Archive for June, 2010

On Responding to the Call

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21; Gal 5: 1, 13-18: Luke 9: 51-62

Dc. Larry Brockman

How would you feel?  How would you feel if the Lord tapped you on the shoulder, and called you directly to “come follow me”.  It wasn’t just a hunch or a feeling as you prayed quietly that you were being called; but it was a direct message- absolutely unmistakable- from the Lord.  We hear four such stories in our readings today.  

First, Elijah calls Elisha.  Elijah throws his cloak, the symbol of his power as the prophet of Israel, over Elisha’s shoulders, and Elisha knows that he has been tapped.  He has been tapped to give up everything and take over as the prophet of Israel.  12 Oxen were a significant quantity of wealth in those days; and Elisha gives that all up in a radical way, by burning his plow; killing off his property; and severing his role as a source of labor and support for his family.  This, indeed, is a radical commitment that he makes, a basic change in his life- forever. 

Then, in the Gospel, Jesus taps three people on the shoulder as he travels towards Jerusalem, and asks them to come follow him immediately.  One agrees right away, but the other two ask for some time, time to set their affairs in order first- their family affairs.  At first blush, Jesus’ responses seem a little harsh- “Let the dead bury the dead”; and “No one who looks behind is fit”.  And yet, these people go; they follow the call.  They make a radical change in their lives- they take action.   

So, what do these stories have to do with you and I?  Are we being asked to give up everything?  Well, we were all called to follow the Lord’s will by virtue of our Baptism.  But for most of us, we didn’t really understand that call until our Confirmation, if even then.  Over the course of our lives, most of us receive nudges and urges that God wants us to do something,   rather than direct taps on the shoulder.  True, some of us receive wake up calls- an accident; an illness; even a chance encounter that moves us deeply.  But a direct call from God like the four we hear about this morning- probably not.  So, how are these stories relevant to us?

Perhaps the emphasis is not on how we are being called- that is, a direct versus a more subtle call; or even the strength of our response, like giving everything up; but rather, on our willingness to respond to our call at all. 

You see, our God loves us so much, that He calls each and every one of us.  That is a fact.  These 4 stories symbolize the fact of the call in their directness.  Indeed, Baptism is the beginning of the call for us, and it is a fact; the rest of the call is a lifetime of nudges and urges and wake up calls.  So, we are all called, that is not the issue, and not the emphasis in the readings.   

Rather, our willingness to respond to the call is the issue before us today.  How do we respond to God’s will for us?  Is it a series of “maybe” responses like- “I am going to change soon”; or “next week I will change”; or “as soon as this is done I will change”- kind of like two of the examples in the Gospel?  Basically, that is like putting off the response so that we aren’t really responding at all, because we will soon forget and move on to something else. Or do we actually respond to God’s will and take action immediately, like Elisha and the first of Jesus’ examples? 

Perhaps we delay our response because we have a problem giving up something. Now most of us cannot relate to 12 yolk of oxen as wealth.  Well picture this. Suppose you own a big house; several cars; lot’s of social activities; lots of debt, and a high paying but stressful job for both husband and wife to support all of that?  As you experience the best things the world has to offer when you are at the top of your careers, you are probably also experiencing all kinds of pressure and stress.  In the depths of your being, you may hear prophetic voices from the Lord telling you that something is wrong; something needs to change.  What would your response be to those voices?  Chances are, you will drag your feet, begging for more time; possibly even using “burying the dead” and “caring for your family” as excuses along the way. 

We have not internalized- “thy will be done”, rather, we are committed to “our will be done” instead.  It may be that way for years, until some day we look back and realize we have let God down. 

But, the wonderful thing about God is that we are always given second and third and fourth chances with Him, we are always given the benefit of the doubt.  No matter what we have done in the past, God will forgive us and love us as long as we have faith and strive to do His will in the future.  So, no matter how you got where you are; no matter how selfish or blind to God’s will you have been in the past; you can always make things right in the future.  It’s really simple- just listen to Him talk to you now.  Every day he taps each of us on the shoulder ever so lightly.   And when it feels right, respond to His call, and feel the joy of being reconciled with God. 

Heralds of Truth- Listen to Them

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

 

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Is 49: 1-6; Acts 13: 22-26; Luke 1: 57-66, 80

Dc. Larry Brockman

A Herald.  That’s what St. John the Baptist was, a herald of things that needed to be heard- God’s herald.  In the prophecy of John given to Isaiah, God said:  “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”.  And again, as Paul says:  “John heralded his coming by proclaiming a Baptism of repentance”.  John the Baptist, inspired by God, fulfilled the Isaiah prophecy by heralding the coming of Jesus.  Ultimately, John paid for it with his life.  But he heard his call and followed it.  Some listened, but many did not.   

Now the idea of a Herald is not a something just of the past.  It is a living phenomena, one that is always present in society.  God used many heralds during the days before the birth of Jesus.  They were the prophets of the Old Testament.  Moses heralded the Exodus and settling of God’s chosen people in the promised land.  Elijah and Elisha, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, all the Old Testament prophets, were heralds of things to come- draughts, wars, times of favor, exiles, the Messiah.  After God rose from the dead and established his Church, the age of prophesy of the coming of the Messiah may have ended.  But the age of heralds of God’s word certainly did not end.

Indeed, we have had God’s heralds amongst us continually over the ages.  Many of the saints were heralds, leaving us a legacy of what they heralded- people like St. Patrick, and St. Francis of Assisi.  Some heralded their inspirations on the nature of God- people like Thomas Aquinas and Augustine; or their warnings on injustices such as discrimination and poverty- people like Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa.  It would be naïve to assume that the age of God’s heralds is over.  And in fact, each generation, each age, experiences problems- problems symptomatic of the secular world that we live in, a world in which Satan works constantly to tear down the emerging kingdom of God by undermining the wonderful works of God. 

And so, God continues to send us heralds like John the Baptist, heralds who will tell the truth,  God’s inspired truth. Just like the people in Israel of the Old Testament; and just like the people in John the Baptist’s time, we are challenged to listen to these heralds of truth.  We are challenged to find God’s truth among the many voices of the secular world.  Who is heralding God’s truth in an age when millions of people are aborted?  Who is heralding God’s truth in an age when runaway spending beyond our means is sanctioned by governments?  Who is heralding God’s truth about rights versus privileges in society?  Who are the modern day heralds- the true messengers of God?

Knowing Who You Are

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

 

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zech 12: 10-11: 13:1; Gal 3: 26-29: Luke 9: 18-24

Dc. Larry Brockman

It is important, very important, for you to know who you are.  And it is also important for others to know who you really are- not who you would like to be, but who you really are; because that is the truth, and we must always live the truth.   

Now Jesus knew who he was and what His mission was.  After His baptism, he went out into the desert for 40 days, to pray and reflect on just those questions.  When he returned, he knew who he was.  Yet he asked his disciples who the crowds said he was, and who they thought he was.  Perhaps part of the reason was that he wanted to know whether he was projecting His true self; was he doing and saying the truth of who he was.  The Apostles said the crowds saw Him as a prophet, because that is how he came across in sermons and in His public ministry.  But His disciples, who really knew him intimately, knew who he really was:  Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God. 

Now the vision that we have, the expectations that we have, of God and the way He works are not always accurate.  Such was the case with the vision the Jews had of the Messiah.  They thought the Messiah would restore Israel’s unity; free them from their bondage to Rome; and establish peace and prosperity for the chosen people of Israel.  That was not God’s way.  God’s will for Jesus, His son, was that he tell the truth about God and the eternal Kingdom; bear whatever suffering happened to Him for telling the truth, even if that meant death, which it did; and then rise from the dead and commission his followers to spread the good news of His coming, death, and rising.  That truth was too hard for the average Jew of the time to swallow.  They wanted a worldly Messiah.  So Jesus entrusted the truth to his disciples alone, and asked them to withhold it until the proper time.   

What about you and I?  Who are you and I?  As Paul says, “You are all children of God in Christ Jesus”.  We become Children of God by virtue of our Baptism, our acceptance of our faith, and our practice of it; by loving God and keeping His commandments for us.  But what does that really mean for us?   

Well, just like Jesus, we need to enter the desert sometime in our lives, reflect on our baptism into the Faith, and determine how we live our lives in love of God.  Just like Jesus, we need to determine who we really are, and then, we need to show truth of who we are in what we say and do.   

Notice that Jesus went through his desert experience in his early thirties.  He did not start His public ministry till then.  And we know virtually nothing about Jesus from the time he was 12 till he was 30.  Presumably he did what his stepfather did- carpentry.  But that is still a long time- 18 years of carpentry before Jesus came to a conclusion of who he was.  I think we all have the same opportunity.  We are all given time to live life, and gradually come to the conclusion that there is more to life than what we want for ourselves and what this world has to offer.  For some, that may take 20 years; and for others it may be a lifetime of 40 or 50 years or more.  Now speaking for myself, I see it as a gradual process, and not a single desert experience.  I’ll bet that many of you would identify with that. 

Today is my 40th Wedding Anniversary.  I have to tell you that it has been 40 wonderful years, a wonderful spouse for all those 40 years who has loved me despite my weaknesses.  We have played together hard, and worked hard together.  We were blessed with 5 beautiful Children.  Together, we have tried hard to raise those children to be God fearing and practicing Christians.  Today, we are blessed with 9 grandchildren as we watch each of our children raise their families. 

But each of those 40 years have been punctuated with some miserable experiences as well.  One of our children died at an early age; both of us have had our share of life threatening heart problems; and Jane lost her best friend in the prime of life.  We haven’t always agreed with each other; but we have always managed to respect each other, and to get beyond our disagreements.  We have shared a common faith, as both of us were cradle Catholics.  That has really helped because we have stayed the course when things got tough.  The experts say there are 20 or so love hate cycles in each long term marriage.  We have been through some of those. 

So, from 40 years ago till now, I knew that I was a married man and a Father, but it wasn’t always my top priority.   I worked for some 35 years as an Engineer in the Aerospace Industry.  Years ago, I would have said that this defined who I was as well- an Engineer and manager.  But the reality is that after working for two of the industry giants all those years, I came to realize that a job in the secular world, no matter how much power and influence it brings, is not what defined me because loyalty in such a scenario is really tied to an economic contract.  We may have certain skills- God given skills and knowledge.  That helps define who we are, because it influences how we think and what we do.  But our jobs are not who we really are. 

And so as I look back on life, I realize now that the role of a Father and Husband was much more of who I am and was intended to be.   In fact, relationships in general are a big factor that determines who we are.  We are all part of the Body of Christ.  Each of us is integrally necessary for the Body of Christ to measure up to the full potential desired by the Father.  Basically, our identity has to be tied to community in one way or another.  And so, however your relationships define you, make sure that is where your priorities are.   

Because it is so important, know who you are.  Today, for those of you out there who are Fathers and Husbands, be that person.  Let that be your priority. 

The Most Perfect Christian Prayer

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

 

Thursday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 48: 1-14; Matthew 6: 7-15

Dc. Larry Brockman

The “Our Father” – the core message of today’s Gospel.  It is God made man’s instruction to us on how we should pray.  If any of you have a copy of the New Catechism of the Catholic Church, there’s a wonderful section that summarizes the depth and richness of this simple prayer.  The catechism quotes the great Doctor of the Church,  St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, who says “The Our Father is the most perfect of Christian Prayers, because it not only instructs us on how we should make our petitions to God, but it also tells us what the right order, the right sequence, of our prayer should be”.  How awesome is that!  

When you heard the “Our Father” proclaimed this morning when the Gospel was read, did you think to yourself- “Oh yes, I know that prayer”; or did you think of it as something as profound as St. Thomas Aquinas described?  Indeed, once and a while, we need to step back from the familiar things of our Faith and contemplate them with some intensity.  The “Our Father” is one of those things.   

First, the “Our Father” is very short, direct, and comprehensive, not at all like the babbling of the pagans.  Second, it refers to “Our” Father, not “My” Father; and so, as we are being told how to pray, the emphasis is on the community, not on us as individual prayers.  Third, the sequence has our relationship with God in the proper order:  First, an offering of praise to God; then an emphasis on the divine will over our will; only then do we ask for what we really need- starting with sustenance and ending with forgiveness for our sins.  These are the two things Jesus says we need the most.  Notice that in the last paragraph of today’s Gospel, which is not part of the prayer itself, Jesus repeats and emphasizes our need to forgive  In order to merit God’s forgiveness.  And lastly, the prayer ends as we ask for avoidance of temptation.   

The “Our Father” can become a mechanical prayer, one that is recited from rote memory, and not a prayer of the heart.  But, when we understand it as a guide, a formula that gets to the heart of a proper relationship with God, then, it is anything but a rote prayer.  It is the most perfect Christian Prayer. 

True Righteousness

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

 

Thursday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 18: 41-46; Matthew 5: 20-26

Dc. Larry Brockman

So, our righteousness must surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees?  Interesting, because although the Scribes and Pharisees don’t fare well in the Gospel stories, they were actually pretty righteous folks compared to most of the others in their time and day.  Now the thing they emphasized was the letter of the law- what was written literally.  We have people who focus on the literal interpretation of the Bible today as well, and many of them seem pretty righteous from what we can see.  So, what’s the problem? 

Well, Jesus makes it pretty clear that it takes more to be His follower than obedience to a literal interpretation of the law.  He uses “Thou shall not Kill” as an example.  What Jesus says is that we must avoid all semblances of hostile feelings against our neighbor.  We must expunge hostility from our hearts.  That means we shouldn’t call a person an imbecile (that’s what raqa means); or call someone a fool; or hold anger against a neighbor, or not settle a dispute with a neighbor.  Wow, those are pretty tall orders, aren’t they? 

Which of us is beyond calling someone an idiot, or worse, when they cut in on us in traffic;  or which of us doesn’t have a neighbor that we have problems with; and which one of us doesn’t hold on to anger when somebody, especially a family member, hurts us.  It would seem that all of us who are human deal with these problems continually.  So, are all of us doomed? 

I think the key here is attitude, because, although the Pharisees and Scribes were more righteous than the average Joe in their day, their attitude was often one of self righteousness, of arrogance, rather than sincerity and humility.  Their self righteousness was driven by knowledge, because they were more knowledgeable of scripture and God’s Law; or by power, because they held and enjoyed positions of prominence in Society.  They were deluding themselves into feeling righteous, because they had just dealt with the external appearances of complying with the law; and not internal soul searching over the depth of the law. 

And so Jesus is urging us to internalize these commands of His, like “Thou Shall Not Kill”.  We need to hunger for what the full meaning of the commandments is, open always to searching our consciences.  That way, the commandments will be written in our hearts, not just our minds. 

When you do that, then you realize just how human and weak you are.  It’s a real lesson in humility.  We are all in this world together, all struggling to achieve salvation.  And so, everybody gets angry, thinks people are imbeciles or fools, hold grudges, and avoids settling disputes- everybody.  We are all guilty of these things.  But we are all forgiven- as long as we forgive others too.  And that is true Righteousness.   

Unchaining Our Faith

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Thursday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time

2 Timothy 2: 8-15, 9-12; Mark 12: 18-34

Dc. Larry Brockman

“But the word of God is not chained!”  Such is Paul’s reaction to his enchainment and imprisonment. Rather than be concerned for himself, Paul is writing letters to Timothy urging him to go forward with the spreading of the Word of God.  Paul is more concerned for others than he is over his own fate, namely, being chained and imprisoned for doing the same thing.  Such courage! 

Today we celebrate the feast of Charles Lwanga and companions. These Ungandan Christians suffered martyrdom in 1885 for spreading the Word of God, exhibiting great courage as well.  But just as Paul predicted, the word of God remained unchained.  Because Christianity continued to spread in Uganda, even up until today.  In fact, there are many vocations to the priesthood there, with many African priests coming to our country to help fill our need for priests.  And yet, even today in places like Uganda, it can be dangerous to be a Christian. 

Looking over the history of the Church, I cannot help but be struck by an interesting fact:  In places where the people are persecuted for their faith, and in times when there is great suffering, many people seem to be more zealous and more courageous about their Faith.  So, I ask myself why?  And also, why is the Word of God received so well by others in the same difficult times?   Is it because when folks are comfortable with their lives they don’t need God?  And so, turning the situation around, when life is not easy, people feel more of a need for God? 

Maybe it’s because when life is filled with clutter, the kind of clutter that comes from comfort:-  lot’s of money and things and time and resources to enjoy the things of the world, then there’s no urgency to hear the Word.  But Paul’s words for Timothy today about the rewards for dying unto Christ and gaining everlasting life would make so much more sense to you if you were just trying to eek out a living, or just trying to survive for your faith. 

Priority for God is the issue- just what is our priority for God?  Well, the Gospel message today seems to be ever so appropriate.  Because no matter how well off or oppressed we are, our first priority should always be loving God.   If we love God, than truly the Word of God will be unchained.