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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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.”

 

 

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.

A Proactive Lent

In today’s 1st reading (Isaiah 58:1-9) , the prophet Isaiah describes a proper fast.  He points out that lying in sack cloth and ashes is not the way to go.  Instead, he calls us to be proactive.  “Release those bound unjustly!  Set free the oppressed, breaking every yoke!  Share your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless!  Clothe the naked!”  In other words, “don’t just sit there, do something!

Giving up your favorite food (or drink) or fasting from too much television are good things, especially if they make you a better version of yourself (thank you Matthew Kelly).  But what we’re really called to do is to be active, not passive.  Share your faith with others through your words, and your actions.  If you’ve decided to give up candy for Lent, then take the money you would have spent and give it to a worthy cause.

Spend the time you normally spend in front of the television and volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter.  If your circumstances don’t allow you to make such an active time commitment, then spend the time in prayer.  Pray for those less fortunate than you, or pray for someone you know who’s fallen away from the faith.  Better yet, invite that person to come to mass with you this weekend.  Imagine the potential good you can do if you invite a different person to mass each week of Lent.  That’s six potential disciples you could create!  What an exciting possibility!

The point Isaiah is making is that, while our faith is a private matter, it’s meant to be shared.  Jesus told the Apostles, “Go and make disciples of all lands, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  He calls us to do the same.

Have a blessed and proactive Lent!

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.

4th Sunday of Easter–What’s in it for Me?


Normally I would post my Sunday homily but this week the topic was very localized focusing on our local Catholic Appeal and contributions to the chapel. I doubt if it would interest most of you.  But I would like to throw out a few thoughts on the topic of generosity.  Point number one is that God can never be outdone in generosity.  If you donate a dollar to the Church, that dollar will come back to you many times over.  If you volunteer for an hour, you will receive blessings far in excess of the value of your time.  So….even in the current “me” society, where so many people think the world revolves around them, there is plenty of motivation to share with others, even if you don’t understand that everything you have is a gift from God.

As a minister, I get very frustrated when people refuse to participate.  My current assignment is Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis.  In 1896 the church was leveled by a tornado.  The schools (yes, they had two) and rectory were also damaged.  The next morning the parishioners gathered at their formerly beautiful church and began to rebuild.  I’m told that many of the men in the parish took off work for six months to help with the rebuilding.  School children helped out by removing the debris from the site.

Saturday evening Saint Louis was hit by some serious storms.  My wife and I were having dinner at a restaurant (The Gast Haus) which is just a few blocks from the church.  The owner had herded us all into the basement to ride out the storm.  As I was waiting for the storm to blow over, I wondered what would happen today if  the church were destroyed by this storm.  Would all the members turn out the next morning, ready to rebuild?  I don’t think so.  We’re having a hard time getting people to work for an hour at our church picnic.

I don’t mean for this to reflect badly on any individual.  I think it’s just our society.  According to author Matthew Kelly, we live in an age of

  • Individualism
  • Hedonism
  • Minimalism.

None of these “isms” is compatible with Catholicism.  These attitudes are promoted by secular society, by Hollywood, and by the news media.  Briefly (You can get the whole story by reading Matthew’s book Rediscovering Catholicism, which you can get free by clicking the link in the right column.) society encourages us to ask “What’s in it for me?”  We’re encouraged that “If it feels good, do it!”  And we’re taught to ask “What’s the least I can do?”  It’s no wonder our pews are empty, our collections are down, and few people get excited when the government sets out to take away our religious freedom.

I believe that we, as a people of God, can turn these three “isms” in our favor.

“What’s in it for me?”  As I said above, God can never be outdone in generosity.  When I give back my time, talent, and treasure (which was never really mine in the first place) it will be returned to me many times over.

“If it feels good, do it!”  Guess what?  It does feel good to contribute.  It does feel good to help others.  It does feel good to participate.

“What’s the least I can do?”  We’re surrounded by people in need.  We could help each one.  But imagine how much time and money it would take to try to help each one of them.  The least you can do is to support the one organization that does help everyone, the Catholic Church.  We don’t have to personally feed the hungry.  The Church does that.  We don’t have to personally take care of the homeless.  The Church does that.  We don’t have to personally visit the prisons.  The Church does that.  The least we can do is to support our Church by giving back some of the time, talent, and treasure that has been generously given to us by God.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic–Postscript

I hope you enjoyed my series of posts for Lent.  The whole idea actually started as my Lenten penance.  It was quite a challenge to post every day for almost six weeks.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit I was able to pull it off, even if some posts were written late in the day.  The original plan was to get a few days ahead to relieve the pressure of daily posting.  Sometimes I was successful.  Sometimes, not so much.

The question I’m asking myself now, am I a better Catholic today than I was on Ash Wednesday?  I’d like to answer in the affirmative.  I believe I can if only because some of the forty posts took a fair amount of research, so at least I know more now than I did on February 22.  I think that’s reasonable goal for everyone for the season of Lent.  Are you a better person, a better Catholic, or to paraphrase Matthew Kelly, a better version of yourself than you were at the end of Ordinary Time?

I also learned a lot from comments I received here on the blog, on Facebook and LinkedIn, and via email.  I learned that there are a lot of smart people who have somehow found their way here.  Many of the comments were positive and encouraging.  Thank you for that.  Some comments were negative and discouraging.  Thank you for that, too.  Some criticism was valid and I hope I’ve learned from it.  Some wasn’t valid and I learned from that, by justifying what I’d written in my own mind.  I takes thick skin to be a deacon.

What I did find a little discouraging was that some people will take any excuse to push their personal agenda.  Yes, I’m very pro-life.  Abortion and artificial birth control are very important issues.  But they don’t belong in the comments box under a post about a totally unrelated topic.  Are people’s attention spans that short?  Or, are they so wrapped up in their own particular issues that they’ll hijack any comment thread to get their thoughts out on the web?  My suggestion to those folks is, get your own blog!  People quickly lose interest in a blog’s comments when they go off-topic and never make their way back.

For now, I’ll continue to post here on a semi-regular basis.  If you would like to make a suggestion for another series, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks again for reading/following my little dog and pony show.  Please keep us in your prayers as I do you.