Monday, September 29, 2014

Renewable Energy

Recharging by plugging into prayer
Luke 6:12-19
Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James,       and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people  from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

            A great debate is raging today regarding the best kind of energy to use.  Some people espouse so-called “renewable energy” such as solar, wind, biofuels, even rain and tides and geothermal heat.  Others argue our best bet is to improve nuclear energy, whose energy output is enormous, but brings greater risks.  Just ask the fish that glow in the dark swimming in the lakes around nuclear power plants.  Of course, everyone here in Fort Smith knows that the best energy is oil, natural gas and coal!  By the way, I recently found a gas station here in town that sells pure unleaded gas, with 0% ethanol added.  Is that any surprise since we’re still in 1985 here in Fort Smith?!  One of the burning questions of the day is what will we burn for energy?

            In the gospel today, Jesus directs our attention to a whole new class of renewable energy, namely, prayer.  Our Lord spends an entire night in prayer: in conversation and contemplation with his heavenly Father.  And what does Jesus do the following day?  He has the wisdom to choose the twelve Apostles, he teaches with authority, and he heals everyone who gets near him.  The last line of the gospel reads: “Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.”  Jesus had more power coming from his fingertips than all the coal-fired plants and nuclear plants and wind-turbines in the world combined.  How?  Because his power was not from this world, but from his Father.  You see, prayer allows us to plug into God, who provides the best form of renewal energy, because it renews everything.

             Where do you get your energy to get out of bed and get going every morning?  For some people their personal power plants are the cups of coffee they drink.  Others now rely on Red Bull or Jolt Cola.  Still others promote 15-minute power naps, or yoga or oriental meditation.  But all these forms of energy are still earthly; only prayer and especially the sacraments like the Mass, put us in touch with the ultimate renewable energy: the love and grace of the heavenly Father.  Today when you plug your cell phone in to charge it, ask yourself: what do I plug into to recharge myself?  The best power plant in the world is not in this world, it’s in heaven, and prayer plugs us in.  Prayer is the ultimate renewable energy because it renews you, it renews me, it renews everything.

   Praised be Jesus Christ!

Steeple Chase

Seeing the Church as the people of God
 Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

            If I asked you, “What is the Church?” how would you answer me?  Many I.C. parishioners would identify the church with our gorgeous, century-old, stained-glass studded building.  Just look around: that’s our church!  A new Indian family in our parish has an 8-year old daughter, who, every time she sees the church, says with a beaming smile: “Utha ende puli ah!”  Don’t you feeling like saying that, too?  That’s an Indian language called Malayalam, and she’s saying, “That’s my church!”  Which one of us doesn’t stand a little taller every time we see a John Bell painting featuring I.C. church?  We are rightly proud of our church.

            And yet, is “the church” really about a building, even a highly historic and holy one, like ours?  Pope Francis seems to be directing our attention to another understanding of the church: not as “buildings” but as “believers,” that is, not as structures made of stone and glass, but as people filled with humility and hope.  The pope did this with one dramatic and even drastic decision.  He moved out of the spacious, and to be honest rather luxurious, papal apartments and moved into the more sparse Casa Santa Marta.  When he first walked into the papal apartments, he gasped, “Over 300 people could live in here!”  The pope is telling us something by his example.  The church is not about buildings but about believers.  Do you remember the children’s rhyme about the church?  It involves hand gestures.  It goes like this: “Here’s the church.  Here’s the steeple.  Open the doors.  There’s the people!”  The pope is teaching us that the church is the people, not the steeple.

            Today’s gospel reading brings us to the heart of Matthew’s gospel; his whole gospel, from beginning to end, is really about the church Jesus wants to establish.  What does Jesus say the church is?  Surprisingly, Jesus uses the word for church – in Greek “ekklesia” – only twice in Matthew: once in chapter 16, and today in chapter 18.  Jesus never says “ekklesia” in the other gospels of Mark or Luke or John.  Some Scripture scholars argue that since Jesus only used “ekklesia” twice, the concept of church was unimportant to Jesus; he didn’t really care about establishing a formal church.  But I think exactly the opposite is the case; some things we say very rarely not because they’re unimportant but because they’re supremely important.  For example, couples say their wedding vows, “I do,” only on their wedding day; the paucity of the use proves how precious it is.  So, Jesus says in Matthew 18, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church (the ekklesia), and if he refuses to listen even to the church (the ekklesia), treat him as you would a gentile or tax-collector.”  You see, Jesus brings up the church in the context of fraternal correction because the church is about believers trying to love each other.  And we don’t do a very good job so we have to correct each other.  In other words, for Jesus the church is not so much a building but a body of believers.  For Jesus, the church is the people not the steeple!

            One day a man was walking across a bridge and saw another man standing on the edge about to jump off.  He ran over and said, “Stop!  Don’t do it!”  “Why shouldn’t I?” asked the desperate man.  The passerby said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”  The jumper asked, “Like what?”  The passerby said, “Well, are you religious or an atheist?”  He answered, “Religious.”  The passerby said, “Me, too!  Are you Christian or Buddhist?”  He said, “Christian.”  The passerby said, “Me, too!  Are you a Catholic or Protestant?”  The jumper said, “Protestant.”  The passerby said, “Me, too!  Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”  The man said, “Baptist.”  The passerby said, “Me, too!  Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”  The man said, “Baptist Church of God.”  The passerby said, “Wow, me, too!  Are you Original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?”  The jumper said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God.”  The passerby said, “Well, me, too!  Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879 or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”  The man said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”  The passerby said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off the bridge.  Now, I want you all to know that no human beings were hurt in the telling of this joke.  But is it any wonder Jesus used the word “church” in the context of fraternal correction?  We have a long way to go to love the people in the church.  Steeples are far easier to love, aren’t they?  Buildings are a lot easier to love than brothers and sisters in Christ.

            How we answer the question, “what is the Church?” has far reaching implications.  If we think a church is primarily and principally a building, then we’ll pour all our time, talent and treasure into it.  If, on the other hand, we believe the church is the people, then that becomes our priority and then that tends to tugs at our purse-strings.  Now, don’t misunderstand me: church buildings are important.  I still need you to give lots of money to the Capital Campaign!  But Jesus didn’t suffer and die to save structures of stone, but to save souls of sinners.  This is why we should pay close attention every Sunday when we say the words of the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  What we mean when we say that is, the Church is a body of believers, not a bunch of buildings.  First it is the people, and second it is the steeple.

            Would you like a litmus test about your belief in the church?  Just ask yourself: what do I love most about Immaculate Conception: the steeple or the people?  And maybe the next time you feel like shouting in Malayalam, “Utha ende puli ah!” (That’s my church!), you’ll be looking at a bunch of I.C. parishioners.

Praised be Jesus

Friday, September 5, 2014

Old Is Gold

Loving the old things
 Luke 5:33-39
The scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “The disciples of John the Baptist fast often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.” Jesus answered them, “Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” And he also told them a parable. “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”

             Have you ever played “dress up”?  First of all, who can tell me what that is?  It’s where small children put on their parents’ clothes.  Girls walk around in their mom’s high heels like they’re walking on stilts, trying not to fall over!  Boys wear their dad’s ties and cowboy hats, which cover their whole heads!  Now, why do small children do that?  Well, obviously, because it’s fun to do!  But they also do that because they love their parents, and want to be like them when they grow up.  They not only want to wear the same clothes, but they hope to have the same strengths and talents.  Even though those parents are sooo OLD, the children love the old ways, and so they play “dress up.”

            I like to tell people that living in Fort Smith is like going back in time to 1985.  Have you noticed that?  The clothes people wear, the cars they drive, even people’s hairdos and the music on the radio is all from the 1980’s!  It’s like people in Fort Smith are playing dress up from the 1980’s!  But why do you think they are doing that?  Well, because we love the old!  Maybe everything that’s “latest and greatest” isn’t so great?  Sometimes, old is gold.

            Today’s gospel was a little confusing for me; I am not exactly sure what Jesus means.   But here’s one thing he said that struck a chord with me.  He said: “Anyone who drinks old wine doesn’t like new wine.  That person says, ‘the old is good’.”  Jesus is teaching us that some things that are old are good, and we should hang on to them.  We don’t have to play dress up, but we should love the old.  Sometimes, old is gold.

            Boys and girls, we Catholics love old stuff, don’t we?  Sometimes, we even play dress up!  Remember Fr. Eddie?  He wore a long, black robe called a “cassock.”  He was telling us, “old is gold!”  Who’s the oldest person of all?  God is.  Old is gold!  What are some other old things we love as Catholics?  Look at our church – it was built in 1901, which is the year Sr. Sarto was born.  The old is gold!  Many people become Catholic because they realize our religion goes all the way back to the time of Jesus.  The old is gold!  This is why we should have so much love and tenderness and patience for our grandparents and all the elderly.  Because the older people get, the more golden they become!

             You know, even what we do in the Mass is very old.  The priest wears what looks like a dress, the altar servers wear robes and carry candles.  We read from old, dusty books.  People bring forward bread and wine, which we’ve been doing for 2,000 years.  Actually, the Jews did for 1,800 years before Jesus!  We do that because we Catholics love the old stuff!  Listen again to Jesus words today: “And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘the old is good’.”  The old is not just good; it’s gold.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gettin Ziggy

Learning how to have the mind of Christ

1 Corinthians 2:10B-16
Brothers and sisters: The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among men, who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The one who is spiritual, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

              I am what you might call “a binge reader.”  When I find an author I like, I read as many books by him or her as I can find until I learn how they think.  There always comes a point when I can almost guess what they will write next, and then I stop buying their books.  Why?  Well, because I have their mind, their basic message.  I’ve read enough books by C. S. Lewis, Scott Hahn, Joseph Pieper, Fulton Sheen, Thomas Aquinas and Janet Smith so that when they “zig” I zig with them; when they “zag” I zag with them.  I get to a point where I catch not only WHAT they are saying, but WHY they are saying it.  Now, this is not the same as imitating someone or aping their language and mannerisms.  Some people say I sound like Barak Obama.  I say, how do you know he doesn’t sound like me?  Believe me, there are some things in which Obama will “zig" and I would rather “zag.”  If you’re a binge reader, like me, you not only learn how your favorite authors think, you begin to think like they do.

            This is the whole reason we should read the Bible avidly and study it assiduously: so we think like God does.  St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”  Did you catch that: we have the mind of Christ.  One great way to have the mind of Christ is to read the book written by his Holy Spirit.  And if you read it regularly and religiously, when Jesus zigs, you will zig and when he zags, you will zag.  Having someone’s mind requires more than knowledge, however, it also demands love.  The evil spirits in the gospel knew who Jesus was, but they did not love our Lord.  When Jesus zigs, the evil spirits zag.  The evil spirits do not want to think like Christ.

            Who do you think like?  We’d all like to answer, “Well, I think like Jesus, of course!”  One good test to see how your brain is wired is to ask yourself: “what am I reading these days?”  How often do I read the Bible?  Are you more interested in reading the NYTimes, the Huffington Post, Sports Illustrated, Ducks Unlimited, or popular bloggers like Grammar Girl or Priestdude, or comic strips like Ziggy?  As good as those are, be careful: the more you read by a given author, the more you begin to think like they do.  I’m sorry, but Ziggy will not help you to “zig” when Jesus “zigs.”

            Today, make a commitment to read and study the Bible.  Become a binge reader of the Bible.  Otherwise, there is no way you will have the mind of Christ.  St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, said: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Beta Alpha Delta

Seeing how God tricks us into heaven
Jeremiah 20:7
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.
Matthew 16:21-23
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

             In all human relationships sooner or later we employ certain tricks of the trade; we have to persuade someone to do something disagreeable, something they don’t really want to do.  For example, parents have to convince children to eat broccoli by hiding it under mountains of cheese.  A young man entices a young lady to go on a date with him by wearing a suit and tie and attending Mass with her.  Welcome gentlemen!  A priest has to persuade people to give more money in the collection – and I still have no clue how to do that!  The former principal of Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Fr. George Tribou, had mastered certain tricks of the trade with teenagers.  He refused to install air-conditioning in the entire school, except for two areas: the library and the chapel.  Those two spaces were always cool and comfortable, and the doors were wide open in welcome!  The only way to get teenage boys to go to heaven is make the rest of the school hot as hell!  Sometimes, when you have to persuade someone to do something hard, you don’t just go up to them and ask them.  You have to enter by way of the side door, and use certain tricks of the trade.

            We see in the readings today that even God has to resort to some tricks of the trade, a certain divine power of persuasion, to motivate the half-hearted.  In the first reading Jeremiah the prophet complains, “You have duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  That is, he was duped into being a prophet.  You see, Jeremiah never wanted to be a prophet, but he also knew he couldn’t resist a deeper impulse in his bones to talk about God.  Jeremiah was like the little boy who didn’t really want to eat the broccoli, but he also couldn’t resist the cheese God had heaped on top.  In the gospel today, Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from carrying the cross.  But Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan, and stop telling me not to eat the broccoli of suffering.  My heavenly Father doesn’t need to use any tricks to convince me to eat the broccoli even when there is no cheese.  I know what’s good.”  Peter, however, was saying, “Say ‘No!’ to the broccoli; just eat the cheese!!!”  But for Jeremiah, Peter and everyone else, God has to use tricks of the trade to get them to do his will, to do something hard.

            Did you know that God often uses tricks to call men to the priesthood?  Of course we want to be priests because we love Jesus and we want to serve people (at least that’s what we tell everyone!).  But that’s not how God usually gets our attention in the beginning.  A few years ago, the Diocesan Vocations office made tee-shirts with the top 10 reasons to be a priest.  Here are a few.  One, we can eat free in Mexican restaurants.  And that really works!  Two, we always have a seat at Christmas Children’s Mass, when everyone else is looking for one.  And third, every time I visit a family with many children running around like banshees I thank God he called me to be a priest!  (Not anyone here at I.C. of course!)  Here’s a more recent reason to be a priest.  We now have 4 priests living at the rectory here at I.C. and it has given a whole new meaning to the term, “priestly fraternity.”  In fact, we’ve given the rectory a new name, it’s three Greek letters: Beta, Alpha, Delta, which spells, “BAD.”  So, we now have a Greek Fraternity on the I.C. campus.  Here’s another reason to be a priest.  One day a 5 year old declared to his mother he wanted to be a priest.  His mother said, “That’s fine with us.  But what made you want to do that?”  The boy answered, “Well, I have to go to church anyway.  I figure it would be more fun to stand up and yell than to sit down and listen.”  But you see, sooner or later in our priesthood, every priest echoes the words of Jeremiah: “You have duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  We ate the broccoli and cheese of God’s will, and we drank the cool-aid of being Catholic clergy.  But do you know what?  I’ve never been happier in my life.  Sometimes, God enters our hearts through the side door by using certain tricks of the trade.  God has to trick us to do his will, to do something hard.  That’s the only way he’ll get any of us into heaven.

            You know, it’s not just prophets and priests that God dupes and tricks into doing his will, he dupes all of us.  Throughout our lives, I believe, God uses certain strategic tricks of the trade to draw us closer to himself without our noticing.  Small children can’t wait to go to Catholic school because they want to wear those plaid uniforms.  Tricks of the trade!  Second graders can’t wait to receive Holy Communion.  But do you know who God is really working on?  It’s the parents of those children.  THEY need God more than those 8 year olds do.  Tricks of the trade!  Young men again darken the doors of a church to impress a young lady.  One of the greatest forces of evangelization is beautiful Catholic girls!  Tricks of the trade!  After you have your first child, suddenly you become aware of God in a powerful way.  Dr. Janet Smith, who taught philosophy at the University of Dallas, called having a baby, “induced maturity.”  Tricks of the trade!  As we grow older and retire and our bodies grow weaker, we think about death and leaving this world.  Older parishioners flock to daily Mass, to make up for all those Sunday Masses they had skipped.  Tricks of the trade!  Do you really think all these things are happening to us by accident?  Not at all.  Like every good parent, God asks himself: “How do I get my kids to eat broccoli?  How do I get them to attend Mass on Labor Day?  How do I get them to love me above everything and to love their neighbor as themselves?  So God comes in through the side door, using certain tricks of the trade, and dupes you and me into doing his will, into doing something hard, because God knows you have to put a mountain of cheese on the broccoli.

            You see, it’s not just teenage boys who have to be tricked into going to heaven by making the rest of the school hot as hell, so do we all.  And if you allow yourself to be duped by God and do his will, you’ll discover what I did.  You’ll be incredibly happy.  But if you want to be really happy, though, you should join this new fraternity called Beta, Alpha, Delta.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Majors

Keeping the big rocks as our priorities
 Matthew 23:23-26

Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

             Have you ever heard this phrase, “Majoring in the minors”?  Even if you don’t know much about baseball, you can guess it probably means “don’t make small things into big things,” or “keep your priorities straight.”  Stephen Covey, who wrote, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” uses an illustration of teach this lesson.  A teacher stood in front of his class and pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar.  He first filled it will a dozen fist-sized rocks and asked his students, “Is the jar full?”  Everyone answered, “Yes!”  He said, “Really?”  Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing the gravel to settle between the rocks and asked, “Is the jar full?”  One student was catching on, and said, “Probably not!”  The teacher answered, “Good!”  Then he poured a bag of sand into the jar which filled the spaces between the rocks and gravel, and asked again, “Is the jar full?”  The students shouted in unison: “NO!”  “Right,” replied the teacher, who next slowly poured a pitcher of water also into the mason jar.  The teacher asked, “What’s the point of the experiment?”  One student said, “You can always cram more things into your life!”  “Wrong,” said the teacher, “the lesson is if you don’t put the big rocks in first, but rather the sand and the water, you’ll never fit the big rocks in.”  Putting in the small things first, the sand and the water, is called majoring in the minors.

             In the gospel today, Jesus tries to teach the Pharisees the same lesson.  He says, “You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity.”  In other words, you have filled the mason jar of your life with the gravel and sand of minute rules and regulations, and left out the big rocks of love, mercy and justice.  You see, because the Pharisees were majoring in the minors, they would never make it to the Big Leagues!

             So, let me ask you: are you majoring in the minors?  But what are the majors?  Here’s my personal list of majors, what I call the “Three F’s” – faith, family and friends.  This is the only time in life when it’s good to make 3 F’s!  If you looked at each day as a mason jar, what do you fill it up with?  Make sure first to fit in the big rocks of faith (prayer, reading Scripture, Mass) family (supper at home, talking to your parents, calling your siblings) and friends (keeping in touch, helping those in need, “a friend in need is a friend indeed!”).  AFTER you fit in those big rocks, you can fill your day with the sand and gravel of watching Duck Dynasty, playing Candy Crush Saga (don’t send me invitations!), and posting your "world's cutest child pix” on Facebook.  Unfortunately, though, many of us prefer to major in the minors, and neglect the big rocks of faith, family and friends.

            Folks, all our mason jars are crammed full.  The only question is: what are they filled with?

             Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tough Talks

Caring enough to correct others

Matthew 23:13-15
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.

             One of the toughest conversations you’ll ever have is confronting someone about a problem.  Sooner or later, everyone has to face these tough talks, especially if you’re the leader of an organization.  John Maxwell, the renowned leadership guru, humorously said: “As the CEO of a company, 95% of your decisions can just as easily be made by an intelligent 17 year old.  But you’ll get paid for the other 5%.”  That other 5% involves those conversations that require confronting a problem.  But what do most people do?  They avoid the problem and hope it will magically disappear.  Does it, though?  Hardly ever.  In fact, those problematic people often consume most of our time, talents and energy; we worry and obsess about them.  Sometimes, people are pleased that I remember their name.  I jokingly answer: “Don’t be too impressed: a teacher always learns the names of the trouble-makers first.”  You see, having those tough talks makes us lose sleep at night, and they’re the reason CEO’s get paid the big bucks.

             In the gospel today, Jesus earns his salary as a leader.  He has to confront the scribes and Pharisees.  Matthew 23 lists the famous, “Seven Woes” Jesus leveled against the Jewish leaders.  But notice what Jesus is NOT doing.  He’s not avoiding the tough talk; he cares enough to confront the scribes and Pharisees.  In other words, avoiding the tough talk is a sign of a lack of love, whereas facing a problem squarely shows real love.  I’m sure Jesus knew each of the Pharisees on a first-name basis.   They were the ones keeping Jesus up late at night, praying to his Father.

             Ask yourself today: who are the problematic people in my life?  Who are the trouble-makers whose names I cannot forget, and who make me toss and turn in bed all night?  And then ask yourself: what am I doing about them?  Psychologists tell us most people facing a dilemma do one of two things: fight or flight.  But Jesus shows us another way: care enough to correct.  Don’t delay the tough talk.  Here are 3 things I do before those tough talks.  First, I pray for that other person, and for myself.  I need prayer as much as they do, probably more.  Second, I try to keep emotions out of the conversation, and I try to keep calm.  Emotions only inflame the situation and make it worse.  And third, I ask what can I learn from this other person, too?  I am not the only one who has something to teach the other person; I have something to learn.  When I do these things, those tough talks become a moment of grace and blessing for both of us.

            You know, no one enjoys confronting problems and trouble-makers, but they can be a surprising source of goodness and grace.  And who knows, it may even help you become a CEO one day!

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Queen Rules

Holding the hand of Queen Mary 
Opening Prayer for Queenship of Mary O God, who made the Mother of your Son To be our Mother and our Queen, Graciously grant that, sustained by her intercession, We may attain in the heavenly Kingdom The glory promised to your children. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

            Boys and girls, how many of you like to play chess?  This is not checkers, but a more complicated game called chess.  Does anyone know which piece of the chessboard is the most powerful, and the one you never want to lose?  It’s called the “Queen.”  Now, you have to remember that you lose the whole game when you forfeit your King.  So, the King is the most important piece, but the Queen is the most powerful piece in the game.  Everyone who plays chess knows they should hang on tight to their queen.  Ask any man who’s been married more than five minutes: “Which is the more powerful: the king or the queen?”  And he knows the answer is “the queen,” or he won’t have a queen anymore!

            Today we celebrate the feast of “The Queenship of Mary.”  Christians believe that Mary is the queen of heaven and earth.  This is what we think about on the last Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, called “The Coronation.”  In other words, of all the people in heaven, like the saints and angels, Mary has the most power and influence.  Of course, she is NOT greater than God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Mary is NOT God.  But she is greater than all the other human beings and even greater than all the angels, like a Queen on a chessboard is more powerful than a Knight or a Bishop or a Castle or a Pawn.  In heaven, like in chess, the Queen Rules.

            I want to tell you a story about a man who loved Mary, the Queen, very much.  Many years ago, there was a bishop in Rome, who used to walk around the Eternal City with a Rosary wrapped around his hand.  People started noticing it but no one questioned him.  One day, an archbishop asked him, “Why do you always have a rosary wrapped around your hand?”  The young bishop answered: “The rosary around my hand makes me feel like Mother Mary is holding my hand and leading me where I should go.  Mary is the Queen, and she knows better than a bishop what I should do.”  Beautiful answer, don’t you think?  A few years later, that young bishop became an archbishop, and several years after that he became a cardinal.  Then, in 1978, he was elected as the pope and took the name, “Pope John Paul II.”  If you asked Pope John Paul II, “Who’s the most powerful person in heaven or on a chessboard?”  He would immediately answer, “The Queen, of course!” You see, the Queen rules.

             Sometimes, I see girls wearing tee-shirts that say, “Girls rule!”  How many of you have a tee-shirt that says that?  Good for you.  Well, Catholics agree with that tee-shirt, especially when the girl we’re talking about is Mary, the Queen of heaven and earth.  The Queen rules!

            Praised be Jesus Christ!