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. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Become a fisherman...

Third Sunday of OT year A 2017:
For some reason, I’ve never been much in to fishing.  Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh fish.  I especially like a good blue gill fish fry.  But, fishing has never been one of my past times.  I think it’s the whole hook thing with the worm and then if you catch a fish, you have a gross fish on your line and you have to deal with it…  But, that doesn’t stop people from trying to talk me into fishing.  Maybe it seems like I have the fishermen’s disposition.  John Offerle, our business manager, is always trying to talk me into ice fishing.  Sorry John, no such luck.  I remember when I was home one summer from seminary, my brother even tried to talk me into fishing, and he got all theological.  “Hey Jake, let’s go fishing.”  I said, no thanks.  He responded, “as a priest you need to be a fisher of men, so you better figure out how to fish.”  I thought that was a good try, but I still wasn’t interested.
Fishers of Men.  That’s what Jesus called the disciples.  He called them to be his followers, but also to be the ones that would help him carry out his own mission as being a fisherman.  Listen again to the message of Jesus, it has two parts: come follow me, I will make you fishers. 
But, it’s important for us to see this story as our story too.  Sure, this event took place a long time ago, when Jesus spoke to some specific people.  But, Jesus has never stopped calling people to follow him.  He approaches us all and asks us the same question: come follow me.  Hopefully every one of us here has heard this call from Jesus, the call to follow him.  I mean, isn’t that why we are here at Mass?  We have heard his voice, we believe he is the son of God and we want to be his followers, his disciples.  But, don’t forget about the second part of the message: I will make you fishers.  You see, it’s important to realize that we are not only called to follow Jesus, we are also called to attract more people to follow Jesus as well.  I mean, think about how you heard about Jesus for the first time: maybe your parents, a teacher, a friend, a priest, whatever, someone was a fishermen who helped to pull you into Jesus.  Now it’s our turn.
So, let’s use the fisherman analogy to help us see how we are supposed to attract people to Jesus.  Even though I’m not a fisherman myself, I think I know some of the basics.  First, you have to get near the fish.  No matter how hard you try, you won’t catch a fish in the parking lot.  Why?  There are no fish out there.  Rather, you have to get out to the streams, the lakes, the oceans.  Likewise, we won’t be able to attract new people to Christ if we are not out there in the public.  Now, I know this makes many of us nervous.  We might not feel comfortable telling other people about our faith out in the world.  But, the best thing we can do is to live our Christian calling with joy and enthusiasm.  Then if someone asks why we are so happy, we can just refer them to our faith in Christ.  I’m not saying everyone needs to stand on the corner with a bullhorn.  But, don’t be afraid to be a Christian out in public.
Number 2, fishermen need good bait.  They need something that will attract the fish.  Same is true for us.  We need something good to say about Jesus, about our faith, about our church.  And, as the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  What do you think will be more effective: hey if you don’t believe in Jesus you will go straight to hell; or, hey I don’t know if you believe in Jesus or not, but I do and I believe that he can lead me to everlasting life, which sounds pretty amazing.  I can’t imagine that Jesus came off as being harsh or condemning to the apostles today.  They left everything for him, it must have been a pretty inspirational encounter.
Finally, after a fisherman catches a fish, he has to take care of it.  Now here is where the analogy breaks down a little bit, because we are don’t clean and fry new believers, thanks be to God.  But, I do think we have a responsibility to take care of people after we have them hooked on the faith.  We should have good follow up, especially with people who are new to the faith.  What about new parishioners too?  Look around you, are there people you don’t recognize?  Why not go up to them and talk to them after mass?  Introduce yourself, offer to support them in prayer.  A good fisherman takes care of the fish after he catches them.  We need to care for each other now that we have been brought to Christ.

So, I don’t see myself getting into the business of fishing.  But, all of us are called to be fishers of men and women.  Using this analogy, let’s get out there and attract more people to Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Called to be holy

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2017:
I once heard a quote from Michelangelo about his famous statue, David.  Someone asked him how he made such an impressive statue, and he said, “easy, the statue was inside the marble before I worked on it, I just had to chip away the stone that wasn’t David.”  Now, I was also reading today on the internet that he didn’t really say that, but let’s just say for argument that he did.  The statue was already there inside the marble, he just had to chip off the extra.
I think that is a good way to look at our lives as Christians.  We already have this identity, this calling, it’s just up to us to live it out.  I think we all know that instinctively don’t we?  I mean, I know that God is calling me to goodness, to kindness, to be loving and caring.  I know that I’m expected to follow the commandments of Jesus, to live my life just as he lived his life.  We all know this instinctively, but what about chipping off the extra?
I take some comfort in knowing that this is not a new problem.  In fact, St. Paul was dealing with it about 2000 years ago with his community in Corinth.  Today’s second reading is the very beginning of the letter to St. Paul.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the letter, actually.  I had a great professor for St. Paul’s letters when I was in seminary, he taught us to read the opening of each letter very carefully, because Paul has a tendency to explain his focus in the introduction.  I think that this very short little introduction does a great job of introducing Paul’s whole letter.  But, it also does a great job of introducing an important aspect of Christian living.
Paul starts by saying who he is: Paul, called to be an apostle.  But, who called him to be an apostle: by the will of God.  So, Paul did not decide to be an apostle.  Rather, he is following God’s will.  God decided that Paul should be an apostle; Paul, is just living out that calling.  What about the people?  Paul says, “to the Church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.”  Now, this is a little bit sloppy in the translation.  What Paul is doing there is actually quite simple.  He says, I’m writing to the people of the Church.  These people, Paul says, have already been made holy by Christ, and now they are called to be holy. 
During the rest of the letter, Paul has a number of problems to address with the community.  But, it all begins with God’s work.  God has already made them holy.  God has sanctified them through the power of the sacraments, especially baptism and the Holy Eucharist.  Paul writes to them to correct their behavior because their behavior is not in keeping with who they are as Christians.  The same might be true for us.
On the day of our baptism, God made us holy.  He changed us forever.  We have been marked with a seal that cannot be removed.  He touched us, made us holy.  Now, the rest of our lives is all about living out that holiness.  Just like that beautiful statue in the marble.  It was already in there, the artist just removed what didn’t belong.  We are already holy because we have been touched by God.  Now, it’s up to us to figure out what doesn’t belong.  We have been made holy by Christ, now we are called to be holy, to live holy lives.
We will never be able to do that without God’s help.  We need prayer.  We need the guidance of the Bible.  We need the forgiveness of our sins in confession.  We need God’s presence in Holy Communion.  Inside of each one of us, there is a beautiful saint just waiting to be carved out.  God is the sculptor who wants to transform us into his beautiful creation.  If only we are willing to let him work. 

So, echoing the words of St. Paul.  Dear people of St. Jude, you have been made holy by Christ Jesus, and you are called to be holy.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.