Archive for May, 2009

Feeling the Spirit’s Presence

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Pentecost

Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Cor 12: 3b-7, 12-13; John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15

Dc. Larry Brockman

How exciting and dramatic the first Pentecost must have been with the sound of a strong rushing wind; and tongues as of fire resting on the Apostles; and people from all over the world heard their own languages because of the inspiration the Apostles received from the Holy Spirit.  The Apostles were filled with enthusiasm and energy as they proclaimed the good news of Christ and the resurrection. 

Is that the way all of us encounter the Spirit, with a strong unmistakable presence that all but knocks us over, and motivates us to do great things, sending us out to proclaim the Good News to the whole world as God’s priests?  Probably not. 

As an example, I recall my confirmation, and although it was a joyful day and one in which I had a spiritual high, I don’t remember anything like tongues of fire or strong rushing winds and a strong feeling of change at the instant the Bishop laid hands on me.  It was the same way when I was ordained a Deacon.  I experienced a spiritual high that day, and felt very close to God.  But, I did not feel that direct connection with the spirit as symbolized by strong rushing wind or tongues of fire at the instant the Bishop laid hands on me. 

Of course, everyone is different, and some of you might have had dramatic experiences with the Spirit, but I’m betting that most of you haven’t.  So, does that mean that if we haven’t experienced God’s spirit the way an Apostle received it, there’s something wrong? 

First of all, not all of us are called to be Apostles dedicated to spreading God’s word as priests and religious.  Rather, we are the Body of Christ, with many members, each having its own function.  Each function is important to the whole body, so that engineers and doctors and politicians and stay at home moms are all important functions like the priestly function.  Secondly, I think that God’s spirit comes to us quietly, almost stealthily, most of the time, not in some flash.  When we receive a sacrament, that quiet feeling builds up to a Spiritual high as we prepare for it.  And so, if we are properly prepared and of the right mind, we experience a spiritual high and the presence of the Lord.  But we probably won’t experience the same kind of instant conversion that the Apostles described. 

And yet, we do walk away from that sacrament renewed in spirit, and prepared for whatever is ahead of us.  We are prepared for our mission in life, as we are sent forth from Confirmation; we are prepared for the challenges of Marriage, for those who get married; we are prepared to deal with our illnesses and infirmities for those who receive the sacrament of the sick; and we are prepared for ministerial life for those who receive Holy Orders.  Each sacrament confers the presence of God’s Spirit to us and we are filled with His grace in a special way to help us with the specific challenges in life that we will face that have to do with that Sacrament. 

But we must unlock the graces that come to us and we do that by continuing to listen to God every day.  You see, God’s Spirit is available to us all the time- but most of the time he talks to us quietly, when the distractions of life are put to the side, and it is then that his plan for us unfolds a little at a time, necessitating our trust in the face of uncertainty, the uncertainty that often accompanies us as we struggle to make meaning out of our lives, particularly meaning in terms of what God wants us to do with our lives. 

Now St. Paul tells us that “to each individual, the manifestation of the spirit is given for some benefit”.  So really, that’s what we need to find out, isn’t it.  What service are we destined to perform that God has given us special talents to do  So that we bear fruit that benefits others.  In that regard,  One spiritual writer has recommended that every Christian learn to deal their “holy discontents”.  As Christians, we know that there are lots of things wrong in the world, and in our lives-.   But not all the wrongs in the world touch our hearts with the same intensity.  For each of us, particular things resonate more than the others; these are our “holy discontents”.  When we get away from the distractions of life for just a little while, some of these things keep coming up, and along with them, God’s spirit is prompting us, nudging us, ever so gently to do something.  It may be the homeless, or the injustice of abortion, or the lack of solid religious education in our children, or the weak Christian presence in politics.  Maybe God has given us a special sensitivity in one of these areas because he is calling us to shine his light there.  If each of us made the commitment to brighten up just one such dark corner with Christ’s light this year, think how much brighter the world would be next year! 

St. Patrick once had a dream.  He dreamt that Jesus called him over to the edge of a hilltop overlooking a fertile valley at night time.  St. Patrick looked down and saw many people, each holding a candle, such that the whole valley was illuminated.  Jesus told him that these were the people that he had influenced through his ministry.  St. Patrick smiled, but then his smile waned as he saw most of the lights go out.  He asked Jesus if that meant his people would abandon their faith.  Jesus pointed again to the valley, and St. Patrick noticed one candle was still lit, and then another, and another, and another, as the lights spread like wildfire.  That’s what we are called to do by the Spirit.  To constantly rekindle the light of Christ amongst his people in whatever way we are called as individuals to do it. 

You are a Chosen Person

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

  Thursday of 7th Week of Easter

Acts 22: 30, 23: 6-11; John 17: 20-26

Dc. Larry Brockman

The Apostles were truly a chosen people.  For, as we have just heard Jesus say in the Gospel,  “They are your gift to me”; and “I have given them the glory you gave me”.  Wow!  How special is that. 

But you know, it occurs to me that the words in the Gospel are not just directed to the Apostles.  That’s a very narrow way of taking this Gospel.  Indeed, let’s ponder for a moment what this Gospel means if all of us, yes you and I, are the gift of which Jesus speaks.  After all, Jesus says he is praying not only for these, meaning the Apostles, but also, and I quote,   for “those who will believe in me through their word”.  That is us- all of us here today who are believers.  And so, all of us can take great comfort in the prayer that Jesus says for his people-  first, that we may all be one.  Yes, all of us are one, and just as you would want to be included in that number so are all those other brothers who are believers who are different from us.  They are all part of the one.  Second, that he has given us the glory he has- everlasting life.  We may not know what it is like, but we can take great joy knowing that it is certain for those who believe.  Third, that Jesus wants us to be where he is.  This is also a great comfort, knowing that Jesus wants us in Heaven with him.  And lastly, and certainly not the least- that, and I quote, “the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them”.  And considering that God is Love.  That is quite something. 

Recognizing That You Are Chosen

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Thursday of 5th Week of Easter

Feast of St. Matthias

Acts 1: 515-17, 20-26; John 15: 9-17

Dc. Larry Brockman

 

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”.  Have you ever thought about it that way? 

I often preach about having Faith and choosing to do God’s will.  But this morning’s readings put an entirely different light on our salvation journey.  Because both readings point to the fact that we have been chosen, not just in a generic sense, as the Jews were the chosen people.  But in a specific way.  We have all been chosen for a particular time and place and mission.  Most likely it is the one you find yourself in at this moment, whatever it is; married, single or religious; or student or boss, or worker, or stay-at home caregiver;  Whatever it is, you have been chosen for it. 

The apostles were told that in the Gospel.  Of all the people Jesus could have chosen, these 11 men were it-   And they were an unlikely group of fisherman and common folk chosen to build the Church.  Likewise Matthias was chosen by lot, not by the discretion of his associates, in Acts- a clear symbol that God had directed the choice.  Matthias is a prototype of all of us in that sense.  Because our roles in life, when you think about it, largely seem dictated by circumstances beyond our control. 

It seems to me that this is something we can all rejoice over.  Because if we do our best and trust in God, as we live our lives, then we can be assured that we will be chosen for the mission in life into which we find ourselves.  Sometimes we have a tendency to worry too much about where we end up.  We wonder whether we would be better off doing something else; we think the grass may be greener in another occupation of life.  But if we have trusted in God, and tried to follow his will, then most likely we have been chosen to do precisely what we are doing. 

And our attention now should center on just one two things:  Loving as best as we can, thereby giving Glory to God by doing it as best as we can; and Bearing the fruit he intends for us. 

Loving in Deed and Truth

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3: 18-24; John 15: 1-8

Dc. Larry Brockman

 

Today’s Gospel says that you must be pruned to bear fruit.  Do you ever feel like you are being pruned?  I sure do- with a heart attack just 6 months ago, and now a back injury.  These things seem to be limiting me- and I end up being absorbed by the pain and these limitations.  I bet that most of you, too, are experiencing your share of pruning, and the self absorption that goes with it.  The pruning may be painful, physical sufferings, like sickness, disease, financial insecurity, or old-age.  Or it may be hidden, interior sufferings, like losing a loved one, having a moral dilemma at work, or watching a dear relative abandon their Catholic faith.  But whatever it is, it can challenge us because it is hard to focus on anything other than the suffering.   

And yet, I am reminded of a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola:  “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that he has great designs for you, and that he certainly intends to make you a saint.”  So, there is good news here for all of us who feel we suffer.  Because, if you can bear fruit in the face of suffering, then you have the inside track for becoming a saint.   

In the second reading, St. John speaks about what we need to do to bear fruit.  He says we need to love, not just in word or speech, but in deed or truth.  But what does that really mean?   

Our society preaches tolerance, and perhaps to an extreme.  It teaches that everyone should be given the freedom to “choose”, t To choose what’s right just for them.  And that even if they choose “wrong” in the eyes of a majority; that’s OK, as long as it doesn’t exceed some society defined standards.  Unfortunately, as we become a more secular society, that standard has changed and become more permissive.  Hence, gay marriage, abortion, and assisted suicide appear to be gaining in acceptance by our society; so do pornography, sex outside of marriage and drugs.  Yes, integral to this secular standard is the right to pick and choose; because right is relative- relative to one’s ability to discern or handle the situation,- that’s the picking part; and the choice relates to the situation itself- that is, what is good just for me in this situation; and that’s the choosing part.  So, for example, when someone is aged, disabled and suffering, a victim of the pruning I talked about earlier, society is beginning to think it’s OK for them to choose “ending it all” to relieve their suffering.  The state governments in Oregon and Washington believe it is, because assisted suicide is legal there.   

Now it seems to me that Catholics are beginning to apply this external secular set of standards, and the pick and choose philosophy that goes with it, to their attitudes about their Faith.  The head of Notre Dame is doing just that in awarding President Obama an honorary degree.  He has chosen to pick and choose the relative merits- favoring prestige over life.   

Are we guilty of similar behavior?  I’m not talking about choosing sin, because we choose to sin sometimes, and we know we are sinning.  Then we seek forgiveness for it.  The point being that we still recognize that sin is wrong.  Rather, I’m talking about choosing to accept or reject what our church teaches in certain areas in such a way that we delude ourselves into thinking that there is no sin where the Church teaches that there is.  This picking and choosing is exactly what constitutes the difference between loving in word and speech, and loving in deed and truth.  

It isn’t sufficient for us to just look like good Catholics – by praying, coming to Mass, and involving our children in Prep or CCD.   But we also must make a daily effort to live like good Catholics: by studying Church teachings until we understand and embrace them so that they becomes part of our own life; by speaking up for Christ’s truth to our congress and state legislators, even when it is unpopular; by going out of our way to help others; and by resisting temptation and carrying our crosses with elegance.  We must be faithful to both Catholic morality and to what we perceive is our life-mission, even if it means enduring discomforts like hardship, ridicule, and persecution.  That’s all part of the consequences of the pruning- a constriction of our options so we are able to bear fruit in the areas God wants for us to excel.   

That’s what loving in deed and truth means.  It means loving God and his will for us first,  instead of choosing what is the most comfortable or expedient response.  In other words, we love God by our obedience to God’s law as our first priority.   

Such love takes patience, courage, self sacrifice, and humility to be effective.  This weekend we celebrate Mother’s day.  I can think of no better example of what it means to be loving in deed and truth, than the example set forth by so many of our mothers.  Patience, yes- the kind of patience it takes to handle your children who constantly try to stretch the boundaries.  Courage, yes- the kind of courage it takes to be consistent with your children in your dealings with them.  Self sacrifice- absolutely, the kind of self sacrifice that puts your children’s education and care ahead of your own wants.  And last and most importantly, humility- also yes, the kind it takes to clean up after your children, whenever and wherever the needs arises.  And these wonderful mothers definitely bear fruit because their children are a living testimony to their efforts.     

Today, as we hear that we are the branches, and Christ is the vine, let us accept the fact that our sufferings are our opportunities, not just meaningless pain into which we become self absorbed, and then seek to act with a humble and loving heart to make the most of those opportunities to bear fruit.  For, as St Vincent de Paul put it:  “The most powerful weapon to conquer the Devil is humility.   For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”   

Just Do It!

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

  Thursday of 4th Week of Easter

Acts 12: 24, 13: 5a; John 13: 16-20

Dc. Larry Brockman

Jesus says “Blessed are you if you do it”.  Do what?  I puzzled much over that as I heard this Gospel.  True, Jesus was referring to the washing of feet.  But there’s so much more implied. 

First, there are the two analogies Jesus mentioned: one about masters and servants; the other about messengers and the one that sent them.  The disciples were cast into those roles.  They didn’t catch on at the time, but after the resurrection they did.  They recognized Jesus as the master; they recognized they were being sent by Jesus.  We, too, are cast into these roles no matter how much authority we seem to have- authority as a boss; as a mom or dad; or a teacher, or any of the other roles we might have in authority.  Because when it comes to our relationship with God, we are the messenger, not the one who sends him; and we are the servant, not the master. 

This is the Easter season, and we are constantly being reminded that we are all being sent forth, sent forth to share the Good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus; sent forth to share the joy and the faith that goes with it.  But, we are not sent forth as persons set apart from the people we come in contact with.  That means we are not sent forth to form clichés; nor are we sent forth in a spirit of superiority.  Rather, we are sent forth to show our faith to the world in a way that will attract others.  And we are called forth to serve these others even when they are unbelievers- difficult; skeptic, and seemingly undeserving. 

This service is characterized by a humble heart punctuated by a spirit of joy- joy that we recognize our salvation, and that it is Jesus Christ.  That can be hard.  But as Jesus said, “Blessed are you if you do it.”