Let TRUE Freedom Ring!

The Gospel reading can be found

The answer I often hear as to why someone does something wrong, rude, or disrespectful is, “Because I can!” which is, in effect, saying that it’s a free country and I can do what I please, even if its harmful and does violence to oneself or others. But this attitude of freedom, the “because I can” attitude of absolute freedom irrespective of consequence draws into question what TRUE freedom actually looks like.

ImageJesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Of course he receives no shortage of rebuttal by those who claim to be free. They are claiming to already be living in freedom, and the promise of freedom from Jesus seems a bit ridiculous, if not redundant! They call Him on his claim to freedom and then Jesus goes to a whole new level of what freedom REALLY is.

 Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin…[and] you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you.” Jesus is trying to teach them that if their desire is to do what’s wrong, hurtful, harmful, divisive, or death-dealing, then their desire is in itself the greatest indication that they have not accepted the freedom that had been offered to them as children of Abraham, and they are instead obeying and falling into the slavery of their true father, the devil!

The truth is that we are created good. That is who we are at our very core. The tragedy is that we live in a society that encourages us to do evil and harm to others and ourselves. We very often find that we actually WANT to do the unloving thing–even when we have the ability to do otherwise! The good news is that with the help of God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can actually choose to do the good! THAT is what it means to be free, and what we mean when we say that Jesus “set us free.” The Spirit of God that is in us is so much more powerful that the evil in the world, and sometimes even in our heart! We are no longer slaves to sin and death, we have been given God’s Spirit that teaches us to know and do the good for which we were created.

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When our Lord died on the cross it seemed at first a great triumph for evil, but the resurrection is evidence that evil does not hold sway over the power of life! Our God is Lord of the living, and death has lost its control over us–if only we would embrace our new life and freedom to love. So, try it sometime! When you feel most like acting in anger that has it’s end in death, choose life instead. Choose a kind word, a loving smile, a gesture of understanding or an extension of friendship. When someone says how much they hate you, tell them how sad you are that they don’t know you well enough to understand and love you, and that you are trying with all your might to understand, know, and love them.

Only then, can we begin to understand Jesus’ actions toward those who persecuted and put Him to death. He forgave them because he loved them–even when they did Him harm. Jesus knew who He was, a loving, forgiving, kind, compassionate person, intimately united to God and missioned to bring wholeness and healing to a broken world. He wasn’t about to allow haters to enslave Him and cause Him to act in a way that was other than who He was. And that’s TRUE freedom! It is the freedom to be our loving selves regardless of others choose to be. Amen?

By catholicevangelist

Who Are You Trying To Impress?

For today’s readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032212.cfm

When I was in college at Humboldt State University, I learned about and began playing the world’s best sport, rugby (okay, so that point is debated by some, but it’s my blog after all). After our rugby games, the “green house” always hosted the rugby parties, but for regular socials, the “white house” served the purpose. I had just begun taking my faith more seriously, attending mass, and Bible study groups, but I continued to struggle with actually living my faith–especially in front of others…especially with “ruggers.”

I’ve always enjoyed being the center of attention, being “on stage.” No wonder I was so involved in acting while in college, and even did some summer Shakespeare festivals in Thousand Oaks, CA. So, I’m at this rugby party, standing on a chair with no fewer than thirty guys and girls eagerly awaiting the punch line to the greatest joke ever when, BAM!, I nail the punchline and the crowd erupts with laughter and applause! And then, just at that moment, by God’s grace, I have this thought, “I wonder if God is laughing and applauding too?” I felt so convicted. I realized at that very moment that if I was going to begin to take my Christian life seriously, I needed to start seeking God’s applaud and approval, not my rugby buddies. 

Jesus tells the Jews in today’s reading, “I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you…How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” There is nothing Jesus condemns more harshly than hypocrisy and false religiosity. He has no patience for those that make a pretense of religion but in reality are firmly rooted in the things of the world and the approval of men to the exclusion of God.

Each of us is given a variety of gifts or talents that have a variety of uses. Make no mistake, however, the gifts of the Spirit are but for one primary purpose, namely, to build up the Body of Christ in order to better manifest the Kingdom of God in our world. Gifts of athleticism, intellect, compassion, acting, generosity, administration, service, humility, and/or charismatic personality are wonderful gifts, but so often can be used to do violence to the Kingdom of God, as opposed to building it up! I think of great actors or songwriters who make inappropriate, violent, and ugly movies and songs that encourage anger, rage, irresponsible sexuality, division and brokenness. St. Paul challenges us to use the gifts of the body for the good of the body and the world.

Even when we do use our gifts for the building up of the Kingdom, so often we begin to receive the approval and applaud of men for the good deeds we do to make the world a better place–and this is where the new danger exists as well! Even when we are doing the good deeds the Lord calls us to do, we might begin to do it for the approval of others instead of the approval of God. Jesus warns His disciples about this during His Sermon On the Mount in Matthew 6:1-18. He refers to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting when he says, “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

The lesson is clear, who are you trying to impress? All of our actions, both good and bad are under the watchful eye of God. Let us never use our gifts in a way that does violence to peace, unity, and wholeness, and let us always purify our motives that the good we do gives the glory to God and does not seek the reward of the world…it, after all, is passing, but the reward of the Kingdom is eternal. Amen?

By catholicevangelist

The Son and the Father

Today’s mass readings remind me of a Rodney Atkins song on His album, If You’re Going Through Hell. On the album he sings a song called “Watchin’ You” where a little boy learns all things from his dad. I heard it and thought what a cute song it was and saw how my own sons are always watching me. Whatever I do they do…wow, that’s scary! Image

Jesus tells us that his own relationship with His father is the same. In today’s gospel Jesus tells the Jews of His day, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work…Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does.”

The Lord has given fathers an incredible role in molding, teaching, and providing the example for their children about what it means to be a man–especially a man of God. Young men will grow up to be a man like their father, and young ladies will grow up to marry a man like their dad. What kind of example are we showing those who look up to us as fathers? Jesus provides the example of what it means to be a man of God.

Jesus prayed, and allowed His disciples to see it, and even taught them how to pray. Do you pray with your children that they might learn to give thanks to and ask God for their deepest needs? Jesus was intimately familiar with the Scriptures. He quoted them both to His disciples and to those who claimed to be religious yet lived inconsistently with God’s revealed Word. How often do you read God’s word, meditate on it, and pray on it? Do your children SEE you reading God’s Word? How many Catholic men stay at home on Sunday while mothers bear the burden of bringing the children to mass!

Jesus was moved with compassion for those suffering around them. How often are we moved with compassion and come to the aid of others (that includes our own children)? So often I come home and am exhausted from work but my sons want me to help them “build a factory” in the backyard! How we respond to the needs of our children, how we show our loving concern for those in the community, and what we do to alleviate sickness, pain, and disease in the world matters for ourselves and our children. We can never be “too busy” to come to the aid of those in need.

Jesus stood up against unjust authority. He called things as he saw it and condemned hypocrisy, legalism, and misplaced religiosity. He called men of faith to be transparent and honest, people who love and are kind, and who know that religion teaches us to love, guides us through this difficult life, and aides us in our desire for greater holiness and unity with God–not a justification for passing judgement.

ImageMy boys want to work on the house, work on the car, run cross country during cross country season, and wrestle during wrestling season. All they want to do is grow up to be just like their dad. What an incredible stewardship God has given fathers (not to the exclusion of mothers, of course)! I am more mindful than ever that I have choices to make. If I chew tobacco and smoke, damaging my body, they will want to chew and smoke. Has it been so long since we used “jerky chew,” “big league chew,” and candy cigarettes? Everything I do matters. If I pollute my body with alcohol, drugs, and other impurities, they will do the same. But if I pray, they will pray. If I exercise, they will exercise. If I take God and church seriously they will do the same. If I treat my wife with respect, honor her, and praise her, they will follow my example.

Men of God, it’s time to step up, live righteously, virtuously, Christ-like. and lead by example. Ladies, it’s time to call your man to responsibility and accountability as a man of God. Your role is a prophetic one! After all, “the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does.” Amen?

By catholicevangelist

Looking Out For Numero Uno!

Reading can be found at USCCB

What could be more simple than an act of kindness toward a crippled man who had seen more than his fair share of suffering? What kind of person are you?

John’s Gospel tells the story of a cripple who had been ill for thirty-eight years! When Jesus saw the man he asked but one simple question, “Do you want to be well?” The only thing the man needed was someone who cared enough to put him into the water when it was stirred. Something so simple. Why didn’t anyone care enough to do it? Selfishness, it seems. Others were pushing their way ahead of the cripple–no doubt thinking their own needs greater than that of others.

Therein lies the great lie and sadness of our day. We live in a world where sadness, suffering, and pain are all around us. Millions of people starving to death while the same millions are living in abundance. With motto’s like, “get yours,” “look out for #1,” and “he who dies with the most toys wins” (on my high school counselor’s wall many years ago), it’s no wonder that we are, as others were then, so willing to turn a blind eye to the cry of the poor in our midst. We are entirely convinced that we “aren’t enough” and don’t have enough. We seek bigger, latest, greatest, new and improved! Those who are convinced of their cup being half empty can never be moved to share what “little” they have with others.

The disciple of Christ cannot think only of his own needs, his own wants, his own pain, for to do so would both fail to recognize, appreciate, and give thanks for the gifts he has received, while at the same time would invariably close him off to the good that he is called to do for others with the blessings he has received! There is nothing more dangerous to the solidarity of the human family than selfishness and greed.

The gospel calls us to appreciate what we have and do all that we can to live simply and selflessly amidst a selfish and perverse generation. Let us live simply that others may simply live.

By catholicevangelist

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 

The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032112.cfm

My brothers and sisters, the Gospel of Matthew today teaches us something about parenthood, and the fruit of parenthood. Mary was found with child by the Holy Spirit and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell Joseph not to reject her, but to instead take Mary into his home and have her as his wife. Joseph is told to have no fear and that Mary would conceive a son, and that he would be named Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. As shocking as this might have appeared to be, Joseph was obedient to the Lord’s messenger and took Mary into his home as he was commanded to do.

In no less a way, God, the ultimate source of all life, continues to bring new life to women and men today. By the power of the Holy Spirit women and men become mothers and fathers. I remember when my wife, Jill, and I found out that we were pregnant with our first son, Mark. We were excited, overjoyed, and yes, scared to death. Jill was afraid that she, only recently learning to be a wife, would not be able to be a good mother to our son. I was afraid that having no father around to guide me into manhood that I would be ill equipped to guide my own son. I can still remember Jill and I both so stressed out and afraid. It is no wonder the first thing the angel tells Joseph, and always Jesus told his disciples, to, “Be not afraid!”

The truth is that all life, from conception to natural death is a wonderful gift from God. We believe that God creates life, nourishes life, sustains it, and chooses when it ends. For a variety of reasons men and women, especially young men and young women, today are afraid of the the thought of having (more) children. They fear that they don’t have enough education, finances, time, resources, support, etc. While I can certainly understand those fears, one must admit, that they are only fears nonetheless. None of us owns or controls the future, and none can even imagine the grace and gifts the Lord has in store for those who trust in Him. The Gospel of Life teaches us to be not afraid! It teaches us to be courageous! Courage is not the absence of fear, after all, but a willingness to trust and do the good we are created to do in spite of it. It is during those times that we trust in God, call on Him, ask Him for the support, grace, and guidance we need to do His will.

Both Mary’s and Joseph’s “yes” to God, their courage, and their willingness to trust in Him brought Jesus, God’s salvation, into the world. People were fed, taught, healed, and made whole again by the work of Christ while He ministered on earth. His life brought life, and his death brought eternal life to the world. What will your “yes” to God and life produce? Only God knows. Trust in Him. Do not be afraid. Say “yes” to life!

By catholicevangelist