Monday, August 11, 2014

Who Is Really In Control?

The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 6:00 PM Mass, Sunday August 10, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church.  The readings are for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time and are available by clicking here.

Before I begin this homily, I would like to give a disclaimer and a warning.  The disclaimer is that I am going to reveal some information from a private conversation between my 17 year old son Daniel and myself.    I do so with his knowledge and permission.  The warning is that this is the first homily that I have delivered in six years without having it first scrubbed by my wife, Pam!

On July 23rd, we received a phone call that every parent dreads. Daniel was in the ER in rural Virginia. At 17 years old he had developed type-1 diabetes while on a Jesuit service project in Appalachia and was seriously ill. After 3 days in ICU we were able take him home.  Fast forward 2 weeks to today, he is adjusting to his new life, carefully watching his diet, taking insulin shots, and sticking his finger 10-12 times a day to check his blood glucose.

One night after playing racquetball together this past week we were talking about a decision weighing on him -  trying to decide whether to wear a device called a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).  The CGM has a sensor that sticks in you and to you and does glucose readings every 5 minutes. It warns you if your sugar is getting out of range and reduces the number of finger sticks to just 2 per day. He originally said that he was not sure if he wanted wear something on his body all of the time. I could understand that. That night he confided that the real reason he was not sure about the CGM was that by ordering it, he was accepting that this was a life-long condition and he was no longer in control.  I understood that even more.  I shared with him that having incurable cancer is certainly not something I would have chosen and would be overjoyed if it could be taken away.  However, struggling with it is a constant reminder for me that I am not really in control and has greatly increased my realization that I am utterly dependent on God.  Daniel replied – “ You know, I have been thinking the same thing. Order the monitor.”

 As a people of faith, we must realize that God is the one in control and trust him a little more each day.

Today’s Gospel occurs on the Sea of Galilee right after Jesus feeds the 5000. You can deduce from the text that the Apostles set out in the late afternoon. The Sea of Galilee is not very big, about ¼ the size of Lake Pontchartrain.  With 12 men rowing it should take a couple of hours to cross, with a good wind and a sail, even less.  Yet we find the apostles still far from their destination in “the fourth watch of the night.” - around 3 AM. They had been on their little 27’ open boat in a storm for 10 to 14 hours.

On the Sea of Galilee, winds come down from the mountains in the east (the Golan Heights) and cause terrible and sudden storms, with waves over 10 feet high. So imagine what the water of Lake Pontchartrain looks like with huge white caps and this is our scene.

My favorite depiction of this is an 19th century French painting showing the apostles wet and worn out together in the boat.  In the distance, Jesus is surrounded by a bright glow of light walking in the darkness toward the apostles, his feet just on the surface of the water.I can imagine Peter spotting Jesus in the distance and is completely locked onto him like radar onto a target.  Watching every move he makes. Blocking everything else out.  Peter is so focused on Jesus and his command to “come” that he does the impossible – he walks on the water.  What happens next? Peter gets distracted.  What does the text say – when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink . You can be certain that Peter knew about the winds.  He had been in the boat for hours. What is going on?
Peter certainly had faith.  He had just participated in feeding the multitude, just the day before he had seen Jesus cure many sick people. And he not only expressed his faith in Jesus by challenging him to let him walk on the water, but then he leaps out of the relative safety of the boat to walk on the rolling waves! Yes, he had faith. More than I would have in that situation.  It’s just that his trust in Jesus falters momentarily and he forgets that Jesus is the one who is in control, just for a split second.  But even Peter’s reaction when he started sinking was an expression of faith Lord save me!

As Christians, we may be doing fine in our walk of faith.  But then, we get distracted with the storms that are going on around us, and we begin to sink.

Sometimes it is not the storms that distract us, but the times when everything is going well. We have dream job, a lovely house, our family is great, we are in great health. All is good and start to forget about our dependency on God.  We feel like we are in control, on top of the world. In reality, none of us are in control. Control is an illusion.  Things can change in a minute. Your dream job gets eliminated in corporate merger, a parent dies, we develop a life-threatening illness, your dream home gets infested with termites.

This Gospel tells us that when the storm comes up and things seem their darkest that Jesus is close. In today’s Gospel when the Apostles invited Jesus into their boat, the storms subsided and the winds calmed down. So it also is with us.  When we invite Jesus into our lives our storms will calm down.  Not that bad or unpleasant things won’t happen to us – I assure you that they will. Bad things happen to good people all of the time. But with our eyes focused on Christ, locked in like radar, we can have, as St Paul wrote to the Philippians, the peace that surpasses all understanding – regardless of the storms going on around us.

What is your homework?

We must daily develop and strengthen our trust in Jesus. It does not happen naturally and without effort.  Somewhere in this church there are people who are facing their own storms. Maybe it is you, maybe the person sitting next to you.  Maybe its an illness, your own or you are the caretaker of someone who is seriously ill; financial hardship, or maybe extreme loneliness. You may be filled with sadness or fear.  When you look down, all you see the hardship. Your homework this week is to look up, keep your eyes on Jesus. See in your problems the opportunity to turn over all to Jesus, to acknowledge that He is in control. A simple prayers I suggest for you this week is -  “My Jesus I trust in you".

And somewhere else in this church are people who’s life seems just perfect.  You seem completely in control. That can be even a more dangerous condition than for those who are struggling.  For those who are like this, your homework is to take a little inventory of your life. Ask yourself these 2 questions - Am I giving thanks to God at all times for all things? Do I recognize that I am not really in control?  Otherwise, when you face you storms, you could sink.

 And when that happens I suggest  Peter’s prayer from the Gospel – Lord save me!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pulling Weeds and Being "Judgmental"

 The following is an approximation of the Homily delivered for the Sixteenth Sunday or Ordinary time, July 20, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Slidell LA. The readings for this Sunday can be found  here at the USCCB web site.
Does the name Nathan Brown ring a bell for you?  Probably not. 17 years ago he went to a Louisiana prison for 25 years for attempted rape. 3 weeks ago he was on the front page of the Times Picayune,  on WWL-TV, Fox 8, MSNBC and various other local and national news outlets.   On June 25th, Nathan Brown walked out of prison after a Jefferson Parish judge overturned his conviction. You see, he was unjustly judged. The Innocence Project took on his case. Results from DNA testing of crime scene evidence proved that another man was actually the guilty person. (Read about Mr Brown here and listed to the interview.)

When asked how he made it through all of those years in prison for something that he did not do, he said:  I kept the faith, I prayed for other things… I knew that God was going to prevail in this matter also.  I knew that God would prevail in this matter.  What a beautiful testimony to faith.  

Each one of us as a people of faith, should also be confident that God will prevail in all matters.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus explains it as follows: Jesus is the Sower, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom (those who are going to heaven). The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age or the final judgment, and the harvesters are angels.

But what is the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds telling us today? Many lessons can be learned, but I would like to discuss just two.  First, the wheat and the weeds grow up together and it is hard to tell them apart until the wheat is ready for harvest.  And isn’t it that way in our lives today. The people who are weeds are hard to tell apart from those who are wheat. There are weeds in our families, the business world, in our government.  And has been made painfully and publicly obvious, there are weeds in our Church; in the pew, on the altar, among the hierarchy, even at the Vatican.   And even though we know that by far the vast majority of our clergy are good and holy men, with each news story about Church scandal that hits the airwaves, many feel ashamed to be Catholic.  These feelings are understandable, but it should not be the case. These scandals are nothing new and it should not shake your faith.   There have been weeds in the Church from the very beginning. Looking at the Apostles, one of the most trusted, Judas, betrayed our Lord.    When things in the Church seem bleak, we should draw confidence from the words of Nathan Brown, God will prevail in this matter also.

The second lesson comes from the question the servants ask the master: "Should we pull out the weeds?"  The farmer says, don’t get into the weeding business. Let the good and the bad live alongside each other.    I will sort this all out at the end.  The parable calls us to refrain from judgment, to trust that we don’t have to be the ones in charge. Someone else (God) also has an investment in the field in which we labor and he will prevail in the end.

It also is a parable of mercy; while things will be sorted out someday, the farmer tells his servants to wait until harvest time, leaving maximum time for mercy.  The first reading emphasizes this message of mercy: But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; and in the responsorial psalm we sing Lord you are good and forgiving.

Should we pull out the weeds?  This question also strikes at the core of one of the greatest points of confusion in the Church today – what does it mean not to be judgmental. ? Does it mean we cannot oppose evil or point out errors in conduct or morality? Empahtically no!!  When we correct a person for their own good or for the good of the Church we are doing the right thing. We can—and must—warn others, without hatred or anger, or an air of superiority when they commit sin.  That is one of the 7 spiritual works of mercy, known as admonishing the sinner.

So, if our children or grandchildren are living in sin, is it judgmental to tell them the error of their ways?  No. Not only is this OK, but as Catholics you are morally obligated to do so.

What the parable of the wheat and weeds speaks about, what we are forbidden to do and what is left to Christ alone is to determine or state the condition of someone’s soul, if they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven or whether that soul will, by its own actions, condemns itself to the “fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”  To proclaim to someone that they are going to hell because of their sinful lifestyle would be what is forbidden in this parable.  This is what Pope Francis is referring to with his famous quote "Who am I to judge?"  But point out the error of their ways and help them with a way out of sin would be an act of mercy and of love.

What is our homework? I am fairly certain most are not going to like this assignment at all.

Most of us know and love people, Catholic people,  who are living a seriously sinful lifestyle, with their souls in danger.  I am not referring to people who smash their fingers with a hammer and say bad words like I do. I am referring to people who are completely and totally immersed in sinful lifestyles. Go home. Look around.  Make a list, written or mental. Then, contemplate onthis.

We often say nothing to them for the sake of peace, so that we can get along.  We must not make peace a higher priority than Truth or their immortal souls.  We must resist the false shame that society inflicts on us by saying that we are being judgmental. Remember, correcting a sinner is a work of mercy.  Yes, it is possible to correct poorly to nag and correct too much.  However.  if we are honest with ourselves, I think we will find that we more often we have failed to correct at all rather than overcorrect..  

I challenge you to take just one person on your list and help them get to heaven.  Point out gently and with love, the danger in which they are putting themselves and show them a way out. It may be a little nerve-wracking.  You might stumble on your tongue a bit, but God will to prevail in this matter also.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Homily Trinity Sunday Year A: The Effects of the Trinity

 The following is an approximation of the Homily delivered for Trinity Sunday 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Slidell LA.  I am not placing a link to the readings for the day, as this homily is based on the theology of the Holy Trinity in general, and not any of the readings in particular.

There are a number of things in life that we don’t fully understand, but we still believe in. Take for example, the sun.  By a show of hands, how many of you believe in the sun?  By a show of hands, how many of you understand that the sun gives off light that lets us see during the day, allows plants to grow, and burns our skin if we get too much of it?

 By a show of hands, how many of you fully understand the nuclear fusion process in the sun where two atoms of hydrogen are combined to create helium-4 and energy starting when two protons combine to form a deuterium atom, a positron and a neutrino?

By a show of hands, who understands why the corona of the sun (the outer edge of its atmosphere) is more than 200 times hotter than the surface?  (This is somewhat of a trick question, as astrophysicist don’t even understand this!)

Yet, we believe in the sun even though we don’t fully understand. We believe because we see its effects, the light that we see and the warmth we feel.  As a people of faith, we can also be confident in our belief in the trinity by observing its effects.

  In a little while, we will recite the creed. Do we believe or are we just reciting because everyone else is?  Are you reciting the Creed because it is printed in the missalette? How do we know that God is 3 persons?

According to the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, the Trinity is the most fundamental and essential teaching in our faith.  The Trinity. But what do we understand? What do we really believe? This, in a nutshell is what the Church has taught from the beginning:

·      In the one divine Nature, there are three Persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
·      The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father: no one of the Persons is either of the others.
·      The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.
·      There are not three Gods but one God.

Even if you don’t fully understand the Trinity, most would agree with this statement – God is love.  Follow me carefully.  God IS love.  Not that God feels  or has love.  This is the most profound statement in all of Christianity.  Have you ever thought what it means to BE love?

Think about this. God existed before any created things – before the universe, before our sun or the earth. If God IS love and existed before any creation, then God must be a community. If God were just one person, he could not be love, because love cannot exists by itself. By definition, love at a minimum requires 3 things 1) a person to do the loving 2)someone to receive the loving  and 3) the love itself. A trinity, with the lover, the beloved, and the love could be a perfect being who IS love.

Just like we believe in the sun because we observe its effects, there are effects of the Trinity that we can observe to help our belief.

Lets look at the Father first. Who can look at all of creation and believe that everything just came to be randomly on its own?  It takes a greater leap of faith to believe that the entire universe came to be accidentally then it does to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful God who willed everything into existence.  The vastness, complexity and orderliness of all creation affirms that the first person of the trinity, God the father, the creator of all exists.

What are the effects of the Son? Think about these 3 facts.
·      Almost every disciple who knew Jesus personally willingly died a horrific death rather than deny his identity as the son of God. It would be difficult to believe that so many accepted martyrdom for a lie.
·      Christians throughout history to this current day willingly give their lives up rather than deny that Jesus is the 2nd person of the trinity.
·      There are now over 2 billion adherents to a religion that he started that promises nothing in this life.
The steadfastness of his witnesses and the vastness of His Church are the visible effects of the Son.

What are the effects of the 3rd person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit?
·      It is the Holy Spirit that inspired the writers of Sacred Scripture read by millions every day
·      The same Holy Spirit who inspired the College of Cardinals to elect Pope Francis.
·      It is that same Holy Spirit that gives courage and inspiration to this lowly Deacon from the Irish Channel to stand here and speak to you today.
That our Church even exists after 2000 years under the direction of weak and sinful people is evidence of the powerful effects of the Holy Spirit. 

I have saved the most important question until last - what are the effects of the Trinity on you?  We come to Mass and hear the word of God. We experience the Holy Spirit being called down during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We receive Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity during communion.  And because God is an indivisible Trinity, we have also received the Father and Holy Spirit. One would think experiencing God in such an intimate way every week that Catholics would be the happiest people on earth. Sadly many of us walk around as we were baptized in lemon juice or vinegar instead of with water in the name of the Trinity.  Many are sourpusses, not full of joy.

What is our homework?

By virtue of our Baptisms, each one of us is called to evangelize, to spread the faith.  It is difficult to evangelize if we walk around like sad puppies?  Who is going to believe the good news from a sourpuss? Your homework assignment is very simple - leave Church today and be bubbling over with joy like a bottle of champagne shaken and opened. And keep that joy.  And when someone asks you why you are so happy, tell them the reason - that you have an intimate relationship with the God who is pure love. The blessed trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

And if you don’t fully understand, that’s OK. I don’t either.  God knows it is more important to believe than to understand.

Friday, May 2, 2014

My Racist Rant For 2014

While I normally do not use this blog to rant and rave, I did so in December of last year when I wrote am article titled I Am A Liberal Conservative Environmentalist Patriot Marriage Equality Promoter . In this article, a fumed about terms that have so misused that they have almost no meaning any longer.

One term that I left out because I decided it needed more thought was "Racism."  In light of the recent "scandal" with LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the timing seems right to have a different perspective and discussion on the entire race issue. My perspective, unfortunately, is probably going to make no one happy.

 I propose that as a society, we immediately, totally and completely abandon the concept of race. Wipe it out! Gone!  
Why do I propose something so preposterous? The entire concept of race is an artificial construct, invented by society. Whether you look at from a scientific perspective or a religious perspective - race is a made up thing. It has also fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries, as well as influencing how we relate to other human beings.

From a scientific perspective, it can be proven through analysis of mitochondrial DNA, that every human being on the planet has a common female ancestor.  The Bible calls her "Eve."  As painful as the reality may be for some people, we are in fact one family. There is only one race - the human race.

This same scientific analysis can also prove with almost complete certainty that the human race originated in the eastern part of the African continent.  I suppose that means that if I go back far enough, I would be considered an African - American!  Superficial differences in skin color, hair texture, and the shape and size of features are mere accidents of migration and environment, and have nothing whatsoever to do with superiority or inferiority of one group versus another.

Judeo-Christian beliefs back this up. We find in Genesis 1: 27:

"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them"
The Catholic Church teaches that discrimination in any form , whether gender, race, color, sex,  social conditions, language, or religion is meant to be eradicated as it is incompatible with the equality God gave us as we were designed in his image. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

  1934: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.”

1935: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it.."
Eastern religions support this view also.  In Buddhism, for example, a special emphasis is placed in  on the worth and dignity of human existence in view of the opportunities and potentialities that man possesses for self-development. The unity of mankind is emphasized, and a distinction drawn between human beings and the animal and plant kingdoms.

The concept of race was invented for one group to gain advantage over another group.  The powerful or majority use it to take advantage of a minority or under-powered group as in the case of American slavery, South African Apartheid or Nazi Germany.  What an abhorrent concept.

 In the United States, the government has been as large a promoter of racism as the knights of the Klu Klux Klan.  In 1705 Virginia defines any "child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a Negro" as a mulatto. In 1866, the state decrees that "every person having one-fourth or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person." In 1910, the percentage is changed to 1/16th. Finally in 1924, the Virginia Racial Purity Act defines Black persons as having any trace of African ancestry - the infamous "one-drop" rule. According to this rule, ivory soap would not be considered white!

Another example of government racial mumbo jumbo deals with "American Indians" or "Native Americans"  An early treaty with the Osage tribe introduces land allotment and federal Indian policy based on "blood" degree. These ideas are broadly applied during the 19th century, most notably by the Dawes Commission in its 1887 wholesale redistribution of Indian lands. Historically, membership in Indian tribes was based on acceptance of tribal language, customs, and authority, not "blood." Escaped slaves, whites and other Indians were able to join and be accepted as full members. Although land allotment policies end in the 1930s, the government continues to base eligibility for Native American programs on blood quantum, leading most tribes to adopt blood degree requirements for membership by the late 20th century.

Blood degree!!! What a idiotic concept. If I need a blood transfusion, I don't care what was the skin color or hair texture of the donor.  So long as it typed and cross-matched correctly, bring it on.

While seemingly different,  the practice of certain minority or formerly oppressed people who use their skin color to gain economic or political advantage and obtain reparations for injustices of the past is still unjust. This includes that practices of  "playing the race card" and political gerrymandering.  While this may be called "reverse racism" that term is nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.  Racism is racism, whether in forward or reverse.

And just how many "races" are there?  What race is someone who has a "white", "black", Asian, and Native American grandparent? What if you remove one grandparent from that mix? Is that a different "race?"  How dark does someone have to be before they are considered "black?" The colors at Sherwin Williams are nothing compared to the wondorous and numerous colors of human skin! Would you like to check off from the palette below what race a person might belong to with each of these colors?

The question of the day is  - Instead of banning racism, why do we not just abandon the entire concept of race?  What are we afraid of?  The federal government is obviosuly struggling with this.  Look at the questions on race shown below from the 2010 census.  Korean is a race? Filipino is a race?  I thought that each was a nationality? If my mother is Nigerian and my father's grandparent were from Korea and Samoa, which box do I check?  What do you think about this whole issue?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Does The Church Say About Same Sex Attraction and Homosexual Persons?

You may know or may think you know what the Church teaches about same sex attraction and homosexuality.  Or maybe you don't.  In either case.  This short movie titled The Third Way by Blackstone Film is worth watching. Not just for Catholics, not just for homosexuals, not just for heterosexuals - but for all.

Get somewhere comfortable. This movie is about 40 minutes long.  And it is mostly presented by people with same sex attraction. So, if you have a problem with that, get over it and watch it anyway.
Click here to watch the movie on Vimeo

Monday, April 28, 2014

The "F-Word"

This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell for the the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday , for the 11 AM and 11 6 PM Masses. The readings can be found here.

There is much to talk about today. Doubting Thomas, the canonization of two popes, Divine Mercy Sunday.  However, today I am going to give what you might think is the most scandalous Homily have ever heard in a Catholic Church.  I am going to preach about the “F-Word”.  Yes, you heard it. The “F-Word.”  You might want to report me to the pastor after this, maybe the bishop.

But first, allow me to tell you about the “F-Word.”  The “F-Word” is the official title of a traveling exhibit on Forgiveness (the “F-Word”) put on by a secular Charity in the UK  called the Forgiveness Project. Their mission is to open dialogue about forgiveness and promote understanding. You can read some of the stories about Forgiveness on their web site, You can read about former neo-Nazi skinheads who have become promoters of racial harmony. You can read about how survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who saw their entire family slaughtered before their eyes forgave.  You can read how a woman forgave the murdered of her only child and has started an organization devoted to reconciling victims of crimes and the perpetrators.

While forgiveness may be difficult and sometimes seem impossible, as people of faith, these are the times when we most fully participate in Jesus’ mission on earth.

In the Gospel reading today, we encounter Jesus telling the Apostles “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

What does this mean? Sometimes the Bible is not always straightforward. Passages can be quite complicated and confusing. This, however, is NOT one of those. This is a plain, straightforward  scripture passage. Jesus sends the Apostles to continue his mission “as the Father sends me so I send you”. Jesus gives the apostles, and therefore their successors, through special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the authority and power to forgive sins. This is what we know today as Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Although the form has changed over the years, Reconciliation has been part of the Church since the beginning.  

Do we really believe these words from the mouth of Jesus?  If so, I would think that the line for Confessions would  be longer.  I did a little research with Fr. Pat and Fr Hoai on how many people go to confession at St Luke. Between them, they hear 60-80 confessions weekly. There are approximately 7500 parishioners eligible to receive the sacrament. My conclusion is that we either have some extraordinarily holy people here or something else is going on. Pope Francis goes to Confession every two weeks. How often do you go?  If we followed the Holy Father’s example, there would be 3750 Confessions heard per week at St Luke.

Why don’t we take advantage of the sacrament more? Hear are some of the reasons that I have heard
 “I am basically a good person.    I haven’t murdered anyone.” Murder is not the only reason to Confess.  Most sinners are basically good people.  Ask yourself this question, am I less sinful than the Pope?

I have not been in so long. The priest is going to be mad at me. I am embarrassed.  There was a time in my life when I skipped Confession for nearly 15 years. Returning was one of the most joyful days of my life.  I can assure you that like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, the priest will welcome you back with great joy.   

I do not believe my sins are forgiven because I do not feel any different when I walk out of the confessional Even after Confession, we still have the weaknesses that are there because of sin. It is a common temptation of Satan to whisper, "You know those sins you confessed long ago – how do you know that they’re gone?"  Do you trust Jesus? 

 If we get to heaven and want to talk about our past sins, I imagine Jesus is going to say, to paraphrase a line from the movie Treasure of Sierra Madre  “Sins? What Sins? I don’t remember no stinking sins?” Remember, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.

By our Baptisms, we are all called to be part of Jesus’ mission of forgiveness. Now, you say, I am not a priest, how can I as an ordinary Catholic in the pew fully participate in Jesus’ mission of Reconciliation?   We do this when we give and receive forgiveness. Not just for the extraordinary things like the stories in the F-Word Project, but in the ordinary course of our lives.  When we give forgiveness, we are participating in Jesus’ gift of mercy, and when we ask for forgiveness, we give the opportunity for someone else to participate also.  When we get into an argument. When a friend does something hurtful. When a spouse is unfaithful. When a businessman takes advantage of you? When someone lies to you. When people spread false rumors about you.  Forgive.

So what is our homework?  Remember the ABC of Forgiveness

A. Ask for forgiveness..  Even if you are not completely in the wrong.  Even if the fault is 1% yours. Ask.

B. Be forgiving. Don’t act with justice. Don’t give someone what they deserve. Give mercy.  As we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we …”  If you are not ready to forgive, don’t pray this.

C. Confession. Jesus was not joking when he said “whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.”  Take more advantage of the sacrament more.  If it has been years, what better time than now to go? If you go once a year – why not twice? Twice a year?  What not four times?  You get the point.

   In closing, I would like to quote the great St John Chrysostom, arguably the greatest homilist in Church history. In a homily 1600 years ago said:
 “Have you argued with someone and hold ill will towards him? Then do not approach Holy Communion. Do you want to approach? First be reconciled, and then come near…” 
 Soon many will approach the altar to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  Have we forgiven? Are we ready?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Temptation Looks, Feels, Smells, and Tastes Good

--> This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell for the first Sunday of Lent, March 9, 2014, for the 9 and 11 AM Masses. The scripture readings can be accessed at this link

One of the most popular costumes for Mardi Gras and Halloween when I was growing up was “the devil.” I am going to ask you do draw a mental picture of the devil in your mind – how many of you had a picture that included somebody scary - horns, pitchforks, tails, a goatee, maybe hooves, a cape and  some combination of red or black clothes.? Raise your hands!

Other descriptions that might come to mind are the creepy Satan in the movie the Passion of the Christ or the Barak Obama look-alike on the History Channel miniseries, the Bible. The problem is that nowhere is scripture or any other credible writing do any of these descriptions of the devil exist.   Now Deacon Paul’s belief is that if God allowed Satan to take human form in modern days, he or she would be good-looking, athletic, intelligent, wealthy, well-spoken, drive a very nice car, and have a very fine home – you know attractive. The devil and his temptations have to seem attractive to lure us in.

As people of faith, it is important to understand the nature of temptation and have a strategy for overcoming it.

The theme of today’s scripture is temptation, the only tool that the devil has. In general, Satan cannot make us do anything. Some of you may remember the comic Flip Wilson and his character Geraldine Jones. When her husband, Rev Leroy would ask why she bought her 3rd dress this week, she would say…. The devil made me do it!! The devil made me buy this dress!!!  No, the devil cannot make us do it, but he can put temptation in our way.

The story of Adam and Eve in the first reading gives at least four interesting insights into the nature of temptation.  First – temptation is something that looks attractive. The woman saw that the tree was good for food,  pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. A temptation is a trick, a deception, usually with partial truths. 

Second, temptation knows where you are weak.  Did you ever stop and think about why Satan tempted Eve first and then had Eve tempt Adam? It could be that Eve was more susceptible to Satan’s temptation and Adam was more susceptible to Eve’s.  Condensed out of the  middle of the first reading is GN 2:22 where Adam exclaims about Eve This one at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Adam loved his wife so much that he had a weakness for whatever she asked. Maybe your weakness is your spouse, your best friend, your pride, your reputation.

Third, temptation blinds us to the consequences of the action we contemplate. We can see the consequences of other people’s temptations and behaviors, but rarely can we see our own.  Who says to themselves– “I know that doing X is going to put me in a state of mortal sin, but I am going to do it anyway because the reward is so great.”

And finally, the strongest draw of temptation is to use our God-given intelligence to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong and not be submissive to God’s will. No, God knows well that the moment you eat…you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.  I believe this is why so many Catholics believe it is OK to disagree with or totally ignore the Church’s teaching on things such as co-habitation, contraception, same sex marriage, and even abortion. They have fallen for the lie that they too can be like a god.

If the fall of Adam and Eve gives us insight into the nature of temptation and the consequences, then Jesus’ time in the desert gives us a model for overcoming temptation.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert.  What was he doing those 40 days?  He was likely not working, partying, playing X-Box or watching television.  As He was led by the Spirit, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus was immersed in prayer.

Second, notice that in the first reading, Adam and Eve were living in the Garden of Eden, with all the food and pleasure that they could ever want.  Jesus was in the desert, fasting for forty days.  Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, Jesus overcame it. 

Finally, as the temptations are increased – Satan offered Jesus that whole world if Jesus would worship him - what does Jesus do ? he uses three simple, but powerful words – Get away Satan.  We too, have that weapon available.

What Is Our Homework?
Now that you hopefully have a better insight into the nature of temptation, we need to identify those temptations in our own lives and determine what we can do to avoid them. I would like to suggest a way to apply the model  Jesus gives us in the Gospel to our lives.  Don’t stop doing whatever you are already doing for Lent, just consider adding what I am about to suggest.

But before we can apply it to our lives, first, we need to honestly answer this question – What tempts me? It is different for everyone. I suggest taking 5 minutes before bedtime each night during lent, and find just one area, just one, where we did wrong, where we sinned.  

Now, we can apply the model that Jesus gave us. First is prayer.  Each night take that one thing to prayer, ask for God’s help with that one thing. It does not need to be a complicated formula.  Dear Jesus, today I failed at X.  Y and Z tempted me.  Help me tomorrow to avoid and overcome.

Second is fasting. By fasting we gain control over bodily appetites instead of our bodily appetites controlling us. Fasting helps us with discipline.  Whatever fast you may do, whether it is skipping meals, giving up certain foods – instead of just “getting through it” like many of us do, let it remind us of those temptations that we are trying to overcome.

Finally, we may have to shout, if not with our words, with our actions – Get away Satan.  Accept that we may have to do something radical to overcome the occasion of sin.  We may need to completely avoid those people, places, activities or things that cause us to fall into sin.  That is not always easy.   Are we ready to give up those things that seem important to us now for the sake of our immortal souls?  If you struggle with pornography, you may need to give away your computer. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is temptation, then maybe it is time to break up. If drinking is causing you problems, it may mean an end to the party life.

Temptation is never going away. If it arrived dressed in a red devil’s cape, with horns and a pitchfork, we might deal with it better than we do. But temptation looks, feels, smells, and taste so very good.  When temptations come to us we have a choice; either to follow them like Adam and Eve or overcome them like Jesus did in the Gospel. Which will you choose?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Your Faith Is Not Private: Evil Happens When We Hide Our Light Under A Bushel Basket

This is an approximation of the homily I delivered at St Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell at the 4:00 PM Mass on Saturday Feb 8 and  at the 11 AM Mass on Sunday Feb 9, 2014.  The readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A can be found by clicking here.

Tuesday I was driving home from work late. My wife Pam had warned me that there might be some fog and asked me to be careful.  The drive seemed fine.  After about a ½ of a mile on to the Twin Span Bridge, all of a sudden it was so dark, and the fog was so thick that I could not see the railings.  I could neither see the lights of the cars behind me nor the taillights of the cars that I knew were ahead of me. I was afraid to drive on for fear of hitting something ahead and I was afraid to slow down for fear of being hit from behind   As I came down the hump of the high rise portion, in front of me, I see of all the crazy things, 3 street sweeping trucks cleaning the shoulders of the twin spans.  They had these huge blinking arrows on them warning oncoming traffic to get over.  My first thought was – of all the stupidest things- cleaning the twin span in the middle of the worst fog ever. My second thought was – thank you God for sending these trucks to light my way.  I safely followed the light of the street sweepers off the Twin Spans until the fog lifted enough so that I could drive the rest of the way home at a fairly normal speed.

And in a way, as Christians, we are called to be like those street sweepers – lighting the way for those trapped in darkness so that they can find their way home.

Our culture has become obsessed with privacy.  From the doctor’s office to the credit card company, we are becoming overwhelmed with privacy. And with this privacy mindset, we tend to think of religion as private, something for ourselves.  Our religion should bring us peace and comfort, but it is not there for US, it is there for us to bring it to others.  Our faith unshared and unproclaimed is like lighting a lamp and putting it under a bushel basket; it is useless.

During the Baptism ceremony, someone, usually the father or godfather, lights the child's candle from the Easter candle. Then the priest or deacon says:

Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He is to walk always as a child of the light. May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart.

As a Christian, what does it mean to be a light of the world? IF you missed that message, you might have been snoozing during the Liturgy of the Word. Every scripture reading today proclaims the answer - the light of Christ is seen in this dark world by our good deeds.  From the first reading we know that these good deeds include our social interaction with others (remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech”) and works of justice and mercy (Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them)

The responsorial psalm echoes the message of justice and charity as we sing T he just man is a light in darkness to the upright.  From the second reading we know that good deeds include speaking the truth with courage

Finally, the Gospel concludes that we have both a right and a duty to behave in just ways both in our private dealings with people and in public life. So that others can recognize this good, see that it comes from God, and glorify God accordingly.

What makes it possible for darkness to take over the world? How does evil thrive?  It is when Christians decide to keep their faith private. Lets look at 3 examples:

Russia was predominantly Christian (Russian Orthodox) when Joseph Stalin took over. Between 1932 -39 Stalin had between 7and 20 million people killed?  How?  When Hitler came to power in Germany, the country was 94% Christian. 94%!!  54% Protestant and 40% Catholic. The estimates that I have seen are that, excluding war causalities, Hitler and his regime were responsible for the deaths of between 11 and 21 million civilians. How is that possible? In a Christian nation? I admit, the answers are complicated, but without the cooperation of the Christian people, these murderous regimes would not have been possible.

If you think Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany are long ago and far away, lets look a little closer to home. All nine justices of the 1973 Supreme Court who ruled on the Roe V Wade case were --- drum roll----Christians.  3 Presbyterians, 3 Episcopalians, 1 Catholic, 1 Methodist and 1 Lutheran. 7 of the 9 decided to keep their faith private.  Of the 9, only William Rehnquist, the Lutheran and Byron White, an Episcopalian, dissented from the opinion. Even the lone Catholic, William Brennan cooperated with evil.  The result of that has been 57 million babies murdered in the United States since 1973. How is this possible in a supposedly Christian nation?

What makes it possible for darkness to take over the world?  It is when Christians, those just like you and I, stand on the sidelines and watch the world go by. It is when Christians hide their light under a bushel basket.

What is our homework?

Light is what makes it possible people us to see. No light, no vision. To be the light of the earth means to show people where they are to go.  We don’t have blinking arrows on us like the street sweepers did for me on the twin spans. The light we have is the light of Christ.  We have a duty to let it be seen. Today, each and every one of us must begin to live our faith in public.