Monday of the 19th Week of Ordinary Time–Gold Fish?

Well, now we know why Jesus didn’t carry any money.  When He needed some cash he just sent one of the Apostles to get a gold coin out of a fish’s mouth.  Not bad.  Don’t you wish you could do that?

Maybe not.  A while back I mentioned that a lot of lottery winners actually end up worse off than they were before they won.  They waste all that money and end up broke.  Money that you don’t work for just doesn’t seem to stick around like it should.

But maybe Jesus is sending us a different message today.  Jesus had to pay a tax to go into the temple.  Our modern-day church may ask us for money.  In fact we’re coming into “second collection season” when it seems like there’s an extra envelope in the box almost every week.  The difference is that you don’t have to give anything if you don’t want to, or if you can’t.  Admission is free.  Donations are optional.

Maybe Jesus is telling Peter, and us, that the tax is just so much fish food.  The tax collectors aren’t working for the money so why should He.  After all, we know that our Lord had very little use for money.  “Give unto Caesar what is Caeser’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

It’s a fact that you and I need money to survive.  We’re expected to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.  We’re also expected to tithe; to use part of what receive to support the church and for charity.

We know that Saint Paul could have supported himself through the charity of others, but he chose to work for a living.  Our modern-day clergy make very little, some of us don’t get paid at all.  But we’re not here on earth to pile up stuff.  We’re here to live a holy life.  If we do, our reward will be so great that we can’t even imagine it.  Not having to work for a living just might give us too much time on our hands.  Like they say, “an idle hand is the devil’s playground.”

Fish that spit out gold coins might seem like a good thing, but in the grand scheme of things, having a finny ATM machine just might not be the best thing for us.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time–Like a Thief

Have you ever had your house broken into?  Chances are that you haven’t.  I have and I can tell you it’s not fun.  In our case the thief came in the middle of the afternoon.  Jan left the house every day at a certain time to pick the kids up from school.  This guy must have been watching because he broke in, right through the front door, just after she had left.

The stuff he stole didn’t have a lot of financial value, but it did have sentimental value; things like class rings that can never be replaced.  As it happened our oldest son got off school early that day and surprised the thief.  He ran out the back door and got away.

I have to tell you about this master thief.  He was surprised by another victim just a couple of days later.  This time he runs off and leaves his car behind.  Not wanting to go back to the scene of the crime, he had his girlfriend call the police and report the car stolen.  When the cops showed up to take her statement, this genius was sitting at the kitchen table going through his loot.  They arrested him but he had already gotten rid of all our stuff.  All we got back was one earring.

We can laugh about it now, but it could have been a really serious situation.  Our modern-day John Dillinger was a drug addict and instead of running, he could just as easily turned on our son with a gun or a knife.  Thanks be to God that no one was hurt.  “Stuff” can be replaced.  Human life can’t.

The point is, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, if we had known the thief was coming, we would have been prepared.  He would have never gotten into the house.

We all do things to protect our homes and our valuables.  We lock the doors and windows.  We don’t leave valuables lying around in plain sight.  We do the same with our cars.  Hopefully we keep anything worth stealing in the trunk or locked in the glove compartment.  Ladies, I hope you keep your purse close to you, especially when you’re in a crowd.  It’s just good sense to take the proper precautions to secure our belongings, even though we know that we’ll probably never be robbed.

Of course, Jesus’ story has nothing to do with being the victim of a robbery.  The point lies in His last statement.  “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  Notice the words that He uses.  Not “the Son of Man might come”.  THE SON OF MAN WILL COME.  We’re all going to die, people.  We don’t know how.  We don’t know when.  But, we WILL die.

Think about the tragic school bus accident that happened this week.  Two young lives were snuffed out in an instant.  Jessica Brinker was just 15.  Not even old enough to drive.  She and her fellow high school band members were on their way to Six Flags.  It was an annual trip for the band, something they worked to raise money for during the school year.  Surely Jessica left home that morning looking forward to all the rides, and the food, and the fun that she expected to enjoy that day. Being 15, there’s a good chance that some boy was in her thoughts.  She was just a kid!   She was looking forward to the day and many, many more days to come.

Daniel Schatz was 19.  He was driving his pickup truck on Highway 44 when the truck in front of him stopped for a traffic back up.  He hit the truck which may or may not have been a serious accident, but the school bus slammed into him and crushed his truck, then a second school bus rear-ended the first.  That’s when Jessica was killed.  I don’t know where Daniel was going.  He may have been going to work, maybe he was even going to Six Flags himself.  But we can be pretty sure that when he got into his truck and headed onto the highway, his death was the farthest thing from his mind.

There’s so much that we don’t understand about life and death.  There were fifty five people on the two buses.  One was killed.  I have a friend whose daughter was on that first bus.  She wasn’t even hurt.

There were hundreds of other vehicles on that part of Highway 44.  Why was Daniel Schatz driving the one that got between the school bus and the truck?  We just don’t know.  What we do know is that one day God will call us home.

My question for you is this:   “Do you take precautions to save your soul as seriously as you take precautions to protect your stuff?”  Some day somebody may break into your house.  Some day somebody may break into your car?  If they do, you have insurance to restore your lost possessions.

What about your soul?  Obviously you go to weekly mass.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here.  But what else do you do?  Do you go to confession regularly, making sure you’re in a state of grace every single day, just in case?  Do you do your best to avoid sin?  Do you read religious books, listen to Catholic radio, or watch EWTN?  When was the last time you sat down in a quiet spot and read the Bible?  How’s your prayer life?

I’m not trying to scare anybody………Well, maybe I am.  I consider everyone here to be my friend.  If I knew that you were about to get on a plane and I knew the plane had a bad engine, I’d do everything in my power to keep you from getting on.  I’d grab you and throw you on the ground if I had to.  DON’T GET ON THAT PLANE!!!

There is no plane, and I can’t predict the future except to know that we’re all going to leave this world, some of us sooner rather than later.  As an ordained minister of the Church, but more importantly as your friend, it’s my job, it’s my solemn duty to do everything I can to protect your eternal life.

If I have to scare you, or embarrass you, or offend you to make my point, then so be it.  I think too many of us think we’ve got it made.  Maybe we think there is no damnation.  Maybe we think we’re all going to heaven.  If you think that, you’re playing a very dangerous game and the stakes are higher than we can even imagine.

All I’m asking you to do is to be ready. It’s really not that hard.   “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

Transfiguration of the Lord

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him!”

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord.  Jesus goes to the top of the mountain with Peter, John, and James.  They, and we, get a small glimpse of what God has in store for His Son, and for us.  His garments become white as the sun and Moses and Elijah appear with Him.

The three Apostles have fallen asleep.  I guess the climb was too much for them.  These guys do have a bad habit of dozing off at crucial times.  Remember the Garden of Gesthemani?  Fortunately, they wake up in time to see what’s going on.

Of course Peter, in his enthusiasm wants to build tents so the people can come and see Jesus and the other two.  But the sky suddenly gets dark and God’s voice booms out from the clouds:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.” The Apostles fell silent and didn’t tell anyone at the time what they had seen.

Of course, what they had seen was very important.  It was a rare look into the future.  Jesus was transfigured, just as He was and you and I will be when we enter into God’s kingdom.

What they hear was even more important.  It’s the second time God has spoken directly to human beings about His Son.  The first time was at the River Jordan as He was baptized by John.  He IS my Son.  Listen to Him.

The message is no less important today than it was way back then.  That’s why we have an annual feast to remind us.  When He says “Listen to Him” He doesn’t mean sometimes.  He doesn’t mean when it’s convenient or when it won’t separate us from our friends.  He means always.  Every day.  In every circumstance.  His words are truth.  Anyone who speaks against His words is a liar.  That’s it.  End of story.

I don’t think they do so much anymore, but for a while it was a fad for kids to wear bracelets and T-shirts that said WWJD?, What would Jesus do?   But that’s not really the point.  Jesus walked on the water to get to his friends in the boat.  We can’t do that.

A better slogan might be WDJS?  What did Jesus say?  There’s no situation we can run into where the answer doesn’t lie in Jesus’ words.

“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”

I now pronounce you man……and man?

In 2008, the good people of California passed Proposition 8, declaring that marriage could only take place between a man and a woman, just as God intended it to be.  Yesterday Judge Vaughn Walker, an openly practicing gay man, by the way, struck down Prop 8, in effect making it legal for gay “marriage” to take place in the state.

There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to start.  But let’s start with the legal system.  52% of voters declared two years ago that they wanted marriage in their state to be a contract between a man and a woman with the possibility of having children.  That’s the way God planned it and that’s the way the majority of Californians want it.

As I understand it, the proposition passed every legal challenge it’s opponents could muster before it was ever put on the ballot.  How could a judge throw it out after it had been subject to such scrutiny?  What if we have a gay judge review it?  That seems fair, doesn’t it?

So, we have a situation where a federal judge, clearly biased in favor of these attempted marriages overruling the wishes of millions of voters.  Make no mistake, this ruling will be appealed, all the way to the US Supreme Court if necessary.  One would hope that somewhere along the way the courts will come to their senses and recognize the simple biological fact that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby.  That’s marriage.

This has nothing to do with anyone’s “rights”, it’s just a simple fact.  God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Bruce.

Cardinal Francis George, President of the U S Conference of Catholic Bishops, said “It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support of the institution of marriage.”  Archbishop Joseph Kirtz, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage commented that “Marriage is more fundamental and essential to the well being of society than perhaps any other institution.  It is simply unimaginable that the court could now claim a conflict between marriage and the Constitution.”

With all due respect to the Archbishop, it’s not all that unimaginable.  There are forces at work here in the United States that would like nothing better than to destroy the institutions that built our country, especially our churches.  It would have been more surprising if the self-proclaimed homosexual judge had ruled otherwise.

Make no mistake, this is about much more than the legal definition of marriage.  Our rights as Catholics, as Christians, and as Americans are being whittled away by activist judges and others.  If marriage falls, what’s next?

Our loyalty is to God and His Church first and our nation second, but watching our enemies, domestic and foreign, tear down our once God-fearing country brick by brick scares me to death.

I know you’ve heard the story about the frog and the boiling water.  If you put a frog in a pan of boiling water he will wisely jump out.  But put him in a pan of cold water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will sit there until he’s  cooked.

The same goes for the attacks on our freedoms, religious and otherwise.  They want to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance.  You can’t put a Nativity Scene on the courthouse lawn.  School kids get winter breaks and spring breaks instead of Christmas and Easter vacations.  They’re turning up the heat folks and we’re sitting around like frogs waiting for the frog-leg dinner to begin.

It’s not too late.  Again, no disrespect toward Cardinal George, Archbishop Kurtz, or any of our bishops, but a three paragraph press release isn’t going to cut it.  Every Catholic, every Christian, every American needs to pray, first of all that God will deliver us from politicians whose only interest is their own advancement, damn the consequences for our children and grandchildren.  Second, as the largest voting bloc in the country, we have to forget political parties and vote for people who represent US, not special interests.  Finally, we have to be unafraid to take a stand for what we believe in.

I’m not sure who said this, or even the exact wording, but someone once said, “Those who are silent in the face of evil are also evil.”  The evil one prowls the earth and is counting on our complacency.  Let’s not help him get his way!

August 5–Create a clean heart in me, O God.

A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.  Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

This line from today’s responsorial Psalm (Ps 51:12-13) pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  You may recall yesterday’s entry on Saint John Vianney.  He preached against the evils of sin and pilgrims came by the thousands to hear him speak and to let him hear their confessions.  He pulled no punches when it came to sin and the people loved it.

Like many preachers, I usually avoid talking about sin.  I don’t want to make anyone mad.  I want to be popular.  After all, I have to live with my parishioners.  What if I talk about the sanctity of marriage and someone in the crowd is living in sin.  I don’t want to embarrass them.  I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.

In other words, “I’m a coward”.  That’s the only explanation.  When I was ordained, I knelt before the Archbishop and put my hand on the book of the Gospels.  He said, “Receive the Book of the Gospels, whose herald you now are.  Believe what you read. Preach what you believe, and practice what you preach.”

Believe it.  Preach it.  Practice it.  Simple enough, but how often do many of us do what we promised?  Jesus talked about sin.  He was against it.  It’s recorded in the Gospels.  Yet, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve preached against a specific sin.  Like I said, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.  But if you read Jesus’ words, he had no problem with making folks squirm.  In fact, that often seems to be His mission.  After all, what’s worse?  A little discomfort now, or an eternity of separation from God?  I think we all know the answer.

We prayed today that God would create in us a clean heart and a steadfast spirit.  My job is to help you do exactly that.  Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel.

BTW, living with someone without the benefit of the Sacrament of Marriage is a sin.  Don’t do it!

Saint John Mary Vianney

Today we remember Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.  Like Forest Gump, Vianney wasn’t a smart man.  He had a very hard time in school.  In fact, it was only after private tutoring that he was able to pass his exams to become a priest.

His first, and only, assignment was to Ars-en-Dombres, a remote place with only 230 people.  Through Vianney’s hard work, he was able to turn the place around and make it a site for pilgrims from all over the world..

He was strongly against blasphemy, profanity, and obscenity and he let the people know it in his homilies.  He crusaded for a return of holiness to the Lord’s day; not just getting people to mass, but also to get them to stop working on Sunday.

He was also very much against dancing. calling it an occasion to sin.  Clothing was also an issue with him and he spent years fighting against immodesty.  It took him many years, but he finally won the people over.

Amazingly, Ars became a place for pilgrimages, not because of any particular holiness of the place itself, but because people wanted to see and meet the good Father.  From 1830 to 1845 more than 300 people per day came to visit. From 1858-59 more than 100,000 pilgrims visited Ars.   Apparently 18th century Catholics were just as hungry for the truth as 21st century Catholics are today.

A travel office was set up in Lyons to handled all the travelers wanting to visit Ars.  Tickets were issued for 8 days because there was no way you could hope to see Vianney in any less time than that.  He spent from 12 to as many as 16 hours per day hearing confessions.  Think about that!  Today most parishes hear confessions for 30 minutes to an hour every WEEK.  No wonder Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and made him the patron-saint of priests in 1929.

It’s too bad that most priests (and deacons) don’t follow John Vianney’s example of speaking out on the important moral issues concerning all of us today.  When was the last time you heard a preacher speak out on the evils of blasphemy or profanity in a Catholic church?  I imagine it’s been a long time.  In the so-called Protestant mega-churches, they hear it all the time and their numbers continue to grow.

It’s obvious that Vianney’s homilies, speaking out strongly against sin, attracted thousands of pilgrims to his little church.  It would be good if all of us who have the great gift of being allowed to speak from the ambo would follow his example.

Saint John Vianni, pray for us.