Saturday, January 21, 2017

Be a Fool for Christ's sake!

Mark 3:20-21

I often wonder what life would be like for St. Francis if he were to live in our day. What would it be like if a friend of ours renounced the successful family business his father owned and chose a life of poverty? What would our reaction be if a friend we went to high school with showed up at our door dressed in burlap asking for the scraps from our dinner or extra building materials we may have in the basement? Most likely you and I would smile, offer them a cup of coffee, and then call his or her family members or doctor. We would think that our friend had lost their mind!

We see similar behavior in young men and women who are in love. They can be in love with another person or an idea but the effect is usually the same. They do and say crazy things. They are consumed with their thoughts. They have this strange look as though they are looking through the world and everything in it to something beyond.

In today's Gospel we find that Jesus' friends think he is crazy. The passage is short for today, only two verses - "Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-21 NAB) The RSV-CE says it this way, "he is beside himself" indicating a sort of split personality or that He is crazy. The Douay-Rheims says simply, "He is become mad."

What made Jesus' friends and relatives react in such a way? The answer is not clear from the text but it is obvious that He has done something to cause them great concern. It appears that Jesus is neglecting Himself even to the point of not eating. It seems that those who love Him are concerned that He is giving too much of Himself (oh if they only knew how much He would give!). Between the lines you can almost hear the murmuring, "He's lost his mind, he doesn't eat, he barely sleeps. He looks terrible. He can't go on like this. He needs to send these people away and stop this nonsense. What is wrong with him? He must be sick in the head. We must intervene, we must drag him away for his own good. Maybe after some rest he'll come to his senses" and on and on.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:25), "We are fools on Christ's account" (1 Corinthians 4:10). Scripture, Tradition, and the lives of the Saints make clear that "the servant is not greater than the master" and so we too, if we are living for Christ, will be thought mad by the world. When was the last time someone thought you were crazy as a direct result of you living your faith? When was the last time a friend or relative tried to set you aside and tell you they were concerned about how generous you are? When is the last time you felt a "fool on Christ's account?" It's time to get crazy! We need saintly madness more today than ever before!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

We're on a Pilgrimage

Mark 3:7-12

I don't like crowds. I am the type of person who stays away from a crowd. I don't do well at football games or concerts. You can imagine my anxiety level when I took a youth group to Toronto in 2002 for World Youth Day. There I was sleeping in a field, soaked to the bone with close to a million of my closest friends. But it was all worth it. The lack of food, the long hike, the downpours, the heat, the sweat, the blisters, the fatigue was all worth it. It was a tremendous blessing to be part of such a pilgrimage of faith. It was a blessing to see how "universal - catholic" the Church really is and it was a blessing to see, in the flesh, Saint John Paul the Great - a witness, a fellow pilgrim, a role model, and a saint.

In today's reading we find a pilgrimage of sorts taking place. People have heard about this Jesus of Nazareth and are coming from all over to see Him, to listen to Him, and perhaps be healed by Him. Scripture mentions different locations from which these people are streaming. Some of these men, women, children, and families are traveling considerable distance to be with this miracle worker. Some are walking, some are riding, and others are being carried or carted. Many of them are traveling between 40 and 70 miles to be with Jesus. They are experiencing heat and cold, hunger, blisters, aches and pains, and other types of suffering to be with Him. There are so many people arriving at this place that Jesus begins to fear for His safety and the safety of His followers. He arranges for a boat to be brought in case the crowd gets out of hand and He needs to depart quickly.

In this reading we can find strength to continue on our faith journey, our journey and pilgrimage in this life as we travel toward the next. We can see that the end, Christ, is worth any suffering that we may have to endure on the Way. The goal is worth the effort. The prize is worth the struggle. Jesus is worth the suffering that we may face, suffering often caused by the world, the flesh, or the devil in an attempt to get us to turn back. Therefore, let us look to those who took this pilgrimage as our example. Let us look to them for the strength and courage to continue on the path to Christ. When we arrive all tears will be wiped away. All the suffering will be turned to joy and all ills will be healed.

FROM THE SAINTS - "I want you to be happy on earth. But you won't be if you don't get rid of that fear of suffering. For as long as we are "wayfarers", it is precisely in suffering that our happiness lies." "I'm going to tell you which are man's treasures on earth so you won't slight them: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, dishonor, poverty, loneliness, betrayal, slander, prison..."
- Saint Josemaria Escriva - The Way #'s 194, 217

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Most Ridiculous Commandment

Mark 2:23-28

Thou shalt rest. Thou shalt take it easy. Thou shalt relax, read, spend time with friends and family. Thou shalt spend time with Me for one day before going back to work.

How many of us have ever uttered these words or similar words? - I'm so busy, I need a break, If I only had some free time I would (insert favorite activity here). I always thought the third Commandment was sort of ridiculous. Who needs to be told to take a day off? Who needs to be told to not work? Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get out of work. Yet God, who knows His children best, saw fit to make one of the Ten Commandments tells us to take it easy.

Of course keeping Holy the Sabbath is not simply about being a couch potato. It is supposed to be a day of retreat. It is a day where we can duck out of the world and spend time with God and enjoy His gifts - creation, family, Scripture, etc.

I treasure my Sundays. That is my favorite day of the week. It is a day when we get up early, go to Mass, eat breakfast on the deck, go for a hike or go fishing, and end the day with a campfire or family rosary or both. When we can't get out and about, we institute an "electronics free day" and spend time reading, playing board games, or wrestling.

While some may live for the weekend I live for Sunday. I admit that it often does take some planning since we choose to refrain from shopping, dining out, etc. But I think that makes the day much more enjoyable. If we're going hiking at the state park we make sure our tank is filled on Saturday. If were cooking out or entertaining we get the extras during the weekly grocery trip. Then, come Sunday, no worries. I love it! It's like a weekly retreat. It's recreation in the true sense, re-creation - a chance to be re-created in God's image and likeness. Its a chance to love Him and enjoy His love.

So what was the big deal with what Jesus' disciples were doing? The Pharisees had taken a basic list of things that shouldn't be done on the Sabbath and expanded it to a 39 item list. So a simple command (in it's true sense and spirit) like "do not perform farm work on the Sabbath" becomes a ridiculous and anguish-filled command like "do not walk through a field of grain or even casually pick the grain to munch on for that is considered farm work."

Jesus is teaching the Pharisees, His disciples, and us that the law of charity must trump all other rules. He uses a story that they were very familiar with to prove His point (1 Samuel 21). Man's basic needs must come before ceremonial rules. Jesus shows that it is better that man be fed by picking grain on the Sabbath than starving to death on the Sabbath in order to keep a ceremonial law.

Lord Jesus, help me to truly rest in Your presence this coming Sunday. Give me the strength to deny my worldly interests for one day and focus on You and the gifts You have given for my benefit. Help me to retreat for a day and be recreated so that I might better serve you in the days that follow.

FROM THE SAINTS - "I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness. Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals, and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job." - Saint Josemaria Escriva

Friday, January 13, 2017

Undaunted Faith

Mark 2:1-12

There is so much to this reading. Every time I read it I think of something different to meditate on. In the past I have always seen the paralytic as merely along for the ride. I have read it with the idea that perhaps he was telling his friends to put him down or to give up. Maybe he was discouraged by the crowd and asked them to simply take him home and they could try another day when Jesus wasn't so busy. Maybe that says more about my personality and what I need to work on.

But today it hit me that maybe it was just the opposite. Maybe it was the paralytic who pushed his friends into doing something radical. Maybe in the past he had tried to get others to get him close to Jesus but to no avail. And now he wasn't giving up. I can hear him begging them to find another way, any way and telling them that he refused to go home.

No matter how you look at it it is apparent that we are in this together. We need each other. In pre-Cana classes I lovingly tell couples that the perfect image of marriage is the crucifix. Sometimes you are Christ to your spouse and sometimes you are the cross. Either way, both are necessary. There is no salvation without Christ and there is no salvation without the cross.

Sometimes we are the paralytic that wants to throw in the towel. We want to just give up and drown in self-pity and it takes those who love us to bring us to Christ. They help join the cross of our suffering to the Christ who takes away all suffering. Other times we are the friend who will not give up on the person we love. We become Christ and we help carry their cross. We know that he or she is paralyzed by sin and we will not stop until we bring them before Christ. And still, at other times we may be the paralytic who pushes the friends to not give up. We tell them that we are depending on them and by doing so we bring out the best in them - we raise them up and they raise us up.

Jesus has the power to work those same miracles today. Over and over in the scriptures Jesus is moved by a show of faith. If you are paralyzed call upon those people who will help you to Jesus. If you are helping someone, are you doing all that you can? Are you ripping a hole in Heaven by your prayers and bring your friend before Christ?

Jesus wants us to be persistent, faithful, and cunning in regards to our faith. He wants us to approach our faith life with the same zeal, creativity, passion that we pour into our other life projects. Imagine what your faith life would be like, imagine the effect that it would have on others if you poured the same amount of energy into prayer as you do into business, sports, hobbies, etc! What have you got to lose? What is there to gain? There are much better pay-outs for the eternal investor than the temporal.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Wilderness of the Confessional

Mark 1:40-45
[Leprosy] was a feared disease, and its victims were shunned because of their disfiguring stigmata—collapsed facial bones, fingers, and toes, with the hands and feet ultimately rotted away. Leprosy was among the first diseases identified as contagious. Early societies took measures to shield their healthy members from contagion: lepers were obliged to wear distinctive clothing and carry a bell to warn others of their presence, or they were segregated in lazarettos, precursors of quarantine stations and isolation hospitals. (source)

We are given the impression that perhaps Jesus is alone in the wilderness on the outskirts of a town or city. He was probably praying and escaping the pressure of His growing fame. Jesus seeks the refuge of the wild for peace and the leper seeks it for peace as well but for different reasons. Here we see Jesus associating with the most marginalized of His time, lepers. We may assume He is alone, otherwise word of this "touch" would have spread just as fast if not faster than word of His miracles (we know how fast bad news travels). With a word and a touch Jesus cleanses this man thus removing the social and physical pains associated with his disease in an instant.

Jesus instructs this man to keep quiet but the man cannot help himself. I doubt that Jesus was too upset with this man for not following His wishes. Yet, He may have been disappointed for the news of the cure made it more difficult for Him to travel from town to town.

A few lessons might be taken from this passage that we can apply to our own lives. There are many diseases today that cause man to be marginalized. Yet, again, we must be concerned with the one disease that truly is a silent killer, leprosy of the soul, sin. This disease disfigures a being created in the image and likeness of God beyond recognition (depart from me, I do not know thee.) It is a slow rotting of the soul. Our goal should be to seek Christ often, finding Him in the silence, peace and wilderness of the confessional. We should seek to often enter into that place and cry out from the heart, "If you will, you can make me clean." There we will hear, "I do will, be made clean."

In addition, being faithful in little commands can further the kingdom while disobedience can often act in opposition to God's grace. How much more difficult is it for Christ to speak and heal when we are the ones speaking. People who knew the leper did not need to hear the story of his healing, they need only look at him for proof. So it is with us. We need not run from person to person telling them about all the Lord has done, let them see the fruits of the healing in the way we live our lives. They will notice the leprosy of our souls has been healed.

FROM THE SAINTS - "This man prostrated himself on the ground, as sign of humility and shame, to teach each of us to be ashamed of the stains of our life. But shame should not prevent us from confessing: the leper showed his wound and begged for healing. If you will, he says, you can make me clean: that is, he recognized that the Lord had the power to cure him." - Saint Bede

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Behold the Lamb, A Poem

John 1:29-34

Cain, the jealous sower
spills first the blood of man
Abel, the innocent shepherd
A cry, Behold the lamb

Abram witholds nothing
an angel stays his hand
God will provide the sacrifice
A cry, Behold the lamb

Pharaoh's heart is hardened
Mercy ends in the land
The angel passes over
A cry, Behold the lamb

John by waters edge
Many baptized by his hand
a dove descends upon the Christ
A cry, Behold the Lamb

The Heavens all cry out
Here is the Son of Man
Holy, Holy, Holy
A cry, Behold the Lamb

Another Christ at altar
host and chalice in his hand
with trembling voice and body
A cry, Behold the Lamb

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Resolutions and Confession

There are five steps to making a great Confession.

First, I must examine my conscience. I must compare my life to the life of Christ. In an examination of conscience, Christ must be the standard I compare myself to and not my fellow man. I must sit quietly and ask God to reveal to me the times when I have failed, the times when He had difficulty recognizing me as His son.

Second, I must have sorrow for those sins that have been revealed during the examination. I must be sorry for having offended God, my neighbor, and myself for in sinning I have damaged my relationships with all three. This sorrow may be perfect (sorrow for offending God and others) or imperfect (sorrow out of fear of punishment). God wants me to have perfect sorrow or contrition for my sins but in His mercy may lead me to that perfect sorrow by use of imperfect sorrow.

Third, I must confess my sins to a priest. It is not enough to merely recognize my sins and be sorry for them. I must also confess them to one whom God has chosen to represent Him. The priest, who in the confessional is to be understood as the agent of Christ, reconciles me to both God and others thus restoring the relationship broken by sin.

Fourth, I must have the intention to never commit those sins again - with God's grace. I must have a firm purpose of amending my life. I must seek to separate myself from that which separated me from God and my fellow man. I must adopt the motto of the saints, "death rather than sin."

Fifth, I must do penance for my sins. I must perform some act that shows God, but more importantly me, that I am sorry for my sins. Like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, those sacrifices were for the people and not for God. They were like penances to bring the people back to God for He has no need of sheep or bullocks. This penance helps me to break my addiction to sin. It helps me to take that false idol of sin and destroy it by making a sacrifice through penance.

So, why the five steps on New Year's Day? Well, in my mind, the whole idea of a New Year's Resolution is a sort of primordial desire of the human race to confess. The resolutions made on this day have all the makings of a good confession though they lack sacramental graces and this is why they fail. It is a day that echoes the words of St. Paul, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate."(Rom. 7:15)

It is a day when many follow the five steps for making a good confession but fail because the intention is not aimed at holiness. There is an examination of life but the world is the standard and not Christ. There is sorrow but it is a sorrow based on vanity. It is based on how one sees oneself with the eyes of the world. There is confession but not to God nor His representative but to one another implicitly through the "resolution". There is an intention to change but this intention has grown like a weed in the rocky soil of a poor examination, a vanity based sorrow, and a shallow confession, and will therefore bear no fruit. There is a penance and it is self-imposed. This penance is often short-lived since it lacks the grace to sustain it for long.

Am I against New Year's resolutions? No, but I must remind myself that in the Church, our "new year" began over 4 weeks ago with the First Sunday of Advent. The Church, in Her wisdom, has given me this time to make true resolutions, to get my heart in order, to prepare the way of the Lord, and prepare for this Christmas Season. What has been my resolution for this year and for all the years to come till eternity? To be holy. How can I become holy? Through prayer and participation in the Sacraments as often as possible. In the Eucharist I am sustained in my resolution. In Reconciliation, I am dusted off and encouraged to continue in that one resolution - "get holy or die trying!" Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!