No Going Back

New Life old lifeToday’s reflection is for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 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 are told in the first reading that Peter and the apostles were given strict orders by the Sanhedrin, “to stop teaching in [Jesus’] name.” Their simple response was only this: “We must obey God rather than men.” That was their only answer and it must be ours as well. At every time, in every circumstance, we obey God. Period. They’re not our boss, He is.

I remember, being in junior high and my mom being so tired, upset, and fed up with my sister. I don’t remember exactly what the order was, but it was definitely an order she yelled out at the top of her lungs, “And you better do it!” My sister, cool as a cucumber said, “You’re not the boss of me, only God’s the boss of me.” Okay, so my sister probably didn’t get the circumstance right, but her answer was definitely right! God is indeed the boss of me. He’s my boss, he’s my advisor, he’s my director, he’s my guide, he’s my savior. I am his and he is mine.

Today’s Gospel teaches us that once we are His, there is no going back to the way things used to be. Peter, Andrew, the sons of Zebedee, James and John—they were fishermen when Jesus found them. The Scripture tells us that he called them and immediately they dropped their nets or left their father to follow this amazing Jesus. He promised that from that point forward that these fishermen would be fishers of men. How exciting! What a ride those three years with Jesus must have been for them! To encounter God and find, hope, joy, and peace in Him.

The song, Amazing Grace, expresses the joy that one discovers when being called by God. Maybe some of you are here today because you have heard the voice of God and responded. I remember when I first heard God’s voice. I was going to school up in Humboldt County. Although I was raised in a Catholic family I didn’t live like a Catholic Christian and I left the Church. One day my roommate was gone, the T.V. was off, the stereo was off, and I got this sick empty feeling in my stomach. I’ve never been lonely like that. And I had this thought that I had never thought before; I thought, “I need God back in my life.” Immediately I thought, “Where did that thought come from!”

I went to Church growing up, altar server, and lector and stuff, but I never thought of God as a relational God who could satisfy the emptiness inside of me. That thought could never have come from me. And I’m here to tell you, that was it for me. God is real. God spoke to me. I heard God’s voice. And nothing will ever be the same again. I can’t unthink that thought. I can’t unhear the call. I’m now a fisher of men. I’m like the Psalmist today, I praise the Lord because he rescued me.

Sometimes I forget though. Sometimes I ignore my relationship with God. Sometimes, like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, when things don’t turn out right, when we get confused, when our faith has been shaken by tragedy, or pain, and suffering, too often we go back to the way we were before we met Jesus. We make a commitment to follow him, but then we go back to the same old friends, the same old corners, the same old houses. It was the “Green House” for me up in Humboldt. That’s where my rugby buddies hung out, where there was always beer and pot and girls. You know that place. Every disciple knows that place for him. We make commitments to Jesus and to the Father and say, “I’m done with that old life! When I get out, things will be different!” But too often they are not.

The Scriptures tell us today that this was the THIRD time the risen lord appeared to his apostles! The third time! He told them to drop their nets because they would be fishers of men! He had a different plan for them…but they just kept going back to what they knew. Proverbs 26:2 says that just, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his mistakes,” and 2Peter 2:23 says that, “A pig that is washed goes back to wallowing in the mud.” And so it was with them, and so it can easily be with us.

And that’s why this is called “the good news!” because we know that John recognized Jesus and Peter jumped out of the boat, and they spent time with their Lord. And we know too, that they never went back to fishing again. Peter led the Church and died for the Lord Jesus in Rome, John wrote the Book of Revelation, Andrew and James, and all the rest of Jesus’ disciples courageously followed him no matter what anybody said or what anybody thought. And if they did it, then so can we! That’s good news!

Peter had to make a conscious decision to follow Jesus and to never get back in the boat, and he did and he was our first Pope. I had to make the decision not to go back to the Green House, and I did and now God has called me to be a deacon. And you too will have to decide at some point not to go back to the block. And I can’t wait to see what God has planned for you!

Like my sister, we must affirm to old friends and neighbors, to those who lead us into temptation and evil, and sin, we must say loud and clear—you’re not the boss of me, only God’s the boss of me. And like those courageous disciples we too must say loud and clear, “We must obey God, rather than men.” Amen?

For Reflection:

How often do I sit in the silence to hear God’s voice?

Are you responding to, or running from God’s call to you in this life?

What will it take to “stop returning to the mud?”

By catholicevangelist

Divine Mercy and Restoration

Doubting ThomasToday’s reflection is for the Second Sunday of Easter (Or Sunday of Divine Mercy), April 28, 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.

On this second Sunday of Easter, also referred to as Divine Mercy Sunday, we reflect not only on Jesus’ resurrection, but on what His resurrection means to those of us who believe. In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina, also known as The Apostle of Divine Mercy, for her visions of Jesus; the merciful love of God revealed to the whole world.

Today we stop to reflect on a God of mercy who is one hundred percent committed to our total restore-ation. Mercy, because God does not give us what we deserve due to our sin, but more than what we deserve because of His grace and love. And restoration, because like the Father who welcomed back the prodigal son, God does not welcome us back as a slave to hang our head low in shame—the most we could hope for, but instead as a son filled with love—more that we could ever have imagined. That’s Divine Mercy—a wayward child welcomed back home with open arms.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the well-known story of Thomas, who, like a lot of us, says that seeing is believing! Just a week earlier, the Scripture says, Jesus appeared to his disciples showed them his wounds and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed on them the Holy Spirit, and gave them, his Apostles, his own power to forgive sins! Remember in Luke 5:21, the scribes and Pharisees accused Jesus of blasphemy! They asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Of course, God is the only one who can forgive sins, and Jesus is God, so God forgave sins, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus gives the very men who denied him and abandoned him the power to bind to their words and actions His own power to forgive the sins of the world. That’s Divine Mercy—giving broken men the power of God.

Jesus is the savior, but for 2,000 years Jesus’ Apostles have been forgiving sins by the power of the Savior himself. In every generation there are those who, like the tax collector in Luke’s gospel, stand at a distance, unworthy to approach the throne of God, who beat their breast, and cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” (18:13) and God’s mercy is given through the ministry and ministers of the Church. That’s Divine Mercy—a sinner hearing the words of forgiveness that he could not possibly obtain on his own.

Interestingly enough, Thomas was not actually there when Jesus appeared to his apostles, and Thomas, like many of us, refused to believe until he saw it for himself! Arrogant. Prideful. And like many of us, he wanted proof. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He reappeared, offered himself and his open wounds to an unbeliever so that he might believe. That’s Divine Mercy—a doubter given a sign so that he might believe.

My brothers, God’s mercy, Divine Mercy, is NEVER about what we are owed, what we deserve, or what we rate—in fact, it isn’t about us at all. Divine mercy is called Divine Mercy for a reason; it’s about God. It’s about God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s desire for our friendship, and God’s desire for our joy and fulfillment that can only be found in him. God has such great plans for each of us, and none of us can experience it on our own.

I told you last week that like Peter and John, we must be willing to remain united together—as different as some of us may be. We must be willing to enter the tomb if we are to rise with him. Today’s first reading shows the fruit of unity and dying to oneself. It shows the fruit of Divine Mercy. Acts of the Apostles tells us, “Many signs and wonders were done at the hands of the apostles, people respected them, and believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” The Scriptures say that the sick were carried out into the streets just so that when Peter came by his shadow might fall on them. A large number of people brought out the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were cured. That’s the fruit of Divine Mercy!

Like I said, Divine Mercy isn’t about you, it’s about God and what God wants to do through you! And me! Divine Mercy is restorative. It recreates us to God’s image so that we can be his life, his love, and his goodness in a world of darkness. Do we believe God can do anything good with us at all?

That’s always our problem, we don’t see it. We stand back to back with God. We see and know only our past, God sees and cares only about our future. We say, “You can’t use me, God, look where I’ve been and what I’ve done!” God says, “I’ve got great plans for you, wherever you are, and whomever you are with.” It was true of Moses, of the prophets, of the Apostles, and of the Saints of the Church. And it can be true for us too.

It doesn’t matter where we’ve been, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done, all that matters is if we’re willing to seek Divine Mercy and go to where God is calling us to go. Will you accept his mercy today? Will you allow him to heal you? Transform you? Repurpose you? Restore you to your original goodness in His image. He just needs our “yes” and He will do amazing things through us—and many will come to believe and be healed.

For Reflection:

Am I aware of, and do I believe in the transforming power of Divine Mercy?

Am I like Thomas? What’s keeping me from believing?

To what degree have I given my “yes” to God? Where is God calling me? Am I willing to go?

By catholicevangelist

Enter the Tomb

John and Peter

Today’s reflection is on Easter Sunday, April 21, 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.

Happy Easter! The Lord Jesus Christ is risen, Alleluia! Our long journey through Lent has come to an end! I don’t know what you took on, or gave up for Lent, but whatever it was, it no doubt took some sacrifice and maybe some pain. I set the bar high this Lenten Season. My wife and I committed to only liquids during the day, and only soup for dinner. I would be lying, though, if I told you that I stuck to it perfectly. I’m quite embarrassed to say that I did not. The Lord, in His generosity gave me another 40 days of Spiritual boot camp to get things right, to sacrifice and be transformed—but again, I fell short of the mark. I am weak.

Not until we really want to change do we realize how weak we are to do so…and that has been my Lenten experience this year. I know what Jesus did for me. I know his way of the cross. I know of his passion and suffering, and yet still I deny him. Not only three times, like Peter, but many times every day. How about you? Did you get up to pray? Abstain from meat on Fridays, and fast daily? Today’s Gospel is a message of hope and has a promise for guys like us who seem to fail time and time again. Today we join Mary Magdalene, Peter, and “the disciple that Jesus loved,” who is John.

Isn’t it interesting that Mary ran from the tomb straight to Peter and John? They must have been together at the same place, right? The Scripture says, “So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.” But why would they be together? Jesus was just thirty-five hours or so earlier crucified. Jesus died on Friday evening, he was in the tomb on Saturday, and Mary goes to the tomb while it is still dark Sunday morning. Both John and Mary remained at Jesus’ side throughout his whole ugly, painful passion and death. John was standing at the foot of the cross with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother when Jesus died—where was Peter?! Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, and John was with Jesus to the end.

You couldn’t find more opposite disciples of Jesus. John who was always so faithful and Peter who was so weak in his faith. And yet, they remain together, in the same place, no doubt supporting one another through their difficult time. That’s what it means to follow Jesus, my brothers, and that’s the first thing I want to point out. In this Christian community we are all at different levels of growth in our faith, some are more courageous than others, some are more disciplined than others, some remain in their weakness to sin, but like John and Peter, we stick together. Through good times and bad we stick together. Look around—you are my brothers and we are here for each other, helping each other: weak, strong, smart, dumb, black, white, brown, old, young, incarcerated or free, holy, and weak in our holiness: the Church is ONE and must remain ONE, and we must never let the world divide us.

The first thing I wanted to point out is that we must remain united, and the second is that we don’t have to have it all figured out in order to believe—but we do have to enter the tomb. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we must be willing to die to ourselves, enter the tomb with Jesus Christ so that we can rise with him. If we do not enter the tomb and die when will never truly live.

We must die to anger, malice, greed, and lust. We must enter the tomb and put to death jealousy, rivalry, divisions, and arrogance. John arrived at the tomb first, but he was unwilling to go in. I wonder what kept him from going right in. Scripture says He saw the burial clothes and stopped. Interesting that Peter never hesitated. John was faster and arrived first, but Peter entered the tomb before John. He went into the tomb and then saw the burial clothes. John was a little more cautious; a little more careful, but he does enter the tomb.

Are you more like Peter or more like John? Are you more a little more courageous and willing to jump right in? Know this, courageous or cautious they both went in. They entered the tomb with all their unanswered questions, with all their fears, and with all their doubts. They entered the tomb so that they could rise with Jesus.

My brothers, the resurrection of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean anything on its own. We celebrate the resurrection as Christians because Jesus rose from the grave, and somehow, through the waters of baptism, we mysteriously rise with him! God has powerfully connected Baptism to Jesus’ resurrection and our new life. Jesus conquered the grave 2,000 years ago, and we celebrate his victory today, but we celebrate our victory with him everyday! He won, and made winners out of all of us who believe.

But let me make this clear: we must unite together, we must stand by one another regardless of color or status, we must be willing to encourage each other and pray with each other, to look out for one another and to help one another, and we must willing to together enter the grave if we are to have any share in the resurrection that we celebrate today. We are an Easter people! Every day is Easter for those who enter the grave to be born again. Happy Easter, brothers. Let us live in this newness of life. Amen.

For Reflection:

When I fail do I beat myself up, throw all the cards in, or reach out to God in prayer for strength and consolation?

Am I living the resurrected life? One of unity with those around me and a willingness to come to another’s aid regardless of who they are or what they believe?

Am I holding on too tightly to die with Christ? What is keeping me from going “all in” for Jesus and His church?

By catholicevangelist

The Way of the Cross

Today’s reflection is on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 14, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel is the saddest moment in human history—namely, the death of God on earth. The narrative could have gone a thousand different ways. If Pilate had been courageous enough to stand up for what he knew was true about Jesus’ innocence things would have been different. If Herod had cared as much about God and the Messiah as he did about wealth and power things could have been different. If the religious leaders were open to the possibility that they didn’t have it all figured out, and that as much as they believed otherwise, Jesus could indeed have been their long-awaited king. If Jesus had not gone to Jerusalem; if Judas had not betrayed him; if any one of the soldiers stood by Jesus’ side and said, “Enough!”

But none of those things happened, and in today’s Gospel we see ridicule, sadness, brokenness, arrogance, violence, selfishness, suffering, and the death of innocence, righteousness, purity, and holiness. And sometimes that’s just the way life goes. Life is indeed difficult and often unfair. Here is your cross. It’s no wonder Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (MT 16:24).

I’ve had experiences in my own life where there was no light—only darkness. In the midst of my suffering I did not see answers, only questions. I did not feel the presence of God in those moments, and I can identify very strongly with the Psalmist today, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” When we are in the midst of that darkness we cry out to God but do not always hear an answer. We are in our Holy Week. We find ourselves on our way of the cross.

There were fourteen stations on Jesus’ way to his tomb. There may have been more, but certainly not less. Sometimes our via de la cruz seems not to have fourteen, but rather a hundred! But fourteen or a hundred, the truth is that the cross, and the way of the cross are essential to salvation. We know it’s true of Jesus, and we believe it true for ourselves—that without the cross there is no resurrection. And so, we do not lament our journey of suffering, we embrace our cross, and journey to the tomb in joyful hope in the resurrection. Jesus told his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (JN 12:24)

I know that the cross is necessary for salvation, but to be honest, I don’t often accept it well. Like Jesus, my prayer is to avoid the cross! And like Jesus, I do accept God’s will and that it be done in my life. But quite unlike Jesus, in the midst of my trial, I do not remain silent when others plot against me, when my friends betray me, when others wrongfully accuse me, when haters mock me, and when my cross is thrust upon me. More often than not, I am entirely unwilling to forgive those who persecute me, and when others see my sadness and suffering, I seek first their prayer for me, rather than to think to pray for them. I need to be a lot more like Jesus—that’s for sure!

Jesus’ attitude given to us in the letter to the Philippians, and his example in today’s Gospel, can teach us what to do to get through tough times. Philippians tell us, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (2:6-8) I think being found in human appearance we too need to humble ourselves. Humility reminds us that we are but servants with a job to do. We are not promised anything in this life of service, though because of God’s goodness, we sometimes get more than we deserve. We need to start with humility.

Our humility teaches us that we cannot do this alone. We need the power of God to see us through our darkness and pain. Knowing that we need God to get us through, opens us up to prayer. When we go through our trial, it’s helpful to remain in prayer as Jesus did. I think Jesus’ prayer kept him close to God his father at all times. I know as Catholics we have lots of memorized prayers, but sometimes, we just need to talk to God, with regular words, about the truth of our experience. Just close the door and talk to God who always hears us.

It was the presence of his father and his faith in his father that allowed him to hope in his vindication and restoration. When we know that our God is with us, walking and talking with us, encouraging us, living within us, and providing his strength to see us through, then we have confidence and hope in whatever happens or however it turns out. That’s called Christian hope! It’s an attitude of insurmountable optimism. We always look ahead, never down and never behind. God is good and will see us through.

And I think that’s how Jesus was able to love and forgive even while he suffered. Sometimes when we are hurting we lash out, feel sorry for ourselves, and become bitter with others. We love when life is easy, but when hardship comes we turn inward and close ourselves off, if not to God, sometimes to the world. But Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus never stopped loving, praying for, encouraging, and forgiving all the way to his death. We cannot be people who love only when we are loved. If so, we become little more than leaves blowing in the wind. If someone is kind then so are we. If someone is mean then so are we. This is not who we are! We are children of light and love. Period. That’s who we are in good times and in bad. We are called at all times and in all places, like Jesus, to love God and neighbor. And it’s our hope, rooted in faith that will make it so.

And so, as it turns out, only these three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. So, as we journey through this holy week, may we be the people of prayer that makes us people who love in spite of our cross. Amen.

For Reflection:

When I suffer, do I go to prayer or do I complain, become bitter, and lash out at others?

What cross have I carried in the recent past? Do I recognize the presence of God who was able to see me through?

Is there some way that God is calling me to be Simon of Cyrene, helping someone I may not even know to carry their cross?

 

By catholicevangelist

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

Who I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reflection:

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

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

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

By catholicevangelist