Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Catholic Foodies

Having a healthy relationship with food
 Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

            Do you know what a “foodie” is?  It’s a person who loves anything and everything about food.  Would you raise your hand if you’re a foodie?  Here’s how Wikipedia describes a foodie: “Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, cooking classes, culinary tourism, and restaurant management.”  Next to a foodie, I am a culinary caveman because I don’t know anything about food.

            But I’ve noticed that foodies have a certain wisdom regarding food: certain do’s and don’t’s, how to make the most of your meal.  Let me share a few examples.  A priest-friend who’s a foodie, believes your should never miss breakfast and so he loves to say, “Breakfast is the most important meal…of the morning.”  If you didn’t get that you probably didn’t have breakfast this morning.  Another foodie friend says “eat your colors,” meaning that there should be plenty of colors on your plate, not just brown and yellow (all fried foods!). Colorful food ensures you get plenty of vitamins and minerals.  Another foodie says, “fill your mouth with words, not just food.”  That means that supper should also be a social experience: it’s about the people not just about the potatoes.  I’ll never forget when Msgr. Hebert, a gourmet foodie, gave a talk to us seminarians and held up a spoon and announced, “This is a spoon, not a shovel.”  Know anyone who uses a spoon like a shovel?  Foodies don’t do that. Recently, I learned that when you try to lose weight, “it’s 90% diet and only 10% exercise.”  In other words, good health is more about what you don’t eat as what you do eat.  I was so depressed to hear that I went and ate a double cheeseburger.  You see, foodies have not only learned to love food, they have also learned a certain wisdom about food, that is, how to have a healthy relationship with food: food is a friend, not a foe.  Would you say you have a healthy relationship with food, or are you just a culinary caveman like me?

            Our Scripture readings today invite us to be spiritual foodies.  The book of Proverbs says, “Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed!  Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”  In other words, try to see the whole Bible as a 73 course gourmet meal (because there are 73 books of the Bible).  One of my favorite Scriptures is Jeremiah 15:16, which reads, “When I found your words, O Lord, I devoured them.  They became the joy and the happiness of my heart.”  And in the gospel Jesus serves a delicious new dish for his disciples, saying, “I am the bread that came down from heaven…and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  Clearly, Jesus is talking about Bread we taste as Mass, the Body of Christ.  The Jews, however, were culinary cavemen like me and said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  They didn’t get it, and so they didn’t get it, and they walked away.  Sadly, recent research shows that only 50% of Catholics believe the bread is really Jesus, too.  That means that half the people in this church don’t believe in the Eucharist.  Or, maybe that means we all believe, but St. Boniface parishioners don’t!  Foodies know and love food; Catholic foodies know and love spiritual food: the Bible and the Body of Christ.

            My friends, just like we need to have a healthy relationship with material food, so we need to have a healthy relationship with spiritual food.  Here are some ways you can see if you are a Catholic foodie.  First of all, do you consume the Word of God, the Bible, like Proverbs said?  I didn’t ask if you HAVE a Bible, I asked if you READ the Bible.  A Bible in the hand is worth more than two on the shelf!  Secondly, I hope everyone had a great summer vacation, laying on the beach, working on your tan.  Everyone wants to look like Fr. John!  But I hope you didn’t skip Mass on Sunday, taking a vacation from your vocation, and starving spiritually.  Now, here’s something a Catholic foodie would never do: chew gum when they come up for Holy Communion.  Do you chew gum before you eat your cheeseburger?  Of course, not!  So, don’t chew gum at Mass before you eat the Bread of Life.  I gotta tell you how proud I am of one teenage girl from our parish who emailed me and asked what she should do about Mass because she would be camping on Saturday and Sunday with friends.  She decided to come to our last-chance Mass on Sunday at 5.  That young girl is a Catholic foodie, because she didn’t want to miss a good meal.  I am also so proud of our non-Catholics and even some Catholics who come up with their arms folded to get a blessing because they cannot receive Communion.  These folks are Catholic foodies because they know that sometimes a healthy diet has more to do with what you DON’T eat as it does with what you DO eat.  It’s 90% diet and only 10% exercise.  So, what does all this mean?  It simply means that when it comes to spiritual food, you only have two choices: you can be a Catholic foodie or a culinary caveman.

            By the way, have you heard this little bit of foodie wisdom, “a minute on the lips, but a lifetime on the hips”?  Someone jokingly said that means that kissing someone leads to more until you’re carrying a baby on your hips!  No, that’s not it.  That saying means you should think twice about what you put into your mouth.  Good health has to do with what you eat and what you don’t eat, and that’s true whether it’s a blueberry pancake or the Body of Christ.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Bare Bodies

Seeing ourselves as we truly are
 Matthew 18:21–27
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

            Have you ever noticed how we are the worst judges in our own case?  We can tell so easily what other people should do – like whom our children should marry, and whom they should not marry! – but it’s so hard to know what to do in our own situation.  It is so easy to give advice to others, but it’s so hard to accept advice from others.  By the way, this is why doctors are not allowed to prescribe very strong medicine for themselves; another doctor must write the prescription.  Why?  Because a doctor is not the best judge in his own case. This is why priests cannot go to confession to ourselves.  Oh, how I would love to go to confession looking into a mirror and say, “Fr. John, I absolve you from your sins.  You’re trying so hard, and Fr. Pius and Fr. Andrew just don’t understand how special you are!”  When the Church – and the Bible (James 5:16)! – teaches that you must go to another person to confess your sins, it is telling you something profound about human nature.  We are not the best judge in our own situation; indeed, we are the worst judge.

            In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of a man who is the worst judge in his own case.  He begs for mercy for himself and is treated with leniency.  Good for him.  But then he turns around and is ruthless and heartless with a fellow servant.  Like Fr. John going to confession in a mirror, so this man finds it easy to forgive and excuse himself, but not so much when it comes to others.  He is a hypocrite and that’s why he’s the worst judge in his own case.

            My friends, I believe this is the reason that marriage is both a great blessing but also a great burden.  It’s a great blessing because no one knows you as well as your spouse, and it’s a great burden because, well, no one knows you as well as your spouse!  Scott Hahn once said we never bare our souls as much as when we bare our bodies.  This is the cause of so much friction and finally failure in so many marriages.  Our spouse shows us who we really are – we are jealous and petty, greedy and gluttonous, resentful and lazy – but we don’t want to see that.  And so we get rid of our spouse and try to be the judge, jury and executioner in our own case.  When I counsel couples going through marriage problems, I often think, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t get married!”  But then I also realize that I will spend far more time in purgatory than you will, finally seeing myself as I really am.  We are the worst judge in our own case, while our spouse is often the best judge.

            Every morning, I wake up and look into the mirror and ask, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”  And the mirror always answers, “Why, you are, Fr. John, no matter what mean old Fr. Andrew and Fr. Pius say.”

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Everyone Is Normal

Small talk says big things
Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.  In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”

            I’ll never forget a very brief conversation I had when I first arrived in the seminary.  After unpacking, I walked down the hall and noticed a 4th year deacon also unloading his suitcase.  That means he was in his last year of seminary and about to be ordained a priest.  Trying to make small talk, I said, “So, I hear this is a really good seminary.”  He looked up at me and said, “You know, that comment says a lot more about you than it does this seminary.”  I nervously chuckled and said, “Huh, yeah, I guess so.”  And I walked on.  I thought to myself, “Man, that guy is weird,” and never talked to him again the whole year.  But over the years I’ve come to see how right he was.  When people speak, they really tell you more about themselves than they do about the weather, or about the Razorbacks, or about Benghazi.  Like Mark Twain famously quipped, “Better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you’re a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”  And, of course, that comment tell us about Mark Twain because he didn’t keep his mouth closed.

            In the gospel today, the apostles open their mouths and tell us something about these first disciples.  They ask Jesus a seemingly innocent question: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”  But doesn’t that question really provide an insight into the apostles themselves more than the Kingdom?  That is, we learn that the apostles are ambitious.  They want to be great.  They worry about people’s praise and about popularity.  You know the old adage, “It never hurts to ask.”  Well, sometimes it does.

            Keep this in mind whenever you hear anyone speak, and especially when you hear yourself speak.  What is the speaker really saying about himself or herself?  I sometimes wonder if in the presidential debates the candidates know their comments really tell us more about them than about the issues.  Often, it’s “open mouth, insert foot.”  I was at supper with a priest-friend recently, and he said, “You know, John, everyone is normal…until you get to know them.”  That was a great line but I thought to myself, “You know, that comment says a lot more about you than it does other people.”  I remember this when someone compliments my homily; and I think of this when someone criticizes my homily.  You’re really talking about yourself, not really my homily.  You see, there is always a gap between the truth of things and people’s opinion about those things.  And sometimes they have very little to do with each other.

            Of course, everything I just said tells you a lot more about me than it does about the truth of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit will tell you if I was anywhere close.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Good News

Trusting in God at all times
Numbers 13:1-2, 25–14:1
The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran,] “Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan, which I am giving the children of Israel. You shall send one man from each ancestral tribe, all of them princes.”
After reconnoitering the land for forty days they returned, met Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the children of Israel in the desert of Paran at Kadesh, made a report to them all, and showed the fruit of the country to the whole congregation. They told Moses: “We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit. However, the people who are living in the land are fierce, and the towns are fortified and very strong. Besides, we saw descendants of the Anakim there. Amalekites live in the region of the Negeb; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites dwell in the highlands, and Canaanites along the seacoast and the banks of the Jordan.”

            Life rarely brings us just good news; it’s usually an admixture of both good and bad.  Have you heard the jokes that begin, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news”?  Here are a few I recently came across that apply to pastors of churches and they hit a little close to home for me!  The good news is the Women’s Guild voted to send you a get well card.  The bad news is the vote passed 30—31.  The good news is Mrs. Jones is wild about your sermons.  The bad news is Mrs. Jones is also wild about the Gong Show, Bevis and Butthead, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The good news is your women’s softball team finally won a game.  The bad news is they beat your men’s softball team.  Okay, one last one.  The good news is your deacons want to send you to the Holy Land.  The bad news is they are stalling until war breaks out there again.  Life is rarely all good news.

            In the first reading from the book of Numbers, we hear more good news and bad news, but this time it’s no laughing matter.  The scouts that Moses had sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land return and report: the good news is the land is flowing with milk and honey; the bad news is it is inhabited by giants who would crush us if we tried to invade.  And so the people grumble and groan against Moses.  But then God delivers his own version of news for the people.  He says, “The good news is all you had to do is trust me.  The bad news is because you didn’t trust me, you’ll now spend 40 years wandering in the desert as your punishment.”  God’s version of good news/bad news is never very funny.

            Folks, life is always filled with both good news and bad news.  One day you win the powerball at bingo, and the next day you are in a car accident.  One day you get a promotion and a raise at work, and the next day you learn you father has cancer.  Here’s my version of this joke.  Every Sunday I get up and think, “The good news is we have enough money to run this church.  The bad news is it’s still in the people’s pockets!”  But whatever life throws at us, good or bad, we just need to trust in God.  He has a plan to lead us into the Promised Land.  You see, trusting in God allows us to work God’s plan, in good times and in bad, just like married couples must trust each other, in good times and in bad.  Trust in him is the only good news God wants to hear.

            The one Person you do not want to give you good news and bad news is God.  He doesn’t tell very funny jokes.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!


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

            When I go to people’s homes for supper, I offer to bless their homes. When I do, I enter every room and sprinkle holy water on the walls.  Some bedrooms, I’ve noticed, have these huge, life-sized stickers called “Fatheads.”  Have you seen or heard of these?  They are high definition wall graphics of professional athletes, animated heroes, or movie stars or music icons.  I’ve seen Fatheads of Michael Jordan and Albert Pujols, Matt Damon and Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles.  But I always wonder: where are the Fatheads of St. Benedict and St. Teresa of Avila or Pope John Paul II and the Father John Fathead??  You see, Fatheads are not just huge stickers, they are huge symbols of our heroes and role-models, the people we admire and aspire to emulate, the people we wish we could be more like.  In short, Fatheads are the folks we follow.

            In the gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples to be careful about whom they will follow, especially in following the Pharsiees.  Our Lord warns: “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.”  That reminds me of that great line from Star Wars where Han Solo called Obi Wan “a fool.”  And Obi Wan replies, “Who’s the more foolish: the fool or the fool who follows him?”  Obviously, it’s the follower who is more foolish.  In other words, Jesus is asking his disciples, “Who’s Fathead do you have on your bedroom wall?  Don’t have a Fathead of the Phraisees.”  Remember, the bigger fool is the one who follows one.

            If you could get a Fathead of anyone who ever lived, who would it be of?  For me, it would be St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, whose feast day is today, August 4th.  My friends, “whom do you follow?” is not an idle question that is hypothetical or theoretical; it’s very practical and makes all the difference.  Who do you follow on Twitter and become friends with on Facebook?  Whose books do you read avidly and whose movies do you never miss?  Who do you try to dress like and whose songs are always on your lips?  Can you quote more Star Wars lines than verses from the Bible?  I can!  A priest friend of mine can tell you the No. 1 rock and roll song from the week of your birthday.  It's amazing what we know and what we don't know; it's amazing whom we follow and whom we ignore.  You see, Fatheads are not just huge stickers, they are huge symbols of the folks we follow.  If your Fathead is a fool, you will both end up in a ditch.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Crying Out Loud

Listening with love to others
Matthew 14:13-19
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

            Do babies that cry in church annoy you?  I know that really bothers a lot of priests.  One priest I know would actually stop in the middle of Mass if a baby cried and give the mother the evil eye until the baby stopped or the mother took the baby into the vestibule.  I always try very hard NOT to look in the direction of the crying baby and embarrass the family.  I figure, there’s probably no one in the whole church who wants that baby to stop crying more than that mother or father.  One day a baby was crying during Mass while Archbishop Fulton Sheen was preaching.  Eventually, the mother took the baby outside.  After Mass the archbishop found the lady and said, “Madam, your baby was not bothering me.”  She replied, “No, but you were bothering the baby.”  Everyone loves to see a cute baby, but not when it’s crying at Mass.

            In the readings today we see babies are not the only ones who cry, so do grown ups.  In Exodus, the people cry out to Moses because they are sick of eating only manna and want some meat instead.  And Moses can’t stand their crying and complaining so he says to God, “Please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.”  There’s probably a priest or two who has prayed that prayer at Mass listening to crying babies, “Just kill me, Lord!”  In the gospel, the people are also hungry and the apostles cry out to Jesus to dismiss them, and maybe the people were also crying out for healings and blessings.  But unlike Moses who wanted to die rather than hear their cries, Jesus listens lovingly to their crying and feeds them.  You see, like Archbishop Sheen, Jesus says, “Your crying does not bother me.”

            My friends, sometimes we all feel like crying out, and we need someone to listen to our crying, and not to tell us to shush.  I sometimes wonder that  if married couples would just listen to each other’s crying and complaining more often, without jumping to solve their problems, that loving listening would heal much deeper problems.  When someone comes to my office and cries, I tell them, “It’s okay to cry.  I consider crying a compliment because you’re willing to be vulnerable with me."  Last Saturday I met a man in the parking lot who asked if he could come talk to me about his life.  He just needed to talk to someone who was willing to listen.  A young lady sent me a Facebook message asking to talk to me about a religious vocation.  You see, the whole world is crying out, like babies at Mass, hoping someone will listen to them and not tell them to shush.  We should answer like the archbishop: “Your crying is not bothering me.”

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Blueberry Pancakes

Worrying about the Bread of Life

John 6:26-27, 32-33
Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.  Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

            Most priests live pretty worry-free lives; we don’t worry about the things that normal people fear and fret over (because priests aren't very normal).  For example, when most people get dressed in the morning they spend time trying to pick what shirt and pants to wear, what belt goes with which shoes?  A priest gets dressed in the morning and only asks one question: “Should I wear a black shirt with white collar, or a white collar with a black shirt?”  Decisions, decisions!!!  I never worry about food, figuring I’ll just mooch a meal from some parishioner’s home, so better set an extra place! But one of our associate priests here, who’ll remain nameless, woke up one morning, came into the kitchen and said with great gusto, “Man, I’m craving some blueberry pancakes for breakfast!”  Now, I’m not saying who that priest is.  I’m not going to tell you he’s in Washington D.C. for the summer studying canon law because that would only give it away.  Have you ever woken up craving something special to eat?  Other people are worried about their appearance: exercising and dieting, trying to look taller and skinnier and prettier.  I don’t worry about my looks because I follow the advice of the great theologian Johnny Depp, who said, “Ugliness is better than beauty.  It lasts longer and in the end gravity is going to get us all” (Third Way, Dec. 2004, p. 5).

            But there is one thing I do worry about and that is celebrating the Mass.  I worry about how 2 priests are going to say 8 Masses every weekend: one on Saturday and 7 on Sunday!  But it’s not the quantity of the Masses that I’m really worried about but rather the quality of the Masses.  You see, I want every Mass to live up to the high expectations of the Second Vatican Council that said, “The Eucharist it the source and summit of Christian life” (Lumen gentium, 11).  Doesn’t every Mass feel like the source and summit of Christian life to you??  Okay, maybe not; but it should!  When I come to your house, you feed me with the best that you have; when you come to God’s house, I’ll feed you with best that the Church has, and there’s nothing better than the Eucharist.  Every priest should worry about making the Mass meaningful; indeed, it’s the only thing any priest has to worry about.

            In the gospel today Jesus doesn’t want only priests to worry about the Mass, he wants everyone to be eager to eat the Eucharist.  Jesus has just multiplied the loaves and fish and now the people hunger for more.  But Jesus wants them to want the Bread of Life, namely himself, which he will give them at the Last Supper, and to us at every Mass.  But the way, I’ve been reading a book by Msgr. Roman Guardini that the same anonymous associate priest gave me – you know, the one who wanted the blueberry pancakes – which explained this passage saying, “Jesus wants them to seek spiritual food, nourishment that will give them eternal strength and light, not momentary; he himself, the Son of Man, is there to mete it out to them” (The Lord, 235).  You see, Jesus was making the same deal with the people that I make with you: you feed my body with the bread of earth, and I will nourish you souls with the Bread of Angels, so that one day you will be able to fly like the angels in heaven, enjoying eternal strength and light.”  In other words, worry about the Eucharist more than you worry about blueberry pancakes.

            Folks, I gotta tell you, it is so sad to hear about how few Catholics attend Mass in other parts of the world, like Europe and even in the Northeast United States.  But that’s not the case here in Fort Smith, and certainly not here at Immaculate Conception.  For example, you better get here 10 to 15 minutes early to get a good parking spot, and to find your favorite pew!  Otherwise, someone else will snatch it!  During the week, we have between 75 and 100 people attending Mass at 7 a.m. – Mass attendance is an epidemic!  Here’s something amazing: we don’t mind priests with foreign accents because we know their blessed, brown hands bring us the Bread of Angels, too.  Have you ever thought about who built this iconic church, the most recognizable landmark in Fort Smith?  It was built by Catholics who wanted a magnificent house for the magnificent Mass!  The outside should befit what happens inside.  Here’s another example.  Do you know what “spiritual Communion” is?  It’s when you cannot receive Holy Communion – because you’re remarried or need to go to confession, or you’re not Catholic (yet) – and you come up with your arms folded and you get a blessing.  But spiritually, you ARE receiving Holy Communion in your heart, even if you can’t receive Jesus on your tongue.  And God sees you and is very proud of you for coming to Mass and getting that blessing.  Spiritual Communion is not a small thing.

            But do you know what’s even more heroic that all that put together?  It’s the example of some couples who are remarried without an annulment, but they choose to live as “brother and sister,” that’s a euphemistic way of saying they don’t have sex.  Why?  Well, abstaining from sexual intimacy allows them to receive Holy Communion because by that sacrifice they are respecting their former marriage.  My friends, for some people becoming one with the Body of Christ is more urgent than becoming one with the body of their spouse.  Now, many may mock such behavior as madness and the height of folly, but I see that as nothing short of heroic faith.  Which is it: the highest folly or heroic faith?  Whatever it is, there are some people who worry about the Eucharist more than they worry about sex.

            Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  When some people get up in the morning they say, “Man, I could go for some blueberry pancakes!”  But the parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church wake up and say, “Man, I could go for the Bread of Life!”  You do say that, don’t you?

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Contemporary Classic

Appreciating different perspectives

Matthew 13:47-53
Jesus said to the disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” “Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.

            People tend to have their preferences; we like what we like and we don’t like what we don’t like.  For instance, some people are traditional and like the old ways while others are progressive and like modern marvels.  Some people virtually live on Facebook, but others haven’t learned how to use a flip-phone.  Some people are staunch Republicans while others are “Yellow Dog Democrats,” which means they will vote for a “yellow dog” before they vote for a Republican.  Some people like vodka martinis, but those with really good taste always drink gin martinis.  One day I was arguing with my older brother, who’s a big fan of modern technology, and I’m still killing trees and sending hand-written notes.  He said, “Ah, John, you just like things that are old.”  I replied, “No, Paul, I like things that are eternal.”  I still remember how wonderful those crickets sounded when I left him speechless with that answer.  In which category would you classify yourself: old school or new school, classic or contemporary?

            In the gospel today, Jesus chimes in on this age-old dilemma – new or old, cash or credit – but with a unique answer.  Jesus says, “Every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”  In other words, a good scribe, a good apostle, a good disciple, has to appreciate both new and old, classic and contemporary.  Can’t we see our recent popes as examples of “good scribes” who have held fast to traditions, but willing to embrace modern advances?  I’m still in awe of my parents who moved from India and juggled this challenge constantly.  What Indian traditions will our family hold on to, and which new ways will be adopt in this new world?  My parents taught us to love both curry and also country music!

            My friends, may I suggest to you that this attitude and ability to appreciate both the new and the old, to see value in different perspectives, is the secret to successful marriages?  Couples run into trouble when the husband thinks he’s always right and the woman is always wrong, or vice versa.  It’s like that old saying, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”  But successful marriages see the other person’s point of view and respect it, like the good scribe.  Try to be like the good scribe and appreciate both the old and the new, Ford and Chevy, the Cardinals and the Cubs, Shakespeare and Shania Twain, curtains and blinds, paper and plastic, coffee and tea.  But the tea, of course, should be “chai."

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Testing Shark Suits

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

             What is the toughest, hardest job in the world?  There was a T.V. show called “Dirty Jobs” that highlighted the hardest occupations.  In one episode Mike Rowe, the start of the show, actually works as a shark suit tester, which required him to jump into the water during a shark feeding frenzy to see if the suit worked.  Jobs like that always make me wonder: how much do you pay a guy to do that, and, what must his health insurance costs be??  Now, that’s a pretty tough and dirty job, but there’s one even harder.  Have you seen or heard about the movie called, “Into Great Silence”?  It’s a documentary  on the life of Carthusian monks living in the French Alps.  The producer, Philip Groning, asked the monks if he could film their life in 1984.  Three years later they replied by letter saying, “We will need some time to think about this.”  Then, thirteen years later they wrote back saying, “We’ve prayed about this, and you are welcome to do the documentary.”  Philip Groning is a patient man.  Most people can’t watch that movie for more than 15 minutes because it’s all silence, no dialogue, no car chases, no steamy sex, and no nuclear explosions.  The job of silent praying is so hard, not even Mike Rowe could handle it.

            In the gospel today, we see two tough jobs contrasted in the lives of Martha and Mary.  Martha is like Mike Rowe, who’s doing the dirty job of cleaning the dirty dishes.  Her focus is physical, manual labor.  It’s hard work and she asks Jesus to tell her sister to help her.  Why?  Well, because Mary’s not doing anything but sitting at Jesus feet like a Carthusian monk. She needs to get up and so some real work!  But Jesus replies, “Mary has chosen the better part,” meaning Mary is employed in an even harder job, one that you, Martha, might not last 15 minutes doing.  You see, the hardest jobs do not require physical or intellectual or emotional exertion, but rather a spiritual effort, and very few can handle it.

            Folks, we all do tough jobs, whether we work construction, or save lives in a hospital, or provide energy to run the world or change diapers as a stay-at-home-mom.  Priests, on the other hand, have the easiest job in the world because we only work one day a week!  Kind of makes you wonder why more men don’t become priest, doesn’t it?  (Hint: this job's not so easy.)  But there is an even harder job we must all do, and that is pray.  Like Mary and the Carthusians, we must enter into “the great silence” and try to pray seriously.  But what happens more often than not?  We can’t handle it for more than a couple of minutes, and we chicken out.  I am convinced that people don’t avoid prayer because it’s too easy; we avoid it because it’s too hard.  Today, try to spend 5, 10, 15 minutes in silent contemplation at the feet of Jesus.  You may find yourself wishing you were testing a shark suit instead.

          Praised be Jesus Christ!