God’s Promise

I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.  God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come.   I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

For our friends on the east coast of the United States, may God be with you as you ride out Hurricane Sandy.  Remember, when God makes a promise He never goes back on His word.

God bless!

 

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

There’s a word in the Jewish language, Chutzpah.  The dictionary defines chutzpah as “supreme self-confidence”; gall or nerve.  They give an example, “He had the chutzpah to demand special treatment”.

 

I think we can agree that John and James had chutzpah.  “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Of course we know that what they wanted was to be seated at Jesus’ right and left hand when He came into His glory.

 

I used to travel to China.  In their tradition, where you sit at the table has great importance.  At a business dinner, which is almost always at a round table, the most important guest sits at the host’s side.  As you go around the table the farther you are from the host, the less status you have.  At my first dinner meeting in Taiwan, I sat at the furthest spot at the table, after the secretaries.  But as I moved up in my company, my spot at the table gradually improved until I eventually got to sit next to the host.  For what it’s worth, that first business dinner was probably the most enjoyable.  Sitting In the first spot meant talking about business and you had to be very careful about what you said.  The secretaries and I had a good time.  They taught me how to use chopsticks and we had a good laugh while I tried to figure out how to eat rice with those two silly sticks.  You’d think that after years of exposure to the west they would realize that the fork is really the way to go.

 

A lot of us spend our working lives trying to improve our position.  A bigger office, a grander title, invitations to the most important meetings; all these things massage our egos and make us feel more important.  Frankly, I got pretty far up the ladder and every new title just meant more work and more pressure.  I was lucky enough to step back in the last few years of my career.  I let younger people take my place and really enjoyed my role as an in-house consultant, not having to go to the big-deal meetings.  I made a little less money but also had a lot less pressure.  I think that what Jesus is telling us today is to be careful what we wish for

 

He tells John and James they don’t know what they’re asking for.  “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  They answered that they could and Jesus responded that it’s not up to Him who sits where.

 

Of course we know how Jesus earthly journey ends.  The men on Jesus’ right and left were thieves who were crucified.  I don’t think that’s what John and James had in mind.

 

If you ever attend a mass at the cathedral you’ll notice that the Archbishop sits in a big, marble chair.  It’s called the “cathedra”, which means chair.  But, it’s not just any old chair, it’s the place of primacy in the entire Archdiocese.  On either side of the cathedra are two smaller chairs.  Those are for the deacons.  Wow!  When a deacon assists the Archbishop, he gets to sit right next to him.  Not the auxiliary bishops, not the priests, but the deacons get to sit on his right and left.  But why is that?  The deacons are there to serve the Archbishop.  In procession the deacons walk ahead of him to clear the way.  When he sits, deacons sit on either side of him so they’re ready to serve him.  The chairs on his right and left aren’t positions of power or prestige, they’re positions of service.

 

What John and James are missing today is that prestige is a fleeting thing and that with increased prestige comes increased responsibility.  “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 
They say that they can, and they’re right.  You and I can say the same.  But who sits where in heaven has already been decided.  We know now that God the Father sits on Jesus’ left.  [He (Jesus) is seated at the right hand of the Father.]  The early Church Fathers (and common sense) tell us that His mother is seated on His right.  So John and James are going to have to sit somewhere else.

 

I think we can take two lessons from today’s Gospel.  The first is this idea of chutzpah.  When John and James say to Jesus, the Son of God, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” doesn’t that sound really brash?  Don’t you think, “Who do these guys think they are?”  That’s what the other Apostles thought.  But, don’t you and I often speak to Him the same way?  “Give me this.  Do that.  Heal this.  Make that happen.”  When we pray aren’t we asking Jesus to do whatever we ask.  But then when we pray the “Our Father” we say “thy will be done.”  Which is it?  His will or ours?  We have to make up our minds.    Remember, it was Jesus who taught us the Lord’s Prayer. “Pray like this” He said.

 

Second, we have to be careful of what we pray for.  Even at a young age, who doesn’t want to be the boss?  Who doesn’t want to be in charge?  We’re always looking for ways to move up; to make more money and earn more respect.  But is that really important?  Remember what He told us last week:  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Temporary, earthly things aren’t going to earn us eternal happiness.  In fact, they may hold us back.

 

Besides, we often find that when we get the things we want (Notice I said the things we want, not the things we need.  There is a difference.) when we get those things they often turn out not to be as great as we thought they’d be.  A fancy title and a big paycheck may turn out to be more of a burden than a blessing.  Personally I’ve never been happier than I’ve been since I gave all that up.

 

Jesus gives us the answer in the closing words of the Gospel:  “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

What do you think?

I posted the following in our church bulletin last weekend:

Abortion, free contraception, and the right to practice our faith are key issues in both the presidential and local elections.  Based on current polls and the results of recent elections, many of us are not practicing our faith in the voting booth. This may well be the most important election in our life times.  Please pray for guidance during the days that remain before November 6.

It seemed like a reasonable statement, in line with what our bishops are telling us.  Following Sunday mass I received an anonymous note threatening to report me to the IRS for telling people who to vote for.  [As a non-profit organization, we are not allowed to endorse specific candidates.  Noncompliance can result in the loss of tax-free status.]

First, anonymous messages go into the trash, where they belong.  Second, I see nothing in my statement that endorses anyone.  My real concern here is that someone spent time during mass writing hate mail when they should have been focusing on what was happening on the altar.

What do you think?  Is this what the Holy Father had in mind when he declared this a Year of Faith?

US Bishops: Joe Biden is a big fat lying liar

“No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide,” Biden replied. “That is a fact.”

Today the United States Bishops issued a statement saying, in effect, “Hold on, Joe.  It ain’t so”.  The HHS mandate issued by the Obama administration will force Catholic institutions to do exactly that.  Their statement said, in part:

Catholic employers “will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients,” the USCCB statement said. “They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations — and their employees — are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed by Catholic organizations to stop the mandate, at least as it applies to them.  Logic would tell us that these institutions wouldn’t waste their time and money on these suits if Biden’s words were true.  Quoting Ryan,

“They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals,” Ryan said.”

A missed opportunity

As moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC pointed out, this is a historic election in that both VP candidates are Catholics.  She asked them how their Catholic faith affects their stand on abortion.  Unfortunately this taylor-made opportunity to speak on behalf of the Church was wasted by both Candidates.  I expected the (nominal) Catholic Biden to drop the ball, but Ryan’s response was disappointing as well.  Biden claimed to be personally opposed to abortion but went on to say, “But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”  In other words, the 69 year old, male, Biden wouldn’t have an abortion himself, but it’s fine with him if others do.  Quite a bold statement and clearly a misrepresentation of the Catholic faith.

It’s no wonder people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, are confused.  When the 2nd most powerful man in the United States makes such a statement, it’s no wonder that faithful Catholics get the idea that abortion is OK.  After all, the Church remains silent when he and others make such false statements about our beliefs.  No, Joe, when you vote for laws that permit the murder of innocent unborn children. you’re just as guilty of the sin as the person who actually has an abortion, possibly even guiltier because your actions permit many, many immoral acts.

Sadly, Representative Ryan’s comments were only slightly better.  He said that he opposes abortions with some exceptions.  I’m not sure how you can say that life begins at conception, but some lives are more precious than others.  There are any number of ways to deal with an unwanted pregnancy that don’t involve killing the child.  Rape isn’t a capital offense for the perpetrator, why should an innocent child conceived as a result of rape have to face the death penalty?

Our Catholic faith is a beautiful thing.  It’s a shame that neither candidate used the opportunity of being on the national stage to say so.  I wouldn’t expect it from Mr. Biden  but Mr. Ryan’s response was very disappointing.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Before I left on retreat some of you asked me to share my experience with you when I got back, so here goes.  How many of you have ever gone on a retreat?  Good.  Most of you have a general idea of how things go.  It’s a time to get away from the daily grind and to focus on what God’s trying to tell us.  The Trappist Abbey at Gesthemani, Kentucky is a walled community on several hundred acres about 45 minutes south of Louisville.

 

It’s a silent retreat in keeping with the monk’s mostly-silent lifestyle.  There’s a half hour presentation each morning and there’s a spiritual director available, but most of the time it’s just you and God.  Brother Christian, the retreat master told us that one of the misconceptions about the monks is that the stone wall around the place is to keep people out.  It’s actually there to keep the noise out.  It does a pretty good job.  They don’t watch television and they don’t listen to the radio.  To them, that’s just noise that they don’t need.

 

When I go there, and this was my ninth year, I usually have something in mind that I want to pray and think about.  Sometimes that works out but most of the time God hits me with something very different.  Among other things, I was hoping for some help with this weekend’s homily.  Unless you’ve been asleep for the last few minutes, you know that the first reading and the Gospel today are about marriage.  I WILL get to that in just a few minutes.  But there was one idea, one concept that kept coming up over and over again during the four days I was at the Abbey.

 

I keep a retreat notebook.  The first thing I did when I got to Gesthemani was to look at my notes from last year.  One thing that Father told us last year was that God is telling us that there’s only one version He wants of us, but we keep insisting on being someone else.   We’re all part of God’s plan as long as we do His will.  He told us that a saint is someone who has realized who he really is.

This year’s retreat master, Brother Christian, spoke to us the first day on the monastic life.  A monk’s life consists of work, prayer, and spiritual reading.  They work, making cheese, fudge, and fruitcake to make the money they need so they have time for the other two.  They work four hours per day.  They’re in church eight times a day, singing and praying, starting at 3:15 in the morning.  The rest of their time is free to read and study, with the emphasis on spiritual reading.  They’re usually in bed by 8:00.  Through spiritual reading, he said, you become who you are.  You become as holy as it’s possible for you to be, WHERE YOU ARE.  We’re all monks to some extent.  Some of us are just better at it than others.

On Tuesday afternoon I picked up a book in the library written by a Baptist minister.  The book was on Celtic prayer.  Being a good Irishman I thought I should check it out.  Besides, I wanted to see what this protestant had to say about a basically Catholic version of spirituality.  He seemed to be very surprised to learn about practices that Catholics have known about for centuries and that you and I take for granted.

The author says we’re not supposed to be somebody else. God already made that other person.  He says that God never does the same thing twice.  He quotes a Jewish rabbi who said, “At the last judgment I shall not be asked  ‘Why were you not Abraham?  Why were you not Moses?  I shall be asked why were you not [yourself]?”  I started seeing a definite pattern in what God was telling me.

I won’t bore you with any more details except to say that every talk I heard, every book I picked up, and even an audio program I listened to while I was walking in the woods came to the same conclusion.  God doesn’t want us to be a second-rate copy of someone else.  He wants to be a first-rate version of ourselves.

Brother Christian pointed out that we’re all closer to perfection than we realize because perfection is different for each one of us.  If my idea of perfection is to be a world-class triathlete, I’ll never make it.  But if my idea of perfection is to be the best husband, the best father, the best grandfather, and the best deacon that I can be, I can do that.  That’s my perfection.  And that’s what God wants.  It’s up to you to spend time in prayer and reflection to find out what God wants you to be.  Then do your best to be that person.

I had lunch Friday with a friend of mine who just graduated from a Baptist seminary.  He’s going to sell his house and move his family to a little town in Wyoming to start a new church.  The population of the town is 80% Mormon.  You have to understand one thing about Mormons.  They’re DEDICATED to their church.  If a Mormon decides to leave the church they’ll be shunned by family members and friends and probably lose their job since most of the businesses in the town are owned by Mormons.

That’s the environment my friend is moving into.  No, thank you!  But he’s convinced that’s what God wants him to do and he’s doing it.  He’s been going to school and planning for this for the last ten years.  What if he fails?  The last Baptist church there did go out of business.  If that’s what God wants him to do, and clearly he believes it is, and if he gives it his best shot, which he will, then, win or lose, he’s doing God’s will and he’s being the best version of himself he can be.

So, what’s any of this have to do with today’s readings about marriage?  According to Matthew Kelly, the Australian writer and speaker, “the purpose of marriage is two people getting together encouraging, challenging, and helping each other to become the best versions of themselves that they can be, then raising children to become the best versions of themselves.  Marriage is God’s tool in most people’s lives to create holiness.”

The first reading ends, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”  In the Gospel Jesus quotes this reading to the Pharisees and adds that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  That’s what God tells us about marriage and yet people say our Church is “controversial” in saying that marriage must be between a man and a woman, and that it lasts until death.

I’m very blessed.  I have a wife who supports most everything I do.  [She was a little iffy about the Vespa, but I know she was wanting me to not get squished by a semi truck.]  She puts up with a lot being a deacon’s wife.  She supports me in my ministry and didn’t give me a problem about leaving our parish of over thirty years to take this assignment.  But most of all she pushes me to be the best that I can be.  And I try to return the favor.  That’s what husbands and wives are supposed to do.  After all, we are one flesh.  What’s good for me is good for her, and vice versa.

So many people live together today without being married.  They pretend that it’s ok.  But, how can you have a proper relationship with God if your second most important relationship is founded on sin? It’s impossible.

 

What did I learn from my retreat?  I learned that I should always pack a sweatshirt no matter how warm it is when I leave home.  More important, I learned that I need to spend more time in prayer and spiritual reading.  I learned that God doesn’t want me to be Saint Francis of Assissi, or Bishop Sheen, or Cardinal Dolan.  He’s done them already.  He wants me to be the best Mike Buckley I can be and he wants you to be the best you that you can be.  And I learned that the only way to find out what that means is to spend time in prayer and spiritual reading.  We can’t hear God if we don’t listen.