But how often do we act just like Moses’ people? God has given us everything but still we complain. We don’t have enough stuff! “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.”

 

Jesus covers this pretty well in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” Jesus calls himself a gift, and that’s what He is. God gave us the gift of His Son. That’s so far beyond our understanding that I have a hard time thinking about it, let alone explaining it to others. Who would do that??? Who would give up His only Son to save someone else? But that’s what He did, whether we can understand it or not.

 

All we have to do is show our gratitude, worship God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God knows that we’re weak creatures who may try to be good Christians, but how often do we fail? “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” Easy to say but hard to do.

 

Fortunately for us, God understands us better than we understand Him. He knows how often we fail. In the Lord’s prayer we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses. That’s our faith and our hope. No matter how many times we come up short, He’s always there, waiting for us to come back to Him and ask Him for forgiveness.

 

Hopefully we’ve all chosen a penance for Lent. Maybe we’re giving up something. Maybe we’re doing something extra. Maybe you’re watching Matthew Kelly’s daily videos. Today is day 18. No matter what we’re doing, forty days is a long time. Chances are we’re going to slip up. The good news is that in our failing we see our flawed human nature and know that we have a forgiving Father to hold us and comfort us and to let us know that it’s ok.

 

We all sin, even though we know that it might keep us from going to heaven, which is for all eternity. At the time the temporary pleasure that may be sinful gives us immediate happiness. That’s when we get in trouble.

 

During this Holy season of Lent, remember, “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.”