The Transfiguration, Homily

Homily, Mar 11&12, Cyc A, 2nd Lent, The Transfiguration

Well, we’re moving right along on our journey through Lent. By now we should have decided and implemented what we are going to give up for Lent. Right? In my day things were a lot simpler: We gave up sweets, Cokes, caffeine or hitting our younger brother. But, we’re a lot more sophisticated today.

For instance, we can take Father Jim’s suggestion and give up texting on our cell phones. When I asked him several days ago, if I could use his name in vain with his suggestion, he said sure, in fact you can add giving up cell phones altogether.

I said, wow, that’s a little harsh, Father. So help me, the very next day, there was an article on the international news cycle about Pope Francis suggesting we all give up our phones and start carrying and reading our bibles.

I’m not sure who is following who, the Pope – Father Jim or Father Jim – the Pope.

In today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are actually exposed to another epiphany of Jesus. They see Him in a different way, a different context. In that mysterious meeting on the mountain with Moses and Elijah Peter, James, and John are shown Jesus’ place in the overall mix of Salvation History.

We often hear the phrase, “The Law and the Prophets” used to describe God’s relationship with His people in the OT. In the Transfiguration, we have Moses representing the Law, and Elijah representing the Prophets. Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is shown discussing with Moses and Elijah the foundations of Israel’s faith.

Jesus trusted completely in His Father’s plan for mankind with a faith that recognized His dependence on His Father. And, by the way, that is the same sort of faith we are called to embrace, recognizing our dependence on the goodness and mercy of God.

Jesus believed the scriptures that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise, and He knew they referred to Him. The Transfiguration event, especially His Father speaking to him from the cloud, strengthened His resolve to let God’s plan take effect in Him. We are called to have faith to do the same thing with our lives, to let God’s plan take effect in us.

No matter what we achieve in this life, we will never be our best selves without recognizing our need for a relationship with our creator.

Looking at our First Reading today from Genesis, we see God calling Abraham to that same faith in Him. Can you imagine God calling an elderly man with no children and a barren wife to leave the land of his kinsfolk and move to a distant place?

Then sweetening the pot, we hear God promising to make of him a great nation and assuring him that He would bless him. It must have taken a great deal of faith to pass that information along to his kin.

To put that into today’s world, that would be like Msgr showing up one Sunday and announcing that he heard from God and we are to trust him and move to the north end of the Island. It’s that drastic.

So, this first reading gives us a clear picture that God has been calling His creation to this level of faith for a long, long time, thousands of years.

The first reading concludes with an interesting final verse. God tells Abram, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. I think within that verse we can find a nugget of truth to use during this Lenten season.

If you will allow me a little fundamentalism for the sake of Lent, we can use that thought for something to curtail during this season.

Let me paraphrase that verse. When God says, “I will bless those who bless you”, He is saying, “I will be good to those who are good to you”. When He says, “I will curse those who curse you”, He is saying, “I will not be good to those who are not good to you”.

If we can get a grip on that idea, then it frees us from retaliating against those who have treated us poorly. It frees us from the internal feeling that rises up within us that we must ‘get even’ with someone who has done us harm.

We can assure ourselves that we don’t have to restore justice in our small part of the universe because God has said He will handle it.

It is an automatic promise from God to Abraham to Jesus to us. The only way we can stop that promise from happening is to tell God to forego the promise as Jesus did while hanging on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.

Well, there IS another way to stop it. We can do what we normally do, retaliate ourselves, which in effect is telling God, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this one”. The truth is we should want God to handle it, He does it so much better than we do, and when He does, His actions are also redemptive for the other person. Our actions are almost always, not so much.

When you think about it, we already lean in that direction anyway when we refer to Karma. When someone finally gets what is coming to them, we say, “Karma is a tough force”. Or, we use phrases like, “What goes around comes around”. Both of those are a generic forms of, “We reap what we sow”, which is also scriptural.

Let me suggest adding this concept to our list of traditional things to give up for Lent. We can take Father Jim’s suggestion and give up texting on our cell phones, or the Pope’s suggestion to give up cell phones altogether. We can throw in a few random acts of kindness, and give up retaliating against those who do us harm.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we call out to Jesus for the courage to have faith and trust in God. We don’t know exactly how He is going to answer that, but we do know that if we trust in Him, He will find a way to use us to reflect His image in the world and thereby include us in a small way in His plan of salvation in our world.

 

Stop Just Reading Your Bible

“Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart.” Psalm 119:34 (NLT)

I have a request today: Stop reading your Bible. Does that shock you? Relieve you? Make you angry at worst? Curious at best?

Read on, and see what I mean by this request.

There have been many days in my Christian journey when God was reduced to something on my to-do list. Somewhere along the way, I picked up an unwritten checklist of sorts explaining what “good Christians” are supposed to do:

Pray.

Read your Bible.

Go to church.

Don’t cuss.

Be nice.

Being the rule-following girl I am, I subscribed to the good things on that list and waited with great expectations to receive the zap of contentment and happiness good Christian girls are supposed to exude.

But then something felt wrong with me. I still felt restless. I still reacted in anger. I still felt a bit hollow.

I was going through all the motions but didn’t feel connected to Jesus. Others around me seemed very connected. They would talk of being “moved by the Spirit.” They would hear from God Himself. They would clap their hands and shout “Amen” in the middle of a sermon that sounded like Greek to me.

I often felt like a weightless soul grasping at the air, hoping to somehow snag this Jesus that was just out of reach. Have you ever been there?

This nagging sense creeps in that you’ll never get it — that you don’t have what it takes to be a Christian. That’s where I was. I lived there for a long time until someone challenged me to stop simply reading my Bible because it was a thing on my Christian checklist. Instead, they challenged me to experience God. To know God.

In other words, I needed to look at the words in the Bible as a love letter. God’s love letter to a broken-down girl. A love letter not meant to simply be read … but a love letter meant to be lived.

I won’t lie. It took a while.

It took many days of sitting down with my Bible while praying gut-honest prayers. I told God I wasn’t connecting. I told Him I wanted to understand, just like the psalmist in our key verse, Psalm 119:34.

I asked Him to help me. I begged Him to help me. Finally, one verse came alive to me. I literally felt moved when I read it. I memorized it and thought about it all day long. All week long. Maybe all month long.

I was overjoyed. I had a verse. A verse where Jesus spoke tenderly and clearly and specifically to me. It was Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (NIV)

Slowly, I added more verses. Day by day. Chapter by chapter. And eventually my Bible became my greatest treasure, my love letter.

Now, every day I open up God’s Word with great expectation and intentionally look for my verse for that day. Usually one verse among the many I read during my devotion time grabs my heart, and I know it’s meant just for the day ahead. And then I attempt to live that verse out in some way, that very day.

When I make the connection between what happens in my life that day and why I need that verse, I experience God. I see Him active in my life, and I become even more deeply aware of His constant presence.

I’m sure some Bible scholars would probably take issue with my simplistic approach, but it sure has helped me.

So, back to my original statement. Stop reading your Bible. In other words, stop simply reading it because you have to cross it off the Christian checklist.

Instead, read it with great expectations of connecting more deeply and living more authentically with God.

© 2017 LYSA TERKEURST ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Do I Really Need The Church?

We sometimes hear people say they really don’t need to go to church to find God. They can find Him looking up to the night sky and feel a closeness to Him in that environment. Others will tell you that they live good lives and give to the poor and less fortunate quite well without a church association. Still others claim they had bad experiences in mainline churches and feel less conflicted with their own pursuits.

What are we to say to comments like that? We could say good for you, I hope you continue to be happy with that approach. Trying to convince someone otherwise is really a chase after the wind. Hopefully, they will find their fulfillment in their own way.

For most of us, more is needed. A good church creates an environment for its members to grow in. They should expect to receive positive messages on a regular basis that will lead them to grow in their spirituality into real life examples of their God right here on earth. How personal that experience with their God becomes depends on their individual desire and effort.

It helps if members understand and believe that a church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. With that attitude, they will more likely be open to receive the support and input that they need along the way.

Worshiping with the same people on a regular basis also provides a sense of being a member of something larger and more involved than trying to worship alone.

Being a member of a church with other members also exposes us to the various models of church. It opens us to diversity and expands our understanding of more of the whole of our God. Many people find it amazing that there are different models of church right there in their own church.

Some feel closer to God in the institutional model where creeds and beliefs are celebrated openly, and there is a progression of leadership. They feel more confident in a pastor who reports to someone higher. This can be called the order model and they feel more confident in that setting.

There is another model called the community model where they feel closer to God among His people. There is a confidence and a security available to them that they need to feel God’s presence. We know He told us that where two or three are gathered, there He is among them. This group sees Him in others.

Another model is referred to as the sacramental model where the signs and symbols quicken a sense of His presence for them. They want to have an active part in the service themselves. This is called the participation model.

Hearing God’s word proclaimed strongly in the service is another model that brings some people to feel God is present among them. They value His written word and will memorize portions of scripture that really speak to them. This is called the scripture model. They come alive in the service when scripture is read and enumerated.

Finally, there is the suffering servant model where people feel God’s presence most strongly when they are physically serving others. They will go to great lengths to serve others in need. They feel like they are the hands of God reaching out to help others.

All of these models are valid. All of them are authentic. Each represents one aspect of Jesus’ life when He walked the earth. None of us can faithfully live all of these models like Jesus did. We can represent one primary model and a portion of another. That’s why being in a church with all models represented and active is our best bet. A church is therefore at its strongest when all five models are present and at its weakest when only one model predominates.

Can we find God outside of an organized church as we discussed in the beginning? It is possible, but it is surely easier to find Him and worship Him in a church with all five models active and faithful. God is God and we are not. Recognizing the fullness of God and our inability to faithfully represent Him all by ourselves is a poverty of spirit needed to become the most that we can be, as pointed out by the sermon on the mount.

The Epiphany of the Lord, a Homily

Homily, Jan 07-08, Cyc A, The Epiphany of the Lord

Today we celebrate the feast of The Epiphany of the Lord. When I was growing up we use to call it “Little Christmas” & the trees did not come down until after Epiphany, even if it was a fire hazard.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew the reading describes the visit of the Magi to the Christ child as He laid in the manger.  The Magi, who were most likely astronomers/astrologers, came from far away after “seeing His star in the heavens”.

Tradition says they came from India, Arabia and Persia. Symbolically, they represent Peoples from all over the world.

The definition of the word, Epiphany, as you know, means a sudden revelation about the nature or meaning of something. It can be that “aha moment” when we realize a new truth or that quiet moment when the still, small voice breaks into our consciousness and we see things differently.

For example: A number of years ago, I was strongly opposed to abortion, glibly proclaiming “all life is precious”. Yet, at the same time I was strongly in favor of capital punishment. One day, out of nowhere, that dichotomy blinked into my mind and I realized that if all life was precious, then in God’s eyes the life of a killer was precious, as well. I had to get over my belief in capital punishment. Yes, it took some mental gymnastics to get there.

This feast marks the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles.   Jesus’ presence in the world is now out in the open for all, not just the Jews.

You could say the Magi were both involved in Epiphany and had an epiphany themselves.  They saw something they did not know existed, and invested the time and effort to investigate. Can you imagine climbing on camels and riding 100’s of miles thru desert?

Throughout our lives, ideally, we have numerous epiphanies as we discover truth that opens our minds or changes the way we think about something.

When we discover a truth that changes the way we think, we can be moved to make concrete adjustments.

I believe that is ultimately, what God is after in our lives.

It reminds me of the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  When God sees we are ready for the truth, He sends someone to share it with us.

I don’t think He wants us to be caught up in liking to hear new things just for the sake of novelty.  Scripture negatively refers to the Greeks liking to have their ears tickled with new ideas. (Acts 17, 21)

So, when we discover a new truth about the Lord, we are not to stop there, we are to consider what actions that truth calls us to make.

One action we can take is to share that truth with others.  Since that truth is about the Lord then that sharing becomes evangelization.

We know the Lord calls us to spread His good news to those who have not heard it in a way that brings about a response.

Often, we think of evangelization in simplistic terms like leaving those little small paper bibles on windowsills in public places. While that is a form of evangelism, what I am referring to is really so much more. It is sharing with another person what we have experienced about the Lord Jesus.  And, when you think about it, that’s all we really have to share that’s truly authentic, everything else is 3rd party hearsay.

Another interesting point about this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, is that it was predicted in the Book of Isaiah, 740 years before the actual event occurred.

In fact, that is our First Reading today from Isaiah chapter 60. Remember, we heard phrases like:

-Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem, your light (truth) has come

-Darkness covers the earth, but upon you the Lord shines and over you appears His light (truth)

-Your Sons come from afar

Speaking of coming from afar.  Do you remember the story of the little boy in a play about the Epiphany who showed up at the first dress rehearsal dressed like a firefighter instead of a Magi?

Sister asked him why he was dressed like a firefighter.  He answered “that one of his lines was to say that he had come from afar.” You know, afar, a fire. A little South Georgia-eese.

Anyway…The passages in Isaiah 60 are very descriptive of the Epiphany event.

And, once again we see the Lord, calling our attention to His desire from the earliest times to be known by all Peoples not just the Chosen People.

Before I wrap up I would like to share my most recent epiphany.

My kids gave me Samsung’s Oculus Virtual Reality goggles for Christmas. They are amazing! You’ve seen them advertised on TV. They put you right in the middle of the action and it is so realistic that you literally ‘feel’ the action.

For instance, one of the sample videos supplied with the device is someone under water feeding sharks and recording it with a Go-Pro mounted on their head. The sharks come right up to you and take the small fish from your hands as you squirm and bob and weave.

Another video is a roller coaster ride. Oh my! As you careen down the rails swerving and leaning toward the outside of the car, your stomach churns just as surely as if you were on a real roller coaster.

In fact, nausea rises to the forefront and you want to reach up and take off the goggles. But, for all the thrills that are possible, the one thing that caught my attention was the fact that you are at the epicenter of the action and have a 360-degree view of your world, left to right, top to bottom and even behind you.

It is a narcissistic delight, everything is centered on you. You are involved, not just watching a screen. It is easy to forget that it is “virtual” reality not real reality. You know, sometimes we get caught up trying to make life all about us.

The virtual reality trips I took are a good reminder that you better be careful what you strive for, you may get it and sooner or later, it will make you sick – just like in real life, too much self-centeredness can do us harm.

So, on this great feast we pray, “Help us Oh Lord, to embrace the epiphany of You, and respond to Your great love for all of us! Help us to look beyond ourselves and see Your work in all creation”

Ahh Yes, Forgiveness

“When you are praying and you remember that you are angry with another person about something, forgive that person. Forgive them so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins.” Mark 11:25 (ERV)
 

It’s making me squirm in my wooden chair, this idea of total forgiveness.

People talk loudly around me as I sip coffee at a restaurant and read Jesus’ words that rock me to the core. I wonder, Can these people hear the secret welling up in my throat? I’m a Christian and I don’t know how to forgive.

I instinctively put my hand over the page to hide the words. I feel exposed.

I’ve walked with God for many years, but I’m struggling to get over past hurts. My relationships are suffering, and the same personal issues keep rising up in my life. I’ve realized I haven’t really shown mercy to those who have injured me, not completely. Forgiveness does not come naturally.

I thought it would be easier to love others like my Father in Heaven. But today, forgiveness feels strange, uncomfortable and radical, like the sun blazing hot on me through the cold cafe window.

Forgiveness is heat and exposure, my heart laid bare in front of God. It feels like surgery. I’m having to admit I’ve become angry and bitter. There have been times lately when forgiveness feels nearly impossible because my heart is bound up tightly like a kid’s knotted shoelaces.

I have pitted myself against others and fought hard for my own rights. I’ve justified myself under the cloak of righteousness and called it love. Slowly, I’m realizing I cannot change people. I am the only problem I can fix.

I think of those who have forgiven me. My husband who pardoned me after I walked out years ago. My kids who hugged me after I yelled. A whole roomful of people who loved me anyway when I threw something in anger.

The capacity to forgive means we are wholly reliant on these open hearts of ours walking around, alive and resurrected in Christ. Beating, open, raw. Forgiving, letting be, letting go.

To forgive is to be transformed completely and never bring up a fault again — no matter what it is. We are to pray and want the best for the one who has injured us. This is unsettling because it feels impossible. Even after I forgive, anger tries to sneak in again and again.

Forgiveness feels like letting people off the hook. Releasing our vise grip on “I told you so” and “You hurt me.” Without forgiveness, our hearts become hard as stone, petrified wood, rotting slower than time.

Today’s Scripture verse reminds us feelings cannot be trusted, but God’s mercy can. It’s not easy, this everyday surrendering of ourselves. We must keep our hearts open to be reworked day after day.

When past hurts rise up and our spiritual lives grow cold, it’s time to bare our hearts to our Heavenly Father, who changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He is faithful to fill us with grace as many times as we need. On repeat. Forever.

We don’t have to be cold, dead wood. We can be heat and life to this world like God. He is constantly reminding us of places we need to let mercy in. He lays our hearts bare at the table, and we experience the great undoing, recalibrating work of grace. We forgive so we will be forgiven. Totally.

Dear Jesus, old hurts and feelings still threaten to hijack my heart, but I want to forgive like You forgive me. When I feel anger creeping in, let that be the signal to forgive again and experience mercy’s healing power. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Thank you, Christina Hubbard, for this insightful article…

Stone By Stone, a Homily

Homily, Nov 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 33rd Sunday of Ord Time (Stone Upon Stone)

In our Gospel, today, we are given a picture of the Jewish temple before and after its destruction. In the process, we learn that even those things that symbolize stability can fall. Change is inevitable.

We may not like it – we may resist it, but the reality is, things change. “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill. While those are very wise words, they don’t offer much in the way of consolation when we are waist deep in the alligators of change.

Sometimes changes are welcome. But, there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. There are days when our life is forever changed, the world is different, and nothing is like it used to be.

You and I know those days. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, they are stories of the health diagnosis that pointed to the end, they are stories about the divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost, the day Hurricane Matthew blew over the Island’s trees and not just the dead wood, but huge healthy trees as well.

In the language of our Gospel today, the things we look to for stability can be referred to as our temples. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions.

In that sense, Temples are the things that we think give structure and order to our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security. At least we think they do, until they don’t, anymore.

For many people the Catholic Church is not the church we remember. It is not like it used to be when we were growing up.

Things have changed. As a country, the temple of our economic system has changed. We can no longer count on investments that will grow predictably every year.

Globally, we read of wars, plagues, famines. Nations have risen against nation. Security, peace, and diplomacy have given way to fear, violence, and terrorism. Temples are falling everywhere.

In today’s gospel, some were speaking about the Jewish temple, its beautiful stones, and gifts dedicated to God hanging on its inside walls. It was a massive structure, able to seat thousands. It is what structured their community. It gave identity and meaning. It was the center of Jewish life.

Yet, Jesus looks at it and says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Construction had taken over 50 years, but it was destroyed in 70 AD after a Jewish rebellion against the Romans.

So, what do we do on the day our temple falls?

Change has a way of pushing us into the future. If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our minds. That is not Jesus’ response. He is calling us to be faithful in the present.

Sometimes, after our temple falls, we look for a scapegoat, someone to blame or even demonize. We look for someone or a group who does not think, act, or believe like we do. That is not Jesus’ response.

Or, maybe we will simply give up and walk away in despair. We can see nothing left. Everything is lost and the situation is hopeless. That is not Jesus’ response.

Some will become angry, resentful, and fight back. Others will say this is God’s will or maybe even worse, this is God’s punishment. And, we are referring to a group that behaves in a way that offends us and we think, God as well.

Jesus’ response is just the opposite. Be still, He says; be quiet, He says; do not be led astray. Do not allow your life to be controlled or defined by fear. Do not listen to the many voices that would cause you to run and follow after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now.

Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, especially in the midst of our temple ruins, we will likely not find God, anywhere, because He tells us in Psalm 34 that He is closest to us when we are crushed in spirit.

The place of fallen temples is the place in which God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” We have a God who creates.

Those promises are fulfilled through our perseverance. By perseverance we gain our lives – the last words of today’s Gospel.

Jesus is calling us to the virtue of stability. We are to remain fully present and faithful, no matter how uncomfortable life may be. In so doing we discover that God has always been with us – in the changes and chaos of life; in the pain, loss, and disappointment; in the destruction of our temples.

Endurance, perseverance, stability are the ways in which we offer God the fallen stones of our temples. Stone by stone He rebuilds our life.

Stone by stone God restores the original beauty of our life and world. Stone by stone a new temple arises from the rubble.

And, we become the temple of God. That is the story that needs to be told. That is our opportunity to testify to the Good News of God’s love for all of us, warts and all.

We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It is not. Oh, it will be, if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, or try to put it back together like it used to be.

But it does not have to be the end of the story. Indeed, the greater story is how we discovered God next to us in the temple ruins and how, stone by stone, He rebuilt what we could not.

It is the ongoing story of God recreating life out of loss and ruin, a story of God rejoicing and delighting in his people.

This story is the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘according to you’. It is not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is according to you. It is real, sacred, and true. Trust that story, tell it over and over, proclaim it to all who will listen, and live that story to the fullest.

Forgive the Church

When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.

It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.

Henri Nouwen

God’s Seasons, Eccl 3:1-11

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens.”
This opening verse tells us that there is a seasonality surrounding our lives in this world. It goes without saying that we benefit when we respect the season that is currently in vogue. Yes, we can make things happen out of season, but the results are not nearly as impactful. In season, our work benefits from the appropriate actions all around us. Out of season, we are totally on our own. Our goal should be to identify the season in which we live at any point in time, and adjust our work efforts to match what is going on around us for maximum results.

“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.”
In this sweeping statement we see the whole of our life from beginning to end. We are reminded that at our birth we are ‘planted’ in this world, and when we die, we are in effect, ‘uprooted’ from this world. What we do, what we experience, what we accomplish is contained between these two events. This statement reminds us that we are not of this world. We come into it from afar, and we return from whence we came. We are here for a purpose. Books like, “A Purpose Driven Life” help us fill in the blanks between arriving here and leaving here. All throughout lives, we find ourselves being born into new circumstances and have to re-invent ourselves. Also, we recognize things that we have to extricate or uproot ourselves from time to time in order to grow.

“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build.”
We think to ourselves, I could never kill another human being. Usually, that means we have never been faced with a kill or be killed situation and like to present ourselves to others as being a good person not given to violence. Yet, when we think of ourselves in comparison to a plant we know that at the end of the growing season when the plant has gone to seed, the remains are killed, torn down, and plowed back into the soil to be reabsorbed. All the fruits of the plant have been obtained and it is time to prepare and build for the next season of growth. There are times and circumstances when we must stand in the face of evil and do our best to overcome it, that is, kill it. Other times appear where our effort must be directed to healing the wounds of ourselves and others.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
During our lives we are faced with occasions of sadness at the loss of a loved one, difficult life circumstances, hurt or harm to the innocent that bring tears to our eyes. We mourn the loss and learn to walk around the hole left behind in our lives. Over time the season shifts and we learn to laugh again and even dance in joy again, though still mindful of the earlier loss but less stung by it. It is a hard lesson in the truth that life goes on in its parade of lives. We are reminded that we should make the most of every day for we know not the time nor the hour of our own passing.

“A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.”
Scattering stones brings to mind demolition of an old building. It had been painstakingly constructed one stone at a time but now it is time to remove it in preparation for something new. The old stones are gathered to be reused. The old structure had been embraced by its owner, perhaps families had used it, but now it is time to move on to a new purpose and so it is far from embracing in anticipation of the new structure that will replace it. Internally, we tend to gather and hold onto our old ways instead of embracing new opportunities to re-invent ourselves in order to be better used by the Lord to serve others.

“A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”
When we want something strongly we go after it with all of our energy. We seek it and win it by efforts and resources, and intend to hold onto it with all our might. Yet, over time our desires and purposes change due to a change of season and life circumstances and we find ourselves ready to let it go. In the process we may even acknowledge we no longer want what we set out to win and look for ways to rid ourselves of what may have become an albatross around our necks. Nothing serves us better than casting away that which is out of season. Periodic inventories internally and externally will help us move on into new opportunities that present themselves.

“A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak.”
Watching a skilled seamstress rip out a seam so it can be re-sewn in a new place gives us a graphic that should be very helpful throughout our lives. Silently listening to others speak to us before jumping into the conversation is a discipline sorely needed in this world, and it is a way of rending out tendency to overstate our cause. When the other has had a chance to express themselves then and only then may we take a respectful turn to share our thoughts.

“A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time peace.”
Common wisdom tells us that the opposite of love is fear not hate. Yet, as we consider that fact we see that the reason people hate another person , is almost always because they fear them. So, it is important when we experience that strong dislike of another that we spend time to determine what we fear about them, and then deal with that issue. When we are successful in identifying and dealing with it, then and only then, will we be able to truly find peace in our hearts.

“What advantage has the worker from his toil? I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.” Eccl 3:1-11

Stealing People’s Loyalty for Their King

In 2nd Samuel chapter 15,   we hear of the actions of Absalom toward his father, David. David and Absalom had always had a tumultuous relationship but in this particular story we hear of a unique treachery that son Absalom visited on his father, David.

Absalom would arise early in the morning and station himself along the road leading to Jerusalem’s gate. When travelers came on their way to the city, Absalom would endear himself to them by extending his hand, holding them, and kissing them while he told them that he would render justice on their behalf.

Verse 6 tells us that, “By behaving in this way toward all the Israelites who were on their way to visit the King for a favorable judgement on their behalf, Absalom was stealing away the loyalties of the men of Israel.”

As we read this story we see that Absalom was very cunning in his actions. Who would ever think to do something like that, we ask.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, “We would.” Granted, we may not formulate our actions exactly like Absalom did, but we come very close at times. Close enough that the results are essentially the same. Substitute the phrase “Authority Figure” for the word “King” and we see that by our actions we steal the loyalty of others for our authority figure, aka, our boss or our supervisor.

Let’s look at ways that action can play out. When others mention how they think highly of our boss we might agree at first but quickly point out some of the boss’s short comings. We might second guess some of his decisions. Perhaps, we point out how one of his decisions was not well thought out and how we would have better handled the situation. We could slowly but surely shift their high opinion of him to ourselves.

Our actions are little more than a violation of the ninth commandment where we are told not to bear false witness against another. That false witness need not be only in a court of law; it can happen in the normal day-to-day relationships we have with others.

Let us not forget and be on guard, there is a little Absalom in the best of us!

Jesus Brings Division, Homily

Homily, Aug 13-14, 2016: Cycle C, 20th Sunday of Ord Time (Jesus Brings Division)

Our Gospel today can be a bit unsettling and confusing.

With all the examples of division He uses between fathers against sons, mothers against daughters, in-laws against in-laws, Jesus sounds like He is describing a Jewish family reunion.

He says, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth?” It makes me want to answer, “Well, yeah, I did as a matter of fact.” So, what is He talking about?

Certainly, He is a man of peace. He’s the prince of peace. Isaiah prophesied about Him hundreds of years before that He’d be “Mighty God and Prince of Peace”

After His birth in Bethlehem, the Heavenly Host said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

After His Resurrection He often greeted His Apostles with “Peace be with you”, starting in the upper room.

He instructed His disciples, to bring peace from house to house. He said “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.”

All of these references reinforce our belief that He promotes peace.

Yet, in our Gospel today, He seems to be saying just the opposite.

Is He really calling dads to be at odds with their sons and mothers to be at odds with their daughters and mother-in-law’s with their daughter-in-law’s?

What does He mean when He says, I have come to bring division in families?

Obviously, He’s speaking with hyperbole to make a point. The point seems to be that the truth that He brings to the world can cause division and He wants us to be aware.

Let’s look at some examples.

A man discovers the truth about the Catholic Church by spending time around Catholics at work. He realizes that most of his life he has been exposed to negative exaggerations about it. Finally, he steps out on his own to discover the truth about our faith by going to RCIA. He is enthralled with it and enters the Catholic Church. Case closed? Good story? Humm, not so fast.

You see, the rest of his family might not see the truth as he sees it and it feels to them like he is rejecting them and rejecting the truth they follow and the family can be divided about it. We hear of this happening to people going through our own RCIA classes.

Truth can cause division!

A daughter wants to have an abortion, but her mother knows the truth, that there is a real person in her no matter how small or what trimester. The mother tries her best to pass on that truth but the daughter argues against her.

In the process, the two are divided which can causes the entire family to be divided as well. It can end up three against two and two against three as Jesus pointed out in today’s Gospel.

Again, Truth can cause division!

A father pleads with his 20-year-old son to go to Mass on Sunday because he knows the truth that from the Mass one’s soul is nourished with good, solid spiritual food, not spiritual junk food that the world offers.

The son does not see that truth about Mass as his father sees it, and they are divided, father against son.

Truth can cause division! It doesn’t have to; of course, God’s love is sufficient to overcome, if we’re open to it.

That is what Jesus meant – that He came to bring truth and the division that can follow will not be peaceful.

He brings eternal truth, objective truth. Jesus reveals Himself as the Way, the TRUTH, and the life.

St. Augustine said, “People hate truth for the sake of whatever they love more than truth. They love truth when it shines warmly on them, and hate it when it rebukes them.”

St. John Chrysostom said, “Those who wage war against truth are powerless to win in the long run, rather, they wound themselves”, but they do it anyway.

So, yes, truth can cause divisions! Yes, Jesus has come to bring divisions, in that sense! He wants His truth about His Father’s love for all of us to be received and fully lived like a blazing fire that spreads and covers the entire world as He says in today’s Gospel.

Our role as His followers, is to receive that truth, live that truth to the fullest, and spread it by our lives.

Now, having said that, in fact, most of our divisions don’t involve large issues of faith and morals. In our lifetimes, we may be faced with very few, that serious.

Most of our divisions come about because of ego or differences of opinion about how to handle much less serious matters.

In the middle of those differences our responses to these small matters tend to be way overblown compared to serious larger matters. Why is that? We live in a world of superlatives. Everything is the Best or the Worst.

My friends, there is a huge area between these two extremes, and that’s where most of us live, most of the time. Beware of forces trying to eliminate that large area between the two extremes, and drawing the two so close together that it’s just a step away from one into the other. That’s just not realistic.

So, as we go forward with this somewhat unusual Gospel in our hearts, let us be mindful of our need to show perspective in dealing with every day give-and-take in our relationships with others.

Jesus’ truth can cause divisions, but He wants us to be peaceful as we work our way through them.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. This Gospel does not change that. He wants us to resolve our difference, large and small, with Peace in our hearts. To do that we must keep our eyes on Him no matter what is going on around us.

 

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