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.

 

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.”

 

 

From the 6th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Why is this so hard  for so many of us (m0st of us?  all of us?)   It ain’t rocket science.  It ain’t brain surgery.  You don’t even have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express to understand it.

Do yourself a favor.  Find a quiet place and spend ten minutes meditating on these words.  I promise it will change your attitude toward life.  Then, make yourself  repeat this process every day for the remainder of Lent.  I promise it will make you a new person.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Moses said to the people:
“Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

This quote from today’s first reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?  Follow God’s Commandments and the Lord will bless you.

I get frustrated sometimes (my bad) by people who just don’t get it.  God’s instructions to us are so simple yet so many people either don’t understand or just don’t care.  As we begin Lent, maybe we can all try to follow God’s commandments a little harder.  Instead of giving up some trivial thing, maybe we should focus on understanding God’s commandments a little better.  That would make it a pretty good Lent.

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.

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Hopefully, if you were here last weekend you got a copy of this book, Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly. If not, please take one home today. It’s an excellent book for Lent because there are almost 40 chapters and the chapters are short, making it easy to read a chapter every day.

 

Now, Lent is supposed to be a time for penance so it may seem odd to read a book about happiness during these forty days. It’s especially odd when today’s Gospel cautions us not to worry about our lives. Jesus asks us, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” But do food and clothing make us happy? I suppose they do on a short-term, superficial level. But what is REAL happiness, the kind of happiness that Kelly writes about?

 

Kelly’s happiness revolves around daily prayer and meditation, exercise, and all the other things that we know are good for us. But if those things are good for us and make us happy, who in their right mind would resist them? The answer is every single one of us. We’re all guilty of putting off things that make us happy, usually in favor of some other thing that makes us happy for just a short time.

 

Our Responsorial Psalm today says, “Only in God is my soul at rest.” We know that’s true yet how often are we distracted by something of little or no value. Take the Internet, for example. There are a lot of good things about the Internet. It makes it possible for us to communicate instantly with people all over the world. The web can answer just about any question we can think of. I use it every week to research homilies. But I also waste a lot of time with stuff that does me no good at all. I get very easily distracted. One page leads to another and before I know it I’m nowhere near where I started. Sometimes I get so far off the track that I can’t even remember where I started.

 

Facebook, and Twitter, and all the other social media sites can be huge time wasters. I like to keep up with my kids and grandkids, but I have dozens of so-called friends who I’ve never met and in some cases don’t even know who they are.

 

We can talk about television and a lot of other time-wasters, but the point is that they intrude into our day because they’re pleasant diversions. They make us happy for a little while but they take time away from things that will give us long-term happiness. That’s what Kelly is talking about in Resisting Happiness.

 

There’s also a negative side to all this. How often do we do things that we KNOW aren’t good for us. When we drink too much, or eat too much, or smoke too much, we’re letting short-term pleasure rob us of our better judgment.

 

Paul writes to the Corinthians that it doesn’t bother him if he’s judged by them or by any human tribunal. He says he doesn’t even judge himself. But we all know that when someone passes judgment on us it hurts. We don’t like it. So we often don’t do anything so we can avoid being judged. My life was much easier when I didn’t preach. In the twelve years I’ve been privileged to preach the Gospel I’ve been called on the carpet a few times because somebody didn’t like what I said. I’ve been called names and even threatened. The easiest path for me would be to avoid any controversial subjects. The absence of conflict would add to my short-term happiness. But I wouldn’t be doing my job.

 

If I stand up here and tell you that everything you’re doing is fine, that you don’t need to change anything, that would make you happy. But is that really why you come to church? Or do you want to be challenged to be the best version of your self? I hope it’s the latter or we might as well all stay home.

 

So, what’s the solution? To get Kelly’s answer you’re going to have to read the book. But, if you want my answer, here it is. It’s the third step of the twelve step program. “We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to God.”

 

We all have a God-sized hole in our souls that must be filled. If God’s not there then we’re going to turn to something else. Whether it’s drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, or the Internet, we have to find something to take up that space. We human beings are always looking for answers. We want to be happy. We want to be fulfilled. What’s the answer? It’s in our Responsorial Psalm. “Only in God is my soul at rest.”

Blog readers, you can get a copy of Matthew’s book, Resisting Happiness, by clicking on this link.

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time                        January 22, 2017

You probably know that our weekly readings, our daily readings too, come in sets. They go together. Part of my job, and Father’s job is to figure out why they go together and offer you our words of wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s hard, especially if we try to put too many of our own ideas into it. Sometimes it’s easy. Today’s readings are easy.

 

In the Gospel, Matthew refers back to the first reading, from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah tells us, “First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles.”

 

In Matthew’s Gospel he tells us that Jesus heard about John’s arrest and “He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled”.
Jesus glorified Capernaum just by being there.

 

What was Isaiah’s prophesy? “Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”
Jesus was the light.

 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. How many times have we sung the song “City of God?”

 

 Awake from your slumber! Arise from your sleep!
A new day is dawning for all those who weep.
The people in darkness have seen a great light.
The Lord of our longing has conquered the night.

Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing.
For the Lord our light and our love has turned the night into day.

A side note, the song was written by Dan Schutte, a member of the Saint Louis Jesuits, right down the street at Saint Louis U. Ironically, Schutte is no longer a Jesuit.

 

Anyway, we’re seeing here that God can turn dark into light; night into day.

 

In between the first reading and the Gospel we have Paul writing to the Corinthians, complaining about the divisions among them. The Corinthians also seem to be living in darkness. “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”

 

Is Paul speaking to the Corinthians? Or is he speaking to us? Maybe both. Yesterday we inaugurated a new president and we are definitely a divided country. It’s pretty clear that we’re not heeding Paul’s words. One thing we all need to keep in mind is that Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. At most he’ll hold the office for eight years. The REAL leader of our country is hanging up on that cross. He’s the King. He rules everything. Always has…always will. Human leaders serve at His pleasure.

 

God has a plan and we have no idea what it is. All we know is that we’re all part of the plan and it will play itself out according to HIS will, not yours, or mine, or Donald Trump’s. It’s no coincidence that on this inauguration weekend that God tells us, through Saint Paul’s writing, that we must be united in the same purpose.

 

It doesn’t matter if we’re Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Jews, black or white, we must be united in the same mind and the same purpose. The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world, but we’re slipping badly because we’re not listening to God’s word. It’s time that we stopped fighting with one another and worked together for the good of all.

 

“Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing.
For the Lord our light and our love has turned the night into day.”