Archive for February, 2013

Learning to Step Out of Our Comfort Zones

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Thursday of the Second Week in Lent

Jer 17: 5-10; Lk 16: 19-31

Dc. Larry Brockman


How ironic!  First, Jesus tells the parable about the rich man and Lazarus.  And in that parable, the rich man wants Abraham to have Lazarus rise from the dead to warn his 5 brothers that they need to mend their selfish lives.  But Abraham says that if people will not listen to Moses and the prophets, then neither will they listen to someone raised from the dead!  And then, irony of ironies, Jesus actually went on to raise a person name Lazarus from the grave you know, Martha and Mary’s brother Lazaru!.  And it was in front of the Pharisees and Scribes, too.

And do you know what the Pharisees and Scribes did after that?  They actually plotted to kill Lazarus because of his testimony.  Indeed, the raising of Lazarus was one of the things that pushed the Pharisees over the edge.  After that they wanted to have Jesus arrested and put on trial.  How ironic; and how prophetic Abraham’s words were.

What the parable today demonstrates is just how difficult it is to shake us out of our comfort zone, especially when things are going well for us.  And as a matter of fact, when things are going well people get angry when someone tries to shake them from their apathy about them, especially things that are wrong in this world that people are not facing.  Why?  Because they just don’t want to hear it.

This was the case for the rich man; and the Pharisees were not far behind him.  People can either be too comfortable to care- like the rich man; or they have a vested interest in the status quo and don’t want to hear there is something wrong with it- like the Pharisees.

Boy, do we have that problem today!  Our society has lost sight of evil.  Religious persecution of Catholics, Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Gay Marriage, untreated Mental Illness, Third World Hunger, and a whole host of other evils plague us.  But most of us are too busy and passive about it in our relative affluence.

One of the things we do is to trust the Government to solve these social problems.  But isn’t that what Jeremiah was preaching against in the first reading?  Isn’t that trusting in man; trusting in secular society?  We have a responsibility to help folks who are in need and to help people see the error of their ways.  But we cannot delegate it away through the Government.  Especially now when the secular Government is actually acting to bolster some of these evils; and when the Government has no way to pay for it.

There is one thing all of us can do, and that is to pray.  That’s what the Blessed Mother continually asked us to do when she appeared to visionaries at Medugorje and other places; and it’s what the Church is asking us to do during Lent.  Remember, we are being asked to engage in Prayer, Fasting, and Alsmgiving during Lent.

And what is it that we should pray for.  Lots of things:  our enemies conversion; inspiration on how we can deal with and solve the problems, that God will somehow intercede, perhaps send us a leader; but most of all, to trust that when we pray, our prayers will be answered.

Sometimes todays problems seem overwhelming.  But it is then that we should remember Jeremiah’s words:  “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord; whose hope is in the Lord”.  So, pray, pray, and pray some more.

Our Citizenship is in Heaven!

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent

Gen 15: 5-12, 17-18;Phil 3: 17 – 4: 1; Lk 9: 28b-36

Dc. Larry Brockman


Guess what?  Our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth!  That’s what St. Paul is telling us this morning.

Does it feel like that to you?  Or are you one of those people that Paul is talking about whose minds are occupied with the things of this world?  Now I’m not talking about right now this morning.  All of you are here this morning to worship the Lord.  But what about when you leave here in 45 minutes or so and for all of next week?  It’s hard to focus on the Lord then, isn’t it?  There’s the kids and the job and the yard and the house payment and the shopping and the laundry and soccer practice and heaven knows what all else.  These are all things of this world; they are not about our heavenly citizenship.  So, how can we focus on citizenship in heaven in the midst of all that?

Well, let’s take Abram as an example.  He was prosperous in the Land of Ur- a great property owner.  He was involved in running a large household and many things of this world.  Yet Abram took the time to reflect on his life, and listen to the urgings of the Lord.  And the Lord told him to pull up stakes and go to a land he would show him.  He didn’t even tell him where that was till he got there.  And then, the passage this morning describes what happened after Abram arrived there.

Indeed, Abram went through a process of centering his life on the Lord in parallel with living in this world.  The fact is that Abram believed there was a Lord, listened to the voice of the Lord in his life; and was open to what the Lord said.  In other words he trusted the Lord, even when it was difficult.  Abram left a life of comfort and control to embrace the perceived will of the Lord.  And he was obedient even in the face of uncertainty.  In a word, Abram had faith and lived in faith, but that was not without its consequences.  Indeed, the move from the land of Ur was painful and involved a lot of self-sacrifices.  Because of his faith and obedience, though, God made a covenant with Abram down to the thousandth generation, one in which he promised his faithful descendants the promised land.  And that promised land symbolizes life in the heavenly kingdom.  In other words, Abram was focused on being a citizen of heaven.

This morning’s Gospel is all about the transfiguration.  And the transfiguration is filled with symbology.  Jesus takes on the appearance of his glorified body- symbolic of what citizenship in heaven will be like.  He is seen with Moses and Elijah, also in their glorified bodies.  Jesus spoke to them about his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem- his exodus- in other words, the voluntary uprooting he would experience from the relatively comfortable life he had been living, nd acceptance of the cross, suffering and death.  So that’s what he was talking to Moses and Elijah about.

Now the Apostles were just spellbound by all that.  They wanted to stay there and experience more of the glorified Christ.  But what happens?  The Father envelops them with the shadow of a cloud and speaks to them plainly: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.”  Listen to him.  We know that the Gospel goes on to tell how Jesus told the disciples that he would be handed over to the authorities, suffer greatly, die, and then, and only then, be raised from the dead.  It was as if the Father was saying to the Apostles: “Listen guys, if you want the glorified state you just saw, listen to my son.  He will tell you what you need to do.”  The trouble was, it wasn’t what they wanted to hear because just after the Father spoke from the cloud, Jesus told them the truth of his suffering and death.  They were incredulous and confused.

It’s not what we want to hear either.  We don’t want to listen to God tell us we need to move out of our comfort zone.  We don’t want to hear that life is anything other than the plate we currently have, and we certainly don’t want to hear about the suffering greatly and take up our cross part.  But we have got to face the reality that life is a continual conversion process, and that conversion process is the one that Abram experienced.  Lent is the ideal time to pull back and follow Abram’s example.  We have to believe that God is calling us; we have to step back and listen to God; we have to follow his voice even in uncertainty and trust that he will lead us to the promised land; and we have to do all of that while living in this world.

Fortunately, few of us are called to give everything up and move away, like Abram.  Rather, we are called to other kinds of conversion.  These calls are the nagging feelings we have when we take the time to pray and reflect that something is wrong in our lives- something with our spouse; some evil influence from our neighbors or friends; some constant temptation we yield to like food, sex, laziness, whatever.

Lent is the time to get in tune with the voice of the Lord.  Now is the time to listen to the Lord tell us “No, follow me instead” whenever we have those nagging feelings that something is wrong.  Because, all of us really do want to be citizens of heaven.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

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

Dc. Larry Brockman


So, all we have to do is ask and it will be given to us!  Now I know there are some of you out there who are chuckling over that one.  A kind of a cynical chuckle, too.  Because there are lots of times we ask for things from the Lord and it seems like we don’t get them.  So, how can it be that our prayers are always answered?

Well, first notice that our Gospel ends with what seems like a disconnect, something that does not appear to be all that relevant to Jesus claim that God will always answer our prayers.  Jesus says: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you”.  But I think these words from Jesus do help explain the paradox of God answering our prayers when we don’t feel that He has.  Because God is doing to us what we would do ourselves if we had the knowledge, wisdom, and ability that God has.

Think of it this way, and this is a pretty accurate analogy when you really think it through.  When a very young child asks you for something, do you always give them what they want, or do you sometimes, even most of the time, give them something else altogether, and even in some cases, don’t give them anything at all?  You better believe it.  And the reason is that you have their best interests at stake.  You know better than they do what is good and what is bad for them in a given situation, and in fact, you are only doing for them what you would wish they would do for you if the situation were reversed.  That’s why I wouldn’t give my granddaughter the poker for the fire last weekend or give my grandson a third piece of candy when he wanted it, and why I wouldn’t let either of them play near my neighbor’s electric fence.  And clearly, there are times these young children don’t understand.  They can even feel upset and hurt by our lack of responsiveness,

Well, it is the same way between God and us.  God sees what is really best for us.  Sometimes that promotion, that job, that position on the team, that car, and lots of other things that we want are not what is best for us at all.  Occasionally we are lucky enough to recognize the wisdom of God’s actions or lack of action after the fact.  Like when something better came along and we see that we really didn’t want what we originally wanted anyway.

Now a lot of it has to do with what we pray for and how we pray for it.  A mature attitude in prayer really helps- by asking for what we really do need in a really effective way.  The story from Esther is a great example of how we should pray, particularly when we are faced with really difficult situations.  Esther’s was a really dire situation.  Although she was married to the King, the King had been tricked by an unscrupulous person into ordering all of Esther’s people killed.  Notice that Esther does several things in her prayer.  First, she gives praise and acknowledges God.  Then, she is extremely humble and sincere in her request.  Next, she is more concerned for others than her own self.  And, she turns control over to the Lord.  Lastly and most importantly, she is willing to do her part.  Esther is not asking for some miracle, but rather, she is asking for inspiration.  She says “Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion and turn his heart to hatred for the enemy”!  Esther’s prayer was answered, too.

God always answers our prayers.  But we must ask in the right way, and ask for what is really best for us.  Otherwise, God will give us what is ultimately the best for us.  And like a small child, we may be too into ourselves and not into God’s plan to recognize what is best for us.

A Blueprint for Conversion

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

Dt 26: 4-10; Rom 10: 8-13; Luke 4: 1-13

Dc. Larry Brockman


Lent is all about conversion, and conversion is a continual process.  It never ends, because God is always calling us to a more intimate relationship with Him.  And that means we have got to change.  As I listen to these scriptures,  I see a blueprint in them for the process of conversion.

The first step in our conversion is a change in our attitude- a conversion of the heart.  In the prime of our lives, we are focused on the things of this world- our careers, our spouses and families, our talents and our pleasures.  These things take up most of our time.  And when problems occur, whether they be financial, medical, relationships, or whatever, they really fill up our time and attention, don’t they?  During Lent, we are called upon to try to put all that aside, and reflect on the real meaning of Life and what God’s path through all the difficulties is.

In Paul’s reading, the emphasis is on professing faith on our lips, and then really believing in our hearts- faith first of all, that there is a God, that He sent Jesus to redeem us, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus are our means to salvation and everlasting life.  And this faith leads to knowledge that there is a higher purpose in life than life in this world.  That purpose is union with God and everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.  The path to that salvation involves a more intimate relationship with God- one in which he leads us, we don’t lead ourselves.  That is something that we need to be so convinced of that we believe it deep down in our hearts.  Paul is reminding us that Jesus has promised everlasting life for those who do have faith and do believe in their hearts.

Then, there is the reminder in the Old Testament about how God saved his chosen people and how these people felt an abiding sense of thanksgiving for that.  And in thanksgiving, they offered their best to the Lord- the first fruits of their labor.  So, we need to do the same-  We need to be so thankful that God saved us through Jesus His son that we will offer the first fruits of our labor as well.

What would that be?  Certainly not our animals or our harvest, because those are not the first fruits of our labor.  Rather, the first fruits of our labor are our talents and our time and our treasure.  In other words, our lives cannot be totally focused on ourselves.

Notice that the Gospel starts off with the phrase that Jesus was:  “Filled with the Holy Spirit”.  The good news is that each of us was instilled with the Holy Spirit by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation.  And so, we just need to awaken that Spirit within us.  Lent is a way we do that- by reflecting on what it is that the Spirit of God is prompting us to do.  And it doesn’t have to be a sweeping change in our lives either.  It is just a matter of letting the Spirit take over so that God can carry our burdens, whatever they are, by having the spirit move us in God’s direction, not our own.  So, if your burden is a loved one who is ill; or an older relative; or children or a career- whatever, now is a good time to reflect on what God has in mind for you.  That’s what Jesus did when he went into the desert- he went there to reflect on how the Father wanted him to proceed with his life.  Filled with the Spirit, he was ready to reflect on how to do that.

But what happened to him is precisely what will happen to you and me when we try to reflect on our lives.  Jesus was accosted by the temptations of the devil.  We hear about three of them.  First, there is the temptation to turn the stone into bread.  Ah, yes.  We would like God to give us exactly what we want when we want it.  We are constantly looking for the “bread” to fill our hunger, whatever it is.  But we don’t live by bread alone, and so whatever it is that we want explicitly may not be the answer to our prayer.  And perhaps, the solution you are hoping for is not the real solution to your problem.  So, we need first of all to trust that God will give us what we really need when we want it.

The second temptation is power and fame.  One thing that we constantly seek in our prayers, if you really think about it, is power; only the power we seek is control.  We want to be in control.  And the reality of life is that we are never really in control.  God is in control, and this is the message that Jesus sends back to the devil when he says:  “Worship the Lord your God alone”.

Lastly, we can sometimes just give up on a situation.  Like when we stuff a problem into the back of our consciousness, and don’t try to deal with it at all.  And yet life goes on; the problem doesn’t go away.  That’s like throwing ourselves down off a mountain top, just hoping that we will be somehow saved.  You see, no matter how much we “trust” in the Lord, we still have an obligation to be involved.  Otherwise, we are putting the Lord to a test.

Each year when Lent arrives, we usually give something up.  Rather than giving up ice cream or beer or candy or even TV this year, try giving up a little of your time.  Go into a desert- a quiet secluded place- and take the time, the time to embrace the Lenten Call to prayer and Conversion.

Carrying Our Cross to Paradise

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

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

Dc. Larry Brockman


It doesn’t get any clearer than today’s Gospel.  First, Jesus tells of his own fate.  He must suffer greatly, be rejected by the supposedly good men of his society, and then be killed.  Then he tells everyone that they must also take up their own cross daily, and die to themselves in order to save their own lives.

You see, a certain kind of suffering is absolutely necessary to salvation.  That’s what both Moses and Jesus are talking about this morning.

Basically, Moses told the people that they had to obey the Lord and His Law at all costs.  Yet, the Israelis disobeyed the law and the Lord over and over again by not having faith that the Lord was with them; by moving off in their own direction; and by testing HimThey did that to relieve their suffering and fear in the short term.  But in the long term, they ended up wandering aimlessly for 40 years.  So, they suffered greatly despite their own best efforts, and really, as Moses points out, because of their own best efforts.

What about you and I?  Are we strong in our faith, or do we test the Lord and His patience, doing things our way to avoid the suffering God has given us as part of our lives?  We have 40 days to think about it- Lent is just starting.  And that’s what we are asked to do during Lent- to pull back some from the daily grind; cut back on our self-indulgence- that’s the fasting part; recognize that everything is a gift from God and that life is not just about us, so that we should share our gifts with others- that’s the almsgiving; and reflect on what God really is directing us to do with our lives- that’s the prayer part.

The challenge is to sort out God’s plan for us, and not our own plan.  God loves all of us; and He wants only the best for us.  He gives us talents and interests, and relishes in our successes.  And most of us go off and shape our lives around the talents and interests we have.  But there are consequences that follow the free exercise of our talents and interests.  These include how we allocate our time, and how we accept the responsibility that comes with our chosen path in life.  The devil tries constantly to derail us from God’s path, mostly by appealing to our self-interests and by making the desires we have to satisfy ourselves dominant.  We become addicted to video games, watching TV, football, fashion trends, and following celebrities for example.  This takes away from time adults spend with their families and the duties they have as parents.  And it takes away from time children should use for homework and doing their chores.

We neglect the need to take care of ourselves physically- not getting enough exercise, not eating the right kinds of foods.  We avoid taking care of our neighbors when they are in need because we are too busy or we have something else we want to do.  We don’t get involved in finding out more about our faith because our self-interests conflict and always dominate.

Well, this Lent, let’s make an attempt to really pull back and look at our lives.  How am I being pulled by my own self- centeredness so that I am not following God’s plan for me; and how can I change that so that I accept more of the pain associated with not being so self-absorbed?

Try to identify one such thing that is holding you back from God’s plan for you and make a change as part of Lent.  It may be a diet; a may be a little exercise; it may be some time with the family; it may be an effort to get involved in something to help others, or to improve your own spirituality.  And even though it may seem painful at first.  You will be surprised later at how it saves your life.