A Slow Rising Tide

Woman at the wellToday’s reflection is on the First Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 24, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

God’s desire is that all would come to know him, love him, and serve him, and be happy not only in this life, but for all eternity. In the very first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we hear these words, “God created mankind to share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to mankind. He calls mankind to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” (#1) Today’s gospel reading shows us a very clear example of how God makes himself known to us—not all at once as in the case of St. Paul, but slowly, in various ways over time—like a slow rising tide.

 

I think there are a few important take-aways from this Gospel story. The first is that Jesus is a boundary breaker. The second is that time with Jesus is always an opportunity to know him more fully. And finally, the result of knowing Jesus places a claim on us, and demands that respond.

 

Jesus is a boundary breaker. In Jesus’ day men didn’t talk to women in the absence of their father or husband. Any male to female contact would have to be arranged. Worse yet is that this woman is not even of his same religious view. She is a Samaritan—and for a lot of reasons the Jews and Samaritans (much like Catholics and Protestants today) didn’t always see eye-to eye on theological issues. She is a woman and she is a Samaritan…and Jesus doesn’t care.

 

Jesus does not see male or female, Samaritan or Jew, he only sees children of his heavenly Father. What do we see? Do we see divisions, rivalries, and an ugly past? Do we make distinctions: Black, white, brown skin? Do we divide along where you’re from or what language you speak? Do we judge based on whether a person is incarcerated or free? Rich or poor?

 

When I was in the Marines, there was no such thing as the color of skin—we were all green. It is true that we had light green Marines, and dark green Marines, but we were all Marines—lean, mean, and, well…green.

 

Can we make efforts to overcome boundaries? Can we say that we are first and foremost children of our heavenly father? Can we ask God to heal our eyes so that we see one regardless of color or origin? Can we see one, no matter if Catholic or Protestant? Can we see one whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, believer, unbeliever or can’t hardly believe? Here’s the point—we’ve got to stop dividing and, like Jesus, be willing to start uniting. God wants everyone to share in his life…that’s everyone.

 

The second thing that the Gospel teaches us today is that Jesus sometimes takes it slow and kinda creeps up on you as he enters more fully into your life. At first Jesus is no more than another Jewish man. She says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” And that’s okay. Jesus doesn’t scold her, he spends more time with her. He starts telling her a bit about herself! In almost no time he goes from being a Jew to a prophet. She says, “I can see that you are a prophet.” Isn’t that cool? She spends a little time with the Lord and her eyes are opened a little wider. She’s able to see a little more clearly. Finally, she says, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” And then her eyes are finally open-wide to see, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking with you.’” WHAAAAT?! That’s amazing! I wish I was there to see her face! (Sung) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.

 

Do we have eyes to see? Do we find ourselves in the depths of amazing grace? Are we growing in our understanding not only of who Jesus is, but who Jesus is for me? If not, we need to start spending a lot more time with the Lord—time in quiet prayer, time in God’s Word, time with others of who are on the same road. Be prepared when Jesus goes from just another Jew to your Lord and Messiah…well, things can’t ever be the same again, can they? We can’t hardly go back to the same as we were before, can we?

 

And finally, to know Jesus as Lord and Messiah just makes you want to go out and tell the whole darn world! When you start thinking differently. When you start talking differently. When you start acting differently–well, someone is going to notice the Good you have become.

 

That woman was so excited that she left everything and ran right into town and started blabbing to everyone who would listen! “I found the Messiah! I found the Messiah! Everybody, listen! It’s him! He knows me—inside and out! He knows me! For better or worse, he loves me.” And people will listen. The Scriptures say, “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.’”
And that’s what we call evangelization. Evangelization is breaking down barriers, falling in love with Jesus, and sharing the truth of Jesus and His Church to anyone who will listen! And how much rejoicing there is in heaven when just one person turns away from sin and follows the Lord. My brothers, Jesus broke down barriers to love us, shared his life with us, and saved us. Shouldn’t we, out of gratitude, break down some barriers of our own. Shouldn’t we be willing to love him a little more and spend time with him a little more each day? God can be known. And wants you to know him, and love him, and tell others about it. Will you? Amen.

For Reflection:

Do I more often see barriers or bridges? Do I courageously reach out to others that are different than me or do I tend to hang around those who look like me, think like me, and act like me?

How much time do I spend with the Lord? Am I growing daily to know him more, and allow him to know me more deeply?

Does the love of God compel me to share with others? Have I ever invited others to Sunday service? Do I talk about my faith? Or is it just something I do for an hour at 5am one day a week?

By catholicevangelist

The Devil’s Tactics

Jesus Tempted

Today’s reflection is on the First Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 10, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

As we begin our 40-day journey through the desert, we start this first Sunday of Lent with Jesus as he is tempted by Satan. Today I’m going to focus on three tactics that the devil used against the Son of God and that he also uses against us in much the same way.

The Gospel today tells us that Jesus was “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he entered the desert for forty days, and goes on to say that Jesus “ate nothing for those forty days and when they were over he was hungry.” Only then does the devil appear! Here’s the first tactic of the devil: the devil waits until we’re at our weakest to tempt us! Jesus was fat and happy and filled with the Holy Spirit on day 1, but the devil patiently waits not to day 10 or 20 or 30, but he waits until the 40 days are OVER! Jesus hasn’t eaten in 40 days and Satan starts turning rocks into bread. That’s shady as can be! That’s the devil! That’s how he does it.

In our life, it may not be bread that we seek, but make no mistake, the devil never attacks us when we’re strong, and always attacks us with what we crave. I think a lot of people get into trouble this way during Lent. Maybe we gave up alcohol, or cigarettes, or drugs because we know that all of these things pollute our body and soul. And we don’t even think about these things at the beginning—but all of a sudden, when we have a crisis, when we’re tired, when we’re in an argument with a friend; then we start thinking, “I could sure use a drink right now.” And he’s got you. We need to remember the words of Jesus, “I do not live on _______ but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” You see, instead of grabbing that drink, that joint, we need to pick up God’s Holy Word. When temptation comes, we turn to God to give us strength.

The second tactic the devil uses is to make a ton of promises he can’t keep. The Gospel said that the devil, “took [Jesus] up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world,” and the devil said he would give Jesus all that power and glory. The devil said that Jesus could have it all if Jesus would just worship him. That’s the same lie that tricked our first parents, Adam and Eve. The devil promises people what is not his to give—power and glory. All power and all glory comes from God—and Jesus is the Son of God, so all power and glory is already his anyway! Adam and Eve were told that if they break God’s rules and eat the fruit they would become like God. They already were like God! They were created in God’s own likeness and image. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them!” Satan promises what people already have, and what is not his to give! This is madness! But it works!

In our own lives, we believe the lie that somehow God doesn’t really want our happiness, but Satan does! We start to believe that by following God’s laws, leaning on God’s promises, and following Jesus’ teaching to love—we will end up unhappy, unfulfilled, and will somehow be missing out and miserable. But really, it’s exactly the opposite! When I’m following God, loving my neighbor, and living right—I have peace in my life; like for real! No anxiety, no stress, no looking over my shoulder. I stand proud, chest out, with nothing to hide: honorable! That’s the happiness, power, and glory that comes only from God! When we follow God, follow His Word, and observe his law, we discover the truth, that real happiness comes ONLY from being right with God and our brothers. We need to remember the words of Jesus, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”

The third tactic the devil uses is to make us proud, conceited, and over confident. Satan led Jesus to Jerusalem, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”  No worries, God’s angels will guard you “and with their hands they will support you.” So, if Jesus knows that he lives not on bread alone, but on God’s word, and if Jesus knows that the only one he serves is God, then, hey, why not put that God you love so much to the test! Right?

In our life this sometimes takes the form of irresponsible living because, hey, God’s got my back! When we’re in good with God we can start to act like God’s mercy and love for us, trumps God’s justice and respect for our freedom. We start to act like because God has our back we can get away with anything. God does love us and is always with us, and our confidence in that truth grows as we live our Christian life. And we should follow Jesus’ advice, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

As we journey through Lent, remember these three tactics of the devil:

  1. That the devil knows our weakness and attacks when we are weakest,
  2. The devil always promises the power and glory that is not his to give, and
  3. The devil makes us want to test our relationship with God—he wants us to see so that we believe, but Jesus says that when we believe our eyes will be opened to see.

And finally, I want to leave you with this last truth, “When the devil had finished every temptation he departed from [Jesus] for at time.” In this life, the temptations never stop. The devil is always prowling the earth seeking the ruin of men’s souls. We must be always on guard against the devil and his tactics: remain in God’s word, worship God alone, and have faith in God—no testing required. Lk 4:1-13

For Reflection:

What are my areas of weakness in my Christian life, and when am I most weak and susceptible to the devil’s temptations?

How have I placed my trust in worldly desires, power, fame, fortune, or pleasure in the hopes of finding the lasting joy that only God can provide?

Do I sometimes put God to the test by taking risks or acting irresponsibly because of my confidence that God is always with me and will protect me from harm?

By catholicevangelist

Y.O.L.O.

Originally posted in 2013 for Lent

And then God said to mankind, “YOLO!” Well, not really, but something like that. My students enjoy a new sort of saying today (You Only Live Once) that I believe is very true, although we have a very different way of interpreting its meaning. While my students will use it to justify irresponsible action that is potentially harmful to themselves and others, I believe that it is a wake-up call to love and accountability. That we only have one life to live is a painful reminder that life is short and it’s time to examine ourselves to discern whether what we are doing is consistent with the will of God.

St. Paul tells the Romans, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (12:2) We are not the Creator, after all, but the creature. We were created by God and for God, and find our true happiness only in His will.

Our Church celebrates this reminder of our mortality and the brevity of life on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of our 40-Day Lenten journey of transformation. My students say Y.O.L.O., but Scripture says it like this:

  • GN 2:5-7 When God made the Imageearth and the heavens—He formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.
  • GEN 18:27 Abraham speaks to God and says, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!”
  • PS 90:3 God says through the psalmist, “You return to dust, “Return, you mortals!.”
  • PS 104:29 When God hides His face, we are lost. When He takes away our breath, we perish and return to the dust from which we came.
  • ECCL 3:20 We are made from the dust, and to the dust we return.

In all these different ways God’s Word is a consistent reminder that we will not be on this earth forever–in fact, but for a short time! No one will make it out of here physically alive. Everyone you’ve known, everyone you know, and everyone you will know will ultimately “return to the dust.” This became painfully obvious to me when visiting Terceira, one of the Azores Islands, when I was a boy. I visited our family’s burial plot next to the old church. It was not fancy and very, very small. People had been buried in this tiny plot, about the size of a quarter of a football Imagefield, for generations. There were bones everywhere (hence the term “bone yard”) as each new generation reused the same plot to bury their dead where the previous generation had buried the ones that they loved years before. My friends, in short time we all return to dust.

The most common response I hear to why people get ashes on Wednesday is, “Well, I’m Catholic.” The conversation with the co-worker goes something like this, “What’s on your forehead?”

“Oh, those are Ashes.”

“That’s kind of weird. Why do you have ashes on your head?”

“Well, it’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m Catholic, so we’re supposed to get ashes today.”

I’m told that short of only Christmas and Easter, more Catholics attend Ash Wednesday services, than any other time of the year. The crazy thing is that Ash Wednesday is not even a Holy Day of Obligation, as are all Sundays and Holy Days of the year. Why would so many people get to Church before work, on their lunch break, or after work just to get ashes that many know nothing about? A cynical friend of mine assures me that it’s because that’s the only day the Church gives out anything for free!

Or maybe it’s because down deep we know that the teaching is true. We are prone to sickness, disease, brokenness, and death. We see it on the news, experience it in our towns, our schools, and in our families. WE ARE HUMAN and will die, but we have also been MADE DIVINE and the Spirit of God lives in us, and so we too are eternal.

Where we spend our eternity, either with God or separated from God, hangs in the delicate balance of how we choose to live our lives for this brief time on earth. We can either choose life and love, or brokenness and death. And we choose it with every decision we make, with every word and deed. Our bodies have come from the earth and will return to it, and none of us knows when. How should we live in light of the shortness of life and the great length of eternity? Reflect upon that as you receive your ashes today. God Bless.

Y.O.L.O.

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God’s Leaders

Today’s reflection is on the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday March 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I have often heard the axiom, “It’s like the blind leading the blind with that guy!” and now I know where it comes from—my man and yours, Jesus. Today’s Gospel is a real challenge for those who are charged with leadership, or those who aspire to it. Jesus seems to be saying, “Until you get your own problems resolved, don’t try to help others with theirs!” Are all those with “room to improve” hypocrites unfit for leadership? If so, who then is fit to lead? Certainly not me!

When I was in the Marines, it was quite common for a brand-new lieutenant, (also known as a “butter bar” (because of the single gold bar that served as rank) to come in to our unit and start throwing his weight around. The only thing he had was college, some officer courses, and rank—but man did he want to lead! Sadly, those officers did not often earn the respect of those under their charge. The best officers were “mustangs,” those who had begun their career as enlisted, worked their way through the ranks, and then were commissioned to lead. They knew the mission, knew the men, and we’re great leaders who lead by example and met with their men often.

I don’t think education is much different. The great administrators have taught for well over a decade, have a wealth of experience, know the kids, know the educational system, and are called to greater leadership within it. I think a lot of organizations have the same sort of leadership realities. If you’ve never been on a boat—you probably shouldn’t be the captain, right? But what if you are the captain, or what if you are called to lead? Are we a hypocrite with a huge beam in our eye? I think Jesus has much to offer leaders today.

Jesus doesn’t start with outside, but rather he starts from within. The last lines in today’s Gospel provide the key. He says, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” The good leader recognizes three things: 1. He is himself still and always a learner in need of self-reflection, growth, and improvement, 2. He doesn’t have to have all the answers, but does need to have eyes to see and ears to hear the wisdom of the community that he serves, and 3. The call to leadership is itself a call from God to serve God’s people in the world.

Jesus reminds his disciples that, “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” The word disciple means, “learner,” which is to say that even those in leadership roles must recognize and submit to the leadership of Jesus Christ first—and seek to “be like his teacher.” Jesus led with mercy, love, goodness, and truth—and so should we.

Jesus says, “when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” We are not, while in this earthly body, yet fully trained. Every leader recognizes that he is himself in constant need of formation and that God’s formation comes from Jesus himself AND those in whom His Spirit resides. Great leaders call upon those around them for the advice that God desires them to know. Great leaders don’t lock themselves in a closet and close themselves off to advice, correction, and the inspiration of others. The Spirit speaks through signs, symbols, leaders, followers, and even our children. Do we have ears to hear?

Finally, Romans 13:1 makes it very clear, “…there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.” Great leaders are humble instruments of God’s life and love in the world. They are called, with fear and trembling, to think, act, and lead in a way that honors God in the world. The Kingdom of God grows because God’s faithful servants, plant and water (1COR3:6), and allow God’s kingdom to grow through them.

I think it’s true that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. But those whom he calls must know first of all that they are but worthless servants doing only what their Lord has called them to do. (LK 17:10) We are not hypocrites who strive mightily—though imperfectly—to grow in holiness as we lead others in our families, workplaces and world.  If we are always open to humbly acknowledge our imperfections then we can, as broken brothers, help others like us to grow in holiness. We are not hypocrites if we humbly seek the wisdom of the community in our decision-making. And we are not hypocrites if we remain always open to God’s leadership first—God’s will first in our life.

We will not be blind, but will have God’s eyes, God’s heart, God’s hands, and God’s Church to see clearly as we exercise our leadership role. We will indeed be a good tree that produces good fruit in abundance. A tree that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (GAL 5:22-23). That’s a great leader! That’s a Godly leader. Lead on good Christian soldier. Lead on.

For Reflection:

Am I a leader who knows that all leadership ultimately comes from God–and that I am NOT number one, but always number two?

Do others hear God’s voice, experience God’s love, and see God’s actions through my leadership ability and style?

Do I create a division between my own work life and Christian life? Am I a Christian leading in the world, or a just a worldly leader who goes to Church on Sunday?

By catholicevangelist

Who I Am

Mac and cheese.jpgToday’s reflection is on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 24, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

There was a popular country song a while back by Jessica Andrews titled, Who I Am. The lyrics go like this, “I am Rosemary’s granddaughter, The spitting image of my father, And when the day is done, My momma’s still my biggest fan. Sometimes I’m clueless and I’m clumsy, But I’ve got friends that love me, And they know just where I stand, It’s all a part of me and that’s who I am.” So, the song Who I Am, is who she is.

The question I have for you today is, “Who are you?” For a long time I thought, “I am a dad, a husband, wrestler, a coach, a writer, a teacher, a son, a school administrator, a Marine, a preacher, and maybe some day a Deacon–like our good Deacon Edwin.” How we answer that question, Who I Am, changes everything.

When my son, Mark, was only three we had a dog, and Mark used to watch him eat out of the dog bowl. One evening at dinner Mark just slams his face into a bowl of macaroni and cheese and starts chowing down! I said, “Mark! What in the world are you doing!” He raises his face up, all covered in macaroni and cheese, and says, “Arf! Arf! I’m a dog!”

Trying hard not to laugh, I said, “Son, you are NOT a dog! You are a boy! You have hands and arms and fingers! Now wipe off your face, pick up your spoon and eat like a boy!” It is entirely normal for a dog to eat right out of the bowl, but as a human, it is beneath our dignity! We have greater ability, greater minds, more tools, and we should act accordingly.

In the Gospel last week, Jesus told his disciples that they are blessed! We cling to him and conquer the world! In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples how that conquest occurs–not by anger and violence, but by love, respect, and prayer even for those who are counted among our worst enemies.

Jesus instructed his disciples, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” How can Jesus possibly command us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us and even pray for those who do us harm?! This seems like a bad joke, right? Certainly he ends with, “Psyche! Haha! Gotcha!” right? What Jesus is asking is NOT normal and it’s NOT natural–but last week provides the key.

I am blessed! I am NOT normal! I am NOT natural. And neither are you! Jesus expects the supernatural when we deal with others because supernatural is what we have become in Christ Jesus! I am a child of God most high created by love for love! We have the Spirit of the living God within us!

I am Jesus’ brother and no longer a slave to sin and death, but an heir of the riches of the Kingdom of my God and Father. THAT is who I am! That is who we are! A priest, a prophet, a king, a child of God, living in the freedom that has been won for us in Christ Jesus our Lord! That is my truest identity! How about you?

God is Love–that is foundational to WHO we are; a child of love who wrestles, a child of love who coaches, a child of love who writes, a child of love who has children, a child of love who may someday deacons. And yes, for you, a child of love who is incarcerated.

Because of who we are, Love is what we do. St John tells us, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1JN 4:18-21)

That’s how we can love even those who are our enemies! That’s why we pray for them, want what’s best for them, want their conversion and blessing. Not because of who THEY are or what THEY have done, but because of who we are and what we have become.

That’s the example of David who refused to kill King Saul in today’s first reading! Saul was trying to kill David, but David stayed true to who he was–an honorable man of God. And an honorable man of God does not kill those whom God has chosen to lead! What King Saul was, or what King Saul did, is on King Saul–and God will judge him for it. But who Saul was did not change who David was.

My brothers, there are too many of us who don’t know who we are! We are acting natural instead of supernatural! Too many of us have macaroni all over our face! We’re living like dogs and acting like dogs. Stand up! Know your great dignity. Stand up! Know your great worth. Stand up! Know you are blessed, and that within you lies the power to change who you are, how you treat others, and to change the the world!

That is who I am and that’s what I do. Join me.

For reflection:

In what ways, personal, marital, or professional Am I living beneath my dignity?

Do I more readily identify myself in worldly language or as a child of God?

Who do I need to love, forgive, or pray for today, that my enemy might be blessed?

By catholicevangelist

Never Easy. Never Alone.

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Today’s reflection is on the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 17, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
In one my favorite parts of the movie, The Princess Bride, Princess Buttercup is taken captive by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and she’s lamenting how hard it was for her when her true love, Wesley, had himself been taken captive and killed. She complains how much it pained her to know her true love had died–to which he unsympathetically replies, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Indeed, life is pain. And I found it to be quite true that, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.” It seems like every time I try to deny the truth that life is difficult and often unfair; every time I try and “cheat” that truth of life; every time I try to take a short cut that promises to make life a little less painful, and a little more fun, it seems that I end up worse off afterward than I was at the start! All these earthly “pain killers” have a lot of side effects!
People from all around the world, over the whole existence of time, have asked the question about why life is so full of pain. Have you ever asked that question? Have you ever asked, “Why am I suffering?” or  “Why do good people suffer?” or even, “Why do I seem to be suffering more than the next guy?” Even if we don’t know exactly why suffering happens, it clearly does happen, and today’s Scripture helps to provide some insight to these questions.
First, let’s start with what we know. We know that God is love, and God takes no joy in our suffering! In fact, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that all who believe in him might not die, but instead have eternal life. (JN 3:16) God is love, and Jesus came to definitively conquer sin and death, but sadly, though, sin, and sadness, and pain still exist! So, what gives?
The Catholic answer to sin and suffering is two-fold. The first problem is us. We are weak and have a tendency to choose sin, death, and the devil over virtue, life, and God. Can any of you join me in admitting that WE have been the cause of A LOT of our own suffering? Also, when I’m weak, and when I sin, I often create sadness and suffering for those close to me. Right? My kids suffer when I sin. My mom suffers when I sin. I suffered because of my dad’s sin, and depending upon how much power I have, I can create a lot of suffering for a lot of people! A lot of people want to blame God for suffering, but let’s be honest, we need to blame ourselves, our friends, or others–and not God. In fact, far from blaming him, we need to turn to him and cling to him! The psalm today said, “Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night.” Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
If we want to suffer less, we need to take a look at who we’re hanging around! We need to stop delighting in the way of sinners, and start delighting in the law of the LORD! That is what should be on our mind day and night–not drugs, not alcohol, not money, not violence, not anger, and not destruction. We’re hanging around the wrong people, thinking and doing the wrong things, and are ourselves the cause of A LOT of suffering! Why is the world full of suffering? Because they sin…because you sin…and because I sin. I’m the reason.
The second, “problem” is the mystery of God’s creating a world in a state of journeying to ever greater perfection–and the journey isn’t over yet! Like us, just as I am growing in holiness and journeying toward greater perfection, so too the physical world. The world continues to groan and to grow, to be rejuvenated, and reborn. What we call natural “disasters” are really just the world doing what the world does–volcanoes, landslides, earthquakes, storms, and lightening. These events are not God’s punishment, but the world in motion. Just the reality of life on earth. Life is pain, highness.
We often want to be angry with God when we experience suffering and loss, but far better than being angry with God is to run to him, to cling to him, and to cry with him. Jeremiah tells us today, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.” Jer 17:5-8 Jeremiah does not say that the conditions are not harsh. He does not say that there is not suffering and sadness–but that the tree rooted in God continues to bear good fruit in the midst of the heat, and drought, the trials and tribulations!
And today, in the Gospel, Jesus gives us the final answer–you are blessed. In the good times and the bad you are blessed. Jesus tells us that just because you are poor does not mean you’re not blessed–your inheritance is the Kingdom of God! You are of a royal bloodline! And just because you are hungry does not mean you’re not blessed–you will indeed be filled and your cup will overflow! And you might indeed be weeping now, but sadness is not your end–your end is in rejoicing and gladness! And if you are excluded and insulted on account of your love of sweet Jesus–well, you can count yourself in good company among the prophets and Saints of the Church!
My brothers, Jesus never promises us a rose garden. No where in Scripture are we ever promised that we will not suffer. In fact–it’s the reverse. Jesus promises us that we will experience trial, hardships, pain and suffering. He tells his disciples, “In this life you will have suffering! But take heart, for I have conquered the world.” (JN 16:33) Jesus does not promise us a rose garden, his promise is that in our darkest days, in our most difficult times, when life is at it’s worst for us–he will be there with us through it all. He will never abandon us, he will never leaves us, and if we cling tightly to him we will ultimately rejoice and be glad in heaven. Life is pain, don’t believe the lies that it is or should be otherwise. It is often painful–but take heart, our God has conquered world–and we conquer with him if only we cling to him. Hold on tightly my brothers. Amen.
For Reflection
What is my attitude about suffering? Do I see it as an opportunity to cling to God and run to him in prayer, or do I become bitter and alienate myself from God?
Do I more often sit in the company of sinners, or do I surround myself with those trying to grow in holiness, who call God their father, and seek him in prayer?
How have I been a cause of suffering for myself and others by poor decisions
By catholicevangelist

Watch Your Mouth!

Today’s reflection is on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 10, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
Last week I said that God can use, and has used, the most unlikely of characters to bring the Good News of salvation, and the message of love to the world! Today we witness the criteria of the messenger. We see that those who call themselves Christians–disciples of the Lord, Jesus Christ must watch their mouth!
God starts with the messenger–the prophet of the Lord, who announces the good news of salvation to the all the world. First of all, what is a prophet? The word “prophet” literally means, “a mouthpiece.” Think of one of those guys who has a puppet on his knee and the puppet speaks for the guy holding it. The puppets mouth is moving, but we all know that the person holding the puppet is doing the talking! The puppet is the mouthpiece of the puppeteer. That’s a helpful way of understanding the biblical prophet. The prophet is not a teller of the future, but a teller of the promises of God and the love of God for his people! That’s a prophet, and that’s what every baptized and confirmed Christian is called to be! We are called to be God’s mouthpiece of salvation to the world.

The C.C.C. #1303 teaches that “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God; it unites us more firmly to Christ;…it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”

That’s our call, to spread and defend the faith by word and deed and to boldly confess the name of Jesus. So, step one of being a prophet, is that we need to be willing to allow God to use our lips to proclaim His truth! And God’s truth is holy and pure (and often times our lips are not!) So, step one…clean up that filthy mouth! We too often use profanity, drop “F” bombs all throughout the day, use the name of our God in vein, and speak about others in unholy and disrespectful ways. We talk trash, complain, and create divisions, rivalry, pain, and sadness. The book of James calls the tongue a fire! He say, “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the image of God.” (James 3:6-10)
Growing up we often heard that, “sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us,” but you and I know that that simply isn’t true. Words do hurt. Our words can be life giving or death dealing, they can heal and raise others up, and they can create brokenness and bring others down–and we need to watch our mouth. We need to be like Isaiah, who understood that he had a filthy mouth! He said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips!” Can anyone say that with me? Can I get a witness?!” Is 6:1-2a, 3-8
Or like Peter in today’s Gospel, when we encounter the Lord, we don’t stand proud like God’s going to be so impressed with me! No, when we stand next to the God of the universe we stand bare–we stand humiliated by His greatness and generosity, and our own spiritual impoverishment and selfishness. That’s what we mean by fear of the Lord. Have you ever looked in the mirror when you get out of the shower and thought, “What’s this all about? When did I get so flabby? I’m disgusting!” Or you’re at the pool or the lake and some guy walks by that’s your age and height, but geez! the guy is rip-zilla and looks like he NEVER leaves the gym except to walk out to the pool and shame everyone else! It kinda makes us want to put our beer and cookies down and do some push-ups, right? When we stand next to another human we often realize how far we have fallen and how much we need to improve…how much more with God?
With God, we have nothing to brag about and nothing to complain about. Sometimes we’re like, “Jesus, you’re going to be so impressed! I am a Marine!” Jesus says, “Yes, that’s nice. I am God, commander of the legions of heaven. You don’t even have anything on St. Michael the archangel, tough guy.”
“But look how smart I am! I graduated college and can speak some Portuguese and, you know, a little Spanish! Que Bueno, Si?” And Jesus says, “I created all knowledge and every language. In a single moment, my Spirit gave the Apostles the ability to speak in every tongue at Pentecost.” My brothers we have nothing to brag about. No accomplishment to offer. We can’t even boast of our suffering and hardships.
You know how you get together with your buddies and start talking about whose childhood sucked the most! “I grew up poor, Jesus. I hardly ever had anything to eat and dad never paid child-support! Things have been so tough for me!” Jesus says, “I was betrayed by my friend, handed over to be scourged at the pillar, and was crucified, died, and was buried…how tough did you say your life was again?”  When we stand before God, we do not brag, we do not boast, we do not complain and feel sorry for ourselves; like Peter, when we stand before the greatness of God we fall at the knees of Jesus and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The example of Isaiah that we are an unclean person living among unclean people, and of Peter that we are sinful men, give us the insight today, that God does not need our lives to have been perfect or great, but he does need us to be aware of who we are, where we’ve been, and have a real desire to change. God needs us to stop lying to ourselves about how great we are or about how bad we’ve been. God needs his people to acknowledge their sins and fall on their knees. And when this happens, if we’re willing to do this, an ember will touch our lips and we will hear, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” We will hear Jesus speak to our hearts; he will say, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be fisher’s of men.” And it will be so. And we will be called a prophet of the most high God, the Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you mightily this week. Amen.
For Reflection:
Am I honest with myself and God about my weaknesses and shortcomings?
Do I boast of my accomplishments and take pride in earthly status symbols?
When others hear my words, do they hear the voice of God..a voice filled with love, goodness, and truth?
Am I willing to fall on my knees and acknowledge that I am a sinful man with unclean lips? And do I have a desire to change?
By catholicevangelist

Don’t We Know You?

you don't know me

Today’s reflection is on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday February 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

The Gospel today begins with, “And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” and it ends with, “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”

Wow! That’s quite a change in attitude toward Jesus! He went from being a hero to a zero in just a few seconds. What did Jesus say that so bothered his hearers? Jesus walks into the synagogue, opens a scroll and reads the words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the Alleluia today, “The Lord sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” And things were good, and they loved him…until the haters started in! And as we know, haters gonna hate! Everything was so good and then from somewhere in the crowd, we hear, “Hold up! Ain’t that Joseph’s kid? What the…? I know where he’s from! He ain’t no better than us!” Yep, haters gonna hate.

Jesus was not the guy they expected to be giving them the message of salvation. Worse yet, he tells them that they’re not as special as they think they are! For some reason people just like to think that they’re special and that others are not. Jesus tells them that there were lots of widows in Israel, but Elijah (the Jewish prophet) went to a widow that wasn’t Jewish! He went outside the inner circle! And how about Elisha (another Jewish prophet)–he didn’t clean any Jewish lepers, but instead went and cleansed Naaman, the Syrian! Elijah’s words and deeds say, “God loves not just you, but them too,” and Elisha’s words and deeds say, “God loves not just you, but them too,” and Jesus’ own words and actions say, “God loves not just you, but, yes, them too.” Jesus teaches us two very important things in today’s Gospel, one is that God’s love is for everyone–and not only for a select few, and secondly, the truth of God’s great love can come from anyone–even a carpenters son.

Throughout our lives we too can have a tendency to create a special “inner circle.” Close friends are okay, but closing oneself off to others goes too far. Our God is the God of inclusivity. Our God doesn’t make the circle smaller, he opens the circle wide so that all can experience his friendship and love. No matter where we are and no matter who we’re with, if we are his we will act like him–inclusive. Ask yourself, are you more exclusive or more inclusive? Do we belong to a family that always invites the stranger in? Is there always enough no matter who you have over? I had a good friend whose mom always had refried beans in a skillet and a tortilla standing by. Nobody went hungry at her house! Everyone was always welcome! Sarah loved us and fed us and we loved her right back. How about your family? How about your circle of friends? How about your workplaces? How about this place? God is calling us to broaden our horizon and our circle today.

And what about these haters that close their ears to the message of salvation because they don’t like who it’s coming from? The fact is that some people are simply not ready to hear a message of love and light and hope and inclusivity, and they will often find any excuse not to hear the word of God and be transformed. But the truth is that God has been calling broken, sinful, sorrowful people to himself since the beginning of time. God calls the most unlikely people to share the good news of salvation–murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, cowards, and thieves. God does not call the qualified, he qualifies those whom he calls. God just needs the sinful and sorrowful to repent and receive his mercy. He wants a transformation in us–he wants us to love. That’s it. Love…period.

God is love, and love must pour forth in our lives. God loves us first and we are to love others with the love that we have received. In today’s second reading St. Paul tells the Corinthians that it doesn’t matter how “churchy” they are, if they do not have love then they just don’t get it! I love the imagery of the resounding gong! He says, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” If we don’t love then it’s just a bunch of noise! We are nothing and we gain nothing if we don’t have love for those around us. In this Church, we who are gathered here, if we do all kinds of praying, receive the Eucharist, hear God’s word, but then go out that door and are mean, selfish, hurtful, and hateful…we’re no better than anyone else…we have nothing…and we gain nothing, and God can’t use us to advance his kingdom of light and love.

Today’s Gospel demands that we live differently than those who do not know Jesus. It challenges us to be lights shining in this world of darkness. It calls us to wherever we are and whomever we are with to live differently; to live lovingly. I don’t know how each of you are to love in this place, or in that place, with your family, or with your friends…but you do. You know whether your actions are good and loving, or if they’re not. You know if you have the chance to be inclusive in your time and place. Choose to love. Choose to be inclusive. Choose to advance God’s kingdom. Let God heal you and transform you…and let the haters hate.

For reflection:

In my dad-to-day, am more inclusive or exclusive?

I’m I willing to go outside of my comfort zone and invite people into my life?

Is my love genuine and good–or am I just a “resounding gong” or a “clashing symbol”?

Do I know down deep inside, that nothing that I’ve done in my life is too great for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness?

By catholicevangelist

The Power of Blessing

Today’s reflection is for The Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2019. Click here for the readings.

Jesus’ Father gives him an amazing gift in the Gospel reading today–his blessing. We heard that, “A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Isn’t that beautiful? This morning I’m going to talk with you about the power of a blessing and the destructiveness of bashing, and then I’ll challenge you to be a balcony person.

As Jesus rises up out of the water his father says to him, you are my beloved…I love you…you make me so happy. What a great thing for a parent to say to their child, and for a child to hear from their parent! In those few words, Jesus knows without a doubt that he is seen and loved by his father. That’s quite a blessing, and it’s that blessing that energizes and empowers Jesus to fulfil his mission and ministry.

The word, “blessing,” was the word used in Old English Bibles to translate the Latin word, “benedicere” which means “to speak well of,” or “to praise.” In Portuguese, that would be “bem dito.” That’s what a blessing is…it’s a good word!

In Portuguese culture, kids are taught to approach their elders for a daily blessing. The Portuguese word for blessing is “bênçã.” So, growing up, I would say, “mãe sua bênçã,” mother your blessing, or “avô sua bênçã,” grandfather, your blessing. The response is, “Deus te abençoou.” They say, “God has blessed you.”

I just want you to dream with me for a bit about a culture or a Kingdom where each morning a child rises, invokes the blessing of their parent only discover to their great joy that they are not only seen and loved by their parent, but they are seen and loved by God. They’ve been loved first thing in the morning. They go off to school with a little pep in their step. They get to school and seek their teacher’s “good word” and it is given. Aware of their own goodness, they in turn affirm the goodness of others. The kids in this kingdom are rooted in God, loved by their parents, and treat others with dignity and respect. Sound familiar? It’s the Kingdom of God, isn’t it? Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” So, the question is, “Is the Kingdom of God at hand for you, for your family, at school, or at your work? I think maybe we could use a lot more blessing in the Kingdom!

A parent’s blessing lifts up and manifests the Kingdom, but tragically, a parent’s bashing breaks down. It is not the Kingdom of God, but the kingdom of brokenness and of sin–and it has no place in our homes, in our schools, in our workplace, or world.

As the dean of students, I deal with a lot of miscreants! You might think I would be filled with righteous anger as one student tramples upon the dignity of another, or be furious that a student would bring drugs or a knife on campus; but actually, it’s the opposite. My worst offenders don’t make me angry, they make me sick. They make me sad. Absentee parents, violent parents, addicted parents, abusive parents. This is the product of bashing. The truth is that the most broken need the greatest blessing… but when their parents don’t bless them, I do. A kind word, a word of encouragement. A chance to start over.

I didn’t have a Father that blessed me. But my wrestling coaches did bless me–Coach Belew, Evans, and Clementi. And my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Nevins, she blessed me. Always praising, always challenging, always uplifting! My coaches and teachers made the Kingdom of God present to me.

You see, everyone needs someone in their balcony. You know what a balcony person is, right? That’s the person hootin’ and holerin’ for you as you do your best! Jesus had John the Baptist AND God the Father in his balcony! They were up there talkin’ him up, rootin’ him on, and encouraging him to greatness! God says, “That’s my boy, right there!” “I see you! I love you! You’re makin’ me proud!” and John the Baptist says to the crowd, “You think I’m great? Just wait til you see my cousin! This guy’s amazing! I’m not worthy!”  Everyone needs a balcony person. Think for a moment..who was the balcony person in your life? Now think again, would anyone name you as the person in their balcony? Your wife? Your kids? Your grandkids? Do you see them, do you love them? Do you bless them? How about your co-workers? The guests at the men’s shelter? The poor on the street? Do you uplift? Do you encourage? Do you give others a benedicere?

To close, I want to challenge you this week to grow the Kingdom of God by blessing, and to destroy the Kingdom of sin by not bashing. Seven is a holy and good number and I’m going to challenge each of you to consciously give seven blessings everyday this week. Jesus changed the world with his father’s blessing. And you can inspire others to change the world with yours. God sees you. He loves you. He is so very pleased with you. Amen.

By catholicevangelist

A Holy Family

Holy Family

Today’s reflection is for the Feast of the Holy Family, December 30, 2018. Click here for the readings from the U.S. Bishop’s website.

This gospel passage, unique to Luke, focuses on the pubescent Jesus. As the Dean of Discipline at a local junior high school, I’m not surprised that the Gospel writers did NOT include more stories from Jesus’ journey toward adulthood! The evangelist, Mark, wisely skips the question of Jesus’ birth altogether and jumps right into his adult ministry, and although Matthew includes an infancy narrative, he too skips the pubescent stage of Jesus’ life! Naturally, the gospel writers were particularly concerned about Jesus’ adult ministry, but I think Luke offers quite a gem in his sole account of Jesus in his “pre-teen” stage. Luke gives parents and children alike some insights into what makes up a “holy family,” and teaches us to what is required to “advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Let’s take a look at just a few instances in the overall narrative from Luke 2:41-52 to see what we might glean from Jesus’ youth.

First, I want to point out that the Holy Family “went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover…according to the festival custom.” Many families today are engaged in so many good things that place considerable demand on a family’s time. My own sons are busy with competitive gymnastics and fishing, school activities and sports, birthday parties, and the like. While all of these things are good and important, we must appreciate the temporal nature of these things and be mindful to spend time on things eternal–things that nourish and develop the soul in its orientation toward God. Like the Holy Family, we must participate in our Church community, it’s celebrations, festivities and Holy Days.

Especially at this time of year there are no shortage of wonderful things happening in our parishes–All soul’s day/Saint’s day activities, Thanksgiving dinners and volunteer opportunities, Advent gatherings, and fund drives, Holy Days of Obligation Masses, midnight Masses, Christmas plays, and Feast of the Epiphany celebrations! It’s almost as though when the weather gets colder, the Church prompts our hearts to become warmer! Admittedly, our own family could have done a better job this year attending parish functions–we’ve definitely got some room for improvement! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph-pray for us!

Another gem I’d like to point out is when Mary and Joseph go looking for Jesus. They don’t find him “on the streets,” “on the X-Box,” nor on his “iPhone.” No, “they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Kids are curious! They have a thousand questions and they need at least a hundred teachers offering two thousand answers! Kids and their questions can annoy us and confound us! Jesus has a lot of questions about God, customs and practices, the temple, life, the universe, Scriptures, relationships, and every other topic imaginable! He’s looking for answers and he’s searching for someone to teach him! 

The truth is that parents must take the time to talk with their kids, and ensure that when they are not around, there are other family members and members of the parish community that can answer those questions in a Godly, wholesome way. SOMEONE will be talking to our kids and answering their questions–if not you, then who? When I taught at a continuation high school, I often found myself having conversations with young people about topics that their parent should have been talking with them about, but for whatever reason, just weren’t. I shared the same wisdom with my students that I spoke to my own kids about. Topics included, healthy relationships, the adverse effects of drugs and alcohol, the importance of education and its effect on employment, and about things eternal.

When kids don’t have trusted adults to turn to they end up getting really bad advice from people who are as lost as they are! A boat lost at sea does not find safe harbor in other ships lost at sea! It may indeed find company, but both are equally lost. It is important to surround our children with parents, godparents, youth groups, church groups, and other responsible role models. I once heard, “If you want your children to talk to you about the really big things, then you need to talk to them about all the little things, because to them, they are all big things.” True enough. Take all topics seriously, and no topic should be entirely off the table–though it might need to be postponed to a more appropriate time or place!

Finally, after all was done and said in Jerusalem, “[Jesus] went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” Jesus teaches us that obedience is required of all youths in the family, and the truly holy family does not see discipline as an unwelcome guest. Hebrews 12:11 teaches, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” While there is not a direct connection between obedience and discipline, I think that families today struggle with discipline out of fear that it is somehow antagonistic or incongruent with love. I am entirely convinced that just as Jesus learned to walk and to talk, so too did he have to learn the fruit of obedience to his parents will.

The catechism teaches quite clearly that children owe their parents both respect and obedience until the age of emancipation, after which time respect–but not necessarily obedience–is required (2217). It teaches that, “Respect for parents derives from the gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom and grace.” Furthermore, it goes on to say that respect is shown, “by true docility and obedience,” and that, “As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family.” (2214-2217) 

The Holy Family today provides a lot for us to live up to–both parents and children. As parents we must be immersed in the life of the Church–its Holy Days, festivals, and celebrations. We must take the time to see, hear, and speak with our children, answer  questions, find answers to questions together, and surround our children with wisdom figures whose eyes and hearts are fixed on things eternal. And finally, it’s okay to demand obedience from our kids–and discipline is not a bad thing! Better for our children to learn in the home when the stakes are low that disobedience has a consequence. Too many never learn about consequences and eventually find themselves as wards of the state–or worse yet, may indeed find themselves outside of heaven’s gates altogether. Lord have mercy.

May you and your children, like Jesus advance in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man. Amen.

For refection:

Do we attend and/or make serious effort to attend church functions and spend time with like-minded Catholic Christians?

Do I take the time to walk and talk with my kids, to enter into their life, and offer the wisdom that they seek?

Do I value discipline and believe that in time it “produces the fruit of righteousness for those trained in it?”

By catholicevangelist