Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't worry... seriously don't

8th Sunday of OT year A 2017:
I think you just have to love the message from today’s gospel: don’t worry.  And yet, if we are honest, this is one of those easy to hear, hard to live kind of messages.  And we all know it’s 100% true.  Not one of us has ever been able to help anything by worrying.  Jesus says that we cannot add a single moment to our life span by worrying.  So it’s very counterproductive.
But, I meet so many people who are really struggling with worry, with fears, with anxieties.  Believe me, I’m not exempt either.  This was a really crazy week for me.  I found myself worried and anxious about many things.  I’ve experienced anxieties throughout my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and it’s great.  But, I feel a lot of pressure sometimes too.  I mean, my job is basically to get people to heaven.  So, I really, really don’t want to mess that up.  Plus my job entails many different kinds of things: I might be bringing communion to someone in the hospital, then baptizing a baby, celebrating a funeral, meeting with a couple preparing for marriage, attending a school board meeting.  So it’s easy for this to lead to anxiety for me, because there are just a lot of things in the air, and lots of them can be quite heavy and serious.
So, I don’t pretend to be an expert.  I’m not a mental health counselor.  If you have serious anxiety you really might consider some counseling.   But, I thought I would just share with you some of the techniques I’ve learned over the years to deal with anxiety.  Also, at this point I should say: the rest of this homily is only for people who face fears, anxieties, struggles, and difficulties in your life.  But, if you never face these things, everything is smooth, easy, peaceful, and you never worry… feel free to take a little nap, we’ll be back in a moment.
First, learn right from Jesus.  Toward the end of this gospel he says: seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  So, relationship with God is primary.  Having him for a rock really makes it possible to have something to grab onto when life is crazy.  We all know this instinctively, but it helps to be reminded.  Yet, if we aren’t praying, we won’t have that relationship, that rock that we need.  You know, Lent is starting Wednesday.  Take up some daily prayer, scripture, or rosary, something that you like.  Open your heart God, and he will help you with those things that cause worry.
Second, it’s so important to externalize your fears and anxieties.  I find that if I keep the anxious thoughts bottled up inside my mind and heart I never find peace.  But, if I can get those thoughts into the outside world, they seem much less scary.  I like making lists.  If I’m anxious about having too much to get done, I just write down everything and do those things one at a time.  Much less scary when they are on paper.  Also, let’s say you’re are being affected by some negative thoughts or fears, write them down in a journal.  Then read it out loud.  Believe me, nothing is as scary when it’s down on paper.  But, if those thoughts are kept bottled up inside, they become unbearable.
Third, and this is similar to externalizing, connect with someone.  This sounds so basic, that I’m always surprised how often we simply forget to do this.  Not one of us can make it through this life alone.  We need friends and family to help us with our struggles.  Yet, how often are we hesitant to share our anxieties and fears with others?  We might think: oh, he will think less of me, or she will make fun of me…  But, that doesn’t happen.  Talking out your fears and getting some great feedback from a friend will totally change your connection to stress and anxiety.
Fourth, try to add some mindfulness.  Now, you might all be ready to run me out of here.  What is a Catholic priest doing talking about mindfulness meditation?  Isn’t that New Age or Buddhist?  Well there are new age people and Buddhists who practice mindfulness, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it.  The also eat and sleep and we don’t say there is anything wrong with that right?  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of becoming aware of the thoughts and feelings that are present inside of us.  Normally we just let our thoughts and feelings run rampant.  When we are feeling afraid and anxious this can actually be quite detrimental.  Mindfulness helps us to connect with reality, to step above our thoughts and to find that we are actually in charge of our thoughts and not prisoners of our thoughts.  If you think I’m a whacko right now, just go do a search for Catholic Mindfulness and you will see a number of great articles that support being mindful in Catholic spirituality.  I find that practicing this mindfulness has really helped me to see when my thoughts and feelings are getting carried away.  I simply pause, take note that my thoughts are going crazy, I lift my mind up to Jesus, and I try to live in the present moment.

Those are my 4 tips for anxiety.  First, connect with God more every day.  Second, externalize your fears with a journal.  Third, connect with a close friend or spouse.  Fourth, practice being aware of your thoughts and feelings.  These things have really helped me to put into practice the command of Jesus today: don’t worry.  This is a phrase easy to say, but hard to live.  Let’s pray that with God’s grace, we can all trust him more and be free from fear and anxiety.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
Today is week three of listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  Remember we started with the beatitudes, then last week Jesus called us to be salt of the earth and a light to the world.  Now, today we get into some of the real down to earth teachings of Jesus.  These are teachings that we have all heard before.  And they are quite challenging.
I don’t know about you, but there is almost too much in here right?  Jesus didn’t come to do away with the law.  You shall not kill, or even be angry.  Settle grievances.  Don’t look with lust.  On and on.  It’s a pretty long reading and there is a lot covered in this reading. 
That is probably why the church gives us the option of reading a shorter version.  Now, I don’t like reading the shorter versions here at Mass.  I think that we should hear the whole message.  But, I really had to laugh a little bit this week when I noticed just what gets cut out in the shorter version.  They leave out Jesus’ very controversial message about divorce and remarriage.  So, just imagine how many churches this week decided to read the shorter version as a way of just avoiding the controversy.  But, not us here at St. Jude.  Actually, I thought it might be important to discuss just what we do believe about divorce, remarriage, and annulment.
First of all, let’s all just admit that we have all been touched by divorce at some point.  Maybe our own family, maybe our own marriages, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends.  I’m willing to bet the farm that everyone here has experienced someone who has gone through divorce.  And can’t we all say universally that it’s a bad thing?  I mean nobody gets divorced because their life is so great and there is no pain, anguish, or turmoil.  So, the first thing I want to say about divorce is that the reason that Jesus is against divorce is because he wants us to experience so much more.  He doesn’t want people to go through the negative experience of divorce, the pain and turmoil that it can bring.  Doesn’t that resonate in our hearts: don’t we want marriages that last till death, full of love and support?  Of course.  I prepared lots of couples for marriage.  So far none of them have told me: I’m really looking forward to a few rocky years of marriage ending in a nasty divorce.  No… They all want happiness, love, peace.  Jesus isn’t simply against divorce.  He is in favor of happy, healthy, and holy marriages.  So, let’s all take some time to pray for marriages this week.  If you struggle in your marriage, work right now to fix it.  Give me call, we can sit down and talk.  Seriously.
The catechism states that there are certain circumstances where civil divorce might be chosen.  But, it’s always something to be avoided.  Still it’s important to remember that a civil divorce does not end marriage in God’s eyes.  Even if a couple experiences a civil divorce, they are expected to be faithful to their marriage vows.  Being faithful to the vows means that a person who is divorced shouldn’t enter a new marriage.  People will ask me about communion.  People who have gone through a divorce can still receive communion and confession.  But, if a divorced person decided to enter a new civil marriage, that person is not able to receive the sacraments, unless they can receive and annulment of their previous marriage.
But, what are annulments?  Isn’t that a Catholic divorce?  I find that there is a lot of confusion out there about annulments.  As you may know, that’s one of my extra jobs is to be a judge in the tribunal.  So, it’s my job to judge these marriage cases and declare whether or not a marriage is valid.  So what is an annulment?  Annulment does not change a marriage, it doesn’t separate spouses who are united in marriage.  But, it evaluates the condition of the marriage to determine if the marriage was valid from the beginning. 
The Church recognizes that marriage is not a simple decision.  To enter marriage, a couple must freely commit the intellect and the will to the covenant of marriage.  There are 3 ways a marriage can go wrong from the start.  1, illegal marriages.  2, simulation of marriage.  3, problem with consent.  If any of these things are present, the judge in the tribunal can declare that the marriage in question is invalid, so the parties of that marriage are free to enter a new marriage.  But, if the judge cannot make that determination, then he would rule that the marriage is valid, and Jesus’ command about not entering into a new marriage would still be in place.
Someone might say to me, the Church’s teaching about marriage and divorce is not very loving.  My response is that first of all this teaching does not come from the Church per se, it comes straight from Jesus.  And, we all certainly know that Jesus is loving right?  So, this command has to be loving.  We always have to remember that Jesus wants what is best for us, even if it’s not the easiest thing for us.

So, if this teaching of Jesus strikes us as tough, bring it to prayer.  Ask Jesus to show the way to the love and peace that he wants to give us.  In our modern day, these words are controversial and edgy.  But, Jesus wants more for us.  He wants to take us to a new place.  So, let’s remember to pray for marriages, for couples preparing for marriage, for couples in difficult marriages, for people who have experienced divorce.  Let’s pray for all of us, that we might hear the truth in Christ’s words, and have the courage to share this truth with the world.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blessed are we

4th Sunday of OT Year A:
Today, Jesus sits down to teach us.  Jesus is the new Moses.  He is on the mountain.  The gospel says that his disciples came to him.  So, last week we reflected on being called to be his disciples and how we can help others hear the voice of Jesus.  But, today we get to hear that voice directly.  And what’s the first word out of his mouth: blessed.
We normally call this passage the beatitudes, because of the Latin word beatus, which is the word used in this passage.  This is a very popular passage.  It is used often at funerals and weddings.  I’m not sure if we have all of these memorized, but just about anyone could probably give us a few of the beatitudes.  But, what part of the message sticks out for you?  Normally, I hear these passages as a list of attributes or actions that I’m supposed to do, kind of like the 10 Commandments.  However, I tried to focus instead on the results.  Jesus says we will be blessed.
This is an interesting word.  Blessed means happy, fortunate, lucky, chosen.  When was the last time you really felt luck or fortunate?  When I was a kid I used to collect baseball cards.  One day I went to the baseball card shop in Southtown mall (remember when there was actually a southtown mall?).  I bought a couple packs of cards.  While opening one pack I discovered this super rare Frank Thomas card that was worth like 50$.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was so lucky.  I can still remember to this day the feeling of getting so lucky, so fortunate. 
When was the last time you felt so fortunate?  Maybe a check in the mail.  Maybe a promotion at work.  Maybe a good grade on a test.  How about the time you realized the gift that God wants to give you?  Today I think we should all stop to appreciate just how fortunate we are to have Jesus in our lives.
Listen again to this impressive list:
·      Theirs is the kingdom of heaven
·      They will be comforted
·      They will inherit the land
·      They will be satisfied
·      They will be shown mercy
·      They will see God
·      They will be called children of God
·      Your reward will be great in heaven.
Now, when I was a kid I was pretty excited about that dumb baseball card (I just looked it up, it’s worth like $5 now…).  And yet, by being disciples of Jesus he promises: mercy, land, heaven, comfort.  What an impressive list.
Now, make no mistake, being a follower of Jesus is no simple task: poor in spirit, humble, seeking righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, even persecutions.  But, when you hold these up to the rewards, how blessed are we indeed.  We are lucky, fortunate, chosen, blessed.
I think that reflecting on this list can really be helpful.  By remembering that all of this is really “Good News.”  We can renew our sense of joy for the gospel.  And believe me, we all need that joy.  Life can be tough.  We can face sickness, financial difficulties, the loss of a loved one, tensions, stress and anxiety.  And yet, a Christian who is mindful of the great promises of Christ, will always be filled with joy, even in tough times.

See if you can spend some time this week with this gospel.  Listen again to the words of Jesus.  I know we have all heard this passage a million times.  But, let it hit you all over brand new.  These are the first words of Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  This is the very first message he wants to give to each one of us.  We are blessed, we are fortunate, we are lucky.  We have found the Christ.  No matter what we face in life, this good news will fill us with joy.