Archive for August, 2008

Carrying Your Cross

Friday, August 29th, 2008

  August 31, 2008

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jer 20: 7-9; Rom 12: 1-2; Mt 16: 21-27

Dc. Larry Brockman

Believe it!  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up their cross, and follow me”.  Whoever- that’s you and I, not just Jesus and his disciples some 2000 years ago, but you and I, right here and now. 

For most people, the name of the game is to avoid the cross.  People will go out of their way to avoid pain, confrontation, suffering, and taking a stand that makes them unpopular.  Possibly because they don’t recognize that it is their cross. 

Jeremiah is a good example of a person who recognized his cross.  His cross was to bear witness to the Word of God- to be a prophet.  But he didn’t want to do it, because his prophecy was not popular.   It frightened and threatened the establishment.  And so, he had to shout it out, over the protests of his people.  Jeremiah knew he would be abused if he spoke up.  But, Jeremiah could feel the urging of the Lord.  It was a strong urge, one that kept haunting him.  And so, he embraced his cross, and spoke up anyway.  We find out later that he was thrown into a cistern- a well, and abandoned to die.  So, suffer he did before he was finally rescued by the king.   

Now I know that all of you want to follow Jesus.  But what exactly can you and I do about your crosses?  Well, first, recognize your cross.  Then, embrace it, don’t run away from it.  Clearly, the word “cross” here is a symbol.  It doesn’t mean being dragged up a hillside and hung on a physical cross.  It does mean many other things, among which are:  Following God’s will for you, not your own desires; or being satisfied with the life you’ve been give, and not being bitter that you don’t have another kind of life.   

If your cross is something the Lord is calling you to do- like Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, don’t keep putting it aside and avoiding it.  We have Paul’s advice from the second reading:  “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by renewal of your mind”.  Yes, when you become committed to Jesus, and you sincerely want to follow after him, he will renew your mind, through His Spirit, and you will be given the gifts of the Spirit- things like strength, and understanding- to help you through whatever you are being called to do.  But you have to recognize that you are being called, and not run away from it. 

Perhaps, you have been called to speak up about a wrong, or to come to the aid of someone in need, or follow a nudge to a different vocation.  Whatever that call is, it is that voice in you that, try as you may, you can’t ignore, just as Jeremiah couldn’t ignore it.   

Another cross you might be called to embrace is forbearance.  I think this is a cross most of us have at one or more times during our lives, because it includes sickness, disability, demands from our loved ones, mental suffering- anything that stops us cold.  Stops us cold from our agenda, and forces us to submit, or to forbear the challenges of life.  These crosses are made more difficult when others tell us we can avoid them,  The voices of others take many forms- like you did something wrong to cause this; or you can take the easy way out; or it’s not your responsibility.  But sometimes, these crosses are just the way it is.  They are the life dealt to us.  The great St. Augustine said something very insightful:  “There is more courage in a man who faces rather than flees the storms of life, and who holds cheap the opinions of men”.  Courage is what the Spirit gives us to face these crosses in our lives- courage to forbear these kinds of crosses. 

Finally, our perspective on life can play a big role in how well we look at crosses.  If your perspective is that life can always be managed to produce happiness, then these crosses cause bitterness and disappointment.  But uninterrupted joy is reserved for Heaven.  The road to heaven is paved with crosses, just as it was for Jesus.  In the words of St. Margaret Mary:  “Nothing unites us so closely to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, as the cross, which is the most precious pledge of His love”. 

Responding to the Call

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

  August 17, 2008

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 56: 1, 6-7; Rom 11: 13-15, 29-32; Mt 15: 21-28

Dc. Larry Brockman

There’s great news for all of you in today’s scripture!  God wants all of you to be saved.   

First, Isaiah says:  “For my salvation is about to come, my justice is about to be revealed”.  Then, St. Paul echoes this same theme when he says:  “For the gifts of the call are irrevocable.”  The call is the call to be a member of the Kingdom of God; the gift is everlasting life.  Yes, all of you are called to that gift.  And finally, Jesus says in the gospel that the Canaanite women is saved by her faith.  This was a real departure- Jesus is travelling outside Palestine- the only time he ever did that.  The area was populated by Canaanites- traditional enemies of the Jews  So, as a Jew practicing Jewish tradition, Jesus was just affirming the belief that only the chosen Israeli people could be saved when he says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”. 

But, the Canaanite woman was excepted because of her true faith and the active response to that faith she displayed- by her persistence.  This exception applies to all of us.    So these readings bring to mind two important things about salvation.  First, that God has called everybody to be saved and to experience eternal happiness.  And second, that our response to that call is important.   

First, consider that God wants everybody to be saved.  That means he wants you- all of you out there.  He also wants the guy that cut you off on the way into the parking lot; the difficult boss you work for; the bully at the school you attend; the neighborhood gossip; the atheist you see on the talk show; and even those weird looking people you’d rather not associate with.  He wants everybody.   

I have two short stories that demonstrate this point.  The first has to do with a recently canonized saint.  In 2006, the pope canonized St. Raphael Guizar, a Bishop from Mexico.  St. Raphael prayed constantly that his bitter enemy would be saved.  In fact, he was quoted as praying that he would give his right eye if God would give his saving grace to this hard-hearted sinner.  Thirty years after his death, Raphael’s body was exhumed so that they could move it to a new burial place.  They were amazed to find his body still fully intact- just as soft and pliable, and as unspoiled as the day he was buried- except- except for his right eye, which was totally decomposed.   

The second story involves St. Theresa of Lisieux.  St. Theresa prayed incessantly that a notorious murderer would experience a change of heart, and repent of his sins.  Despite her daily prayers, the villain refused a priest repeatedly while awaiting execution.  But, just before his execution, as he lay before the executioner’s sword, he asked for a crucifix, which he kissed, and then proceeded to ask for forgiveness.   

Yes, God wants all of you to be saved.  That’s why Jesus died for us- all of us.  We are all sinners; but no matter what we’ve done, we are all called to the Kingdom of God.  It is not up to you and I to judge our peers;   The justice of which Isaiah speaks is God’s justice, not ours.  So, hard as it is to believe, God wants all to be saved, even those obnoxious, and seemingly despicable people in the world that nobody likes.  In fact, as the two stories show, God wants us to pray for our enemies, because by our sacrifices and prayers, we help to convert even the hardest of hearts, and win over sinners for God’s Kingdom.   

Sometimes, though, we become pre-occupied with judging and condemning others when our focus should be on the second important factor- our response to the call.  The Canaanite woman demonstrates some very important qualities that we should all exhibit in response to God’s call to us:  Love, Humility, Faith and Persistence. 

Now it’s important to understand just how much of an outsider the Canaanite woman was.  She was not a Jew; she belonged to a group that had been bitter enemies of the Jews.  In fact, she is not even described as a God-Fearer.  God-Fearers were a gentile people who, despite the fact that they were not Jewish by lineage, followed the God of Israel as their own.  No, this lady simply heard Jesus, and came to believe that he was the Messiah.  There is no question of her love, for her actions on behalf of her daughter spoke clearly.  She was willing to risk public humiliation, and rejection by her own Canaanite people by following after Jesus persistently.  Her willingness to forget herself in deference to her daughter demonstrates real love.  Second, she was filled with real faith.  She addresses Jesus as Lord, the term used to describe God himself by the Jews.  And she prostrated herself before Jesus as is to give homage to Him.  Yes, she believed that this was God that she was appealing to.  Jesus sensed the genuine faith, and complemented her.  Lastly, she was humble.  Though persistent, she was low key, and respectful.  Her responses to the comment about the dogs eating the scraps from the table clearly show her humility. 

So let us put aside your judgment of others, and concentrate on your response to the call to the Kingdom of God.  Practice the virtues- Love, Faith, and Humility.  And above all- be persistent. 

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

Friday, August 15th, 2008

  August 15, 2008

Assumption

Rev 11: 19a; 12, 1-6a, 10ab; 1 Cor 15: 20-27; Luke1: 39-56

Dc. Larry Brockman

Filled with the Holy Spirit!  Today’s gospel speaks of two women filled with the Holy Spirit-  Mary and Elizabeth.  What does that mean?  Does it just mean an exuberance of spirit, an enthusiastic spirit?  For surely, Elizabeth and Mary seemed exuberant over their meeting. 

No, there is much more to being filled with the Holy Spirit than exuberance as both women demonstrate in the gospel.  Clearly, both women are filled with Wisdom, that special feeling of knowledge and focus that only the Spirit of God can provide.  That’s why Elizabeth could recognize Mary as the mother of her Lord; that’s why Mary could foresee her role in salvation history as she proclaims the wonderful words of the Magnificat, because both of these women were filled with the Holy Spirit. 

That’s what the Holy Spirit can do for you, too.  When you are filled with God’s Spirit, you will be filled with a spirit of knowing, of discernment; of energy, and of focus.  It’s the thing that really gives meaning to your life, to actually be moved by the will of God for you. 

Now even though you may be filled with the Spirit, and you will feel joy, you will also face a battle, just like the battle described in Revelation this morning.  Because the thing the devil abhors the most is when God’s people are filled with the Spirit, and moved to do God’s will.  Surely, you will be tested, and could be swept away- a third of the stars.  But hold firm; because the reward is everlasting happiness.  Paul describes that reward- the resurrection from the dead for all of us and a life forever free from all enemies and evil. 

When we celebrate the feast of the Assumption, we are celebrating what the future holds for us.  Mary was the first of humanity to experience the kingdom of Heaven, body and soul intact.  For the rest of us who fight the good fight, it is our hope and our calling.