Whose Fault Is It?

eve-blames-serpentToday’s reflection is on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Sunday March 31, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The longer form for the 2nd Scrutiny was used for this reflection.

I can still hear my poor mom’s words now as she walked into the kitchen, “Who made this mess?!” My sisters and I just stood there. “This mess did not make itself.” she said. Finally, I blamed Stephanie, Stephanie blamed Marie, and Marie blamed me! My mom finally thundered, “I don’t care who made the mess! I just want it cleaned up! Now!”

My poor mom was experiencing in her own day the result of sin that transcends time! In the beginning God gave humanity one rule! That’s it! Don’t eat the fruit! Not so hard, right? Well… Like my mom, God comes in and says, “Who made this mess? The man says, “It’s that woman you put here! And the woman says, “It was the snake!” And that’s all it took—and we’ve been blaming each other for our problems ever since!

We do have some real problems in our families, our communities, in our country and in our world! Mass migration, deforestation, extinction of species, terrorism, pollution, abortion, abject poverty, homelessness, starvation, genocide, human trafficking, disease, violence, drugs, terrorism, racism, and sexism! Luckily, I know just who to blame…liberals! No wait! Conservatives! Mexicans! Communists! Corporations! It’s the man! The woman! No, wait…it’s kids these days!

We do this all the time in education. How is this kid so far below grade level! It’s gotta be that new 4th grade teacher! No, it’s the curriculum. It’s the administrative turn-over. It’s not the materials, it’s the learning environment! It’s parents these days! It’s the education system. It’s No Child Left Behind, it’s Common Core! It’s the liberals, the conservatives, the Mexicans, the…wait, are we back to that? Whose fault is it?! Who’s to blame?! To be honest I don’t know, and the truth is, it shouldn’t even matter us. Jesus has something very important for us today.

The Jews of Jesus’ day believed that to have more or less was a curse because of sin. So, if I’ve got a wart on my thumb, then I have more because of sin. If I lose my limb in an accident, then I’ve got less because of sin. If I’ve got a tumor, then that’s more because of sin, and if I’m blind, then that’s less–also because of sin. But what about the man blind from birth in today’s Gospel? Whose sin caused that?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples present him with what they think is a real head scratcher. “Rabbi, who sinned,” they ask, “this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” First, this is obviously a case of sin and this person is being punished—but whose sin caused it? Whose fault is it? Who is responsible for this? Who is to blame?

Jesus gives us a wonderful gift in today’s Gospel, and if you have ears to hear it can change your family, your workplace, your whole life. Jesus is asked a very simple question, “Whose fault is it?” Jesus tells his disciples, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus says stop trying to assign blame— recognize instead the opportunity. You see, that’s our problem. We always look for someone to blame (and so did they), but Jesus always looked for an opportunity to reveal the power of God through his life, his love, his touch, with his resources, his friendship with others. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus seeing a need and using what he had, (and sometimes what his disciples had), to make things a little better.

In the towns that he entered, in the people he met, in the death and brokenness that faced him, Jesus didn’t see a reason to complain, he saw a reason to hope. He didn’t see an opportunity to blame, he saw in this suffering and sadness an opportunity to proclaim! Jesus used human suffering as an opportunity to show others the amazing mercy, love, goodness and generosity of God.

I remember like yesterday walking across the Arcata bridge while going to school in Humboldt. As I walked past a transient on the bridge he asked me if I could spare a dollar. Naturally, I kept walking…but then I thought about the question. He didn’t ask me if I approved of his decisions in life, or whether I thought he deserved it. He didn’t ask me if I thought he might invest it wisely or whether he would feed a habit. He just asked me if I could spare a dollar…and I could…so I did. And I don’t know what he did with that dollar—but God does, and God will judge him…and me.

Jesus does not call us to complain or to judge. And he doesn’t need us to figure out whose fault it is so we have someone to blame. Like my dear old mom, Jesus wants us to just clean up the mess. Jesus wants the children of light—that’s you and I—to overcome the darkness.

Light does not negotiate or cower before the darkness—it just expels it. It does not shame it or blame it—it just overcomes it. As St. Paul tells us, “You are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Awake, O sleeper and allow the work of God to be made visible through you. Amen?

For Reflection:

Think about your day; do you more often look for a reason to blame or an opportunity to help a person in need?

What are some creative ways to come to the help of someone in need that don’t include contributing to addiction and brokenness?

What groups exist at your parish, or can you start at your parish, to alleviate suffering in your community?

By catholicevangelist

A Slow Rising Tide

Woman at the wellToday’s reflection is on the Third 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. The longer form for the 1st Scrutiny was used for this reflection

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