Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reach out to strangers

20Th Sunday of Ordinary Time year A:
I’ll freely admit I’m not a dog person.  I don’t think I really have ever been a dog person.  My brother Nick, on the other hand, has always loved dogs.  So, it’s not a genetic thing.  It’s not that I hate dogs, I’m just not a big fan.  But, I know there are people out there who are huge dog fans.  So when you hear Jesus sort of call this Canaanite woman a dog, you might think he’s being kind.  But, make no mistake: do not throw your food to the dogs is not a compliment. 
Now, I don’t so much think that Jesus himself is being harsh or racist.  Rather, I think that Jesus is doing a pretty good job of summarizing the thoughts and feelings of the local people at his time.  Remember, Jesus was from the chosen race.  God had chosen the people of Israel.  So, I’m sure there were many who did not welcome, value, or appreciate people from other races, backgrounds, and religions.  Even though Isaiah the prophet foretold of the foreigners coming to worship God, I’m sure many of the people at the time of Jesus did not welcome the foreigner or the stranger.  But, this woman’s response shows why Jesus is so different.
This woman gives Jesus homage, worship.  She pleads for help.  She has faith.  The result?  She receives the healing she is desperate to receive for her child. Woman, great is your faith.  You see, Jesus begins his conversation in the old format of race, background, and ethnic considerations.  He ends with a new look on things: woman, great is your faith.
I’m sure the people of Jesus’ time would have been quite shocked.  But, this wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus was shocking, this wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus speaks with foreigners, with women.  This wouldn’t be the last time that Jesus stretches out his hand and smashes the boundaries of gender, race, color, language. 
St. Paul carried on this important work of Jesus.  He says today: I was sent to the Gentiles.  This bothered a lot of people in the early Church.  There was a contingent of Jesus’ followers who stated that if a person wanted to be Christian, they first had to be circumcised, becoming part of the people of Israel.  St. Paul argued against that.  Christ is for all people.  Christ is for the children of Israel, but also for the Gentiles.
So, in Jesus’ time and in the first centuries of the Church there were many tensions in the community arising from differences based on language, background, race, etc.  Now, fast forward to our own day.  It sure is a good thing that in 2017 America we never have any problems with racism, hatred, or discrimination, right?  I mean, we have so evolved as a people that we are always ready to welcome the stranger, the person different from ourselves, right?
Unfortunately, I think we can all agree that we still don’t get this right.  As a nation, we constantly struggle with differences of race, language, background.  Sometimes it seems like such a huge problem that we will never be alive to see it fixed.  And you know what?  That might be correct.  Maybe we won’t see an end to racism in our lifetime; maybe we won’t see an end to hatred and violence.  But, we should all be willing to do our own little part.

This has been a tense couple of weeks in America.  This has been a tense few years in America.  I want to ask all of the parish to pray.  Pray for peace in our land, peace in the hearts of every man and woman in this great land.  Look at Jesus.  He healed this person’s daughter.  He reached out to her even though she was from a different race, different background.  If we are going to be Christians we need to be willing to do the same.  And if our own hearts need to change to become like Christ, then let’s pray for that too.  We might not see the end of racism in our world.  But, I pray that we see the end of prejudice and racism in the hearts of all Christ’s followers.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lord, save me!

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Today we get another demonstration of Jesus’ divine power.  Today we hear that Jesus came to the apostles, walking on water.  I don’t know if any of you have ever tried this, but it’s not too easy.  Although I can tell you that I have seen my friend Fr. Mark Gurtner walk on water before.  Or actually, his golf ball.  I can’t tell you how many times he hits the ball right at a pond, lake, or stream.  I will think he’s doomed, which is great for me, but then the ball just walks right on the water and ends up on land.  I’ve seen him do this hundreds of times.
But, for the rest of us, walking on water simply isn’t possible.  I wouldn’t advise anyone trying it.  And yet, here’s Jesus, walking on water.  It’s a marvelous and miraculous story.  It’s one that helps us to grow in our faith.  The apostles were witnesses to something amazing.  Their reaction to the event is quite believable.  The apostles were crying out in fear.  So all this tells you that Jesus’ walking on water was a miraculous display of his divine power.
That aspect of the story alone would make this story a great one to help us grow in our faith.  Put yourself in the boat, see Jesus walking toward you, let the story help you to realize that Christ is real, he’s God, he can do amazing things.  Using the story this way would help us to turn to him in our own difficulties.  I mean, he walked on water to get to the Apostles to help them out.  So, don’t be afraid to call out to Jesus when going through the storms of life.  He will come to you and help you out as well.
So, this story helps us to know that Jesus is God.  But, what about St. Peter?  I mean, Jesus walking on water is great, but he’s divine, he’s God.  Peter is certainly not that.  We know that Peter is purely human, a weak and sinful man.  And yet, he too is walking on the water.  Amazing.  Of course, he is only able to do it by the power of Christ, but still he’s able to do it.
I think this is really important for us.  It reminds us that we can really do amazing things.  In fact, we can do things that are impossible for human beings, but we can only do them by the power of Christ.
Peter had no business walking on water; and yet he did it because of the power of Christ.  I was thinking about our vocations in life.  If you stop and think about it, don’t these things seem too hard for mere mortals like us?  I’m a priest.  I’m dedicated to the Church and have promised to live a life of celibacy.  My job is to help everyone at St. Jude grow closer to Christ.  My job is to lead you all to heaven.  That’s a tall order.  What about married life?  A man and a woman entering into a covenant, united as one.  You are called to live every day of your life as a witness to love by giving yourself completely for your spouse and your family.  Doesn’t that seem like more than we are capable of doing.  Single people: called to embrace a life of holiness.  Living life in communion with God and others.  Building up the kingdom by your work, your words, your witness.  Doesn’t that seem like too much.
Yet, all of us have the courage to live out these vocations.  Why?  Because we have heard the voice of Christ: come follow me.  This is the same voice that spoke to Peter: come out of the boat.  Empowered by Christ, St. Peter walked on water.  Empowered by Christ, we can do amazing things in our own lives as well.
But, and I think this is really important, Peter began to sink.  Think about it this way.  Is it really all that unusual that Peter sank?  I mean, seriously, we should give the guy a break: he’s literally walking on water.  This is something way beyond his abilities.  So, I don’t think it’s shocking that he starts to sink.  Still, he does the best thing he can do in that situation: Lord, save me.
Friends, you and I are called to amazing things.  In fact, we are called to holiness, which is a vocation impossible on our own.  Each and every one of us is out of the boat and we are called to walk on that water.  But, if we start to sink.  If sin, sadness, difficulties of any kind start to overwhelm us, we really shouldn’t be that surprised.  A life of faith is an amazing thing beyond our natural abilities.  So, we shouldn’t be that surprised that we might feel like we are sinking sometimes.  That’s not the problem.  Yet, what do we do about it?  Lord, save me.  St. Peter gives a terrific example.

Give it a try.  It really works.  The start to the school year is always a stressful time.  I’ve been yelling out, “Lord save me” a lot this week.  Put your trust in Christ.  Call out to him when you feel like you’re sinking.  Jesus will have you back to walking on water in no time.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The pearl of great price

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time year A:
Today in the gospel Jesus continues to speak to us in parables.  These are engaging stories which help us to see the truth of Christian life.  I like this image of the pearl of great price.  This super valuable pearl is what the merchant had been looking for his whole life.  This merchant sells everything he owns because the pearl is worth everything.  He decides it is much better to have this pearl than everything else he owns.  Pretty extreme if you think about it, but also quite beautiful.  The kingdom of God is more valuable and beautiful than everything we have and everything we own.  It’s worth trading everything.
When I was a kid, I loved baseball cards.  I really liked collecting the pictures, but also reading the backs of the cards.  The backs of the cards had the statistics for the players.  Remember, this was way before Google, so if you wanted to know player statistics it was cards and the newspaper. 
Somehow or another I came into possession of a Don Mattingly card that I really liked.  Not only did I like it, but it was worth like 8 whole dollars.  For a 10-year-old kid, this was big money.  This card was my prized possession.  My friend John had a much bigger card collection than me, and we used to trade some cards.  He really wanted the Don Mattingly.  So, he would make certain offers and I would turn them down.  Finally, he made me the offer I couldn’t refuse.  He laid out about 10 different cards, many of whom were some of my favorite players.  Each of these cards were worth 1 dollar, so I decided to make the deal.  10 one-dollar cards for 1 eight-dollar card.  Right away, I thought I had made out well.  But, you know what?  I regretted that trade every day after.  Obviously, I still haven’t gotten over it yet…  I ended up convinced that I had traded my favorite card for a bunch of rags.  Those 10 mediocre cards never replaced that one great card.
I hope this story strikes home.  This is what the image of the pearl is all about.  The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, is that valuable card, that pearl of great price.  It’s more amazing and wonderful than any of us could possibly imagine. 
Deep down each one of us is longing for this heaven.  We are all made for God’s love, we are made to be with God forever.  We all have this desire: can you feel it?  Yet, how often do we end up trading in that pearl of great price for much lesser things?  How often do we trade Don Mattingly for a bunch of mediocrity?
We all do this, I’m sure.  The first way is obvious right: our sins.  Every time we choose sinfulness, selfishness over love and giving, we are trading the pearl for a bunch of rags.  Sins do not satisfy us.  They do not fill that deep longing that we have.  By choosing to sin, we trade away our inheritance for a bunch of nothing.
But, even good things could get in the way of the kingdom.  Those 10 cards I got were all fine.  The possessions of the merchant were all fine.  But, these things are nothing compared to the great prize.  Even good things can cause us to be led astray.  Things like our careers, our ambitions, the desires and goals we have for others.  None of these are bad, but we still need to ask ourselves if they are taking us away from the kingdom of God, the great pearl.

My advice, start with some reflection on the pearl of great price.  Start by reflecting on the great mystery of the kingdom of heaven.  By loving God, by being united with Christ, we will live with God in happy bliss for all eternity.  Does this sound like something you want?  It might be hard to give up our sin, even to give up good things that might lead us astray.  It’s tough to embrace self-denial.  But, it is definitely worth every penny.  It’s not even close.  I’ve regretted trading away Don Mattingly all these years.  But, if we trade away the pearl of great price we will regret it for all eternity.  So don’t be afraid to let go of things in this life.  The kingdom of heaven is worth it.