Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Cost of Being a Christian

In the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Simon Peter made his confession of faith that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus remarked that Peter did not figure out on his own who Jesus is, and neither did any other person tell him. Rather, Peter received the gift of faith from God the Father. And so do we. It is true that others may tell us who Jesus is, but faith is purely a gift.
Jesus gave Simon a new name- Peter- the Rock, and proceeded to give him the keys of the kingdom. In other words, Jesus made Simon Peter the head of the Apostles and gave him authority over the Church which Jesus would establish on the foundation of the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

Jesus gave Peter the authority in a manner which sounded extreme- whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Sounds like Peter can do whatever he wants. Right? But hold on- in today’s Gospel Jesus tells Peter to get behind me Satan. (We might have thought that Jesus implying the Canaanite woman was a dog was extreme. But now He calls His number one apostle Satan.) The word Satan is not only the name of the Devil, but literally means the Adversary in that the Devil is the Adversary against us all. Clearly then, Saint Peter’s authority is not without bounds. Rather there is some kind of limit. The limit is that Peter, and all those following after him, have to be in accord with God.

Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.When Peter was docile to the Holy Spirit and received the gift of faith, he was okay. But once he began thinking as a human being with regard to Jesus, he became an obstacle to the Mission of our Redeemer, which was to suffer and die.

It seems a bit odd that Jesus ordered His disciples not to tell anyone He was the Christ, since now we are in fact obligated to tell. But almost everyone of Jesus’ day misunderstood what the Messiah /or Christ was going to do. The common opinion was that the Christ would re-establish Israel as a political superpower and that His ministry would be filled with success after success.
Jesus rejected this kind of thinking so strenuously that He regarded it as an obstacle. So after acknowledging the the gift that Peter had received and conferring upon him a real share in God’s authority, Jesus also began to teach them about His upcoming passion and death, so that they could understand what it was going to mean to be the Christ. You know, today there are many people who go about thinking incorrect things about Jesus. A few years ago there was that book which speculated that Jesus was married. Another book, the fake Gospel of Judas (which was never written by Judas), claimed that Jesus committed suicide. Others have claimed that Jesus was a political revolutionary, others have said He was a social engineer. There are innumerable false opinions floating around. But Jesus is not interested in our false opinions, nor does He leave us to wallow in our ignorance. Certainly if we were following someone because they were a powerful preacher and miracle worker, and we expected them to be a victorious politician, and then they began to talk about how it was necessary for them to be killed. We might have felt uncomfortable also. But Jesus is just telling us how it is. He is not the Messiah by reason of great worldly success. He is the Messiah who suffered and died, but who rose again to new life.
Still, we must not roll our eyes at Peter because he rebuked Jesus. Many times we have done the same thing, getting angry at God because something did not turn out according to our wishes. Besides, Simon Peter might have been afraid. If all those bad things would happen to Jesus, what was going to happen to them? If there is any doubt, Jesus clears that up. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. The cross is not just for Jesus. Each and every one of us is called, is required to take up our cross daily. Carrying our cross is not optional, neither is it something that we can do when we have exhausted all means of being comfortable or in control.

Taking up our cross is a practical application of our Christian faith. And it is something we can practice daily. Each person’s cross can be different, but here are a few examples: using kind words when someone else is criticizing or insulting us; praying for someone who has really hurt us; enduring being taken for granted; being patient with others; accepting our limitations while trying to do our best; letting go of bitterness when we do not get our way; doing things for others without making deals for our benefit; offering up our physical pains for the conversion of those who do not have the gift of faith; holding our tongue when we want to criticize; speaking up for the truth even if we stand alone;— there are dozens of ways to shoulder our share of the burden.
It has been common for people to give as a reason for abandoning their responsibilities that they are in the process of "finding themselves." Jesus tells us exactly how to find ourselves: by dying for His sake. Bearing our daily cross is what it costs to be a disciple of Jesus and essential if we wish to enter into glory. And to refuse the cross is to become an obstacle to the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives. But by accepting the cross we share in the power and wisdom of God.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Feast of Saint Monica

Today is the feast of Saint Monica. She has a special place in my heart. First of all, Saint Monica was the first parish I served as a priest. It was a wonderful experience for me. Not only is Saint Monica a great parish with good people, but the priests I worked with were so kind to me. My pastor was a man who practiced charity in his actions each day. He was generous with the goods God had given him, and he was solicitous in paying attention to the people whom he was called to serve. Father taught me to be available to people, especially the sick and dying, because that was a crucial time for them and their families. Many people would remember how you treated them when their loved one was dying, and that might give them the courage to turn to the Lord and to the Church. When I was moved from Saint Monica, I was sad, not only to leave a parish I had grown to love, but because I would never again be able to serve under Father's guidance in that way. (It was not just him, it was also the other priests that were there also.)

Second of all, Saint Monica is special to me because of her particular life situation. Her husband was unfaithful to her and her son was unfaithful to the Lord, seeking the Truth in bizarre ways. Yet she never gave up praying, nor did she cut them off because of how they must have hurt her. In my family, as in many others, there are those who have fallen away from the practice of their Catholic faith. They are not evil people, but sometimes it hurts that we cannot all worship together in the way we were raised. Sometimes unfortunate things are said which are hurtful or at least confusing. But when I think of Saint Monica, her story gives me courage to continue to pray and to trust and to love. I am not the Lord, Jesus is the Lord and He can heal any wound and reconcile any division in His holy passion.

Third of all, although Saint Monica prayed hard to God to convert her son Augustine, although she never shrank from telling him the truth about his actions so that he might change, her heart was really not set on this world. She correctly saw her true homeland and her true goal to be heaven. And any remembrance of her in this life, she wanted to be during the Holy Mass, when we pray for the dead.

With God's help, we will also persevere in our prayers and someday get to meet both Saint Monica and her son Saint Augustine in the joys of heaven. I hope that she prays for me and my family too (not just my immediate family, but my spiritual family as well).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My First Hundred Mile Bike Ride a Success

Well, I made the whole hundred miles- my first century. It was a great experience, and I hope to do it again, even though there are some things I would do differently. In the next week or two I might go into more detail about the event, but here are some quick thoughts.
1 Thanks to Robert for giving my dad and me a ride to Wichita Falls and back. I really appreciate how Robert spent the race day with my dad and drove him around to see me as well as his own son Jack, who also completed his first century (great job, Jack!). Jack finished about 45 minutes to an hour before me.
2 Thanks to my dad for going there with me to see my first century. I have to say that in all the years that I marched in halftime shows, played in concerts, or directed high school bands, my parents and in fact my whole family has always supported me.
3 At the trade Expo that they had on Friday, it was amazing to see so many fit people. It seems like there is so much overweightness and obesity that it is almost normal to see abnormally large folk. But there it was unusual to see an overweight person.
4 I stopped at all the rest stops except the very first one. The volunteers there were awesome. Plenty to eat and drink, although I was so slow that I missed out on most of the cookies. I figured the only way I could make it was to eat and drink as much as possible. My legs never cramped, but for a while, they would not move fast at all. Since I am allergic to bananas, I think that my chemicals got out of balance.
5 My total time was about 8 hours and 15 minutes. I did not understand the timing clock at the end of the race, and I accidentally reset my bike computer about mile 45 or so, when my legs would not obey. I guess my fingers would not either. So I have no idea how much time it took me, purely from the point of "on the bike time," neither do I know my average speed for on the bike time. After resetting the computer, I had no idea where I was in reference to the end, except when I passed through what they call "Hell's Gate," which is around mile 60.
6 During the ride, I never once desired to quit or get on the sag wagon. Sometimes I did want to pull over and sit under a shade tree for awhile. But at those brief moments, there were no trees as far as I could see, so I kept pedaling.
7 My goals were three: to finish the hundred miles, to pedal at around 90 rpm the whole time, which I could not do for at least half of the race or more, and average 15mph while on the bike, which I missed too. But goal number one was accomplished, so hooray!
8 The organizers of this event did a great job and the whole thing was enjoyable. I cannot say that I like riding the bike in over 100 degree heat, but they made sure that I never had to go with an empty water bottle or be more than 5 miles from medical attention if I needed it.
9 I look forward to my next century. In the meantime, I am trying to get ready for a Triathlon (also my first) in September and an MS150 in October.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Faith in Christ is a Gift

The knowledge of the identity of Jesus as the Son of the Living God is not something which we can obtain through study or effort on our part. Rather, it is a gift from God, although we can dispose ourselves to receive it. We can wait patiently, begging our Lord to reveal Himself to us in an intimate manner, and trusting that He will do so. We can make acts of faith, trusting in the Church whom the Lord has established, sharing our faith with others. Then our knowledge will truly be that of the person of Jesus Christ and not merely in words.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Personal Note on Bicycling

Today is a departure from the usual format of homilies and reflections on the Gospel. But I wanted to share that this Saturday, I will be participating in my first century, that is, a 100 mile bike ride. Depending on my experiences, you may read about it next week. I am pretty sure that I have a hundred miles in my legs. The challenge will be to eat and drink and keep the body at a reasonable temperature.

While on the subject, in September I will be in my first triathlon also. The biking distance will be considerably less, around 18 miles. But there will be a half mile swim and a 5k run to go along with it. Then in October, I will be embarking on a 150 mile bike ride over two days. Then we shall see what to do after all that.

I would appreciate any prayers for my safety and successful completion of these goals. Also pray for the safety of all the other participants, and that the parishioners also remain healthy during the short times which I will be gone to complete these rides.

Anyway, later I will upload yesterday's homily. Tomorrow will be a short reflection on the Gospel for next Sunday. God Bless and take care.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

God is Really Good

The homily is on the same scripture that the last post was on. (The last post was an amended version of the bulletin article that appeared the same Sunday as this homily did). Anyway, here it is:

1. Throughout the world today, Catholics of every nation, language, and culture are hearing the same Scriptures, assisting at the same Mass, receiving the same Eucharist. Just to look at our parish should be enough to convince us that God has called us from every nation to be one people. The salvation won by Jesus Christ is for all people. Although we may have many different customs, we have one faith and one Lord, Jesus Christ.
2. Knowing that the promise of Salvation is intended for all people and that we are even called by Christ to evangelize others and bring them into our faith, we might be confused by the behavior of Jesus. We are used to seeing Jesus immediately having pity and healing those who asked Him for His help. But here in the Gospel, Jesus does not seem too willing to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman. It says that He did not answer her when she called out, even though she called Him the Son of David (a recognition of His kingship and authority). When she persisted, Jesus said It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs (Matthew 15:26). Now how would you feel if someone said that to you? It does not sound very nice, does it?
3. What was Jesus doing? We know that Jesus did not sin, but why did He answer in this rough manner. Why did Jesus ignore her? Did He think that she was crazy, or a troublemaker, or too needy to be bothered with? Or maybe Jesus knew her very well- better than she knew herself. It certainly would have been easy for Jesus to heal her daughter and send her off to leave Him alone. But instead He said that very offputting phrase: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Maybe the reason Jesus did it was to test her and to teach His apostles. What happeneed next was that the woman said Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters” And because of this response, she got that for which she had begged Jesus- the healing of her daughter. The reason for which Jesus gave was her great faith.
4. Really we ought to pay attention to what happened to this woman. The promise to open the kingdom of God for all people is fulfilled in Jesus. Relationship with God is no longer simply the result of blood relation. True, God still loves the Jewish people in a special way. Saint Paul reminds us that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). After all, Jesus is Jewish, Mary is Jewish, Joseph is Jewish, as is Peter and Paul and all the other Apostles. Yet the most important aspect of their relationship is not blood relationship to Jesus- being a descendant of Abraham, as important as that may be. Jesus said blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it (Luke 11:28). In the first reading we heard: all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer (Isaiah 56:6b-7). It is faith, and trust, and obedience to His word that makes blessed our relationship with God.
5. Observe the Canaanite woman. She cried to the Lord, and it seemed like He was not listening. Yet she did not give up, but rather persisted in her pleas. And when rebuffed, she did not give up even then, but rather humbled herself and continued to trust in God’s goodness. She that Jesus is Lord and King, she recognized that she needed Him above all things, and she trusted in the goodness of God and His abundant mercy.
6. How abundant is the Lord in His gift giving. When it rained this week, did it rain just on the houses of Catholics only? Or only on those who had been to confession in the last month? No! It rained upon all of us. The Canaanite woman knew that God’s love was so great that it was always spilling over. It was not in short supply, neither was it really just for the chosen few. God is not like a miser who does not use his resources for fear of them running out. Instead, God is like a Father, who is always giving His children so much that the table just spills over with food.
7. This is the kind of trust that Jesus is desiring. We may have an experience where God does not seem to be answering our prayers. But like the Canaanite woman, we should press on, trusting that He is indeed hearing us. Maybe we have received “no” as an answer. But that is no reason to imagine that God is not ready to give us that which is good. Even if we have sinned and fallen far away from the family to which we have been called, the Lord stands ready to give us His mercy, if we trust in Him. When we realize that our hopes can only be fulfilled in Jesus and turn to Him in faith and trust that the Lord's goodness is overflowing, then we will experience the abundance of His loving mercy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trusting in the Face of Rejection

In Jesus' day, it was common for many of the Jewish people to hold themselves aloof from others who were not the descendants of Abraham. They did not want to get themselves in a situation in which their religion would be compromised or in which others would think that they saw all religions as the same. They even went so far as to call the Gentiles "dogs" because they were ritually impure and could not offer sacrifices in the Temple. Yet throughout the Old Testament, it was promised that God would bless all people through the descendants of Abraham. Furthermore, God's kingdom was to be opened up for all peoples.

In the New Covenant, however, the relationship was not going to be based on bloodlines or family ties, but rather faith in Jesus. (Note that Jesus said Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it Luke 11:28). So Jesus tested the woman who desired the healing of her daughter. He said It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs (Matthew 15:26). Her response was Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters (Matthew 15:27) brought forth our Lord’s approval. One might say that she humbled herself before the Lord. After all, before the Almighty God, who is clean and worthy of anything? She might have acknowledged herself as lowly, which is pleasing to the Lord. Her statement revealed that she trusted that Jesus had the power to heal her daughter. Just like the animals can trust in the benevolence of good masters, so could anyone trust in the goodness of the Lord. His blessings and His love was always overflowing to others. Because she believed in Him and trusted in His goodness even in the face of seeming rejection, Jesus approved of her and healed her daughter.

Many times we pray for things- maybe a privilege, a healing, advice or help, and the answer does not seem to come. Or maybe it appears that the answer we get is negative and God is just not very interested in our plight. We should not give up. If we continue to cry out to God, He will help. Of course, sometimes the answer is not what we wanted, maybe it is "no." But it is always "because I love you and want to give you something better." With God we are not animals, we are His children.

Jesus seeks faith and trust.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid

1. In the ancient world, it was believed that if you saw God, you would die. What was it about God that frightened so much? Maybe it is because before the Lord, all our illusions about having power and importance are stripped away and all that remains is the truth of our utter dependence on His love and mercy.
2. Many people are afraid to meet Jesus. It is easy to say that we love Him and believe that He is Lord, but deep down we would like Him to stay a safe distance away and not get too close. I suppose that is related to the sin of Adam and Eve, and how they hid themselves in the Garden after they had sinned because they were afraid.
3. Maybe it is because we look for God in the wrong way. Many times, we only expect God to speak in the earthquake, in the hurricane, in the explosion, in the mighty wind. But as Elijah realized, God was not speaking to Him in those ways. Rather, it was in the tiny whispering sound.
4. In the silence, Elijah recognized that God was already there. It is not that God could not speak in the mighty wind and rain. It is just that most of the time, God speaks in the tiny whispering voice that we must really listen for. God’s messages usually do not come in a blast, but quietly to those who are actually listening. We have to get quiet, we have to wait in silence and really listen, and then we will hear God.
5. In the Gospel account, we learn of another theophany- that is another manifestation of God, this time in the person of Jesus Christ. Psalm 77 says The waters saw you, God; the waters saw you and lashed about, trembled even to their depths. The clouds poured down their rains; the thunderheads rumbled; your arrows flashed back and forth. ...Through the sea was your path; your way, through the mighty waters, though your footsteps were unseen. And in Job: the Lord alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the crests of the sea. In fulfillment of these scriptures, our Lord walked across the waters. Although the sea and wind recognized that Jesus was God, the disciples had a different interpretation. They thought He was a ghost. And so to reassure them, Jesus called out take courage, it is I, do not be afraid. These words are meant to more than reassure the disciples, they are intended to let us know what is really happening, just in case we do not understand what the water is doing. He said it is I. Another way of saying it I AM, which in Hebrew is the name of God. Jesus frames His self identification with the words Take courage... do not be afraid. Whenever the Lord gave a message through an angel or directly, He would always say this- do not be afraid. God does not desire to terrify us, but to be with us.
6. When the Lord called him, Peter was able to do what Jesus did as long as He focused on the Lord. When Peter began to fear the wind and the waves however, he began to slip. At least he had the presence of mind to call to the Lord, who was already reaching out to rescue him. But Jesus could not help asking Peter why did you doubt? Why did he doubt? Jesus was right there.
7. When Elijah encountered God in this manner, he was still afraid and he hid his face. But nevertheless, he went and stood at the entrance of the cave, so that he could hear God. And what did God say? Elijah, what are you doing here? In other words, why are you hiding- why are you afraid?
8. That is a question for us also? Why do we doubt? Why are we afraid? And we are afraid. We put off going to confession, we hold back our tithe when the collection basket goes by and give something less, we resist the call to the priesthood or religious life, we hold on to grudges, we skip chances to grow intellectually in our faith, we refuse to let God choose how many children we have, and on and on. We could practically walk on water if we focused on the Lord. Instead we sink because of our fear. The worst part is that we do not get to know the One who has chosen us to be in heaven forever. Even if we fear and doubt and sink, we should imitate Saint Peter in calling on the Lord. But really, we should not be afraid.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Prayer Without Words

Many times, we expect God to drop something on our heads if He wants us to pay attention. Or maybe, we only look for Him in momentous and violent events - like earthquakes or hurricanes. In fact, God is always present at every instance, even the moments in which we would most like Him to be far away and ignoring us. And when God speaks to us, it is usually not in the howling wind but in the tiny whispering sound, sometimes even in prayers without words, in which the Lord speaks to us in a delicate manner that only silence and stillness can hear. (see 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Unconditional Love

1. The other day, there was a comic in which a young girl was sitting on a log pulling the petals off of a flower saying he loves me, he loves me not. When she got to the last petal, she realized that was not going to get the answer she wanted, so she told the boy sitting next too her quick, give me another flower! It seems silly to trust the number of petals on a flower to indicate whether or not someone loves us. What do the number of petals on a flower have to do with someone’s love for us?
2. When we try to determine whether or not God loves us, however, we can make equally silly mistakes. We might look at our state in life, the disasters that are happening to us, the disappointment and sorrows, and conclude that God just does not care for us. Of course, part of the reason we do that is because we know that God is God over all things in the universe. And so we conclude that if life is not pleasant for us, it is because God is making happen that way. But we do not see the whole picture of what is happening, nor do we take into account the freedom which the Lord has given to us and everyone else. Many of the bad things that happen are the result of our own sin, or the sins of others, or just an accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
3. To top it all off, many times it appears that good things are happening to people who are bad, even as a result of their sin. It is very easy to get a “poor me” attitude. Or if we do not blame God for the sorrow we experience, we despair and are not very hopeful. Maybe we even calculate that we are not lovable because of the problems that we have or have caused.
4. Saint Paul reminds us, however, that God’s love is not like that. We cannot be separated from God’s love by violence, sorrow, pain, or any natural disaster. Other people cannot take God’s love away from us. Neither can the demons, or for that matter any other creature. God’s love for us is unconditional, and its proof is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, we might ourselves be guilty of not loving God, and that indeed may result in much sorrow on its own. But God’s love is sure. And even if we experience problems or sorrows, in these we are victorious, just as Jesus gained victory in His Holy Cross.