Happy Birthday, America!

This is the homily I gave this weekend.  Enjoy!  And, enjoy your holiday!

 

American Flag“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

This line is from the Declaration of Independence.  We all know it, but do we ever really think about it?  This weekend we celebrate the birthday of our country.  A lot of us will go on picnics, or go to ballgames, or go to the lake.  There will be barbecue, and everything that goes with it, and a lot of beer.  There will be days off work. There’s nothing wrong with that.  Except for the lake and the beer, I plan to do some of these things myself.

 

But what about the meaning of Independence Day?  We’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  The Declaration ends with the words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

 

This small group of men was setting about an almost impossible task.  We were going to war with Great Britain, the most powerful military force on the planet.  If we had lost, and without the protection of Almighty God we almost surely would have lost, these men were pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  They would certainly all have been killed.  Their families would have been killed.  Their property would have taken away.  And, instead of being remembered as American heroes, we’d remember them as British traitors.

 

But they had faith.  Don’t let anyone tell you they didn’t.  God’s name is all over the writings of these men.  

 

Speaking about our Constitution, James Madison wrote, “It is impossible for any honest person not to be astonished (that the Constitution had been created in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles).  It is impossible for the religious man not to once again perceive the finger of that Almighty Hand that so frequently and notably extended relief to us during the critical stages of the Revolution.”

 

No reasonable person, religious or not, could believe that this handful of farmers and businessmen could create the greatest form of government in the history of the world on their own.  They were blessed, and we’re blessed by a God who wanted us to be an example to all the world.

 

This handful of men from all parts of the colonies, with diverse backgrounds and religions, were actually able to agree on this thing.  There were no filibusters, no demonstrations, no walkouts.  They just did it.  The Holy Spirit had to be involved.  Today’s politicians can’t even agree on when to go to lunch.

 

Sadly, we’re living in a time when so many people take our freedoms for granted.  People from all over the world are literally dying to come here.  Many of them can’t even comprehend our lifestyle.  We can go wherever we want.  Do whatever we want (within reason) and say just about anything we want.  We may not realize it but that’s not true in a lot of other countries.    Sadly, it’s those freedoms that may be our undoing.

 

In Christian charity, we have welcomed people from all over the world to join us.  Now many of those people are attacking our Christian principles.  We can’t have the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.  We can’t have Nativity scenes on public property.  People who work in retail stores aren’t even supposed to wish us a Merry Christmas.  Where’s it all going to end?

 

As Catholic Christians, we belong to one of the few minorities that can be ridiculed without fear.  People can say whatever they want about us and it’s OK.  

“Catholics are all child molesters.”  “Catholics don’t care about anything but abortion.”  “Catholics worship statues.”  “Catholics are cannibals because they eat the Body of Christ.”  The more ridiculous the anti-Catholic statement is, the more people want to chime in.  And, we let them do it.  Look at how Muslims react to anti-Muslim rhetoric.  

They won’t stand for it and we shouldn’t either.

 

The Fourth of July is called “Independence Day” for a reason and it’s not because we get the day off work.  God has made us free.  God has blessed the United States with the most abundant natural resources in the world.  This place couldn’t have happened any other way.  But now, we’re being told that “one nation under God” is discrimination against atheists.  

 

If I go any further, I’m going to really go off on a rant, so I’ll stop now.  I just want to urge you to take some time this weekend to give thanks to God for making you an American.

 

Our ancestors made a terrifying journey across the Atlantic and up the Mississippi to settle in this neighborhood so they could enjoy the freedoms that they didn’t have in their home country.  When they got here they found prejudice against them from the locals who were former immigrants themselves.  Yet this was still way better than they left behind.  Like our founding fathers, they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

 

While we drink our beer, and eat our barbecue, and watch our ballgames this weekend, let’s not forget the brave men and women who made it possible.

fireworks

 

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.

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.”

 

 

Catholic Couple–non-Catholic Wedding

From a reader… QUAERITUR: My son and fiancee are Catholics and considering having a non-priest perform the ceremony in the Outer Banks, NC. We have two family members saying that as Catholics, they can’t attend the wedding because it is outside of the church. Is there some rule that is keeping them from attending the wedding? Once again we…

via ASK FATHER: Wedding of Catholics with a non-priest out in Mother Nature — Fr. Z’s Blog

Here’s a post from Father Z’s blog that should  be read by every Catholic contemplating marriage.  It covers a particular scenario, but the principals apply to all marriages.  For some reason, otherwise reasonable Catholics seem to want to throw their faith out the window when it comes to marriage.

It’s a short post.  Check it out.

Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?

Yesterday I shared a post on Facebook called Meet the 50 Richest Pastors in the World.   The post listed most of the preachers you’ve heard of, especially the ones who preach the s0-called “prosperity gospel”.  In essence these guys (and gals) treat Jesus like Santa Clause.  “Love Jesus, and prove it by sending me money” and you’ll enjoy financial success.

Many of these rich pastors live in other countries.  Number one is a Brazilian.  But number two is all-American Pat Robertson, host of the TV show The 700 Club.  Number three on the list, at a net worth of $250 million is none other than George Forman, the former boxer and grill guy.  Obviously the definition of “pastor” on this list is pretty lose.

I won’t boor you with the entire list.  You can check it out for yourself.  I will say that the list is in reverse order so, if you want to cut right to the chase, start with this link and work backwards.  In other words, http://standardnews.com/meet-richest-pastors-world/50 will take you to number one on the list.  Replace the number “50”with “49” and you’ll see number 2, etc.  Or just click the “previous” button.

 

The reason I bring this up today is that I was listening to the comedy channel on my satellite radio today and I heard the song “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?”  Maybe it’s just a coincidence but I really don’t believe in coincidences so maybe it’s a sign during Lent.  Watch the Ray Stevens video below.  I think you’ll get a kick out of it.  After all, we are allowed to have some fun during Lent.

 

 

Here’s an interesting sidebar.  Everyone associates this song with Ray Stevens but it was actually written by Chet Atkins.

What makes for a practicing Catholic

I came across this post from Father Ron Holheiser O.F.M. and I thought it would be a good way to start Lent.  This is one of the best explanations on this topic I’ve ever seen.   Enjoy!

There’s a national phone-in show on radio in Canada that I try to catch whenever I can. Recently its topic for discussion was: Why do so few people go to church today? The question triggered a spirited response. Some called in and said that the churches were emptying because they were too progressive, too sold-out to the culture, too devoid of old, timeless truth. These calls would invariably be followed by others that suggested exactly the opposite, namely, that the churches are emptying because they are too slow to change, too caught up in old traditions that no longer make sense.

And so it went on, caller after caller, until one man phoned in and suggested that the real issue was not whether the church was too progressive or regressive. Rather, in his view, less and less people were going to church because “basically people treat their churches exactly the way they treat their own families; they want them around, but they don’t go home to visit them all that much!” The comment reminded me of Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist of religion, who likes to quip: “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them – and that is a difference that needs to be understood.”

Indeed it does. There is a difference between leaving a family and just not showing up regularly for its celebrations. This distinction in fact needs to shape the way we answer a number of important questions: Who belongs to the church? What makes for a practising Christian? When is someone’s relationship to the church mortally terminated? What does it mean to be outside the church? As well, this distinction impacts on the question as to who is entitled to receive the rites of baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and Christian burial.

People are treating their churches just like they treat their families. Isn’t that as it should be? Theologically the church is family – it’s not like family, it is family. A good ecclesiology then has to look to family life to properly understand itself (the reverse of course is also true). Now if we place the questions we just posed within the context of family life, we have there, I believe, the best perspective within which to answer them. Thus, inside of our families: Who is in and who is out? When does someone cease being a “practicing” member of a family? Does someone cease to be a member of a family because he or she doesn’t come home much any more? Do we refuse to give a wedding for a son or daughter just because he or she, caught up in youth and self-interest, hasn’t come home the last couple of years for Easter and Christmas? Not exactly abstract questions!

Many of us have children and siblings who for various reasons, at this stage of their lives, largely use the family for their own needs and convenience. They want the family around, but on their terms. They want the family for valued contact at key moments (weddings, births of children, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on) but they don’t want a relationship to it that is really committed and regular. A lot of families are like that. They understand this, accept it, swallow hard sometimes, and remain a family despite it. In any extended family, it’s natural that, while everyone is a member of the family, there will be different levels of participation. Some will give more, others will take more. Some, by virtue of maturity, will carry most of the burden – they will arrange the dinners, pay for them, keep inviting the others, do most of the work, and take on the task of trying to preserve the family bond and ethos. Others, because of youthful restlessness, immaturity, self-interest, confusion, peer-pressure, laziness, anger, whatever, will carry less, take the family for granted, and buy in largely on their own terms. That describes most families and is also a pretty accurate description of most churches. There are different levels of participation and maturity, but there is only one church and that church, like any family, survives precisely because some members are willing to carry more of the burden than others. Those others, however, except for more exceptional circumstances, do not cease being members of the family. They ride on the grace of the others, literally. It’s how family works; how grace works; how church works.

Church must be understood as family: Certain things can put you out of the family, true. However, in most families, simple immaturity, hurt, confusion, distraction, laziness, youthful sexual restlessness, and self-preoccupation – the reasons why most people who do not go to church stay away – do not mortally sever your connection. You remain a family member. You don’t cease being “a practicing member” of the family because for a time you aren’t home very much. Families understand this. Ecclesial family, church, I believe, needs to be just as understanding.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

In 1980 a country music singer/songwriter named Mac Davis wrote a song called “Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.” The song was a big hit on the country charts and on the Top 40 charts, too. It was a parody song. The rest of the first line goes like this. “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. Today’s readings all remind us that humility is very important, even though it may be hard.

 

For one thing, we have to understand what humility is. It’s not insecurity. It’s not being unsure of ourselves. Humility is understanding that we were created by God to be part of His plan. We are His coworkers. He’s given each of us our own set of gifts. Humble doesn’t mean we can’t achieve great things. It does mean that we have to give God credit for all the gifts He’s given us.

 

The first reading today begins, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed His law; seek justice, seek humility” and maybe you’ll be “sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”

 

In the 2nd reading Paul writes to the Corinthians (and to us) “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

 

“Whoever boasts should boast in the Lord.”

 

It’s so easy, especially in our materialistic age, to get caught up in the idea that we’re better than someone else because we’re smarter, or better looking, or because we make more money, have a bigger house and better car.

 

Sure we all want those things, and it’s certainly ok to live in a nice house or drive a nice car if we can afford it. But we have to remember that those things don’t make us better than anybody else. And, if we spend our money on those things and neglect charity to those who don’t have so much, then we have a problem. If you’re driving a Mercedes to mass and putting five bucks in the collection basket every week, you might want to reconsider your priorities.

 

Our faith is full of what seem too be contradictions as we see in today’s Gospel. The famous Beatitudes are one contradictory sentence after another. Jesus tells us that all these people who we see as disadvantaged are really blessed. It’s all about humility. The people Jesus describes have every reason to be humble and for that they will be blessed.

 

If you fall into any of these categories, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Be humble because everything you have is a gift from God and it could all be taken away from you in an instant.

 

I think the biggest sin against humility is when we think that we know better than God, or that we can put one over on God. We may be His partners in the Divine Plan, but we’re most definitely junior partners. Sometimes we forget that He sees everything and knows everything. We fall into the trap of sin when we think “just this once won’t hurt. I can take home office supplies from work and nobody’s ever going to know.” There are any number of sins that we might consider “victimless crimes” but whenever we sin there’s always a victim, usually it’s us. When we talk about others behind their backs, we may think we’re building ourselves up by tearing them down, but we’re not. We’re making ourselves look small and God is always listening. Remember “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is all about humility,

 

Take today’s readings to heart. Appreciate everything God has given us and be ready to share it whenever the need arises. Remember that none of this is our doing. We all have our own gifts and there’s a reason they’re called gifts. They’ve been given to us….freely by a loving Father. If you must boast…boast in the Lord.