Archive for June, 2015

“Let Us Cross to the Other Side”

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 38: 1, 8-11; 2 Cor 5: 14-17;  Mark 4: 35-41

Deacon Larry Brockman


“Let Us Cross to the other side”.  That really struck me when I first read the Gospel this week, especially since I had just attended two funerals for friends.  It struck me because that’s what happens to us when we die, isn’t it.  We cross over to the other side.  We pass from this life to another, unknown life; and there is no return.

And the emotions we hold about such a crossing are exactly those that were expressed by the Apostles. The Apostles felt they were losing all control; they felt alone and abandoned; and they thought that they would perish.  And so, they were afraid, I mean really afraid.

In his book on Jesus, Jesuit James Martin visits this scene in the Gospel.  He describes the actual location and the culture of the time as well.  Then he relives the scene in much vivid detail.  And after reading that, l can tell you, you feel the fear.

Yet Jesus was asleep and unafraid through it all.  So the Apostles woke him, and after calming the wind, Jesus says:  “Why are you afraid; do you not yet have faith?”  And this seems to me to be the perfect question for all of us when we are facing death.  Why are we afraid, don’t we have faith?

But the facts are, that all of us are afraid.  We are afraid of losing control; we sense that we are being abandoned; and that we are about to perish, separated from all that we know.  We say that we have faith, but if you are realistic; almost all of us really do have some sense of fear, despite our Faith.  How can we have the kind of Faith Jesus is talking about?

Well, you know what?  God has is preparing us for such a transition our entire life, it’s just that we may not realize it.  You see, death is not the only irreversible transition we experience in life.  Birth, childhood, adulthood, marriage, and parenthood are also transitions that most of us experience in the course of our lifetimes before we reach the transition to the Kingdom of God.

And at each one of these transitions, we find ourselves deep down experiencing some of the same things- lack of control; a feeling of losing the comfort of our old life, and apprehension of the new life’s unknowns.

A newborn cries heartily as he experiences the shock of the light, the environment, and everything else at birth.  And there is no return to the warm, all-encompassing comfort of the womb.  A child goes off to school for the first time, separated from the wonderful fantasy and carefree experience of the life they led just for themselves, where Mom was there for them at their every whim.  And eventually they see there is no return!   A young adult leaves home for that first job, eager for new life, but still, with a sense of apprehension at being responsible for themselves in the wide, wide world.  And ultimately, there is no return.

And then there are of the most significant of all transitions for most of us: the transitions to marriage and parenthood.  When you get married, all of a sudden, it’s not about you anymore; it’s about us.  That certainly came to mind for me yesterday- my 45th Anniversary because I remembered fondly all the things that led to that transition- meeting and dating my wonderful wife; and the joy that filled me whenever I was with her.  I was in love.

But still, most men, and I was certainly no exception, don’t jump into marriage without some hesitation.  I was always taught that marriage was permanent.  If this was going to be it, just how would I know?  And what about the idea of sacrificing my own self for my wife, for us?  Was I ready for that?

When you come right down to it- you cannot know for sure.  After love, it’s a matter of faith and trust.  Now in our secular world of today, there is a common misunderstanding of the meaning of faith and trust as I have just used it.  You see, society would tell us it is faith in each other; and trust in each other that we need in order to commit to marriage.  But that isn’t what I mean.  That is certainly a requirement for a good marriage.  But it just won’t happen without faith in God and trust in God above all things first.

And in fact, the love part won’t be there either without love of God because without love of God first, our first love is love of self.  And if that is our primary love, eventually it will surface in a marriage.  Perhaps that’s why there are so many divorces-  divorces over affairs, alcoholism, money, you name it.  So, love of God and neighbor, and Faith and Trust in God-  these are needed to counter selfishness.  These are needed to make each transition in life.

Paul speaks of the Love of God impelling us.  That’s what I am trying to say.  We need to accept the love of God- it will impel us to do the rest.  And don’t you just love our first reading and what it tells us about faith and trust in God?  For God is ultimately in control.  He sets all the limits of nature; he made the earth and all in it; and it was designed for our well-being.  Scientists have yet to detect a single other place in the universe like it.  So, God is the person who we can ultimately believe in and trust.  He has given us life, the right environment, and He even sent his son to save all of us and show us the way.

And so, if we have faith in God, and trust Him, then he will be there for us when we choose our mate.  And we will be familiar with what it means to love another, the kind of love that is self-sacrificing.

And then there is the transition to parenthood; something for which we have a joyful expectation, and yet, there is the fear of the unknown going into it.  It is another situation in which there is no return.  Children and Grandchildren are the greatest gift of all.  But as we accept the responsibility of caring for children we are permanently transitioning to another new level.

Today is Father’s Day, and I know the Dad’s and Granddad’s out there can relate to what I am talking about.  It’s not about you anymore; and it’s not just about you and your wife either.  When you become a Dad, you learn to love all your children, equally; yet each like nobody else; and yet, still love your wife like no-one else.

And we want to relate and do what’s best for them-  that’s why we make funny sounds and faces with the babies; play on the floor despite our diminishing mobility with toddlers; read them night time stories; sign then up for T ball or Soccer or Indian Guides or Scouts- the list of activities is endless.  It’s why we turn the TV off and help them with homework; it’s why we labor over a barbeque for many family cookouts.  It’s why we take them on camping trips and fishing trips and take them on vacations with us.  It’s why we work long hours to be able to give them things in life we never had; it’s why we are there for them when they need help as they grow older, teaching them to drive; taking them away to school; and reassuring them when they come of age.  And when they establish families of their own, we are there with the wealth of our own experience; babysitting and filling in when needed. It is because we love them, and in some cases more than we love ourselves.

Yes, life is full of transitions.  We face each of them with an element of fear and uncertainty; and there is no return.  But if we have faith in God and Love and Trust him, He will give us the graces to make each transition successfully.  And when the final transition in this life comes, we will be unafraid and ready to cross to the other side.

On Preaching the Truth

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Thursday of the 11th Week of Ordinary Time

2 Cor 11: 1-11; Mt 6: 7-15

Deacon Larry Brockman


Listen again to these words Paul had for the Corinthians: “For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached…”.  Then these words are followed by an appeal to the Corinthians to test and validate the preaching they have received.  Paul goes on to make it clear that knowledge, real knowledge, and first-hand experience of God are the kinds of tests needed; not what the preacher charges for his services.

You see, Paul is clearly implying that the Corinthians somehow felt that these other preachers were more credible then Paul was because they charged for their services and Paul didn’t.  We can relate to that because we are used to hearing “You get what you pay for”.  But when it comes to knowing God; that just doesn’t apply.

I get the impression that the Corinthians had just been visited by some slick tongued, new wave preacher who preached a “New Jesus”, different from the one that Paul preached.  It must have sounded good; maybe even made them feel good about themselves; but the question was- was it the truth based on real knowledge of God and his message for mankind?  Paul claims knowledge and first-hand experience of Christ as his credentials; not a noble income for his eloquent words.  And in the case of the Corinthians, Paul was not even requesting that the Corinthians defray his room and board.  There was no question of an ulterior or self-serving motivation in Paul’s case.

We live in a pluralistic society, with the airwaves and the TV constantly bombarding us with messages.  Secular voices and religious voices abound competing for our time all promising to be able to make sense out of life, or to make life better.  For example, there are megachurches out there claiming to Minister to every aspect of life- children’s programs, programs for the elderly, and sponsorship of all kinds of social settings.

But I wonder if these organizations pass the tests that Paul just suggested to the Corinthians.  Or are their messages short on knowledge of God, and big on what is convenient and pleasing to hear; all for the value of the contributions that keep them afloat.

You see, God’s message is not about meeting our worldly needs and wants.  Rather, it is about meeting our spiritual needs.  It would be great if the brothers and sisters in our Churches would be generous so that everyone’s worldly needs were met as well.  But the main focus of our faith must always be on understanding God’s truth and then applying it.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus contrasts two styles of prayer.  The first method is long winded, with lots of words.  It apparently is pleasing to the ear as well.  The second is remarkably simple and characterized by humility, concern for others, and truth.  But it is the second style of prayer that we need to adopt as Christians, a humble and sincere desire for God and His truth.  Once we understand and know God, then we can properly deal with social justice and meeting the worldly needs of others.

Most governments, and ours is no exception, have clearly shown that efforts to meet the physical needs and wants of the people go astray unless they have got the underlying motivation correct.  That’s what Paul was trying to say.  Teach the Jesus of the Gospel; preach the values of Christianity according to the Gospel; and then practice the values we preach and teach.

Sometimes this is harder to do than it seems because the truth is not acceptable to some people.  But the truth has a nagging and stubborn quality about it.  It doesn’t go away no matter how much one tries to water it down, because God is there to remind us through our consciences.  Respect for God, respect for all life that he created; the sanctity of marriage;   honesty; forgiveness, forbearance, and respect for authority- these are the kinds of values that God has preached through His Son Jesus to us in the Gospel.

All of these are based on love of God, and that calls for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But it is not the other way around.  It is not all about making others feel comfortable or accepted first.  It’s about learning God’s truth first; and then loving our neighbors as God loves us by applying it.

Recently, we have been hearing echoes of the kind of preachers Paul warned the Corinthians about.  They have been preaching a different Christ.  They have suggested the Church needs to change its teachings to get with the modern world.  The Church must stand firm for the truth.  As Paul put it:  “By the truth of Christ in me, this boast of mine shall not be silenced…”

What Tobiah Had That Seven Others Didn’t

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Thursday of the 9th Week of Ordinary Time

Tob 6: 10-11, 7: 1bcde, 9-17, 8: 4-9a; Mk 12: 28-34

Deacon Larry Brockman


So “To love him… and to love your neighbor…is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”!  This is what Jesus found so worthy in this Scribe because it showed that the man understood that a commitment to God must be with the heart, not just with the head.  God is looking for something more than compliance, even lavish compliance.

Do we have burnt offerings and altar sacrifices today that turn God off?  Maybe not literally; but how about this:  Some attend Mass every Sunday, but they leave early and race out of the parking lot to get to the Sunday special before the crowd arrives.  Other folks can give their fair share in the collection by all reasonable standards of measure, but they ignore a grieving or disaster stricken co-worker or neighbor.  Still others can smile and compliment the priest on his great message every Sunday, but forget the message the moment they return to their regular weekly routine.  God is looking into our hearts continually, looking to find who we really are, not who we think we are.  And our actions speak louder than our words and our wallets.

It seems to me that the story in Tobit kind of reinforces what God is looking for.  First of all, the story in the Book of Tobit is one of the most engaging and fascinating tales in the Bible.  It grieves me that our selection has left out the part about the fish.  Yet I am confident that just telling you that much will get some of you interested in reading the whole story.

From the selection we do have this morning, something is really clear.  Sarah must have been an unusually attractive woman.  Seven other men tried to marry Sarah.  All met a disastrous end and died on their wedding night.  One would think that after the second husband’s demise, the third through 7th suitors would have learned something; but apparently not.

Now, all 7 were entitled to marry her legally.  This is clear from the description of how meticulous her father Raguel was in the rest of the book.  Raguel would have followed the customs of the Jewish culture to the letter.  Each one of the seven former husbands would have followed the required law as well.  But something was amiss in their motivation.  Whether it was lust over Sarah’s beauty or Raguel’s riches, we don’t know, but they were preoccupied with themselves and their own will.  Clearly, the Lord intended Sarah for someone else.

On the other hand, something really stood out about Tobiah.  Tobiah met all the legal requirements to the letter as well.  But Tobiah was, first and foremost, following the wishes of his father, and he trusted in the Angel, God’s messenger, for guidance.

Following the wishes of the Father; trusting in the subtle guidance of a guardian angel- does that sound familiar?

Not only that, Tobiah’s mental attitude was different.  His first priority after entering the bridal suite was to offer a prayer to God.  And what a beautiful prayer it was as well.  He blesses and praises God; and then asks for a blessing from God for a long and fruitful marriage according to God’s will.

Loving God and our neighbor is a matter of the heart.  When we come to Mass; we should come eager to participate.  When we give; we should give of our time, talent, and treasure in ways that help us in our continual conversion of the heart; and when we hear the word of God, we should do our best to make it live in us.

That’s a tall order for all of us, to love God and our neighbor that way.  In involves accepting God’s will and trusting in Him as we go along.  That’s what the Scribe understood.  It’s what Tobiah put into practice.  And it is our challenge this morning.

Why Catholics Believe in the Eucharist

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Westminster Tower Ecumenical Service

Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

Deacon Larry Brockman


As many of you know, I have been coming here for almost 10 years now to conduct a Holy Communion Service for the Catholics on the Fourth Thursday of the month. I mention that because I want you to know how important Holy Communion is to us Catholics. We say that it is the source and summit of our faith because belief in Jesus and his sacrament are fundamental to what it means to be a Catholic. That’s why most Hospitals and Assisted Living Facilities seek Holy Communion services and ministers for their Catholics just like Westminster Towers did, so that this great need can be fulfilled. I am going to talk a little bit today about why the Eucharist is so important.

The reading you just heard is for this coming weekend, the Feast of Corpus Christi. That is also known as the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ- or Holy Communion. Now almost every Sunday of the year, the readings we use as Catholics are the same as the ones used by the majority of other Christian Denominations, because the Common Lectionary used by most Christian Churches drew heavily from the Catholic Lectionary that was published after the second Vatican Council way back in the ‘70’s. However this weekend is an exception.    This weekend only the Catholics will hear the Gospel reading you just heard.

Now, the Church follows a carefully worked out pattern in our Calendar that sequentially celebrates the key beliefs of our Christian Faith. First we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus. That means God sent his only Son to live as one of us. We call that the Incarnation.    Then came the suffering of Jesus and his crucifixion. But Jesus did not really die, because on Easter we celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord. And Jesus promised all of us the same resurrected life when we die if we believe. Then we celebrated his Ascension and promise to send the Holy Spirit.  After that we celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Church was born. The Spirit is what gives us eternal life. And then last week, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- three persons in one God, to tie it all together.

So far all of us have celebrated the great mysteries of faith in this sequence- Catholic and Protestant.  This week, Catholics celebrate Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, because we feel that belief in the Eucharist as the real presence of Jesus continues this overall theological thread.

As you listened to today’s scripture, you heard the beginning of Jesus passion and death because it all began at the Last Supper. In the famous words of today’s scripture, Jesus offers himself up as a sacrifice. Listen again: “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and said ”Take it; this is my body””. Then He did the same with the chalice, ending with these words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”  So, Jesus is offering his body and blood as a sacrifice to be shed for many at the Last Supper. And he describes it as the blood of the covenant.

Now the Last Supper was a Passover meal celebrated in the Jewish tradition. Jesus wanted to celebrate the Passover with his Apostles that is clear from the first part of our reading when he lays plans out to do so.

At the Passover, each Jewish family slaughtered a lamb, commemorating what happened on the original Passover when the Lord struck down the first born of all who had not celebrated the Passover and spread the blood of the sacrifice on their doorposts. And so, Jesus is described as the “Lamb of God” by the Church because Jesus, not a lamb, is the sacrificial offering of the new covenant. It was his blood that would be shed in just a few hours after the Last Supper Jesus predicts what will happen at the Last Supper and begins the sacrificial process that only ends on Calvary.

When you read the 6th Chapter of St. John, which occurred a couple of years before the Crucifixion, Jesus talked at length about the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to enter the kingdom of God. He mentions it at least three times. This was repugnant to the Jews for several reasons. First of all, they were forbidden from consuming the blood of animals. But even more to the point, they were repulsed by the idea of eating human flesh. Jesus command violated both of these taboos of the Mosaic Law. So, many of Jesus’ followers left after hearing that. The rest stayed with Jesus, but didn’t really understand what he meant. But then, some years after Jesus spoke those words, as he is consuming the Last Supper, Jesus talks about it again. “This is my body and this is my blood”, he says. Why? Because he meant it both times, literally. He meant for the consecration of the bread and wine as the Eucharist to be an important part of his legacy.

God sent his son to a particular first century generation. That generation experienced Him first hand- one on one. People could talk to Jesus just like you and I can talk to each other.    In this sense, Jesus was immanent to the people of his time. All other religions consider God remote, above us, unapproachable- or transcendent. But here was Jesus, God made man, right there alongside of human beings. No longer was God unapproachable. And not only that, but Jesus left us several gifts. First, he left the Gospel as a script for how to relate to God. But that wasn’t all he gave us. He also gave us the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. By partaking of the Sacrament, we can be just as close to God today as Jesus was to the Apostles in their day. Lastly, he promised the gift of his spirit, which we commemorated just two weeks ago.

Notice from our reading that Jesus says, take it, eat it, and drink it. This not only means we are partaking of the Sacrament of Holy Communion as individuals. But it also means that all of us are partaking of the one body. So all who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ have the second person of the Trinity dwelling in them, the congregation that shares in the Eucharist is joined together in Communion by that one Body. We call that the Body of Christ.    Thus, one of the main reasons we gather in worship to receive Communion is for us to be joined together in union as one people in the Body of Christ.

If you read the book of Revelation, which is very cumbersome to read and understand, there some things that really leap out at you. For example, the 19th Chapter of Revelation speaks of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. They are referring to the Lamb of God, Jesus, who as we have just said replaces the Passover Lamb with his own Body. And Revelation goes on to say that “Blessed are those who are called to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb”;  that is us- all of us who are saved, who are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, will be in invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb as is clear from the other words in Revelation. And what happens at the wedding feast of the lamb? Everyone will be in communion with Jesus and will be offering praise and thanksgiving to God.

Notice how similar worship services that emphasize Holy Communion are to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Because all of the Faithful who consume the Body and Blood of Christ enjoy Jesus physical presence as one mystical Body in worship and praise of God.  So another reason the Eucharist is so important is that it foreshadows the worship that we will experience when we reach the Kingdom of God.

There is one other important reason why the Eucharist is so important. And that is because Jesus told us that it is his body and blood in scripture as I discussed earlier. Now this is a stumbling block to many, as it was for those who heard it described in the Gospel of John.  Just how can it be?    Most people say “I can see that the bread and wine doesn’t change in physical appearance”. But some of you took a field trip a couple of years ago to my Church.    There, we had on display “Eucharistic Miracles” exhibits. These were large poster boards that documented some miracles observed over the centuries. The miracles included bread and wine actually turning into flesh and blood; images of Jesus that suddenly appeared on the host; hosts that were preserved in perfect condition over hundreds of years; persons whose only subsistence was Holy Communion for years; and others.

I find it curious that these 130 odd sanctioned Eucharistic miracles have not gotten more publicity. But of course, none of us here have witnessed any of them first hand. And so, we tend to be doubting Thomases in that regard. The real issue here is a matter of faith, not proof. Yes, we need to have faith- belief in something despite the fact that it cannot be proven. We believe in the Incarnation, the Resurrection of the dead, Life Everlasting in the Kingdom of God, and the Trinity. These are all mysteries of our faith that we celebrate in sequence.

The Real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is yet another mystery that we are called to believe on faith. And when we believe and join in the celebration of the Eucharist, or the Mass, we are called to the closest thing on earth to the wedding feast of the Lamb. We become one body and one spirit with our brothers and sisters in the worship and praise of Almighty God.

Listen to the words we use as we receive this great sacrament. The minister says: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World, Happy are those who are called to his Supper.” And the people respond: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Then we offer the body of Christ to them, they consume it, and they respond.  “Amen”.