Monday, September 25, 2017

Seek the Lord while he may be found, 25th Sunday, September 24, 2017, Cycle A


I’d like to start off with a short hymn. Please join me if it’s familiar to you.



Amazing Grace how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me.   

I once was lost but now am found. 

Was blind but now I see.



This is one of the most famous Christian hymns and was composed by John Newton.  John was an Anglican minister, but his early life was not what you would have expected. In the mid 1700’s John Newton was a notorious slave trader. John lived a life of immorality, but in his own words, “made it a study to seduce and tempt others to a life of debauchery”.   John’s mother taught him Scripture at an early age, but she died when he was seven.  His father was a merchant navy captain and by the time he was eleven John traveled the sea with him.



On one of the journey’s a huge storm had raged for 11 days.  The ship was battered and one side was almost completely destroyed. John was so exhausted that he had to strap himself to the helm to keep awake.  For eleven hours he fought the raging storm and had much time to think about. His life was a wreck that was going down like the ship in the storm.  He recalled a Scripture that from Proverbs:



But since you refuse to listen when I call

and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,

I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;

Then they will call to me but I will not answer.



John felt he was beyond hope and being saved.



As I prepared the homily for today the beginning of first reading stood out to me:



Seek the LORD while he may be found,

Call him while he is near. 

Let the scoundrel forsake his way,

and the wicked his thoughts:

let him turn to the LORD for mercy;

To our God, who is generous and forgiving.



Isaiah’s prophesy was to call the lost sheep of Israel back into a relationship with Him.  God’s response was one of mercy and forgiveness and not of vengeance for their misdeeds.



Are we really trying to seek the Lord?  I suspect so, because you are all here.  But we all know people who are not.   Many of them are our own family, friends, and co-workers.   How can we help them to seek the Lord?  It may be hard to do for some of us.   We may have known them for a long time and think they are beyond hope.  We may have a strained relationship with them.   Our thoughts may be like the first workers in the vineyard who answered the call and toiled the longest.   We deserve our compensation, but why should someone living a sinful life for years receive the same reward as we do?  This seems unjust in our human way of thinking.



But as we heard in Isaiah:



For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.



God generously offers his grace of mercy and forgiveness to those who seek him.  Even to those who have lived are sinful lives and seek him very late in their life.   This can be very hard for us to understand, but its’ Gods way.   



How can we be instruments of God’s love and mercy?  First we can continue to seek the Lord ourselves and live following his ways. Second, we can invite others to seek a relationship with God.  One good way to start is to pray for those who don’t have that relationship.  For some that may be the only thing we can do.   We may not be able to invite others due to strain in relationship we may have with them. But God can place others in their lives who can do so and we can pray for that to happen.

 

If we have a good relationship with them we can invite and welcome to begin to seek the Lord through the sacraments.  This may be through RCIA or Welcoming Catholic Home that we have going on in the parish.  It could be as simple as inviting them to attend Mass with us. The Sacraments provide the opportunity to directly encounter Jesus to provide strength and healing.  We can be God’s instruments of mercy and forgiveness to invite others to work in the vineyard.



Returning to John Newton’s battle at sea it seemed he was beyond saving.  But as the storm raged John’s thoughts turned to Christ and he transformed his life. John turned to Bible Study, prayer, and Christian reading and He tried to be a Christian example to the sailors and slaves on ship.  He left slave-trading and later felt a call to ministry where he preach of Gospel of Christ for over 42 years in Olney, England.  There he composed many hymns over the years to support his services, one them being, “Amazing Grace”. 



So as we continue with to receive the Eucharist continue to seek the Lord, and help others to do so as well.  Regardless of when we turn to the Lord or the sins we’ve committed, God will be generous in his mercy and forgiveness. God’s grace is abundantly offered to all who seek the Lord. 








Monday, June 5, 2017

Pentecost - Lord send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.


Today’s Feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.   After Christmas and Easter, its next most important Feast of the Church.  It may not seem like it because we don’t have all the festivities that occur at these other feasts.  Pentecost gives us an opportunity to focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit and the mission we are sent on as disciples of Jesus.  The Psalm today sums up the mission:   Lord send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

In the Gospel Jesus sends his disciples out to the world to spread God’s love.  It didn’t sound like they were ready to go on this mission as they were hiding in a room locked away in fear of the Jews.   By returning Jesus fulfilled a promise he made.  He told them they would see him again and that he would give them an Advocate to be with them.  Jesus offers them his peace, and their fear is turned into joy.   Jesus then breathes the Holy Spirit on them.  This is reminiscent of God breathing life in the nostril of Adam to create man.  Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples so they can re-create mankind by making disciples of Jesus who will become children of God.  The disciples are given the power to extend God’s mercy, freeing mankind from the power of sin.  What another word for God’s Mercy? Love!

In Acts the Holy Spirit comes in a more dramatic way.  Jews from around the world are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This was a Jewish harvest celebration. Jews from around the world would typically gather for this feast.   A strong wind fills the place where they were gathered and tongues of fire came to rest on the disciples. This gave them the ability to speak many languages to people of many nations.   The gift of tongues enabled the Church to spread to Jews all over the world. 

St. Paul’s letter tells us the Spirit is given in different ways to each individual.   These different gifts provided the ability for the spread of the Church beyond the Jews to Gentiles.   Even though there are many different gifts of the Spirit, they’re all given to build up one Body of Christ. 

Most of us here have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation.   Does this mean we’ve all been given the gifts of tongues to speak in other languages?  We have a growing immigrant and refugee population in central Indiana, but many of us don’t encounter people who speak a language other than English.  But we do have opportunities to speak the language of love by being Christ to others. We may do so by witnessing the joy that Christ brings to us in being his disciples.  Most likely this will be by extending acts of charity to others who are most in need.

I’d like to share an example of the Holy Spirit at work in the Kairos prison ministry that I’ve served in. To be effective I’ve learned that listening and being present to others is the most effective way to be a witness of Christ. Kairos is a four-day retreat very much like a Christ Renews His Parish where the Gospel and personal witnesses are shared with participants.  This is the first exposure to Christ for the majority of those who attend.   On the first day of the retreat I was paired up with an inmate, Bob, who really didn’t want to be there.   Bob put up a wall to prevent anyone from getting close to him.  I didn’t pressure him to participate, but daily I’d tell him I was glad he came and happy to see him.    After 3 days he finally opened up and started sharing with members of our table.    Bob was about 40 years old and said this was the first time in his life that kindness was shown to him without expecting something from him in return. He also found it hard to believe that anyone would give up four days of their own time to be with guys in a prison without being compensated.  By the end of the weekend Bob was so moved he agreed to continue with the Kairos.  Bob eventually become a Christian and a leader within the Kairos ministry inside the prison. This transformation was only possible through the Holy Spirit’s help.

So where are opportunities in your life to share your witness of Christ by using the gifts of the Holy Spirit?  It may be closer than you think if you’re open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  It may be with a co-worker, a friend, a relative, or maybe the homeless person you see on your way to lunch. It could be spending ten minutes listening to someone who seems troubled or could be as simple as looking at someone who is down and smiling at them. A simple prayer to help keep you aware is: “Come Holy Spirit”.    The Holy Spirit can provide the power to do some things that you never thought possible.   So remember to pray the simple prayer daily to be open to the Spirit so that you can help the Lord to renew the face of the earth.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter, Do not let your hearts be troubled, have faith in me.

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples just before the last supper.  Jesus has been telling his disciples that he was going to suffer and be killed, and they weren’t ready to accept this.   They were disturbed by this and didn’t want to believe him.  They thought he was going to be a Messiah who would be a strong warrior who would rescue them from the rule of the Romans.  They weren’t ready for a suffering servant who would die in order to save all of us.  If you had followed someone for three years expecting to be freed from tyrannical rule, wouldn’t you be discouraged & frightened?
            Jesus knows this and tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You have faith in God; have faith also in me”.   Jesus wanted to give his disciples some hope to hold on to knowing that his death was near and they’d all be facing persecution as well.   He tells them something quite different from all who have come before him. He asks them to have faith in Him. Those who came before him: Abraham, Moses, and Jeremiah, all spoke of having faith in God and to follow God’s ways.   But none of them ask to have faith in them.   Jesus is different, because He is God.  He his human like each of us, but through his divine nature he reveals God the Father.  Jesus tells his disciples that there will be a place for them in His Father’s house and the he would be coming back for them.  Jesus was trying to give them a message of hope to carry them through the troubling times they would be facing.  
We all have times of trouble that we face.  When we struggle it’s good to recall these words of Jesus to not be troubled and to have faith in Him.  He understands our struggles, having suffered tremendous challenges himself.   When we are faced with challenges we can get overwhelmed with the present moment.   But the time we spend on earth is only a small fraction compared to our time we will spend in the Father’s house with Jesus for all eternity.  If we focus on the hope that Jesus offers, it can help carry us through the most challenging times.
Even though the disciples had been with Jesus for three years, they still didn’t know who he or the Father was. Jesus had been revealing the Father through His miraculous works.  He fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish.  He healed the sick: curing the leper, the blind man, the crippled and dumb mute.    He cast out demons from a possessed man.   He saved the life of the woman accused of adultery. He restored life to the centurion’s daughter and Lazarus.   Jesus revealed the Father by bringing a little bit of heaven to this world.  He did all this through the Father who dwells in him. So He was probably a little frustrated with Philip’s response to show them the Father.  Jesus tells them the way to the Father: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
He then tells the disciples something unbelievable:  Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater than these because I am going to the Father.    This must have been stunning to them.  How could these disciples do even greater things than Jesus did?  This seems impossible on their own!  But with the help of the Holy Spirit they’d be able to do miraculous things. Jesus was preparing them for his return to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
            Is it possible for us to do even greater things than Jesus did? Can you possibly imagine healing the sick, raising the dead and feeding thousands?   I think it’s possible.   I’m going to tell a story similar to first reading in Acts, but changing the time, place, and people to illustrate how we can do even greater things than Jesus did. A few years ago some people from the parish complained to our pastor that the people of Johnson County were being neglected in the distribution of food.   So he decided to appoint someone to take care of this so he could continue to dedicate himself God’s word and prayer. So Mark, Jerry, Dan, Tammy, and Rob took on the task to start a food pantry.  How would this pantry be supplied? Through of all the parish members’ generous donations of food and money to support the pantry.   And now seven years later we have a food pantry that has served thousands of people just like Jesus did.  I just told this story Friday to the men and women in Johnson County jail to illustrate how we are today doing greater things than Jesus.   I let them know that it’s all possible due through the Holy Spirit that empowered the Baptized faithful do greater works than Jesus.

If you just think about all the places here in central Indiana we can see today greater works than Jesus did.  Healing the sick and bringing the dead to life at St. Vincent and St. Francis Hospitals; caring for widows at St. Augustine home and St. Paul Hermitage, feeding the hungry through St. Vincent DePaul food warehouse, Cathedral soup kitchen, and many parish food pantries; housing the homeless at Holy Family Shelter; and Catholic Charities serving over 75,000 annually. These are greater things that Jesus told us we could do if we believe in him.  These miraculous works are still revealing the Father to those who don’t know him.  Each of us together as the baptized faithful is doing our part to perform miraculous works that are greater than what Jesus did when he walked the earth.   Do we still have pain, suffering, and troubles in the world?  Of course we still do.  We always will till Jesus returns.   But if we have faith in Jesus and don’t let our hearts be troubled, we can continue to do great things to reveal the Father’s love and provide hope for those who are in need.   If we provide them hope we can help them believe in Jesus and lead them to that special place prepared for them in the Father’s house.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Easter, Second Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23, 2017


Jesus gives his disciples another beatitude in today’s Gospel: Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.  Who here is blessed? You are all blessed for believing in the Risen Lord. Today we conclude the Octave of Easter with Divine Mercy Sunday. Last week on Easter Sunday, we heard about the empty tomb. Today Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection.

In Jesus’ first encounter with the disciples they were together on Sunday locked away in hiding.  They just experienced the death of Jesus and were in fear for their own lives.  Suddenly Jesus appears to them ere. Now try to imagine you are at your home with family and friends after a loved one died, it’s late at night, the doors are locked, and a loved one appears out of no where to greet you.  Wouldn’t you be frightened? When they saw him alive they probably feared he was mad at them as they had all abandoned him.  What does Jesus do?  He greets them with, “Peace be with you”. Probably not what they expected, but what they really needed to hear. Jesus shows his wounds on his hands and feet so they believe it’s really him.

Jesus then does something amazing: He breathes on them saying: “Who sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained”.  He sends his disciples to do His work of extending His mercy through forgiveness of sins.   Where else do we hear about God breathing?  In the second creation story in Genesis where God breathes life into the man formed out of clay. Here we see Jesus giving the power to his disciples to restore life to those who are deadened by sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

The disciple Thomas wasn’t at the first appearance of Jesus and refused to believe
unless he could touch Jesus’ wounds himself.   Thomas is very much like people in our own culture today who must experience something themselves before they believe. When Jesus appears again he offers Thomas to see and touch his wounds. We don’t know if he did, but Thomas proclaims his belief: “My Lord and My God”.  Jesus came to Thomas to experience his presence to help him believe.

The Church helps us to believe by using all our senses through the healing power of the Sacraments.  We hear about Jesus through his Word in Scripture at Mass and the homilies help to put it in context of our daily lives.  But many of us like Thomas need more to affirm our belief. We can see Jesus when the priest elevates the host where we can say silently proclaim: My Lord and my God. We get to touch Jesus when we receive him in the Eucharist. We can feel Jesus comfort in receiving oil on our hands and forehead in the anointing the sick.  We can feel Jesus’ presence, by spending time in the chapel being close to Jesus in the tabernacle.

One of the most healing ways we encounter Jesus is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The priest in the person of Christ extends His Mercy by saying, “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Whenever I hear these words of the priest I feel totally renewed.  My relationship with God has been restored to the original state after Baptism as a new creation in Christ. It’s very healing.  It’s good to know that I can receive it again because I’m a sinner.  I do my best to keep from sinning, but being a fallen human being I’m going to sin again.   By admitting my faults to the priest, expressing sorrow, and being forgiven I’m remaining in a good relationship with God.  

It’s fitting today that we hear about the Lord sending the Apostle to extend his mercy through the forgiveness of sins.   Saint John Paul II decreed in May of 2000 that the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.  Saint John Paul II was very familiar with the message of Divine Mercy from St. Faustina, a native of his homeland of Poland.  I’d like to share some background on where this came from.

During the early part of the 20th century there were many evils going on through expansion of Nazism and communism and a deep disrespect for the dignity of life. In the 1930s, Jesus chose a humble Polish nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, to receive private revelations about Divine Mercy.

In these private revelations there were 14 time when Jesus requested that Divine Mercy Sunday be observed.  I’d like to share one of those revelations from Jesus with you:

My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the Fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. … Let no soul fear to draw near to Me. … It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy. (Diary, no. 699)

Jesus also appeared to St. Faustina in a vision with his right hand raised in a blessing and his left touching his garment above his heart. Red and white rays emanate from his heart, symbolizing the blood and water that was poured out for our salvation and our sanctification.  The Lord requested this image to be painted with the words, “Jesus, I trust in You”, inscribed under his image, and that it be venerated around the world. Jesus said about this image that: “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish” (Diary, no. 48) and “By means of this image I will grant many graces to souls” (Diary, no. 742). The image of Divine Mercy is located in front of the altar is usually located in the confessional.
         Our Lord also gave a devotional prayer to St. Faustina with this promise: “Encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given you” (Diary, no. 1541). “Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death. … Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy. I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy” (Diary, no. 687).

On Sunday at 10 am we will pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in the Church.  Your invited to join, but if you’re not able please pick up a Divine Mercy Prayer card after Mass.  It’s easy prayer to pray and you can use your rosary to help.  The traditional time to pray the chaplet is 3 pm if possible, but you can pray it any time. Please pray this often and share with others the Good News of our Lord Resurrection and his desire to extend his Divine Mercy to anyone who comes to ask for it.



If you would like to explore more about Divine Mercy I’d recommend to look into the Marians of the Immaculate Conception Divine Mercy web site, http://thedivinemercy.org/.  If you want to pray the Divine Mercy devotion take it with you on the go and download an app to you Smartphone. http://thedivinemercy.org/apps/



           

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Homily, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Leaving behind our water jar & Living Water

The Samaritan woman encounters Jesus at the well as she seeks to satisfy her thirst.  Jesus is there waiting for her.  She comes to draw water to help satisfy her daily needs, but she discovers the person who satisfies her needs for eternity. 
Jesus breaks down the cultural barriers of the time in being there for the woman. First of all, Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans. They were considered an impure race made up of Jews who intermarried with pagan foreign invaders. They adopted many of the pagan practices of worship which the Jews despised.  Secondly a man would never speak with an unaccompanied woman at the time.   It was also very unusual for a woman to be alone. The Samaritan woman must have been an outcast, since she had to come alone at noon, the hottest time of the day. Women typically joined together to gather water in the morning or evening, at a much cooler time.  Since the Samaritan woman lived in a scandalous relationship she wasn’t welcome to join them.
Jesus doesn’t let her moral situation become a barrier to encounter him.   He knows
she came for water, but she’s thirsting for much more.  She’s thirsting for the satisfaction of true love. Her many husbands only provided temporary love.  Jesus reveals her past and current situation, and she believes him to be a prophet.   The seed of faith planted in her prompts questions to Jesus about the difference in Jewish and Samaritan worship.  Jesus tells her that true worship will be of the Father in Spirit and truth, speaking of himself and the Church, and finally reveals to her that he is the Messiah. 
The woman then goes to the town to tell everyone of this exciting news and leaves something behind: her water jar. I think leaving the water jar is significant. It is a symbol of leaving her past behind.  Her new found faith in the living water of eternal life promised by Jesus was now much more important.  The needs and desires of water and earthly love were secondary to her relationship with Jesus.  They only provided temporary satisfaction.  Everlasting satisfaction came from the spring of water welling up to eternal life that only Jesus could give.  She had found the truth of life through the grace of Jesus being there.  Jesus was there offering this gift freely to her. Her new found gift of eternal life in Christ had transformed her to share the good news with others and leave behind her past behind.
We all have needs and desires that we’re thirsting for and many of us have baggage from the past.   The Samaritan woman thirsted for love trying to satisfy it through her multiple husbands.  The Jews had been freed from slavery in Egypt, but feared death from thirst in the desert. Today we have millions of Middle Eastern refugees thirsting for permanent homes free from persecution.  In our own country thousands of undocumented immigrants thirst to keep their families together.  We may thirst to be healed of illnesses, have relationship restored, or to get a better job to support our family.  We may be thirsting for power, money, or prestige to satisfy our own egos.
Jesus is there to help us discern our deepest desires, some being valid and some not so much.   When our needs are satisfied do they bring about a lasting peace and comfort, or do they leave us thirsting for something else?  What happens when they’re not met?  Sometimes there are no ready answers to difficult situations and it can leave us feeling hopeless.  In baptism we’ve been cleansed with living water to raise to a new life in Christ. This gives us a light in the darkness to assist us with the challenges of this world. When we turn to Jesus our relationship with him helps to reveal what’s most important.   Sometimes the only answer Jesus can give us is in difficult situations is hope for eternal life.  We can go to Jesus in prayer, in the Sacraments, and through members of the Body of Christ to help us.
This Sunday the members of the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults will be going through the first of three Scrutiny’s.  The Scrutiny’s are the rites that these members go through as they prepare to enter the Church. They’ll be receiving Baptism where they will be admitted to the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil.  They’re on a faith journey developing a relationship with Christ, and leaving behind their own water jars, so they can receive living water for eternal life. 
We’re on a similar journey as we as we go through Lent.  Our discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving helps us to leave behind the water jar holding everything that keeps us from having faith in Jesus as our Messiah.  As we shed those sinful ways we have the sacrament of reconciliation that will help us restore our relationship with God.  Jesus is waiting for us ready to help without any barriers or concerns about our life’s situation just as he was for the Samaritan woman.