Friday, April 25, 2014

Better than Blondie

Knowing Jesus in the breaking of the bread

Luke 24:35-48

The disciples of Jesus recounted what had taken place along the way, and how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread.

             Let me ask you a silly question: why are you here this morning at 7 a.m. Mass?  I mean, it was raining this morning and it would have been a perfect day to sleep in.  You could have lingered thirty minutes longer over your morning coffee.  You could have read more of the newspaper, finished the Sudoku and Crossword, and read all of the comic strips, not just Blondie and Zits.  You workaholics could have answered twenty more emails and prepped for your sales meetings.  Some of you sacrificed time with your wife and children to be here; others of you are trying to avoid your wife and kids so you are here!  The retirees are making up for all those Sunday Masses they missed when they were younger.  There are as many reasons people come to daily mass as there are people who are here.  This is one of the marvelous mysteries of Immaculate Conception parish: the large number of morning Mass goers.  Why are you here?

             In the gospel today we learn the root reason why people go to Mass.  Two disciples recount meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus and they use this wonderful phrase, “We recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.”  The Breaking of the Bread.  That phrase, the breaking of the bread, was first century Christian code language for the Mass.  Something spiritual and supernatural happens every time we “break bread” together at Mass, we recognize Jesus and he feeds us.

             Many years ago, Dc. Paul Cronan taught me that when I get to the “Fraction Rite” at the Mass – when the priest breaks the consecrated host in half – I should hold the Host high so that people can see it.  Why?  Because Jesus is the “bread that is broken” so that our brokenness can be healed; he is the torn apart so that we can be put back together.

             And that’s why we Catholics skip the comics and the coffee; we sacrifice sleep and sales meetings, so we can recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, so that through the Fraction Rite, we can be made whole.  That’s why Catholics go to Mass, or at least, that’s why we should go to Mass.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We happy few

Catching the grace of the moment

 Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,  approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,  and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb,  fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

             I would like to share with you my deepest personal conviction.  I believe there is a grace in every moment.  Let me explain what I mean by grace.  Grace is something that helps you to take one step closer to Christ.  But there’s a catch: to grab the grace of the moment we must realize it’s only available in THIS moment, not in a moment 5 seconds ago in the past, and not in a moment 5 seconds in the future.  Grace is only available right now.  Have you noticed how some older people are trying to catch “the grace of yesterday.”  They sort of want to live in the past.  How many people wish they were still 29 years old?  They wish they were skinnier, didn’t have any wrinkles, or gray hair, or suffer from arthritis.  Young people, on the other hand, fall into the trap of trying to catch “the grace of tomorrow.”  They say wistfully: “I can’t wait till I’m in high school.”  Then, “I can’t wait till I’m in college!”  Then, “I can’t wait till I’m married!”  Then, “I can’t wait till I have children.”  Then, “I can’t wait till I’m no longer married!”  Then, “I can’t wait till I’m retired.”  And finally, “I wish I was 29 years old!”  We’re rarely content with right now, all the good, the bad and the ugly of our present lives.  Scott Hahn said insightfully: “You know you’ve reached a high degree of holiness if you can say, “Thank you, Lord, for all the blessings as well as all crosses you’ve given me.  I don’t want a drop more or less.”  Only when we focus on today – indeed, on this very moment – can we catch the grace to take a step closer to Christ.

             In the gospel today, we see where all this grace comes from: it is rooted in the Resurrection, and from there it reaches every moment of time.  It’s Easter Sunday, and two Mary’s literally run into Jesus.  They embrace his feet and do him homage.  Then Jesus says very curiously: “Do not be afraid.”  Why?  Well, he wasn’t just spouting off some blithe statement to assuage their anxiety.  Instead, he was affirming the reality of the resurrection, namely, Jesus is no longer bound by space and time, so he can be present in every place and in every moment.  And when we run into his presence in every moment, we, like the two Mary’s, feel no fear.  We read in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  When you embrace Jesus and feel his love, you feel no fear, only peace.  That’s the grace in every moment.
             Do you know who’s really grabbing the grace of this Easter?  It’s our RCIA candidates: 28 people became Catholic here this Easter.  Recently, one candidate received a very strong admonition NOT to become Catholic.  A friend posted this on her Facebook page, saying: “Please call me before you become Catholic!  You are making a huge mistake!  There is no way a man can forgive sins.  The Bible has proven that the pope is the antichrist! The Bible is the sole rule of faith and no church can tell you what to do.”  That always reminds me of what Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: “There are not a hundred people today who hate the Catholic Church, but there are thousands who hate what they THINK is the Catholic Church.”  Today, however, our candidates are not afraid of such caricatures of Catholicism.  They cling to Christ in the sacraments like the two Mary’s hugged his feet, and they feel no fear.  Jesus’ resurrection has made him present today, not where they were yesterday, not where they might be tomorrow.  They have grabbed the grace of the moment they become Catholic.

             Let me ask you something: are you happy?  Seriously, are you happy RIGHT NOW in this church, attending this Easter Mass with these people this morning?  Because you know what?  I’m happy.  I wouldn’t want to change anything in this moment in my life: not the good, the bad or the ugly.  I’m happy I’m 45 years old this year (and not 29).  I’m glad to be pastor of Immaculate Conception (and not bishop or pope).  I’m glad I’m in Fort Smith (and in not Cancun).  I’m content not having a full-head of hair (well, I’m still working on that).  I’m satisfied I can’t play basketball like I used to (I had a great jump-shot).  I’m happy not being married.  I’m fine not winning the lottery.  I’m thrilled it’s Easter Sunday (and not summer vacation).  And I’m happy to be here with each of you.  I’ll go even further and say, I wouldn’t wish another soul to be here; I’m glad it’s just us.  Because, you see, Jesus’ resurrection makes him present NOW, in this moment; he’s not waiting for us in some imaginary world of our wants and wishes: in some yesterday long ago or in some tomorrow that may never come.  In Shakespeare’s play, King Henry V rouses his troops before a decisive battle by saying, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition.”  The King knew there is a grace even in a battle facing overwhelming odds, and he didn’t want his men to wish they were elsewhere.  He wanted them to catch the grace of the moment.  That’s why Bret Bielema never tires of telling the Razorbacks, “ 1 and 0,” “1 and 0” because he wants them to focus on the game at hand.  He doesn’t want them worrying about the past or thinking about some championship game tomorrow.  Grace is only available today.

             My friends, wherever you are, no matter how good or bad or ugly the situation may be in your life right now, God’s grace is offered to you.  You can

always take a step closer to Christ.  And when you take that step, you will feel no fear.  There is a grace offered to you right here, right now, in this Mass, in this moment.  Don’t miss it.

             Praised be Jesus Christ!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Con la costilla en la mano

Recibiendo el amor y gracia de Cristo


Juan 19: 31-34


Entonces, los judíos, como era el día de la preparación de la Pascua, para que los cuerpos de los ajusticiados no se quedaran en la cruz el sábado, porque aquel sábado era un día muy solemne, pidieron a Pilato que les quebraran las piernas y los quitaran de la cruz. Fueron los soldados, y le quebraron las piernas a uno y luego al otro de los que habían sido crucificados con Él.  Pero al llegar a Jesús, viendo que ya había muerto, no le quebraron las piernas, sino que uno de los soldados le traspaso el costado con una lanza e inmediatamente salió sangre y agua.


      Hermanos, “el costado” y “la costilla” son cosas bien importantes y significativas.  Eso lo aprendí de una manera medio vergonzosa.  Hace unos años, las monjitas que vivían en Springdale me invitaron a cenar a su convento.  Esa misma noche, hubo una emergencia, y no pude llegar a la cena.  Al día siguiente, la superiora de la casa me llamó y me regaño, diciéndome, “Padre Juan, ¿qué le pasó ayer? ¡Lo estuvimos esperando!  ¡Nos dejó con la costilla en la mano!”  Yo le contesté, “Bueno, Hermana, le hice el mismo favor que Adán hizo a Eva, no?”  La costilla es más que un hueso; es también símbolo del corazón, es símbolo de amor y cariño.  La costilla de Adán era símbolo de su amor por Eva, y las costillas en el comal de las hermanas eran símbolo de su amor por mí.  El costado y la costilla son cosas bien significativas, no debemos de dejarlos que se queden en las manos. 


     En la Crucifixión de Jesús, leemos un detalle bien importante sobre su costado.  Leemos lo siguiente: “Pero al llegar a Jesús, viendo que ya había muerto, no le quebraron las piernas, sino que uno de los soldados le traspasó el costado con una lanza e inmediatamente salió sangre y agua.”  Nuestro Señor Jesús, como Adán, y como yo, dejo “su costilla” con nosotros.  ¿Cómo?  Bueno, así como la costilla es símbolo del corazón y del amor, cuando salió sangre y agua de Su costado, nos entregó el amor de Su Corazón, que nos llegaría por medio de los sacramentos.  El agua que brotó de su costado fue el agua del bautismo, y la sangre que brotó de su costado, fue la sangre de la Eucaristía, de la Comunión.  Los hombres buenos siempre dejan a las mujeres con la costilla en la mano, es decir, siempre queremos demostrar a los que amamos que los queremos con un símbolo de nuestro amor y cariño: la costilla.


     Pero, hermanos, hay que tener cuidado de no dejar a Jesús con Su costilla en la mano.  ¿Cómo?  A veces, no somos tan listos y no tenemos hambre de recibir el amor de Cristo simbolizado en lo que salió de su costado, el agua y la sangre.  No creo que tengamos siempre el deseo de recibir el amor de Cristo en los sacramentos.  A veces, los papás se esperan muchos años para bautizar a sus bebes, esperando el dinero para poder tener una fiesta grande.  Así es como dejamos a Jesús con Su costilla en la mano.  A veces los papás, por flojera, no traen a sus hijos a la doctrina para prepararlos para recibir su Primera Comunión.  De esta forma, también dejamos a Jesús con Su costilla en la mano.  ¡No esperen, hermanos!  Jesús murió en la Cruz hoy para que tengamos vida, y vida en abundancia.  Recibamos el amor que se derrama de Su costado para poder vivir en Él!!!  ¡No dejemos a Jesús con Su costilla en la mano!


                                                          ¡Alabado sea Jesucristo!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Simon says

Learning to obey Jesus alone 
John 13: 5-14

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet  and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,  “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him,  “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over;  so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.” So when he had washed their feet  and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,  he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher,

have washed your feet,  you ought to wash one another’s feet.”

            Have you ever played the game “Simon says”?  I really hate that game.  I am always the first one to go out.  Here’s how it works.  A group of people face one person, the leader, who’s called “Simon.”  Whenever Simon begins a statement with “Simon says” you must do it.  For example, if he says, “Simon says touch your nose,” you touch your nose.  Or, “Simon says hop on one leg,” you must hop on one leg.  But if he only says “Scratch your head” and you scratch your head, you’re out.  Why?  Well, because the magic words are “Simon says.”  You only do what Simon tells you to do; you don’t do anything else.

            In the gospel today Jesus is playing a little “Simon says” with his disciples.  Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and says, “If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”  It’s like Jesus is saying, “Simon says wash each other’s feet.”  Now, who was the first one of the disciples to go out?  Ironically, it was the one called Simon!  Simon Peter.  He was the first to go out because he didn’t do what Jesus said.  Instead, he wanted Jesus to wash his hands and head as well.  But that’s not how you play the game.  I love Simon Peter: he makes all those who can’t play “Simon says” look good.  Eventually, though, Peter learned how to play this game perfectly, and later when Jesus would say “Simon says lay down your life for your friends,” Peter didn’t hesitate.  Peter learned that the whole of Christianity can be boiled down to the simple game of "Simon says” but in Christianity, Jesus gets to be the leader.

            My friends, you may think “Simon says” is just a child’s game; but it isn’t at all.  We adults are often doing exactly what other people tell us to do, just like in the game “Simon says.”  Think about this:  If Michael Jordan tells you to buy Hanes underwear, people run out and buy Hanes underwear.  If Taylor Swift tells people to drink diet coke, everyone starts drinking diet coke.  If Katy Perry tells you to eat Popchips, people eat popchips.  If Fr. John tells people don’t leave Mass early, everyone ignores him.  See why I hate this game?    If you don’t believe me, just do a quick google search to see how many billions of dollars are spent on celebrity endorsements.  We all have “Simons” in our lives we listen to and obey almost blindly.  Sometimes, we want to be Simon, and tell others what to do what we say.  But like Peter we have to learn to obey Jesus, and him alone.

            Folks, the fact of the matter is, we’re all playing “Simon says.”  The only question is, “Who gets to be Simon?”

                                                           Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The impossible dream of marriage

Leaning on Jesus to enjoy a life-long marriage

Daniel 3: 19-20, 91-92, 95

King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than usual and had some of the strongest men in his army bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the white-hot furnace. Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” “Assuredly, O king,” they answered. “But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”  Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

            I believe that every man and woman who has ever gotten married attempts to do something superhuman.  Every husband is Superman and every wife is Wonder Woman.  Why?  Well, I am convinced that to stay married to one person for the whole of your life is humanly impossible.  Why do you think I became a priest??  We think priests do something really hard – and we do – but that’s relatively easy compared to the commitment of marriage.  When I talk to young engaged couples, I tell them: no matter how much love, kindness and patience you feel today, the day will come when you’ll feel you cannot go on, you don’t have an ounce of love left.  On that day, you’ll have to do something super human.  I urge them to lean on Jesus and he will give them the grace to do the impossible.  What is the secret to a life-long marriage?  The secret is Jesus.

            In the first reading today, three men do the impossible but only with God’s help.  Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego are throw into a fiery furnace but they walk on coals and even sing songs.  To me, the superhuman part is the singing: to sing while you suffer.  When King Nebuchodnezzer peered into the furnace he didn’t see 3 men, but 4, “ and the fourth looked like a son of God.”  That fourth was a prefiguration of Jesus.  The secret of being Superman and Wonder Woman is Jesus.
            One of my favorite Broadway musicals is “The Man of La Mancha.”  Don Quixote sings this stirring son explaining his impossible quest called “The Impossible Dream.”  Every couple married for more than 5 months has wanted to sing it, too about their own marriage.  Listen now:

To dream…the impossible dream…
To fight…the unbeatable foe…
To bear… the unbearable sorrow…
To run…where the brave dare not go…
To right…the unrightable wrong…
To love…pure and chaste from afar…
To try…when your arms are too weary…
To reach…the unreachable star…

The secret to be able to sing when you are suffering is Jesus.  Only with Jesus can you dare to dream the impossible dream called “marriage.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Death be not proud

Seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes

 JOHN 11: 1-15

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?”  He…told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”

            Do you know how many funerals we’ve had since I arrived here on December 1st?  There have been 15 funerals.  Now, that’s a lot of funerals!  Fr. Andrew has started calling me “The Boatman” (you know, the guy who guides people across the River Styx after they die?), but under his breath he secretly calls me “The Grim Reaper.”  May I respectfully mention the names of our beloved deceased?  They are: Myrna Wells, Eddie Christian, Kathleen Garner, Martine Anhalt, Angel Bravo, Bob Lindsay, Barbara Walker, Phillip Rogers, Betty Merrywell, Gloria Cortez, Lorene Komp, Isabelle Phillips, Erma Page, Doris Barber, and most recently, Bishop Andrew McDonald.

            Before a funeral begins, I always give the family a little advice.  I say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”  I explain further: “At this funeral there will be some light, happy moments where we’ll laugh, and some sad, heavy moments when we’ll cry, and some moments where you feel overwhelmed by your loss.  But in every moment, keep your eyes on Jesus and everything is going to be OK.”  What I really hope is that they will keep their eyes not only on Jesus, but peer closely and carefully into his eyes, and see the world reflected there.  Have you ever looked closely at someone’s eyes?  If you do, you can see your own reflection there.  Now, if you do that with Jesus, you begin to see the world reflected there, and even begin to see things THROUGH his eyes, and you even see death.  You start seeing things the way Jesus does. Peering through Jesus’ eyes, you see that everything is touched with grace and every moment is budding with glory, even the grim moment of death.

             In the gospel today, we see an example of how Jesus looks at death.  After Lazarus dies Jesus tells his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus is asleep but I am going to awaken him.”  Now, I am convinced that Jesus is NOT speaking metaphorically here.  For Jesus death really is sleep.  And to prove his point, he touches Lazarus to wake him up, just like you wake up your sleeping children for school in the morning.  Sometimes, when someone very dear dies, we comfort little children by telling them that the deceased is just sleep.  But we adults don’t really believe that; we are only saying that to comfort our children, who cannot handle the grim finality of death.  But maybe we adults are the ones who don’t see right; like the disciples, Jesus has to correct our vision of death and teach us that it really is sleep.  When you look through Jesus’ eyes death looks like sleep, and what Jesus sees is what things really are.

            I know all this talk about death can be a little depressing, so here’s a little joke.  A young boy was in church staring up at a large plaque. It was covered with names and small American flags mounted on either side of it. The pastor walked up, stood beside the little boy, and said quietly, "Good morning Alex." "Good morning Pastor," he replied, still focused on the plaque.  "Pastor, what is this?"  The pastor said, "Well son, it's a memorial to all the men and women who died in the service."  Soberly, they just stood together, staring at the large plaque.  Finally, little Alex's voice, barely a whisper, asked, "Which service, the 9:00 a.m. or the 10:30 a.m.?"  Try to see the world through Jesus eyes, but if you can’t manage that, look through a child’s eyes, that’s the next best thing.

             My friends, death is a great mystery and I don’t mean to make it sound simple to understand or easy to deal with.  The pain of losing someone, the enduring grief that lingers so long, the possible extinction of life as we know it, all converge to overwhelm us.  After all, even Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus; death is no small thing.  I don’t really have any answers or explanations to make the specter of death magically go away.  My only advice to you is: keep your eyes on Jesus, and look into Jesus’ eyes.  If you train your eyes to look intently into Jesus’ eyes, you’ll see the whole world reflected there, even death, and you’ll know everything is going to be OK.

            John Donne wrote a poem about how death looks through Jesus’ eyes, called “Death be not proud.”  Here’s a small snippet of that poem:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

            Maybe it takes 15 funerals in 4 months to finally see death the way Jesus does, to get a glimpse that death is only a really long nap.   Because you see, in Jesus’ eyes everything is touched with grace and every moment is budding with glory, even the moment of death.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Big Dance

Doing the Father’s will rather than our own

John 5: 19-20, 30
Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. 
“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”
We Indians get a bad rap for our tradition of “arranged marriages.”  Do you know what that is?  It’s where your parents pick your future spouse.  The great Indian liberator, Mahatma Gandhi, married his wife when both he and she were only 13 years old.  We in the West would find that appalling – maybe even mild child abuse – but the Gandhi’s stayed married all their life, until the assassination.  But what recommends this custom is that your parents are better judges of who will make a good spouse for you than you are.  The 60% divorce rate here in the U.S. certainly makes you wonder why we choose spouses so poorly.  Of course, I avoided all that trouble by becoming a priest: so I could marry all of YOU!  Lucky you.  Who’s the best person to help you pick your life-partner?
This is what’s really going on in the gospel today: Jesus accepts his “arranged marriage.”  Jesus says unequivocally: “I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”  And what exactly was the will of Jesus’ Father?  The Father didn’t just want his Son to save a bunch of people so Holy Trinity would have some company in heaven.  Rather, the Father sent the Son to earth to seek a spouse, a spouse that the Father had hand-picked for him and had been preparing for him throughout the whole Old Testament, namely, the Jewish people.  God sent the Son not only to be a Savior but to be a Spouse.  Now, Jesus words, “I do not seek my own will,” make a lot more sense, doesn’t it?  It’s like he’s saying, “Hey, this ain’t the dame I would have taken to the dance!”  Like Mahatma Gandhi, however, Jesus accepts his father’s pick for his life-partner, and Jesus and his spouse (the Church) stay married forever.
Do you know the only people who are really opposed to arranged marriage?  It’s people who don’t have any children!  Why?  Well, as soon as you have children you instantly understand two indisputable facts: (1) how much you want what’s best for your children, and (2) how much your children have no clue what’s best for them!  It’s like that movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  At the end the groom’s parents give the couple a new house as a gift.  Of course, the house is right next door to theirs.  It wasn’t an arranged marriage, but it was close.  Now, I’m not advocating arranged marriages (well, sort of), but I am urging us to include others in our decision-making, especially our parents, and above all, our heavenly Father.  We must learn to say with Jesus, "I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me."  Because you see, in the end, if you want to be married forever, it will be with a Spouse that you won’t get to pick, but will be chosen for you, namely, Jesus.  That’s the only way to get to The Big Dance.
             Praised be Jesus Christ!


Loving the Son more than the symbol

John 5:1-9
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.
In the Catholic Church we love signs and symbols, especially in the celebration of the sacraments.  What are some of those symbols?  We use wine and water, we carry candles and crosses, rosaries and relics, and even this pulpit and even priests are symbols.  Obviously, some symbols are better-looking than other symbols.  But ultimately all symbols point back to whom?  To Jesus, of course.  Now, if Jesus were standing right in front of you, would you still need the symbols?  If you carry around in your wallet a picture of the girl you love, and suddenly she’s standing right in front of you, would you prefer to look at the picture or at the person?  The signs of the sacraments serve to make Jesus sacramentally present until he returns in glory at the end of time.  Then, we will no longer need the signs or symbols.
This is the dilemma in the gospel today: the Pharisees prefer the picture rather than the person of Jesus.
  A man who has been sick for 38 years tries to get to the miraculous water of the Temple so he can be healed.  The miraculous water of the Temple, though, was a symbol to prepare people for Jesus, the real living, miraculous water.  Jesus is teaching the people that all the signs and symbols of the Old Testament, even the Temple and the good-looking clergy, were merely symbols pointing to him.  When he arrives, they won’t need the signs anymore.
My friends, we live in a world that increasingly prefers the picture rather than the person, the signs and symbols instead of whom they symbolize.  Many people would much rather text or tweet or send an email to someone than carry on a real-time conversation.  How rare that is becoming.  Many young people struggle to speak to people eyeball to eyeball becoming very awkward and shy.  It’s like that funny but true Brad Paisley song, “I’m so much cooler on line.”  Have you heard it?  He creates on the internet an imaginary "persona" who lives in Malibu, California, drives a Maserati, but in real life he works at the Pizza Pit and lives in his mom’s basement.  Today some girlfriends prefer you look at their picture on Facebook or Instagram rather than at their real person.  Mass communication is not bad, but there is a subtle temptation: we can begin to prefer the symbol over the actual person.
The Letter to the Hebrews begins: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors the prophets at many times and in many ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.”  In other words, when the Son comes, we won’t need the signs and symbols anymore.  Or will we?  LOL.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Born Blind

Allowing Jesus to heal our inner blindness

John 9: 35-41

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment,  so that those who do not see might see,  and those who do see might become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this  and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin;  but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
Many years ago in Nepal two Buddhist monks were walking along a country path.  They came upon a finely dressed woman at the edge of a river unable to cross.  She was loud and obnoxious, complaining excessively about the raging river and the lack of a bridge right where she was standing.  The older of the two monks approached the lady and offered to carry her across the river on his back.  She agreed, but not very happily, grumbling that her clothes would get wet.  The older monk set her safely down on the other side, and the lady left in a huff, without a word of thanks.  The two monks resumed their journey.  After an hour of walking in silence, the younger monk finally burst out: “Why did you help that grumpy and garrulous old woman?  She was so self-centered and annoying.  She didn’t even say thanks!”  The older monk replied, “I put her down by the river an hour ago.  Why are you still carrying her?”  The younger monk had figuratively carrying the woman much farther than the older monk.  He could see the faults in the old woman but he was blind to his own bitterness, resentment and anger.  Someone asked Helen Keller once if there was anything worse than being born blind.  She answered, “Having sight but without vision.”  That’s what the younger monk suffered: having sight but without vision, he was without a penetrating perception into himself.

In the gospel today Jesus wants to help people have both sight and vision, and especially the vision of faith.  You see, faith is a kind of “double vision” that allows us not only to understand who God is, but also to see ourselves better.  John Paul II frequently said Jesus came not only to reveal the mystery of who God is, but also the mystery of who man and woman are.  Jesus cured the blind man and gave him faith, and that’s why the blind man worshiped Jesus.  With the eyes of faith he could see that Jesus was not only a man but also God.  Jesus wanted to give the Pharisees the gift of faith, too, because they suffered from an inner blindness.  They knew plenty about God but they woefully lacked self-awareness, especially their sins.  Like the older monk helped the younger monk to see his blindness, so Jesus tried to help the Pharisees, but they refused.  Therefore, Jesus sadly declares, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”  The “double vision” of faith helps us see that Jesus is the light of the world, but also that everyone is born blind.

Here’s a little joke to lighten things up a bit.  Several years ago, an Irish priest was driving from Connecticut to New York and was stopped by a state trooper for speeding.  The state trooper smelled alcohol on the priest’s breath and saw an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.  He asked, “Sir, have you been drinking?”  The priest replied, “No, I haven’t lad, I’ve just been sipping plain water.”  The trooper asked again, “Then why do I smell wine?”  The priest looked at the bottle and exclaimed, “Glory be to God!  He’s done it again!”  Now, for the record, that priest was not me!  The state trooper could see the priest’s sins, but the priest couldn’t.

My friends, let me ask you a tough question: do you have sight but lack vision, especially the vision of faith?  You see, our faith helps us know God, and we do know a lot about him.   But faith also should help us to know ourselves.  But do we?  How easily we see other people’s sins and vices, their faults and failures, yet remain ignorant about our own.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen jokingly said: “It used to be that only Catholics believed in the Immaculate Conception.  Now, EVERYONE believes that he is “immaculately conceived”!  Our own sins and vices are like halitosis – bad breath – everyone else can smell our bad breath, but we think our breath smells like roses.  It never fails when a couple comes to see me for marriage counseling: each person can see so clearly and obviously the faults of the other, but have hardly any awareness of their own weakness and flaws.  Once I gently pointed out to someone, “You have some areas you could work on.”  He said, “No I don’t.”  I suggested that he was denying his issues.  He fired back, “No, I’m not.”  I said, “Dude, you just denied your denial.”  He insisted, “No I didn’t.”  I said, “Okay.  I guess we’re done here.”  Trying to see our own sins is like a dog trying to catch its own tail: we run in circles, and no matter how fast we run, we can’t quite grab it.

I am convinced this is why more Catholics don’t go to confession.  It’s because we can’t see our own sins; and because we can’t see our sins, we think we don’t have any.  If you seriously want to know your own sins and failings, here’s a fool-proof way to find them.  Turn to your wife and say, “Honey, I honestly cannot think of anything I do wrong that I need to confess.  I really can’t.  If you could make a list of my sins – which I’m sure would be very short and very sweet because of course there’s really aren’t any – I’ll be happy to confess them.”  What do you think would happen?  You’d have the happiest wife in the world!  Wives should say that to their husbands.  Children should say that to their parents and parents should say that to their children.  Priests should say that to their secretaries!  I’ve been telling Fr. Andrew he needs to do that ever since I arrived here!  How easily other people can see we are jealous and lazy, we are gossips and greedy, we are vain and self-righteous, we are arrogant and condescending.  If people prepared lists of sins for each other, our Saturday confession lines would stretch all the way down Garrison Avenue!  But like that young monk, we’d rather talk about the angry and acerbic old lady at the river bank than look at our own flaws and failures.

Is there anything worse than being born blind?  Yes, there is: to have sight but no vision; the “double vision” of faith not only helps us to see who God is, but also to see who we are.  And that faith opens us our eyes to see one simple fact: we are all born blind.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!