Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spritual eyesight

In today's Gospel, Jesus cured the beggar of his blindness.  Many people were familiar with the beggar who was at the city gate.  So, they were surprised when suddenly he could see.  This miracle caused disagreement about who this Jesus was.   The Pharisees said this man Jesus is not from God.  But the beggar said he is a prophet

Our eyesight is very important to us and most of us see pretty well.  I wouldn't be able to read the Gospel and this homily if I didn't see well.  But it is only important during our short lifetime here on earth,  maybe 100 years.

But, what about our spiritual eyesight?  This impacts our eternal life - forever and ever.  Do we know Jesus and his church?  Do we believe the truths that Jesus and his church teaches?  Even the hard truths?

Jesus cured the spiritual eyesight of the beggar.  The beggar said: "I do believe, Lord."   Our spiritual eyesight, on the other hand, probably has a number of blind spots.  There might be some areas where we always follow His commandments and fully understand the teachings of Jesus' church.  For example, we might not have any problem with the seventh commandment "Thou shalt not steal" because we don't have any interest in stealing.    But, there probably are other commandments and teachings which we struggle with and maybe even tend to ignore.  These are our spiritual blind spots. Many struggle with the sixth commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and how it impacts our lives.  We might agree with some teachings of the church in the area of human sexuality but disagree with others.

Our blind spots are likely areas where the secular world and Jesus' church disagree.  We hear day in and day out what the secular world (that is, the devil) is saying.  Eventually, after being brainwashed by movies, TV, sports figures, politicians, and even our friends, we bend our beliefs to match theirs.  One blind spot for many Catholics is contraception.  In fact, the majority of Catholics reject this teaching of Jesus' church and agree with our society.  Some would say "How can artificial contraception be wrong, everybody does it, our church needs to get with the times"?
For many years, I had a blind spot in this area.   For many years,  I followed the teachings of the church based upon obedience but not trust.  This worked fine for me until I was in my early thirties.  Then, after we had our fourth child with our oldest just 6 1/2, I seriously questioned the church's teaching on contraception.  I thought: surely the church doesn't expect me to have a lot more children.  How am I going to send them all to college?  How is my wife going to take care of all of them while I am trying to pay the ever increasing bills?  In short, I was following my plan for life and things seemed to be falling apart.  I was blinded by my pride and just couldn't see that I was wrong and needed to let go and let God - to trust in Him. 

Gradually, over the next few months, with my wife's help, I began to pray and to study on this topic.  My wife and I took some natural family planning classes and we began to understand and to accept the teachings of the church.  Eventually, we were moved by the Holy Spirit to have another child.  
Truly, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was able to embrace this difficult Church teaching.  I swallowed my pride and humbly decided to trust Jesus and his church with our childbearing.

In the movie, A Few Good Men,   Jack Nickelson says to Tom Cruise "You can't handle the truth!"  I think that would apply to me during my struggles with contraception and to many Catholics today.  We have been blinded.  We just can't handle the truth because we have accepted our society's lies.   
How do we improve our spiritual eyesight?  It takes time.  It doesn't happen overnight.  We need an infusion of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Deacon Ralph talked about this at our recent mission.  We need to repent of our sins.  We need to get to know Jesus and his church through prayer, scripture study and the sacraments,  especially the Eucharist.  And we need fellowship with other Catholics on the journey.  We should join a small group of men and women and share our spiritual journeys with each other.  We are all in this together.  It is a difficult road that we travel but the reward, eternal life with the father, is well worth the effort.

Who are you following - Jesus towards eternal life or satan, the prince of the world, towards eternal death?   It's your choice and Jesus will respect your free will, your choice. 

Let us pray:  O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things.  Amen

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Are you joyful or happy and what is the difference?

As you enter the doors of our church, you see the Latin phrase "Introibo ad altare Dei"  which translates "I will go unto the altar of God".  Certainly, as we celebrate mass, we are at the altar of God, especially during the consecration.  The rest of that phrase is: "to God who gives joy to my youth."  Are we feeling joy right now as we sit before the altar of God?  And, if we are not feeling joy, why aren't we?  What keeps us from experiencing joy?
Spiritual joy is different from the conventional concept of happiness.  Happiness depends on what happens in our lives, as well as those circumstances, people, and events over which we often have little  control.  It is fleeting and usually short term in nature.  Real joy, however, is that constant, abiding, and personal relationship with God that we experience when we do His will as loving servants.  This joy may often be expressed through our enthusiastic demeanor, laughter, humor, or cheerful attitude. 
Most of us are pursuing happiness instead of joy.  We yearn to satisfy the deep longing of our hearts but frequently confuse joy and happiness. 
Joy is a loving, warm sense of an intimate relationship with God.  Authentic joy is a spiritual and biblical concept.  Joy is the second of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Love is the first fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot have joy without love. 
Happiness, on the other hand, lasts a short time.  We tend to pursue happiness and avoid pain.  PBS conducted a survey a while back asking people what was their greatest desire.  Almost ninety percent answered: "I want to be happy."  Like most people, I also want to be happy.  I love it when the Reds or Bengals win, when my children and grandchildren do well, and when my arthritis isn't bothering me too much.  Unfortunately, that happiness doesn't last.
In today's Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: "No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."
True joy comes from serving God.   If we serve mammon, that is money and possessions, we will be disappointed and frustrated by our constant search for happiness.
In 2004, over 1000 priests were surveyed.  The main question asked was : "How happy are you in your priesthood?"   Over 90% of the priests responded that they were very happy.  In 2009, another survey of over 2000 priests was conducted and again over 90% agreed that they were happy.  When the priests were asked the source of their happiness, they answered that that their spiritual life was the cause of their inner peace, well-being, and personal joy. 
How can we increase and maintain our joy?  Since joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we should receive it gratefully, accept it humbly, and then share our joy with others.
We can increase our joy in several ways.  Receiving the Holy Eucharist at Mass is the most intimate way to experience a joyful relationship with Christ.  If possible, we should attend daily mass so that we can experience this spiritual joy every day.
The anticipation of eternal life in heaven is another way that we experience joy.  Whenever we have doubts about our faith, our family, or our nation, we can take great consolation in the promise of Christ that we are destined to live forever with Him.
Trusting God is another important element in our spiritual joy.  Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?"   We would all be much more joyful if we could take these words to heart and stop worrying. 
And finally, prayer and meditation leads us to spiritual joy.  in his first letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul tells us: "Rejoice always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
The key to finding spiritual joy is knowing God's will for us and then surrendering to His will.  This can be a difficult challenge, especially for us men, since we reject the idea of surrender.  We pride ourselves on being self-sufficient, self-reliant and totally independent.  Pride is what prevents us from completely abandoning ourselves to God's will, but when we do, God will reward us with peace and joy. 

 "O Lord, give me the wisdom to know your will, the courage to accept it, and the strength to do it.  Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sacrifice and love

For my freshman year in college, I borrowed the tuition money from my father.  About ten years' later, he called and requested that I repay him as soon as possible.  At the time, this was  difficult for me financially with two small children and a third on the way.  I paid him the money as he requested. But, it didn't sit well with me and I didn't talk to him for over a year. 
Eventually, my wife told me that I needed to forgive him.  She said that my unforgiveness was hurting me.  So, I swallowed my pride and called him and patched things up.
Many years later, when he was moved into a retirement home, he asked me to handle his finances.  As I reviewed his finances, I realized that his only income was from social security.  In fact, for many years, the three of them, my mother, father, and sister were living on his meager social security income.  Then, I felt guilty that I was so upset at having to pay back my loan many years earlier.  If I had known how little money they had, I would have willingly helped them out. 
In today's Gospel, John the Baptist said: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  This is the first time in the Gospels that Christ is called the “Lamb of God”.    Also, John the Evangelist used this title twenty-nine times in the Book of Revelation.  This image of a sacrificial lamb would have been familiar to the Jews of the time. 
The primary holy day for Jews is the Passover.  In the Passover ceremony, each family sacrifices and eats a lamb to recall the night when the firstborn sons were spared from the angel of death by putting the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. The Passover lamb signifies God's merciful and saving love.  The prophets described the Messiah as a lamb who went silently to the slaughter, to take the sins of his people upon himself and wipe them away.   
The book of Revelation reveals to us that Jesus is victorious and glorious in heaven as the slain lamb, surrounded by saints, martyrs and virgins, who render him the praise and glory due him as God. Before distributing Holy Communion the priest says "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world".  This encourages us to be grateful to our Lord for sacrificing for us.
Today, not too many people describe themselves or those they admire as lambs.  They are more likely to be described as lions.  We don't often think of sacrificing for others.  When my dad asked me for money, I wasn't thinking about sacrificing for him  but of taking care of my needs.
When I hear the word 'lamb' outside of the context of mass, I think of a meek animal and sacrifice.  Normally, you wouldn't associate either weak or sacrifice with God.  You would expect God to be called a lion instead of being referred to as a lamb.
Referring to Jesus as the "Lamb of God" in the first appearance of his public life foretold what was to come- His sacrifice on the cross.  And it also provides an example for us to follow in our relationships.  We are meant to relate to each other as lambs, not as lions.  We are meant to love each other with a sacrificial love, not a love which possesses or dominates another. 
We see examples of sacrifice all around us.  We see the sacrifices of mothers and fathers as they raise their children.  We see the sacrifices of soldiers and police and fire personnel as they put their lives on the line for us.  And we see the sacrifices of priests and religious who choose a chaste life to serve God and His church.
Sacrificing is hard.  It is natural to put ourselves first and hard to put someone else first.  And yet, that is what we are asked to do.  True, lasting love requires sacrifice.  Jesus showed us the way and encourages us daily to follow him. 
Today, as the priest raises the host and says the words : "Behold the Lamb of God" ponder the humility and sacrifice of Jesus in becoming man and then submitting to be crucified.  Then, in the spirit of Jesus as the Lamb of God, sacrifice in some small way today for someone you love.