Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gotta Play by the Rules

We have heard a lot this past week about deflated footballs as we near the big game, the Super Bowl.  Regardless of opinion to the culpability or even the consequences of alleged cheating,  rules are rules.  If your going to play, you accept the rules.  If your going to be a Christian, you also accept the rules.  Football will bring millions of dollars to some, Christianity will bring eternal life to all who commit.  Like the call to the disciples in the gospel,  we too have been called. The question is have we truly answered our call?  Have we committed to play by the rules?  The rules given to us by no less than Jesus Christ himself?  The rules to love and care for each and every one as neighbor? Of course we have not. All is not lost though as Jesus knew we would fail from time to time. As in the gospel. We are constantly called to repent and to recommit…commit to following His gospel.  Following it means living it to the best of our ability.

I had the privilege to visit our middle school kids from our two parishes this past Wednesday.  They have been learning about evangelization.  For most of them as it is even to me the word itself is a mouthful. The root goes back to the ancient Greek meaning to bring the good news. Even the word angel, in the word evANGELlization is the one who brings the message itself. And as we know angels are God’s messengers.  So evangelization in a Christian sense is to bring the good news of Jesus Christ. The “Good News” is proclaimed each and every time we live His teaching. The gospel is lived when we commit to living our calling. And we must live our calling while we are here on this earth.

Paul was warning the people of Corinth that life on earth has limits.  We are all going to die so why not at least live this limited time in the vocation one has chosen….  He was inviting people to Christ and also challenging those who claimed to be following Christ that the time to follow was now. BTW, he is not saying that married life is somehow less God-pleasing than unmarried life; he is challenged those who are married to live their married life as we all are to live our lives; in total union with Christ!  Remember where he was, Corinth and he saw lots of debauchery and since most folks were partnered up, at times looking like marriage, and at other times living in total sin, he was only calling them back to what Christ had already said about marriage.  An inseparable union. Committed first to Christ and through Christ then to the other, our universal calling that is modeled in much of the union of husband and wife. A union with the Lord that is lived each and every day, and here on earth now.

This week we are reminded of the importance of human life, especially the lives of the unborn. We can gather together once a year to proclaim our commitment to life, or we can actually commit to life each and every day as the kingdom of heaven has already begun and is to be lived  each and everyday. Those are the rules of being a Christian. Not to try to change the rules but a total and not-too-easy commitment to following them. The kingdom begins with the cross on earth and we all share in the cross. But the cross also leads to new life through mercy, and conversion of heart.

Like Peter, Andrew, James, the Marys, Martha and all the women and men who committed to following Jesus' call; as baptized Christians we have all been called to live the gospel.  That means we accept Jesus teachings as He has taught us himself.   Even the most celebrated saint and evangelist also had to repent and begin again.  They too had to be reminded that to follow Christ, one has to play by his rules.  Can we?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

What Light do I Follow?

Guide us to the perfect light, we sing in the traditional Epiphany song, “We Three Kings” A little story of me being led to a not-so-perfect light due to my own pride….A few months ago I was driving in the dark through rural Wisconsin looking for the entrance to the interstate that would lead me back to Milwaukee.  My GPS said to turn R at the light about 700ft.  There were two lights just a block apart and while the GPS said to turn right I thought is must be wrong as my visual calculation seemed to point me to the second light.  Well’’ long story short after tuning right at the second light I found myself out in the country nowhere any entrance to the interstate.  Luckily I just turned back and took the route that the GPS was suggesting.  Now I do not say GPS technology does not have some mistakes, but this science has been tested and proven to be for the most part accurate.  However rather than trust in something true, I decided to make my own personal decision based on a personal opinion rather than a fact.  I followed the wrong light,  but the light that true and tested technology first led me to via that GPS was the correct route.

Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany, the showing forth of God’s glory manifested in Christ through the light that came from the east via a star, is a concrete reminder to us that Christ is now the true light, as we say in our creed each week, that wishes to lead us in the right path towards our eternal home. And this true light has illuminated us so to know His teachings and especially to lead us to His truth when our own personal opinions, or feelings want to lead us elsewhere.  There are conflicting and even competing “lights” out there tempting us to follow erroneous and false paths. Most of the time it is due to us following feelings rather than truth, fiction over fact.  And for a people of faith who are called to make moral choices and act upon them, moral relativism can create false lights that can mislead us way from Christ and his teaching.

This is unfortunately true in our respect for human life, from conception to natural death. Our church does have some objective truths, and even today can be supported by good science as to when life begins.  It begins at conception.  After conception a new person has been created with her or his unique possibilities. Again this is science, the same science that taught us; and even us as a church that the earth is not flat, nor 6K years old.  Confusing facts  with opinions based on emotions or fear, I call them the false “lights” can still be found in our world today.  To many people want to use fear and fallacies to validate their own fears.  In a recent discussion about the senseless murder of two policemen, as well as the racial discord we have seen by some, I heard someone say that people of a certain race were prone to crime due to their race.  This is absolutely false.  There are other and scientifically proven factors that cause crime; poverty, abandonment by fathers, lack of proper nutrition and quality education during the formative years, despair that lead to drugs, which in turn lead to crime.  Being born to one race or another does not ensure a genetic trait of criminality, or lack of the ability to know the difference between right and wrong. Again, good science debunks the many deceptive “lights” out there that lead many into fear.   But the light of Christ articulated through our shared faith can lead us out of darkness into the place where we need to be.  Not afraid to confront our fears, but to tirelessly work to end them.

So as we venture into this new year may we allow ourselves to follow the true light, given to us through the true faith, that we worship in the undivided and life-creating Trinity week after week. Christ is that light,  May we learn from him and allow his truth to lead us in all that we say and do, to guide us all to that “perfect light.”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

We Are Family

Not the same as the "Sister Sledge" song of the 80's, but a family bound by the Blood of Christ. After all in the Eucharist Catholic Christians "become what we receive" so there!

We have all heard the familiar marriage know the mutual vow of being faithful to each other in "good times and in bad."  I mention this because we see in marriage an image of the covenant between God and all of us, a covenant of mutual fidelity that binds us and makes us family, since we are all God’s children.  That in the best of times and the worst, we stay committed to each member of the family.  

As we do each Sunday after Christmas we honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Luke’s gospel is of the presentation of Jesus who Simeon witnessed as the longed- for Messiah.  Anna the prophetess witnesses the same and begins to evangelize,-that is share this good news.  Bound by their witness of Christ, they both become members of this Holy Family. We know that the Holy family did have struggles; they had to migrate to Egypt for safety, and being human had to have some tough times not written about in the scriptures.  They were a family like all of ours.

Pope Francis and the Synod members that met recently in Rome to examine struggles that families face were critical of systems that separate and divide families; mostly economic situations. And in the final document's summary, in the paragraph addressing the pastoral challenges, the report mentions that we must accept families in the concrete situations of their lives.  On a local level, as a parish we just need to be there for each other as we are members of a family, each with our own concrete and real situations. Situations as varied as breadwinners working far from home, single folks struggling to find a job that offers fulfillment and stability, and seniors who wish to work and not be forced out of the job force due to age alone.  Young families planning on their own futures and futures for their children.  These are just a few of the “concrete situations” facing families.  All are members of God’s family and through baptism and as Catholics, we all share a common spiritual blood if you will; that being the blood of Christ offered in the Eucharist.  We then become holy family members.  A true holy family never gives up on any member, tough love withstanding, but never abandonment. But those are usually the exceptions.  All to often we can allow peripheral reasons, petty at times, to damage our familial relationship.  We too often hold up our own interpretation of family ideals without seeing the realities others face.  But one ideal cannot be changed or reinterpreted.  That is Christ himself.  The unseen guest in every holy family who makes His dwelling with us.

Nothing should be “off-limits” to a family.  That means honest exchanges between members.  Face to face in charity.  I know how peoples’ hearts have been changed by the witness of immigrants here in Bozeman.  Where there were fears and angers, with honest exchanges between peoples, not politicians, new relationships have been formed and the local family is more blessed by her newer members.  Never perfect, but neither are any of us. But that is what a holy family is; a people migrating together to our eternal home in heaven.  Family life on earth should reflect the family life that is to come. By witness of the Holy Family we honor today, we too can create and strengthen the earthly holy family, whom we are all members.  Yes in good times and in bad, through our shared faith and shared Eucharist, we are made holy, and we are family.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Those eyes, those eyes.... Seeing into Advent.

They say when you look into a person’s eyes, you can see into their soul.  These eyes in particular lead into the very soul of Christ, for it was in her own womb that the son of God made his home.   These eyes also show forth two important characteristics of Mary, characteristics that we who look to her as the first disciple, can follow her Son more closely.  They are her motherhood, and her virginity.

Mary is Mother-lets not kid ourselves, there is no more important person than a mother. Not to put down fathers but the mother does extra duty.  She houses the child in her own body for almost a year, building a strong relationship with that child.  The laughter, friendships, challenges that she experiences are also experienced by the child living in her womb.  This is the beginning of what we know as “communion”…relationship with the other.  We owe Guadalupe the honor of being the bearer of Christian community which we are a part of.  Not only is she the dark virgin of the native Aztec people, but she is the mother of us all-in the two American continents.  We are bound to each other through her communion with her son.

Mary is Virgin- a quality all people can strive for.  While we know she was pregnant, as the image shows, but we also believe that she remained forever a virgin. She offers to us a virginity that is more than a physical condition but a spiritual state of moral purity.  Striving always for the good. And while we struggle with the great moral questions we face, her purity reminds us that we can obtain it in our thoughts, words, and actions.  For thoughts of seeing others as objects for gratification and or seeing others as somehow inferior or unworthy are immoral.   Seeing the other as sister, brother, fellow disciple keep us morally pure and undefiled, untouched by the snares of the devil and full of God’s life always being born in the places where we dwell.  Let us guard this purity of heart against those who would seek to divide us, and we know the devil loves division.

So may we honor her Son by imitating these two qualities as they are His own teachings.   And may we continue, through the Eucharist we will receive, through the food and fellowship that will follow, to commit to a real communion with each other regardless of language or nationality.  And may we treat each other as would Christ, with pure motives and a clean heart.  After all she is the mother of us all.  Viva La Virgin De Guadalupe!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I'm Leaving too?

“In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.  The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.  Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live the gray twilight that knows neither victory or defeat.”

While this quote from Teddy Roosevelt was given to encourage American exceptionalism and resolve, it can also reflect the life of the Christian disciple. And those who Jesus first called would for the most of them find this to be very true. There was little gray in those days when it came to His teachings. Jesus did not give much middle ground.  As he would say one is either with him or not.  And far from perfect, this group of fishermen and members of small communities based on fishing, agriculture, or small businesses and trades just left it all to follow him.  Radical to say the least.

How often we have heard this gospel in either Mathew, Mark or Luke.  Fr. James Martin gives a good description and sets the scene…  He says the story is almost shocking, for how could four fisherman walk away from everything-their jobs, families, entire way of life-to follow a carpenter?  To leave the comforts of home? They knew the scriptures and could have been waiting…Perhaps Jesus had been there for a while and they heard about him.  And what he says to them; I will make you fishers of men!  (by the way the Greek word is anthropoi, meaning people)  Either they though he was a total madman or his humor attracted them.  But their profession was already a prerequisite to their new vocation….  Fisherman are patient, and go out whenever the fish are near.  But Jesus also drew people to himself. Think of charismatic people…John Paul II or Mother Teresa.  Even if one is not religious they are drawn to them; we are drawn to them. 

Jesus left his own home of Nazareth to move to a place where many non-Jews gathered.  A reminder that the gospel must be preached everywhere.  The true teachings of Jesus; peace, justice, and new life though repentance and forgiveness can be offered to our world today; to believers and non alike. For example, protection of life in the womb is NOT solely a religious teaching!  Even atheists and followers of most world religions value human life. Some even better than us professed Catholic Christians at times. They have made a decision to stand for what is scientifically proven and morally right. Most folks do not like killing other human beings, if we would only follow that idea throughout a person’s entire life; whenever their life is threatened by death due to poverty, starvation, sickness, and abandonment.

So now it is our turn.  To decide to follow Jesus.  What need we leave behind? Just our fears.  We can see it as an adventure, going into new territories right here in our communities….by journeying to all of Jesus teachings….about life, poverty, war and peace, and our care for what God has entrusted to us all.  This Saturday past we celebrated the conversion of St. Paul.  He too left his old ways, his old home and went out to live Christ.  For us, to perhaps take a few steps outside our own homes to witness the homes of others?  Meaning the lives and experiences of others….Could be a little scary but we now have Jesus to lead us and to support us in what we say and do. Just being real and total Catholics. To invite into our lives the gifts of the fisherman….patience, and a readiness to be there when needed. To leave the comforts of home.