Feb 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday

The Evening Meditation



We are all held up in the church tonight waiting for ashes.
There are no saints among us at this hour. Only sinners.
We are living together, we share a common earth, breathe the same air.

If you are in the military, law enforcement, the workforce,
in school, part of a family, drive a car, cross a street,
live next door to someone or pay taxes,
our individual lives, our thoughts and our habits,
affect other people, whether we know it or not.

But never underestimate the good you do
and the goodness that is in your life
that can gently lift you up towards the heavens.

But never take the Good for granted.
If you do, it can easily flip over and begin to turn in on itself -
it can slowly descend, it can lose its buoyancy
and begin to drag you down,
and when it does - we grasp.

We try to cling onto anything we hope will keep us from sinking.
We start thinking only of ourselves, our reputation, our own security -
trying to fly without wings.
That’s our experience of sin -
S. I . N. Sinking Into Nothingness.

But remember, you are made in the image and the likeness of God -
not a god of war, nor a god of bubbles and cotton candy.
You are made in the image of the God of heaven,
the God of beauty and nobility,
the God of tenderness and warmth,
the God of your deepest desire for union and love that no one.
Nothing in this whole world can step in to replace your God-given dignity.

When I allow myself to sink into nothingness,
nothing will give me a power to lift me up to the heights of heaven.
I will quickly become bored with this and with that, with him and with her.
The gods of this world, whether they be those around me,
images or fantasies, secret or powerful, cannot keep their promises.

We browse through the pantheon of earthly gods,
“What shrine will I visit next, who’s next, where to this time?”
But underneath it all,
one by one the gods of this world ultimately die and crumble.
And that’s what scares us -
that I have sunk into a living grave.
I have become use to eating dirt and breathing dust and ashes.  
Will anyone save me?

Of course, the preacher will say “Jesus saves you”. And that is true.
But too often I hear that message like an infomercial.
I’m out of shape, I’m always tired, I’m bored, I’m too busy.
So I’ll immediately call that 1 800 number
or click the “buy now” button.
It’s a quick  prayer for my body, my stamina, my mind and my looks
to be transformed
into that of a Greek or Viking god or goddess.
But did you not know that they had, among themselves,
the reputation of jealousy, revenge, stubbornness, pettiness and deception!
Fake Good News!

So where do I begin if I am slipping around in the mud
or sinking slowly in the soft clay of this world
or “up to here” in it?
I’m a sinner. But I want to touch the heavens.
I’m tired and I want to be free.
I keep on falling and I want to get to higher ground.

We begin our journey up and out of our entanglements,
not with a dream, fad, or quick fix or answer.
We begin where we are now,
where we find ourselves here and now.
We begin in the ashes of this world.
In the dirt, the clay, once again.

But rather than letting it define us,
with a spittle of grace, we will redefine it.
We will attempt to mold and shape it
into a moral and spiritual compass -
into the shape of a cross.
It will remind us that Jesus Christ,
who though He was without any sin,
is not afraid to get his hands dirty
reaching out to me and to you.

We will accept the sign of the cross
not in our hearts our soul,
but for now, simply on our foreheads.

It is not war paint, nor a fashion statement.
It is as if to say, I have a lot of thinking to do right now -
about my life, by sins, my fears -
but I must swallow my pride and seek to know
what the Cross of Jesus Christ is about -
how it can lead me up and out from my sins.
I have to think this out.
I have to make better choices and decisions
if I am going to live the high life
intended for me by heavenly Father.

But this will take time, will take planning,
choosing wisely the right tools,
the right team, good friends and mentors to inspire
and give encouragement along the way.

But useless it will be without the power of God
to reshape our thoughts, words and actions,
To guide us upward and onward along the road He has pathed.

We will be constantly tested and tempted along the way.
We can opt in or opt out.
We can cooperate or resist God’s gentle but powerful guidance.
So we stop, evaluate and retreat now and them to catch our breath,
admit our failings, take guidance and receive encouragement.
That’s why, I will get ready to make my Confession -
To hear the assurance, again and again of the power of God’s love
in His forgiveness of sins.

But not so fast you say! You not ready? You always are.
For now, a simple battle plan,
then later - some rules of engagement,
afterwards - the battle for the hilltop.
And on the 40th day, the final victory.

As we pass through the gates of Lent,
let’s get to advance on common ground, a level playing field -
we are all sinners packed tight inside a church like captive audience
waiting for our ransom to be paid.

But secretly the muddy cross of Jesus Christ
is making its way through the crowd to save us.
It will need some washing clean to shine again,
a truly deep cleansing
to shine again and point me home.

Feb 23, 2020

Difficult



The Gospel we have just listened to are the words of Jesus Christ spoken to you and me. Simply said, Christ does not give us a general “rule of thumb”. Instead he expects of us a higher standard, a standard that is rooted, first and foremost in patience, in generosity and respect for others, even our enemies.


The standard a Christian is told to have, is the standard set by God himself, hence we are told by Christ, “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Is God not patient with you and me? Even though we might rebel against his law and his love, does he make us into his enemies? No. As God is able to love the sinner and hate the sin, we too must do likewise.


This is what should distinguish us as Christians from anyone else - our ability to love our enemies, to pray for them, to help them gently on the road to salvation and to do so, creating the right environment where enemies can become friends, in particular friends of God.


Is this not the attitude of Christ to us, giving us opportunity upon opportunity to be more open and receptive to his grace, to his influence? So, if we should find ourselves suffering because of the wounds inflicted by someone else, rather than fighting back in anger, we instead should be more troubled that our enemy would be damned to hell without the opportunity for repentance. For this reason, in the Christian standard of faith and living, there is no room for revenge or getting even.


Knowing what we are made of and the environment we often find ourselves living in, naturally it is very difficult for us to respond with love and patience in a world so marked by sin and division. But Christ did not simply ask us to love our enemies, but he also asked us to pray for them - even to pray to God on their behalf and doing so, we give them more than they think they deserve from us.


Christ commanded us to love our enemies and pray for them; not so much for the sake of our enemies or that they deserve our love. Rather, it is for our own sake, so that we do not become like them. For if we simply responded to the old law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, it will only be a matter of time before we too become blind and toothless, indistinguishable from the enemy.


But, the new law of Christ and the Christian standard is to have a true heart, yes - a heart that can be pierced, a heart that can bleed, not a hardened heart poisoned by resentment. It is a heart modeled after Christ’s, “slow to anger, abounding in kindness”. Let us pray to God for the grace of patience, for perseverance in daily life, and to pray courageously and with hope for all our enemies and for those who can harm us in any way.

Feb 15, 2020

Law and Order


Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

A child attempts to walk for the first time. In doing so, they must learn to cooperate with the laws of gravity and physics! A young person prepares for their driving test. They must know the laws of the road, but also the laws of courtesy and never to insist on the right of way.  Our respect for the just laws of our nation, are aimed towards helping us respect the dignity of each person, the expectation of hospitality and equality.

There are also laws written into the very fabric of nature that guard the essential foundation of human life itself, the nature of the human family, the role of the sexes, the responsibilities and expectation of married life and the duties of being a father or a motherhood.  

Within these relationships, we are also given the hidden law of conscience; an inner voice that longs to be guided in the direction that God’s eternal truth so that our choices will come to reflect the design of our Creator in all my relationships.

Through His Word, spoken to us through Christ and echoed through His Church, God also reveals a moral law to guide our basic relationships with each other - it is God's law of love, given to us to protect us from selfishness and the disorders of pride, lust, rage and jealousy.

God has given us particular laws of behavior, not to curtail our freedom, nor to punish us but instead to help build up and re-establish the right and balanced relationship we should have with him and one another.

Whereas the laws of the land, the laws of nature, even the laws of gravity can be harsh, uncompromising, even unforgiving, we can be tempted to always think that God's Law and His commandments are too high, too lofty. But let us never forget, God's Law of Mercy and Forgiveness. He makes allowances for our weaknesses and vulnerability. He never misses an opportunity to encourage us to preserve through the many battles we must often endure, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

But Christ would not expect of us anything He would not do himself. That’s why His words about the sacred bond of matrimony, for example, are not simply written words or laws. Christ defines the divine law of married love with every drop of His blood, His very life. Even though we have been unfaithful to him, He will never go back on His word to be faithful to us, even until death.  In short, He will never divorce Himself from us - He loves us in good times, and in back, in sickness and health, He loves us to death - the Law of Sacrificial Love after the manner of Christ himself.

May all our relationships and the sacrifices we too must make, point to and reflect the harmony God intends for all creation. And may His gentle law of love and mercy find a home in our lives reflecting the balance of all good things God has willed for us - for the salvation of our souls and the refreshment of all our relationships through Christ, our Lord.

Feb 8, 2020

Prudent - the right measure


Too much salt poisons the flavor. Too much light blinds the eyes. A city too high on a hill becomes unreachable. But the opposite is also true. Too little salt and the food is bland. Too little light and there is darkness. A city placed in a hidden valley is never noticed when you pass by.

We see here the corrosive effects and the regrettable consequences of the extremes of both sides of the spectrum.

This can, of course, be applied to our social interactions with each other when our conversations are never measured, but instead become far too heated, violent and unrealistically idealistic. On the other side, it's when we presume we have nothing meaningful to say to each other, when we are afraid to stand out from the crowd or have lost interest in building upon the strong foundations others have sacrificed for us with their lives.

Of course, the extremes of too little and too much, affect us not only in our lives, in our family life, but also in society and in our nation. It applies to how each individual applies the gifts God has given them, how parents exercise their responsibility to oversee their children, where those in positions of leadership concentrate their efforts and interests. Too much of a good thing is bad for you, the old saying reminds us.

Christ reminds us to be salt of the earth - not too much salt or we become angry fundamentalists. But not too little that no-one would suspect we are even Christians.

Christ reminds us that we are to be a light to the world. Not too much light or we risk becoming self-righteous and conceited. But not too little light and we easily fall into boredom and mediocrity. 

Christ reminds us that we are to be a city on a hill. Too high and we risk shouting down at people and living in a fortress. But if we live underground, we risk being walked over without anyone noticing.

How do we strike the right balance? Maybe it is to take full responsibility for our own souls and for the salvation of others in a way that avoids too much as well as too little. In a world and society that is often so polarized by the tribalism of the right and the left, the conservative and the liberal, the rich and the poor, the native and the newcomer, our natural instincts are always influenced by our sins which either provoke us to anger or to apathy.

What is therefore the right measure of salt, light and Christian witness to the world? 

The Prophet Isaiah who lived in a time when his own land was strife in wars, political turmoil and uncertainty, provided a recipe with the necessary instructions on the right measures to be applied: In the First Reading today he says "share your bread with the poor" - in other words, do not be selfish, we must always be generous in sharing our plentiful blessings with others regardless who they are. 

He continues, "Bring the homeless poor into your house" - in other words, provide a safe place and a welcome to the stranger, the lonely, and yes, even the refugee forced into exile. He continues still, "when you see the naked, cover him" - in other words, see and protect the dignity of your fellow man, also, like you and me created in the image and likeness of God. In short, the right measure of salt, light and Christian witness is what we traditionally call, the corporal works of mercy. 

So when the deacon instructs us at the end of the Mass to go forth, he’s not sending us to the front lines into the heat of the battle. But neither is he telling us to go home and we’ll continue next week where we left off. Instead, we are to go forth, glorifying God with our lives as light for the world and as salt of the earth, but always in the right measure.

Feb 1, 2020

Renewable Energy



I remember when we dedicated this church back in November of 2007. Maybe some of you will also remember that day. We were all assembled outside in the piazza with the bishop. The last majority of people had never entered into the building before. After waiting for twenty five years, going through the great front doors and into the main body of the church, you could sense the wonder and awe. 

The whole building was filled with light streaming through the windows, the choir heard their voices for the first time echoing and resonating throughout the vast space. The incense swam through the air and reached to the heights as the dedication prayers were being chanted before the Mass began. Everyone seemed to be caught up in a wonder and awe of the presence of God in the midst of his people. 

As beautiful and inspiring as the dedication rituals were, blessing the water and adding a new born flame to all the candles, smearing holy chrism oil on the altar, all these signs and symbols only reminded us of a mysterious God who only, it seemed, looked down from the heights, who was, in a manner of speaking, looking in on us from heaven above. For when we entered, the tabernacle was as yet empty - there was as yet no divine presence abiding in this temple. 

Although we heard his distant voice speaking to us through the Scriptures being read out loud, it was only when the gifts of bread and wine, placed on the altar were consecrated by the transubstantiating power of the Holy Spirit into the reality of the resurrected Jesus Christ, and we were alerted to it by the ringing of the bell, could we finally say that God has visited his temple and he present right in the midst of his people - that the divine shepherd stands in the midst of his flock. 

In many ways, this is no different today and every Sunday, from what happened two thousand years ago. The temple of Jerusalem had been beautifully constructed with the finest materials by the greats of builders. Light and incense danced throughout its archways, the prayers were lifted up, the psalms were chanted around its altar. But then, lost for five hundred years, there was no Arc of the Covenant, no presence of God abiding in the Holy of Holies. It was an empty space. 

Until a young virgin mother holding a newborn baby entered through his doors. Mary, the Arc of the Covenant, held within her arms the presence of the eternal God embodied in human flesh and blood. God had returned to his Temple. As the ancient psalm we have sung predicted,  “Lift up, O gates, your lintels, reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!”

My dear friends, the real presence of Jesus Christ in his glorified body who will enter into this temple through the portal of the sacrament of the altar, and presents himself up to us, makes this church building, this temple, holy, sacred, the meeting place between heaven and earth. There is more power generated for all eternity in a single Mass, than there is from every sun throughout the universe going supernova!

As a way of illustration, if someone were to enter into the core of a nuclear powerhouse wearing layers of protective clothing, they would be shielded from the invisible light and the heat of the radiation. If we were to enter into the house of God, wrapped up tight in the layers of our hardened sins we dare not repent of, we would likewise be shielded from the invisible light and warmth of God’s love and mercy. 

It is for that reason, before we are exposed to Holy Communion with God, we must remove our hardened sins and any of the armor of worldly concerns so that when we leave this sacred temple, our whole bodies will radiate the invisible but powerful light of God’s presence in the world. We become a light to the world, a new source of power that comes from the eternal light of God.

Pray for all priests that they will be a worthy conduit of God's presence at every altar. Pray for every deacon that they will channel the power of Christ to those who are in need of God’s grace. Pray for the religious, the nuns and brothers, the monks and missionaries, that they will be a renewable source of God’s energy in the world. Pray for yourselves and each other, that as you leave this sacred temple, you will, like candles whose flames will never die, be a light to the world, so that every one of our actions, seen or unseen, will radiate the warmth of God’s presence to all the earth. 

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