Archive for August, 2013

Speaking Up in Truth

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Things just haven’t changed in 2000 years have they!  Because if you speak up boldly in the name of truth, then you can expect to suffer the consequences even today.

John the Baptist is a perfect example.  It wasn’t his message that the Messiah was coming; it wasn’t his message of repentance; it wasn’t his message that we need to be Baptized; it wasn’t any of these messages that did him in.  Rather, it was a simple truth- that it is unlawful to marry your brother’s wife.  That’s what did John the Baptist in.  Marrying your brother’s wife was wrong according to Jewish Law.  John the Baptist was bold enough to tell that directly to Herod’s face.  Now Herod was like the President in our country today- the king.  Imagine how Herod and his wife would react to such a direct public denunciation of them.  Indeed Herodias, the lady Herod married, was so enraged at this simple truth; that she connived with her daughter to have John the Baptist beheaded.  It was human nature, albeit human nature at its worst.  Because evil people react with evil when they are caught in their evil.

Let’s fast forward to today.  The same thing is happening in this country, isn’t it?  Our bishops through the NCCB, are speaking out boldly about a whole host of issues.  They are speaking the truth:  Abortion is murder, so a woman really doesn’t have the right to choose that; Marriage is between a man and a woman; so unions between two same sex people may be something else, but they are not marriage; and contraception is against the natural Law of God.  And what has the Government done in reaction?  They are forcing the Catholic Church, Catholic institutions, and Catholic owned businesses to accept and pay for these evils, or else.  “Wait a minute”, you say, “this hasn’t happened yet.”  Well, the waiting time for the HHS mandate is over in just a short month.  But the offending provisions of the mandate are still there and the Supreme Court has already set the stage for legalizing gay marriage.  It’s like our Bishops have had their heads cut off.

Did you know that before the first draft of the HHS mandate came out the leading Bishops were called to Washington, and they were told to get the radicals in the Church under control?  Yes, the Government tried to intimidate our Bishops.  But they stood strong, and so the Government reacted with impunity.  They opted to just go ahead and force our compliance.  The Government is determined to cripple the Church by figuratively cutting off the head; because their mandate could close our institutions and wreak financial havoc in our Churches.

We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by it.  We have to speak up, just like John the Baptist did and just like our Bishops have.  We have to confront evil with the truth.  And it is especially important that we do it now when we are under attack.  We need to do it in any way we can- letters to our Congress; letters to HHS, letters to the President; in the next election; and with our pocketbooks; however.  It is time for us to stand up for truth now.

And there is hope.  Because truth is on our side, and God with it.  For as Jeremiah says in today’s reading:  “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you says the Lord”.

On Knowing God

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 66: 18-21; Heb 12: 5-7, 11-13; Luke 13: 22-30

Dc. Larry Brockman


Picture that scene in the Gospel again.  Someone has passed on to the next world, and they are knocking at the doors of heaven.  “Let me in”, they say.  And what does Jesus say happens in the parable?  The Lord says “Go away, I don’t know you”!    That’s a very disturbing story, isn’t it?  Because we get the impression that the person knocking on the door is a believer and they really want in.

Now, we are all here, gathered in this celebration, because we believe Jesus Christ is Lord, that he is God’s Son, that he came down from heaven, became one of us; suffered death, rose from the dead, and brought us salvation.  We believe in all of that.  So, why didn’t the Lord let this person in?  And what does it mean that the Lord didn’t know him?

And then there is the Isaiah reading, where the Lord says.  “I know their works and their thoughts”.  So, how can He know about our thoughts and all of our works and at the same time tell us He doesn’t know us?

Well, God is all knowing, isn’t He?  So no matter who we are, God knows about us.  He knows about what we think and what we do.  He knows about the deepest secrets of our hearts.  But knowing about us is not the same thing as knowing us.  Knowing us is a two way knowing.  Think about it this way.  We might say, “I know you; and you know me”; but what we really mean is that we know about each other.  We really don’t know each other very well, do we?  If we really knew each other, we would be very close friends.  We would not only know about each other, but we would have a certain knowing of each other at a deeper level.  We would be able to see and feel things like each other.  So, I think Jesus is saying that God lets us into the Kingdom when we both believe in him and we know him as a friend.

In our second reading, Paul talks about how we are sons of God.  He tells us that it is those God loves that He disciplines.  And he tells us that God’s discipline isn’t a source of joy; but rather, it can even be painful.  Then, he goes on to say that discipline “Brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”  The peaceful fruit of righteousness!  And how are we trained by discipline?  Two things:  First, we need to accept our discipline and to learn from it.  That means whatever our trials; we have got to be willing to face them, not try to run away from them.  And second, we need something to help us through the process.  Specifically, we need someone there to lead us through the pain to the righteousness- someone like a trainer.  And it is God that wants to be right there with us,   Helping us as a trainer every bit of the way.

You see, God is not asking us to do anything that He didn’t ask His son to do.  Jesus suffered greatly and was put to death.  And yet, he bore that suffering and the trials that were his Father’s will for him.  Elsewhere Jesus says that his burden is light, and his yoke easy.  That may sound like a contradiction, but we need to understand the context.  Whatever our burdens in this world, they are easy and light compared to the burden of sin in everlasting life- that is hell.

Jesus makes a great companion in our suffering, because he can empathize with us, he knows what it is like and so, whatever your trials, invite Jesus to be there with you.  Invite him through prayer; invite him to walk with you as you experience your difficulties in life.

I heard an interesting story recently.  It seems a pastor began noticing a man in his Church each day.  The man was not well dressed, and appeared frazzled.  He would walk up to the altar, kneel, pray for a minute, and then leave.  This happened for weeks, and so one day the pastor asked him what he was doing.  The man said he worked in a factory, but took each lunch hour to walk 25 minutes to the Church and then 25 minutes back, giving him just a moment to pray.  This was his prayer:

“I just came by to tell you, Lord, how happy I have been,

Since we found each other’s friendship and you took away my sin.

Don’t know much of how to pray, but I think about you every day.

So, Jesus, this is Ben,  Just checking in today.”

Then, all of a sudden, Ben came no more to the Church.  The Pastor found out at the Factory that Ben was in the hospital.  The nurses at the hospital told him that Ben was all alone and had no visitors.  The Pastor visited Ben, and asked him about what the nurse said.  Ben told the Pastor the nurse was all wrong.  Because each day Jesus visited him and said:

“I just came by to tell you, Ben, how happy I have been,

Since we found this friendship, and I took away your sin.

I think about you always and I love to hear you pray,

And so Ben, this is Jesus,  Just checking in today”.

Don’t Bargain Foolishly With God

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time

Judges 11: 29-39a; Mt 22: 1-14

Dc. Larry Brockman

Harsh!  That’s what the first reading sounds like to me- very harsh.  I just couldn’t get by the literal meaning of sacrificing a daughter, no matter how I looked at it.  And so, I decided a little study was in order.

Scholars tell us that Jephthah got somewhat bold in his zeal.  So much so that he tries to bargain with the Lord; and rather than offer a sacrifice to the Lord; he tries to bargain with God by going to an extreme- human sacrifice.  But he bargains by offering to perform the sacrifice only if he gets what he wants first.  Not only that, his bargaining was tainted.   He was being shrewd by not making a commitment ahead of time on the sacrificial victim.  Only all of that backfired on him because God saw through him and made him face the worst of all possibilities, the sacrifice of his only daughter.

As I read through the commentaries, it was clear that there was much controversy about this incident.  Some of the Church fathers believe that his daughter was sacrificed only to perpetual virginity, and not death.  Others believe the daughter was ransomed, a common practice.  Some say he actually performed the sacrifice because God wanted his obedience.  And the more modern scholars say it is all symbolic.  One thing is really clear no matter which of the meanings you accept.  It was a foolish thing for Jephthah to do, to make such a foolish vow.  But you know what, many people try to bargain with God this way.

How many times do we hear about such bargaining with God?  Sometimes we hear things like this:  “I promised God that if He just gives me this one favor, I will come to Mass on Sunday”.  But God wants a full commitment; he does not bargain with us.

In the Gospel parable, people are making foolish decisions as well.  Jesus is using the King to represent God.  Those who are invited, in this case Jesus is referring to the Jews and the Pharisees, reject the invitation for no good reason.  How foolish, and they suffer the consequences for it.  And lastly, the street person who didn’t prepare properly for the wedding suffers a similar fate.  He represents the Gentiles who are now invited to the Kingdom, but don’t respond.

I suspect that many of us are guilty of such foolishness.  We are invited to God’s Kingdom now; when we die, it may be too late.  Are we postponing our invitation till it is convenient for us by always having something more important to do?  Are we here at the Church, but not really participating in spirit?  Because these are foolish responses to the invitations by the Lord.

All of us would be well advised to learn a lesson about God from these stories.  We should not try to make foolish pledges or bargains with God and we should not treat our invitation to the Kingdom of God lightly.  God always deserves our utmost respect and our full attention.

The Two Rocks

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Thursday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time

Num 20: 1-13; Mt 16: 13-23

Dc. Larry Brockman

Two Rocks- that’s what today’s scriptures are about.

Now I am certain that most of you have heard the first reading many times and wondered at its meaning.  Just how did the Moses and the Israelis test the Lord and His sanctity?  Well, first notice that the Isaraelis grumbled to themselves over lack of water, not trusting in the Lord.  So they went to Moses and Aaron to complain.  Moses and Aaron, feeling faint of heart themselves, appeal to the Lord for help.  All of that demonstrates lack of faith and trust.  But the Lord tells Moses to take his famous staff out of the Ark where it was kept.  He was then to assemble the people and in their presence, order water to flow out of the rock.  Now the staff symbolized the power and sanctity of the Lord.  When Moses just held the staff, great things happened- like the parting of the Red Sea and victory in battle.  So, Moses was supposed to just hold it, not strike the rock.  That should have brought it all back to the Israelis- that this staff symbolized the power of an invincible God; it should have renewed their faith.  But as you can see, Moses spoke tentatively and impatiently in the presence of the people at the rock- not with faith, and so not with authority he was given.  And yet, despite their lack of faith and mistrust, God in his goodness caused water to gush from the rock.  Because Moses did not handle the situation properly, he and Aaron were punished.

In the Gospel, Jesus is asking a central question of faith.  Have his disciples, by this time in his ministry to them, been moved in their hearts to know who he really is?   Do they believe, do they have faith in him?  Some dance around the issue, saying he is a prophet.  But Simon Peter comes up with the answer Jesus is looking for- that Jesus is the Messiah.  And so Jesus renames Simon to Peter, which means Rock and says that on that Rock he will build his Church.  Indeed, Peter went out and Baptized and spread the Gospel.  Peter had faith and acted on it despite many trials and tribulations and that’s how the Church was built.

Every day of our lives, we are confronted with challenges that test our faith.  Sometimes we feel like we are in the desert, and don’t know where to turn.  So we cry out to God like the Israelis did.  And in the midst of that challenge, it is like God is asking us first if we know who He is.  Do we act tentatively and without trust as Moses and some of the Apostles did, or do we speak out with confidence as Peter did?

Real Faith is a strong conviction that we know that Jesus is real; He did save us; He is in that Eucharist.  There is no doubt in real faith.  We need only hold the staff- we don’t have to strike the rock with it, let alone strike the rock twice.  Rather if we really believe in our hearts, we know that our prayer will be answered.  It may be that it is like water gushing from a rock, rather than a green fertile valley along a wide stream.  In other words, our answer may not be the vision we had in mind, but one way or another, our prayer will be answered.

It’s time we tried it, don’t you think?  So, if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Vanity and Joy

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Eccl 1: 2; 2: 21-23; Col 3: 1-5, 9-11; Lk 12: 13-21

Dc. Larry Brockman

“Vanity of Vanities; all things are Vanity!”  It’s a hard lesson to learn, but at some point in our lives, we will all learn it, whether we like it or not.

Life in this world can be so precious and good, can’t it: a newborn baby; the joy that children and grandchildren bring; experiencing the beauty and diversity of God’s creation; discovering and using our talents; our first love; friendships and marriage; great food and music and the arts.  All the things the world has to offer are so good and attractive, especially when we are young and vigorous.  In fact, when we are young and vigorous, anything beyond our goals and joys and activities in this world seems remote and unimportant to us.

And so, all this talk about vanity sounds so depressing doesn’t it.  But if we are honest about it, the reality of worldly life comes into focus in our first reading, because all things that we experience in this world are vanity- all of them can be taken away from us; or all of them can pass away as we know them.  Some of us suddenly and for no apparent reason lose a child; a spouse, or a parent.  Others lose their talents and agility through illness- a heart attack, a stroke, dementia, arthritis and many others.  Still others suffer greatly from poverty, lack of work, prejudice, or failed or wounded relationships.  If none of this has happened to you yet; just wait- chances are something will.  And when these things happen, either we grieve the losses; or we endure the suffering, or we suffer our own limitations or all of these things combined.  Sometimes we ask the question- Why me?  And yet something traumatic happens to all of us in life.  Even the person in perfect health who seems to have it all dies some day; and they can’t take it all with them.  Jesus’ story in the Gospel makes that very clear.  Yes, all of us experience a wake-up call that shouts loudly to us “All things are Vanity”.

That brings up a very interesting question.  How do we reconcile this seemingly depressing message with the joy that we are supposed to feel as Christians?  Well, Paul and Jesus both give us some great insights.  First, Paul says to focus on things that are above, things that last.  He is referring to the Kingdom of God.  For weeks now we have been hearing about the Kingdom of God.  But the message of these several weeks may have eluded us.

So, a reminder is in order.  The Kingdom of God is already among us; the joy of the Kingdom of God can be experienced now and will remain with us; it will not pass away; and following God’s will is what brings us that joy both now and in the next life in Heaven.

In the gospel, Jesus says something very pointed:  He says: “One’s life does not consist of possessions”.  Then he tells the parable about the rich man storing up earthly treasures, but whose life will be lost that very night.  He goes on to say:  “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God”.

The joys that come to us in our lives, like the joy of having a new baby, our marriages, our relationships and using our talents, these things do remain with us when they are all part of God’s plan for us, because no matter what happens to us in this world we bring them with us into the next.  We are storing up treasures in areas that matter to God when we are loving, sharing, and responsive to the urges that God gives us to follow after Jesus.

But when we focus only on our own pleasure and comfort here; when we become absorbed and consumed with that, then the reality of the world will eventually catch up to us like it did for the rich man in the parable.  Storing up treasures of this world only leads us to disaster.

God loves us and has given us this world with all the great things it has to offer.  And yet, all things of the world, even our gifts, are loaned to us- they don’t really belong to us because when we die, we can’t take them with us, and all such things are perishable anyway.  Hence, all things are truly vanity.  We need to put that into perspective.

And pain and suffering are part of life- they are part of life for all of us.  They were certainly part of life for Jesus and his disciples.  Some things that happen to us, the loss of a child for example, will just never seem right to us- they are a mystery.  Their meaning will be revealed to us some day, but not necessarily when we experience them.  But if we focus on living life to the fullest, always in tune with the Lord, trusting in His goodness, then the Kingdom of God will be there for us even in the midst of the suffering.

Think back on the moments of your life that brought you the most joy.  I’m not talking about pleasure, but joy.  Chances are they are moments when you listened to God or when you saw God in others or His creation.  They are tender moments, memories, and legacies.  And they are times when you did something for someone else.  And some of these moments even come in the midst of tragedy.

It’s not that God is calling us to reject the world, but that God is calling us to be good stewards of His creation.  God is always calling us to something new; to follow him on the journey He has in mind for us.  He wants us to grow always- not to settle into a rut.  So, it is what is ahead of us that counts, not what is behind us.  And so, when God speaks to us, we are called to let go of both our riches and our sorrows and listen for what is ahead of us.

Our responsorial psalm points us in the right direction:  “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”.

Surviving the Dragnet

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Thursday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time

Ex 40: 16-21, 34-38; Mt 13: 47-53

Dc. Larry Brockman

Why are you all here this Morning?  I suppose if I told you that you were all here because you were all believers, you could all identify with that.  So, all of us here this morning have something in common.  We believe and are seeking the Kingdom of God.

Now, Jesus is talking about all of the fish caught in a dragnet.  Notice, He is not talking about all of the fish in the Lake- but only the fish gathered in the dragnet- which he likens to the Kingdom of God.  So, all of the fish in the dragnet are those who claim to believe and are seeking the Kingdom of God.  There are a whole lot more fish in the lake than that!  But guess what- not even all of the fish in the dragnet are going to be saved, are they?  The fisherman, who are acting in the role of angels, are tasked with separating the bad from the good.  And that’s a very sobering thought.  Because, you see, it takes more than believing and wanting the Kingdom of God to actually get there.

Then Jesus addresses his disciples, the fisherman, with the story about the head of household with the old and new treasures in his storeroom.  I don’t know about you, but that hit me cold.  Just what does that have to do with the parable of the net?

Well, you see, the disciples are being admonished in terminology they could understand that they are the intended scribes of the new way.  Jesus wants them to draw from all of the good teachings of Moses and the Prophets as well as the good news of the Gospel that he is teaching them as they go out into the world and preach the Kingdom of God.  And our first reading is a perfect example of some of the good things in the Old Testament.

The upshot of the first reading is this:  Moses is above all obedient to the Lord.  He builds the Lord’s dwelling place exactly as he has been told; he moves the ark with the commandments into that dwelling; and the Israeli nation proceeds on faith exactly the way the Lord told them to proceed- only when the cloud lifts from the tent during the day.

Can it be that simple for us?  The commandments of the Lord are inscribed for us in the Catechism- the accumulated learning by the Church of all that the God of Moses, Jesus, and the experiences of the Church over the last 2000 years have taught us.  We have only to be obedient to what the Catechism teaches before we move out on the pathway of life.

You know, for the last two years, I have participated with a number of men from the Parish in some Catholic Scripture Study International Bible Studies on Wednesday nights.  These studies involve Scripture, yes.  But there is also a module on the Catechism each week.  That module shows which paragraphs in the Catechism draw from the Scriptures we are studying; and defines various concepts that the Scripture is unfolding by referring to what Popes and Doctors of the Church have taught about them over centuries.  It is has been both fascinating and awe inspiring to see how the Church’s teaching evolved.  And so, I am convinced that it can be that simple- to be obedient to what the Church teaches.

Notice I said simple- not easy.  Indeed, obedience can be hard; and one of the hardest parts is having sufficient knowledge to put the teachings in context.

All of us are here today because we are believers and seek the kingdom of God.  But to make the cut, we also need to be obedient to God.  It’s simple, but not easy.  Yet, as our Responsorial Psalm says:  “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty”.