Archive for March, 2011

“Whoever is Not With Me is Against Me”

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Thursday of Third Week of Lent

Jer 7: 23-28; Lk 11: 14-23

Dc. Larry Brockman


It seems sometimes that we, the people of God can work against each other.  Because when you come right down to it, we can sometimes allow ourselves to embrace differences, differences that cause us to become factions- factions that divide us, and in so doing, also divide the Kingdom of God.   

Now in the Gospel story, we hear that a group of the crowd claimed Jesus cast out devils by Beelzebub.  Why? Because they did not want to accept that God could work through this righteous Man.  Jesus message was too direct, too unconventional.  Jesus didn’t follow all the customs, all the laws.  Jesus preached a message of repentance, a message of turning away from the normal path of life.  Rather, Jesus followed his heart, and what his heart told him the Father’s will was for him.  Jesus was like one of those Old Testament Prophets that Jeremiah was talking about.  Those prophets kept trying to get the Israeli people to listen to God.  They wanted people to turn from their ways of the world, and return to the basics, the rules that Moses and the prophets wanted the people to write in their hearts: loving the one true God above all, and loving neighbor as self.  And who was Jesus neighbor?  Jesus was inclusive, not exclusive, in his message.  Everybody could be Jesus’ disciple, independent of station in life or heritage.  Jesus wooed Pharisees, and the uneducated in their faith; rich men, poor men, beggars, lepers, Jews, and even the dreaded Samaritans- everybody who would listen and turn to him.  But society in Jesus time was broken into factions- those who were members of the “in crowd”- but even then in competing schools of thought like Pharisees and Sadducees; and then there were the outsiders- rejected beggars and lepers;   tax collectors and prostitutes; and people who sympathized with the Romans. 

And so, is it any wonder that a group of the crowd would use the argument that Jesus cast out devils by Beelzebub.  It was a sort of a divide and conquer approach, one that would somehow cast Jesus and his followers as just another faction, but really a devil, a wolf dressed in sheep’s cloth.   

I read recently where some group has studied religion in a dozen various countries in Europe and the Americas, and has come to the conclusion that organized religion is waning out, dying out.  They base their results on numbers that show that people are rejecting the label of a designation- Catholic or Methodist or Lutheran or whatever.  The statistics show that more than half of the people who say they are Christian don’t attend services- and so, the people doing the study claim the light is going out on Religion.  That is what factions can do to us.  Although the majority of the World is nominally Christian, the light appears to be going out.  because without group support in Churches, our belief systems will erode and disappear.  As Christians, we simply must build on what unites us: belief in Jesus and all that he did, and the commandment above all others- Love of God and neighbor.  Because, as Jesus said in the Gospel:  “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”. 

On the Answer to Prayer

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Thursday of First Sunday of Lent

(St. Patrick’s Day)

Esther C: 12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7: 7-12

Dc. Larry Brockman


Did you find it strange how today’s Gospel ended- the contrast between the theme in the two readings- prayer, and the last line of the Gospel on “doing to others”?  What’s the message there?  Now the readings tell us that God answers our prayers.  As an example we have Queen Esther’s story.  Here is a faith filled Jewish lady in the Old Testament, who is faced with dire circumstances.  She prostrates herself in prayer all day long in hopes that against all odds, God will spare her people from a terrible decree by her husband, the King.  We did not hear all of the story today, but Queen Esther’s prayer was indeed answered,. Her people were spared, her prayer was answered.  

And then, we have the famous words of the Gospel:  “Ask and you shall receive” with the quite vivid imagery of a father not giving his son a snake rather than a fish.  Indeed, if God, who is all good will always answer our prayers, and never ever give us a snake rather than a fish, then why, why does it sometimes seem that our fervent prayers are not heard?  Why does one person’s prayer seem to be answered, and yet another, equally, and maybe even more faith filled than the first, seem to get turned down- Why?  Personally, I have seen people pray for, and make devout and sincere novenas over time, and yet, their prayers seemed to go for naught- people who prayed that God would help them out of a job loss or natural disaster of some kind; the loss of a loved one so early in life; or people who were making a difference with their dedication and ministry but who succumbed to cancer or some other horrible disease.  And yet others seem to be miraculously healed; or wonderful things just fell into place, sparing them of the disaster.  And so I ask- why?  Why one person and not the other.?  

Well, this is one of those times where human understanding and knowledge falls short.  Because, basically,  we don’t have all the facts and we don’t know all the consequences.  Only God does- and it is God’s wisdom that we must learn to trust in.   

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Patrick.  It occurs to me that St, Patrick is a good example.  Here was a man who was kidnapped, enslaved, and subjected to terrible conditions for years.  Certainly, he must have felt abandoned by his God over the years of his captivity.  Certainly it must have seemed that his prayers were going for naught.  Finally, he escaped, and returned to his native England.  Now here’s the really interesting part; what did St. Patrick do?  He returned to Ireland as a Bishop, and worked for the rest of his life to convert the very people who had subjected him.  He dedicated his life to doing unto others as he would have them do to him.  Because St. Patrick lived as if Christ’s love surrounded him, and no matter what seemed to be happening to him , he could depend on the goodness of God’s will for him.  

And so, as difficult as it may seem to us,  God’s will is the answer to all of our prayers. 

What Lent is All About

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Westminster Tower Ecumenical Service

From the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Matthew 17: 1-9

Dc. Larry Brockman

We’re in the middle of Lent!  You know, Lent, that 40 day period just before Easter when you’re supposed to fast and abstain from something and give alms and pray.  At least that is what us Catholics are supposed to be doing during Lent.  I’m resolved to give up beer and TV, for example.  That should give me more time to reflect, and a clearer head to reflect with.

Now, I see where lots of folks from the other Christian denominations were distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday.  I helped distribute ashes at a local hospital; and a Baptist minister was there too, helping us.  I think they may have distributed ashes here, in fact.  And since Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, that means that Lent is something all of us Christians are paying more attention to these days.  Since these nice folks from Westminster Towers asked a Catholic to preach at their Ecumenical Service, I thought I would share some perspectives on Lent with you.   

Now you might ask what the Transfiguration described in our scripture has to do with Lent.  Well, first off, did you know that the three people who were transfigured- Jesus, Moses, and Elijah- shared something in common that echoes one of the Lenten themes I mentioned a moment ago?  Namely, all three of them fasted for 40 days and 40 nights at some time during their lives.  And they all fasted in the same desert wilderness- the region around Horeb. They fasted for 40 days and 40 nights- which is exactly how long Lent is.  And all three of them did that in order to get close to God.  Fasting has that effect because when you fast, you have a tendency to become more sensitive, more feeling.  Fasting opens your senses because you realize that something is missing, you can just feel it, and so, you can be swept into a heightened sensitivity to other things while you are fasting.  Fasting will help you to concentrate on God and listen to His message for you.   

Now, as I mentioned, along with fasting, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah got away from people by going into the wilderness to make sure that they could use their heightened sensitivity to focus on God and God alone.  There are two classic ways of getting away- going into the desert, and going to the top of a mountain. Let’s focus on the Transfiguration itself for a few minutes because it is an example of going up a mountain.  Jesus takes his three most trusted apostles- Peter, James, and John up a mountain- but not just any mountain, a high mountain.  Some scholars think it was a mountain nearly 10,000 feet high.  That took some time; you just don’t climb a 10,000 foot mountain over night.  And you can’t really take a lot of food with you either.  So, these guys were in a fast of sorts as well.  And so, this was a very isolated place where the Transfiguration took place, days away from civilization. 

Once there, Jesus is Transfigured.  But what exactly does that mean?  Well, it comes from the Greek word “metamorphosis”, which implies a change in state.  For example, when a caterpillar goes through a metamorphosis, it changes to a butterfly- a completely different manifestation, but the same creature.   

So this means that Jesus changes in some very significant way right before the Apostles’ eyes, but is the same person.  We hear “His face shone like the sun; and his clothes became white as light”.  In other words, Jesus experiences a metamorphosis to His glorified state.  Then, along with Jesus’ change, Moses and Elijah appear in a similar “transfigured” state.  And what was the Apostles’ reaction?  They were dumfounded- absolutely petrified.  And so, in his frightened and confused state, Peter says something stupid about erecting three tents or booths or tabernacles- depending on which translation you read, as if doing such a thing can sustain this incredible and dazzling vision.  It is then that we hear these words coming out of a bright cloud, as the voice of God the Father proclaims:  “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”.  These are the exact same words that God the Father proclaimed out of a cloud when Jesus was Baptized.   

Indeed, these three most trusted Apostles took days to climb up that mountain with Jesus;  all the while living sparsely.  And once there, in an isolated spot, away from everyone and everything else, they had a direct encounter with Almighty God, an experience which was both awesome- because they saw a prefiguring of the Glory of God; but at the same time, an experience that was frightening- hence they fell prostrate in fear.   

Now before going on, I want to take a few moments to talk about the symbolism in the Transfiguration scene.  Most scripture scholars feel that Moses represents the law; and Elijah represents the Prophets of the Old Testament.  And so, the Transfiguration links Jesus and His mission to fulfill the promise for a Messiah in the Old Covenant with the Old Testament covenant as defined by the law and the prophetic message.  During the Transfiguration, Jesus meets and discusses this fulfillment with the very people through whom God chose to reveal the Law and prophecies in the Old Testament- Moses and Elijah.  The Transfiguration, then, represents a kind of lesson that Jesus shared with his most trusted Apostles  He gave them the opportunity to get away from everybody and everything so that they could see how he came in contact with God and discerned his own mission.  And so, the Apostles saw Jesus in his own future Glory, the Glory of the only Son of God; and they experienced the awesome power of God the Father.  The Transfiguration validated Jesus claim to be God, and demonstrated how one could come to the mountain in isolation, pray, and discern God’s will.     

But the Apostles didn’t see any of this at all.  They missed the point that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God, and that he was discussing his role in life- to be the Messiah that fulfills the Old Testament Covenant.  They missed the point that they needed to reflect in a similar way on their mission in life by going into the desert or up the mountain to encounter God, and listen to His will for them.   

During Lent, we are all challenged to use the 40 days that the Church calendar provides to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection experience that comes on Easter Sunday by fasting and praying; and by reflecting on our lives and our mission in life.  The Transfiguration can be seen as an incident in which Jesus shares with us a formula for all of us to follow.  First, fasting and preparation; then, the journey to the desert or the mountain; and lastly, listening to God and what his will is.   

Our fasting doesn’t have to be difficult.  It just needs to be substantive enough to sensitize us;  to remind us that fulfilling our wants and desires is not what life is all about, but rather, doing the will of the Father.  And our journey to the desert or mountain can be simple as well- the privacy of our rooms or a quiet corner in a garden, for example.  It can be any place where we separate ourselves from the distractions of the world.  And if we listen, we may just hear, or sense, the presence of God as the Apostles did.   

One way to heighten such an experience is to imagine yourself in the midst of one of these biblical scenes- like the transfiguration we just heard this morning, or John’s story of the Woman at the Well; or a healing story, like the raising of Lazarus or the healing of the blind man.  First, read the scripture several times slowly so you are familiar with it.  Then, close your eyes, and go through everything the scripture describes as if you were a bystander or participant.  And then maybe, just maybe, God will speak to you in some way.  A hint, a nudge, a feeling, may come to you that will help answer your prayers whatever it is that you may have been looking for.  God is always listening to us when we pray.  But sometimes we don’t listen to him because we are looking for different kind of answer.  God’s wisdom is a knowing kind of response   Rather than a detailed roadmap on the steps to follow to solve one of our problems.  It’s a validation- a warm feeling that things are OK.  It’s a vision of something that leads us in the right direction; and it can also be an uneasiness that tells us to look elsewhere.   

Every year we hear about Lent, and for many of us we start off resolved to make a special effort to get in touch with God.  But like New Years resolutions, days, even weeks pass, and before you know it, the opportunity for our self examination and our purification is over.  Before you know it, Easter has arrived and we are celebrating the Resurrection.  Don’t let that happen this year.  Rather, savor the season of Lent.  Use it to find out how to make a change in your life to align yourself with the will of God.  Then, the Resurrection experience on Easter morning will be one of true joy, knowing that you have made the effort to align yourself with the will of God. 

A Life and Death Matter

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Dt 30: 15-20; Lk 9: 22-25

Dc. Larry Brockman

A life and death matter! That’s what our choices in life amount to, a choice of life or death.  And yet it is ironic that the meaning of life and death in both readings today is actually reversed compared to the way the secular world looks at these two terms.  For those of us who are Christians, real life means everlasting life, not life in this world as we know it.  Very clearly, we have to pass through death to get to that everlasting life, and in fact, there are several layers of death that lead to the everlasting life that is referred to. Jesus talks about both- first dying unto yourself and doing God’s will; then, suffering and actually dying physically so that you are no longer of this world.  Jesus tells his disciples that He will endure both to achieve eternal life.   

By contrast, the secular world values life in the world at all costs- they emphasize a certain quality of life of comfort and leisure.  And so people do whatever is required to prolong life in this world, especially a comfortable life.  They try to avoid both layers of death that I mentioned above.   

And yet, the bad kind of death that both Moses and Jesus refer to is anything we do that puts us on the outside with God.  We face that bad kind of death when we reject his will for us,  People who just seek comfort and leisure and a long life rather than living God’s will for them,  are choosing this awful kind of death, not life because no matter who you are, you cannot stave off physical death forever.  But you can reject everlasting life by putting yourself first.

One of my favorite Holiday movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  The hero, George Bailey, wants a different life for himself than the one he is born into.  Rather than live in a small town and take over his father’s business, George wants to get away, see this world, and do something “big” by the world’s standards.  But circumstances, and his conscience, force him into living the life he was given, not the one he wanted.  And so, anger and frustration develop, and he wishes he’d never been born.  As the story goes, a funky kind of angel is sent to rescue George by granting him his wish.  He shows George how much worse off his little world would be if he had never been born.  George comes to realize this when the angel tells him that “He really did live a wonderful life”.   

God, in his goodness, puts all of us into the world at a certain place and time and station so that we will bloom where we are planted.  There are many joys in that life for most of us- happy times in childhood; a love story that pairs us with a wonderful spouse; talents that lead to jobs that challenge and delight us; and children and grandchildren that fill us with joy.  Along with all of these joys are pain and suffering, and everybody is dealt some pain and suffering.  We see illnesses like Cancer and Alzheimers and Parkinsons and the like in our families; job losses and broken relationships and losses of dear ones.  They are the crosses we are called to bear. 

Lent is a time to reflect on the call to carry our crosses.  Lent is a time for us to choose life. 

The Faith of a True Christian

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Dt 11: 18, 26-28, 32; Rom 3: 21-25, 28: Mt 7: 21-27

Dc. Larry Brockman


It isn’t good enough.  It isn’t good enough to just say you believe- assenting to some vague sense of belief in the trinity, and that Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, and promised those who believed all of that they, then they would inherit eternal life.  Because this may be paying lip service to the consequences of what our faith teaches.   And appearances don’t cut it either- looking like a Christian by just appearing to live as a Christian, coming to Mass each week; and associating with a Christian community like this one.  These are good things- but they aren’t sufficient,  because they don’t in and of themselves make us Christians.   

You see, as Moses says in the first reading on behalf of God the Father, we have to “Take these words of mine into your hearts and souls”.  Into your hearts and souls!  That means that we need to not just say we believe, or appear to believe, but me must understand what our faith teaches so that it becomes part of our innermost being.  If we do that, then we will live our Faith, and that is the key, living our Faith- believing and understanding what we believe to such a depth that our hearts and minds respond to it by the way we lead our daily lives.  That is what it means to be a Christian.  And so, today’s scriptures, taken as a whole, require a whole lot more of us than just saying we believe or going through the appearances of a believer.   

Now St. Paul says very clearly this morning that:  “A person is justified by Faith apart from the law”.  So, Faith is what saves us, not observance of the law, but it has to be real faith.  Faith is believing in what God has revealed to us, even if we can’t understand it all or reason it all out.  Today’s society has embraced an intellectual attitude that says to believe in something, it has to be proven; there has to be scientific evidence of it.  But again, Faith is accepting things we cannot prove- things like the incarnation and the trinity and even the existence of God, just don’t conform to our culture’s standard that requires scientific proof.  And yet, through the whole body of scripture, and the tradition of the Church, we have been given our basic Nicene Creed on what we believe about God.  This Creed is professed every Sunday right after the Homily.  It is what all of us as Christians- even our Protestant brothers,  jointly profess as the basics of our religious belief.  To be a Christian, we need to believe all of it, taking it on Faith.  Why? Because over thousands of years of our Judeo Christian tradition,   the Nicene Creed emerges as the essence of God’s revelation of His nature to us, and so we need to accept it. 

And we have been given the ten commandments on what God expects of us in terms of moral behavior.  These have been augmented by Jesus’ teachings, particularly the Beatitudes.  We need to accept these because they are direct revelations from our God.    Now our culture teaches us, especially when we are college educated, to challenge everything.  We are taught to be discerning, skeptical, and critical of what information is presented to us.  We are taught to test everything, reason it out, and weigh all of the implications in arriving at truth.  And our society preaches that things are relative; that it all depends on the circumstances and your perspective. 

And so, when we are confronted with something like our Catechism- which summarizes the teachings of the Church including the implications of what our faith teaches on the Creed and the 10 commandments and the beatitudes at the next level of detail- people tend to bristle at this level of detail and challenge it.  Rather, our culture encourages a cafeteria type of “faith”, one in which we pick and choose what we reason to be acceptable from the Catechism, as if any of us individuals have the intellectual capacity to compete with the aggregate teaching authority of our Church.   And this is done under the guise of going by our own consciences.  I’ll have more to say about the conscience part in a minute.    And so, there are folks who claim to be people of “Faith” who believe, for example, that Abortion is OK because they see other dimensions, other perspectives of the truth- like the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy.   But this is not a matter of personal opinion, it is a moral truth.  And yes, there are moral absolutes, things are not relative.  Abortion is not OK even in cases of rape and incest because of the circumstances; it is always inherently wrong because it takes an innocent life. 

That’s what the emphasis in today’s Gospel is trying to tell us.  Moral relativism is like building your house on sand- because as an individual your house cannot handle relativism.  You and I need bedrock to build our foundations on- absolute rights and wrongs- or else we will fall apart when we are confronted with all of the challenges.  None of us has the wisdom and discernment of God.  And so He has revealed his truth to us through scriptures and our aggregate that we will know- will know what the truth is, and the Catechism is the truth, the bedrock foundation we all need.   

Let me talk about conscience for a minute.  We all must act according to our consciences, right.  And in fact, the Catechism says that.  But, the Catechism also says that our consciences need to be informed, fully informed.  The formation of our consciences is not a secular responsibility.  It is a responsibility that is associated with our belief system.  You know, last December, our parish and the Diocese as a whole, launched a program called “Why Catholic”.  “Why Catholic” is a walk over several years, through the Catechism.  It is a way for you and I to become better informed as to what the Church teaches and why.  It is a Catholic way to form your conscience.  It is not too late to join one of these groups.  We will be signing folks up for these groups again as we enter Lent. 

Now when your Faith is strong, and you know what our church teaches, it will be written on your hearts and minds.  And like all people of good will, you will live that faith with conviction, even when the going gets tough, because the overwhelming majority of us want to do the right thing. 

What is Real Faith?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Thursday of the 8th Week of Ordinary Time

Sir 42: 15-25; Mk 10: 46-52

Dc. Larry Brockman


What was so special about Bartimaeus’ faith?  I asked myself that question as I read this morning’s Gospel.  Here was a man blind from birth.  That meant lots of things in his day.  It meant that Bartimaeus was uneducated; it meant that he was unemployed, unable to care for himself; and it meant that he was rejected by society, he was ignored and pretty much resigned to a place in the background and a lowly station in life that was an object of pity.  And yet, Jesus singles Bartimaeus out, cures him and tells him “Go your way, your faith has saved you”.  Wow!   

Now Bartimaeus’ blindness certainly has a symbolic meaning, not just a literal meaning.  Because that’s the reason the Gospel stories were selected by their authors- as teaching stories, not just biographical stories.  So “blindness” in this case could mean many things.  For example- clueless, oblivious, pre-occupied, self-absorbed; all of these things are a form of blindness.  They are blindness to the realities of what life is all about. 

In the first reading from Sirach, we are all asked to appreciate the wonderful works of God.  This, it occurs to me, is the opposite to the symbolic blindness of the Gospel.  Because when we really appreciate the wonderful works of God, we exhibit a simple form of faith in God. He is a God who does great things and a God whose will results in the ultimate goodness for everyone and everything.  This kind of faith motivates us to accept the life that God gives us, and work our way into the Kingdom of God.   

Notice that after Bartimaeus is cured of his blindness of sight, he doesn’t just dance off in euphoria over his miraculous cure.  Rather, he follows Jesus, and so we have a hint that not only is his physical blindness cured, but his blindness to the meaning of life is cured as well.  Bartimaeus realizes that he needs to follow up on his cure, and seek God.   

But still, why was Bartimaeus singled out?  What was so special about his Faith going into this incident?  We have a few subtle clues.  First, Bartimaeus is persistent- so persistent that he is rebuked for being a pest.  And then, his appeal is simplistic, almost child-like in simplicity.  Also, Jesus doesn’t go to Bartimaeus the blind man; rather, Jesus asks the blind man to come to him!  And so Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, probably his sole and special possession, and works his uncertain way toward Jesus.  So, Bartimaeus exhibits a persistent, simplistic, basic faith, one in which he abandons all he has got to get to the object of his appeal, Jesus; and the path to Jesus was uncertain and meandering; yet steady.   

Our society is marked by a certain sophistication; our society honors wisdom and knowledge,  and throws out roadblocks of skepticism for things of faith.  Bartimaeus’ kind of faith as I just described it, is the antithesis, the direct opposite, to the wisdom of the world. 

And so, when you appeal to Jesus, do you do exhibit Bartimaeus kind of faith?