19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Two readings today, one from the book of Kings and one from Matthew’s Gospel speak about wind. In the first the Lord tells Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain. “The Lord will be passing by.” Elijah was taking shelter in a cave from a heavy wind. From the description this wasn’t just a little breeze. This wind was rending mountains and crushing rocks. But Elijah knew that the Lord wasn’t in the wind.

 

There was also an earthquake and then a fire but the Lord wasn’t there either. But then Elijah heard a tiny whispering sound and hid his face in his cloak because he knew that that was the Lord.

 

We’ve heard this story a hundred times. We could almost repeat it from memory. But what does it mean to us today? The wind and the earthquake and the fire represent all the things the secular world throws at us. Television, movies, the Internet—these are all things represented by the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. They’re loud. They’re intrusive. If we let them they drown out the voice of God.

 

If we’re going to be disciples, and remember disciple means student, then we have to find a way to drown out all the distractions. We have to take time to listen to that tiny, whispering voice.

One way to do that is what most of us are doing right now. We come into God’s house to listen to his word. I say most of us because some of us have our minds a hundred miles away. We’re distracted by a lot of different things and we need to learn to focus on what’s right here in front of us. This hour is God’s time. “This is my beloved Son! Listen to Him!”

 

The chapel is usually open at 4:00. If you need some quiet time in the presence of God come early. Sit and pray on whatever’s bothering you or just reflect on the lives of the saints depicted in our statues. There are more than forty of them so you’ll have material for a lot of Saturdays. The rest of promise to be as quiet as we can.

 

Then we have to make quiet time the other six days to listen to His Voice. Set aside time each day to pray. And when you pray, don’t treat God like some supernatural Santa Clause. “Give me this! Give me that! Give me patience and do it NOW!” Sometimes we have to shut up and listen. Remember that Jesus taught us to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil.” The rest of Jesus’ prayer focuses on God, not on stuff.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel we find the wind analogy used in another way. The Apostles are in a boat and the wind is tossing it one way and then another. The men were afraid just like you and would be in the same situation. Picture yourself in that boat and imagine how afraid you would be.

 

But, then, here comes Jesus strolling across the water. That scared the Apostles even more. They thought He was a ghost. Remember that every time Jesus did something amazing it was something that had never been done before. So again, put yourself in that boat. There’s a raging storm and some guy is walking across the water toward you. Who wouldn’t think it was a ghost? But Jesus calls out to them, “Hey, guys! It’s Me Jesus, not a ghost.”

 

So then Peter, good old goofy Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really you, command me to walk on the water, too.” Jesus tells him to come on, and he actually does walk on the water for a little while. But then he gets scared and starts to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him. “Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter and said to him, “O you of little faith why did you doubt”

 

He’s talking to you and me. With Jesus’ help we can do anything. But aren’t we like Peter sometimes? We know we can do something with God’s help but we get scared and wimp out. Faith is belief in something when we have no proof. We have faith in God. At least we say we do. But when we’re faced with a challenge, do we have faith that He’ll see us through or do our doubts and get the better of us, like poor Peter.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous has cured millions of hopeless drunks with their twelve step program based on faith. Face it, when most people show up at AA’s door they’re not carrying a Bible and quoting scripture. They’ve hit bottom and may think God has abandoned them. But AA has shown over the years that the person most likely to help an alcoholic is another alcoholic. And no matter how little faith the new person may have in God, the evidence of his or her sponsor will eventually lead them to faith. For many AAs, the road to a cure is like walking on water. With faith it can be done.

 

Some of us have more faith in the local baseball team than we do in God. Weren’t we all sure when the Cardinals were struggling that they’d find a way to come back? Now they’re just a game out of first place. Was it Rally Cat? Maybe. A few years ago it was a squirrel. Don’t we sometimes put our faith in the strangest things?

 

Put your faith in God and you can do anything, even walk on water.

Unanswered Prayers

“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

This passage, from Matthew’s Gospel is a familiar one.  It gives us hope that God will answer our prayers.  But isn’t it true that we don’t always get what we ask for, or conversely that sometimes we get something we don’t want?  Doesn’t God often work in strange ways?  Isn’t our belief in God’s knowing more about we need than we do called “faith”?

One of the big events and fund-raisers at my church is our “world-famous” goulash festival.  It happens the first Sunday in November.  I always stress out over it because so many things have to happen correctly for it to be a success and I have to admit that I can be a micr0-manager.

But last year (2016) I had surgery on November 1 and I had very little to do with planning the festival.  On the big day I was flat on my back and nowhere near the church.  Guess what?  The 2016 Goulash Festival was the most successful one in years!  Being forced to delegate everything led to an amazing act of teamwork by everyone involved and an important lesson for me.

Saint John Nepomuk Church was founded in 1854, more than 162 years ago.  I’ve  been there for just over six years.   In other words, for more than 156 years the place ran just fine without me and, God willing it will continue long after I’m gone.

The cemetery is full of people who thought they were indispensable.  Surprise!  They weren’t.  Life goes on.  As Garth Brooks said, “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.  Leave things up to Him (God, not Garth).  He knows what He’s doing.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the greatest example of this I know of.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel is the famous story of Jesus and the disciples on the way to Cessarea Philippi according to Mark. Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say that I am?” They others give give Him a variety of answers but Peter says “You are the Christ.”

The story goes on that Jesus tells them He must be killed and rise again on the third day. There’s a line here that I love. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” Good old Peter, he’s my hero. He always manages to say and do the wrong things. Who the heck rebukes Jesus? Peter has just said that Jesus is the Christ, now he has the nerve to rebuke Him? He’s calling the Son of God a liar?

Of course Peter pays for his foolishness, just like he always does. Jesus calls him Satan. “Get behind me!” He says. I imagine that Peter knew he’d made a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth. If he was Homer Simpson he would have said “Doh!” But it was too late. I think we can all relate. How often do we say things and right away we realize we’ve made a mistake. But once the words are out there, the damage has been done.

On the other hand, Jesus tells him that he’s thinking like a man and not God. But, what did Jesus expect? Peter was a man. Jesus was God. It seems reasonable that Peter would think the way he did.

If we look at Matthew’s Gospel we find the almost identical story with one difference. In Matthew’s telling of the story Jesus also calls Peter Satan. He also tells him that he’s thinking like a human being. Everything is almost exactly the same. Almost.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

Jesus acknowledges the fact that Peter has been blessed with knowledge that he couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Isn’t the same thing true for us? We can read all the Scripture we want. We can listen to all the learned Christian speakers of this time and all the time before. But the idea that this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, is the Messiah, the Son of God, doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical. Nothing like this ever happened before or since. Peter’s understanding comes from faith, just like our understanding comes from faith.

Jesus has built His Church on the Rock, Peter. He built it on faith. Peter wasn’t a smart man. We see throughout the Gospels that he was always messing up, saying the wrong thing. That gives you and me hope. Because, in the end, after Peter cut off the Centurian’s ear; after he denied he even knew Jesus, not once, but three times, after the resurrection He told Jesus, not once, but three times that he loved Him. And each time Peter told Jesus he loved Him, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. In other words, “Lead my Church.”

Week after week you and I come to church. We hear the readings and the homily. The message doesn’t change. Jesus was the Son of God. He performed miracles. He told us to love one another. But when it’s all said and done, there is no proof that He was who He said He was. We have to have faith. Like Peter, these truths are revealed to us by Jesus’ heavenly Father.

The Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus left us has to move within us or the Bible is just a nice story book written thousands of years ago. If that Spirit isn’t working within us, then we might as well be reading from the Book of Mother Goose.

Sometimes you have to wonder why Jesus didn’t surround Himself with the best and the brightest. Why did He choose tax collectors and fishermen? Why did He pick the Apostle who seemed the least likely to be a leader to be the head of His Church? It’s simple. He did it to give hope to you and me. If these twelve guys could build a church that would grow into the millions of members, they had to have help. And while we aren’t called to judge anyone, we have to feel pretty good about our own chances when we look at the men Jesus chose.

Through baptism and confirmation, we receive that same Holy Spirit. Every one of us is able to spread the Gospel just as well as Peter and the others did. That’s what we’re called to do every single day. All these saints that we venerate in this beautiful church did it, even though most of them were far from perfect Christians. They inspire us to do the same.

So, when we read the Scriptures, when we look at all these men and women whom the Church has declared to be saints, we’re inspired by the words and deeds of these holy people. But we also realize that we have the same opportunity to share the Gospel as they did. And, when we realize that they had the same faults and failings that we do, we have the hope that we can do what they did. We can use the talents and gifts that God has given us and be examples of faith to others.

When we’re tempted to remain silent, maybe afraid that we’re going to look foolish if we speak up, we need to remember that, even in the beginning of the Church, God chose flawed human beings to deliver His message to other flawed human beings. That’s His plan for humanity. You and I are just as much a part of that plan as Peter, or the other Apostles, or any of these saints.

What an awesome God we have! And what an awesome opportunity we have to tell the world about Him through our words and our actions!