Monday, March 20, 2017

Like Father, Like Son

Picking the path that God the Father paves for us

Luke 2:41-51A Each year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them.

          It’s a truism to say that parents always want what’s best for their children. Or, more modest parents might say, “I just want my son or daughter to have a better life than I’ve had.” Precisely this desire drives parents to work countless hours, to lose sleep, and to sacrifice personal goals in order to give their kids the best, or at least a little better than they had themselves. But sometimes, children don’t always follow the path their parents pave for them.

          A perfect case in point is my own parents and me. I am in awe at my parents, who moved to a new country with little or no money or resources, saved and sacrificed, and built a beautiful life for their children. Even more impressive, they sent us to Catholic schools which meant they gave up lots of personal perks and creature comforts. They paved a way for me to have a successful career in any field I chose: I could have become an engineer, a doctor or businessman. Instead, I turned my back on all that and picked the priesthood. I sometimes see homeless people begging for money on the street corner, and I don’t think I’m very different from them. They beg for donations outside the church, and I beg for donations inside the church. Not exactly what my parents had hoped for me. Children don’t always grow up to lead the life their parents sacrifice to give them.

          In the gospel today, we see Jesus likewise picking a path that surprised his human parents. When Jesus was twelve years old, and his family made their annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, Jesus decided to remain behind. This caused great grief for his parents, and Mary speaks for both of them (she is, after all, a Jewish mother, and she has an opinion). She says, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus calmly answers: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph, like all parents, were trying to give their son, Jesus, the best, or at least better than they had, and his choice to stay in the Temple both surprised and saddened them. But Jesus realized that he had to please another Parent, namely, his heavenly Father. Indeed, again and again, Jesus would say and do things differently than his mother would have liked, the highest and holiest example being the Crucifixion itself. What mother wants that for her son? Children do not always pick the path their parents pave for them.

          For all you parents who might be a little surprised or saddened by the choices your children make, let me offer some words of advice. First of all, no one has any “right to have children.” They are a gift from God. Remember that not all means of conceiving a child are morally good. Children are only “loaned” to you for 18 years, and you should cram as much goodness and grace as you can into them before they fly the coop. They do not ultimately belong to you; they belong to God. Secondly, encourage them to seek God’s will in their life above all. That means they should seek God’s will above your will, and even above their own will. I did not become a priest because it’s something I wanted to do, but because it’s something (I hope) God wanted me to do. The same with marriage: choose to marry someone not only because you want to, but above all because you think God wants you to. Thirdly, teach your children to pray daily, first and foremost by your own example of personal prayer. I always recommend the rosary. Here’s the sober fact: one day you will die and leave this earth and leave your children. Help your children to have a living relationship with their heavenly Father, who will never leave them. Don’t just leave your children an inheritance of a bunch of money; leave them a legacy of a bunch of grace.

          If you keep these things in mind, you might not be so surprised or so saddened when your children do not pick the path that you have so sacrificially paved for them.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Eating Grass

Satisfying our need for love in Jesus alone

John 4:5-42 Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink, ' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

          Is everyone still enjoying the fond memories of St. Patrick’s Day we celebrated two days ago? Or, should I ask: are you still recovering from the ill effects of too much green beer? Someone sent me an Irish joke I’d like to share with you so we can prolong St. Paddy’s Day a little longer. A wealthy Irish lawyer is driving home from work and he sees a man eating grass by the side of the road. He hollers, “Whatcha doin’ there, friend?” The man replies, “I’m hungry and starvin’, haven’t had any food fer days now, nuttin’ but this grass.” The lawyer says, “Aw, fer the love a Jesus! Come on, then, I’ll take ya to me house. Come on, get in the car.” The relieved man answers, “Oh, God bless and keep ya, sir, but…can I bring me wife and kids? They’re starvin’ too, eating the grass we’ve all been…” The lawyer doesn’t hesitate to say, “Oh ya, bring ‘em along, too. I’ve got the room, now don’t worry. We’ll all be fine!” The man asked again, “And perhaps me poor old uncle as well…” The lawyer laughed and said: “Oh my, yes! Bring ‘em all, yer all welcome, every last one of ya. Heck, the grass out at me home is a foot high!” If you didn’t get that, blame the green beer. When we’re that hungry, it’s amazing what we’ll eat (even grass), and it’s also amazing what other people will try to feed us (more grass). We don’t always nourish ourselves with what’s best for us.

          In the gospel today, we witness another scenario of someone who’s thirsty and another person who promises to satisfy them. In John chapter four we hear the episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. John’s literary artistry is on full display as he weaves this story on multiple levels and reveals depths far deeper than Jacob’s well. On the surface of the story, Jesus pauses at a well and casually asks a woman for a drink. That’s the surface level of the story: Jesus is thirsty. When she retorts that Jews don’t talk to Samaritans – much less a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman – Jesus takes the conversation to another, deeper, level. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The Samaritan is smart and answers, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Notice what Jesus did: on a secondary level, Jesus has helped this woman to see her own thirst, and who can satisfy that thirst, none other than Jesus.

          On yet an even deeper level of the story, we learn how this thirst will be quenched. It’s no coincidence that this encounter occurs precisely at Jacob’s well. That well is no insignificant detail. In the Old Testament wells were places of romance, betrothal and marriage. Jacob found his wife at a well, Moses met his wife at a well, Isaac was introduced to his wife at a well. Well, well, well, now that’s a deep subject! So, knowing this backdrop, it should come as little surprise that Jesus changes the subject of their conversation to love and marriage. He says, “Go call your husband.” The woman answers with a half-truth to the One who is Truth Itself (bad idea).  So, she stammers, “I have no husband,” which was only partially true. So, Jesus helps her remember that she has in fact had “five husbands,” but he adds mysteriously, “and the one you are with now is not your husband.” If you’re catching on to John’s literary genius, you know Jesus rarely says something with only a surface meaning; he always means more than he says. Therefore, when our Lord says, “the one you are with now” he really means himself. The only one who could completely and eternally quench the woman’s thirst for love was Jesus, the true Husband. Jesus had come to be not only her Savior but also her Spouse. You see, the woman had been feeding on the “grass” of human love (which always disappoints), but Jesus invited her to satisfy her hunger and quench her thirst forever with his love.

          My friends, are you hungry or thirsty? I’m not talking about eating corned beef and cabbage and drinking green beer. I don’t have any literary skills like St. John, but ask yourself: what is my heart hungry for? May I suggest to you that it’s the same “food” and “drink” the Samaritan woman sought, namely, love. We are all starving for love. But where do we search for satisfaction? Sometimes, we’re like that poor man eating grass by the road, and try to fill ourselves with the passing pleasures of this world, the pseudo-loves that say they will satisfy but never do. Poor lovers like pornography, one night stands, getting one hundred “likes” on your Facebook homily (that’s me!), alcohol and drugs, our jobs and our jet-skis, our good looks and our good grades, the cult of the body and vanity, amassing money and wealth, our political persuasions preventing us from loving the poor, our cars and computer games, our ambitions and our accolades, our food and our phones. Children on the playground sometimes tease each other saying, “If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it??”  Have we married these lesser loves in our hearts?  Compared to our many lovers, the Samaritan woman was doing much better with only five husbands. But Jesus directs his words to us as much as to the Samaritan: “The one you are with now is not your husband.” In other words, the one we are with right now (at this Mass) is Jesus, and we need to make him our Husband and our true love.

          Do you remember the haunting lyrics of that Johnny Lee song, “Looking for love”? They perfectly summarize the Samaritan’s life, and the perfectly summarize your life, and they perfectly summarize my life.  Johnny Lee sang: “I spent a lifetime lookin’ for you / Single bars and good time lovers were never true / Playing a fool’s game, hopin’ to win / Tellin’ those sweet lies and losin’ again. / I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places / Lookin’ for love in too many faces / Searchin’ their eyes / Looking for traces of what I’m dreaming of / Hoping to find a friend and a lover / I’ll bless the day I discover / Another heart lookin’ for love.” Folks, spit the grass out of your mouth, and stop filling yourself with these lesser loves, rather, feed on the only One who will fully and forever satisfy you: Jesus, “the Bread of Life” and “the spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Corned Beef Confessions

Growing in love rather than relying on luck

An Old Irish Blessing
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

          Boys and girls, today is the feast of St. Patrick and everyone feels Irish today, even Indian priests! So, let me share five timeless traditions and tall tales about St. Patrick’s Day. First, what color are people supposed to wear today? The color green! And what’s the punishment if you do not wear green? You will be pinched. Green comes from the beautiful green landscape of Ireland. Second, what small plant did St. Patrick use to explain the Holy Trinity to the people of Ireland? He used the three-leafed clover. Just as there are three leaves but only one clover, so there are three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in the Trinity, but only one God.

          Third, an Irish friend gave me this touching prayer this morning, an Irish prayer. It goes: “May all those who love us, love us. And all those who don’t love us…may God turn their hearts. And if he doesn’t turn their hearts…may he turn their ankles, so we will know them by their limp.” Now, St. Patrick did NOT teach people that prayer! Fourth, some people think if you’re Irish you can eat meat on this Friday of Lent because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. That’s a tall tale. I cannot give you dispensation to eat meat today, but I can come an hour early tomorrow and hear everyone’s confessions.

          Here’s the fifth and most important tradition for us at Immaculate Conception Church. Did you know the original name of this church was not “Immaculate Conception,” but rather “St. Patrick”? And when Fort Smith becomes its own diocese, we will name this church, “St. Patrick’s Cathedral”! We have a beautiful stained glass window featuring St. Patrick. If you look closely, you’ll notice he is driving the snakes out of Ireland. Like all stained glass windows, that one, too, is highly symbolic. The snakes symbolize sin, and St. Patrick was really driving out sin and helping people to become saints. That’s why Ireland is called “the land of saints and scholars.”

          Boys and girls, it’s wonderful to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with all the traditions and tall tales: green clothes, corned beef confessions, three leaf clovers, etc. But don’t miss the main message of St. Patrick himself: become a saint by driving out sin and, like St. Patrick drove out snakes. Remember: St. Patrick didn’t come to teach people about luck, he came to teach them about love, especially to love those who walk with a limp.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pay Attention

Giving each other the gift of our attention

Matthew 20:17-28 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day." Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, "What do you wish?" She answered him, "Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom." Jesus said in reply, "You do not know what you are asking.

          Boys and girls, one of the greatest difficulties we face daily is being distracted, losing our focus, and not paying attention. How many of your minds have already started wandering in this homily? It dawned on me how difficult paying attention can be recently when the parish roasted me as a fundraiser recently. One of the best roasts was by Michelle and Jason Wewers, the parents of our student Mary Kate Wewers. Michelle got up and shared how she felt when I first arrived at I.C. as pastor. She said she’s easily distracted at Mass, and her mind wanders at a lot, especially if it’s a foreign priest with a thick accent. When she heard I was originally from India, she was really worried and thought the family might have to switch parishes so she could concentrate at Mass. But when she came and heard me preach at my first Mass, she was horrified. She said, “Oh, no! It’s a lot worse than a foreign accent; he sounds like Barak Obama!” So, apparently, all the Republicans at I.C. are distracted at Mass, but the Democrats give me their undivided attention. We live in the world of “tweets” – if you can’t say something in 140 characters, you lose people’s attention. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your full and undivided attention; and the reason it’s a great gift is because it’s so rare.

          In the gospel today, the disciples face the same difficulty: they are easily distracted. Jesus says: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death.” But were the apostles paying attention? Not at all. Instead, they were arguing over who should sit at Jesus’ right and left, and who was the greatest. I don’t know if Jesus sounded like Barak Obama, but the apostles were as easily distracted as Michelle Wewers at Mass. Their minds were wandering and they could not give Jesus that precious gift of their full and undivided attention. They got distracted.

          Boys and girls, being distracted plagues all of us, even priests. Let me share the five things I do to help me focus on the task at hand and maybe you can use these tips, too. First, take your time and don’t rush through things; don’t rush through life. When you hurry through your homework, you make mistakes. It’s good to be fast in some things – like the 100-yard dash – but not in all things. A friend of mine likes to say, “the three things in life you cannot rush through are friendship, prayer and going to the bathroom.” Some people call the “bathroom” the “library” because they do not rush in there. I rush through one thing because I’m already thinking about the next thing, and I’m distracted. Second, get up and walk around while doing a task, if possible. I walk while praying the rosary. When my body is busy, but my can relax and concentrate. The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, taught his students by walking with them. They were called “the peripatetics” – which means, “those who walk back and forth.” Go for a walk while talking to a friend, and you’ll hear what he or she says more clearly.

          Third, don’t procrastinate and put off difficult duties; do the hardest tasks first. One priest I know says he prepares his homilies as he’s walking up the aisle during the opening hymn – I hate to hear that homily. When we procrastinate, we get stressed and then distressed and then easily distracted. If you don’t like algebra, do that homework first; if you hate science, do that homework first. Fourth, turn off social media while you’re doing something: talking to someone, your homework, reading a book, attending Mass. How sad to see people in restaurants on their cell phones instead of talking to the people sitting right in front of them. I wonder who the real distraction is: the cell phone or the actual people?

          Fifth, try to think of the last time someone gave you their full and undivided attention, and how good that felt. That’s a sign of someone who cares and loves you. I hope you feel that attention and care from every teacher here at Trinity. One of the things we pride ourselves on here at Trinity is the “students cannot hide.”  We see each of you, and love you and give you our undivided attention.  I certainly feel that when I talk with them: they really pay attention. When we feel no one pays attention to us, we feel very alone, even if we’re standing in a room full of people. I wonder if that’s why so many teens engage in “cutting” themselves, or get depressed, or even commit suicide. They are crying out for attention. Why? Because no one is paying attention; everyone is distracted.

          My friends, Jesus is always paying attention to us; he never stops focusing on us; he’s always read to give us his full and undivided attention whenever we turn to him. Give him some of your time and attention today.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Out, Damned Spot

Learning from our mistakes because we make plenty of them
Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.' As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

          One of the hardest things to say in the English language is the phrase “I’m sorry.” When was the last time you sincerely apologized for a mistake and really meant what you said? Some people never say it, and would choke on those words.  Why is it so difficult to say “I’m sorry”? The short answer is that it’s hard to be humble and we all think we’re right and others are wrong. Here are a few examples.

          Sometimes we mouth the words, but don’t really mean it in our hearts. Have you ever heard a small child apologize but only because they got caught? They sourly say, “I’m sorry,” but it’s obvious they don’t feel a drop of regret or remorse. That’s really no apology at all, is it? A few weeks ago I was talking with Sam Fiori, a successful businessman in Fort Smith. He went from working in a Taco Bell to owning a few of them. (By the way, that’s a literary device called “understatement.”) I asked Sam what someone needs to do to be as successful as he is, and Sam immediately answered, “They need to learn from their mistakes.” Great answer. But before you can learn from a mistake, you have to humbly admit you made a mistake, and that’s where people fail. You cannot learn from a mistake you don’t think you ever made. In Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and incessantly washes her hands, crying, “Out, damned spot!” She believed her hands were covered in blood because she convinced her husband to kill the king. But she refuses to say, “I’m sorry. I have sinned.” She only apologies in her sleep. It’s very hard to say, “I’m sorry.”

          In the gospel toady, Jesus laments the lack of this humility in the scribes and Pharisees, and he wants to see this humility in his disciples. Jesus says, “The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” What example was Jesus worried his disciples would imitate? The Pharisees’ self-righteousness and lack of humility. The Pharisees might sleepwalk at night saying, “Out, damned spot!” but they’d never admit their sins in the light of day. The disciples, on the contrary, should avoid being called “Rabbi,” or “father,” or “Master.”  Why?  Well, because there is only One who is sinless and perfect, namely, the Christ. In other words, be humble and “learn from your mistakes” by admitting you make plenty of them. It should be easy for a Christian to say, “I’m sorry.”

          My friends, this Lent learn to make saying, “I’m sorry” a regular part of your vocabulary. The best place to do that is in confession. Soon, reconciliation services will start popping up all over town like fast-food restaurants, where you can go in and learn from your mistakes, like Sam Fiori said. One of the most helpful and healing things spouses can say to each other is “I’m sorry.” But sadly, each one thinks he or she is absolutely right and the other is entirely wrong. They choke on the words, “I’m sorry.” You know, for a long time, I used to think that a priest should never apologize, because after all, shouldn’t we know better and be as “pure and perfect as the driven snow”?? I believed saying, “I’m sorry” was a sign of weakness, but I’ve learned it’s actually the opposite: a genuine apology signifies strength of soul, humility and holiness. A good leader is not always right, but he or she is always humble.

          Folks, stop sleepwalking this Lent and crying, “Out, damned spot!” Be humble and learn from your mistakes. Want to hear a little secret? You make plenty of mistakes.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Merry as a Schoolboy

Embracing the joy of Jesus in the valley of tears

Matthew 17:1-9 Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,  "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

          May I share a little joke with you? I pulled it out of my “good news-bad news” joke box. One day a defense lawyer said to his client, “I have good news and I have bad news, which would like you like to hear first?” The client answered, “What’s the bad news?” The lawyer said, “Your blood matches the DNA found at the murder scene.” The client cried, “Oh, no! That’s terrible! But what’s the good news??” “Well,” the lawyer said, “Your cholesterol is down to 140.” Now, I know that some of you may not like hearing humor in a homily. When I was a little boy attending church at St. Theresa in Little Rock, the priests never told jokes in their homilies. “Salvation is serious business!” they said. And it is.

          But back in 2006, then-Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview on German television. The interviewer asked the Holy Father: “What role does humor play in the life of the pope?” The pope answered, “I’m not a man who constantly thinks up jokes. But I think it’s very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension, and not to take everything too tragically.” The pope continued: “I’d also say it’s necessary for my ministry. A writer once said that angels can fly because they don’t take themselves too seriously. Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn’t think we were so important.” What’s the pope driving at? Well, there is something angelic and heavenly about humor. Why? Well, because it keeps us humble and we don’t take ourselves or even life too “tragically” or too seriously. Humor helps us to be humble and holy.

          In the gospel today, we hear the episode of the Transfiguration. The apostles see Jesus in his heavenly glory and he’s conversing with Moses and Elijah (who represent the “law” and the “prophets”). Now, we don’t know what they discussed precisely, but clearly it was the “good news” of heavenly glory; indeed, Jesus is literally clothed with glory in the Transfiguration. You see, Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem for the Passion and Death of the Lord.  Salvation is serious business. So, they stopped for a moment to turn their eyes to heaven for a little help. Maybe Elijah said, “Hey, Jesus, your blood will be found at the murder scene of the Cross.” And Moses added, “But don’t worry, your cholesterol is down to 140.” Okay, maybe not. Nevertheless, they helped Jesus see the joyful dimension of life and not to take things too tragically.

          The apostles for their part were filled with overflowing joy. St. Peter blurts out, “Lord it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” The version of this story in Luke adds, “But [Peter] did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:33). Peter’s reaction always reminds me of that riveting end of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, after three ghosts have visited Ebenezer Scrooge.  Do you remember?  “I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Lacoon of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!” For a brief blissful and beatific moment the three apostles felt the same as Scrooge: as if it were Christmas in April in the Holy Land. A holy joy flooded their hearts as they beheld the Transfigured Christ, and that’s just what they would need before they beheld the Crucified Christ a few days later. Both the first pope (Peter) and the 265th pope (Benedict) needed joy in order to carry out their papal ministry, so they don’t take everything too tragically.

          My friends, I’m here this weekend thanks to Fr. Jason’s permission to promote Trinity Junior High. I’m here to ask you to send your junior high children to Trinity, and to help us financially in the second collection. There’s a lot I could say to brag about our school: the superior academics (did you see the article in Saturday’s paper and the picture on the front page about the STEM program?), the extensive extracurricular activities, the compassionate community service the students complete, the terrific teachers, all located on the sacred grounds of St. Scholastica monastery. But instead of all that, I want to say a word about the joy you’ll find in our school, namely the joy of Jesus. Sometimes we look around at the world and we see lots of bad news and very little good news. Bad news that even touches our teens: like drugs and gangs, abuse and neglect, bullying and smoking and sadly even sex. At Trinity, we are not immune from these temptations, but we have a powerful Ally in this fight, namely, the joy of Jesus. How? Well, we celebrate Mass every week, and listen to the Scriptures and receive Holy Communion. Dr. Hollenbeck, our principal, has set up “prayer partners” this year throughout the school. Now, 9th graders pray for 8th graders, and 8th graders pray for 7th graders, and 7th graders pray for the 9th graders. The teaches pray for each other. And the whole school prays for me (because I need it the most)! Like the three apostles, our students stop every week to see the Transfigured Jesus at Mass, so we can handle seeing the Crucified Jesus in the world around us. Like Pope Benedict said, “It’s very important to be able to see the …joyful dimension [of life] and not to take everything so tragically.” Trinity teaches our students the joy of Jesus.

          No one said this better than Mary Poppins, in her immortal song, “A spoonful of sugar.” She sang: “In every job that must be done / There is an element of fun / You find the fun and snap! / The job’s a game / And every task you undertake / Becomes a piece of cake / Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down / In the most delightful way.” The Transfiguration was the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine of the Crucifixion go down for Jesus and the apostles. And the joy of Jesus is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine of junior high school go down for our students. And a little humor helps the medicine of the Mass go down for me and you.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Art of the Deal

Learning how to cut a deal with God

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 Moses spoke to the people, saying: "This day the LORD, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice. And today the LORD is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you; and provided you keep all his commandments, he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all other nations he has made, and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God, as he promised."

          Have you read President Donald Trump’s famous book called The Art of the Deal? If you haven’t, don’t feel bad, I haven’t either. But I did a little research on it and found that he elaborates 11 principles for concluding a good business deal. I think you’ll find them fascinating, especially since he’s now the 45th president of the United States. Trump lists the following 11 steps as crucial to “the art of the deal” – (1) Think big (like becoming president), (2) Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself, (3) Maximize your options, (4) Know your market (like who was voting last year), (5) Use your leverage, (6) Enhance your location (I can’t believe he doesn’t have a luxury hotel in Fort Smith), (7) Get the word out (send tweets at 2 a.m.), (8) Fight back (send tweets at 2 a.m.), (9) Deliver the goods, (10) Contain the costs, and (11) Have fun. Now, please don’t think I want to make this a political homily – far from it.

          Rather, whether you agree with the president on these principles, or have your own guidelines, it’s undeniable that negotiating with others – indeed, any human relationship – is an art from. All negotiations require as much intuition and imagination as they do math and masters’ degrees. My dad taught me that if you’re going to buy a car, always be willing to walk away. That’s part of “the art of the deal.”

          Our Scriptures today give us a glimpse of the artistry needed to cut a deal with God. The first reading from Deuteronomy says plainly that God wants to negotiate a deal with us, stating: “Today you are making this agreement” – a deal – “with the Lord: he is to become your God and you are to walk in his ways, and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees and to harken to his voice.” And what’s God’s end of the bargain in this deal? Deuteronomy adds: “God will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory above all the other nations he has made.” Not a bad deal!

          But in the gospel Jesus reveals more of the art of the deal with God. He says, “I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  In other words, the difference between human negotiations and divine deals is that humans are hungry for what they get out of the deal, but God is only interested in what he can give in the deal. That’s the art of dealing with God: not “maximize your location,” or “fight back,” or “use your leverage,” but rather sacrificing everything, and generosity in giving. You could almost say that the whole Bible was written to teach us “the art of the deal” when negotiating with God.

          Today ask yourself: how am I dealing with others and how am I dealing with God? Again, this is not a political homily. I believe Trump’s book has its own logic and legitimacy in the business world. But it does not translate easily into our dealings with each other and with God, where another paradigm and other principles are at play, namely, giving rather than getting. Consider these two examples. Fr. Tribou told us boys at Catholic High School that when you come to Mass you come to “give something” rather than to “get something.” But how often do we catch ourselves saying, “I didn’t get anything out of that Mass!” That’s the wrong art of the deal. When you think that way, you’re not an artist, you’re still painting by numbers. Recently, a mother was lamenting her problems at home with her husband and her kids, and she asked me: “Am I supposed to make myself miserable, so that everyone else can be happy??” And I looked at her in the eyes and simply said: “Yes. Yes, you are; because that’s what Jesus did: he made himself miserable so that everyone else could be happy.”  That’s the right art of the deal.  Now, you’re painting like Picasso and Rembrandt.

          Folks, Lent is the time to renegotiate a deal with God; to read the “small print” and understand again the “terms and conditions” of our agreement with God. This deal is based on giving and grace and generosity, not on greed or getting or earthly glory. Lent is the time to learn again the art of the deal.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!