Monday, November 23, 2015

Stranger Danger

 Welcoming Jesus in the Syrian stranger
Matthew 25:34-36
Jesus said, “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me,in prison and you visited me.’”

            In the face of the current Syrian refugee crisis, it’s hard to find a way around Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  Our Lord’s command is clear and concrete, not leaving much wiggle room for interpretation.  Put simply: what we do for the stranger, we do for Jesus; if we close the door on the stranger, we close the door on Jesus.  I think every Christian worthy of the name tries to live by that command in one way or another: literally opening their doors to others in need, or virtually doing so by helping them in some other way.  No one seriously studying in the Syrian refugee controversy is saying, “Do not welcome the stranger.”  We all agree with Jesus, in principle.
            The issue becomes quickly heated, however, when there is “stranger danger,” meaning the stranger seeking refuge in your home may also want to harm those already in the house.  The Associated Press reported on Nov. 14 that a Syrian passport, registered as a “refugee” while entering Greece, was found on the body of one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks.  Clearly, this stranger was a danger.  Hearing of this, many voices – including those of state governors and presidential candidates – are calling for a “cease and desist” policy, in effect prohibiting all Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
            While we are right to seek greater security for our country and citizenry, I believe that approach is overly reactionary and ultimately ineffective.  Why?  There are very good reasons to believe that “refugee” is not the “go-to-disguise” of radical Islamic terrorists.  Dave Bier, in his recent article, “Six Reasons to Welcome Syrian Refugees After Paris,” outlines why Islamic terrorists would not resort to that ruse to enter a country, in spite of the example noted above.  Furthermore, the mastermind of the Paris attacks was a Belgian citizen, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who grew up in Brussels, and even attended private schools.  He was not the stranger knocking on the door; he was a family member sitting at the kitchen table.  In other words, terrorists are far more successful when they don’t need to get into the house, because they’ve grown up in the house!
            This is the reason excessive security measures – including denying safe haven to refugees – will ultimately NOT keep us safe from terrorists.  Why?  You see, the real “ground” that the terrorists want to occupy is not Paris or London or New York, but rather the “heart” of anyone who sympathizes with radical religions.  Furthermore, the “hearts” the terrorists are seeking to convert are not only hearts running with Syrian or Iraqi blood, but even those hearts beating with the red blood of Americans.  In recent years, we’ve seen examples of Caucasian Americans, even some in the U.S. military, become “radicalized.”  Do you remember the story of Eric Harroun, who left the U.S. Army in 2000, and joined a radical Islamic group called “Jabhat al-Nusra,” a group the State Department classifies as an alias for Al Queda in Iraq?  The human heart does not have borders or customs agents or restrictive refugee policies to prevent someone from entering.  The heart has completely “open borders” which allows anyone to enter freely, as evidenced every time you access the internet and start clicking and reading.  Who is moving in and out of your heart without a visa?  Like right now.
            Radical Islamic terrorists do pose a clear and present danger to our country and our way of life.  But we do not neutralize or even reduce that threat simply by closing our borders to Syrian refugees.  The real question is not how to control who gets into the United States (even though that is a legitimate question), but rather, what safe-guards you erect to vet those who get into your heart.  There is such a thing as “stranger danger.”  But the greatest danger may not be posed by a stranger who looks Syrian; it may come simply from the stranger who lives down the street.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Who Dun It

Searching for the divine Suspect
Wisdom 13:1-9
All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; But either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods. Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them. Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen. But yet, for these the blame is less; For they indeed have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him. For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair. But again, not even these are pardonable. For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

          Did you ever play the board game called “Clue”? It’s a murder mystery you have to solve by determining the suspect, the murder weapon, and the room in the mansion where the murder happened. For example, it could have been Miss. Scarlett in the Study with a revolver. Now, the game was originally invented in England and called “Cluedo,” while the American version is simply called “Clue.” Apparently, they’ve recently developed a Fort Smith version of the game with new suspects and weapons. So, now the solution could be Deacon Greg in the pop-up tent with a sleeping bag. Everyone is getting this for Christmas! But we play “clue” in real life all the time, don’t we, in searching for our missing keys. We follow clues, we ask other people’s help, we go into different rooms and we retrace our steps. Clue is a fun game, but it’s also real life.

          In the first reading from Wisdom, we learn that Clue is also a great way to understand our spiritual life. The author of Wisdom teaches: “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen.” In other words, in the spiritual game of Clue, we’re all searching for a Suspect, in this case not someone who has committed a murder, but someone who gives eternal life, namely, God. And the whole created cosmos is scattered with clues to help us find God. We are all searching for something, not just for Dc. Greg or our car keys, and all the clues we find will lead us back to God.

          My friends, let me invite you to see your whole life as a kind of “Who Dun It” mystery in which everything that happens, and every person you meet is a clue to help you find the divine Suspect, God. Think of all the things that happen in your life: your parents, where you were born, your siblings, your religion, your talents, your weaknesses, your friends, your jobs, your spouse, your children, your priests, your barber, your hairdresser, your neighbors, your awards, your blunders, your vacations, your books, your schools, your lunch, your supper, your successes, and yes, even your sins, absolutely everything in your life is a clue to help you find God. That’s why morning Mass is packed with people who have not only gathered lots of clues (because they’ve lived a long time), but people who’ve figured out “who dun it”! They know the Suspect they’ve been searching for their whole life is really “Jesus, in the heart, with a Cross.” You see, the game of Clue, is not just a game.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Ultimate Gift

Asking God for the gift of wisdom
Wisdom 7:22B–8:1
          In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, Not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, Firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, And pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle. For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
 For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nought that is sullied enters into her. For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness. And she, who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring; And passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence; for that, indeed, night supplants, but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom. Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.

          If you could ask God to give you any gift whatsoever, what would it be? Would you like to be able to drive a Nascar like Dale Earnhart, Jr.? Maybe you’d want movie-star good-looks like Matt Damon or Julia Roberts? Perhaps you'd like to be a brilliant astrophysicist like Stephen Hawkins or play basketball like Lebron James or baseball like Adam Wainright? Or, maybe you’d just like to be super-rich like Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who donated $32 billion to charity in July. By the way, does anyone know him? Maybe you could ask him to give a small $1 million gift to Immaculate Conception School? He wouldn’t even miss it! You see, all these abilities and achievements, talents and treasures are really gifts from God. Nothing is truly our own.

          In the first reading today we see a strong case for an even better gift, that is, wisdom. Wisdom is one of my favorite books of the Bible. We read there: “In wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, and pervading all spirits.” And the reading concludes, “Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily, and governs all things well.” Wow, not a bad gift! And wisdom is so precious that not even Prince Alwaleed with all his billions could buy such a gift. In other words, God gives each person a unique gift, and they are non-transferable, like airline tickets.

          One of the joys of working at Trinity Junior High is watching our students begin to discover the precious gifts God has given them. Some excel in sports, others find a calling in drama – I’m talking about drama like Shakespeare! – still others are whizzes in Quiz Bowl or math or science. But my daily prayer is that they will also ask God for the gift of wisdom. Why? Well, because all gifts are great, but wisdom is, in a sense, the ultimate gift, because it not only helps you appreciate all other gifts, but it even helps you know and love the Gift-Giver, namely, God. You cannot buy wisdom and you cannot sell wisdom. It is a gift given free by God. Maybe that’s what you should ask for this Christmas.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Veterans Day Salute and Prayer

Veterans Day Salute and Prayer
       
           I learned a lot from my high school principal, Fr. George Tribou. He once said something that completely changed my thinking about going to Mass. He said, “You don’t come to Mass to get something out of it; but rather, you come to Mass to give something: to give some of your time, to give some of your love, to give some of your talent.” Maybe that’s why many people don’t like going to Mass. They’re more interested in getting something than in giving something. In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy articulated the same attitude as Fr. Tribou when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country.” In other words, an American should be a giver not a taker.

          In a culture overshadowed by selfish consumerism and arrogant individualism, our veterans stand out as shining lights. As they don the uniforms of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, they desire to give something rather than to get something. In their readiness to lay down their life for freedom they don’t ask, “What can my country do for me?” But ask, “What can I do for my country?” We owe a great debt of gratitude to our veterans – not only for fighting our wars – and so we rightly celebrate Veterans’ Day. Let us pray.

          Almighty God, this world is a battlefield. Wars rage all around us: of good versus evil, of tyranny versus democracy, of freedom versus slavery. We thank you for the veterans past and present who courageously take up arms in this contest. Today we honor them and we ask you to bless them. We also ask forgiveness for our failures to honor them in the past, when we shamefully ridiculed their sacrifices. Finally, we thank them for teaching us about the spiritual battle being fought in every heart: of selfishness versus altruism, of giving versus getting, of what our country can do for us versus what we can do for our country. Our gratitude to our veterans goes deeper than our words can express, and so may your Holy Spirit speak for us. We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Be a Champ

Living life to the fullest
Wisdom 2:23–3:9
God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made them.  But by the envy of the Devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it. But the souls of the just are in the hand of God,  and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.
       
           When I was in high school our principal, Fr. George Tribou, said something I never forgot. He said, “Five years after you graduate, one of you will die.” And I remember looking around at my classmates and wondering: “Which one you chumps will it be?? Because it sure won’t be me!” We often think that death comes for someone else, but surely not me. But one day it will be me, and one day it will be you.

          Now we can take one of two attitudes toward death. We can adopt the attitude that says, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” And we live recklessly and immorally, hurting others and ourselves. Or, we can have the mind of Tim McGraw in his song, “Live like you are dying,” where he makes the most of life. He sings: “I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t. And I became a friend a friend would like to have. And all the sudden going fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition. And I went three times that year I lost my dad.” You see, the reality of death forces us to make a choice between living stupidly or living soberly.

          The first reading from Wisdom tell us WHY we should choose to live soberly rather than living stupidly, namely, because death is not the end. Wisdom says that those who pass away, “seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead, and their passing away was thought an affliction…but they are in peace.” They are in the hand of God. In other words, live soberly – go fishing with your dad, be a good friend and a great husband – because one day you’ll have to explain how you lived to God. God won’t be too happy if all you did was “eat, drink and be merry.”

          Have you ever heard of Robert Champ Williams? He graduated from Trinity Junior High in 1996, and he died this past weekend. He was 32 years old, a very accomplished diver, and won an Emmy Award for a documentary called, “Attack of the Sea Slugs.” Listen to what he wrote on his website: “Through my work (of underwater filming) I am exposed to organisms and interactions no one has ever seen before. But they still happen…when nobody is looking. Their interactions with each other an elegant dance choreographed through the ages. It is these moments I find both prolific and perpetually humbling: for if I never see the face of God, if I never find the answers, through my work, I at least find purpose and repose.” You see, Champ Williams didn’t think he was going to die this past weekend, but he lived in a way that he was ready to see the face of God. He lived soberly, not stupidly.

          Boys and girls, let me encourage you to make the most of your life, because no one knows when they will die. Don’t be afraid to try something new, like joining dance or cheer. Play sports like basketball, volleyball, football, or run cross-country. Be in drama or Quiz Bowl, serve at Mass or be a lector or sing. But whatever you do, don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t live stupidly. In other words, be like Champ, a Trinity grad who made the most of his life. Today we pray that Robert Champ Williams sees the face of God and knows his peace. And may we be ready, one day, to see his face, too.
          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Woo Pig!

Living sacrificial discipleship
Mark 12:38-44
          Jesus sat down opposite the treasuryand observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in morethan all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."

         Do you know what it means to “have some skin in the game”?  It does NOT mean to just participate from a distance, like being an “arm-chair quarterback, sitting comfortably in your barcalounger drinking beer and eating pork rinds.  Rather, having “skin in the game” means getting involved to the point that it hurts, to the point that it costs you something, to the point that you have to make a sacrifice.  Let me  illustrate what I mean by a well-known parable.  One day on a farm, a chicken and a pig decided to prepare breakfast for Farmer John.  The chicken said excitedly, “Let’s make a plate of ham and eggs for him!”  But the pig protested, “Hey, wait a minute.  That only requires a little involvement from you, but that demands a total commitment from me!”  You see, the pig knows where pork rinds come from – they comes from having some “skin in the game”!  Only those who make steep personal sacrifices truly have “skin in the game.”

          In the gospel today, Jesus illustrates the same point in reference to being his follower, that is, you can’t be his disciple without some skin in the game.  He closely watches people putting donations into the Temple treasury.  When he notices what a poor widow does, Jesus makes this startling statement.  He says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.”  He goes on to explain how she did by saying, “For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”  In other words, the wealthy are like the chicken in the parable, and merely get “involved,” and give from their “extra,” while the widow is like the pig, making a total commitment, putting some skin in the game, making a sacrifice that hurts.  In praising her, Jesus implied that’s what he expects from all his followers.  After all, that’s what he expected from himself.  You can’t be a disciple without of Jesus some skin in the game.

          I’m here this weekend to help St. Theresa Catholic school.  But do you know why Catholics schools are closing one after another?  It’s because we want to be like the chicken and just be moderately involved but not like the pig and make real sacrifices.  And I’m not just talking about money here.  Just think about this history: the reason Catholic schools thrived in the past is because prior to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, Catholics had lots of children.  That was the definition of “a good Catholic family.”  Now the only good Catholic family is the Duggers in Springdale, and they’re not even Catholic!  When you have that many children, it’s more likely that one or two will become a priest or a nun.  In other words, your “skin in the game” is the skin of little Johnny or little Susie!  And then when we have lots of nuns, they teach in our schools, and as a result we have virtually free education, because we didn’t have to pay the nuns very much.  Just like we don’t pay priest very much today!  Unfortunately with the sexual revolution we took our “skin out of the game” and we have fewer children and therefore fewer priests and nuns.  But until that happens, the only way we can run Catholic schools is by paying tuition, or raising money like with the Roses from Heaven Campaign.  We have to imitate the poor widow in the gospel, and not “give from our surplus wealth, but from our poverty, contributing all we have.”  You see, the survival of Catholic schools is a kind of litmus test of our discipleship — whether we give our children or our checks — how much skin we have in the game.

          My friends, may I give you several ways you can embrace sacrificial discipleship?  First, this weekend I’m selling audios and books, hats and t-shirts to support St. Theresa School.  Would you consider making a donation above the cost of the products?  Put some skin in the game to save your Catholic school.  Second, have another baby!  That’s easy for a priest to says, isn’t it!  But an old adage teaches, “every baby is born with a loaf of bread under its arm,” meaning God provides for those children.  Third, go to a Cursillo weekend, or a Search retreat, or get involved in the Charismatic Renewal.  People stay away from these events because they are chickens!  They know such retreats require a deeper commitment, like the pig made.  And fourth, give more generously to your church.  My brother used to attend Mass in college and had this unusual habit.  When it came time for the collection he opened his wallet and pulled out the largest denomination bill he had and put that in the collection plate.  Maybe he took out all the 20’s, 50’s and 100’s before Mass, but in any case, he put more in the plate, because he wanted to have more skin in the game.  If being a disciple is not costing you something, it’s not real discipleship.

          On February 4, 1994, Mother Teresa gave an unforgettable speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.  In attendance were many dignitaries, including President Clinton and the First Lady.  In that speech Mother Teresa echoed what Jesus said in the gospel, when she said, “It is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt…This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts.  Otherwise, there’s no true love in me…”  We all know Mother Teresa was a genuine disciple because we know she had skin in the game, her whole life.  My friends, Christian discipleship requires that we not be a chicken, but rather we must become a Razorback.  As Coach Bielema says, “Woo, Pig!”

         Praised be Jesus Christ!

Feet First

Learning to see what’s in our hearts
Luke 16:9-15
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And he said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”

          Recently, someone from the RCIA class taught me something new.  Don’t worry, that happens a lot!  She was telling me that Abbot Jerome gave a talk to the class and said that we should learn to trust our feet, but not our heads or our bodies.  Why?  Well, because our minds and bodies can lie to us, but our feet never lie.  Our feet tell us what we really love because if we follow our footsteps, they lead us to the cheesecake, and to the television, and to the Casino.  Our feet tell us the truth about what we love.  Did you ever read Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of Sherlock Holmes?  If you did, you noticed how Holmes always studied very closely people’s shoes.  Why?  Because the dirt or the dust or the wear and tear and other details told him a lot about what was in the person’s heart, whether that person was the criminal Holmes was hunting.  You see, the fastest way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach, but rather through his feet.

          In the gospel today, Jesus tries to help the Pharisees see what’s in their heart.  He tells them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts.”  In other words, God is not fooled by your head or body or how beautiful your appearance is.  That may fool you into thinking you are holy.  Rather, like Sherlock Holmes, God sees your feet and from them, he can clearly see what’s in your heart.  God knows that your feet never lie.

          One of the great challenges for Catholics is going to confession.  What excuses do people give for not going to confession?  They say, “I can’t think of anything I’ve done wrong!”  Well, may I suggest you take a page from Sherlock Holmes’ playbook, and examine your feet?  Where are your feet taking you lately?  And equally importantly, where are your feet NOT taking you, like not taking you to church, or not taking you to the gym to exercise, or not taking you to your mother-in-law’s home!  Maybe the best examination of conscience doesn’t begin with your head or your heart, but with your feet.  Why?  Because your feet never lie. Next time you jump into confession, be sure to jump in feet first.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Just the Facts

Letting Jesus separate truth from illusion
John 6:37-40
Jesus said to the crowds: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,  and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,  because I came down from heaven not to do my own will  but the will of the one who sent me.  And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”

          Who famously said, “Truth is stranger than fiction”? It was the same author who wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn – Mark Twain. He said that because it is hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction, and often we prefer the fiction and illusion rather than the fact or truth. For example alcoholics don’t believe they have a drinking problem; they prefer the illusion, the fiction that they are fine. People who suffer from anorexia believe they are over-weight, even though they are really skinny; they prefer the fiction over the fact. Braiden Sharum thinks he’s the coolest kid in school, but that’s just an illusion, just fiction. Just kidding, Braiden, you really are the coolest. I think I have a full head of hair. But again, truth is stranger than fiction, and because the truth is so much stranger, we prefer the fiction.  We live in our illusions. It’s hard to tell which is which.

          In the gospel today Jesus helps us overcome our greatest illusion, the one fiction that’s the hardest to shake, namely, the harsh reality of death. It is a fact that we will all die some day. I like to say that “no one is getting out of here alive!” And yet, we don’t really believe it, especially when we’re teenagers. How many of you truly think you will die someday?  Like alcoholics, like anorexics, like Braiden and like me, we prefer the illusion that we will live forever. Heck, we even have stores called “Forever 21” to perpetuate precisely that illusion. So, Jesus tells us today that we will in fact die. But there’s another fact that’s equally important, namely, if we believe in him, he will raise us up on the last day. That’s a fact, too, a fact of our faith. You see, Jesus will indeed help us to live forever after we die, but we must put our faith, our hope and our love in him. The hardest fact and fiction to sort out is death and life.

          Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and because truth is so much stranger, people prefer the fiction, to live in our illusions. I hope someday you will read the great masterpiece called “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In it, Satan wallowing in hell consoles himself by saying, “The mind is such a thing that it can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.” In other words, even though I’m in hell, it ain’t so bad! My mind can make me believe that it’s as good as heaven! That’s exactly the devil’s greatest weapon – to confuse fact and fiction – and a lot of us give in to him. Only Jesus can help us figure out which is which.
          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Need for Speed

Learning we need the Holy Spirit
Luke 11:10-13
Jesus said to his disciples:  “And I tell you, ask and you will receive;  seek and you will find;  knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives;  and the one who seeks, finds;  and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  What father among you would hand his son a snake  when he asks for a fish?  Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?  If you then, who are wicked,  know how to give good gifts to your children,  how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

          If I were to ask you what you think you really need, what would you answer? I would answer, “I need coffee!” Others may say, “I need shorter sermons!” Yet others, “I need a priest whose accent I can understand.” Still others say, “I need to check Facebook to see how many ‘likes’ I got on my last post!” If you’re Tom Cruise in the movie “Top Gun,” you’d say, “I feel the need…the need for speed.” But do we really need these things?
          Several years ago I had a conversation with a homeless man that completely changed my thinking on what I need. On an early morning jog in downtown Little Rock, I stopped to talk to a homeless man. Surprisingly, he said, “You know, I feel sorry for you.” I suppressed a laugh, and asked, “Why do you feel sorry for me?” He explained, “Well, because you’re a slave to so many things. But I’m free. I get up when I want, I eat when I want, I go where I want, I do whatever I want. But you are a slave to your alarm clock, and to your job, and to your lifestyle, and to gas prices, and to your retirement plan. You are a slave to all these things you think you need.” Pope Francis said that the poor have a lot to teach us; he was right. They teach us what we truly need.
          In the gospel today, Jesus also chimes in on our needs, especially in prayer. He says, “If you then, who are wicked know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” In other words, you know well what your children need, but you can’t see what you need. Fr. James Martin, the popular Jesuit writer, wrote that his father would drop the children off at Sunday Mass and sit in his car and read the paper until Mass was over (Become Who You Are, 10). We know what our children need, but we’re blind to what we need.
          Let me ask you again: what do you really need? Maybe you could spend a little time with the poor and get a better answer. You see, the poor can teach us that our so-called needs are just a form of modern-day slavery. Maybe all we really need is the Holy Spirit, not coffee, not short sermons, or the need...the need for speed.

 Praised be Jesus Christ!

Woman Wise

Seeking wisdom as well as knowledge
Mark 10:17-30
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

          I don’t know if you’ve heard this but we live in the so-called “Information Age.” That means that we’re all driving ninety-to-nothing along the information superhighway bombarded by all kinds of facts, figures and fun stuff. Almost infinite information sits at our finger tips, thanks to Google, and no thanks to God. But while we accumulate more and more knowledge and information, we seem to have less and less wisdom and understanding. For instance, we have T.V. shows called “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” but we don’t have a T.V. show called “Are you wiser than a fifth grader?” Who cares if you’re wiser?? We value people with “know how” – who know how to fix your car or your computer or your toilet – but we have little interest in people with “know why” – who know why you have a car or a computer or a toilet! Who cares if you know why?? We pay big bucks to bankers and businessmen, to doctors and dentists, but only pennies to professors or pastors or priests (you knew I had to throw that in there!). At the end of the day, we just don’t want to think that hard, because it’s just too hard to think. Albert Einstein, the great physicist said, “Thinking is hard work; that’s why so few people do it.” In other words, we live in the Age of Information, but not in the Age of Wisdom.
          In the gospel today Jesus invites a young man to take an exit off the information superhighway and to wander into the world of wisdom; to ask “why” and not just “how.” The young man asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, he wants to know HOW to get into heaven. But notice Jesus deflects his question and asks, “WHY do you call me good?” That is, don’t seek merely knowledge but rather seek wisdom; don’t just ask “how” but also ask “why”? And then, surprisingly, Jesus urges the young man to give his money to the poor and come follow him. Why? Because as Pope Francis keeps reminding us, the poor have a lot to teach us, namely, they can teach us wisdom. They are not on the information superhighway because they don’t have a car, or a computer, and some don’t even have a toilet. When you don’t have a lot of things, you can do a lot more thinking.
          Did you know that Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, drove an old pick-up truck? In his autobiography called “Made in America,” he explained why, saying, “I don’t believe a big showy life-style is appropriate for anywhere, least of all here in Bentonville, where folks work hard for their money and where we all know that everyone puts their trousers on one leg at a time.” Sam sought to understand others by living a simpler life-style, just like Jesus suggested to the young man. To be sure, Sam Walton definitely wanted a lot of knowledge and information, but he also wanted wisdom, and simplicity of life helped him. And it can help you, too.
          Do you know another great place to gain wisdom? It’s from women. Pope John Paul II said women possess something called “feminine genius” that we men need to learn. Recently, I heard about three men who died and arrived at the gates of heaven, but before God let them enter, he gave them a chance to come back as anything they wanted. The first guy said, “I want to come back as myself, but 100 times smarter.” So God made him 100 times smarter. The second guy said, “I want to be better than that guy, so make me 1,000 times smarter.” So, God made him 1,000 times smarter. The last guy decided he would be the best. So he said, “God, make me better than both of them, make me 1,000,000 times smarter.” So, God made him a woman. But you see, becoming a woman doesn’t just mean being smarter, I believe it means becoming wiser. Men worry about “how” to do something, but women wonder “why” we should do something. Men want to be smarter, women want to be wiser. That’s the feminine genius.
          Today, I invite you to grow not only in knowledge but also in wisdom. Don’t just ask yourself HOW to do something, ask WHY you do something. Don’t just ask, how do I make the Sign of the Cross, ask why should I? Don’t just ask, how do I lose weight, rather ask why should I lose weight, or better yet, why did I gain this weight?? Don’t just ask, how do I register my child for Sunday school, also ask why do I send my child to a public school and not to a Catholic school? Don’t ask how do I invite Fr. John for supper, ask instead, why have I waited so long?? My friends, these “why questions” are tough questions because they require us to stop, to get off the information superhighway, and to think. And “thinking is hard work, that’s why so few people do it.”
          So let me ask you: which question is more important, to know how or to know why? If you don’t know the answer, maybe you just need to be a million times smarter.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Cheap Nails

Learning how to clean our hearts
Luke 11:37-41
After Jesus had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
 The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
 inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside? But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

          Ponder this question for a moment: what do you spend your money on? Or, if you don’t personally have any money, what do you spend your parents’ money on? We all spend our money on something, and that tells us what is important to us. For example, would you spend $20 to go see the new movie, “The Martian” with Matt Damon? I would, I love movies! Maybe you’d spend money buying video games like “Mine Craft” or “Assassin’s Creed.” Some women put a high premium on beauty and spend lots of money to look good. One friend of mine likes to say, “Beauty ain’t cheap!” I saw one sign that read: “Nice nails ain’t cheap, and cheap nails ain’t nice!”
          Now, Kristian Bush, the country music artist, spends his money in a different way. He just gives it away to others. Have you heard his song called, “Trailer Hitch”? Here’s the refrain: “I don’t know why, know why, Everybody wanna die rich, Diamonds, champagne, Work your way down that list. We try, everybody tries, Tries to fit it into that ditch (the ditch is the grave). You can’t take it with you when you go, Never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch, never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.” You see what we spend our money on is one of the best signs of what’s important to us.
          In the gospel today, Jesus suggests something else we should spend our money on, namely, “alms giving.” What is “alms giving”? That’s when you give your money to help the poor. Jesus says, “But as for what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” Jesus is talking about having a clean heart (what’s within) and giving alms to the poor shows you have a heart full of love for the needy, not a heart that’s greedy. In other words, where you spend your money says a lot about what’s important to you, and it shows what’s in your heart.
          Today, I’m asking all of us, myself included, to put Trinity Junior High in our hearts and to give something to the Annual Fund. I gave my check to Mrs. Jill Franklin this morning. I would like all of us – students, teachers, staff, school board and trustees – to give something, even if it’s one dollar. Let me be clear: we’re not trying to raise tons of money, we’re trying to get everyone to give something, even one dollar. Our goal is 100% participation, because that shows we love this school. Please bring your donation to your teacher and she or he will keep track of how close we’re getting to 100% participation.
          Believe me, I hate talking about money as much as you hate hearing about it. But money is funny. It reveals what’s important to us, and it unveils what’s in our heart.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Telephone Game

Avoiding the rumor mill
Luke 12:1-7
At that time: So many people were crowding together that they were trampling one another underfoot. Jesus began to speak, first to his disciples, “Beware of the leaven–that is, the hypocrisy–of the Pharisees. “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear.
 Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one. Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”

          For today’s homily I will need seven volunteers.  Have you ever heard or played “The Telephone Game”?  A group of people stands shoulder to shoulder.  The person at the end of the line is whispered a word or a phrase.  He or she then whispers the word or phrase to the next person, and so on until it reaches the last person, who says the word or phrase out loud.  What usually happens?  The last person hears something very different from the first person!  There are two rules to play: (1) you should only whisper what you hear, and (2) you can only say the word or phrase once.  First, we’ll try a word, “Anticipation.”  Next we’ll try a phrase, “Twenty-two teens typing texts.”  And finally we’ll try a sentence, “Fr. John should be the next pope.”
          Now, what kinds of things do people, even adults, whisper about: good things or bad things?  It’s usually bad things that they know they should NOT say out-loud, so they whisper them.  That’s called a “rumor.”  And rumors hurt people’s reputations.  You see, The Telephone Game is a fun ice-breaker in groups, but in the real world it can break people’s hearts.
          In the gospel today, Jesus says whatever you whisper in the dark will be declared in the day light.  Jesus is telling us not to spread rumors.  Of course, it’s okay to play The Telephone Game for fun.  But don’t play it when it hurts other people.  A friend of mine gave me a very helpful hint in anything I say or write.  He said, “Don’t write anything or say anything that you don’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.”  Please keep that in mind the next time you play “The Telephone Game.”

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

A Far Better Thing

Giving without expecting any return
Mark 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism  with which I am baptized?"  They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them,
 "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

          Have you ever done anything that was absolutely altruistic; that is, have you done something for another person without getting anything in return for yourself? We do lots of things for others, especially for the poor, but we usually get something back, like a tax-deduction! So, that’s not completely altruistic. Or, when we help our own school or our own parish, we have the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of our sacrifices every Sunday. A few years ago, I ran four marathons to raise money for St. Joseph School, and what am I going to get in return? Two knee replacement surgeries! That’s altruistic, right?? But a friend pointed out that much of my marathoning was also about my ego, that is, my pride, to say I did it. And being able to mention it in a sermon someday like today!
          Would you turn and look at the walls of our beautiful church for a moment and notice the stained-glass windows? At the bottom of each one is an inscription of who donated each window. Those stained-glass windows were installed in 1901, over 100 years ago by people you’ve never heard of; which means they made sacrifices for people they had never heard of, namely, YOU! You see, that’s my definition of altruism: when you help someone who has no way to pay you back. Indeed, those names helped people who weren’t even born yet. You see, true altruism means you get nothing in return.
          In the gospel today, Jesus tries to help his disciples to be a little more altruistic and a little less egotistical like me. James and John ask Jesus the favor of sitting one on his right and the other on his left. The other ten apostles get angry with them. But notice they are not angry because James and John are selfish, but rather because the other ten wished they had asked Jesus first for those two spots! In other words, all 12 apostles were equally ambitious and arrogant. But Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Of course, Jesus himself would be the perfect example of such a servant. Like the benefactors who donated the windows of Immaculate Conception Church, so Jesus gives us a gift we can never repay. Scott Hahn put it eloquently when he said: “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” That’s true altruism.
           Now, you’d hope that going to confession would cure selfishness and inspire altruism, but not necessarily. One day a man walks into confession and says, “Father, forgive me because I’ve stolen some lumber.” The priest admonishes him and tells him to pray 3 Hail Mary’s. The next Saturday the man returns to confession and says, “Father, forgive me I’ve stolen several bags of nails.” The priest recognizes that man’s voice and says, “Look, you really need to stop stealing,” and gives him 5 Our Fathers. The following Saturday the man returns again and says, he stole a hammer and saw. The priest says, “Okay, look, you’ve really got a problem. For your penance, I want you to make a novena.” The man answers, “Father, I don’t know what a novena is, but if you’ve got the plans, I’ve got the lumber!” It’s not easy to be altruistic, even when we sincerely try.
          This weekend we all have an opportunity to be a little more altruistic by supporting the Roses from Heaven Campaign for St. Theresa School. As you know, I’ve written a second book and recorded an audiobook of homilies. But let me be clear about something: NONE of the proceeds from those products will go to Immaculate Conception Church or to Immaculate Conception School or to Trinity Junior High, or to my retirement plan! All of it, every single penny, will go to a school that many of you have never heard of and to students most of you will never meet. But you have met at least one graduate of that school, and he’s talking to you right now. Like many urban Catholic schools, St. Theresa’s has experienced a demographic shift, where more middle and low-income families cannot afford the tuition. This campaign hopes to raise $350,000 to help underwrite the school for five years, so they can set up a long-range strategy for the school’s future. But I’m asking you not to just buy books and audiobooks, but to make a donation as well.  Why? Because when you receive nothing in return for what you give, you do a truly altruistic act. You have become like Jesus, a servant and a slave; you have become like those names on the stained-glass windows of our church.
          Let me conclude with one of the most altruistic acts in all literature, namely, the sacrifice of Sydney Carton at the end of Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.” The setting is the French Revolution and Sydney, who had been a drunk, selfish lawyer all his life, takes the place of a man headed to the guillotine and his beheaded instead of him. That man happens to be the husband of the woman that Sydney loves deeply. Before his execution Sydney says these immortal lines: “It’s a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” That “far better thing” was the only unselfish act Sydney Carton ever did. You see, altruism is when you lay down your life for the husband of the woman you love.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Get What You Want

Learning to give before we receive
Mark 10:46-52
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
 So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see." Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

          Let me ask you a simple question: do you know how to get what you want? Or, to put another way, do you know how to make other people give you what you want? Some might say, “Sure, I know, just go to Burger King restaurant, where their motto is, ‘Your way, right away!’ That’s how you get the hamburger that you want.” Well, maybe. However, if you’re Mick Jagger, the lead singer for the Rolling Stones, you’re a little more skeptical about always getting what you want, and so you sing, “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need…” Maybe getting what you want is not so easy. So, let me ask you again: do you know how to get what you want?
          Dale Carnegie, in his popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People wrote that the best way to get what you want is actually to give other people what they want first. He believed that if you give the other person what they want first, then quite instinctively, naturally, spontaneously, almost as if they cannot help themselves, they will give you what you want second. For example, if I give you a short sermon today, you will give more money in the collection plate!  I give you what you want, and then you’ll give me what I want. See how that works? This may all sound like a cliché, but I am convinced that this is a dynamic deeply hidden in the human heart: first you must give and then you will receive. That’s the best way to get what you want.
          In the gospel today, Jesus applies this Dale Carnegie principle to get what he wants. A blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting by the road when Jesus passes by. Jesus calls him and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus is ready to give first. But don’t think that just because Jesus healed the blind man, Jesus did not want something, too. Yes, Jesus wants something, too; in fact, it’s the exact same thing that he wants from all of us. Can you guess what it was? Jesus wanted the blind man’s confession of faith and his commitment to discipleship. Do you remember how the gospel ends? St. Mark writes, “Immediately he received his sight, and followed him on the way.” You see, the blind man got what he wanted, and therefore, instinctively, spontaneously, almost as if he couldn’t help himself, he gave Jesus what he wanted, namely, another disciple. In other words, Jesus knows how to get what he wants: first he gives, and then he receives.
          I’m very grateful to Fr. Jon McDougal for allowing me to celebrate Mass today and preach a little about Trinity Junior High. You may know that I am the Administrator and Chaplain there. Now, there are a lot of great things I could say about Trinity, like our superior academics, and our respectful and National Merit Finalist students, and that our students go to Mass every week and confession at least twice a year. But I won’t say any of that! (I just did, didn’t I??) Instead, I want you to know that we teach our students that there exists a deeper dynamic hidden in their hearts – the same one Carnegie capitalized on, and that the blind man saw. In other words, if Trinity students want to get what they want, they must first learn to give others what they want first. Is it any surprise that more priests and religious sisters come from Catholic schools? Priests and nuns give our whole lives in service to the Church. And what do we get in return? Well, just think about it: I get to go home every night, kick off my shoes, open a beer, and watch SportCenter. How many married guys with kids get to do that every night?? First you give and then you receive. See how that works?
          Now I’m going to keep this sermon short today, and in exchange I’m going to ask you to help Trinity Junior High in some way. Let me give you three suggestions. First, you can pray for Trinity, like we’ll pray for that at this Mass, or on your daily Rosary. Second, you can give generously in the Annual Fund – you should have received the letter about it already, or you can make a donation today. And, third, and this is the best of all, you can send your children or grandchildren to Trinity Junior High. Why? Well, because with all due respect to Mick Jagger, you CAN always get what you want. But first, you must give.

 Praised be Jesus Christ!

Small Ball

Learning the value of small things
Luke 13:18-21
Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”

           Boys and girls, do not underestimate the power of small things. For instance, if you had invested a small amount of money in Walmart when they opened their first store in 1962, you would be a millionaire today. Or, as Ben Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanac, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, a little effort of preventive maintenance (an ounce) will save you very great efforts to cure the problem later (a pound).
           Two well-worn bills arrived at the Federal Reserve Bank to be retired – a $100 and a $1. As they traveled down the conveyor belt, they struck up a conversation. The hundred reminisced about the interesting life he had, traveling all over the country. He said, “I’ve been to the finest restaurants, Broadway shows, Las Vegas, and amusement parks. I even went on a Caribbean cruise once. Where have you been?” “Oh,” said the one dollar bill, “I’ve been to a Methodist church, an Episcopalian church, a Baptist church, and a Lutheran church.” The hundred asked him, “What’s a church?” And yet, consider this: thanks to all those one dollar bills, the Church has been around for over 2,000 years, longer than any modern country or company or corporation. Shortly after WWII, Joseph Stalin, the Russian leader, sarcastically asked, “And how many divisions does the pope have?!” A better question would have been: “How many divisions does the pope need?” Do not underestimate the power of small things.
           In the gospel today, Jesus underscores the value of small things, indeed the entire Kingdom of God is built on the power of small things. Jesus employs the example of a mustard seed that becomes a huge tree and the yeast that makes dough rise and become bread. Jesus’ point is obvious: small things make a huge difference. Just think about this: Jesus himself was a relative nobody in his own time, and yet today most of the world marks time by his birth. The year 2015 is 2015 years since when? Since the time of Jesus: every time you write the date it is because of Jesus. Small, obscure, incidental things are not small at all.
           Let me give you some examples of small things that make a huge difference in your life. In baseball, some teams play “small ball” and focus on runners on one base at a time instead of homeruns. I’m proud of our Trinity Buffs football team that goes out and plays one down at a time and doesn’t worry about the scoreboard. Be aware of your words when you talk about each other. Small compliments can build others up, but criticism and teasing can tear people down. Thank you for your donations to the Annual Fund, even if it’s only a dollar. That’s where dollar bills like to hang out!
          Have you heard this Arabic proverb called “For want of a nail”? “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of a shoe, the horse was lost; For want of a horse, the rider was lost; For want of a rider, the message was lost; For want of a message, the battle was lost; For want of a battle the kingdom was lost; all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” A horseshoe nail is a small thing.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Arguing with the Almighty

Being honest in our relationships
Luke 13:31-35
Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said,  “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow,  and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.’  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,  you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,  how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,  but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned. But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

          Have you heard the old adage, “No one fights like family”? Whitney Otto in his novel, “How to Make an American Quilt” captured the same sentiment when he wrote, “No one fights dirtier or more brutally than blood; only family knows its own weaknesses, the exact placement of the heart.” And because we know the placement of the heart we can target it with a torpedo of criticisms and complaints! Right? But is all fighting and arguing bad? I don’t think so. For instance, Msgr. George Tribou was tough on Catholic High School boys, just like Msgr. William Galvin was demanding on Immaculate Conception parishioners, not because they didn’t like them, but because they loved them. John Maxwell says that a leader “cares enough to correct.” You see, no one fights like family because only a family cares enough to correct, which often involves arguing and cajoling, and complaining and criticizing.
           In the gospel we see Jesus shows his love for Jerusalem not with sugary sweet sayings but with criticism and correction. He laments over his beloved city, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!” You see, Jerusalem and Jesus can have this brutally honest dialogue because they truly love each other; indeed, honest argument and communication is a sign of genuine love. In other words, like Tribou and Galvin, Jesus cares enough to correct.
          My friends, try to hear that old adage, “No one fights like family” not as a bad thing, but as a good thing, heck even as a family’s badge of honor. That is, fighting that is respectful and constructive shows that you care enough to correct; it shows that you care. With all due respect, I would even encourage you to carry that honesty into your relationship with God. In your prayer don’t be so polite that you hide your heart from God. Tell him what you really think. One day things were going really bad for St. Teresa of Avila and she prayed to God to help her. God replied, “This is how I treat those whom I love.” Teresa shot back, “Well, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!” Teresa of Avila knew how to argue with the Almighty because she knew “the placement of God’s heart.” “No one fights dirtier or more brutally than blood; only family knows its own weaknesses, the exact placement of the heart.” And that, my friends, is not such a bad thing.


           Praised be Jesus Christ!

Inconvenient Love

Practicing the virtue of courage
Luke 14:1-6
On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?”  But they were unable to answer his question.

          Boys and girls, how many of you have a sibling, a brother or a sister? Raise your hand. Now, how many of you have a pet: a pet dog or a pet cat or a pet walrus? Raise your hand. Now, which do you love more: your little brother or your pet alligator? Raise your hand if you love your brother more. Raise your hand if you love your pet monkey more. How many love them equally? Well, that’s a start.
          Now, if your dog or sister got hurt (broke their arm), would you help them? Of course you would! Is there any day of the week you would NOT help them? Maybe Tuesday because you have dance after school, or Friday because you’ve got football practice, or Saturday because of gymnastics?  I hope you would help them every day and any day. We should always be ready to help those we love, no matter what day or what time.
          Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees that same point today. He asks them if their son or their pet ox falls in a well, would they help them? The Pharisees would help them except on one day. Which day would they NOT help? Sunday! That’s the day of rest. But Jesus says you cannot rest from loving others, not even on Sunday. You should always be ready to help others, love others, no matter what day it is or what time it is.
          Last night at 11:30 p.m., I got a call to give someone the Last Rites because they were dying. Now, I was tired and already in bed, so what do you think I did? Raise your hand if you think I got up and went to visit that person. Raise your hand if you think I went back to sleep. I got up. Now, what virtue is that when you do something hard even when you don’t feel like it? Hint – it’s the virtue we’ve been learning all week! It’s the virtue of courage! Courage is the strength to love others even when you don’t feel like it, even when you’re tired and in bed, even if it’s Sunday, even if it’s 11:30 p.m., and even if it’s your little brother who needs help. That’s the definition of courage, when love is inconvenient.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Saint Fr. John

Fulfilling requirements for sainthood
Matthew 5:1-12A
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat own, his disciples came to him.  He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
          A couple of weeks ago I gave a quiz on basic Catholic beliefs to our church staff. You’re all thinking, “Man, I’m glad I don’t work for Fr. John – he gives tests!” You’ll be happy to know that everyone passed the test. But I did have one rather tough question, a real zinger. See if you know the answer. I asked, “Do Catholics believe there are any saints on earth?” That is, do we Catholics maintain that people who are alive on earth are saints? You might answer, “Surely Catholics believe that really holy people are saints.” For instance, we might say, “Mother Teresa was a walking saint!” Many would argue that Pope Francis is a saint. Everyone thinks that Fr. John is a saint; just look how holy he looks and acts! Or, how could we not say that tiny babies are saints? But do you know what the right answer is? Catholics believe there are zero saints on earth. Why? Well, because as long as we live, we can commit sins. As you’re driving out of the church parking lot, someone cuts you off and you curse at them. Sorry, you’re no saint. Therefore, do you know what is the first requirement to become a saint? You have to be dead. Take a look at the saints in the stained glass windows – St. Patrick, St. Gregory, St. Joseph – do you know the one thing they all have in common? They are all DEAD! The only real saint, therefore, is a dead saint, they cannot commit sins anymore; everyone else is just a saint wanna-be, even Fr. John.
          In the gospel today, Jesus gives us further requirements to be a saint, that is, the Beatitudes. Jesus lists at least 8 requirements – besides death – to become a saint. He says, (1) “Blessed at the poor in spirit,” (2) “Blessed are they who mourn, (3) “Blessed are the meek,” (4) “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (5) “Blessed are the merciful,” (6) “Blessed are the clean of heart,” (7) “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and (8) “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” In other words, if you want to apply for the job of being a saint, your resume needs to have 9 qualifications: the 8 beatitudes and a death certificate.
          By the way, do you know what Scripture quotation is written on Bishop Taylor’s episcopal coat of arms? It’s the third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” That’s on there because Bishop Taylor wants to check that off the list because he wants to be a saint. Don’t tell him about the first requirement! Do you know why Pope Francis has declared we celebrate a Year of Mercy? It’s not just because he’s a really nice guy and wants everything to be easy, and give everyone a pass for a year. It’s because that’s the 5th Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful.” You see, the bishop and the pope are helping us prepare our resumes to be saints.
          Now, let me ask you another basic belief question. Today (Nov. 1) is All Saints Day, and tomorrow (Nov. 2) is All Souls Day. Why don’t we just have one feast day and simply call it “All Saints Day”? Because, after all, doesn’t everyone who dies go straight to heaven? Let me ask that again: doesn’t everyone who dies go straight to heaven? I ask that with utmost respect to those who have lost a loved one, but our Catholic faith teaches most people go to purgatory first; hopefully they go to purgatory. Why? You see, even though death is the FIRST requirement to be a saint, it’s not the LAST requirement. The 8 Beatitudes are not simply suggestions that we can take or leave; we have to master them, and they have to master us. And any unfinished homework we didn’t do on earth, we will complete in… Heaven, right? Wrong. Not heaven. We don’t get admission into heaven until we finish our homework, and the lessons we do not learn on earth, we will have to learn in purgatory. You might almost say Purgatory is like a spiritual study hall. We cannot go to heaven until we learn our lessons of the 8 Beatitudes.
          Folks, I know all this talk about death and purgatory, saints and sinners can be rather sobering, and maybe even a little scary. You know, I’ve counseled teens in my office who were terrified at the thought of the afterlife. They were scared as much of heaven as they were of hell, the whole concept of eternity frightened them! So, let me bring us back to our most basic belief. The Good News of Jesus Christ is “Good” because it is one of love, joy, peace and grace. In the end – however God will sort things out – everything will not only be perfect, but it will be “peachy” as a friend of mine likes to say. I ask him, “Hey, Philip, how are you doing?” He always answers, “Just peachy!” In the end, everything will be “just peachy” – that is basic Catholic belief.
          So, let me give you the test I have the staff. Do Catholics believe there are any saints on walking on earth? The answer is “no.” Why? Well, as long as you’re on earth, you can still commit sins. And saints cannot sin. Second, what’s the first requirement to become a saint? You have to be dead. And what’s the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day? The saints are in heaven, and the poor souls are in purgatory still doing their homework, learning the 8 Beatitudes. So now, would you please stop telling everyone that Fr. John is a saint?!

          Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Spiritual Fashionistas

Clothing ourselves with Christ
Matthew 22:1-2, 11-14

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son… But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

            Have you heard the common expression “the clothes do not make the man”?  That means do not put too much stock in the threads you wear.  On the other hand stands the wisdom and wit of Mark Twain, who said, “The clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  I sure hope he’s right!  Do you know what English Sumptuary Laws are?  Queen Elizabeth enacted certain laws to dictate what color and type of clothing individuals were allowed to own and wear.  People’s dress gave an immediate indication of their rank and status in society.  For example, only royalty were permitted to wear clothes trimmed with ermine.  Lesser nobles were allowed to wear clothing trimmed with fox and otter. The people in Fort Smith would be sporting clothes trimmed with squirrel and skunk, and we’d be darn proud of it!

            In the gospel today, Jesus seems pretty concerned about a man’s clothing, too.  He tells a parable of a king who throws a wedding party for his son.  One man enters not properly dressed, maybe he was wearing clothes trimmed with squirrels, too.  And the king orders him to be thrown out.  Is Jesus saying there are also Sumptuary Laws in heaven?  Not exactly.  Jesus is not so much talking about the body here, but about the soul, and how we adorn it.  Later theology will help us understand that Jesus is really talking about our “baptismal robes” and how we should be “clothed in Christ” in order to enter heaven.  Jesus is not being a “fashionista” here like Queen Elizabeth and telling us how to dress; rather he’s reminding us to be mindful to clothe ourselves with his love and grace, so that we are not naked spiritually.

            You know, it’s amazing to see the kinds of clothes people wear these days.  People pay exorbitant amounts of money for jeans that already have holes in them!  Poor Queen Elizabeth is rolling over in her grave.  This is one reason I like the uniforms students wear in Catholic schools.  We take their attention off external appearances and turn their eyes to what’s on the inside, what really matters: learning to think, praying to God, becoming a person of character, and having an eagerness to serve those in need, those without fancy clothes.  In short, we teach our students to become “spiritual fashionistas,” and to care about how they clothe their souls.

            In the end Mark Twain may well have been right about clothes.  Clothes do make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence in society.  And that’s true both on earth and in heaven.


            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Mission Possible

Accepting our vocation from God
Matthew 19:23-30
Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

            I love the “Mission Impossible” movies, but I am NOT a fan of the actor Tom Cruise.  Would you raise your hand if you like Tom Cruise?  Sometimes I think the biggest fan of Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise!  I am probably just jealous of his good looks, but at least I am taller than he is!  Well, every movie begins with his character, Ethan Hunt, receiving a cryptic message from his boss describing some insanely impossible mission.  And the message always ends, “This message will self-destruct in five seconds.”  But here’s why I love these movies, the more impossible-sounding the mission, the more eager Ethan Hunt is to go do it!  We’d all like to picture ourselves doing those daring and death-defying stunts that Ethan does.  I think everyone who sees one of those movies drives a little faster on their way home.

            In the first reading today, we hear about a man who’s given a mission impossible, too, by an angel.  The angel delivers the message to Gideon to destroy the Midianites, the fierce neighbors of Israel.  But Gideon is from Manassah, one of the smallest of the 12 Tribes of Israel, and Gideon himself was the least significant of his family.  Maybe he was short like Tom Cruise, too!  But here’s the difference between Gideon and Ethan Hunt: Gideon does not rely on luck and charm and martial arts, but on God, and God’s love.  That’s why Jesus tells his apostles in the gospel: “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”  You see, when God asks you to do something for him, it is always a “mission possible.”  But we have to trust him.

            Boys and girls, I’d like to suggest to you that it’s not just Ethan Hunt and Gideon who get a mission impossible, God gives each of us such a mission.  For example, sometimes I feel like being a priest is impossible!  And yet, if I trust God, it becomes “mission possible.”  By the way, did you know that Tom Cruise grew up Catholic, and was even in the seminary briefly?  I accomplished one mission that he couldn’t!  Maybe God is calling some of you to be a priest or a nun, and you’re thinking, “that’s impossible!”  That’s right, it is.  As his boss once told Ethan Hunt, “This isn’t mission difficult, this is mission impossible.”  But with God, all things are possible, even for YOU to be a priest or a nun.

            Another mission impossible for many people is marriage, especially for anyone who has gotten a divorce.  Do you know how many times Tom Cruise has been married and divorced?  The most impossible missions are not in the movies.  I'm sorry for picking on Tom Cruise.  Let’s pray for all husbands and wives who struggle to love each other, that they remember that “for God all things are possible.”

            The Mission Impossible movies are an apt analogy for the Christian life, because whatever vocation God calls us to will, sooner or later, seem like a mission impossible.  And like Ethan Hunt, we are free to choose to accept it or not.  But we can’t take too long to choose, the message will eventually self-destruct.


            Praised be Jesus Christ!