Archive for February, 2012

Making 40 days Count

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

First Sunday in Lent

Gen 9: 8-15; 1 Pet 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15


You have absolutely no excuse, because God has given you 40 days.  Yes, you have 40 days- and that’s a long time- to prepare for Easter and the Resurrected Christ.   

Why do you need to prepare, you might ask?  Because just like the man Jesus, your human nature is seeking the real meaning of your life and what God’s will is for you.  It’s called the process of conversion, and conversion is an ongoing activity, a continual need.  Yes, you and I all need to be converted from our normal, everyday way of life, which is based on our needs, our goals, and our desires; to a life that is primarily centered on God’s will for us.   

Many of you remember Fr. Larry Richard’s recent Mission with us.  Well, that was his basic message to us too- we have got to have Jesus so ingrained in our being that everything we say and do is part of God’s plan for us.   

And so, just like Jesus, you too need to get away from it all, and enter into the wilderness so that you can listen to God and find out what God’s will is for you.  And if you seek after that, then just like Jesus, the Spirit will drive you to a time and place and a means where you can commune with God.  But just like Jesus, you will be tempted along the way by the devil, who is hell bent on having you do anything except commune with God.  You won’t have the time; you will have other commitments; you will be distracted; and you will have interruptions; and there will be plenty of other reasons to avoid a truly Lenten renewal.  But the fact is, 40 days is a long time, and ultimately you will not have any excuse.   

“Lent”, as St. John of the Cross proclaimed, “is a time when men and women collaborate with God in creating something divine”.  That’s how sacred and special these 40 days are.  Because if you live according to God’s true plan for you then you will be doing something really sacred; you will be led to sacrifice something of yourself, whether it be your agenda. your selfishness, or your comfort, for the purpose that God intends for you, whatever that is.  And that is a piece of the divine plan; it is God in action.   

Now it doesn’t need to take all 40 days to commune with God because God can hit you over the head with His truth in just a moment.  But, you do have to give God your undivided attention to hear what He wants from you.  And unfortunately, for most of us, that can take some time.  Why? Because of the influence of the devil- those temptations, those distractions, and those interruptions that occur when even the best intentioned of us are seeking the Lord.  They will keep you from hearing the Lord.  So, you need to be persistent, and stick to your guns.   

Secondly, you need to be in the right frame of mind, a frame of mind that gives you the time and the energy to listen to God..  And that’s why the Church recommends Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving- so that you can be in the right frame of mind.  I want to share some thoughts with you now on these three- prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.    Let’s talk about fasting first.

Why fast?  Well first of all, fasting isn’t really effective if it is just giving something up that meets the letter, but not the spirit, of fasting.  Classically, we all fast from food or drink.  And if you are really dedicated, you might fast from something you really like, such as beer or chocolate.  Ugh!  But according to St. Leo the Great, fasting needs to be a form of great hearted abstinence- abstinence with a goal, abstinence that transcends our wants, but rather, gets to the heart of our sinfulness.  For example, you could fast from idle chatter and gossip.  Or you could fast from addictive watching of sports on TV.  Certainly you can see how this type of fasting gets you closer to the right frame of mind to talk to God.   

Second, let’s talk about almsgiving.  Almsgiving is not just dropping a few extra bucks in the basket, or taking a load of your excess to St. Vincent de Paul.  Almsgiving needs to be from your heart.  St Augustine says that almsgiving means:  “Expelling from the heart that which is more difficult on us to keep than to give away.”  Now at first, that doesn’t seem to make sense.  But when you really think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Augustine means that almsgiving should include those things that bind us up, keep us occupied, and so, they make it more difficult for us to do God’s will than if we gave them away.  That’s why some classic saints like St. Anthony of the Desert and St. Francis of Assisi, gave away their wealth, so they would not be distracted by that wealth in living God’s will.  And so, what is it that you have that has value that you need to give away so that you are not distracted from God’s plan?   

Lastly, let’s talk about prayer; because that’s how we communicate with God.  And it is not just any form of prayer.  Rather, we need to have an authentic union with God through prayer that is selfless.  What does that mean?  Well, a lot of our prayer is asking for something from God.  But selfless prayer is different- it is opening our hearts and minds to what God wants to say to us, not what we want to say to Him.  It is the kind of prayer where we hear God’s tiny whisper that answers our heart’s pain, the things that trouble us, that we feel guilty over, or that we don’t know what to do about.  It is that tiny urge that moves us in a direction we might not like, but if we are honest, that God is pointing us towards when we hear Him. 

Yes, these are the three tools that we need to get in the right frame of mind for a Lenten conversion.     

You know, it seems like just yesterday when we were all sitting around the Christmas tree celebrating the joy of Christmas.  But in reality, 40 or so days have passed since Christmas.  And you know what, 40 days from now we will be celebrating Easter.  You have a choice.  Those 40 days can pass by like a flash as you go through the blur of everyday life.  Or they can be 40 days that change your life.  The choice is yours.  How will you use those 40 days?

Making a Commitment

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Thursday of First Week in Lent

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


Lent- it’s all about making a commitment- a commitment to choose God’s way to live our lives rather than world’s way.  We do it every year in order to preserve what we have, our faith and our path to eternal life.   

In the first reading, the Lord, through Moses, promises the Israelis a long, prosperous life in the promised land if..  If they follow the laws of the Lord and do what he commands of them.  The process takes 40 years, and is a painstaking struggle in the desert wilderness.  Now indeed, 40 years was a lifetime for the people of Moses day.  We have a lifetime as well, but every year we are given the 40 days of Lent to reflect on our lives and to put ourselves back on the proper track.  For just as the Israelis seek the promised land at the end of life, we are seeking eternal life with God- that is our goal.  And life in this world isn’t the same thing as eternal life.  Because no matter who you are focusing on preserving our lives is ultimately fuitile- we are all going to die.   

Jesus gives us the keys to how to deny ourselves and follow him.  First, he speaks for himself- he is going to suffer and die, but then be resurrected on the third day.  And He will be resurrected to eternal life with the Father.  After giving his life as an example, he tells all of the disciples that they must deny themselves and follow in his ways.  Clearly, he is not excepting himself from the reality of what it takes to live a life pleasing to God.  Because first he gives uses his own life as an example, and then he tells his disciples to do the same.
Yes, being a Christian means denying self.  But exactly what are we to deny ourselves of?  Well, when we fast, we deny ourselves.  But, let’s take a deeper look at fasting then we usually do.  I’m not talking about giving up something as a token denial, although that kind of fasting can establish discipline and we all need discipline.  Rather, suppose the ultimate purpose of our fasting is to turn ourselves Christ-like.  For example, we can nail the unruly parts of our life to the cross and kill them all off by fasting from them.  That means cutting out those habits and things that we do that are sinful or occasions to sin.  Things like gossip, alcohol, pornography, cell phones, video games, TV, Facebook, and a host of other things can be addicting.  We need to deny ourselves of these occasions to sin and sin itself.  That is denying self in the purest sense, because it does away with our selfishness. 

Second, we need to renew our relationships with our neighbors.  It’s called living a life that reflects love the way Jesus did.  Jesus talked about loving neighbor as ourselves.  And this was the most important of all the commandments God gave to Moses. 

So, as you reflect on your Lenten duty, consider what you will fast from, and make a real commitment to deny yourself of something that nails the unruly part of yourself to the cross.

Are You Thinking As God Does?

Thursday, February 16th, 2012


Thursday of 6th Week in Ordinary Time

Feast of St. Onesimus

James 2: 1-9; Mark 8: 27-33

Deacon Larry Brockman

 Are you thinking as man does or as God does?  Today’s liturgy challenges us to think about man’s way versus God’s way in several contexts.

 First, there is the lesson in the first reading.  Do you and I avoid the lesser folks in our congregation for the well dressed, popular types?  Now before you say to yourself “Not I!”  Think about it for a moment.  Because the example in the reading is an extreme- and it is written so as an example.  But I think we can miss the real point.  You know, I try to come each Thursday to daily Mass.  I see many of the same faces each time.  But there are always new faces in the crowd.  After Mass, I see clusters of folks each week- the same clusters.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  But how do you suppose that seems to the new guy in the crowd?  Are we welcoming to them?  Or are our clusters a form of discrimination? 

Why is this important?  Because you just never know what a chance contact, particularly one motivated out of kindness and inclusiveness, will do for someone who is reaching out- maybe attending daily Mass for the first time.  It is a primary call for us to be inclusive as Christians.

And then there is the example of our Saint today- St. Onesimus.  Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philomen, whose name is the title of one of the books of the New Testament.  Allegedly Onesimus stole something from Philomen and then ran away to avoid punishment.  Paul meets Onesimus when he reaches Rome, and Onesimus converts to Christianity.  And so Paul writes the epistle to Philomen to try to patch up the relations between the two.  Paul asks Philomen to forgive Onesimus, and to accept him as a brother in Christ.  In other words, Paul wants Philomen to accept him as an equal.  This violates a number of cultural norms- ways of the World: forgiveness of a disobedient servant; and the separation of servant and ruling class. 

That was tough in Paul’s day, and when you think about it, it is tough in our secular world of today as well.  Rarely do we find examples where people forgive and accept people who have violated them and the law.  But Pope John Paul II did- he forgave and accepted his attacker.  And Cardinal Bernardin, who was falsely accused of abuse by a man years after it supposedly occurred, is another example.  We all know how such accusations can taint a life.  And yet Cardinal Bernardin forgave and accepted the man.  Who amongst us doesn’t have someone in our lives that fits this kind of bill?  Can we forgive them and accept them despite the damage done?  

And lastly, we have the Gospel story about Peter.  Peter judges Jesus prophecy through the lens of the World.  “Perish the thought; this just can’t be; do you know what you are saying?”  In other words, Peter doesn’t take Jesus seriously.  Today, we have lots of prophets predicting consequences of serious affronts by the Government on our religious liberty.  Respect Life Organizations like Priests for Life; the National Conference of Catholic Bishops;    and some news organizations are telling us what’s going on.  But are we listening? Do we really care? Are we doing anything about it?   


So, are you thinking as man does or as God does? 

Who is Your Role Model?

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Friday of 4th Week in Ordinary Time

Feast of St. Blase

Sir 47: 2-11; Mark 6: 14-29

Deacon Larry Brockman


A tale of two kings.  One Godly and the other ungodly.  That’s what we hear in today’s scripture. In their day, both of these kings were role models.  We can learn much from the stories about these two kings.  We will learn about good versus evil; and virtue versus vice.

King David’s story is of the virtuous man.  We hear that David offers thanks to God the most high in his every deed and loves his maker with his whole being.  David’s focus was on the Lord and praising the Lord.  And he defended his people against the Philistines.  David was truly working for the benefit of all in his Kingdom, and in this sense, he was selfless.  And for this the Lord rewarded David with prosperity.  He was indeed a role model, and his praises were sung by the women at the time, as we just heard.


Contrast David with Herod.  Herod was notorious for stifling taxation and extravagance.  In this short selection we find that Herod has stolen his brother’s wife; envied John the Baptist but feared him; imprisoned John out of that fear and in order to control him; and in an apparent drunken stupor on his birthday, made reckless promises to his stepdaughter in a flurry of swearing and carrying on.  And so, he had John the Baptist beheaded.  Basically, Herod is a Godless sinner who seems to exhibit wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony all together at once- all seven of the deadly sins.  Herod’s focus is on himself- and self-gratification.  What a role model he is.  But, for the secular society of the day, that is what Herod was- a role model.  After all, everyone uses success for a role model.  Indeed, the contrast between David and Herod is significant.


That brings us to this question:  Who are our role models today?  Well, they always seem to be people in power, people in the spotlight.  Today, our society focuses on TV and movies for role models- actors, actresses, football and basketball players, pop music artists, top models, billionaires, and reality show personalities.  Haven’t these have become our society’s role models?  It would certainly seem so.  And, as we follow these folks through the stream of life, it is a trail of heartbreak and disaster- divorces, affairs, drug problems, domestic violence, and selfish extravagance, all of which is glorified in the press. Just a single copy of People magazine shows it all.  But these are the people our media pushes on us as role models.    The problem with this is that our youth- your children and grandchildren, and mine by the way.  They are being inundated by worship of the Herods of today.  And they soak all of it up like a sponge. 


So, we have to find an effective counter to the garbage.   And the most effective counter that we have is our own example, the example of believing Christians who live the call- loving, patient, kind, giving, yet zealous Christians in our own families.  Because our children and Grandchildren are watching.  


And so I would like to pose this simple Question to you:   What kind of King or Queen of your household are you?  A Herod or a David?


Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Presentation of the Lord

Mal 3: 1-54; Heb 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40

Deacon Larry Brockman


Purification!  That’s what the Presentation of the Lord is all about.  For 40 days after birth, a Jewish woman was considered unclean.  And so, the mother and baby visited the temple for a purification rite at the end of those 40 days, and the mother offered a ritual sacrifice to the Lord.  That is what Mary did in this morning’s Gospel.  So, the Presentation of the Lord is all about Purification.


Now in the first reading, we hear of the promise of a messenger.  Sometimes this passage points to the promise of the messenger John the Baptist.  But today, the meaning is quite different.  Because our first reading also says something about purification.  In fact, the rhetorical question is asked- who can stand such purification?  Indeed, this purification is so extreme that Malachi’s promised messenger will engage in that it can’t refer to John the Baptist, but rather to Jesus himself; and in the role of Jesus second coming- as the Judge of all.   

Now in the letter to the Hebrews we hear about people being subject to slavery because of their fear of death; and that this plays into the devil’s hands.  Isn’t that the truth?  Just look around you for the truth of that statement.  People will do anything- literally anything, to preserve their human life, but even more to the point, to achieve a certain quality of life.  Sometimes, they do so in such a way that it is clear that they don’t believe there is anything except human life.  And that is the point.  Some people will seek extraordinary measures to achieve comfort; and some people submit to medical procedures that prolong life, even at the expense of the quality of their own life; and some people do whatever it takes to enhance the quality life, even if it means that it hurt others.  In doing so, they are demonstrating that they are slaves to the flesh and to death- the works of the devil. 


Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be concerned about our physical well-being.  But I am suggesting that there is more to our life than life in this world as we know it.  All of us need the proper perspective on what the meaning of this life is all about.  If our life is oriented to self- that is, self-preservation and self-satisfaction, then we are slaves to the flesh.  Jesus came into the world just like all of us- born in flesh and blood.  But he suffered- suffered the consequences of human life.  Jesus lived the balance between living life in this world as a human and pleasing God.  We have got to learn to die unto ourselves in order to be purified in the sight of God.


The choice is ours- just like it was Jesus’ choice.  If we learn to live life with that balance now then we need not fear judgment when we die.  Otherwise- “Who will endure the day of his coming?   And who can stand when he appears?”