Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sin City

Acknowledging we are all sinners
 Matthew 19:16-22
A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

             Do you believe in sin?  What an odd question!  Shouldn’t a priest rather ask us, “Do you believe in God?”  Yes, we should ask that, too, but I believe it’s even more urgent to inquire about our faith in iniquity.  Why?  Because if there is no sin, who needs a Savior, who needs God?  Now, Fr. Benedict Groeschel says, “If you don’t believe in sin, just walk the streets of New York City!”  Humorous as that remark is, I bet it’s only outsiders who see such behavior as sinful, not the New Yorkers themselves.  So, we have to believe in sin, like we have to believe in God.  One of the devil’s most successful strategies is not so much to make us sin, but rather to make us forget there is any sin.  C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, gives us a glimpse of Satan’s subterfuge when he writes: “It’s funny how mortals always picture us [devils] putting things INTO their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things OUT.”  Satan wants to keep sin out of sight.

             In the gospel today we meet a man who has stopped believing in sin, he’s obviously from New York City!  He asks Jesus what he must do to enter heaven, and Jesus quotes him the commandments.  The New Yorker is happy to report he has kept all the commandments.  He says, “Check.”  But I think Jesus makes an even more penetrating reply when he says, “There is only One who is good,” meaning only God is good.  That is, only God is perfect and sinless, and the implication is, “And you, young man, are not.”  Then Jesus gently points out the young man’s greedy heart.  Jesus is teaching the young man: don’t let Satan fool you into believing you have no sins.  Don’t let Satan steal sin out of your mind.

             In the 1970’s the famous psychiatrist, Karl Meninger, wrote the book called, “Whatever Happened To Sin?”  He argued that society at large had taken sin out of our minds and treated such behavior first as crime and later as mental disorders and diseases.  But you see what happened?   Collectively, we decided that evil behavior should no longer be called “sin,” but rather something else.  Satan had taken sin out of our minds.  If you don’t believe me, let me ask you one question: When was the last time you went to confession?  You see, you don’t have to be from New York City to stop believing in sin.  So, let me ask you again: “Do you believe in sin?”  And listen again to Jesus’ words today: “There is only One who is good.”  By the way, that ain’t YOU.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Big Love

Loving everyone without exception
Matthew 15:21-28
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

            How many people do you have to love in order to get into heaven?  Is it all your family and friends?  Well, of course you have to love them.  How about people we don’t particularly like, such as LSU and Alabama football fans?  I’m afraid we have to love them too.  Now, we don’t have to like them, but we do have to love them.  I’m sorry.  You have to love strangers you’ve never met.  That is, you must overcome xenophobia, or fear of strangers.  Palestinians have to love Israelis and vice versa.  Good luck with that.  In short, your heart has to be big enough for the whole world to fit inside.  That’s the only way you will fit inside heaven.  You see, you must love each and every person on earth, because someday you’ll have to love each and every person who’s in heaven.

             Even if there were only one other person in the whole world, you’d have to love him or her. That reminds me of this joke I heard last week.  A young seminarian graduate arrived at the small country church to preach his first sermon, but he noticed it had snowed about three feet just hours before church was scheduled to begin.  The only person to show up was an elderly farmer with a white beard.  The young minister asked the farmer, “What do you think we should do?”  The man stroked his beard and said, “Well, I don’t know much about preaching, but I do know something about farming.  If I went to the pasture with a load of hay to feed my cows and only one showed up, I’d feed that cow.”  The seminarian graduate said, “That’s great!  You sit there and I’ll preach you a sermon.”  After 90 minutes of hellfire and brimstone, the young man felt pretty good about his accomplishment and asked the older fellow, “Well, how was it?”  The farmer scratched his beard thoughtfully and answered, “Like I said, I don’t know much about preaching.  But if I took a whole load of hay and only one cow showed up, I’d feed the cow, but I wouldn’t feed him the whole load!”  If that story bears a striking resemblance to Fr. Andrew, that’s purely coincidental. We have to love everyone in the world, regardless of whether there are one billion people in the world or if there is only one person in the world.  The whole world must fit inside your heart.

            In the gospel today, Jesus looks like he’s having some trouble loving someone, namely a Canaanite woman.  The woman asks him several times to heal her daughter beset by a demon, and Jesus ignores her and even treats her rather rudely.  He says, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  What’s going on here?  Well, I don’t think Jesus is really denying the request of this poor woman; rather, he’s drawing out her faith little by little.  After their brief dialogue, Jesus praises her for her faith.  But Jesus also uses this moment to teach his followers an example: they must love everyone, even the despised Canaanites.  You see, the Jews believed they were “the chosen people,” which meant that the Canaanites were the “not chosen people.”  God didn't love them, so why should they?  Jesus tells then, however, you must love everyone.  Your heart must be big enough to hold the whole world, including the Canaanites.

             Do you know what the word, “catholic” means?  It comes from Greek and means “universal, everywhere present.”  And that’s true, the Catholic Church is present in every corner of creation.  But it also means “all inclusive,” because everyone is welcome in the Church.  G. K. Chesterton sarcastically described the Church by saying, “The Catholic Church: here comes everyone!”  Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and do something I’ve never done before in a homily, and that’s quote former President Bill Clinton.  Last week he made a great point.  He said, “Where there is inclusivity, and people working together, great things happen.  But where there is no inclusivity and you have people fighting against each other, nothing great ever happens.”  If the former president knew a little more Greek, he could have said, “Where there are Catholics great things happen.”  You could say that’s almost the very definition of the Catholic Church: “the Catholic Church is where everyone is included and great things happen.”  Every Catholic’s heart must be big enough to fit the whole world inside, otherwise you’re not a very good “Catholic.”  You’re not living up to your name.

             Today we have to ask ourselves a very serious question: is there anyone who is not welcome in my heart?  Until there is room enough in your heart for everyone, there will not be enough room in heaven for you.  Is there room for Bill Clinton and for Bill O’Reilly, is there room for illegal immigrants or people with tattoos (you better love people with tattoos because they provide half the economy of Fort Smith!), how about room for terrorists, for Islamic extremists and people on death row?  You must love each and every person on earth, including everyone, without exception.  Now, let me give you my definition of love: to desire that another be in heaven.  Is there anyone you would not want to have in heaven because that’s when you fail to love your neighbor.  That doesn’t mean we shirk the demands of justice, or fail to prosecute criminals or stop cheering for the Hogs to crush the Tigers.  But if you exclude anyone – which means anyone – then you are not a good “Catholic,” you are not being inclusive but rather exclusive.  In other words, you’re not ready for heaven.  That’s why we can say that "only Catholics will make it to heaven;" only those whose hearts are big enough to include everyone.

             My friends, you don’t have to feed your whole load of hay to everyone you meet, but you do have to love them.  The price of admission to heaven is to have a very, very big love.  Can you pay that price?      

 Praised be Jesus Christ!          

Unfinished Homework

Handing on to children a holy inheritance
 Ezekiel 18:1-2
The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb that you recite in the land of Israel: “Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children’s teeth are on edge”?

             Several years ago at a priests’ retreat, the presenter made this insightful observation.  He said: “We are our parents’ unfinished homework.”  What did he mean?  Well, it’s pretty simple.  All those issues that parents struggle with but haven’t overcome – like alcoholism, or anger issues, or laziness, or not attending Mass – is their “homework.”  And all this homework that parents fail to finish is left for children to complete.  In other words, children don’t just inherit their parents’ fortunes; they also inherit their parents’ failures.  No matter how adamantly teenagers avow: “I will never be like my parents!!”  It’s no use: you will be your parents’ unfinished homework.  People ask my parents, “What did you do to inspire your son to be a priest?”  They quickly answer: “We didn’t do anything.  If he screws this up, don’t blame us!”  But, of course, they did do something.  Their completed homework is evidenced in a priestly vocation.

             In the first reading today, Ezekiel expresses this insight in more colorful language.  He says: “Fathers have eaten green grapes and thus their children’s teeth are on edge.”  That is, the children suffer for the mistakes of the parents, for their unfinished homework.  In the gospel Jesus tells the apostles, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.”  Jesus is addressing himself not only to the apostles, but also to parents.  Don’t give your children a bad example leading them away from me.  In other words, finish your homework!  Don’t pass on your sinful baggage down to your children.

             I think this insight into parents is helpful for another reason.  People tend to be pretty hard on their parents.  Aren’t you?  I know I am.  We don’t want to see our parents get older, or become senile, or grow weaker, or see all their unfinished homework.  We want to shout at them as they demanded of us: “Finish your homework!”  But parents are not perfect; they are human just like us, and they too make lots of mistakes.  Instead of yelling at them for their unfinished homework, maybe we should pay a little more attention to our own.  You see, when fathers eat green grapes, their children’s teeth are put on edge.  But when fathers eat grapes consecrated into the Blood of Christ, their children receive a vocation to the priesthood.  Now, go finish your homework.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Love Your Mother

Treating Mary and our moms like queens
Responsorial Psalm PS 45:10, 11, 12, 16
R. (10bc) The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold. The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir. R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold. Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear, forget your people and your father’s house. R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold. So shall the king desire your beauty; for he is your lord. R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold. They are borne in with gladness and joy; they enter the palace of the king. R. The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.

             It was wonderful to welcome everyone back to school a couple of days ago.  I especially enjoyed watching the interaction between the parents and the children: some parents walked their children to class, others took pictures – Mrs. B and I got our 15 minutes of fame on Facebook – some parents and kids hugged, others kissed on cheeks, and some gave fist-bumps.  I have a good friend who always makes a cross on her kids’ backs when she hugs them, like she’s asking Jesus to protect them and watch over them.  Pretty cool.

             I also noticed, however, that for some of our older students, they didn’t like hugging or kissing their mom or dad.  It seemed uncool, or something for little kids.  One high school student told his mother, “Please drop me off two blocks from the school so my friends don’t see you dropping me off.”  Now, that’s a normal part of being a teenager,  but be careful.  Even though you don’t do all the mushy stuff, it’s always cool to hug your mom and dad and tell them you love them.  No matter how young you are or how old you are, you must always find ways to tell you mom and dad you love them.

             Do you know there was one Son who always loved his Mom?  Can anyone guess who that was?  Exactly: Jesus.  When Mary walked Jesus to school, he never told her, “Can you drop me off two blocks from school so my friends don’t see you?”  Mary was with Jesus throughout his whole life, all the way to the Cross.  And then when Jesus went to heaven, guess what happened?  He missed his mom!  So, he raised her to be in heaven with him.  That’s why Psalm 45 said, and we repeated: “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.”  Today’s feast of the Assumption is about Jesus taking his mother Mary to heaven, to be with him.  You see, Jesus always found a way to show his Mother how much he loved her, no matter how young he was, and no matter how old he was.

             Boys and girls, do you love Mary?  Yes, of course you do!  Do you love your mother?  Yes, of course you do!  But sometimes, it can be easier to love Mary than our own mothers.  We pray the rosary, we say Hail Marys (especially when we’re losing football games!), and we light candles to Mary.  But our own moms sometimes embarrass us, and they cramp our style, and they annoy and bother us as they get older and it gets hard to love them.  Today’s feast of the Assumption reminds us how Jesus treated his own Mother, and how we should treat our moms.  We should always want our moms to stand besides us, as queens, arrayed in gold!  That’s how we should love our moms!  No matter how young you are, and no matter how old you are, you must always find a way to show your mother you love her.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Sweet Tooth

Savoring the sweetness of the Word of God
 Ezekiel 3:1-4
The Lord GOD said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. Son of man, he then said to me, feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.

             I love Pope St. John Paul II.  Don’t you?  I deeply admire Pope Francis, of course, but the men who grew up and were ordained in my era – the 80’s and 90’s – proudly consider ourselves “John Paul II priests.”  Even though the pope-saint was a towering intellectual, he never lost the common touch, or his sense of humor.  You know how the formal address for the pope is “Your Holiness,” like we address bishops as “Your Excellency.”  Well, one day a nun said to him, “I am very concerned about Your Holiness.”  The pope smiled and said, “I am very concerned about my holiness, too!”  The nuns who cooked for the pope always prepared a special dessert because the pope was known to have a sweet tooth.  They tried to have a new dessert at each meal.  You see, a saint is not someone who tries to act like an angel, but rather a saint is the one who is the most human of all.  But do you know what John Paul II’s real “sweet tooth” was for?  He loved to devour the Bible, the Word of God; that was his sweetest dessert.  His most serious contribution to theology – called “The Theology of the Body” – is a bold new understanding of the Scripture.  Nothing tasted sweeter to Pope St. John Paul II than Sacred Scripture.

             In the first reading today, the prophet Ezekiel learns to savor the Scriptures, too.  The prophet describes the very first time he tasted God’s Word: “So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat…I ate it and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.”  In other words, the Bible isn’t just something you read, it’s also something you taste and eat.  You must devour the Scriptures and make it part of your spirituality, just like that coffee and croissant you are going to eat for breakfast will become part of you physically!  We must all develop a sweet tooth for the Scriptures.

             In the last week, I’ve helped at two funerals at which Protestant pastors spoke.  I was awe-struck how easily they quoted the Bible, and I was a little embarrassed I could not do the same.  They had a sweet tooth for the Scriptures.  What is your intellectual diet these days: the Wall Street Journal, the Women’s Home Journal, Tom Clancy novels, Calvin and Hobbes comic strips?  Like Ezekiel and John Paul II, we need to develop a sweet tooth for the Scriptures.  We need to read it, and study it, devour it, and memorize it, and yes, even be able to quote it.  So that the Sacred Page becomes as sweet as honey in our mouths, and tastes better than the baklava or cheesecake or tiramisu you may have for dessert today.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Keep Calm

Seeking our serenity in Jesus
 Matthew 14:24-33
 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.  During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.  At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  After they got into the boat, the wind died down.  Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

            How we behave outwardly often reflects our inner dispositions.  For instance, if our actions are out of control and we're acting like a wildman, that usually means there’s chaos inside of us.  On the other hand, a tranquil exterior often indicates a peaceful mind and a calm conscience.  In other words, our behavior is a good barometer of our beliefs.  Back during the Civil War many people had never seen the President of the United States; they often didn’t know what he looked it.  Now, you can’t turn on the T.V. without seeing him!  Well, one day, President Abraham Lincoln was visiting a field hospital and about to enter a ward.  Just then, an orderly came barreling through the door in the opposite direction and crashed into the president.  Both men crumbled to the floor.  The young orderly became livid with rage and demanded: “Why don’t you look where you’re going, you long, lanky, bearded buffoon!?”  Mr. Lincoln, stood up, dusted himself off and asked, “Young man, what’s troubling you on the inside?”  What a great response.  What’s even better was Lincoln’s composure, his calm, his peace.  That collision laid bare what was inside each man’s heart: turmoil in the orderly, serenity in the president.

             Have you seen those “Keep Calm” signs?  That was a slogan used in Great Britain during World War II to keep people from panicking in the face of the German bombardment.  The original poster read: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  But in 2000 people started changing it to all kinds of things.  Here are some funny ones I’ve seen.  One said: “Keep Calm and Call Batman.”  That should do the trick.  Another one read: “Keep Calm and Love Penguins.”  Don’t penguins calm you down?  Another one said, “Keep Calm and Call Mom,” which I’m sure must refer to the Blessed Mother Mary.  When I was going into the Carmelites last year, some good friends got me a sweatshirt that said, “Keep Calm and Wear Brown”!  Well, that obviously didn’t work!  I think what makes that slogan so popular is that we all want to stay calm and peaceful, like Lincoln did, but we don’t know where to seek that calm.  And so we search for calm in Batman, and in penguins, and in brown robes.

            In the gospel today, St. Peter begins to learn how to “keep calm,” namely, by having a firm faith in Jesus.  Now, notice what’s happening: while Peter’s inner faith remains strong, he’s able to step out of the boat and start to walk on the water.  Peter should have worn a shirt that said, “Keep Calm and Walk on Water.”  But when that inner faith is shaken by the winds and waves, he sinks.  Scott Hahn once said we judge Peter too harshly because Jesus said to him, “Oh, ye of little faith.”  But if Peter’s faith is “little,” how microscopic must have been the faith of the other 11 apostles who didn't even get out of the boat??  You see, Peter’s behavior was a barometer of his belief: his faith, even though little, allowed him to walk on water.  At the end of his life, Peter would keep calm even as he was being crucified upside-down, a feat far greater than walking on water.  You see, Peter kept calm on the OUTSIDE because he had great faith on the INSIDE.

             So let me ask you today: where does your calm come from?  Do you tend to be like that orderly and blow up and freak out when life’s waves and winds knock you down?  Or, do you keep calm like Lincoln and St. Peter?  You see, our exterior behavior is often a very accurate barometer of our inner beliefs, our actions tell us whether we’re really people of faith or not.  Last week I had a moment where I sort of panicked; I lost my calm and cool.  I was about to walk across Rogers Ave. and stopped to talk to the guy repairing the traffic light.  He said he was fixing the camera on top of the lights.  Have you seen those cameras?  I panicked and said, “Wait a minute, those are not just dummy cameras?  You mean they really work?!”  He smiled and cautioned me: “Oh, yeah, they work just fine.”  He went on: “Don’t be like that guy who got caught on camera.  He ran a red light, and the police department sent him a copy of the ticket and a photo of his car in the mail.  He tried to be clever and took a picture of $40 and sent the photo in the mail.  A few days later, the police department sent him a photo of some handcuffs in the mail.  The man immediately paid his $40.”  So, keep calm and don’t run red lights.  When our inner faith is rooted in Jesus, we keep calm no matter what happens around us: high winds and waves, knocking down the president of the United States, a divorce, a lost job, a broken friendship, a failed test, or even being crucified upside-down.  You keep calm on the outside when you have faith on the inside.

             One day President Lincoln and an assistant were interviewing people for cabinet positions when Lincoln first became president.  One man came in with very high qualifications, but the president didn’t hire him.  When the man left, the aide asked him, “Why didn’t you hire him?  He was the perfect candidate.”  Lincoln answered, “I didn’t like the look on the man’s face.”  The aide said surprised: “You didn’t hire him because of the look on his face??”  Lincoln said: “Every man over 40 is responsible for the look on his face.”  Abraham Lincoln knew that what’s on the inside of a man is often reflected on the outside, on his face, and he knew better than to hire that man.

             The best way to keep calm on the outside is when we have faith on the inside. And who knows, a little faith may even improve your looks.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Opposite Day

Resolving our opposites in Jesus

Matthew 16:24-28
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay each according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

             When we were little children we played a game called “Opposite Day.”  Do you know how to play it?  It’s very simple: you say the opposite of what you mean.  If you say, “I don’t like Cheetos,” that means you really do like Cheetos.  If you said, “I love you!” that really means you don’t like or love that person.  On many occasions this game came in very handy.  For example, at dinner my mom told me to finish my vegetables and I said, “No, I don’t like vegetables!”  When she gave me the evil eye (which comes standard in all moms), I quickly smiled and said, “Just kidding, mom.  It’s opposite day!  Of course, I love vegetables!”  You can easily see how kids would love this game but parents would hate it.  The game Opposite Day drives a stake into the heart of the old maxim, “Say what you mean, mean what you say.”  Opposite Day is a fun kids’ game.

            In the gospel today, Jesus sounds like he wants to play “Opposite Day,” too.  Listen to these ironic lines: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.”  But Jesus doesn’t follow that by smiling and saying, “Just kidding, guys!  Of course you don’t have to lose your life!”  No, Jesus was being dead serious: in suffering you will find joy, in death you will find life, in giving everything away you will gain the whole world.  Remember how that popular prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi ends?  It goes: “For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  Jesus insists that his followers must play “Opposite Day” because, in this bizarro world in which we live, that’s the only way to see things as they really are.

             Have you ever resisted Jesus’ invitation to play “Opposite Day”?  I know I have.  We want things to be simple and straight-forward, but Jesus says, no, you must play and become like little children.  We say, “I want to have premarital sex and show my girlfriend I love her!”  Jesus says, “No, it’s Opposite Day, and you’ll show her more love by being chaste.”  We say, “I want to make lots of money and become rich!”  Jesus says, “No, it’s Opposite Day, and you’ll be richer when you give your money to the poor.”  We say, “I want to do my own thing and be unfettered and free!”  Jesus says, “No, it’s Opposite Day.  And you’ll only taste true freedom when you become a slave and servant of others.”  You see, Opposite Day is a silly game for children, and one that every disciple of Jesus must play very seriously.

            John Donne captured this same point in his Holy Sonnets.  He wrote: “Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”  It’s only when we see Jesus in heaven that all the opposites and contradictions in our life will become simple and straightforward.  In the meantime, though, it’s time to play Opposite Day.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Profile Pix

Loving the truth about ourselves
Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14
Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.” He summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.

             Recently, I entered the brave new world of Twitter.  Do you know what that is?  It’s a social media platform where people tweet things, usually a short statement, that other people may find interesting.  Someone I follow is called the “Philosophy Muse,” who tweeted this maxim: “It is better to be hated for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie.”  That made me wonder how many things people see on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram are in fact true and accurate, instead of people trying to “enhance the truth.”  Some people post black and white pictures on Instagram because it hides their blemishes better than color pictures.  Have you noticed how every Facebook profile picture is of a beauty queen or of prince charming – you better believe mine is!  When the Arkansas Catholic lists the clergy changes each year, many priests still use their First Holy Communion pictures!  Now, don’t misunderstand me, social media is great, and I use it a lot.  But there also lurks a subtle temptation to look better than we are, “to be loved for telling a lie than hated for telling the truth.”  It’s easy to fall in love with a lie.

             This is what Jesus is concerned about in the gospel today: being honest.  He says, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man, but what comes out of the mouth.”  Today, Jesus would have added, “not only what comes out of the mouth, but what comes out on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.”  The disciples caution Jesus that the Pharisees won’t like his teaching, this is bad PR!  Jesus basically replies, “It is better to be hated for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie.”  Those who deal in lies are blind guides leading the blind.  Jesus teaches us not to fall in love with a lie.

             I think our whole life we’re on a journey of self-discovery, gradually seeing ourselves as we truly are, not just as we are in our glamorous profile pictures!  I tell young couples preparing for marriage: “The worst thing that can happen to you on your wedding day is that you marry a stranger, someone you don’t really know.”  It’s very hard to be that brutally honest and vulnerable with another person, and even with ourselves.  We fall in love with a lie.  People say that I look just like my brother.  I always reply: “No, way, he’s ugly!  Here, look at my Facebook profile picture – see how handsome I am!!”  I am in love with a lie.  The best advice in Hamlet was given by Polonius to his son Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man” (Hamlet I, iii).  It is better to be hated for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie.  Guess it's time to update my profile picture.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Sans Halo or Horns

Loving our priests just the way they are
Jeremiah 28: 16-17
To the prophet Hananiah the prophet Jeremiah said: Hear this, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, and you have raised false confidence in this people. For this, says the LORD, I will dispatch you from the face of the earth; this very year you shall die, because you have preached rebellion against the LORD. That same year, in the seventh month, Hananiah the prophet died.

            Yesterday at Mass something funny but also fearful happened.  At the beginning of the 10 a.m. Mass, Dc. Greg, as usual, started saying the “Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.”  Suddenly, the choir started singing, and cut him off.  Not to be pushed around, Dc. Greg spoke louder, but which only caused the choir to play louder.  Dc. Greg acquiesced.  A few moments later, all the electricity in the church flickered and the organ and the choir microphones lost power.  I immediately noticed whose side God was on, and said, “I guess we know not to mess with the deacon!”  That humorous episode highlights a serious spiritual truth: when a man is ordained a deacon, priest or bishop, he has been anointed by God and deserves due respect, which is always a balancing act.  Msgr. Hebert, in his new book called Priests, helps us strike this balance, saying, “A priest has fallen in love with God and has without any personal merit of his own received a call to serve Him…But all this high-minded stuff doesn’t take away the humanity; he remains just a person, sans halo or horns.”  That’s the balance, deacons, priests and bishops are anointed by God, but they remain without halo or horns.

            In the first reading today, Hananiah learns this lesson the hard way.  He challenges the legitimacy of Jeremiah, and he quickly finds out whose side God is on.  Jeremiah prophesies that within a year, Hananiah would “be dispatched from the face of the earth.”  He was dead in 7 months.  I guess he learned not to mess with the prophet.  Jeremiah did not have halo or horns, but he was anointed by God, and that's not a small matter.

            Today is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests.  One good way to strike the balance of respect for priests is to pray for them. Prayer helps us see that priests are human, they don’t come built-in with halos or horns.  Today, also pray that we priests remember this lesson, too.  We also run the risk of believing we’re either wretched sinners or canonized saints.  Some priests prance about proud as peacocks, while others are too timorous to come out of their rectories.  Many a parish staff person has thrown up their hands and sighed, “Priests!  You can’t live with them; you can’t live without them!”  If you ever get to that point, all I can say is, keep an eye on your electricity.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Jesus' Ferrari

Seeing the miracles all around us
 Matthew 14:14-21

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.  When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”  Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”  Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.  They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full.  Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

            Do you know what exponential growth is?  Humor me for a moment while I bore you with a little math.  Things can grow at different speeds, at different rates: some slower, some faster.  “Arithmetical growth” happens when you add things together.  We know that 2 plus 2 equals 4.  “Multiplying things” makes them grow even faster.  What is 3 times 3?  It is not 6 but 9; obviously, faster growth.  But “exponential growth” happens even faster, as my brother once told me, “exponential growth is multiplication on steroids.”  Imagine a Ferrari racing a go-cart, that's exponentially fast.  Here’s a classic illustration for exponential growth.

            According to an ancient legend, the vizier Sissa Ben Dahir presented the Indian King Sharim with a beautiful, hand-made chessboard.  The king asked what he would like in return for his gift, and the courtier surprised the king by asking for one grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, two grains of rice on the second, four grains of rice on the third, 8 grains of rice on the fourth, etc.  The king readily agreed, figuring that can’t be that much rice, and ordered the rice to be brought in.  All went well at first, but by the time the king got to the 21st square, that exponential growth required over one million grains of rice.  By the time they got to the 41st square, he needed over a trillion grains of rice.  And by the time they got to the final squares, there was not enough rice in the whole world.  That’s exponential growth, “multiplication on steroids.”  You see, some things grow slowly, other things grow faster, but some things even grow exponentially fast.

            In the gospel today we see Jesus doing some math as well, but he doesn’t add or subtract, or multiply or divide, Jesus prefers exponents.  We’re all familiar with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish.  But I believe that story is misnamed: it’s not the “multiplication” of the loaves and fish; it’s the exponential growth of them!  Jesus takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and feeds over 20,000 people.  How did I get 20,000?  The gospel says there were 5,000 men, so we know there must also have been 5,000 women to tell the men what to do, and let’s assume 2 kids per couple, which equals 20,000 total people.  Jesus gave these 7 items (5 loaves and 2 fish) to the 12 disciples to distribute.  If those loaves and fish grew exponentially 12 times (once for each disciple), do you know how many loaves and fish there would be?  The answer is 28,665, which would be plenty for the men, women and children, with lots of leftovers.  You see, when Jesus does math, he does not waste time with adding or subtracting, multiplying or dividing, he uses exponents.

            Jesus’ miracles are always “exponential.”  He didn’t just change water into wine at the wedding in Cana; he changed it into the best wine.  He didn’t just give eye-sight to the man born blind; he also gave him the gift of faith that enabled him to see the invisible.  Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead after 3 days, he also raised to life all who had died before him.  In other words, Jesus always does both math and miracles with exponents.

            Last week I experienced one of those exponential miracles of Jesus.  You know I’ve written a book of homilies to raise money for our school endowment fund.  We set an ambitious and really astronomical goal to raise $500,000.  Last week a family approached me and said, “Father, we think your goal of $500,000 is wrong.  Instead, we think it should be $1,000,000.  And in order to help you reach that goal, we will make a matching gift.  If you can raise $500,000, we will match it with another $500,000 so that you will raise $1,000,000.”  So, today, we’re going to keep passing the collection plate until we raise $500,000!  I’ve told the ushers to lock the doors and not let anyone leave!  Needless to say, I was humbled and honored.  They only asked we keep it anonymous, which we will.  You see, whether it’s grains of rice on a chessboard, or loaves and fish in Galilee, or faithful Catholics in Fort Smith, Jesus always does math and miracles with exponents.

            Folks, I am convinced Jesus keeps performing miracles today, if only we open our eyes to see them.  But here’s the good news; we don’t have to give him a whole lot to work with.  Why?  Because his miracles are always exponential: taking and transforming a little bread and wine, a few loaves and fish, humble hands and hearts.  I consider this magnificent church you’re sitting in one of those miracles.  Do you know how much parishioners pledged in 1898 to begin building this church?  It was a mere $30,500!  But Jesus blessed it and today we have a church that would cost over $4,175,000 to replace.  Do you know how Immaculate Conception got our name?  We were dedicated as St. Patrick’s Church.  The story goes that Fr. Lawrence Smyth, the pastor in 1879, went to Rome to see the Pope, Pius IX, a very intimidating pope with the epithet, “Pio No-No!”  Well, poor Fr. Lawrence was so nervous at the prospect of speaking with the pope that when asked the name of his church, he stuttered, “Uh, uh, Immaculate Conception.”  That’s what came out and that’s what we got.  Our parish name we hold in such high regard today was originally a stutter.  Do you know why we have money problems in the church?  It’s not because some people don’t give large amounts; it’s because so many people won’t give small amounts; some people give nothing.  If everyone gave $5 every Sunday, we’d never have to have another fundraiser or hear another sermon on money.  Two weeks ago, I attended the naturalization ceremony of new American citizens.  The federal judge told the new Americans: “You now have the great privilege to vote.  And you should exercise that right.  If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the government!”  What a great point.  But so many Americans don’t vote because they believe one vote makes no difference.  Really?  Jesus will touch and transform whatever we give him, no matter how tiny, because his math is always exponential.

            Let me leave you with this blinding insight on miracles by C. S. Lewis.  He wrote: “The miracles done by [Jesus], living as a man in Palestine, perform the very same things as [God the Father’s] wholesale activity, but at a different speed and on a smaller scale…The miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”  In other words, everything around us is a miracle: some miracles happening at a slower pace, other miracles at a faster pace; we see the miracle in a $500,000 donation, but not in the $5 donation.  Jesus drives a Ferrari; God the Father prefers the go-cart.  So often people ask: “Why doesn’t God do miracles anymore??”  Maybe the better question is: “Has God ever done anything else?”

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Village People

Educating our children with the Word of God

Jeremiah 15: 16-20
When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, Because I bore your name, O LORD, God of hosts. I did not sit celebrating in the circle of merrymakers; Under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation. Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide! Thus the LORD answered me: If you repent, so that I restore you, in my presence you shall stand; If you bring forth the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece. Then it shall be they who turn to you, and you shall not turn to them; And I will make you toward this people a solid wall of brass.

            Someone famous once said, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  That’s certainly true.  Parents lean on lots of civic and church organizations to help raise their children.  Parents don’t parent alone.  But what are the village people teaching our children?  I don’t think many people would argue that the modern village is moving away from Christian principles and practices.  Whenever I think of “the village people” I think of that colorful pop band from the 1970s who sang, “Y.M.C.A.”  Do you remember the hand gestures from that song?  Let’s all stand up and do that now.  (Just kidding.)

 Do you know what YMCA stands for?  It’s an acronym meaning “Young Men’s Christian Association.”  It was founded in 1844 to help young Christian men moving into cities during the industrial revolution to help them keep Christian values strong.  In 2010, however, the YMCA in the United States re-branded itself to simply, “The Y” and became open to all regardless of religion, social class, age or sex.  When you remove the “CMA” you’re just left with “Y”: a question without an answer.  Please don’t misunderstand, I’m sure “The Y” is a good organization that helps a lot of people.  But it’s also a good example of what the village people are teaching our children, or rather, what they’re not teaching them.  Christianity is vanishing from our culture, and we’re just left with a lot of “whys?”

            In the first reading today, Jeremiah also faces an increasingly anti-religious culture.  The village people of his day didn’t sing silly songs, instead, they killed the prophets sent by God, and Jeremiah fears the same fate awaits him.  What does he do?  He writes one of my favorite Scripture passages: Jeremiah 15:16.  It says, “When I discovered your words, I devoured them; they became the joy and the happiness of my heart.”  Instead of listening to the village people, Jeremiah turned to the Word of God, and God promised Jeremiah, “I will make you toward this people a solid wall of brass.”  Sometimes, it does NOT take a village to raise a child; it takes the Word of God and faith.

            Your specific task as Catholic school principals is to give an answer to “The Y” – spelled “why.”  Young people today are asking lots of “whys” that the village people cannot answer because they have erased Christ from their name.  Of course, the answer to all our why’s, to all our questions, is always Christ.  Pope St. John Paul II said in the first line of his first encyclical, “The Redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.”  Or, as the more eloquent graffiti on our overpasses says, “Jesus is the answer!”  I believe this is “why” Catholic schools exist: to give parents a partner in raising their children, someone besides the village people.  You principals must follow the example of Jeremiah by devouring the Word of God, and so that it becomes the joy and happiness of your hearts.  You should scrupulously study Scripture.  You will at times have to be a solid wall of brass against a culture that has given up on Christianity.

             Have you ever watched the Youtube video of the Village people singing, “Y.M.C.A.”?  It’s pretty funny.  The band is wearing costumes: one is dressed as a police officer, another as an American Indian, another as an army vet, another as a construction worker.  They ostensibly represent the American culture.  Can you imagine a showdown between the Village People and Catholic school principals?  “West Side Story” eat your heart out!  But culturally-speaking, this is exactly what’s happening in the heart of our young people.  Who will win: the Village People or a culture rooted in Christ?  This coming year, teach your children how to devour the Word of God, so that Jesus will be the joy and happiness of each child’s heart.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bad Company

Choosing good friends
Luke 10:38-42
Jesus entered a village  where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

            Who are your friends?  Could you name the 3 people who are your closest friends right now?  Fr. George Tribou, our high school principal, once told us if we had 2 good friends during our whole life, we should consider ourselves very lucky.  Well, I’ve got over 4,300 Facebook friends, so I got him beat, right??  How would you define a “good friend”?  Aristotle said that a true friend is someone who wishes us well, not someone who just uses us for their personal gain.  When I was in seminary, some friends from high school would invite me to go out with them.  They liked to stay out late and call their moms and say, “Don’t worry, mom, we’re with John.  He’s going to be a priest.”  Now, I get invited over for poker nights so guys can say to their wives, “Don’t worry, honey, we’re with Fr. John!”  So, obviously, I have lots of good friends.  Here’s my definition of friendship: “So
meone who brings us closer to Christ.”  A good friend will help you to know and love Jesus more, not someone who leads you away from him.

            In the gospel today, Martha learns a lesson about true friendship.  She’s busy with the household chores, but Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening, learning and loving our Lord.  Understandably, Martha complains.  But Jesus teaches Martha an important lesson about friendship.  He says, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”  Jesus is saying in effect, “Be a good friend to your sister, and help her get closer to me.  Don’t lead her away from me.”  Like my friends used to say, “We’re with Fr. John!” because presumably a priest is getting us closer to Jesus; but what about the poor priest!?  A true friend always brings us closer to Christ.

            I think we should shine this light of friendship on all our relationships.  Does your spouse bring you closer to Christ?  Do you bring him or her closer to Christ?  Are you a good Christian influence at work?  So many people become Catholic, not because we’re out recruiting like head-hunters, but because they see our example of love, humility and prayer.  Recently, I saw a friend of mine stop and pick up trash off the street and throw it away.  He didn’t know it, but by that simple gesture, he made me think I should do the same.  He brought me a little closer to Christ.  I love to see people come early for Mass and pray, or stay afterwards and visit.  That inspiring example brings me closer to Christ.  The Bible says, “Bad company spoils good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).  Conversely, good company (good friends) not only promotes good morals, but even leads us closer to Christ!  In whose company are you walking these days?  More importantly, what direction are you walking?

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tarzan's Loincloth

Wearing symbolic clothing
 Jeremiah 13:1-9

The LORD said to me: Go buy yourself a linen loincloth; wear it on your loins, but do not put it in water. I bought the loincloth, as the LORD commanded, and put it on. A second time the word of the LORD came to me thus: Take the loincloth which you bought and are wearing, and go now to the Parath; there hide it in a cleft of the rock. Obedient to the LORD’s command, I went to the Parath and buried the loincloth. After a long interval, the LORD said to me:  Go now to the Parath and fetch the loincloth which I told you to hide there. Again I went to the Parath, sought out and took the loincloth from the place where I had hid it. But it was rotted, good for nothing! Then the message came to me from the LORD:  Thus says the LORD: So also I will allow the pride of Judah to rot, the great pride of Jerusalem. This wicked people who refuse to obey my words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, and follow strange gods to serve and adore them, shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing.

             You can tell a lot about a person by the clothes they wear.  Now, I’m not suggesting we should judge people by their clothes, because we all know “the clothes do not make the man.”  Designer clothes don’t always mean a designer character.  Nevertheless, our clothes do say something about us.  I’ll never forget a little advice my mother gave me when I was first ordained.  She said, “Son, always wear your Roman collar.  It will keep you out of trouble.”  Now, what did she know about me that I didn’t??  Someone needs to keep me out of trouble!  But she was right: wearing the collar makes me think twice about where I go and what I do.  Just as importantly, it makes other people think twice when they see a priest in a collar.  I love to walk into a room and watch all the people jump to attention and start acting properly.  That’s why Catholic school children wear uniforms.  Those plaid jumpers are like little moral straitjackets that turn little hoodlums into little angels.  Our clothes can say a lot about us.  

            In the first reading today, Jeremiah also uses clothing to say something.  Actually, God commands Jeremiah to wear a loincloth.  To picture a loincloth just think of what Tarzan used to wear.  Then, God tells him to hide it in the cleft of a rock, where, after a long interval, it begins to fade and fall apart.  That simple cloth was a symbol of their relationship with God: its rottenness indicated the condition of their friendship with God.  That friendship had deteriorated and died.  You see, just like those Catholic school plaid jumpers symbolize moral uprightness (hopefully!), so Jeremiah’s rotten loincloth became a symbol of moral failure and even the ensuing divine judgment.

            What do your clothes say about you?  Even those of you who attend 7 a.m. Mass got up early enough to pick the clothes you would wear to Mass.  Or, at least you got up early enough for your wife to tell you what to wear!  The clothes you wear to work speak about your professionalism.  Here in Fort Smith, I notice a lot of people walking around without a shirt on.  In fact, some people aren’t dressed much differently than Tarzan!  What we wear when we come to Mass also says something about us.  I realize it’s summer time and I don’t want to make a big deal about this.  More than anything, I’m just glad people come to Mass.  But our clothes do indicated how important we think things are.  Jeremiah’s rotten loincloth meant the people’s relationship with God was rotten.  What does what we wear to mass say about our relationship with God?

             The clothes do not make the man.  But our clothes do say something about us: our priorities, what’s worth our time, our effort, and our money.  Our clothes can enhance but also endanger our relationships with each other and with God.  You know, it’s okay to wear only a loincloth if you live in the jungle like Tarzan.  But if you live in the concrete jungle of the modern world, you probably need a moral straitjacket to keep you out of trouble, too.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Get Smart

Admitting our ignorance in order to be wise
1 Kings 3:5, 7-8

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, King to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

            Do you know who I think are the smartest people in the world?  They are not necessarily Harvard professors, or medical doctors or heads of state.  Those people may be pretty smart.  For my money, however, the smartest people will always be those who know they have more to learn.  Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, said, “The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know.”  Acknowledging his ignorance, he was able to keep learning new things.  When we think we know it all, we can become too smart for our own good.

            Someone shared with me this funny story about a man who figured out how to be rich in heaven.  He tried to out-smart God.  He loved money more than anything and so he told his wife: “Now listen.  When I die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me.  I want to take my money with me into the afterlife.”  He even made his wife promise with all her heart and on a stack of Bibles.  Soon after that, the man died.  He was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there in black and a friend was sitting next to her.  Just before they closed the casket, the wife said, “Wait a minute!”  She pulled out a black box, placed it in the casket, before they closed it.  Her friend asked, “Girl, I know you’re not fool enough to put all that money in there with that man.”  She said, “Listen, I’m a Christian.  I can’t lie.  I promised him that I would put all his money in the casket with him.”  Her friend said, “Did you really just put all his money in there??”  “I sure did,” the wife said, “I wrote him a check.”  You can’t out-smart God, and you sure can’t out-smart your wife.  The truly wise people know they don’t know everything; they don’t pretend to be too smart.

            In the first reading today we meet the wisest man in the Old Testament, King Solomon.  It’s his coronation day as King of Israel, and God offers him a gift: he may ask for anything.  Wow!  It’s like Solomon rubbed the magic lamp and out jumped the Genie to grant him any wish!  What did Solomon ask for?  Did you notice how his request already displays his great wisdom?  Solomon said, “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act … Give your servant therefore an understanding heart.”  Like Socrates, Solomon humbly confessed his ignorance – he said, “I know that I don’t know!” – which made him ready to receive the gift of wisdom.  You see, Solomon wasn’t too smart for his own good: he didn’t try to out-smart God, or his wife, or anyone else.  The truly wise person always knows he or she has so much more to learn.

             Think about this for a minute.  When was the last time you genuinely and honestly said, “I really don’t know”?  Those can be tough words to utter because they make us look silly or stupid and who wants to look like that??  When I was first ordained a priest I felt like I knew everything.  After all, I had studied 4 years of philosophy and 4 years of theology, I better have some good answers!  Now, however, after 18 years as a priest, I find myself saying more frequently, “I don’t know.”  For example, “I don’t know why some people suffer, especially children.”  “I don’t know why the Church has such tough teachings that cause some people to leave the Church.”  “I don’t know why prayers aren’t answered the way we want.”  “I don’t know why I’m losing my hair!”  “I don’t know why I have to run 3 miles to work off one donut!  How is that fair!?”  “I don’t know what happens to us when we die.”  And there are so many other things I genuinely and sincerely don’t know, but now I’m finally not ashamed to admit it.  Here, however, are the two things I do know: (1) God loves me, and (2) I figure he’ll tell me the answers to these things when I need to know.  I can say with Socrates: “I know that I don’t know.”

             I wonder if husbands and wives would fight less if each was quicker to say, “I don’t know” followed up by “maybe you’re right, honey,” instead of insisting “I am right and you are wrong!”  Maybe there would be less tension and trouble between teenagers and parents if both sides believed they could learn something from the other.  One Ph.D. professor friend of mine said, “When you get a Ph.D. it means you know more and more about less and less.”  That’s very true.  Another professor friend said more sarcastically: “The letters P.H.D really stand for ‘piled higher and deeper’.”  Both those professors saw that one never stops learning; indeed, the more you know, the more you realize how much you still have to learn.

             Do you remember those books that taught children how to recognize the sounds that animals make?  It asked, “What does the duck say?”  The child would answer, “Quack! Quack!”  Or, “What does the cow say?”  And the answer is, “Mooo!”  Well, if we asked the question, “What does the smart person say?”  The best answer is not Einstein’s “E=MC2,” or the philosopher Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.”  Rather, the truly smart person says, like Socrates and Solomon, “I know that I don’t know.  I have so much more to learn.”  Why?  Because that’s what a child says, and Jesus taught that you must become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  And that, by the way, is a lot smarter than stuffing your casket full of money.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!


Bowing to the divine in others
Psalm 84: 8a, 11

R. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God! I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. R. How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!

             We Indians have a curious custom when we greet someone.  We don’t shake hands like the Hispanics, we don’t kiss on both cheeks like the French, we don’t give bear hugs like the Germans, and we definitely don’t do the chest bump like football players after a touchdown.  We fold our hands, like we’re praying, and bow slightly, and say, “Namaste.”  Do you know what that means?  In Hindi it means, “I bow to the divine in you.”  In other words, we believe that each person has a spark of God in them, and we bow to them like Catholics bow while passing in front of the altar.  Notice we don’t believe that human beings are merely the end of the long line of evolution from monkeys and apes.  Rather, each person also possesses a divine pedigree.  There is something divine in us.  Or better, there is Someone divine in us.

            The whole Bible can be read as a slow but steady discovery of where God desires to dwell.  In the Old Testament, we believed God wanted to reside in a Temple.  That’s why Psalm 84 reads: “I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”  And we all repeated, “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!”  But in the New Testament God decides to relocate: God’s preferred residence is not buildings of brick and boulder, but human beings of bone and blood
.  You could almost say that Jesus came on earth and said to each of us: “Namaste,” but with this difference.  He didn’t BOW to the divine in us; he BECAME the divine in us.  In other words, what Hindus see in shadows, Christians see in HD and surround sound!

             If we truly believed there is Someone divine in every person, we’d totally change how we deal with other people.  We’d be like Tim McNally, who always pulls over to help anyone stopped on the side of the road.  We’d be like Allison Montiel who wants to adopt all 60,000 refugee children who came across the border.  We’d be like Dc. Greg who wants to help every homeless person in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and in Texas and Missouri, and in Kansas and Louisiana, and Alaska!  That’s what “Namaste” means.

            Let me leave you with my absolute favorite C. S. Lewis quote.  It comes at the end of his celebrated essay called, “The Weight of Glory.”  Listen carefully: “There are no ORDINARY people.  You have never met a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours like the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit …”  Now comes the best part.  Lewis concludes: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat – the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”  That’s what “Namaste” means, and that’s a little better than an exploding fist bump, “Pschew!”

            Praised be Jesus Christ!