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.

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Every weekend the Church gives us a set of readings; usually one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, a Responsorial Psalm and a reading from one of the four Gospels. They’re considered to be a set. They all go together and, in the bigger picture, each week’s readings build on what’s gone before. There are three sets of readings, years A, B, and C. We’re about to finish up year B.

The Church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent, this year on November 29 and the various readings take us through the life of Christ. It’s all very orderly, in fact the majority of the year is called “Ordinary Time” because the weeks follow one another in an orderly fashion and they’re numbered using ordinal numbers, in other words, first, second, and so on.

Father and I aren’t free to choose the readings we want to use. We may have certain favorites, but we can’t just throw them in willy-nilly, whenever we feel like it. The entire three-year cycle of readings, divinely inspired, works together to deliver God’s message, week-after-week, year after year……. assuming we’re paying attention.

With all the readings in the two big books, the Lectionary and the Book of the Gospels, sometimes a single word or two conveys an important message and if we miss those small messages we miss a lot.

Today’s Gospel is a good example. We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man. The blind man calls out for help. Jesus asks him what he wants, a rhetorical question since we know Jesus already knows what the man wants, and the man says, “Master, I want to see.”

Jesus grants the man’s wish. Another miracle performed by the Son of God. But if we just focus on the miracle, we may miss something important. We have to pay close attention to the last two sentences of the story. Jesus says, “’Go your way’ your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way.” See what happened there. Jesus told the man to go his way, but the man chose to follow Jesus.

Jesus didn’t play “Let’s make a deal”. He didn’t say He’d heal the man in exchange for his everlasting gratitude. He didn’t attach any strings to the healing. He healed the man out of unconditional love. Yet the formerly-blind man was so grateful that he chose to follow Jesus instead of going his own way.

In this week’s bulletin, the Stewardship Thought for the Week talks about miracles. It says, “Many people think that miracles don’t happen anymore.  But, if you focus on the positive, not the negative, focus on your blessings instead of your hardships, miracles will seem common. I absolutely believe in miracles and I hope you do too. They happen all the time. Some are big. Some are small. But they happen.

Jesus restoring the blind man’s sight was a miracle. But the fact that the blind man happened to be in the right place at the right time is also a miracle. He could have been sitting on the other side of town and would have never had the chance to approach Jesus. There wasn’t something like the Saint Louis Review that tells us every week where Archbishop Carlson and Bishop Rice are going to be during the next seven days. Jesus just kind of “showed up” just like He does today.

The man WAS blind, so it’s not like he saw Jesus coming! Just the fact that the blind man was in Jesus’ path is a miracle in itself.

I think the lesson for us today isn’t so much about miracles as it is about how we respond to our blessings. Jesus told the man to go HIS way. But the man chose to go JESUS’ way. Every one of us is blessed in countless ways. We have our life. We have our health. We live in the greatest country in the world. Each of these things is a gift from God. We don’t deserve all these blessings but we receive them anyway. Do we respond to these gifts by following Jesus, or do we choose to go our own way?

Obviously we’re all here today, so we are following Jesus for at least one hour per week. The real question is, “What do we do with the other 167 hours per week?” Do we earnestly pray for the wisdom to understand God’s will? Do we mean it when we say, “Thy will be done”?   That IS how Jesus told the Apostles, and us, to pray.

I’m going to close with a prayer. It’s one I’ve used before. It’s by Father Thomas Merton from the book “Thoughts in Solitude”. It reminds us that we’re all blind in our own way, maybe even more blind than the man in the story. If you like the prayer, there are cards like this at the entrances to the chapel. If you think the pray is too long, then maybe the blind man’s prayer is more appropriate for you: “Master, I want to see!”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in act please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen!

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time–God’s Plan

Today Jesus tells the disciples that it’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle—a shocking statement, especially if you happen to be rich like the young man in the story.

I think we would all agree that it’s impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Is Jesus saying that it’s impossible for a rich man to get to heaven? No, I don’t think so. I think what He’s saying is that it’s impossible for a rich man, or a poor man for that matter, to get into heaven on his own. Jesus tells the rich man to sell all his possessions and to FOLLOW JESUS. That’s the answer.

In the first reading, the writer says, “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”

I was on retreat this week. One day I was in my room working on a project and was really getting nowhere. I decided to shift gears, take a break and do something else for a while. I took a look at today’s readings. Hmmm. “I prayed and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”

So I prayed. I asked God for wisdom then I picked up my pen and finished what I had been working on. It seemed to flow from nowhere. What had been impossible for me was easy for God. And I know this! It’s happens to me all the time. But I usually let my ego get into the way of asking God for help. I think I can do things on my own.

If you and I want to get into heaven, to pass through that needle’s eye, then we have to spend time in quiet prayer. God will tell us what to do if we just listen. He’s told us so over and over in the Scriptures, and I imagine all of you have experienced this in your lives.

We sometimes hear God referred to as a “Higher Power”. I think we can all agree with that, but do we act like we believe it? A friend of mine described it like this. “Higher Power” means that God is up here (hold one hand higher than the other) and we’re down here. But is that how we treat Him? Maybe we treat Him more like an assistant. We make our plan then we ask God to make it happen. (Reverse the hands.) We treat Him like He’s our equal or even our inferior. This is what I want to do. God, make it happen!

Isn’t it better to ask Him to show us His plan and to give us the grace to make it happen? Maybe His plan is better. In fact, there’s no question His plan is better. His plan is ALWAYS better. But we like to think we know more than He does.

Didn’t Jesus tell us to pray to our Father, “THY WILL BE DONE”? We say it all the time then proceed to try to do it our way. Face it. Whether we like it or not, God’s will is the only will that matters.

Last week Father Paul delivered an excellent homily, one of the best I’ve ever heard. He challenged us to avoid talking about one another behind the other person’s back. I sat over there thinking, “Way to go, Father!” “Right on!” “You tell ‘em!”

Then, before I had even left the chapel I caught myself gossiping. It wasn’t twenty minutes later! It’s very simple. I’m a flawed human being. So are you. We’re never going to make ourselves better. We need God’s help. The remarkable thing is that He will give it to us, IF WE ASK. He will make us better.

We have to do an honest evaluation of our faults. Then we have to lay those personality defects before God and ask Him to help us. I am who I am. You are who you are. God made us this way, so He can’t be too disappointed in how we turned out. We can never be afraid to go to Him and say, “Lord, help me to be the best me that I can be.”

 

The rich young man told Jesus that he followed the Ten Commandments. I think most of us do too. But that’s not enough. We need to do more and the power to do more comes from prayer.

Here at Saint John’s we’re surrounded by images of great saints. They’re here to inspire us; to give us something to emulate. But we’re not them! We shouldn’t try to be them. God made each of these saints one time. There’s no need for another. He made each of us for a reason and His wish for us is that we be the best version of ourselves we can possibly be.

That’s what we should pray for. If we humbly ask God to make us the best version of ourselves we can possibly be, then if we shut up and listen to what He tells us, then we have a chance to pass through that eye of the needle.

“I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”

The “Serenity Prayer”

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

We’re all familiar with this prayer.  It’s usually associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step groups.  It’s known as “the serenity prayer.”  But notice that when we say this prayer we’re asking for three things:  serenity, courage, and wisdom.  It could be just as well be called “the courage prayer” or “the wisdom prayer”.

But we call it “the serenity prayer” because that’s what we’re all seeking.  Sure, it’s great to be brave and wise, but isn’t serenity what we’re all really seeking?  And to be serene, we also need courage and wisdom.  Serenity isn’t easily achieved.

When we say the Lord’s Prayer at mass the priest follows it with these words,

“Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may always be free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Again, we’re asking for peace and to be free from all distress; in other words, serenity.

We live in a stressful world.  We can never be free from all things stressful.  But, with God’s help, we can learn to handle stress and to create our own brand of peace in our lives.  With can’t control what happens around us, but with God’s help, we can choose to be at peace.

The Serenity Prayer isn’t just for alcoholics, or addicts, or any other particular group.  It’s something we should all include in our daily prayer lives.  When we’re faced with stressful situations, why not take a few seconds to repeat this awesome prayer silently, or even out loud when the situation warrants it.

Say it with me,

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen!

5 Timeless Truths from the Serenity Prayer that Offer Wisdom in the Modern Age

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4th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Love

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have no official statistics, but based on my own experience I’d say that at least two out of three couples choose our second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for their wedding ceremony.  And, why not?  It’s the ultimate definition of the word “love”.  But if you read Paul’s letter in context, he’s not writing about married love, or even male/female love.

 

Our reading today is the third in a series from the 14th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Remember, two weeks ago we learned that the community was divided.  The people were arguing with one another about who had the greatest spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your gift of prophesy!”  “No my gift of discernment is better than either of your gifts.”  And on and on.

 

Paul reminded them that each gift came from God and that no gift is more important than any other. That was verse 4-11 of the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to them.

 

Then last week we read verses 12-30.  Still trying to get them to stop arguing Paul uses the analogy of the body.  Each part of the body makes its special contribution.  The hand isn’t better than the foot and the eye isn’t greater than the ear.  All of the parts have to work together.  If any part suffers, the whole body suffers.  “If one part is honored, all parts share its joy.”

 

In our reading today, Paul wraps up the series by telling them that there is one thing greater than any of the other spiritual gifts and that’s love.

 

In spite of the fact that this is such a popular wedding reading, the kind of love Paul describes isn’t necessarily married love, though the definition fits the love between a man and wife perfectly.  But, notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about holding hands, or sending flowers, or spending the rest of your life with the same person following the sacrament of marriage.

 

No, he’s talking about the kind of love that we’re all supposed to have for one another.  Remember that Jesus told us in the 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel that the greatest love of all is to lay down one’s life for his friends.  He gives us His two great commandments:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  In this passage Paul tells us what Jesus meant.

 

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”   When I was in high school I was in the band.  I was a drummer.  We used gongs and cymbals for marches and big dramatic music.  When we played a ballad or a love song, we put the cymbals away.  Cymbals were loud.  They were noisy.  They only played one single note and that note was always brash and emphatic.  When you play the piano, you tickle the ivories.  You toodle a flute.  You stroke a violin.  But you beat a drum.  Gongs resound and cymbals clash.

 

In other words, no matter how great your gifts, if you don’t have love they’re just so much noise.

 

“If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  He’s telling them that none of their gifts are worth a darn without love.  Even if he “gives away everything he owns, and if he hands his body over so that he may boast, but does not have love he gains nothing.”

 

Now comes the good part.  This is the part that the wedding couples really like.  But think of it as not so much about married love but more about this love that Jesus calls us to have for Him and for our neighbor.  It sounds really good but if you think about it, it’s really hard.

 

“Love is patient.”  If you’re married you know this is true.  Jan and I have been married almost 45 years.  She must be the most patient person on earth.

“Love is kind.”  OK, it’s easy to be kind to your wife or your kids.  It may not be so easy to be kind to the homeless person who asks you for money.  Do they really need it or are the running some kind of scam.  Maybe they want the money to buy booze or drugs.  Maybe when you pull out your wallet they’ll pull out a gun and rob you.  No, kindness to strangers isn’t always easy.

“It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude.”  Can any of us really say that we’ve never been jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude?  We may not even mean it.  You may have noticed that I have kind of a dry sense of humor.  Sometimes I say things that I think are funny but that people take the wrong way.  They think I’m being rude.  And frankly, I’ve learned that my being a member of the clergy makes some people think it’s OK to be rude to me.

 

“It does not seek its own interests, Let’s be honest.  Why are we all here today?  We come to mass to praise God and to receive His Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  But why do we do that?  Because we want to go to heaven.  We’re definitely seeking our own interests by coming to mass.  For mass to be really meaningful for us, it has to be in the context of loving God, not in fulfilling an “obligation” so we can get to heaven.

 

[Love] is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.”  Every time I receive the sacrament of reconciliation I have to confess that I have a quick temper;  EVERY TIME!  I confess it and I sincerely mean to be better but then something happens that set me off again.  I think I’ve gotten better, but I’m beginning to wonder, at 64 years old, if I’ll ever master my own temper.

 

“Love never fails.”  Paul goes on to explain how the other gifts will fail. Basically he says that as a grown-up he’s given up childish things.  At present, we can’t see clearly.  We only understand partially.  Someday when we meet God face-to-face we’ll understand it all.  But for the time being “faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

 

So, kudos to the young (and not so young) people who choose this reading on their special day.  I hope and pray that they’ll practice what Paul says in their married lives.  But, Paul is really talking to you and me.  You can give your entire fortune to charity but if you’re doing it for the tax deduction and not because you love your fellow man, it’s a hollow gesture.

 

If I have the gift of prophesy but delight in telling people that bad things are coming, I’m a clashing cymbal.  If I have faith to move mountains but don’t have love…….I’m nothing.

 

Paul doesn’t really say anything in this reading about prayer.  But we know that the greatest thing we can do for our neighbors is to pray for them.  Prayer is our best and most important expression of love.  I mentioned in today’s bulletin that our US Bishops have issued a call to prayer for life, marriage, and religious freedom.  Our secular society and even out government are attacking our core beliefs on these issues.  And it’s not just a “Catholic thing”.  It’s a Christian thing.

 

Abortion, same sex “marriage” and the HHS mandate are critical issues in our today.  Every day we kill thousands of babies in this country and no one raises an eyebrow.  Friday the government issued a so-called compromise on the HHS mandate that changed nothing at all.  It seems like every day we see something in the news that undermines the sacrament of marriage.

 

I don’t think most of us are inclined to join marches or protests.  It’s just not our style.  But we can all pray.  At the bishop’s request, we will be having a monthly holy hour, maybe an even longer period of Eucharistic Adoration every month.  But even if you don’t attend, you can still pray for our country.  Pray for an end to abortion.  Pray for the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage.  Pray that common sense and decency will prevail and religious institutions will not be forced to provide services that violate our beliefs.  Most of all, pray for the courage and the conviction to speak out against evil every chance you get.  And most of all, as Saint Paul tells us, do it with love.

 

 

Tuesday of the 2nd week of Advent

For what should we pray?

Let me start by saying that I don’t like winter.  I don’t like the cold.  I don’t like the fact that it gets dark in the middle of the afternoon.  I miss riding my bike.  Like I said, I don’t like winter.  Fortunately for me, last winter and this winter (so far) have been very mild.  [I know, winter doesn’t actually start until next week.  That is if the world doesn’t end first.]

But today on the local news they interviewed a man who owns a local ski resort.  His snow making machines are running full tilt, trying to put down a surface for the skiers.  Sadly for him, the weather forecast is for highs in the mid-50s and possibly thunderstorms over the weekend.  So, hypothetically, if I’m praying for warm weather and this guy is praying for cold weather, what’s a Divine Being to do?  The resort owner has a family to support and a lot of customers who want to slide down a slippery hill with boards strapped to their feet.  It would seem the advantage would go to him. But the local meteorologists seem to be on my side.

To put things in perspective, I live in Saint Louis, MO.  Today is the 11th of December.  By all rights, it should be cold.  If I want it to be warm in December, I should move to Florida.  Now, I’m not here to argue for or against “global warming” except to say that the “global” part would imply that the whole world should be warm.  As I write this, there is plenty of cold weather all over the world.  But I digress.

I’m going to be outside a lot this weekend.  It would be nice if the temperatures were warm.  But is that something I should pray for?  Why should my comfort override someone else’s enjoyment or livelihood?  I’d also rather not get rained on.  Buy the midwest is seriously behind in rainfall.  The farmers, and all of us for that matter, could use a few inches of the wet stuff.  Wouldn’t my prayer time be better spent in talking to God about my neighbor’s cancer, or my secretary’s husband’s surgery today?  In general don’t we all spend just a little too much time telling God how to be God instead of asking Him what we can do to help?

Remember, Jesus did tell us how to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy Name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Not one word about the weather.

Serenity Prayer

Most of us are familiar with the “Serenity Prayer”.  It’s most famous use is as the prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change,

the courage to change the things I can change,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

I include this prayer every day in my Divine Office.  For some reason it occurred to me this morning just how difficult it is to live this out.  I spend a fair amount of my time trying to change things that just can’t be changed.  I often lack the wisdom to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t.  This lack of wisdom makes it hard to achieve the serenity that we all desire.  What I see as courage is actually a lack of wisdom on my part.

Persistance is a positive trait but persisting in pursuing the impossible is something else altogether.  It leads to frustration, anger, and a feeling of failure.

They say you should be careful what you pray for.  In my case, I have to seek wisdom first, then the courage to change the things I can change.