Run and Climb

ZacchaeusToday’s reflection is for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 3, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Some of you may remember the song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…” (Let’s try that together…)

Zacchaeus was a wee little man (repeat), and a wee little man was he. (repeat) He climbed up in a sycamore tree (repeat) for the Lord he wanted to see. (repeat)

We have much to learn from Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. The first is that Zacchaeus was not perfect—in fact, far from it, and often so are we. The second is that Zacchaeus strove mightily to see the Lord, even to the point of climbing a tall sycamore tree, and so should we. And finally, Zacchaeus joyfully accepted Jesus’ request to enter his home—and it changed his life forever, and so must we.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew name Zacchaeus literally means, “clean and pure.” But we know from the Gospel today that Zacchaeus’ life was far from being either clean or pure. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a sinner. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for the Roman government, which was an occupation force in Israel. So not only were tax collectors working directly for the people oppressing God’s people, they openly added extra money for themselves, and used force to collect it! Zacchaeus became rich on the backs of his own overtaxed, hard-working, countrymen. Hardly clean. Hardly Pure.

But the truth is that whether we like it or not, we can be a lot like Zacchaeus. Too often we tend to look out for number one, to be selfish and greedy, and often at the expense of our own countrymen, our friends, or our family members. I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you…I eat my children’s candy, and I eat more than my fair share of the cookies! Just last week my wife made twelve cookies. That’s three cookies each for the four of us…I ate 6 before the kids even woke up the next morning! Sometimes we’re selfish, but Jesus calls us to be self-less.

Although Zacchaeus was selfish and sinful, he strove mightily to see the Lord, right there in his own town. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was vertically challenged so he knew he’d better find an elevated place! It says, “for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up.” Isn’t that beautiful, Zacchaeus knew who he was, knew his weakness, and his need and took off running! Zacchaeus knew he was a, “wee little a man, and wee little man was he.” He didn’t whine about it. He didn’t complain. He didn’t say he was a victim and start looking for sympathy, and he didn’t ask the whole crowd to take a knee so he could see. No, he just started running and climbing.

You might not know that the sycamore tree has existed on the earth for more than 100 million years! A single tree can live up to 600 years old and grow up to 130 feet tall. Now I don’t know how tall the one was in Zacchaeus’ village, but I know that Zacchaeus was willing to do the hard work of climbing it so that he could see Jesus. Like Zacchaeus, we too need to run and strive so that Jesus doesn’t pass us by.

Many of us are taking things a little too slowly, procrastinating, getting distracted, and wasting precious time. Life is short, we’ve gotten out of shape, we have a long way to run and a tall tree to climb if we hope to get the invite. We must get our priorities straightened out while there’s still time—build our spiritual muscles—too many of us aren’t running and aren’t striving. We strive when we pray daily, read a Catholic book, attend reconciliation and Mass, read the Bible, spend time with family in service opportunities, volunteer at “We Care,” or the Salvation Army serving the homeless. It is in these moments, and in that service that we see Jesus face to face. It is in the midst of the struggle that Jesus sees us and asks us to take him home with us.

Zacchaeus was not perfect, but he strove mightily, and his life was changed forever. We hear that people began to grumble when Jesus went into Zacchaeus’ home. I guess it was no different then than it is today, “Haters gonna hate!” I love that Zacchaeus received the Lord with great joy and couldn’t care less what anybody else thought about it. Zacchaeus saw the face of God, accepted Him into his home, and the change in Zacchaeus’ lifestyle provided the evidence of the change.

St. Ambrose said that there are two conversions in the Church, namely, water and tears. The first, he said, is the water of baptism where we are converted to God for the first time, and the second, he said, are the tears of repentance where we return to God again and again. (C.C.C. 1421) The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversation to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. It entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.” (C.C.C. 1431)

That day Zacchaeus gave away half of everything he owned and pledged to return four-fold any money he had taken that wasn’t his to take. We might not be called to give away half of our wealth, but we may need to apologize if we have hurt someone. We may need to start dedicating more of our resources to God and the Church community. We might need to commit ourselves to daily running and striving mightily to see the Lord.

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see…”

The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’, which is exactly what we are called to be. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus didn’t live up to his name, and too often neither do we. After Jesus reached out to him, Zacchaeus changed his ways and went above and beyond to make things right. He finally overcame his past and lived up to his name, and so can we. God bless.

By catholicevangelist

Upcoming Men’s Retreat

We are officially launching the registration for the “2019 Catholic Men’s Fellowship Fall Retreat – Sonora, CA” and appreciate your support. Review, share, and forward this email to other brothers as we invite you to join us for another great gathering in Christ.

“The Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and Jesus’s teaching on the Torah reveal for us the kind of people we are called to be in the Church and how we are to act so as to receive the blessings of the kingdom of God both in the present and when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness. The teachings of Jesus gives those who follow Him an identity as God’s people and a significance for the whole world.” -Bishop Stephen Blaire

Come join us as Father Yesobu Banka, of St. Stanislaus Parish, Modesto, Ca. in his wisdom of the teachings of the Church lead us to a better understanding of how the “ Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes ” will encourage our Life-Long Faith Development, and live our Baptism by integrating our faith into our daily lives through purposeful learning and prayer. This will lead us to deeper engagement with Christ and develop a vibrant, active community of disciples that radiates God’s love, justice, and truth to the world.  

Accept this invitation to join other men for a weekend of reflective spirituality. Get away from the pressures and activities of daily life for a refreshing weekend of renewal. Regain, deepen and strengthen your spiritual perspective.

Select links for details:  

https://www.catholicmen.org/event/2019-catholic-mens-fellowship-fall-retreat-sonora-ca/ 

https://www.catholicmen.org

 

Retreat Date:

September 13 – 15, 2019, Friday – Sunday.

Beginning at 5pm Friday and concluding at 10 am Sunday.   

 

Retreat Cost: $185 per person (Includes lodging and all meals).

You may register by mail by downloading the attached flyer, printing it, and sending a check to the address on the flyer or call Chris at (209) 264-2263 for any questions or details, leave a message and I’ll return your call.

Make checks payable to 2019 CMF CA Fall Retreat

Mail to: 10905 Kelso Ct. Sonora, CA   95370

 

Retreat Location:

OLD OAK RANCH

15250 Old Oak Ranch Rd.

Sonora, California 95370

[Map & Directions]

 

God Bless,

(209) 264-2263

Email Sonora CMF

Sonora CMF Website

http://www.catholicmen.org/

By catholicevangelist

A Lot Like Coffee

iced or hot coffee Today’s reflection is for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 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.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning! Of course, because coffee isn’t just for breakfast, many take delight in coffee later in the day. And because we’re reaching over a hundred degrees these days, iced coffee has become quite the treat for many, myself included. While some like coffee cold, and many like coffee hot, I don’t think I know anyone who can’t wait to have lukewarm coffee.  Lukewarm would seemingly promise to please everyone, but in truth, it pleases no one, and the same is true of our Christian discipleship. Jesus tells us today that he came to set the earth on fire! He desires nothing less than people burning with the fire of his Holy Spirit, filled with life and love and goodness and truth.

In fact, this is one of my favorite verses from the Book of Revelation. The angel of the Lord tells John to write this to the well-to-do Church in Laodicea, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Today’s Gospel is very clear, if we are going to call ourselves his disciples, then we must take a stand. We must be red hot for him. In fact, he tells his disciples that their allegiance must be so decided that it will no-doubt cause division for many–even within one’s own family. There is no tighter bond than between father and son or mother and daughter, but the decision to follow Jesus may in fact be a source of brokenness. How many children in non-Christian countries (and even predominantly Christian ones) have made the decision to follow Jesus only to be rejected by family and friends.

Jesus tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three…” Jesus’ desire is, of course, unity and love, but he knew all too well the tragedy of brokenness and sin that would cause many to turn away from him. Many in our church today, while claiming to title of Christian, remain luke-warm. For many years I straddled the fence between Christ and his church and the world. I called myself Catholic for an hour on Sunday, but made no commitment to following Jesus or the teachings of the Church at any point throughout the week. I was neither hot nor cold. I was a lot like Jeremiah–stuck in the mud and going nowhere fast!

The book of Jeremiah has some helpful wisdom for those who are luke-warm,  in a dark place, or stuck in the mud and muck of the world. We need an Ebed-melech and three or four good men. When we are stuck in our ego, stuck in the allure and promise of worldly wealth or power; when we’re stuck in desire for pleasure and earthly friendships and fame we need some good friends who will speak openly and honestly to us about where we are in our life and in our faith.

Disciples of Christ are called to burn hot with the fire of the Holy Spirit, but the world is a difficult place and we can too easily become side-tracked and begin to cool. I want to encourage you this week to seek spiritual direction, read Scripture often, attend Mass weekly, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, join a Catholic book club, pray the Rosary, attend parish events, start a Catechism study, and pray daily. These activities will not only help your faith grow strong but will also surround you with like-minded people who are also seeking to be more like Jesus and burn with his love. These are the friends who will get you out of the mud when you’re stuck in your dark place!

All of these activities and friendships will provide fuel for the fire! Everytime we do these things we burn a little hotter for Jesus! Jesus has come to set the world ablaze and he is calling us to join him. There is no in between, I’m afraid. Like coffee, there’s only hot or cold. That’s it. Which one are you?

By catholicevangelist

All Alone

All aloneToday’s reflection is for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns his disciples that while the Master is away there is an expectation of appropriate behavior! They must be “faithful and prudent stewards,” lest they be cast aside with the “unfaithful.” Who are these unfaithful? And what made them so?

I’ve heard many people wrongly claim that the Old Testament reveals the wrath of God, the angry God, and the punishing God, while the New Testament reveals Jesus and the love, mercy, and tenderness of God. My friends, make no mistake, the God of Israel was patient, merciful, and loving with his rebellious children, and Jesus has some pretty clear and harsh teachings on the consequences of being far from God. He unequivocally demands that we make a choice. We are either with Him and for Him, or on our own and against Him. We are to choose either light or darkness, in or out, faithfulness or unfaithfulness. There are clearly only two choices and each of us must make a personal decision that is either for or against God and His Kingdom.

I believe today’s second reading from the book of Hebrews holds the key to understanding Jesus’ harsh teaching about the faithful and unfaithful, as well as what we might expect to see among those who are faith-full. Hebrews reads, “Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (11:1) Hebrews says faith is two things: 1. getting what we hope for, and 2. evidence for the invisible God. People are usually quick to equate faith with trust and belief, but I think trust and belief and products of faith. There can be no greater hope for our heart than relationship and unity with God, our Creator. Faith is the attainment of that relationship. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for,” according to Hebrews. When we are in that relationship (faith) with God, then we have all the evidence we need for the truth of God. Of course God exists! We are in an intimate, loving relationship with Him! “Faith is evidence of things not seen.” And because we are in the relationship, we can trust and believe!

Relationship with God, like any relationship, must be attended to. I must spend time with, talk with, learn about, and share with others the beauty that I have discovered in my beloved. If we want a strong relationship with our spouse or with our children, we must attend to them, and it is true also with God. Faith grows like a mustard seed! It starts so very small–maybe as an infant in Baptism, but if nurtured and cared for, attended to and cultivated, it grows to be so big and strong that it brings comfort and consolation to others during times of need. Our relationship with God must be authentic, attended to, never neglected, and always shared.

Finally, Hebrews teaches us that because of his faith–his relationship with God–Abraham “obeyed,” “went out,” “sojourned,” “looked forward to,” “received power from,” and even “offered up,” his only son, trusting that God would raise him up again. In other words, Abraham’s faith caused him to do something! And therein lies the key for those who claim to believe. If we say we believe, if we have faith, if we are in a relationship with God, but we do not do what The Master commands, then we are no more in a relationship with Him than any anybody else! And if the faith-full are truly full of relationship with the God of the universe, then the un-faithful are those who find themselves alone. Faith is to recognize God and live in a loving relationship of obedience and service. Yes, to be a “faithful and prudent servant.” To disobey, to act as though there is no Master, and that the Master will not return, is to separate oneself from God; to walk away; to reject; to give our “no” to Him, His will, and His Kingdom.

So the faithful servants are in a relationship with God that causes them to act in a way that is responsible and brings glory to God and His kingdom of love, mercy, and justice. To be unfaithful is to reject that relationship, to store up treasure not in heaven but here on earth. It is to refuse to forgive, to show no mercy, and to love no one but oneself. When you love only you…you end up all alone…for eternity. And God honors that decision freely made by that person.

Choose faith. Nurture it. Act on it by serving those most in need. Be the good and faithful servant, because the Master will return at an unknown hour. Be ready. Get to work while there is still time. Amen?

 

By catholicevangelist

Pray For Riches!

Gollum.jpg

Today’s reflection is for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 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 today’s Gospel Jesus tells the crowd what I think we all need to hear. He tells them, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Let that sink in a bit, though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions. My brothers, we must remain on guard lest we become possessed by our possessions.

To be possessed means to be influenced or controlled by something. Many times we talk about people being possessed by an evil Spirit, that takes control of their mind and body. To be possessed is to longer do what we want to do. We act in a way that we know we should not act and do things that we know we should not do. Most of us will not be possessed by a demon or an evil Spirit, but I bet we’ve all been possessed by our possessions at one point or another.

We grow up being told how important money is. We are told that we need to get an education so we can get a good job so we can make lots of money and have lots of things! From as early as I can remember I was told that money is KING…get that money! Game shows, radio, tv shows, the lottery; all promise joy and happiness that we’re led to believe can only be found in stuff. And we buy it, and hoard it, and we become slaves.

We fill our rooms with pants, shoes, jackets, and jewelry. We fill our houses with furniture, dishes, and paintings. Our garages with tools, boxes, bins, cars, boats and trailers. We buy sheds when our garages can’t hold any more stuff, and we rent storage facilities when our houses and garages, and sheds overflow…and then we buy locks, and security cameras, and alarms–because we don’t want anybody stealing our stuff! We are entirely convinced that when we have that one more thing…then we’ll be happy. We just need a little more money. We strive for it. We dream about it. We steal for it. We hurt people to get it. We even kill people to have their money, or what they have bought with money.

Have you ever seen The Lord of the Rings? Gollum wants the ring so badly–it’s the only thing he cares about. He is willing to kill for it, and because it’s the only thing he thinks about, it slowly kills him. Do you know people like that? Do you know people who nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever enough?

Today’s message is a message that leads to liberation, true freedom, and life. Today’s message is an important reminder that we need to be a lot less selfish and a lot more self-less. We are called not to be rich in the stuff of this world, but instead to be rich in what matters to God. What a funny thing to think about: What matters to God, that we might be rich in it? The Gospel story that Jesus tells is like someone today making it rich with business or with the lottery. All at once you have more than you could ever have dreamed about, but the next day, you’re gone. What a wasted life. A life without meaning, and life without true wealth that brings joy and lasting happiness.

What is the wealth of happiness? What is the treasure of God? What should we be storing up right now that will last for eternity? God told Solomon that all he had to do was ask, and God would give him anything he wanted. Solomon did not ask for gold or women or power, he asked instead for wisdom to lead God’s people.

It would be good to be rich in wisdom. How about if we were rich is counseling others? If we always gave good advice to friends and family? Have you ever had a friend who always seemed to know what was good? What if you could do that for others?

Wouldn’t it be great if we were like the Bill Gates of knowledge? If we could know a ton of stuff and help figure out the world’s problems? If you’re like me, you need to be rich in strength. Sometimes I cave too easily! I too often go with the flow when I should stand against the storm. These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I’ve been talking about. Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Counsel, Strength, Piety, Fear of the Lord. If you want to pray for riches–God wants to give you these! Honestly, how often do we pray to be rich in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Or how often do we pray to be rich in the Fruit of the Holy Spirit? I want you to think about your heavenly bank account, are you wealthy  in love–both what you give and what you get? Are you rich in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and self control. If you’re like me, you’re barely able to pay the rent with some of these! Far from being rich in the things that matter to God, I’m actually broke!

And that my friends is a scary thought. I spend most of the minutes of my entire day trying to get the riches of the world–and I can’t even take it with me when I die, and that could be on the way home today. I spend so little time acquiring the wealth that matters to God. I spend too little time being generous and patient and kind. St. Paul tells us that all those who have been raised with Christ are to “seek what is above,” and “not on what is on earth.” My brothers, I think we all have some work to do. Don’t wait. Start investing in God today. Pray for and seek what is above. Amen?

By catholicevangelist

Look and Listen!

Holy TrinityToday’s reflection is for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Sunday, June 16, 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.

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. It is, of course, a bit strange to celebrate a Dogma of the Church, right? And while we do indeed celebrate a Dogma—which I will talk about—the thing that I would like to really emphasize today are the courageous men and women who were open to what God was revealing to them in their time and place.

The Dogma of the Most Holy Trinity, the truth that God is three in one; an interconnected, yet distinct, communion of persons is an absolute requirement for belief if we are going to call ourselves Christians. The distinctive mark of the disciple of Jesus Christ is repeated every time we make the sign of the cross, in the NAME of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s the inexhaustible mystery of the Triune God.

At different times and in different ways, humans have tried to wrap their minds around this great mystery using different images or symbols. Some are more helpful than others, but all are worth considering, and all ultimately fall short of the full reality of the mystery. St. Patrick used the image of the 3-leaf clover as a way to explain the triune God; three distinct leaves, one clover; three distinct persons, one God. Or maybe a triangle is helpful; three distinct sides, one triangle, or three angles and one triangle. Or the Celtic knot—three loops, one knot. Yesterday I was at Starbucks sitting in front of three window panes, that made up one big window.

Probably the one I appreciate the most is one of experience. I’ve heard that the Trinity is like steam, water, and ice. It is all H20, but we experience the H20 in different ways depending upon the temperature. God is one, but the one God was experienced by Abraham and Moses in a way that was different than the disciples experienced Jesus. And that was different than the way that they and we experience the Holy Spirit. This is indeed a great mystery. It’s a fun exercise to walk around and try to discover threes and twos. I mentioned that I saw three window panes while at Starbucks, the cool thing was that each of the panes was made up of two parts—reminding me not only of Trinity, but also about the dual nature of Christ—fully human and fully divine in one person. What a joy to discover how nature and human construction can remind us and reveal to us the mystery of Jesus Christ and the Trinity all around us! Stay awake!

Just take a look around right now. What threes and twos can you find right where you are? [Pause] Discovering the presence of God right where you are, where you hadn’t seen God before is precisely the joy that was experienced by Jesus’ disciples. They were Jews. The only God they knew was God the Father—the God of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But God was doing something new. They came to understand and believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, was actually God. You have to appreciate just how groundbreaking that was! For over four-thousand years Yahweh, and Yahweh alone was God…and then came Jesus. And then at Pentecost, God reveals the Holy Spirit! Absolutely incredible.

This was not an easy thing for any of the disciples to come to terms with—that God was one, and then two, and then three! But they were courageous! They were willing to struggle with what God was teaching them. They had ears to hear and eyes to see how God was making some very important changes in the way they understood and experienced God. They were men of strength, and prayer, and courage, and they remained open to what God was telling them, and they obeyed God rather than men. Some were jailed and then put to death for it, but they knew what they saw, and no one could make them deny it.

Jesus says to his disciples in the Gospel today, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” My brothers, the Holy Spirit still has much more to tell us. The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church into greater truth. In each generation the Spirit is able to reveal what a previous generation unable to bear. The last council of the Church is proof that the Spirit of God is as alive today as it was 2,000 years ago—guiding the Church, leading the Church, challenging the Church, and courageously empowering the Church.

We celebrate Trinity Sunday as an important reminder that God is not done speaking to us, teaching us, and guiding us to all truth! Through science, technology, philosophy, art, engineering, and yes, even, theology, the Spirit of God wants to show us something new, something life-giving, something that will change the way we see God, each other, and the world around us. Trinity Sunday reminds us that if we are faithful and if we keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open, that God wants to speak to us, teach us, and fill us with incredible joy. God wants to continue to surprise us with something new, that you never would have believed before.

As you leave this communion service today, be on the lookout for what God is trying to show you. You might discover a relationship that you never thought possible, or joy in a place of darkness, or…well, I don’t know, but God does. So be open, be led by the Spirit, and be courageous.

By catholicevangelist

Grace Revealed: Pentecost

I make all things newToday’s reflection is for Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 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 the very last book of the Bible (Chapter 21) we see Jesus, ascended to the Father, seated on his throne in glory, and worship going on in heaven. It’s a beautiful sight, indeed. Jesus says something very important that we must not miss. In verse 5, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples, the birth of the Church, the commissioning of its ministers, and the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham four thousand years earlier–and six thousand years before today.

You might remember the story about The Tower of Babel. In the very beginning of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, Chapter 11. Those first eleven chapters of the Bible reveal the tragedy and consequence of original sin. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and finally, The Tower of Babel, all reveal a humanity entirely unwilling to follow very simple directions. What ensues are narratives that teach the hearer of, 1. Humanity’s sin, 2. The consequence of sin, and 3. That God’s grace has the last word–always. So it’s a cycle of sin, punishment, and grace.

God gives Adam and Eve rules, they break them and are kicked out of the garden, but God loves them and clothes them. Cain kills Abel, God condemns Cain to be a restless wanderer, but loves him still and marks him to protect him. The world is filled with wickedness, God sends the flood, but God loves his creatures and calls Noah to build an ark. Finally (and this is the key for today) we end up with the Tower of Babel. Humanity has achieved greatness without God. They seek to make their name great by building a tower to the heavens essentially supplanting God. God confuses their language and scatters them around the earth. But God loves them and…wait…where’s the grace? The pattern is broken. We see sin, and consequence, but grace is not revealed until Pentecost. It begins with Genesis chapter 12 when God calls Abraham and the history of salvation begins. However, the fullness of that grace for the whole of humanity is not realized until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God makes US his temple. He forgives our sins. He makes us great. Simply amazing.

God worked through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, Moses, Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, the prophets, and then Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. As we bring Easter to a close, we know that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, rose again, ascended to the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. But how will we ever know Jesus that we might call out to him, be saved by Him, and cling tightly to Him–enter the Holy Spirit! We are taught that, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1COR 12:3)

Jesus sends his Spirit on Pentecost to make the sinner aware of his/her sinfulness, to convict us in the heart and to be moved to repentance! His desire is to make the sinner whole through the forgiveness of sin, to bind sinful, sorrowful, but forgiven people together and call them to holiness! He sends the Spirit to help us remember the saving acts of God and to not only guide us toward Jesus in every generation, but to make Jesus truly and substantially present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, at every Mass until he returns. That great work of the Spirit is done by God’s design through the ministers of the Church. That’s awesome.

The Gospel today teaches us that Jesus appeared to his disciples, breathed on them and said, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (JN 20:19-23)

Today, then, is not only the revelation and celebration of God’s grace to the people of Babel, and God making good on his promise to Abraham, but it is also a recognition that God powerfully sent his Holy Spirit on the Apostles so that they might continue his work of redeeming humanity. Today, through the ministers and ministry of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, people still hear the voice of God in every generation, have the opportunity to call Jesus Lord, confess their sins, and be reunited with the God of grace and mercy.

We call these people the Church. (That’s us.) These people are not perfect, but strive mightily to be. We are the sick who day after day and week after week return to the hospital that is the church, and are healed by confession and reconciliation, are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, and eagerly await the end of all things, when the Savior returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. We receive the Sacraments of the Church to help us to our final destination, the heavenly Jerusalem. And we fervently pray, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30) The renewal begins in you and me, in our families and in our workplaces, in our community, and in the world. And from the throne in heaven Jesus can say in truth, “Behold, I make all things new.

By catholicevangelist

Can I Get A Witness?

WitnessToday’s reflection is for The Ascension of the Lord, June 2, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I remember attending a Southern Baptist church when visiting a friend in Oklahoma years ago. I remember a small, black preacher talking about the salvation that was won for us in Christ Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t remember exactly what he said beyond the key theme, but I do remember that he was on FIRE! Standing up there drenched in sweat, finger in the air, and Bible in his hand; he wanted to know if he could get a witness!

“And then-uh, the Lord Jeeezus-uh, rose from the grave-uh! Can I get a witness? I says-uh, can a bruthuh get a witness?!” Many in the congregation began to yell out, “Amen! Amen!” The sermon was without a doubt one of the most energetic and spirit-filled that I’ve ever experienced, but it was his desire to get a witness that caught me and possesses me still.

As we celebrate Ascension Sunday we celebrate not only the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, but also the truth of Jesus’ ascension to the Father. The author of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us today that Jesus, “presented himself alive to [the apostles]… spoke about the kingdom of God,” and told them to wait, “for the promise of the Father,” and that they would be, “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus promised them a baptism not only of water and repentance, but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and power! He tells them they don’t need to worry about when he’s going to come back because that was for God to know. The only thing they should look forward to is to receiving the very Spirit of the living God! He told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then, just like that, he was lifted up and was gone.

Jesus gives his disciples this most amazing gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s supernatural power for but one purpose–to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is it. Each of us is given the Spirit and power of God so that we might with force, determination, and zeal get out there and give our testimony, to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection in the world and in our life. We are an Easter people, a resurrected people, and we are obliged to give witness to the transforming power of the resurrection in our life. We who were once dead in sin have been given new life in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

As Hebrews teaches, Jesus died to take away sin and to bring salvation for those who eagerly await him. Jesus’ resurrection is the completion of God’s great work of overcoming sin and spiritual death due to sin. No one is saved outside of Christ’s work on the cross! His redemptive work was for the whole of humanity, and if Jesus never got out of the grave, then, as St. Paul teaches, we are still dead in our sin and salvation is not ours!

He tells the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished…But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1COR 15:17-20) You see, the Good News depends entirely on the resurrection, because without it there is no forgiveness of sins, and if no forgiveness of sins, no salvation and no good news! It’s as simple as that.

I’m afraid too many Christians are entirely unable to explain why we believe in the resurrection. And that’s probably the case because too many Christians are unaware that we are called to give witness to that very fact! When the Apostles replaced Judas, they drew lots and Matthias was chosen for that one purpose. Jesus ascended, and then just a few verses later Matthias was chosen. St. Peter, in Acts explained it like this, “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that the primary and principle effect of Confirmation is to make us profess boldly the name of Jesus. Below are the effects of confirmation from the Catechism, paragraph 1303:

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 increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it more perfectly bonds us with the Church; 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.

Jesus’ Apostles and the disciples with them knew that they had but one job to do–be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. To be a witness was not an option for Jesus’ disciples then nor for us today. While there are many ways to give witness; through service to God and neighbor, acts of kindness, generosity in giving, being steadfast in prayer, or in our care and concern for others, to name only a few, to NOT give witness is to NOT be a disciple. I have gone door-to-door inviting people to know the name by which humanity is saved, and I see others going door-to-door still, and am always impressed with their commitment and courage.

I don’t know the particular way in which God has called you to be a witness to his resurrection, but I KNOW he is indeed calling you, has equipped you, and desires to send you out to be a witness, “That the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Like that Oklahoma preacher, Jesus wants you. Can He get a witness?!

Lord, give me the courage to speak your Holy name and to boldly bear witness to Jesus Christ.

By catholicevangelist

The Advocate

The AdvocateToday’s reflection is for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 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 today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I cannot possibly count the number of times I have told my mother that I love her—It’s quite a lot, really, but I can also not possibly count the number of times I have disobeyed her either! In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants to teach us that the opposite of love for God is not hatred of God, but rather disobedience to God’s will. Jesus tells us, If you love me, then act like it!

To love God seems kind of abstract. God is invisible so we can’t exactly hug and kiss, and help and hold God, can we? Maybe we can. I think that’s the brilliance of the New Command that we heard last week that came from John 13:34. Jesus said to love one another. As he has loved us, so should we love one another. I think that if we want to love God whom we cannot see then we should love our neighbor who we can see.

Remember the quote I gave you last week from Saint John Paul II and St. Thomas Aquinas, “Love wills the good of another.” So, it is impossible for us to say right here on Sunday, “I love God,” and then at the same time walk out this door and wish evil upon others, cause violence toward others, refuse to reconcile with others, be impatient, selfish, rude, hurtful, hateful, and unkind to others. If we do we are made liars be our very own actions and attitude.

In the first epistle of John, we hear as much. He teaches, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. If God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” (1JN 4:7-11)

We say on Sunday that we love God, but by Sunday afternoon…maybe even after breakfast, we choose not to love our neighbor. I’m not talking about temptation or forgetfulness, or catching ourselves and stopping. I’m talking about catching ourselves failing to love and then doing it anyway. That’s the difference between temptation to sin and indulging in sin.

When we catch ourselves being led into wrongdoing, that’s temptation. And if we catch ourselves and stop, or catch ourselves not doing what we should be doing and make the correction—we’re good. Maybe you’ve been there, where right when you were about to do wrong, you heard a small voice inside you, “Steve, that’s not a good idea! I know you know better than that! That’s not going to turn out well…” Have you heard that voice? We’re going to talk about that voice in a second because that voice is God’s great gift to us! But if we hear that voice, shut it down, drown it out, and think, “Y.O.L.O.!” and do it anyway, then now we’ve given in to that temptation, we’ve ignored the voice of God, knew better, could have done something different, and still chose to do wrong—that’s sin.

Ephesians 6 says, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, so that he may have something to share with one in need. No foul language should come out of your mouths. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (24-32)

My brothers, the love for God comes with a promise, a promise never to leave us, never to abandon us, always to be in us, and to always speak to us in the depths of our being, directing us to what is good and holy. This gift of God was revealed at the day of Pentecost that we celebrate on June 9. What sadness the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them that he must return to the Father, but what joy upon hearing Jesus’ promise to send his very own Spirit to dwell within them, to guide them, and teach them in every moment how to love God and their neighbor.

In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” God was out there, far away, approachable to only a select few who mediated God’s message to others. And then in an amazing act of love, God sent his only begotten Son to earth, to live with disciples and teach them about God, and how to love pray. But at Pentecost God sent his own Spirit to make his home in us. In our heart, in our head, in our bodies. We can now hear the very voice of god guiding us to do what is right, standing beside us to encourage us to do the good, regardless of the cost.

The Advocate stands with us, speaks through us, says to Satan—back off this one’s mine, and says to God, I’m making up the difference for what he owes. I’m good for it. He’s with us. The Advocate has attorney-client privileges. He is in your heart—speak to him, and hear his voice. He has a lot to say if we have ears to hear and hearts open to hear it. Amen.

 

By catholicevangelist

Love; That’s How They Know

img_4031Today’s reflection is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 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.

We have today gathered, disciples of Jesus Christ. Do our coworkers, friends, complete strangers know we are Christian? Do the guards know you are Christian? I wonder, what makes us Christian? I mean, what is the defining characteristic of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ—honestly. I know we love our rosaries, prayer cards, crucifixes, and holy oil, statues, and medallions (a.k.a. Catholic Bling), but not a single one of those things make us Christian. Jesus tells us today that the world will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another. That’s it. It is by our love that people will know we are Christian.

That alone is how they will know that we are born again, resurrected, Easter people; that we are His and He is ours. The world will know that we bear the Holy Name: Christian. By our love. So simple. So difficult.

St. Paul has to help out the Church in Corinth, when he tells them that “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1COR13:4-8) For a simple exercise, replace your name with the word love in the verses above. Steve is patient, Steve is kind. He is not jealous, he is not pompous, he is not inflated, he is not rude…I’ve got some serious work to do. The truth is that too often I’m neither patient, nor kind. I often seek my own interests, and it is often at the expense of those closest to me. I could work on these for the rest of my life and still have work to do.

Saint John Paul II, used the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when he said, “Love wills the good of another.” That’s very beautiful. The loving person desires what is good for others. That’s true love and it is often exemplified in the sacrificial love of parents for their children. Because I love you, I set boundaries, establish rules and disciplinary consequences for violating them. Discipline is not contrary to love, but is at its service. As Hebrews 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.” (HEB 12:11) Because I will the good of my children, I do not withhold corrective discipline—nor should you, or our schools, or the state. It must never be done out of anger, revenge, but out of love.

To pray for others is also a beautiful act of love. We pray even for, and especially for our enemies. We can all pray for one another—there is nothing to impede it. What greater thing can I do for one who resists me that to pray for their peace, their understanding, their generosity, mercy, and love. Jesus tells his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” (MT 5:43-45) The single greatest moments in my difficult relationships have come with prayer for the other. It’s free, and changes everything.

All that I have been talking about from First Corinthians and from St. John Paul II, and finally for praying for those who harm us, have everything to do with love, and sacrifice, and death. Yes, death. For us to love like Christ, we must also be willing to die with Him. During this Easter season we are mindful that the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for another. (JN 15:14) If we are to follow his commandment to love, we must die to ourselves, die to our ego, our hatred, our pain, and our suffering. If are going to call ourselves Christians we must be a humble people, a servant people, and even an enslaved people. We are set free by love so that we can freely choose to surrender to love. St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” (ROM 6:17) And so we are. With our freedom we serve unto death the one who set us free, and Jesus Christ, our liberator asks only one thing of his disciples—that they love. That’s it. That’s how they’ll know that we are his; not by our prayer cards, rosaries, and crucifixes, but by our willingness to love someone to death.

So, of what use, or for what purpose are rosaries, prayer cards, crosses, the Commandments, Catholic Social teachings, crucifixes, holy water, holy oil, medallions, theology, paintings, stained glass windows, statues, or even Scripture? They teach us to love. They remind us to love. In every generation they help us to love. They have no value in and of themselves—but they help us to encounter love, be healed by love, be transformed by love, so that we can love.

Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (JN 13:34) Let us love, in word and deed, and the world will know, and we will rise with him. Amen.

 

By catholicevangelist