Come…..Go

abby cemetery

abby cemetery

According to Bishop Fulton Sheen, Jesus’ first word of his public ministry was “come”.  His final word to his disciples was “go”.  “Come follow me.  Go out into the world”.  I wonder how many of us really follow these simple instructions.

Even the Monks here at Gesthemani have mastered the first part, but they haven’t really mastered the second part.  They’ve come alright.  But once they come they pretty much stay.  There’s no question that they welcome visitors, each year by the thousands.  And they do their best to share the good news through their actions.  But as far as going out into the world, that’s more up to you and me.

abby keep out

 

Last night in one of only two sessions the monks hold with visitors Father gave us something to really reflect on.  We all know that we’re supposed to see Jesus in the poor, the sick, the elderly, in anyone who needs help.  When we look into the face of that person, we’re seeing Jesus.  We may not always act on it, but we do know it.

But what about the helper.  Isn’t he/she Jesus too?  In his book Rediscover Jesus, Matthew Kelly tells the story of a group of men hurrying to catch a New York City Taxi.  In their haste they run into a blind lady’s vegetable cart, knocking all the produce to the ground.  Only one of them stops to help.  His friends urge him to hurry up or he’ll miss his plane but he stays behind to pick up the spilled fruit and vegetables.  Dozens of other pedestrians hurried by but no one else stopped to help.  When he had everything picked up and neatly arranged, he handed the blind lady some money to pay for the damaged goods.

The lady is very grateful and asks the man, “Are you Jesus?  When I heard the fruit hit the ground I prayed to Jesus for help.  Then I heard you picking it up.   Are you Jesus?”

“Oh, no ma’am”, he said.  He ends up missing his plane and has to spend another night in New York which gives him plenty of time to think and pray about what happened.

The story begs the question, “When was the last time someone wondered if you were Jesus?”

My recent health problems have forced me to rely on others much more than I like to.  I’ve always been very independent.  At first, I fought this dependence with all my might.  I don’t want to have to depend on others.  That’s a sign of weakness.  But as Father told us last night, when we refuse the help of others we take away their chance to be Jesus.  We’re actually being selfish.

People like to help.  It makes them feel good inside.  When we let our egos take charge and refuse to let others help us, we’re taking that good feeling away from them.  As I’ve hobbled around Gesthemani Abby this week, I’ve had any number of people offer me help.  Before Father’s talk last night I was my usual egotistical self.  But now I see that by letting them help me, I’m actually helping them.  And I get to see Jesus.

Now the cynic might say, “You’re on a retreat.  You’re surrounded by holy people.  Most people are like those New Yorkers who just kept on going, not stopping to help.”  I don’t agree.  I think most people want to help, wherever they are.

I have to say something here about my wife.  For the last year, she’s literally done all the heavy lifting.  She carries things.  She picks things up when I drop them (which is constantly).  She drives most of the time (except at night when she can’t see.)  She fills out forms and signs things.  She has been the perfect caregiver.  Occasionally she gets impatient with me (who wouldn’t).  But if you want to see Jesus, take a look at my wife.  Or at anyone who takes care of someone else.

 

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40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Bad preaching

“People leave the Catholic Church because the preaching is awful”

OK, I’m going to give partial credit on this one.  Some preaching is awful.  Some priests and deacons either don’t have the right stuff to deliver the message, or they’re not trying hard enough.  I like to think Father Paul and I provide pretty decent homilies at Saint John Nepomuk, (especially Father.  I hope someday to be as good as he is.)  In other churches, maybe not so much.  But, does bad preaching really mean you have to leave the Church?

First of all, are you prepared for mass?  Do you come running in three minutes before mass starts?  Do you arrive early so you can talk to your friends?  Or, do you get to church in time to look over the readings for the day and to pray for insight?  You wouldn’t go to a hockey game without looking at the paper to see the news about your favorite team.  Should you prepare any less for the Holy Sacrifice of the mass?

Let’s say you have done your preparation but the deacon or priest just drones on, not addressing your needs at all.  I offer two alternatives.  First, the homily usually takes from five to ten minutes out of the total forty-five to sixty minute mass.  If the preaching is really that dreadful, tune it out.  Reflect on the readings yourself.  Do your own mental homily.  Again, the homily is just a small percentage of the total mass and the best is yet to come.

Second, most of us live within a few minutes of several Catholic churches.  If you just can’t stand the preaching, go someplace else!  The whole point of going to mass is to praise God, to receive His Body and Blood, and to fortify yourself spiritually for the coming week.  If you’re spending the entire mass being angry at the content and/or delivery of the homily, do yourself a favor and find yourself another parish!  Where you are now isn’t a good fit for you.  There’s a reason why Baskin-Robins has 31 flavors.

I guess there’s a third thing you could do.  Start writing anonymous notes to the deacon or priest.  Tell him what a jerk he is. I can tell you from experience that this won’t work and, by spending mass time engaged in such a negative process, you’ve negated any grace you might receive from attending mass.

Back to the myth.  I think the quality of preaching in the Catholic Church has improved tremendously over the last 45 years that I’ve been a Catholic.  The homiletics courses taught in the seminaries are much better than they were.  Guys are being ordained much better prepared to deliver God’s message.

People who leave the Church usually have two reasons for doing so.  One is the real reason which usually involves them wanting to do something that the Church forbids (like remarrying without the benefit of a declaration of nullity of the first marriage).  The second reason is the one that sounds good.  (Mass is boring.)  If you undertand what’s happening on the altar, you will never be bored.

FYI, there is currently a project underway to develop a video course on the art or preaching using never-before-seen video of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  I hope they get this project off the ground.  The Archbishop was certainly one of the finest homilists of his time.